Showing posts with label incest. Show all posts
Showing posts with label incest. Show all posts

23 October 2016

Sting Like a Butterfly

by Leigh Lundin

James M Cain wrote a controversial novel on a touchy topic made into an even more contentious movie of the same name. It’s less than fair to suggest the film ended the career of Orson Welles, but some critics noted it capped the actor’s substantial body of work on a low note. Further, the production virtually finished the profession of its actress, turning her name into fodder for barbed late-night television jokes.

The Film

The actress was Pia Zadora and the movie was Butterfly based on Cain’s The Butterfly.

I overlooked the original in theatres, but a third of a century after its release, I decided to take a critical look at it. To my surprise, it’s not an awful film.
  1. Stacy Keach, known to private eye fans as Mike Hammer, put in an earnest and solid low-key performance as Jess Tyler. He provided the backbone of the story, but more than that, he played a nuanced there-but-for-the-grace-of-God character who made mistake after mistake even as the audience begged him not to.
  2. Orson Welles is claimed to have been drunk on the set. Whether or not that’s true, I hazard he turned in a sly performance, one he fully intended to. Suggesting substantial improvements would be difficult.
  3. Any actress bordering on age 30 who can convincingly portray a 16-year-old (19 in the novel) is doing something right. To be sure, Pia Zadora’s baby-fat cheeks helped, but more than that took place. She’d started as a child actress at age eight on Broadway and developed a singing career, but Hollywood hated her for reasons that had nothing to do with the film.
Pia Zadora
© Pia Zadora
So what went wrong?

The Butterfly Effect


Born to parents in the theatre (father a violinist, mother a Broadway costume supervisor), Pia adapted part of her mother’s maiden name, Zadorowski, as her stage name. She sang and acted in a number of child rôles. At age 19, she met a man 32 years older than she, Meshulam Riklis, an investor and businessman. They married five years later. She became the Dubonnet Girl in commercials for the apéritif in which Riklis had a financial interest.

Riklis encouraged his wife’s career, perhaps a bit too much. When Pia Zadora starred in Butterfly, he bought billboards promoting her.

The movie industry didn’t like that. In fact, they resented it. When the Golden Globes presented her with Best New Star of the Year, Hollywood turned on her and where Hollywood went, the public followed. Awards of a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress, Worst New Star and Worst New Star of the Decade were only the tip of the iceberg. Late-night television comics relentlessly mocked her, celebrity magazines ridiculed her. While the New York Times actually liked the film, they said the petite Miss Zadora looked “stunted, like a Brigitte Bardot who's been recycled through a kitchen compactor,” an unnecessarily hurtful allegation both unfair and untrue. She appeared in a few more B-movies, but her film career was over.

But not all was lost and in a perverse way, her haters had given her name recognition, and she would eventually receive a sort of vindication. Movie-goers who didn’t stay for the credits roll didn’t realize she’d sung the sultry title song in Butterfly, “It’s Wrong For Me To Love You”. Her next-to-last film was Voyage of the Rock Aliens– ‘rock’ in this case meant rock-n-roll. In it, she sang many of the songs from her follow-up album, Let's Dance Tonight.

That’s when people learned Pia Zadora could sing!

Sinatra © Zadora
And sing well. She rebooted her career singing in Europe and established a number of international hits. This was no aberration. In 1985, she barely missed the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance with the song ‘Rock It Out’, losing to Tina Turner's ‘Better Be Good to Me’.

She became friends with Frank Sinatra when she headlined in Las Vegas. He persuaded her to turn to standards. Her subsequent album Pia & Phil referred to her backup group, none other than the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Late-night talk hosts invited her back and Johnny Carson apologized for Tonight Show punchlines at her expense. Pia had made her comeback.

The Book

The Butterfly’s title might sound like a cosy, but Cain dismisses mean-streets-of-the-city noir to show us the truly dark, forbidden love and death in the depths of a West Virginia coal mine. While the book is a crime story with a mystery, it’s also a thinly disguised melodrama and a thin volume at that.

Cain said he intended an entirely different effects-of-the-Depression novel. When Steinbeck published Grapes of Wrath, Cain aborted his plans, eventually plucking The Butterfly out of the scraps of his writings and research.

Oedipus Wrecks


Many consider the subject matter creepy– incest. We tend to associate the practice with opposite extremes of society. On the one hand, royalty intermarried, not merely European kings, queens, and offspring, but Asian and Egyptian rulers too. In a dizzying myriad of ways, Norse, Greek and Roman gods bounded in and out of beds in an assortment of peculiar combinations.

The Judeo-Christian Bible is loaded with examples of incest, where theological theorists argue that God suspended the laws of incest. A few examples include Cain and Abraham and their sister/wives, not to mention Lot and his determined daughters. Presumably the descendants of Noah suffered a shallow dating pool as well. Lest you think Americans are above it all, celebrities– our own sordid royalty– have occasionally been said to engage in incest as well.

At the other extreme, we look down on poor folk in the hills 'n' hollers of Appalachia, the Ozarks, and places not yet despoiled by 7-11s, strip malls, and WalMarts. Deliverance has become a code word where mountain dew drinkin’ types marry relatives, just as in Carbon City, West Virginia, the setting of The Butterfly.

And yet…

GSA

Cain toys with us by recognizing a phenomenon called ‘Genetic Sexual Attraction’. GSA is a serious matter studied by psychologists and biologists. Apparently GSA is biologically programmed into us.

