Sunday, October 07, 2018

A Shooting Star Has Crossed My Land

This blog post first appeared in I WAS BIGFOOT'S SHEMP, my e-newsletter you can subscribe to from the sidebar.

I have enjoyed seeing people explore what books are shown in TV shows and movies, from MAD MEN to ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK to LUKE CAGE.  I tried in my own small way to signal a few ideas in my directorial debut THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE.

During the role-playing game scenes I tried to fill in with a lot of Easter Eggs for nerd culture fans.  I set up the gamer Dewclaw (Joe Skeen) as being a bit of a collector of outsider art and culture, so I seeded some of my favorite independent comics and such around, most of which unfortunately you can't see in the movie (nor several of his tee shirts, which were designed by some friends).  But you can definitely see my old friend Ray Otus' RPG zine PLUNDERGROUNDS on the table.  Ray also did all of the D&D style art you see in these scenes, which gives those parts some added production value.

You also see Jill (Erin R. Ryan) reading or carrying a TEX comic around in several scenes.  Tex Willer is one of the greatest, most long-running heroes of Italian fumetti, and every time I go to Rome I make a pilgrimage to the Piazza della Repubblica and the great outdoor stalls there full of fumetti, giallo novels, old records, and other remnants of Italian pop culture to pick up a few issues (I own issue 500, and TEX is still going strong).

A question I have been asked a lot is if the dream cowboy Jill sees (played by Joe Kidd) is supposed to be the spaghetti western hero Django--in fact, Jill's D&D character is named Django the Bastard, after one of my favorite spaghettis--but I honestly never thought about that.  I really meant for him to be Tex Willer.  But Tex has such an iconic look that I chickened out and named him Lucky after Russell Hayden, part of a story I have recounted a few times but can be read here. And even more honestly, I knew Joe still had his Wild Bill costume from CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE, in which, ironically, he also plays a ghost.

I also had the young gamer Skinflayer (Chelsi Kern) with a paperback book nearby in several scenes.  My thought was when the older gamers were going on and on about rules and such she would probably get bored and start reading.  The two books you see her reading are STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND by Samuel R. Delany and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin.  Delany's work really changed my whole outlook on science fiction and sent me out on different paths in reading and writing, and Le Guin's novel is just definitive.  Interesting, both have to do with sexuality and gender identity, which plays a tangential (but as it has borne out) memorable part in the movie.

The question I have been asked about more than if Joe was Django is about one of the gaming group scenes.  Many people ask questions about the scene where the gaming group starts to rattle off their lists of attractive people they would rather be gaming with instead of their real-life friends, or tell me it was their favorite scene.  This was interesting to me because it was one of the first scenes I thought of when I decided on including the gaming group in the story.

Basically what happens is the other guys start naming off everyone they fantasize about, from Suzanne Pleshette in THE BIRDS to Linda Stirling in ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP to Lynda Carter in WONDER WOMAN.  Skinflayer counters with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and her other female crushes.  Then Tangerine (Clifford Lowe) recalls his list, featuring Italian muscle men from Gordon Scott to Reg Park.  There is a brief pause, and then everyone chimes in with their favorite Hercules actors as well, to Tangerine's great relief.

There's a bit more to the scene, but basically I wanted to convey that everyone already pretty much knew about Tangerine and were fine with it, and he was the last to know that everybody already knew.  The younger Skinflayer is pretty comfortable in her own skin (so to speak), kind of showing some of the generational differences between Skinflayer and the older Tangerine.

But even more so I wanted to show something I have always felt about fandom, be it gaming or comic books or movies, which is that it should be (and most often is) about inclusion.

That's what bothers me so much about controversies like Gamergate or Comicsgate; if you are in fan culture--gaming, comics, movies, what have you--you have probably been labeled an outsider at some point.  If there is any group that should know not to put others on the outside, it's fandom.  We should always reach out to others, not put a wall between us.

Okay, as I said before, I know the movie is about a guy with a canvas sack over his head chasing around poor Erin Ryan, but I wonder if this scene resonates with people because it speaks to those who have been involved in fandom; the easy camaraderie, the support of others' ideas and views, the long friendships that can form, and so on.  People enjoying this scene has been a welcome surprise.  It reminds me, and I hope it reminds everybody, about the best part of fandom.

One more thing I would say about books in my movie actually takes place outside the frame of the film.  On the last full day of shooting, I gave my four leads--Erin Ryan, John Hambrick, Joni Durian, and Tom Cherry--each a book as a thank you for being a part of the project.  All four books are important to me and in some way influenced the movie.  Those books were Marisha Pessl's NIGHT FILM, Emily St. John Mandel's STATION ELEVEN, Ursula Le Guin's THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, and Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME.  If you want a good read, you can't go wrong with any of these.

More next time.

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