Anna Karina in Pierre le Fou


Queerifying the Cannes Film Festival

Queer Palm Jury 2012: Moira Sullivan, Sam Ashby, Sarah Neal, Jim Dobson, Frank Finance Maduiera, Frédéric Niolle, Jury President, Julie Gayet.
For three years, Paris journalist Franck Finance Maduiera (love his name) has tried to invoke a queer presence on the Croisette of the Cannes Film Festival, and a prize honoring the work of queer filmmakers. It is a noble and ambitious effort in this dinosaur of an event with a protocol that is rigid and obscenely heteronormative. A formal  "queer" cinema jury is a great way to encroach on this sacred territory of red carpet events, obligatory formal evening wear ("smoking" and gowns), and noxious guards.
There is no better word that captures the nature of the Cannes Film Festival than "inferno". This is a journey to experience the excesses of greed and lust and the recognition and rejection of them.  Fans can gaze at the stars as they arrive in limos, and through mediated imagery. Four thousand "media" mass and are held captive for the festival like a Hitchcock aviary. Of these are a couple of hundred journalists, and I was one of them. The badges for the press connote access privileges from bottom to top priority: Orange, Yellow, Blue, Pink, Pink with a Dot (“Rose et Pastille") and White. The caste system has to do with the frequency of publication and medial range such as Internet hits and the kind of publication (print, online). I was issued a yellow badge, and it got me into nearly everything, if I arrived an hour in advance. It got me into the splendid pressroom with state of the art computers and print facilities, and spacious balcony overlooking the Croisette and "les steppes" - the steps of the red carpet. There was also a WIFI café for laptops. It was not always easy to work, as it was far easier to attend screenings rather then switch gears and produce instead of consume. But these films will take a long time to reach the theatres, and some never will so it was a tough call to sit long hours in the press room over watching new cinema.
There is a huge Cannes market and thereby other divisions of difference: high priority purple stripe Market badges, or not. Finally there are cinéphile badges for getting into screenings where market and press go first. Two of the jury members had these; three were press, and one market. This made it difficult to get into screenings as an ensemble, and only the International Critics week took the trouble to reserve seats with our names. Franck managed to get several invitations, but sometimes we were turned away from these as well.
I came to Cannes as a member of the Queer Palm Jury and this has to be one of the best festival experiences I have ever had. Being mirrored at a predominately gender coded event by peers, not only superficially but also on deeper levels of genuine cineaste spirit and outrageous frolicking, was intoxicating. We were invited to many parties such as the International Critics Week (excessive risotto), the Chivas (a temple of bacchus) and the American Pavilion Queer party, which Macy Gray and Lee Daniels (Paperboy, official competition) attended. 
Through all of this was the recognition of excess and the constant choice to accept or reject it. On the Croisette there are invitations for sex by high-class sex workers, and there are sumptuous bacchanalian opportunities if you are suited up for them. The trip over the edge of the cliff without well-entrenched restraint can be done in a snap. It helps to be sober and there are daily AA meetings in town just for the festival.
The large Red Carpet (rouge tapis)  event we attended was the premiere of Michael Haneke's Amour, the film that won the Palme d'Or.  I was told that if I didn't wear a dress, that I wouldn't get in. Last year, a woman on the Queer Palm jury was turned away in pants. Before I left Stockholm, I searched for something that didn't make me look like a total idiot, and came up empty. I decided to wear a Chinese silk suit with no time to acquire a Manchu robe from San Francisco Chinatown, my preferred compromise. In a way I wished that I had worn that suit. . Sarah Neal whisked me over to Monoprix for a 15€ long black skirt, so in my mind it could pass for an Aikido suit, acceptable. (It looked a little like the skirt Jean Paul Gautier wore at the closing ceremony of the festival).I felt encumbered by the clothing and did not feel it was me I recognize that I was cut out of a lot of pictures. I did not look like the prototype. And in some ways I have tortured myself a bit that I am not more "femme" and can't pass. French waiters in Paris have referred me to as “monsieur” for years. Photographers are after the classic Cannes look. There were over 100 photographers who snapped pictures. For the majority of them, they were interested in the president of our jury, French actress and producer Julie Gayet.
Julie Gayet, Sam Ashby, Franck Finance Maduiera, Sarah Neal
Julie Gayet is a breath of fresh air and reminds me of a fairy. She is funny, articulate and it just so happens that she was born gorgeous. So the red carpet event for the Queer Palm Jury was labeled in the media as "Julie Gayet on the Red Carpet". This is one of many ways our jury was made "Les Invisibles". Our names were called out as we stood, and our pictures were on the screen projected outside the Lumiére theatre, but in the end, Julie Gayet represented us all.  Gayet has acted in five films as a lesbian and is adored by both the French press and the gay public. Julie was a real trooper, and insisted always on being photographed with her jury, but our heads and bodies were often cropped off since she does not have total control on what is snapped. I was cropped off the most. The un-femme, the androgynous oddity, of the ensemble, the rebel of the dress code. This is the way the media treated my presence. Still, I know that everyone on the jury and Julie treated me as a valued member. A poem by the French poet Paul Valéry who founded the alternative Collège de Cannes is useful here:
Your steps, children of my silence,
Holily, slowly placed,
Towards the bed of my vigilance
Proceed dumb and frozen.
We had intense discussions about the film that we were to award the Queer Palm. My personal preference was Lee Daniel's Paperboy. For me it was a mesmerizing document engaging the inherent connection between racism, sexism and homophobia. I revel at the embedded meaning that this queer director has assembled with a fantastic cast (Macy Gray, Zach Efron, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey and David Oyelowo - and crew. Our jury was divided on this one, and we had decided to award a film were there was no division. We would palm a film for its content and form and arrived at Xavier Dolan's Laurence, Anyways, (Un Certain Regard competition, )a film about a man who wants to live as a woman. There is no way this film cannot be regarded as queer. We looked at several films where the actor was queer in real life (Soko in Augustine, France 2012) or there were marginal queer characters, even fluid identities  in Holy Motors, and the gender ambiguous Japanese Yanki (see Kamikaze Girls, Japan, 2006) in Takeshi Miike's Ai to Makoto - The Legend of Love and Sincerity.
