Before her there was only Peggy Hopkins Joyce. After her came all of cable TV. And today the power of Zsa Zsa has merged with politics -- they can never more extricated. And so today our first lady is a Communist 'handler' for a mole Raymond Shawhshank sleeper agent blah blah, but who cares? She looks marvelous, darling. That bitch can wear a dress.
In such an age as this, can we really afford to forget about Zsa Zsa Gabor?
Barely two years dead, seldom seen outside a scarce handful of cult movies (and a few forgettable 'good ones' like We're Not Married) it's easy to forget that her unique brand of 'empty' celebrity was once unique in pop culture. We forget her at our own risk: she's the preface chapter to all of trash TV today. But she was not trashy. Along with her sisters and mother, she was Hungarian and a socialite and she got rich divorcing rich old men husbands and got famous for being famous without having anything to be famous about, which has been such a constant for so long now it's not even a novelty.
And yet, there's no one remotely like her today because she had that high-toned class that usually was seen in society pages rather than heard on game shows. She came from a time when TV was campier but less shrill, with relatively little of our current reality show 'loudest voice wins' 'diamonds-that-shine-like-rhinestone' ugliness. Instead, the blurriness of analog color TV signal and the Vaseline on the lens catching her every diamond sparkle, Zsa Zsa drifted along the talk show airwaves like a fabulous pillow feather caught in a cold Nordic draft. Witty enough to be engaging, beautiful enough to be beguiling, but nothing else, we jokingly imagined her as the harbinger of the TV future, the equivalent of what the food industry calls vanishing caloric density, her melt-in-your-mouth hungry ghost illusion left us with nothing, not even the illusion of fullness - only the vague epiphany that fullness itself was an illusion. She knew to play herself dead-on straight, like she didn't get the joke, like the straight woman that Joan Rivers was a riff on. She knew she was playing a 'type' as stereotyped-in as Charles Nelson Riley or Rip Taylor, yet she pretended she didn't - it was our fathoming of the pretense that made her interesting. We could keep it up as long as she could. The epitome of composed class and elegance, gowns for the ladies and gays, but with impressive cleavage and curves for the straight boys, she was the sort of lady you bring to Vegas on your arm and know she won't embarrass you by getting hammered and pestering you for attention, and if she has any 'needs', she'll make sure they're met, in austere Eastern European style (via some dashing parking attendant from Brazil who conveniently speaks no English). Her vanity and insecurity over her leggy competition might drive you to a nervous breakdown (as it did to the director of the film we're discussing today) but you don't have to worry about her mental health: you could bounce a truck off her old world European composure and worry only about the truck.
TELEVISION Today has set the bar for glamor is so low it's down in the sub-basement. Reality stars sip Napoleon brandy mixed with Moutain Dew and end up splashing it on each other to signify a fight that will keep us watching past the next add for butt augmentation --but that's inevitable. That's science. Smart folk feel superior to so many people we never realize that feeling superior to someone else is a balm to the soul. It's almost annoying if we're surrounded by idiots but it's worse being an idiot surrounded by smart people. Luckily a Honey Boo-Boo can make even an idiot know what it is to feel smarter than someone else.
Problem is, those shows are made by smart people, and the contempt they feel for their subjects is hard to hide. But at some point a show meant for the uneducated yokels written by brainy Harvard snobs starts to show its contempt too broadly, like the smirky New York intellectual Walter Matthau in 1957's A Face in the Crowd (left), writing the corn pone slop around Lonesome Rhodes' show like he's doing anyone a favor. Watching that movie you start to think yeah, Lonesome Rhodes is a monster, but you don't want to punch him in the face as bad as you want to punch Matthau. The type of character common in the late 50s-early 60s, that think a pipe, white skin, glasses, a suit, college education entitles gives them dominion over women, children, the 'working class' and dogs. They don't respect the savvy craftiness of street smart 'hicks' or the intuitive 'soft touch' of women. They presume their lascivious attention is always welcome, and that their father can help get them any job they want, since their father plays golf with the boss of the boss. These privileged 'wits' end up enforcing a white male intelligence on their subjects, who naturally suffer in strait-jackets of a passive aggressive 'dumbing down' that used to be so common it was a kind of invisible normal that might make you slowly go insane but you were never sure why.
It's cuzz city slicker douchebags with them pipes keeping us thinking each other is super dumb by writing our thoughts for us on TV, is why! Fight the real enemy.
|Slap the pipe out, PLEASE |
(from top: Matthau, A Face in the Crowd; Anthony Eisley, Wasp Woman
|This is CinemaScope|
|(from top) the heavenly beatnik jazz dancer troupe of CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON; the celestial moon goddesses of MISSILE TO THE MOON; the tired front line of broads from QUEEN|
The plot you know even if you don't: a shipload of smirking virile Earthmen head to a planet of all women (and a giant spider) where they help the good leader (Zsa Zsa) overthrow the bad one. Va-Voom! Lots of girls in terrible MGM costume drama hand-me-downs getting freaky, guys makin' moves, and the captain tackling the biggest lay of all - the evil space queen (Laurie Mitchell - who played a similar role in Missile to the Moon) who hides her deformed looks behind an even uglier mask.
