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January 14, 2010

For Cabin Fever, Take Avatar Debates and Dynasty Reruns

Dynasty Here's the local movie news, such as it is: A Single Man and Pedro Almodovar's latest, Broken Embraces, hit the Roxy this Friday. If you're enticed by Colin Firth and Julianne Moore in "Mad Man"-period gear or by Penelope Cruz in a Marilyn Monroe wig, this is your week.

Also in theaters: The Lovely Bones is here, Denzel Washington goes all Mad Max in The Book of Eli, and then there's some nonsense wherein Jackie Chan is a super-spy-cum-babysitter.

But what's everybody still talking about? Avatar. Apparently, when a visually innovative, otherwise utterly conventional fantasy extravaganza makes over a billion dollars worldwide, this is a reason for everybody to weigh in on its politics, from the AV Club to right-wing bloggers to the Vatican.

Yes, the Vatican has its own movie critics, via its newspaper and radio station. They opine that Avatar is sappy and unoriginal (with which I agree) but also that it "gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature."

All I can say is, if the nature worship in a James Cameron action movie upsets the devout, I hope they never get around to reading Wordsworth or Shelley, let alone any modern eco-pagan types. Like it or not, neo-paganism in Western culture is a trend that's centuries old. Cameron just figured out how to do it in psychedelic 3D with shooting and other stuff that people like.

But you know what? I don't really feel like giving Avatar any more bytes. I feel like talking about Pandora, which I just discovered and which is awesome. Like, the best cabin fever remedy ever.

But, because you all probably already know that, here's my other remedy for cabin fever this winter: "Dynasty" on DVD.

"Dynasty"? For real? That totally '80s rich-people primetime soap with Joan Collins? You waste your time watching that?

Yes, I do. And here's why.

  • "Dynasty" was born in the wake of another oil crisis and recession. I discovered this when I went back and watched "Dynasty" season one. (Yes, I'm old enough to remember when the show was actually on TV, but I missed the first several seasons.)

Basically, what aired in the early months of 1981 was a whole different show from the "Dynasty" we know and love. There was no Joan Collins, but there were frequent references to class war and Middle Eastern politics. The "hero" of the show, self-made Denver oil man Blake Carrington, was actually a complete jerk who mistreated his employees, raped his secretary-turned-second-wife Krystle, and accidentally-on-purpose killed his son's gay lover. His daughter Fallon was a fiery libertarian feminist of sorts, and his aforementioned gay son had zero interest in taking the reins of the family business. In short, the show seems to have been conceived as a drama about the slow collapse of the American patriarchy, besieged from within and without.

Er, or not. Anyway, the occasionally gritty drama of season one drew poor ratings, so Aaron Spelling and co. brought in Collins and soaped it up, and the results are history.

  • On "Dynasty," women in their forties and fifties wear glamorous clothes, have active love lives with multiple partners, run empires, engage in crazy catfights, and generally are awesome.

So because I'm no longer in the Twilight demographic, I'm supposed to watch Nancy Meyers romantic comedies about fluttery white-clad ladies living in perfect houses? Screw that. Alexis Carrington Colby rules. Period. She's funny, she's wicked, she's sophisticated, she's sexy. The character played by Collins (born 1933, believe it or not) was my role model when I was 14, and she still is.

But rewatching "Dynasty," what surprises me is how cool Krystle Carrington (Linda Evans, born 1942) is. I remembered her as a boring goodie-goodie. And she is pretty insufferable when she's pinching her senior-citizen husband's cheeks and telling him, "You're cute."

But, see, that's how you manage a worker-exploiting, wife-raping, son's-lover-murdering, grandchild-obsessed egomaniac like Blake Carrington. Krystle knows this, and she plays him like a fiddle. She's smart, and when Alexis attacks, she stands up for herself. In my mind, the real difference between Krystle and her trampy niece Sammy Jo (a very young Heather Locklear wearing electric blue spandex pants like the ones they currently sell at American Apparel) is that Krystle knows how to get her grubby paws on the Carrington oil money with class. And she never messes up her perfectly feathered hair in the process.