Xavier Dolan wanted to accept the prize, but his producer did not. In the end, even though he "accepted it", he did not show up to "accept" his award, symbolizing the inherent director/producerconflict. The reason given was that they couldn't get through the inferno, as I understood it. His absence was his presence, and even Xavier Dolan in the end made the Queer Palm "invisible".  However, the Queer Palm for a short film went to Ce n’est pas un film de cowboy, by Benjamin Parent who came to the awards ceremony. His film is about young people who deconstruct queer identity in Broke Back Mountain to come to terms with what it means to be gay.
At the Queer Palm awards the final night, we were photographed together. At one point a photo request was made by a man who wanted to be in the photo and who pushed me aside to be next to Julie. Julie looked at me in apology;  that acknowledgment was important. Julie is just great.  I know she is questioned for championing the Queer Palm and I observe how she has to deal with droolers but holds her own with acumen.  At bars I have been pushed aside, moved aside, or elbowed or ribbed. An evening gown and femme clothes might have helped, but regardless my gender is also at issue. When standing at the café bar getting a coffee with jury member Sarah Neal, a burly man forced his way through as if we were not even standing there. We remark that he would never have done that if two men were standing. I decide to say something to that effect and he looked at me with irritation and surprise. I know it helped for me to separate totally from men at one point in my life to see where I begin, and where I end. Since public physical space is an arena of genderfication, I decided to implode that invisible line. I realize since then, that men cross over it all the time. When women do it, it is for different reasons.
At the awards, an organizer from Cineffable, one of the only non-mixte lesbian film festivals in the world held in Paris during Touissant came up and was so excited I was on the jury. I love the Cineffable event, and we often have a problem explaining the festival's non-mixte space. But really, as I reflect on the inconveniences I experienced for 12 days in Cannes, I am grateful for the meaning of that space.
On the final day of Cannes as I waited for a taxi with heavy suitcases, a man tried to drive in the driveway of my residence with a huge SUV. I was exhausted lifting those suitcases and my cab was waiting behind, meter running. The driver wildly gestured for me to move and it was not easy so I wheeled the luggage through the space available, a little tiny space between his big voiture and my taxi, and he got out, not once, but twice, to call me a salope. I realize that in taking my space and trying to use my space, to him I was just a whore. 
Fortunately, I was able to meet Sam Ashby at the bus stop to Nice airport. We did a tarot reading on the way and then fell asleep until we hit the airport. Sarah Neal offered to hunt down the SUV driver and take him out. This is an example of the exceptional kind of jury I was on.
Those wondrous enchanting creatures of the jury are: regal Sam Ashby, publisher of Little Joe, with imperious debonair charm; the invigorating hilarity and generosity of LA publicist Jim Dobson, the poetic enchantment of the magical Canal Plus journalist Frédéric Niolle, the passionate and affectionate sweetness and brain power of Brisbane Queer Festival organizer Sarah Neal, and the relentless and affirming guardianship of Franck Finance Medieura journalist for Yagg, the largest queer internet portal in France.
For me, we WERE, the Queer Palm. We embodied the principles of our mission in our vision and teamwork. We exhaustively dissected each film that was on our program. Many of them were obviously not queer. But we loved them anyway for their unique perspectives. Franck told us that the definition of "queer" cinema would be of meaning to a young spectator seeing the Queer Palm winner, and would know it was a representation of him or herself. For this reason, even if Dolan ( or his producer) may not have not wanted us to award the significance of his film, we chose Laurence, Anyways - a prophetic title for us.  The French queer press in Nice and a Cineffable programmer in Paris agree. It is a paradox that what is obviously queer runs the risk of being ghettoized at a box office. Sometimes it does work like that. Dolan's film that was in the division "Un Certain Regard" went home prize-less from the "official juries" and snubbed the Queer palm. 
Every day there are thousands of movies produced. They are theatrically produced in hundreds of copies that make the cineplexes, or they have limited theatrical release and show up at film festivals, or some small arthouse cinema. For queer spectators we adore the films that are harmonious, challenging and speak to us. Queer spectatorship is a part of the film industry and yet our population is regarded by distributors and buyers as invisible. It shouldn't. One study made in Details Magazine demonstrates that if a box office releases a film with a primarily lesbian theme, the box office increases 10%. 
The Queer Palm may not make a real dent in the architecture of the pageant now, and it may take ten years to do so. But queer audiences know of the palm award. Regardless, making your way through the jungle of Cannes is often depleting, and for the queer spectator its best to note the invisibility, continue to affirm queer identity and not internalize the forces that don't matter.
We made a short film after the awards ceremony entitled "Death Quest". Each of us laid down and played dead. Above each of us, we all spoke of the things we wanted from that person, now that they were dead, such as their hair, smile, personality, or power. It was an incredible experience to realize that we had seen each other, all of us and it did not matter how we were seen by mediated culture. Every one of us has a self-image that it far too important.
When people assemble from all parts of the world, unknown to each other, and meet, they create a "Dragon". In the spiritual sense a dragon is created out of order and chaos, the bound and the unbound. We are the mirrors of the conventions of society and we have completed an odyssey, on a vision quest that has liberated those frozen steps. This is one memory I will cherish forever. Je t'embrasse toujours.
Moira Sullivan  Film Critic FIPRESCI  Movie Magazine International, San Francisco;  Film Paris Note: An edited version was published in The Advocate, May, 30 2012.  


