Queen of Snails: A Graphic Memoir. Maureen Burdock. Graphic Mundi. 2022. pp 228. $25.95
Maureen Burdock has a delightful way of casting a spell upon the reader. It’s a slow and gradual process, much like coming from a snail’s point of view inasmuch as it is a refreshing way to see. What better way, really, to examine a life, especially when trying to connect all the dots and many of the dots seem out of reach or are missing. Our guide knows this much: mother/daughter relationships are complicated as it is and, in Burdock’s case, she can trace a hard case of melancholia going back generations: mother and daughter at odds; or separated; or in pain. All of this, mind you, is being drawn, slowly or quickly (we tend to draw faster than we think) and the results bring the reader in. Each page simply left me wanting to know more and more.
To have your own mother seemingly working against you. The ultimate betrayal? Well, it doesn’t cut much deeper than that. Burdock tosses and turns trying to figure out her mom because it sure didn’t feel like she was exactly looking out for her. It’s clear that she was distant and that she focused so much of her energy on her fervent devotion to worshiping Jesus. Ah, can you worship Jesus to excess? Was it worship or was it a mania that told Burdock’s mother that nothing else mattered since Jesus would provide? Of course, Burdock seeks answers in a gentle and steady way much like the metaphor of a snail she employs throughout the book. Burdock’s exploration reveals that her mother’s life was far from easy as she experienced her own series of trauma and displacement connected with growing up during World War II and its aftermath.
When one’s life is made so unstable by your parents (Burdock’s father wasn’t much help either) then you go into survivor mode and cultivate a sense of independence pretty young in life. Much of this book is about Burdock finding her way, on her own. During the course of the book, Burdock documents her childhood in Germany and subsequent move with her mother to the United States, to a small town in Wisconsin, only later to return to Germany. It was hardly a match made in heaven. Burdock struggles to fit in and never quite does fit in. Her mother remains as depressed and fervently religious as ever. Burdock provides a very honest and uninhibited portrayal of her coming of age, sexual awakening, and being molested by someone close to her family, which brings to mind the autobiographical work of cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner.
There’s a moment in the book that seems to sum things up, says so much about inter-generational pain and sheds light on Burdock’s search to know her mother. Burdock cites a UNESCO report that estimated 8 million children were homeless after WWII, many alone and wandering the streets. These “lost children” stood in the cultural imagination for “the obliteration of European civilization, lawlessness and confusion, and unrestricted sexuality.” Burdock quotes writer Alice Bailey: “Those peculiar and wild children of Europe and China to whom the name ‘wolf children’ has been given . . . have known no parental authority; they run in packs like wolves.” In this same two-page sequence, Burdock concludes that her mother has perhaps confused Jesus with Somnus, the Roman god of sleep, and the protection that comes from just closing your eyes. Thankfully, it is Burdock who has chosen to not only keep her eyes open and remain alert but to also report back her findings in this landmark work.
Movie Review: ‘The Bling Ring’ and ‘Combat Girls’
Talk about girls in trouble. Two current films tackle the subject in very different ways: Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and David Wnendt’s “Combat Girls.” While these two films are miles apart, they also share some distinct similarities. In both cases, these are stories of young women adrift. When you are lost, you just might grab at anything that will make your life work, whether it’s joining a gang of thieves or joining a gang of skinheads. What we expect to see is these girls wise up as soon as possible. In both of these films, the young women must do what they do and let the consequences follow.
“The Bling Ring” is now in theaters. “Combat Girls” becomes available on DVD, VOD and Digital Download for the first time ever on July 9.
THE BLING RING
Emma Watson and Katie Chang in “The Bling Ring”
Let’s start with Sofia Coppola’s latest excursion into disconnected youth. Each of her films seems like a light and delicate soufflé. They are a treat, no doubt. But you always wonder, since “The Virgin Suicides,” if they might fall flat or require an added bit of indulgence. Ultimately, you leave savoring your meal, don’t you? That’s the thing to keep in mind. Like Wes Anderson films, there are certain ingredients that go into the mix and it’s best to be patient and see what happens.
