In which the fangs are exposed.

Posted on August 11, 2010

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Anyone who knows me slightly, even if only via online presence, knows that I am a big fan of the television series True Blood.  It’s just a confluence of so many things I love: good writing, Alan Ball, the supernatural, quirky characters, a strong queer presence and bitchy dialogue.  (Those last two inevitably intertwine.)  And, of course, vampires.  I’ve taken – mostly on account of True Blood – to saying that I love vampires which is, for the most part, true although I’ve come to realize that my tastes in vampires does not run the usual route.  I never watched Buffy; I refuse to be subjected to that Mormon woman’s glittery teen angst vampires or spin-offish series like Vampire Diaries 90210; I never read or saw any film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s great myth; frankly, I didn’t even make it past the first of Charlaine Harris’ books which inspired my beloved show. So what the hell do I like about vampires?  Good question.

After taking stock, I’ve realized that I do have a deep seated attraction to vampires and the mythology which stems more from their place as metaphors of the Other.  I devoured, if you’ll forgive the pun, all of Anne Rice’s books as a teenager and when it comes to films, I like the more macabre and psychological pieces than I do the masters of gore variety.  I don’t mind campy vampires, when they’re done well, but they’re not first on my list usually.  So I thought since I am caught up in the cultural wave of bloodsucking love without really engaging in a big segment of it, I’d share three of my favorite vampire indulgences.

The Gilda Stories: A Novel

The Gilda Stories (1991) by Jewelle Gomez

Much talk circled around Octavia Butlet’s final book Fledgling when it was published toting it as the only book most people knew with a black female vampire protagonist.  It’s an interesting book, and certainly worth a read for genre enthusiasts, especially as it’s more grounded in science fiction than fantasy, but Gomez introduced a black female vampire sixteen years prior whom I find much more interesting.  The Gilda Stories follow the many lives of Gilda, a runaway slave who is made vampire by the owner of a brothel, over the course of about two hundred years.  It is by no means a flawlessly constructed novel – I found myself frustrated that more development wasn’t given to some areas – but it is still a fascinating read. The review on Amazon says that Gomez introduces “issues of race and sexual preference, but there is no attempt to address these issues except as fodder for an ultimately uninteresting romance novel” which I think is entirely off the mark. I’m not sure how anyone who reads the book could even see it as a romance unless they themselves can’t get past the main character being a lesbian. In fact, what is most interesting about how Gomez reconstructs the vampire in this novel is not at all the sexuality of Gilda, but how she uses the symbiotic dynamic of vampiric needs to talk about our relationship with the community and the planet itself.  Her Gilda is less about psychosexual motivation and more about how we create barriers in interpersonal and social connection.  Gilda’s multiples lives are an examination of how we construct self/identity. And her need, as a vampire, to always be near the soil from which she was made is a treatise on examining our connection to where we come from, nationally/ethnically, and how we treat our planet.  And, yes, along the way she falls in love with and has sex (Gasp! Shock!) with a woman or two. But what vampire hasn’t?

The AddictionThe Addiction (1995), dir. Abel Ferrara

This films is just plain weird and creepy. And I love it. It stars Lili Taylor and Christopher Walker (See? Weird.) and its tone owes a lot more to Nosferatu than any of the cheesy blood-lust epics that filled the 1970’s through the 1990’s. It also comes from a moment in American independent cinema in which it was exactly that: independent cinema.  This is from the time before “independent cinema” became less of an intent and more of a marketing catchphrase. So, resultingly, it isn’t a high budget film but it accomplishes a lot more for mood and suspense than most money-heavy works.  In a nutshell, it’s about a grad student (of philosophy) that is attacked by a woman who drinks her blood.  Thus begins the psychological torment of addiction.  The metaphor is obvious and isn’t really the point.  Watching the psychological struggle is the interesting part.  As I said, it’s from a particular moment in independent cinema when the message was the meaning so sometimes the dialogue can meander into the overly intentional philosophical but it’s worth it.  If nothing else, you can throw this one out there with some pretentious film students (of which I was one) and it’ll give you some arthouse cred.  They probably won’t have heard of it, but no matter; that’ll just give your cred extra heft.  Oh, and did I mention that Christopher Walken is just fucking creepy? Yeah.

The Parasol ProtectorateThe Parasol Protectorate Series (2009 – ) by Gail Carriger

These books are my (not-so) guilty pleasure.  A new series, the first installment, Soulless, only came out in late 2009, it is firmly grounded in the steampunk tradition (of which I’m a big fan).  Witty, fun and not taking themselves all that seriously, they’re everything pop fiction should be.  They are essentially romantic adventure books which center around Alexia Tarabotti, a late Victorian spinster-type, who just so happens to have a preternatural power that makes her a threat (or is it an ally?) to the supernatural set which includes, mainly, vampires and werewolves.  Somebody summed her up as a Buffy with a parasol. But I think that’s not right at all. I would describe her more as a Scully from the X-Files with a parasol.  Much of the comedy springs from the drawing room manners and social mores of the Victorians.  Used, as we are, to vampires who let the fangs fly and indulge their animalistic urges, it’s quite a bit of fun to see them maneuver through the stuffy demands of fin-de-siècle upper crust England and maintain some standing.  At least for someone like me it is. But then I take my Earl Grey with three lumps of sugar; thank you, Hudson.  The newest installment, Blameless, comes out at the end of the month which gives you just enough time to tear through the first two. And, no, you don’t have to read them under a parasol or whilst sipping tea. But it helps.

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