Interview with Julie Gayet President of 65th Festival de Cannes Queer Palm Jury

Interview with Julie Gayet President of 65th Festival de Cannes Queer Palm Jury, by Moira Sullivan,


"Anyway you fix me LORD; I'll be satisfied". Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston: "Your love is My love.

Whitney Houston: Going Home February 18, 2012

The decision by Whitney Houston's family to call their final tribute to the late entertainer a "home going" ceremony in the church where she sang as a young girl, New Hope Baptist Church, Newark NJ,  brought her close to the many devotees who loved her and listened to her music for over 30 years. It is worth mentioning that when Whitney sang, her eyes often looked up to the heavens, to her source of inspiration.

Many of the tributes at the ceremony were religiously inspired in the Baptist tradition, and in the face of an early death were perhaps comforting to those who wondered how a troubled passing could happen to someone so gifted.
From Whitney Houston we have learned that music, was love. When her voice started to fail during hard times, she was left without the instrument of her divinity. Everything about her comeback in recent years had to do with getting back on stage, on screen, making albums and expressing her gift to her fans.
Clive Davis, who Houston called her "industry father", remarked that she was sure to "raise the roof in heaven like no one else has done before". No doubt, she has done that on earth, especially her home state New Jersey where flags were flown today at half mast.

Brother in law Ray Watson, Houston's real bodyguard - “Uncle Ray “ reminded the world, “we don’t need to ridicule artists”.  It is not just about the price of a ticket that counts to an artist, he said, but to be acknowledged with love. He explained how Whitney flew all around the world on a demanding schedule, and that she did it for the love of music and her fans. Houston learned that it was a tough business after her initial successes, which we heard in interviews with Diane Sawyer and Oprah Winfrey in recent years.

Aunt Dionne Warwick read the poem "I'm Free" by Shannon Lee Moseley in honor of her niece. This for many of her fans, family and friends was also of comfort no matter how many would have wanted Whitney Houston here today.
An excerpt:
“My life's been full, I savored much;
Good friends, good times, a loved one's touch.
Perhaps my time seems all too brief;
Don't lengthen your pain with undue grief.
Lift up your heart and peace to thee,
God wanted me now - He set me free”.

There was time for laughter too at the ceremony. Warwick joked to Houston after she sang the "National Anthem" in such an illuminating way at Super Bowl XXV, "what's next, the phone book?"

According to sister in law and former manager Patricia Houston, Whitney’s love of God was strong: "Anyway you fix me LORD; I'll be satisfied", she had said.
Patricia consoled Whitney's mother Cissy Houston, telling her that she had done her best. Pastor Marvin Winans who ended the tribute with a rousing sermon also comforted "Mama Cissy": "You brought the world to church today".  