Opposing GSA is a debated factor called the Westermarck effect. According to its proponents, this psychological proximation factor blocks, sometimes imperfectly, sexual appeal between close relatives. The effect can and does break down, particularly in cases of at least one absent or absentee parent, and traditional rôles within a family change. When families split apart resulting in divorce and adoption, the Westermarck effect doesn’t apply at all.

The percentage of adults who engage in incestuous relationships is unknown, but estimated at fifteen per cent on average and up to 50% among long-separated, reunited relatives. A sizable proportion don’t want to be ‘fixed’. It’s substantial enough to have pro- and con support groups, lawyers and lobbyists, forums, books and blogs, and web sites. After Britain was criticized for punishing sibling couples who remained stubbornly in love, the European Union is trying to figure out how better to handle these situations and possibly decriminalize most adult couplings.

The mainstream public’s introduction came from the columns of Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren in the 1960s and the first support groups were born. These days, if we hear about the topic at all, it’s usually the result of long-lost relatives, separated at childhood, who find each other… and unexpectedly find each other attractive.

Praising Cain

James M Cain isn’t the only author since Anaïs Nin to dabble with incest, although his 1946 story cleverly works in the recognized psychological stress factors. Novelist Gillian Flynn hinted at ‘twincest’ in her book and film, Gone Girl.

Although Cain played upon reader’s suppostions, he cleverly adopted and adapted this phenomenon for his own purposes, juxtaposing a long-lost Lolita with… Well, you have to read the novel or see the film and choose which ending you prefer.

09 May 2013

Why Didn't They Just Leave?

by Eve Fisher

I had a nice little blog post all set up and ready to go for today, but you're going to get it next week because I am pissed off and need to get this off my chest:

Some days you get up, watch the news, and just get pissed.  I did after hearing about the 3 women, held captive for 10 years in Cleveland, who were finally set free, thanks to one of them screaming loudly and a neighbor who (God bless him and keep him) came to her rescue.  That was wonderful.  What wasn't, what pissed me off so badly I am on a rant, was all the pundits, raising as always the ugly, stupid, evil question of why didn't they escape before?  Why didn't they run?  Why didn't they disarm their captors?  Why didn't they -

And which point, gentle readers, I went into a profanity enhanced symphony in F Major, screaming at the TV set, and at everyone who has ever thought, "Why didn't they get out sooner?"

Disclaimer:  I have never been kidnapped and held captive against my will.  But I did grow up in your classic alcoholic prison home, the kind full of secrets and violence, where no one from outside was allowed in (they might find out!) and no one was allowed out without specific permission and very specific threats if any mention was made of the crap that was going on.  As a child, I wasn't allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, from band to sports - I wasn't to be trusted.  At the time, I thought it was that they didn't trust what I would do, that they thought I was going to go hog-wild with sex, drugs and rock and roll (which I did, later, after I left, and had a hell of a time, which I rarely regret).  Now I know it was that they didn't trust what I would say.  No one could know what was going on in our three bedroom ranch with the nice lawn and the two car garage...   And it wasn't nearly as bad as some of the other situations in our lovely little suburb, like the family across the street, where the father raped his three daughters regularly. 

Second disclaimer - this was the late 50's, early 60's, where everyone knew that things like rape and incest didn't happen, any woman or child who showed up in public with a black eye or other obvious bruises deserved it, and any child who reported such behavior was obviously a pervert themselves.  The result was that all of us kids knew what was going on in that house - but we never dared tell anyone.  Whenever someone talks about the good old days, I bring up the house across the street, and how no one did - or seemingly could do - a damn thing about it.  At least now you can call Social Services.

Why don't people leave horrible situations?  Because.  It is frighteningly easy to convince almost anyone that they are worthless, that they deserve what they are getting, how they are being treated, abused, beaten, etc., that no one cares about them, that no one will ever care about them, that they have no future, no hope, no nothing outside of the current situation, the current power-holder.  It is frighteningly easy to isolate someone from everyone else on the planet - and that's in "normal" relationships, without locks and handcuffs and cells in the backyard or basement.  It is frighteningly easy to threaten someone not with death - death would be easy to face - but with the forever of it, with it always, always, always getting worse.  And worse can be, and usually is, manufactured at any time. 

And that's with adults who chose each other.

Now, think about kidnap victims, who are usually kept tied up, imprisoned (closets, basements, etc.), threatened, beaten, raped, drugged...  When exactly are they supposed to get free?  How?  And when the kidnap victim is a child...

Jaycee Dugard was eleven years old; Elizabeth Smart was fourteen; Steven Gregory Stayner was seven; these three women were teenagers.  What were they supposed to do?  Act like Rambo?  How?  Steven Stayner actually did escape, but that was after his captor, 8 years later, had kidnapped a five year old (!) and young Stayner was so upset by the poor boy's distress that, while their captor was at work, Stayner took the five year old and went into town (I'm sure he was scared out of his wits the whole time), where they were found by the cops.

It's amazing that any of these eight came out alive.  Ever.  What's frightening, what is unbearable to think about, is to think of the ones who don't.  Right now there are people who are being held in someone's basement, back yard, closet, house.  Who have been held for days, weeks, months, years.  Who will never be found, never come out, never be set free, unless someone spots something wrong. 

So, let's all agree that the next time someone says "Why didn't they get out sooner?" we will bust their chops.  And pray for everyone held captive.  And if you know of someone who's doing terrible things - in the house across the way perhaps - what the hell.  Call the cops.  Call Social Services.  Make someone listen.  Maybe someone else will finally be released.

End of rant.