May 21, 2016

The Unbearable Movie about the Unbearable Lightness of Being

When hetero literature majors start gushing that a book is a masterpiece, the best thing ever written, you know you're in for heterosexist "boy meets girl as the meaning of life!" drivel.

When I was in grad school in comparative literature at USC, back in the 1980s, my classmates were all gushing over:
1. Ulysses.
2. The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass
3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera.

All long and tedious, with endless passages of indecipherable prose that boil down to one central thesis: heterosexual sex is nice.

I never actually made it through any of them.  Life is short, and I hear that central thesis a thousand times a day anyway.  But earlier this week I was forced to watch the 3-hour long movie version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988).

The title refers to theories of mortality.  If there's an afterlife, then being is "heavy," but if death is the end, then being is "light."

I don't get it, either, but no matter: the movie is about having sex.

Tomas, a brain surgeon in 1968 Prague, is played by the extraordinarily ugly Daniel Day-Lewis (top photo), yet every woman -- literally -- looks at him like he's a dish of ice cream.  He has a brusque pick-up line -- "Take off your clothes" -- that works, every time. The woman begins to disrobe immediately.

To be fair, he always selects mousy, shy women with poor self-images and terrible fashion sense.  Maybe they disrobe because they want to try out a new wardrobe.

What follows is a long, lingering view of the woman's nude body and then an absurdly wild sex scene that shows her body some more but keeps Tomas completely covered up. She shrieks with ecstasy.  This happens about 15 times during the movie.

Sabine, one of his regular hookups, is having an affair with a married man (Derek de Lint) in a subplot I fell asleep for.

Meanwhile, Tomas falls in love with aspiring photographer Tereza (Juliette Binoche) and her dog, but continues telling women to take off their clothes a dozen times a day.  He explains that it's pure sex, unrelated to romance, and points out, as an example, his friend with benefits Sabine.

Tereza doesn't buy it.  But what can she do about Tomas's sexual compulsion?

She blames the evil, decadent city of Prague, and insists that they move to Geneva, but Tomas continues telling women to take off their clothes.

Maybe hooking up isn't so bad? Tereza tries a trick of her own, going home with an ugly, creepy engineer (Stellan Skarsgaard), but she doesn't like it.

Maybe if she can get Tomas away from the temptation?

She insists that they give up their careers and move to the country with one of Tomas's old brain surgery patients and his pet pig.

Tomas becomes a farmer, and Tereza becomes a housewife.  There are apparently no women for 20 miles around, so Tomas stops hooking up.

They are blatheringly happy.  They have finally discovered the meaning of life.

Then they die!  They are killed in an auto accident while driving drunk in the rain.

But this terrible tragedy is portrayed as something wondrous, with bright light and sentimental music.  They died together, they were in love, they had found the meaning of life, the unbearable lightness of being.

Oy vey.

There isn't even any beefcake -- all of the men stay fully clothed while naked women bounce around on top of them and shriek.

Besides, all of the men are extraordinarily ugly, with the exception of Clovis Cornillac, who has a brief scene as a boy who tries to pick up Tereza in a bar.

The Beefcake Art of Velazquez

In school, when you learned about Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), the great painter of the Spanish Golden Age, your teacher probably talked about how he introduced realism into the heavily stylized world of Renaissance art by depicting everyday people, drunks, peasants, workers, and dwarfs as well as the elite.

You probably didn't hear a word about his beefcake paintings, but Velazquez was also a master of the muscular male form.

This John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1622) developed some nice biceps on his diet of locusts and honey.

When you see reproductions of The Triumph of Bacchus (1628-29), they usually zero in on the three drunk workers, Los Borrachos, leaving off the beefy Greek gods who are providing the wine.

Apollo at the Forge of Vulcan (1630) also introduces a Greek god into a modern, realistic scene.  Are we supposed to find those blacksmiths grotesque?  They have obviously been working out!

Joseph's Tunic (1630) recounts the Biblical scene where Joseph's brothers bring his coat to his father Jacob to claim that he was killed by a wild animal.  But who is paying attention to that?  Your eye is drawn to the muscular backside of one of the brothers.