The church choir where Houston sang solo performed the introductory hymn "Grateful" by Hezekiah Walker and later accompanied gospel singer Kim BurrellStevie Wonder rearranged his lyrics from "Ribbon in the Sky" for Whitney, and Alicia Keyes sang a soulful ballad to Houston - "Send Me an Angel".

Kevin Costner, co-star and producer of The Bodyguard (1992), where Whitney made her film debut, spoke about holding back production for a year while Whitney was on tour to make sure she would be in it, and later supporting her through the screen test she was terrified to do for the studio. Costner spoke about the background of the title song of the film, "I Will Always Love You" which became Whitney's biggest hit and number one on the charts nationally and around the world. Costner said the song was chosen over "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted". He told the church that he and Whitney Houston shared experiences of growing up in the Baptist church on the movie set.

The "Home Going" was an important closure for Whitney Houston’s fans, family and friends. The streaming coverage on the Internet offset the media commentary we have been bombarded with this past week - rumors, insinuations, criticism and speculation.
The tribute, which as Pastor Marvin Winans remarked "had more celebrities in the room than the Grammys", did not focus on personalities but on the woman everyone came to honor. The camera was placed at the back of the church with no closeups.

CNN also covered the streamed event of the ceremony devoid of commentary until after the ceremony. As expected, the invasive style customary of mass media began. But for four hours, this sober and warm ceremony was a beautiful homage to Whitney Houston, something the public groomed on celebrity news is unused to experiencing.

"Home Going" put the life of Whitney Houston into a loving perspective and allowed us to say goodbye to the artist whose music will live on. As her golden casket was carried out of the church, “I Will Always Love You” took on new meaning for the young girl who was born with the greatest gift of all: the ability to love and express love through music. This song became her goodbye to us all.


Whitney Houston, we will embrace your divinity, always.

This photograph accompanied an article which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday on Valentine's Day, February 14:

Whitney Houston: Her burden was also ours. 

This article made me better understand a woman's comments today. She said she didn't want to listen to Whitney Houston because she was an addict, and didn't live the themes of her songs and made so much money off of them. She had actually never heard that addiction is an illness.  This belief is still widespread and has re-surfaced with Houston's death.

Houston's later financial difficulties despite all her successes was in part due to that she only had "artist" royalties for radio spins and albums. The lion's share went to Sony and the songwriters. She didn't write the majority of her hits, she sang them.* However, she clearly had assets in the millions. The music mogul who brought the young Houston to prominence was Clive Davis. She was in Hollywood to attend his pre-Grammy party at the hotel where she died. Twenty four hours after her death 61,000 albums of her "Greatest Hits" were sold.  Davis helped support her at the end of her life, and it was only right, as she made him millions of dollars.

The phenomenal vocalist was groomed for a role that she couldn't live up to in the long run, or rather chose not to. It was an image that she rejected that many still wanted her to have. We did not want the new one, the one with Bobby Brown, the reality TV shows, the erratic behavior, the using. 

Addiction is an illness

Whitney Houston's early year achievements and performances from the 80's through the 90's commanded national media attention. Drug and alcohol abuse put her health in a downward spiral in the new millennium. This event gathered equally copious vigilance .

"The ride was not worth the fall". 

 "The rapacious creditor" thrives in the music and entertainment industry with fatal conviction: Judy Garland, 46, Michael Jackson, 51, Marilyn Monroe, 36, Jimi Hendrix, 28, Janis Joplin, 27, Jim Morrison, 28, Amy Winehouse, 28, Whitney Houston, 48.  It is a widespread illness that respects no one. 

Many surrounding Whitney Houston "enabled" her -  kept her ill by not properly understanding what it means to be clean and sober (no substances, including alcohol). These actions included prescribing addictive substances, engaging her too quickly in the demanding work of an entertainer when she needed time to recover, inviting her to parties where alcohol was served and offering her drinks.  Recovery from addiction is not about "almost having it all", it's about having it all, with conscientious help.

It is our burden as we watched helplessly, expecting her to get miraculously better on her own, and looking down on her, because she didn't have the "will power" to recover on her own. Reflecting an attitude that even the ancient Greeks understood: that substance abuse is an illness that changes a person, causing them to lose their divinity.

No one can or should recover, alone.

Whitney Houston, we will embrace your divinity, always.

* Songs written by Whitney Houston


Whitney Houston 1963-2012

A beautiful talented artist with sheer virtuosity

Whitney Houston: Queen of the Night, "The Bodyguard"

Special to the San Francisco -
February 11, 2012
by Moira Sullivan

Queen of the Night

The Bodyguard (1992) is a timeless memento of vocalist Whitney Houston. It is one of the few films she made in her extraordinary music career.  Others include Forest Whitaker's Waiting to Exhale (1995) and Penny Marshall's The Preacher's Wife (1996), both where Houston was nominated for Image awards for best actress. Her new film Sparkle will be released this year about drug and alcohol abuse in the lives of three sisters who form a successful singing group. In the beginning stages of production for 2013, was a sequel to Waiting to Exhale where Houston would return to play Savannah Jackson.