Sounds like I'd love this film if it let me. Some of the girls are great (like Lisa Davis (right; below left) who rocks great lipstick and smoldering Gillian Anderson eyes) though Zsa Zsa keeps a tight eye on their hem lines in relation to the camera; and the writing seems a decent framework for a more straight-faced mature approach (which would allow the magic of camp to cohere better). The problem is in the misogynistic direction and frat boy acting by the men, that pipe puffing smug-snark that makes my fists ball up. There's a vibe at work where the makers of the film think themselves too smart for their material. They think adding some bawdy audience winking will help put it over, which shows how wrong they are. The smirky douche bag vibe of male superiority has doomed the film to never be a true cult favorite, at least of mine.
What makes the 'good' bad versions of this same plot (Cat Women of the Moon in particular) work so well as enduring 'camp' classics on the other hand, is the intent to do something straight and good but without the know-how or budget or the talent. With these films we get the genuine eccentricity of lower rung Hollywood really trying to make nothing into something.
Unknowns and outsider artists mix with actors shunned or forgotten by the Hollywood elite due to drug and alcohol issues, changing times, bad luck, 'lifestyle' etc., and they're all kind of walking on their heels looking for anything they can get from the casting offices, but no calls, so they all take this last chance grab. These oddballs and has-beens are--to we classic horror / sci-fi fans--our family - they're the equivalent of the Bad News Bears, or the bar full of flea-bitten drunks in The Iceman Cometh, they're waiting us for us to come watch them again with eyes anew, to buy them drinks so they can live again through the alcohol that is our eyes. They get that it's all over in under two hours, win or lose. Only the drunks survive, because thirst never dies.
Maybe this is why the white male losers of the world, the barflies and has-beens, tend to have more respect for women and minorities, since the men in these Z-grade films are as disenfranchised and thus less afraid they'll lose anything by portraying women as the badass goddesses they are. I know for myself, alcoholism humbled me down to the roots. And that's why we drunks, drag queens, punks, and other outsiders that make up the bad film-lover community aren't going to be drawn to such puerile contempt for their beloved genres (though on the other hand, I guess some of us like Mystery Science 3000 and I do not) No character in Plan Nine leers at Vampira and says some inane shit like "my coffin or yours, baby." No one in that cantina says to Tarantella in Mesa of Lost Women, "I bet you got a real sticky web." If there was, they would be as ignobly remembered as this Queen. It's the celebration, the worship, of female strength. It's there in John Waters, it's there in Russ Meyer, it's there in Roger Corman. It's not there in Queen of Outer Space.
|The 'space women need men' subgenre always has a giant spider - Analyze its symbolic meaning, right down your answer,|
then look at the oeuvre of artist Louise Bourgeois to see if you're right!
No matter what happens, she plays it dead straight. She should have been the evil queen- as the title and billing suggest, because she doesn't get the joke. She's Hungarian, so her sense of humor, if it even exists, is so dark it can't be seen with the naked eye. As the chief scientist and leader of the resistance, she brings that same feathery class to bear she'd bring to any 'real' social event only here it looks like the event happened five years ago and no janitor has stirred therein since. And the event was an afternoon ladies-only coffee clatch fashion show with a vague Robin Hood theme to it, a few years earlier, you know the kind. If you're old enough maybe your granmother dragged you to one or two as a bored child and you barely remember - only now that I hold this medallion in front of your eyes does it come back, like the Vegas casino 'floor' in Damnation Alley, only bigger.
|Grandma, what uneven eyeholes you got|
Well, either way - if we don't like it- we have two others just like it for solace, each worse than the other and far better in their worsity. Times change - we've been to the moon. We know there's no babes there. Or if there are, they're fast aslep (or as Rutledge says "condition - not dead, not alive"). Alien women are here, instead, and their masks are human. Sometimes I pass one on the street - they have deep light blue dazzling eyes and blonde hair, impossibly elfin. And I send them a telepathic message - I know it's you, but please don't brainwash me to forget; I just want to know all you can tell me without it making me go insane. I promise that if I write about you no one will believe me enough to start a riot, for I understand how fiction /disinformation is the Perseus shield mirror that lets us see the unmasked face of the gorgon of total truth while we're still too young to handle it.
The age of class that Zsa Zsa epitomized has long past. But the guys with the pipes are still there, but their edges are chipping away. They can't get away with having all-white-guy writing staffs anymore, and that means no more racism and sexism, but that's just the TV world, the Zsa Zsa-verse. On Earth, as it is in America, the Russians are occupying every foot of virtual space we don't use - they're conquering us virtually and unfortunately virtual is more real than the real now. One day we'll come back from our full VR surfing of the web and our city will magically have always been called Putingrad. We'll have some dim memory of the America we thought we'd be returning to, but we'll quickly be convinced that that was the fantasy. Only the white guy with pipe can save us then! When will you finally trust him, comrade?
|Greetings from the Bilderberg Jamboree|
CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953)
MESA OF LOST WOMEN (1953)
FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)
PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE (1959)
Acidemic #8 The Brecht / Godard / Wood issue