90’s

Does Ang Lee’s “The Wedding Banquet” Break Backs?

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Once I was old enough, I spent my summer breaks at home instead of having to go to a day care. My parents both worked, so I wound up spending many of those days home alone. While I did have chores that needed doing and friends that I could see, most of my day was spent doing whatever I liked, and it was my first taste of independence.  

One summer day while flipping through channels, I came across this movie that showed a Chinese wedding. While they were dressed in western clothes, they were engaging in various wedding games that seemed foreign to me based on the Southern weddings I had attended up to that point.

I must have continued searching channels, but upon returning I was transfixed by what I saw. Two men entered an apartment and began to kiss, tear at each other’s clothes, and they were practically undressed by the time they got up stairs, where they unexpectedly found one of the men’s father. They proceeded to discreetly dress and tend to the older man’s health, hoping he hadn’t heard their discourse that would have led to intercourse.

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While I had had my own experiences of this nature despite my youth (which is a long story on its own…), this was my first time seeing this in a film or in any way depicted on TV. I immediately identified with their need for secrecy, their fear of discovery, their worry of disappointing family. Basically, that was all reality for me and my young mind was both exhilarated at the chance to see other people, albeit fictional, with whom I could identify, and deathly afraid that this would also be the tragic path my life would follow because of being gay.

The movie was 1993’s “The Wedding Banquet,” by Ang Lee who is also known for “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” and that other famous gay flick “Brokeback Mountain.”

The film is about a Taiwanese man who is living his life as a gay American openly and happily with his partner in New York City. Half a world away in his homeland, his family is constantly harping on him about getting married, going so far as to send potential brides to visit him. Eventually, this pressure builds to the point where Wai’s partner Simon suggests that he marry a Taiwanese tenant Wei Wei, who fears her time in America will soon end with deportation if she can’t find a job or a man.

The marriage of convenience turns out to be anything but when Wai’s parents insist on coming to visit America for the wedding. One thing leads to another in a comical way until finally the deception begins to break down everyone involved. While the truth of the matter is not easy to accept or divulge, it turns out to be for the best.

The obvious themes of being gay and coming out are apparent here, and they’re explored thoughtfully. They are also paired with the cultural ramifications. While it is Taiwanese customs that are challenged by Wai’s homosexuality, it’s easy to switch out any culture, even an American one, and the story’s applicability stands.

Wai’s scene coming out  to his mother is genuine, even considering the early 90’s setting. The difficulties he describes gay people have finding relationships when even straight people have a hard time are headed breaking, and his explanation that he was “born this way” rings true even decades before Lady Gaga made it a tagline. When Wai’s father comes out in his own way, telling Simon that he knows about them and that he just wants to make sure his son is taken care of, I cried. It was beautiful and simple.

And that is probably the film’s greatest strength, aside from its clever writing: the endearing characters. Every single one gets into your soul in some way. In fact, none of them are antagonists in a major way as much as they are all struggling against the situation. In that sense, you get a chance to understand each one, and that’s where they get to you, and you can feel what they are all going through.

While Ang Lee is more well known for “Brokeback Mountain” and its challenge to American culture in particular made it more controversial and famous, I feel like I prefer the tone of “The Wedding Banquet”.  While the inherent warning of the former suggests that America’s steadfast adherence to traditional masculinity and heterosexuality can indeed be back-breaking and life-shattering, the latter shows the benefits benefits of cultural progress, even if the price is accepting an emerging culture that has very little precedent.

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Even more outstanding is that all is this was done in a time when marriage equality was unthinkable, even though gay marriage itself is not addressed. It’s just a shame that the themes explored in this film may not have appealed to a 90’s crowd that was still reeling from the AIDS crisis.

When I was explaining to my own partner last week about this film and how it still resonated with me, I was surprised that he knew what I was talking about (he doesn’t watch as many movies as I do) and produced a copy of it for us to watch. Finally watching it in its entirety bright back a flood of old feelings that I could more easily handle now that I can deal with that aspect if my life.

I am glad to say that my own life has turned out similarity to this film. While I had my own phase of being closeted, hiding from my parents who I really am, the truth has finally come out for us all. Like Wai, I have my own partner and my parents know him and see that I’m happy. It could have turned it much worse, and for many others the characters of “Brokeback Mountain” are an unfortunate reality. Perhaps “The Wedding Banquet” may be more of what we will see in the world.

While it may have been a naive fantasy back in the 90’s, the film is now truer to life. That is as much a testament to how our society has developed as it is to Ang Lee’s ability to capture this particular slice of life, what it’s like to be gay, and to find acceptance.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Canadian K.D.’s Constant Craving

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Oh, the nineties. After the fun, excessive decade of the 80’s which featured innovation stacked on top the also over the top decade of the seventies, things became more subdued. Men sang about their grungy emotions, stopped wearing make up, and women starting to take center stage as moody gravitas-bearing muses. Even some of them stopped wearing make up, too. It wasn’t all Cyndi Lauper and her party anthems anymore. No, this was the decade of serious women. And more black and white videos.

