Porcelain God

I wrote something way serious but I opted instead to write something odd and maybe slightly dumb and scrapped the serious thing. Farewell, serious thing!

So instead.

Long about 1991 Newsweek ran a small piece about a scene in Thelma and Louise that lasts, I don’t know, certainly under fifteen seconds. In this scene, Thelma (Louise?) pulls the car over so Louise (Thelma?) can get out and barf on the side of the road. The writer noted an uptick in movie barf scenes and actors willing to do them. An upchuck uptick, if you will, which I hope you won’t.

What you probably haven’t noticed is that this has become a vast understatement. I’m assuming you haven’t noticed this because most people in the world, if they’re squeamish at all, are squeamish about blood. Not me. Bleed at me all you like, but should you unswallow in my presence, I will feel faint and agitated for a spell. So I notice the uptick, and am grumpy about it. All anyone does in movies anymore is puke. You kids with your rock and roll and your barfing.

You come to expect it, look for the cues (often there are cues, which makes movies like Carrington with its lurid, out-of-nowhere hurl feel like a dirty trick) so you can covertly gaze at the floor until everyone is at peace with his lunch again. It turns out the cues are absurdly many. Any time anyone in a movie made after 1995 or so is drunk, pregnant, upset, or suffering any physical ailment whatsoever but especially cancer, chances are very good they’re about to signify this, as Heather Chandler might say, on a hallway carpet.

It’s one of the pleasant things about old movies, actually: everyone was in perfect gastric health for the duration of their screen time. Offhand, the only filmic barves I can call to mind are suggestive rather than graphic. Joan Crawford, in Sudden Fear, looks rather distressed, runs into a small room, and comes back looking slightly less distressed. Some character or other in And Then There Were None, appears seasick (watching the fellow steering the boat through rough water happily eating a sandwich), turns his back to the camera as Judith Anderson looks on in distaste.

Not no more. I’m pretty sure now it’s considered some kind of achievement in emotional truth to portray digestion in upheaval. And also the height of hilarity! So comedies are in on it, too, even romantic comedies.

Sometimes I imagine film scholars of the 2090s will write articles wondering why were were all so goddamn nauseous back then, i.e. now. (Especially if they watch HBO, which might as well be called The Vom Network. I was fanatically devoted to The Sopranos, watched every episode but one*, and man, that last season was a guaranteed one yak per episode.)  It has to mean something, doesn’t it?

*the one where [spoiler] kills [spoiler]. That just sounded too awful.

14 responses to “Porcelain God”

  1. LP says:

    Hear, hear, Mr. Smearcase! This is an issue that affects me deeply, as I am an emetophobe from way back. In my teens and twenties, it was bad enough that I’d have a mild freak-out if someone near me (or on-screen) hunched up and put their hand over their mouth… only to cough or sneeze.

    I really, really don’t like the trend of multiple barves (NB: brilliant!) in the movies. I remember watching the Coen Brothers’s first movie, Blood Simple, and being simultaneously mesmerized by the film and annoyed as hell at the four – count ’em, four! – explicit barf scenes. Similarly, I am looking forward to seeing “Bridesmaids,” as I love Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig, but I would be looking forward to it more if there weren’t a supposedly hilarious extended vomit scene. Ha. Ha. Ha.

    And now, we’re not even safe in live theater. RB and I went to see God of Carnage this week, and fortunately I already knew about the spectacular, super-realistic projectile vomiting scene, so I was able to just look away for a good five minutes until it was over. I hope this trend plays itself out, and everyone can go back to keeping their guts in their rightful place, and I can go back to keeping my eyes open throughout entire movies and plays.

  2. swells says:

    I was just logging in to warn him against Bridesmaids. It’s definitely funny, but I’m not sure that one scene is one you can just look away from–it’s too extended, and unnecessarily so. I read in NYT Mag (as I’m sure all of you did too) that Feig and Apatow added that scene against the ladies’ better judgement, then talked them into it, cause, you know, hilariously clever dialogue is not enough to make a movie funny–the whole audience also needs to be shrieking in disgust (which they were).