At it's premiere in 1992, The Bodyguard  opened to negative reviews. The criticism was aimed at the direction  (Mike Jackson), script (Lawrence Kasdan), and film style --but not Houston, and certainly not her mesmerizing performance in the film. She adapted  Linda Ronstadt's cover of "I Will Always Love You" written by Dolly Parton and together with Clive Davis produced the music for the film.  In her phrasing, Houston shows her virtuosity and brilliance as an artist, in a song emulated by young vocalists for years.

The feature is built around pop diva, Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston), who is being stalked by a sadistic killer. The film features elaborate costume changes and stagecraft. Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner) is hired by Marron's manager to protect her but soon finds it hard to resist her charm, even though he has been trained to not respond to people with social etiquette. Marron is a vocalist who does need protection and that is what Farmer does.

The claim that the film was considered a breakthrough for interracial dating is inflated. The relationship between the two is limited since Farmer breaks it off before it even begins, and shows little personal attention to Rachel afterwards. She is, on the other hand, eternally grateful to him for saving her life, which is how the theme song "I Will Always Love You" fits with the narrative. The title song has more do with Rachel Marron's unrequited feelings of love for the man who cannot share her life.

On their one date, Farmer takes Marron to the movies to see The Seven Samurai (1954) by Akira Kurosawa, and afterwards to his home where she picks up his samurai sword. Farmer then takes the sword from her and throws her sheer pink shawl up in the air, which the sword slices like butter. This facile detail represents that Marron is no match for Farmer's raw strength, something which is proven the following morning when he calls the date a mistake. This conquest of a great star, who must be totally subjugated in order for him to protect her, endears him to her forever.

Although The Bodyguard is about the buildup and breakdown of Rachel Marron. a powerful woman who winds up falling for her bodyguard, it is more appropriately a showcase of Whitney Houston and her talents. It features the song that has become most associated with her - "I Will Always Love You", who took it to a level that the song writer never did. In her phrasing, Houston shows her virtuosity and brilliance as an artist, in a song emulated by young vocalists for years.

Whitney, Bobby Brown, Cissy Houston,and Robyn Crawford
According to Houston's high school friend and number one assistant for many years, Robyn Crawford, Whitney had already thought about doing a cover of Dolly Parton's song before Kevin Costner approached her. "She did the movie, she did the music [co-writer of "Queen of the Night"], she did everything", said Crawford, "— and when she was done, she was done. She nailed it. The music supervisor brought her Linda Ronstadt's version of "I Will Always Love You" way before Kevin Costner brought Dolly Parton's version — and she always knew what she could do with it. So when Kevin came in and played it for her and told her he wanted her to sing it for the movie, she said, "Fine." She wasn't much for showing off what she had, except when she had to".

Houston was at the pinnacle of her career when The Bodyguard was made, and even if it isn't the best directed or best written film, it was still a popular centerpiece for the artist.

The Bodyguard shows us the strength and determination that is necessary for a beautiful soul with incredible talent to have a successful career at the expense of a fulfilling personal life. Rachel Marron's temperamental personality as a pop diva is driven by the fact that everyone wants a piece of her. We acquire realistic insights about how life can be for a major vocalist in the public eye, like Houston.

The sad news of Whitney Houston's death February 11, 2012 comes twenty years after The Bodyguard was released, when this brilliant vocalist was only 28.


"It's All About Music and the Love": Whitney Houston

This is the best rendition of this signature song of Whitney Houston, clearly showing her artistry and her creation at work in the moment before a live audience in 1999.  Bless Whitney Houston for her gift to us.

This clip shows the amazing collaboration of Whitney Houston and up and coming Mary J Blige..this is a really sad day feeling all this woman gave us and how much a part of our lives her music is. Bless You Whitney Houston, my personal favorite vocalist of all time....


The Final Episode: Xena: Warrior Princess

From the archives of CinéFemme Forum

Mt Olympus, Lesbos Greece
The Xena : Warrior Princess series is classic, and invites viewers to behold it years after the episodes ended in 2001. I watched Xena now and then in Greece during summer vacations when the show was broadcast, dubbed in Greek. But I had no idea that Xena was Thracian and Mt Olympus was located on the very island of Lesbos where I was, the birthplace of Sappho. Women went to a particular souvlaki tavern to catch the show on the TV, and I have finally understood their enthusiasm years later, having recently finished watching all six seasons this week.
Yes, there are still spectators out their discovering Xena for the first time.

