Strange Frame: Love and Sax
This is a lesbian animated science fiction film by G. B. Hajim and Shelley Doty, available on Netflix.
The voice actor cast is kinda awesome: Claudia Black, Tara Strong, Ron Glass, Tim Curry, Cree Summer, Claudia Christian, Michael Dorn, Lena Horne (taken from archives), Khary Payton and George Takei. I recommend it on that basis alone.
It’s got some great ideas and interesting animation and despite a couple of “flaws,” I do recommend you check it out. I don’t want to spell out those “flaws” above the SPOILER alert but they really are a matter of perspective, hence the quotes. Anyway, it’s on Netflix, so give a look-see when you get a chance.
The film is set in the far future after Earth has suffered some disaster and had to be evacuated. Interestingly, this disaster takes place slowly enough for society and capitalism to remain intact. It isn’t the “we can only evacuate Earth’s best and brightest, whoever they are, to the New World.” It’s “We’ll get everyone off in time — but someone has to pay for this.”
So debt slavery and indentured servitude have returned as the price of evacuating Earth has to be paid by individuals and their descendants. People have been genetically modified to better survive in different environments — which is basically an explanation for the art style — people with blue skin, people with green skin, people who look like aliens, etc.
Cleverly — well, maybe not SO clever, since it’s becoming kinda standard — the disaster itself isn’t explained or even named. Whatever would cause Humanity to leave the Earth behind forever but cause them to relocate to Ganymede would have to be pretty strange and particular. I mean, if you can make Ganymede habitable, that far from the sun and with no native breathing air, etc., you’d think you could make underground habitats on Earth survivable for a lot less money.
Right — those “flaws.”
“Flaw” 1: The film is about two musicians who fall in love and the evil record company that separates them and exploits their lead singer, Naia. It’s a music movie. Lots of songs, musical performances, music is used as a metaphor for life and love throughout the film. The problem? If you’re not into the type of music used in the film, then you’re nonplussed about the film. I kept watching because I hadn’t seen an animated lesbian sex/love art science fiction film before but the music was a let down for me because I just didn’t like that kind of music.
“Flaw” 2: “Flaw” 2 is more interesting. The film makes use of a common dynamic — there’s the “ordinary/everyday” girl and the “cool” girl. This dynamic works in Scott Pilgrim — one of my favourite movies – because I’m a straight male and I automatically emphasize with Scott as the guy trying to get the beautiful cool girl, Ramona. But the dynamic fails for me here as both the main characters are women. Given an ordinary Caucasian Everywoman (Parker is I think the only unmodified able human visible in the film) and a cool blue skin WOC (despite her skin colouring, her hair and nose make it clear she isn’t of Caucasian ancestry), I’m going to want to follow the story of the cool blue chick every time. And so I did. My interest was entirely on Naia until she disappeared from the film and when she did and we were left with Parker (even her name is boring), I was tempted to stop watching. It was only because I was watching the story as a writer that I kept going.
There’s a political slant on everything in this film. The basic premise is a population under debt slavery. Riots are nearly universal and continuous. The guards/police are depicted as animalistic thugs but even they have a clueless “used as pawns” vibe to them. The captain of the space ship is disabled, he’s lost his legs and uses a hover-chair. Even the ship’s AI has a sad story to tell in that she used to be a “Val,” a type of android, but then there was a backlash against sentient machines called the mechocide pogrom and the Vals were hunted down and destroyed. She’s perhaps the last of her kind and her artificial brain has been wired into the ship to serve as the ship’s AI. She retains her spite and her loathing of organics however, and at one point even tries to kill one of the main characters so she can take control of the ship.
There’s a real “dark age” feel to this film which didn’t always work for me. The whole “building a ship from salvaged parts we can’t build any more” worked beautifully. I loved that. But the “they don’t make this type of booze any more — you’ll never taste this again” thing didn’t reach me at all. I was totally like “well let’s get on making some more of that cool booze.” When they tried to extend the “people use reclaimed things from Old Earth which have become precious” thing to a SAXOPHONE — I was like what the hell? I’ll buy we can’t make top of the line plasma coils or hyperspanners or AI cores — but we can’t make a brand new saxophone? That’s some bullshit. If we can maintain spaceships, we can build saxophones. It might be valuable because it’s old but unless it was of extremely high quality, which I doubt since no one ever tried to steal it, it’s just a saxophone and we can make more — easily.
What’s funny is that there’s no attempt at all to bring down the record company or bring their crimes to light publicly. Naia is rescued, her android duplicate is destroyed and the “death” made public so the company doesn’t go looking for Naia but that’s it. The producer who kidnapped Naia and kept her in a coma while an android copy of her was used to make songs and entertain millions for profit is barely inconvenienced at the end of the film. His car was used for the getaway and they hacked it using his ident codes so he’s brought in for questioning. But this is a rich, powerful man and he’s very well connected with both the record company and rich, powerful high society friends and well-wishers. When he says the words “my car was stolen,” the whole thing is going to go away. Hell, if when he figured out his car was taken, he had the sense to report it stolen, it’ll go away instantly — so the last scene of him being put into a police car to be taken for questioning isn’t very satisfying.
The only real flaw of the film is the ending. After having gone through hell and high water to get Naia back, the film ends with Naia opening her eyes from her drug-induced coma, the screen going black, and a few lines of dialogue. There’s no one, saying “You came for me!! You came for me!!” and “I love you — I’d always come for you, baby!” No crash of bodies running together to rising, swelling music. No real emotional payoff at all — from a film that purports to be about how important the need for love is and how great it is and what you’ll do to get it back once it’s been taken from you, etc. Although I am prepared to posit that “You came for me” and “rising, swelling” music might just be part of my masculine perspective…
The bad guy is left alive and probably completely unharmed at the end of this film. In comparison, take The Running Man, Death Race and Demolition Man. Is it a masculine perspective thing that the System/villain has to be taken down, violently, in some way for there to be an emotionally satisfying ending? Do we need that big orgasmic explosion at the end or it just isn’t worthwhile? This film ends with Parker and Naia together and no one’s looking for them, the end. There’s nothing showy at all. They’ve got their love, they’ve got each other. That’s it. They don’t even say “I love you” at the end. Is that a feminist thing? A feminine thing?