#52 “Constant Craving” by K.D. Lang. Released in 1992, and then again in 1993, this song became a major hit. Unexpectedly, K.D. won Best Female Pop Vocal and Best Female Video awards (Female Video? Videos have a gender? Don’t they mean Video by a Female?).

Whether you identify with it’s lyrics due to feelings you have towards someone you like, or perhaps a vice you can’t shake, and those may very well be the same thing, it’s not difficult to imagine why this song was so popular. We tend to crave the things that are bad for us, don’t we? Knowing we shouldn’t indulge only makes those cravings worse. And more constant.

The video features a stage production of “Waiting for Godot.” The themes (pick one, many have studied it and there are several) were meant to complement the themes of the song. Is K.D. craving the return of a currently absent yet soon to return Godot-esque figure? Maybe she is just craving a chance to play a role in a production that famously features only men. Regardless, having her sing backstage while we see the play performed mirrors how our deep longings continuously rack our minds behind the scenes, while we put on a mask to the world that we are just fine.

While I usually rag on the choice of so many 90’s videos to go black and white, the choice here provides a bleak and stark effect that magnifies the light and dark shades of emotion depicted in the song and video. The song deserved its acclaim, which makes it sad that we still don’t hear this song as often anymore, despite being featured on music-recycling powerhouse Glee.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Someday, That Sugar Ray…

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There’s something weirdly “meta” about music that occurs sometimes. Listening to something, you can’t help but feel a premonition of the nostalgia that a song will trigger many years down the line. It’s like you’re listening to a glimpse of the future, which, when listening to that song in that future, becomes a link to the past. It’s like that moment you know will be a memory, or that instance when the most mundane thing becomes memorable, remains forever like a two-way mirror. You always remember that there’s another side, even though you can only look through one direction at a time.

#54 “Someday” by Sugar Ray. Sugar Ray began as an Alternative band with a couple of albums devoted to a harder sound. ’97’s “Floored” was the pinnacle of that sound, but ironically their unique-sounding (on that record), reggae-inspired “Fly” was their biggest hit. It became popular across several formats aside from Alternative and Modern Rock, and many claimed that Sugar Ray could never do such a thing again. Their next album “14:59” (which hints at their “15 minutes of fame”) came along 1999 with more hits, including “Someday” among others like “Every Morning”.

“Someday” is a slower track, featuring some then-common synth organ accompaniment. It’s a sad sounding song, remorseful, and hints at some kind of regret or nostalgia. It was this sense, as well as a line in the lyrics, “I hear a song from another time and fade away”, that stuck with me. Even back in ’99 I knew that I would hear this in the future and that it would become the self-same song from another time. The video features a bar in some kind of Key West-ish retirement community or something. The whole thing is in black and white (oh, 90’s…) as if to evoke that effect of time passing. Overall, it’s a pretty good tune, and the kind of softer ditty that Sugar Ray would continue to put out.

You see, at the time of “14:59″s release, Sugar Ray was accused of selling out. They had already established themselves as a pretty decent Alternative act throughout the early and mid 90’s, but this attempt to garner more top-of-the-charts kind of acclaim led them to begin producing a more pop-oriented sound. Whether or not you agree with their apparent selling out and throwing their alternative sound under the bus, it was a successful move for them. Throughout the next decade they had become a pop staple, and left behind nary a trace of their alternative roots.

Every now and then, this song still plays on Adult Contemporary stations and I take a moment to reminisce. I remember musing that this song would stick around on the radio while sitting in the bathtub, my broken wrist hanging dryly off the side in a cast, and that I would always think about that someday in the past when I took the chance to deeply listen to the song, and that someday in the unknown future when I’d hear it again.

Ninety 90’s Songs: Where Did Love Lead You?

Whatever happened to Taylor Dayne? Turns out her career is chugging along well enough, but I would have figured she’d have been a bigger hit. She had everything, it seemed, to hit Mariah Carey-esque heights, but before such a thing even happened for Mariah. She had the voice, the power, the glory, and the biggest set of lips. Surely that was enough.

#89 “Love Will Lead You Back” is barely a 90’s song. From the album “Can’t Fight Fate”, it debuted in January of 1990 and it has that in-between feel of an R&B hit trying to find its way out of the 80’s and into the 90’s. If the guitar solo had any harder an edge, we would definitely be veering into Joan Jett or Pat Benatar territory, but it manages to restrain itself and it faintly echoes something Slash would belt out for Guns N’ Roses.

It’s a classy song overall, and something of a curio amid 90’s music. A grandiose ballad by neither Mariah Carey nor Whitney Houston, yet it still packs a bemoaning, sobbing, musical punch. An interesting fact about the song, it was written by Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren, who wrote music for Celine Dion and that big power-ballad comeback for Aerosmith “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” for terribad film “Armageddon”.

That’s good company to keep (well… except for the whole “Armageddon” thing), and maybe it’s due to being crafted by a skilled songwriter that I enjoy Taylor Dayne’s performance of it so much. If anything, this song heralded the style of soulful pop that continued to be popular for the rest of the decade.

Sit back and have a listen, and pray Taylor Swift doesn’t swoop in and cover this as a duet with Justin Bieber.