I went to my first convention last month and wrote a report for San Francisco Convention 2010: Still Alive and Living in Los Angeles and did a radio interview for Movie Magazine Intl, San Francisco with Steven L Sears featured on webradio this week.
I realize that my experiences are like others who have discovered and will discover the magic of Xena: Warrior Princess. But many things came clear to me about the series in the final episode.

I knew beforehand that Xena dies in the end. My sister told me and I was crushed But knowing this made me pay attention to premonitions of her eventual destruction. I noticed that there was always this cloud of atonement in the air. Xena had died before and came back to life but nowhere as brutal as in the last episode. It is not only that Xena was killed, but how she was killed.

The Greek Fates or Moirae: Clotho (Κλωθώ),  "spinner" of the thread of life,
Lachesis (Λάχεσις) ,"alloter" of the thread of life allotted to each person,
(Ἄτροπος, "unturning"),  the cutter of the thread

Xena: Warrior Princess devotees, this series would never have founds its true momentum. Thank you Xenites, for being a source of inspiration.
I am still feeling a chill about that last episode.....and a lot of sadness....

A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed, So Where was Gabrielle?

The relationship between Gabrielle and Xena was carefully established over the years. Watching Gabrielle come into her own power and learn to fight like a warrior was remarkable, but it never ceased to amaze me how skilled Xena was.  She could take on more than several foes at once, and rescued Gabrielle countless times.
In the final episode Xena asks Gabrielle where they should go next. In synch with her question, a monk arrives with a beautiful sword that once belonged to Xena and he tells her that her services are requested in the East.
The soul-eating demon Yodoshi has been snatching people’s souls right and left so Akemi sends for the “Warrior Princess”  to  set things right.   Xena met Akemi a long time ago and followed her presumably to get the ransom on her head from her family. Along the way Akemi stops by her grandfather’s grave. His spirit tells her that Xena needs a better sword. The warrior princess has to fight for a mighty one from the arrogant sword makers who don’t want to make one for a woman. The monk delivers this to her with Akemi’s request. Xena has to go, and Gabrielle must follow:  "where you go, I go".

Akemi’s father Yodoshi turned into a demon after she put “the pinch” on him which Xena taught her. The pinch causes blood to rush to the brain and death in 30 seconds. Gabrielle is astonished that she would have taught this to Akemi. Perhaps now we know why Xena always hesitated to teach it to Gabrielle. She told Gabrielle that Akemi broke her heart and was the first woman to teach her about love. Well, talk about it anyway, as Xena didn’t understand that Akemi’s rapidly beating heart was a sign of passion.  It was hard to figure out  Akemi's  motives from the very beginning. After Akemi puts the pinch on her father, she suddenly commits Harakiri with a sword. Her dying wish is for Xena to take her ashes to a special shrine for protection. This tragic event causes Xena to momentarily become an alcoholic, and stumble through the streets carrying Akemi’s ashes. The villagers have hacked off her hair. When they attack her again, the urn breaks into pieces and the ashes scatter. In defense Xena takes one of their torches of fire, to defend herself, a fire that spreads through the entire village. She learns later that 40,000 people lost their lives that day. And whose fault was that?

On her new visit to the “Land of the Rising Sun” (Japan), the soul-eating demon Yodoshi has prepared a welcome for Xena with a ton of soldiers. They first set fire to a village. Xena asks Gabrielle what she would do in this case, the first time, and  a premonition of the retreat of the Warrior Princess.  Gabrielle suggests using acrobatics to approach the water tower for extinguishing the flames. “Its not what I would have done”, Xena says afterwards, “but it worked”. Xena teaches her "the pinch," and tells her that if there were 30 seconds remaining in her life, she would only feel love for Gabrielle. Tidings of things to come.
Akemi’s ghost lives in a teahouse outside of town with two other ghouls. When Xena visits, one of them alerts Yodoshi who comes running. He warns Xena what he has in store for her and that she will lose her head. Akemi knows what she is in store for too, but doesn’t tell the whole story, and never has. Xena learns hat she must die to enter the underworld and conquer Yodoshi. But Akemi doesn’t warn her there is no way back after her death.