Christ Contemplated by the Christian Soul (1626-28): that kid is the soul, contemplating a rather beefy Jesus tied up for a non-Biblical bondage scene.

Maybe I would have liked Spanish class a little more if the teacher had brought up the beefcake instead of pontificating on the multivarious points of view in Las Meninas

May 19, 2016

Laocoon and His Sons: Beefcake Through the Ages

Laocoön was a priest who angered Apollo or Poseidon during the Trojan War, and as punishment the god sent sea serpents to kill him and his two sons.  Variations of his story, with different plots, were recorded by Sophocles, Virgil, Apollodorus, and other ancient authors, and inspired one of the most famous of all ancient sculptures, Laocoön and His Sons, now in the Vatican Museum.

After Michelangelo's David, this is probably the most famous beefcake sculpture in the world.  Interesting that one must enjoy male bodies only when they are in agonizing pain.

Similar to the boxers and wrestlers that we are "permitted" to ogle today.

The story of Laocoön has inspired many artists to try their hand at depicting bulging, straining muscles, regardless of the reason that giant snake tentacles are biting and straining at them.

Alessandro Allori (1535-1607), a painter of the Italian Renaissance, copies the pose of the ancient sculpture, but fills in the blanks a bit.

El Greco (1541-1614), one of the greats of the Spanish Golden Age, separates the sons from the father so we can see their muscles better, and has their pale forms struggling against the ruined Spanish countryside.

The older son, on the left, is Antiphas, and the younger, to the right, is Thymbraeus.  The stories make them twins, but artists usually think that it's more poignant to make one ateenager and the otehr a child.

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), the pop artist of the Andy Warhol school, gives us a stylized version in which the three bodies blend in to the troubled, multicolored background of the 1980s.

Contemporary painter Richard Wallace's version is grotesque, with three men who look more like brothers, and one penis visible.

See also: Japanese Tentacle Porn

May 18, 2016

St. Florian, the Patron Saint of Firefighters and Beefcake Fans

I'm not much for the veneration of the saints -- Nazarenes abhored such "idolatry."  But I could get behind St. Florian, usually portrayed shirtless, with a massive, sculpted chest.

Here his chest is ink on someone's chest.

The real St. Florian was Florianus (c. 250-304), a Roman legionnaire from present-day Austria who organized a fire-fighting brigade.  When the Roman authorities discovered that he was a Christian, they ordered him burnt at the stake, but then, noting his affinity for fire, thought that he probably wouldn't burn.

So they drowned him in the Ennis River instead.  After ripping off his clothes, of course.

Today St. Florian is the patron of firefighters, soap makers, and chimney sweeps, and also the patron of many cities in Central and Eastern Europe, including Krakow, Poland and Linz, Austria.

This is one of the more famous St. Florian statues, by Josef Josephu (1889-1970).  It stood at the main firehouse in Vienna, where it survived a bombing during World War II.  Now it's in the Firefighter's Museum.

His brother, Florian, was also a sculptor.

In German-speaking countries, "florians" are firefighters.

May 17, 2016

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a 2012 comedy by Christopher Durang that brings Chekhov and beefcake to rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

If you need to know the plot:

Vanya and Sonia are a middle aged brother and sister, one gay and the other straight, who live together on the family farm and complain about their cherry orchard.

Their life of complacency and complaining is disrupted when their young movie star sibling Masha arrives, with her uber-muscular boy toy Spike, who is allergic to clothes.

Spike is always played by a mega hunk, who spends most of his stage time in his Calvin Kleins, thrusting his you-know-what at whoever is sitting nearby.

Everyone starts flirting with Spike and competing with each other to see who can complain the loudest.  Old rivalries surface.

After a disastrous party with a Snow White theme, Masha announces that she's going to sell the house and kick Vanya and Sonia out on their cherry orchards.

Meanwhile Sonia gets a date, Vanya gets a backer for his play, The Seagull, and Spike cheats on Masha.

Masha gives Spike the boot, decides not to sell the house, and the three siblings live happily ever after, just like in a Chekhov play.

Except for the gay character.

And the happy ending.

And the beefcake.

Did I mention the beefcake?
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