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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The day I stopped liking marzipan

I ran into someone I knew when I went to see The Girl Can't Help It at Film Forum this weekend, and he said, "This doesn't seem like your kind of movie..." I've linked to J. Hoberman's review from the Village Voice, where he notes that the satire of '50s celebrity culture and early rock and roll is made with really broad strokes ("even the sparkles have sparkles"). But I had a particular reference in mind when I saw it: the film was an inspiration for Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat character from her Dangerous Angels series.

I loved these books when I was a teenager. Her lavish descriptions of food, flowers, and fashion were so sensuous that it almost felt like eating marzipan--too rich for large doses. Here's the description of Weetzie Bat, the heroine of the first book in the series:
She was a skinny girl with a bleach-blonde flat-top. Under her pink Harlequin sunglasses, strawberry lipstick, earrings dangling charms, and sugar-frosted eyeshadow she was really almost beautiful. Sometimes she wore Levi's with white suede fringe sewn down the legs and a feathered Indian headdress, sometimes old fifties taffeta dresses covered with poetry written in glitter, or dresses made of kids' sheets printed with pink piglets or Disney characters.

"That's a great outfit," Dirk said. Weetzie was wearing her feathered headdress and her moccasins and a pink fringed mini dress.

"Thanks, I made it," she said, snapping her strawberry bubble gum. "I'm into Indians," she said. "They were here first and we treated them like shit."

"Yeah," Dirk said, touching his Mohawk. He smiled. "You want to go to a movie tonight? Theer's a Jayne Mansfield film festival. The Girl Can't Help It."

"Oh, I love that movie!" Weetzie said in her scratchiest voice.

Weetzie and Dirk saw The Girl Can't Help It, and Weetzie practiced making siren noises all the way to the car.

"This really is the most slinkster-cool car I have ever seen!" she said.

The descriptions of the odd fashion and the slinkster-cool lingo are so unself-conscious and delightful. The dialogue about Indians is completely bizarre and kind of amateur-ish, but it's not out of place in the weird world Block has half-documented and half-imagined. (The Amazon CAPS give a good indication of the book's landscape: Secret Agent Lover Man, Slinkster Dog, Charlie Bat, Grandma Fifi, Jayne Mansfield, Charlie Chaplin, Hollywood Boulevard, Rubber Chicken, Jah Love.) Many of the descriptions of clothing--the dresses with pig patterns and the poetry written in glitter--show up in later books such as Girl Goddess #9, which makes me think a lot of the stories are partly autobiographical. The best books in the series are Witch Baby and Missing Angel Juan, which feature a cult of witches who worshipped Jayne Mansfield, sex, death, outsider culture, and descriptions of macrobiotic food which somehow make wheat grass juice sound like an utterly magical drink.

And yet... I stopped liking the books after a couple of years. Part of it was that the stories and the structural devices of fairy tales, movie scripts, zines, and Tarot cards began to seem repetitive. The books also began to seem too whimsical and precious. It's not like they weren't whimsical or precious before, but I had lost that taste for marzipan. I skimmed through her latest novel, Ruby, earlier this summer and was surprised to see that she's played down the lavishness of her descriptions. The plot and the Tarot-card structure are similar to an earlier novel, The Hanged Man, but this new one is almost a schematic version of that overheated yet intensely emotional book.

I was kind of sad to lose that taste for lushness. I feel the same odd nostalgia for overwrought imagery from the '90s when I watch "The Alternative" on VH1 Classic--and I know there are a few regular readers of this blog who watch it, too--and, I don't know, everyone's wearing heavy black eyeliner (the video for Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" is the epitome of that '90s music video preference for Overly Significant Imagery and Color Enhancement). Even the black clouds have black clouds in those videos.

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Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Aug 30, 11:10:00 AM:
On a slight different yet related note, I lost the taste for Turkish delight on my visit to Ireland when I was 11. I saw it in a candy store near my cousin Joan's house and thought that if it was good enough for the Pevensies, it was good enough for me. I was wrong. It was bad, bad, bad. At least the Cadbury brand. And I've been to afraid to go near it since.
Anonymous Anonymous on Fri Sep 01, 09:56:00 AM:
Alice, I feel the same way about Francesca Lia Block. I really liked the Weetzie Bat books in about 8th grade, but when I revisited them later, they seemed contrived and predictable.

I love Turkish delight--especially the Cadbury kind. Whenever someone I know goes to the UK or Ireland, I make them bring back a supply of it for me. I've considered moving to Ireland just for the candy.
Anonymous Anonymous on Fri Sep 01, 06:24:00 PM:
Get back to work, McSweeney!
Anonymous Anonymous on Fri Sep 08, 01:53:00 PM:
Is today the day Alice stopped liking blogging? Also, McSweeneys never stop working.