Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's a Two-fer!

After watching my Poirot DVDs twelve times over, I've turned to my massive Agatha Christie collection to satisfy my craving for mystery, the 1930s, and French-speaking Belgians. Oh, you don't know what I'm talking about? WELL LET ME ENLIGHTEN YOU.

I'm a bit of fan-girl when it comes to Agatha Christie's greatest fictional character, Hercule Poirot, one of the most adorable detectives EVAR. Poirot is a former Belgian police detective who moves to England and becomes a private detective, unraveling the most obtuse and Gordian-knot-like mysteries. And honestly, if you ever need to bump someone off, her books are a pretty excellent how-to.

I own over half of Christie's nearly 50 Poirot novels, several of which have been turned into one of the most excellent of detective shows starring the inimitable David Suchet as Poirot. Still turning out the occasional tv special, the series has been going since 1989. As a kid, one of my most favorite things was staying with my grandmother on Long Island and watching PBS's "Mystery!" theater while laying under the covers in the dark on the blowup mattress in the living room. A good portion of my attachment to the show is the result of such well-formed memories, but in all honesty, the show really is that good. Suchet is THE perfect, quintessential, and only Poirot. The prim and exacting minuscule detective with the elegant mustache is embodied in Suchet's performance; if you watch carefully, you will discover an entire catalogue of mannerisms that create a real, living embodiment of a fictional character. Not to mention that Suchet's accent and use of French is parfait, and you will find yourself repeating the words for later use.

My love of Poirot in this context is such that if I were to ever meet David Suchet, I would have to insist that he wear the mustache and speak with the accent. I couldn't talk to him otherwise, everything he said would just sound like white noise. Not to mention that I can't stand anyone else playing Poirot. I rented the film "Murder on the Orient Express" once, and after ten minutes I'd had enough, it was so painful watching another actor massacre my image of the little detective.

What is interesting, and something that I have discovered in reading the novels, is that the writers of the show have actually improved on Christie's design: in the novels, Poirot is a little bit of a dick because his well-earned ego is so huge. He consistently reminds his pal Capt. Hastings what an idiot he is, and how inferior he is to Poirot's superior intellect. In the show, Poirot is well-aware that he is the best there is and that his friend isn't as smart as he, but he is a bit more humble about it and doesn't make Hastings feel like an ass unless the situation calls for it. The relationship feels warmer and based on mutual respect and affection rather than an audience for Poirot's impressive use of his "little grey cells." The books also paint Poirot more akin to a cat, with flashing green eyes and a dainty, nimble quickness. While the twinkle remains in Suchet's eyes, he's portrayed as a portlier fellow, someone who clearly enjoys the finer foods and drink and the comforts offered by British high society. I'm okay with this, because he's still dainty and fussy and the fanciest of dressers. How fancy? He has a special napkin that buttons to his shirt front for meals. He has a silver case for his cigarette ashes. He wears SPATS. He is so goddamned fancy.

Another reason I love the show is the immersion and dedication to the setting and costumes. ART DECO MOTHERFUCKERS.

I squeed pretty hard during an episode when I recognized a giant oil painting in the background as being done in the style of one of my favorite painters, contemporary to the period, Tamara De Lempicka.

So, if you're curious, as far as the books go, some of my favorites are:
Murder on the Orient Express
After the Funeral
Murder in Retrospect
Elephants Can Remember
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

The great thing, and also the worst thing, about her books is that once I start reading, I find it very difficult to stop, because I want to get to the end with Poirot's fantastic denouement and find out the who/what/where/when/why of the plot. This means that I actually manage to get through more than one book in a week, but it also means that I don't get much else done.

So if you love the 30's and 40's, art deco, Britishisms, detective stories, psychology, and tiny Belgian detectives, you can pick up any of Christie's novels up at the library or bookstore and find the DVD collections of the television show at It's well worth it. Look at those mustaches!

Til next time dear reader; I hope it won't be another 10 days.

I really need to see those "Tammy" movies in their entirety

Occasionally, I find myself a bit bored and desirous of some nice background noise while I read one of the million books on my bookshelf that haven't been read yet. So I found myself yesterday.

I looked over my DVDs to see what would be a proper "don't really have to pay attention" light and sound show (we don't have cable, and the VCR is on the fritz), and my eyes alighted on a recent addition to the collection, thanks to the Manfriend's mom.

Gidget, starring Miss Sandra Dee.

Now, up to this point, my exposure to Sandra Dee was limited to twenty minutes of Tammy and the Doctor and Rizzo's "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee!" in Grease. I suppose I could have caught Beyond the Sea, about her marriage to Bobby Darin, but my knee-jerk distaste for Kate Bosworth nipped that one in the bud. However, I do feel that being familiar with the lyrics to "Look at Me..." is a fantastic introduction to this film.

"Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee
Lousy with virginity"

Amazingly, the entirety of Gidget is an examination of this barely seventeen year-old's struggle with overcoming her tom boyish nature and the pressure to "become a woman." The inuendo is almost too much for me to handle.

From the start of the film, a good chunk of the screen time is dedicated to snaring 30-something year-old overly-tanned fellows who much prefer the company of their equally tanned surfer buddies lazing on the beach than the females skipping and bouncing through the sand. Flat-chested Gidget is coaxed by her middle-aged friends to put down the books and the cello and come out to "the manhunt." Whoo boy. From those first few scenes, I knew that I was in for a real cinematic treat. These friends, with boobs out to the moon and one sporting a giant granny-panty white bikini bottom (only technically a bikini because it's not connected to the top piece an inch and a half above it), are so busy trying to attract the attention of the sexist horndog surfer dudes (who are actually really engrossed in their bromances, and only take a break to whistle and hoot at some passing babes, you know, just so we know they're not gay) that they don't actually enjoy being at the beach AT ALL. When their cleverly masked ploys for attention fail, they leave in a huff, because clearly there isn't anything better to do at the beach than have a guy oggle your goods.

Thankfully, Gidget, at the time known as Francie, is determined to have fun rather than manhunt and goes snorkeling. However, despite growing up in California, she's an appalling swimmer, a fact that is demonstrated more than once. Maybe it's her teeny frame (and jeez, it's itsy bitsy, one wonders if Sandra's anorexia was in full swing at this point), but it turns out that kelp is her mortal enemy. So of course, like a GIRL, she ends up distressed and has to be rescued by one of the not-a-gay surfers, Moondoggie. Yeah. You read that right.

She of course falls for her rescuer, as well as becoming addicted to the adrenaline rush from the slow, small-waved surf back to the shore. What better way to spend her summer than combine two of her new favorite things--currying favor with "Girls are icky" Moondoggie and joining the guys gang of surfers?

Oh lord a' mercy, so it begins. The film is chock full of indirect references to Gidget's virginity and lack of woman-hood ("Gidget" is her surfer nickname, a mash-up of "girl" and "midget") and the uncomfortable half-hearted advances of the surfer dudes, who all look to be thirty and up, despite claims of being college-aged. Gidget's parents are blissfully ignorant of their young daughter gallivanting around with middle-aged beach bums, and any argument they have between themselves is immediately apologized for and ends in hugs. Even when she's dragged in by the police for breaking curfew (I know, what the hell 1950's?), her parents are just oh so happy that she's safe and sound. The best part, and by best I mean most cringingly uncomfortable, is when in an effort to make Moondoggie jealous, Gidget invites herself into Kahuna's shack o'love and offers up her maidenhead to the scruffy, greasy, sweaty Korean War vet. I guess all that staying out past curfew at a beach make-out party and drinking beer was enough to make her say "Fuck it, I wanna get laid!"

Kahuna, of course, reminding himself of the statutory rape laws, kicks her out before they can do the nasty, but not before some creepy whispering and caressing. With a bruised ego, Gidget flees into the night, gets a flat tire, and is interrogated by the cops who pull over. Despite the reputation-tarnishing evening, all is forgiven, the only consequence is that her father is really going to push that date with his colleague's son. SPOILER ALERT: turns out his colleague's son is Moondoggie!

Everything ends well: Kahuna gives up being a beach bum and gets a real job, Moondoggie goes back to college, and Gidget gets Moondoggie's pin! Oh rapture! Though I'm still trying to figure out how you go from an overly-candid conversation (for the 50s) with your mom about wanting to lose your virginity to losing your shit over being pinned.

I'm convinced that this movie makes for a fantastic drinking game, the rules for which I have just made up:

Drink any time...
  • there is a thinly-veiled reference to Gidget's virginity or lack of boobage
  • Kahuna's facial hair looks like a greasy smear, and not stubble
  • a surfer dude does or says something incredibly sexist
  • Moondoggie inexplicably breaks into song
  • the surfer dudes are more interested in their bromance than much else
  • the word "manhunt" is used
  • Gidget puts on a fluffy cardigan
  • Kahuna is not wearing shoes
  • Kahuna shows up in an unbuttoned shirt with torn sleeves
  • a fight with Gidget's parents is amicably resolved
  • Gidget's parents are far too understanding
  • dykey-McShorthair shows up and really has little purpose in the scene
  • there are greenscreened surf scenes
  • Gidget fiddles with her hair

Warning: you may get alcohol poisoning.