  • "Dynasty" is Drama with a capital D. It's practically a Douglas Sirk movie. Every time Collins gets center stage, she chews up the scenery, digests it and regurgitates it. She has some competition from Pamela Bellwood as the ill-fated Claudia Blaisdel, who plays an entire going-to-the-sanitarium scene stolen directly from the famous "kindness of strangers" bit in A Streetcar Named Desire.
  • "Dynasty" is well-known as one of the first mainstream portrayals of gay people on TV. So far, it's a pretty wimpy one. In season one, "gay" Steven slept with Claudia. In season two, he married Sammy Jo to prove to himself and everyone else he was straight. But at the end of the season, the writers got their mojo back and staged a scene where Steven announces to everybody, in his dad's library, that, um, he's gay after all and always has been. He even asks his family members to repeat after him, "Steven is gay." But only his bitchy sister Fallon does it, redeeming herself for a minute or two.

Obviously (in Blake's mind, anyway), a gay Carrington can't run the family oil biz any more than a feisty chick like Fallon can. (Hence she's pushed into an unhappy marriage and early procreation with wet-dishrag Jeff Colby.) So it's a lucky thing Blake has another son stashed away — one who was abducted as a baby. This brings me to my next reason:

  • Adam Carrington. Back in the early '80s, I thought Gordon Thomson in this evil black-sheep son role was the hottest thing since Richard Hatch sleepwalking his way through "Battlestar Galactica" (the original one). He still is. But the scenes where slutty Adam and slutty Fallon meet and start flirting and nuzzling without knowing they're brother and sister? Yikers.
  • Fashion tutorial. All the early '80s crap is back on runways, but it's nice to see it in its natural habitat. Right now, in seasons one to three, Krystle and Alexis seem to have a monochromatic thing going on — as in, a silky periwinkle-blue or dandelion-yellow pantsuit that wouldn't look out of place on "Pee Wee's Playhouse." On a recent episode, Fallon wore a fuchsia blouse thingie so bright it seared my eyes. Also, the silhouette was all about a true hourglass — a pouf at the hips, a pinched-in waist, a pouf at the bust. I'm not sure today's hipless fashionistas could achieve it, but neither of the leading ladies on "Dynasty" was a waif by any standards.
  • You can prepare and cook a five-course dinner menu while watching a "Dynasty" DVD. Back then, the watchword on TV seems to have been quantity over quality. While we now get only 13 to 18 episodes of our favorite shows per season, back then, 20-plus was standard. Hence the action is molasses slow, with lotsa filler.

When Alexis has a soliloquy about bringing her ex-husband's business to its knees, though, you better put down the whisk and listen. It's moments like that that give color to my gray January. I like to imagine the bored housewives, teens and camp-loving gay men of the '80s drawing a similar comfort from this stupid show. Not to mention the people across the world who gazed at the iconic images in the "Dynasty" credits (skyscrapers, mansions, ski runs, diamonds, champagne bottles) and concluded that all Americans were living this existence of careless wealth and privilege. It wasn't true, and it was probably a destructive myth, but it was also kinda fun.

Now, go ahead and mock. I'll be over here sewing shoulder-pads in all my sweaters.

Someone should organize a Dynasty dinner party similar to the Jane Austen tea parties. Everyone involved has to dress in period costume (hairspray, shoulder pads, etc.) and there has to be periodic slapping, someone throwing a drink in someone else's face, dramatic monologues, catfights, storming out....

The menu? Well, champagne obviously. But if you don't want to go the whole caviar/pâté route you could do Middle Eastern foods. Pretend someone just got back from a business trip to Saudi Arabia and wanted to inflict the ethnic cuisine on everyone else.

P.S. I am actually curious about Book of Eli because of one particular cast member: Tom Waits.

I am actually curious about Book of Eli because of the potential for kick-ass post-apocalyptic throwdown action. I'm sure Tom Waits will be fun, too.

Ugh. Never mind. I just read about the plot online. At least when the post-apoco-redemption document was the Constitution, it was kinda fun.

That's two in a row. I'll be sure to stop by this site the next time I can find an excuse to invoke Star Trek.

Hah! Thanks for the continued contributions to my "Star Trek" literacy. Shatner can even turn the Constitution into deviled ham.

Here's a review of The Book of Eli that says it's not too preachy:,37086/

This is a good week for Tom Waits on screen. He also has a key role in Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (as the devil), and some say he's the best thing in it. He does have the funniest lines.

I'd attend a "Dynasty" dinner party, but it would have to be in one of those condos that still has beige wall-to-wall carpeting, huge mirrors and a tacky chandelier over the table.

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