That a manipulative and child-like waif who is a super tease leads Xena to her death is allowed to reek havoc on the warrior’s life is astonishing after so many tests and ordeals through the series. The fire that took so many lives was started in self defense because of Akemi’s sudden death and Xena’s despair, and it was  hardly an act of malice that the fire spread so quickly.  What about the conscience of the villagers for shaming a woman and ridiculing and tormenting her? But should this end the love she experiences with Gabrielle. Isn’t Xena smarter after all of these years to fall for Akemi's games? Isn't Gabrielle worthy of a life with her? Apparently not. Xena buries her copper breast plate, and adorns a royal warrior outfit with silver and crimson trim, and strikes out on her own to conquer an enormous army, without Gabrielle. She does well in the battle. She sets the soldiers ammunition on fire, which creates a huge mushroom cloud, and takes many of them out with her bow and arrow. The Captain instructs his warriors to unleash a barrage of arrows, several which hit her and wear down her strength. The warriors then attack her with swords. Xena cries out for Gabrielle, unable to hold her own alone any longer. Why would she have done this if she didn’t have the will to live?  And why, for once does Gabrielle not appear ? The Captain marches up to Xena and hacks off her head. The screen goes red, and fortunately we don’t have to witness the beheading. A bloody chakram lays on the ground, used only once when it could have saved her life. Later when Gabrielle finds Xena’s naked body hung up outside a shed and we see her devastated and tear stained face, we know the murder has been brutal.

The Captain tells Gabrielle that Xena was a worthy fighter, but she counters that she died dishonorably, was unfairly outnumbered and slaughtered. She asks to see her head, which is propped up on a nearby plank like a trophy. Gabrielle avenges her death by killing the Captain and refusing to cut off his head. She returns to the little teahouse and meets Xena, who has not yet understood she is dead, for when she reaches for her chakram she cannot grasp it in her hand. She tells Gabrielle that death is the only way to conquer Yodoshi. Gabrielle believes her and burns her body. On the second sunset she is to take Xena’s ashes in a magic spring in order for her to return. When the Captain shows up again and attacks Gabrielle, the urn rolls away. After defeating Yodoshi and seeing that the souls he has captured will be condemned, Xena tells Gabrielle to forget about her ashes. She has to stay dead to atone for the 40, 000 dead souls. Gabrielle is stunned and crushed but accepts it, perhaps all too quickly. Most fans did not.

Writer RJ Stewart scripted this problematic narrative.  Throughout the series, and despite subtle hints, it finally registers that the romanticized “friendship” of Xena and Gabrielle truly fits with the ending. Having Xena by her side in spirit should be enough for Gabrielle. They have experienced being soul mates through declarations of love to each other, or when the frequently injured Gabrielle is held by Xena. In the end, Gabrielle attends to Xena’s corpse and must say farewell to her life on earth. Soul mates or not, enduring screen love is not for same sex mortals like Gabrielle and Xena. Xena has died and gone to heaven, the biggest myth of all. The parallels are transparent. "What greater love than he who laid down his life for our sins". For didn't the villagers attack and torment a grieving woman on the streets of their village, who forgave them, and gave them eternal peace?

When commenting on the episode years later, director Robert Tapert does most of the talking in the video commentary. It is his creation. Lucy Lawless looks somewhat glum while Gabrielle is gushing with comments, true to the character they played. In the preceding episode “When Fates Collide”, both Lawless and husband Tapert make a curious comment about Xena’s love for Gabrielle. While hanging on the cross, Xena says, “ I love you Gabrielle”. Lawless frowns, and says the declaration was "forced". "Yes", says Robert,” it was forced”. Did  Lawless mean that she felt "forced" to say this? Or that she should have said it more convincingly? This is in the MAIN TEXT, not SUBTEXT. For is it not appropriate to exclaim love after taking Gabrielle’s place on the cross? 
Sacrifice is the stuff of Greek tragedies. Gabrielle gets to love Xena in spirit for the rest of her life after the final episode, as it pretty much has been all along. And with chakram on waist, Tapert exclaims, “Its Gabrielle; Warrior Princess, but we couldn’t sell it". Was this the plan? Had Lawless decided to quit and pass the series on to O'Connor?

Endings where women atone for their past with their lives, where women are beaten and assaulted after kicking ass with superior skill for more than six years are problematic. It would be more honest to end in a manner more like Lawrence of Arabia and have Xena fall from a horse in an accident far removed from the battlefield.

So Sad to Fall in Battle is the story of the Japanese General Tadamichi Kuribayashi who lost the campaign at Iwo Jima during World War II. He refused to risk the life of his men in suicidal banzai attacks, but to fight defensively. Isn’t a suicidal attack what the Warrior Princess must do in the end? Suicidal missions have happened before in the series for Xena to clear away the wreckage of her past. The rush of adrenalin released in life threatening missions is the same substance that hooks bungee jumpers, ski divers and rally car drivers.
Gabrielle is not allowed to persuade Xena to remain alive, as Xena so many times has done for her.  Must her demise be the same as Akemi’s with confinement to the underworld ? Why is Akemi’s fate intertwined so much with Xena's?. Isn't it more with Gabrielle? Thank "The Fates" for fan fiction like“The Shipper:  7th Season”.

Lucy Lawless previously said that “Xena is not real”.  Perhaps not, but her character was made “real” through countless courageous and daring episodes affirmed by a dedicated following. Episodes speak to that devotee base. Most of us did NOT think this ending was believable. Xena deserved an honorable death, and was not given one: it was this Xena who was not “real”. Last year Lawless agreed: the ending not only hurt "the fans" but went against the grain of the episodes.