    LP, there are things in that scene that will upset you even more than the barves, just to warn you. I’d stay away.

  3. A White Bear says:

    I remember being terribly afraid of vomit when I was a kid. I saw Parenthood when it came out when I was 10, and there was a vomit scene in it that totally shocked me. Vomit! Visible! I’d seen ersatz poo and pee before, but vomit seemed some new extreme.

    As an adult, I have a much more comfortable relationship with vomit. I don’t particularly like it, but I’ve come to recognize that it’s just going to be a part of my week. Somewhere, on the subway, there will be vomit. (Starring Daniel Day-Lewis)

    Bridesmaids is fantastic, but if you need not to be exposed, just leave the theater for a few minutes when they go to shop for bridesmaids’ dresses. It’s not just that there is barf and poo, but there is an extremely realistic and extended depiction of food-poisoning-related fever and nausea. It’s creatively done, but far more than what I want to see in the middle of a surprisingly moving comedy about female friendship.

  4. A White Bear says:

    Pwned by Swells! Agreed. As far as vom-com goes, I will definitely say I haven’t seen that before, but the movie would have been better, and shorter, without it.

  5. F. P. Smearcase says:

    LP: Let me tell you, God of Carnage took me by surprise. Spectacular is about the right word. I read an interview with Hope Davis where she was coy about revealing how they did it, because one had to wonder: how the hell did they have her barf THAT MUCH. Apparently it had something to do with the couch. I kind of missed the next 2-3 minutes of the play as I was squicked into next Thursday. I actually almost wrote a paragraph in this using some phrase very like “not even safe in the theater.”

    (Also I had exactly the same reaction to Blood Simple. I find it wholly riveting but am always like “really, guys? Again with the barf?”)

    AWB: I’m more or less resigned to barf on the subway but much less peevish if I only see the result and not the process.

  6. LP says:

    Swells, nothing would upset me more than the vomiting, trust me. I believe there is some misapprehension out there as to what I am most phobic about, but that is it.

  7. LP says:

    Oh, Smearcase, I’m so sorry to hear that God of Carnage took you by surprise! I can only imagine the horror, and can only hope that you weren’t in the first ten rows.

  8. Your mention of Joan Crawford sends me back to last night, when I was reading Carlos Fuentes’ “The death of Artemio Cruz” — there is a couple of pages-long scene of a mother and her late-adolescent daughter talking about the female leads of the movies that are playing currently (in Mexico City, in 1941), about half of which is a back-and-forth on how to pronounce “Crawford” — a lot more fun than it sounds like on retelling.

  9. Hm — misremembering slightly — the discussion of leading ladies does not appear to be right next to the Crawford bit, which is here, starting at the bottom of p. 16.

  10. F. P. Smearcase says:

    I went on kind of a Joan Crawford bender last year.

  11. Hopefully a Joan Crawford bender does end up with you in the bathroom puking up Joan Crawford films.

  12. Ivy says:

    Having the nasty experience of a chronic illness with vertigo and thus violent vomiting, I would like to say just how possible it is to vomit quietly and politely. I can and do.

    I know some girls have vomiting as a hobby, but I have always found it truly gross and overrated as a comedy effect. I’ve always found it gross, but now I really resent it as a source of humour. For me it is just a horror to witness, because it is a horror to experience, and it is just a pill or a ginger beer between me and it. Ugh.

    So of course my cat decided to have a wee vomiting festival of her own yesterday. Yeah, cheers, thanks a lot.


  13. A White Bear says:

    In 2090 every film will have bathroom trips at regular intervals. People will be in the middle of an important conversation, or will come into a house, and say, “Oh man, I’ve *got* to pee.” And it won’t be because they are secretly trying to check out what’s in the cupboard or doing drugs or their hair; it will be because sometimes people have to pee.

  14. Dave says:

    I used to vomit sympathetically. No more, although I admit sometimes I can barely hold it in when I see someone else losing it.

    Cat vomit really grosses me out.