Obsessions #10: Eurovision Rules (Actually)
Everything I read, watched and listened to in May
This is Obsessions, a monthly newsletter-within-a-newsletter highlighting all of the things I’ve been reading, watching, listening to and generally obsessing over for the past few weeks.
What I’ve Been Reading
Best Young Woman Job Book by Emma Healey (Random House Canada, 2022)
This month, my favourite read was Best Young Woman Job Book by Emma Healey. This recent memoir by a Toronto-based millennial poet takes on the struggle to be a writer while balancing day jobs. It’s written like an extended prose poem or lyric essay. I consumed it voraciously in three days. Check out my long review of it here.
The Red Zone: A Love Story by Chloe Caldwell (Soft Skull, 2022)
Another recent nonfiction read I loved this month was Chloe Caldwell’s The Red Zone. I’ve been hearing Caldwell’s name for a long time due to her high regard in the indie lit scene, but I’d yet to actually read one of the books. The Red Zone takes on Caldwell’s struggle with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, often abbreviated to PMDD.
But more than that, the memoir is about partnership, family and love. It’s a really breezy read and the tone feels like you’re chatting with a friend. Immediately after I finished it, I downloaded her 2014 novella Women and can’t wait to read it soon.
Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou (Penguin Press, 2022)
Elaine Hsieh Chou’s debut novel Disorientation is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Told from the deadpan perspective of Ingrid Yang, a 29-year-old Ph.D. student, this campus satire takes on everything from internalized racism to the model minority myth to microaggressions. Although the social and political issues it tackles are quite serious, this novel is EXTREMELY funny.
I loved the humour with which Hsieh Chou approached the subject matter, as well as the twists and turns the story took and the sheer breadth of issues tackled. It’s hard to go into depth on this one without spoilers, but I will say that there is a character modeled after Jordan Peterson. Read it!
What I’ve Been Watching
Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015)
Although Alex Garland’s latest film Men has been getting flop reviews, it was a good reminder for me to go back and watch his 2015 film Ex Machina. The film follows Caleb, a young coder at the world’s largest Internet company, who wins a weeklong retreat with the company’s founder, Nathan. Once he gets there, he learns he’s there to test an AI that Nathan created named Ava. The twist? Ava looks, moves and talks like a human woman.
If that feels very Black Mirror, it is! It’s a fascinating premise that takes some really unexpected turns. Oscar Isaac’s performance as Nathan has got to be one of his all-time best. Although it could be debated if Garland’s movies are actually “feminist” or not, I really liked the subtext of liberation and critique of patriarchy the film points to. Plus, any movie that features an excellent dance scene for no reason is good to me.
Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986)
Until a few days ago, I had no desire to ever watch Top Gun. Why would I want to watch 110 minutes of propaganda for the American military out of my own free will? However, with the rave reviews of the recent sequel inpouring, I figured now was the perfect time to figure out who the hell Maverick, Iceman and Goose were.
Although it was a box office smash in 1986, I don’t think that we, as a society, discuss how fucking insane Top Gun is. “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away” each play approximately a thousand times. Tom Cruise is constantly sweating and driving his motorcycle into the sunset. He performs one of the most emotionally serious scenes of the film wearing nothing but tighty-whities.
Also, it’s VERY gay. Maverick and Iceman are obviously in love. The tension between them throughout the movie is structured in the same way as a contemporary romantic comedy, not to mention their longing glances at each other. These men explicitly say, “I have a hard-on” MULTIPLE TIMES. Still unconvinced? Just watch the volleyball scene.
Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996)
If Top Gun is gay as in happy, then Crash is queer as in fuck you. Although I’m not the biggest Cronenberg head, most of his filmography was added to Crave in anticipation of his forthcoming film, Crimes of The Future. I read a Zadie Smith essay a few years ago about the J.G. Ballard novel the film is adapted from, so I figured I’d give Crash a watch.
Ho-ly shit. Immediately, the film was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Centered around protagonist James, played by an extremely hot young James Spader, the film follows his entry into a group of fetishists who are obsessed with car accidents, sex and death. Crash also stars Deborah Kara Unger as James’ wife, a Canadian actress significant to my heart for her roles in Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen and Green Day’s “Jesus Of Suburbia” music video. It’s a minimalist film (there are more sex scenes than ones with dialogue), but it’s instantly gripping and helplessly watchable.
I was particularly taken with the character of Vaughn, the mad scientist figurehead of the group who reenacts celebrity car crashes for fun. I also adored how beyond a simplistic framework of queerness the film is. That, coupled with its exploration of cars and technology, made this movie feel like a precursor to Julia Ducourneau’s Titane, one of my favourite films of last year.
What I’ve Been Listening To
Eurovision Song Contest 2022
When I first agreed to watch this year’s edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, I only did so because it was also a party at my friend’s apartment. I figured I’d get some social time in, along with some mildly entertaining power ballads that I could make pithy comments to. Over the course of its four-hour broadcast, however, I became caught up in the spectacle of it all. By the time the scores were rolling in, I was genuinely on the edge of my seat.
Prior to my watch, I only knew of Eurovision for the same reasons most people do: 1) it jumpstarted the careers of ABBA and Måneksin and 2) it’s the epitome of corny. What I neglected to realize was that a lot of the songs are genuinely good. Since its original airing, I’ve gone back and relistened to all my favourite tracks from this year: Sweden’s “Hold Me Closer,” Spain’s “SloMo” and winner Ukraine’s excellent “Stefania.”
While all of the above were actually great tracks, there were also some wild performances that embodied the cheesiness I expected. A favourite of mine was Moldova’s “Trenuleƫul”, a song that somehow combines a Ramones “Hey! Ho!” punk rock chorus with… polka?!
I’m also a sucker for the ridiculously corny ‘00s rock vibes from Finland’s “Jezebel” and San Marino’s “Stripper.” All in all, watching Eurovision was way more fun than I ever could have predicted, and am already counting the days until next year’s competition.
Another unexpected musical obsession of mine from the past month is Timmins country-pop star Shania Twain. Although my parents had all her CDs when I was a kid, I haven’t freely chosen to listen to her music since my childhood.
That changed when I listened to a recent episode of my favourite music podcast, Pop Pantheon, which highlighted Twain’s smash 1997 album, Come On Over (of its 16 tracks, it had a total of 12 singles). I was also surprised to learn that Mutt Lange, Twain’s former husband and producer, had also produced several Def Leppard albums in the early ‘80s.
Relistening to Come On Over with this knowledge in mind made me realize that Twain essentially made an album that mixed the production of ‘80s arena rock with ‘90s pop-country. A rock sound and a diva voice?! Honestly, it feels tailored directly to ME! Since then, I’ve been blasting Shania day in and out and preparing to do “Any Man Of Mine” for an upcoming karaoke performance.
This Ends At Prom
I’ve been listening to the podcast This Ends At Prom for a few months now, but their recent episodes have been really knocking it out of the park. Hosted by wives BJ and Harmony Colangelo, the pair dissect teen movies through a queer and trans lens to see how they still hold up today.
The recent episodes about Hairspray and Grease 2 are both excellent, but there are tons of old episodes to dive into. I especially love their discussions of horror movies like Scream and Ginger Snaps for their feminist and queer analysis. Moreover, I love how the podcast takes on a maligned film genre and analyses it with both respect and reverence. It’s essential listening for any chick flick lover!
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