One final compelling question: in their adventures, Xena and Gabrielle have met historical figures such as Caesar, Homer, and Hippocrates. Why in heading towards the end of the season did Gabrielle not get to go to a play by Sappho on her birthday and meet her, but only get a piece of her poetry?
It is erroneously claimed that Sappho died for the love of a younger man by Greeks who are ashamed or threatened of the poet who loved women
(this kind of myth making is also at work in Xena in the episodes).  There have been legal battles to change the name of Lesbos to Mytilini, the capital city of the island where Sappho was born and ran a school for women, and for Greeks to have exclusive rights to the use of “Lesbian to designate "an inhabitant of Lesbos" ( Everyone on Lesbos is a "Lesbian").

Sappho should have been in the Xena series. And Gabrielle and Xena should have also experienced corporeal rather than only romantic love.As Sappho wrote, “Aphrodite crowned in gold, please let this piece of luck be mine”.
Sappho was a right on woman....

χενα lives....


Xena Convention 2012 - Is it Still the "Final Journey"?

Xena Convention 2012 - Is it Still the "Final Journey"? 

Baby Eve at the Xena Convention 2012 : Costume Show.
Baby Eve at the Xena Convention 2012 : Costume Show.
© Moira Sullivan 2012

Xena Convention 2012 : The Final Journey - Verdict In.

Special to the San Francisco Examiner, January 29, 2012
By Moira Sullivan

Lucy Lawless: Xena Convention 2012, Burbank.
The final day for the final journey turned out to be the final day before the next “final” convention. After photo ops and autographs, a panel of "Amazons" commanded the stage to reminisce about the show:  Jennifer Sky and Sheeri Rappaport. Also scheduled was Tsianina Joelson (Varia) who was unable to attend because of her baby.
One of the events at a Xena convention one shouldn't miss is a play based on a time honored character, and performed by Michael Hurst and Jennifer Ward-Lealand - The Widow Twanky. Hurst portrays an elderly diva who has been married countless times and was once a dance teacher.  Hurst first performed the character on Hercules: The Legendary Journey.
The director of episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules, Michael Levine, explained the differences in working with television in the US and New Zealand and some memorable scenes from the Xena series.
An homage to Kevin Smith (Ares) was a moving tribute made to the late New Zealand actor (1963-2002). Clips from previous conventions were shown where the actor sang covers by Elvis, Tom Jones, and Billy Idol. Trivia questions for the audience included which was the first weapon Ares  gave to Xena. According to the "Creation" emcee, the musical theatre episode of The Bitter Suite (12th episode of Season 3)on Xena set the stage for musicals on television programs such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer who owe their lineage to the episode. *[1] The tribute ended with a clip of Kevin Smith singing "In the Midnight Hour" from the 2000 convention in New York.

Last to command the stage for the weekend were the much anticipated Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor. O’Connor came out first and took questions from the audience from both sides of the stage. She shared personal stories about her new triumphs since the series – such as her son chosen to become a school safety ambassador out of 30 children at his school.

Renee O'Connor, Xena Convention 2012
Lucy Lawless sporting red hair for her latest character Lucretia in Spartacus proved to be more energetic than recent conventions and autographed a dog collar for a "working" canine, sang "Happy Birthday" to a fan, and read from Katherine Fugate's script from the previous day about the "really final" episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. As it goes, finally, Xena proposes to Gabrielle and throws her over with a big kiss. The audience exploded at a wish fulfillment that has always been more or less implied in the six season series by their two favorite heroines. Fugate is behind much of this subtext.
It is dificult to objectively report on the appearance of these two actors since for most in the audience, the real Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor are Xena and Gabrielle. Questions such as "would you ever do a drag king show?" put to Lawless were not in her personal orbit. There is a personal responsibility to fans that a star involuntarily inherits, since for many devotees, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred.  Sobbing attendees shared about their fathers or mothers who died, and how much the two meant to them in getting through various personal ordeals.
However, it is clear that "stars" are a part of the people who make them larger than life, and is a mutually beneficial relationship. Any contact with stars via photo ops, autographs, pictures or questions allows fans the opportunity to take a piece of themselves home. For many of these fans, Xena:Warrior Princess is a living legend with ample opportunities to revisit the actual series, enlarge upon them with fan fiction, meet with a community of devotees who attend conventions or engage in community forums such as The Xena Online Forum,  fan fiction about the series and AUXIP - Australian Xena Information Page.
Xena and Gabrielle live!

[1] Lyrics by Joseph LoDuca, Pamela Phillips Oland, Dennis Spiegel ; Musical Staging by Jeff Calhoun;Supervising Music Editor: Philip Tallman