A few years ago, a band of bratty kids from the San Fernando Valley went on a crime spree breaking into the homes of Hollywood bratties like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. They were ultimately caught and their story was immortalized in an article published by Vanity Fair. All this raw material was just waiting to become the material for a Sofia Coppola movie. All the characters in this story defy any sympathy. And that’s the point of this story.
While the subject and the story may seem light, the overall effect of this film is actually pretty potent. A story like this one that subverts the conventional path to redemption is not at all shallow. It reminds me a bit of Gus Van Sant’s 1995 “To Die For,” starring Nicole Kidman, as an aspiring TV personality who will kill to gain the spotlight. While these girls aren’t killers, they are well on their way.
Rebecca, the ringleader, played by Katie Chang, is the most unlikely of leaders, ready to betray her friends and easily distracted. Nicki, played by Emma Watson, is a fine example of the rest of the gang in her ability to disconnect from reality. She does such a good job of it that she manages to create a good distance between the crime and herself. She ends up serving very little time and, in the end, it’s like it never happened, just a growing experience on her way to becoming an upstanding leader of society. I has to be said that Emma Watson “steals” the show in her role.
While the girls in “The Bling Ring” are not exactly rewarded for their bad behavior, they find the consequences to be minor at best. It’s almost like it leaves them hungering for yet a bigger thrill. Perhaps, years from now, that will be the material for another Sofia Coppola movie.
“The Bling Ring” is now in theaters. DVD Release Date is estimated to be November, 2013.
Alina Levshin and Jella Haase in “Combat Girls”
When we first see the band of hooligans take over a train and dominate the passangers, for a fleeting moment, they appear capable of anything. The posturing, the thumping and hypnotic music in the background, and the wild aggression make for quite a scene. But we quickly see they are cowards and only capable of inflicting pain. Director David Wnendt is a rising star and “Combat Girls” is his breakout film in the United States.
This film takes a more traditional route to redemption but does it with such a palpable urgency. This is a remarkably elegant and artful film, considering its rough subject. It is so lean and well paced that it casts you under its spell of intrigue, that rises to the level of Hitchcock. You may not be expecting so much going on in one film but this one is working on many levels.
Lost youth. The sins of a nation and its people. The burden of the past. Director David Wnendt’s goal, much like Sofia Coppola’s in “The Bling Ring,” is to speak on many factors all at once. As much as the past is the past, it haunts us and, given a chance, it will, like a virus, attach itself to new hosts. The legacy of Nazi Germany becomes the burden shouldered by two young women, one rich and one poor. The poor one, Marisa, played by Alina Levshin, is entrenched in all the rituals and life of the neo-Nazi: her boyfriend, her friends, her whole life. At 20, she is looking forward to nothing else.
For Svenja, at 15, she has many advantages open to her. She excels in school and has a bright future amid an upscale background. However, she has a creepy stepfather who dominates her life. He is so bent on having her quit smoking that he forces her to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes in his presence. As much as a lark than an outlet, Svenja takes up with one of the local skinheads. It’s only a matter of time before she has to prove her mettle to the relentlessly demanding Marisa.
And then there’s some twists of fate. First, Marisa’s thug boyfriend is hauled off to prison leaving Marisa untethered. This leads to the turning point in her life that happens abruptly but ends up having plenty of time to fester. Marisa has done something very bad but she doesn’t know to what extent. The only person who can provide her with any solace is her grandfather who is dying in hospital and has contributed far too much to Marisa’s fragmented life.
What happens next is extraordinary. Marisa, at still a young age, learns there is more to life than she has ever known before. It seems like it’s never to late to turn a page but, in Marisa’s case, the consequences of change may prove too severe.
Artsploitation’s release of COMBAT GIRLS will arrive on DVD, VOD and Digital Download for the first time ever on July 9, 2013. The DVD extras include an interview with Alina Levshin and an 8-page booklet.
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