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Hubert Vigilla

When Invisible Wrestlers Revealed the Art of Wrestling

Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors will dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. This time out, Hubert Vigilla contemplates the mysteries of the ring. 

“Wrestling partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve.”
–Roland Barthes, “The World of Wrestling”

“The invisibility spell doesn’t prevent you or your gear from emitting light, yet that light makes you no less invisible. The light appears to be coming from the air. Spooky! #DnD”
Jeremy Crawford offering sage advice on Twitter

Wrestling is art. Beautiful yet brutal, at times comic and tragic. It’s theater, comic books, stunt work, dance, martial arts, and kung-fu movies. Wrestling has the capacity, like any artform, to move people to tears. (I’m looking at you, Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at NXT TakeOver Brooklyn.)

Wrestling is not “soap operas for men,” like it used to be called. How patronizing—soap operas are for everyone—and how limiting. There are so many kinds of wrestling: the pathos of old school southern promotions, the branded sports entertainment at WWE, the blood-soaked hardcore associated with CZW, the hard-hitting Japanese style, high-flying lucha libre in Mexico (sometimes these wrestlers work at intersections, essentially busking for those stuck in traffic), the technical focus in the UK, the indie supergroup feel of AEW and golden era NXT.

There’s one match from 2019 I think about a lot because it is an absurd work of fantasy: two invisible brothers duke it out in front of an adoring crowd.

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Series: Close Reads

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Finds the Breaking Point of Nostalgic Reverence

Your feelings about Ghostbusters: Afterlife will hinge on your relationship to nostalgia. More specifically, how you feel nostalgia has shaped the entertainment of the last several years, and what you’d like to see in the future; maybe even the stories you’re working on and would like to tell.

Afterlife leans so heavy on the first Ghostbusters for its story beats, images, and gags. Many lines are taken straight from the 1984 original; they even recreate several (dozens of?) scenes. These references are meant to conjure warm memories from my youth, but I was way more interested when the movie started doing its own thing that wasn’t just a reiteration of Ghostbusters (1984). Yet the movie plays less like a greatest hits album, more like an uninspired cover.

Nostalgia has its uses, but when it’s so cynically deployed as it is in this film, it feels life-sapping, limiting; something like a trap.

[Major Spoilers for Ghostbusters: Afterlife Below]

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What If… We Unpacked Chloe Zhao’s Eternals?

Eternals isn’t the worst MCU movie by a longshot; that’s still Iron Man 2 or The Incredible Hulk. But it’s a mess, albeit an inclusive and well-meaning mess. At two hours and thirty-seven minutes, it feels both too long and too short, especially with about 10 new characters to introduce, and a slew of narrative threads for future MCU entries to take up.

One of my main thoughts after seeing it was that I might have liked Eternals better as a show. A story spanning several millennia may lend itself better to longer-form serialized storytelling. That seems obvious in hindsight given the success of WandaVision, Loki, et al, though Eternals was months in development before Disney+ was even announced. As a movie, there are so many missed opportunities given the scope of this story and what these characters could be.

Counterfactual history is fun. There are countless stories about the events as we know them turning out differently, both in lived history and in fictional canon. Going through my issues with this well-meaning mess of the movie, it got me thinking what if we What If’d Eternals?

[Major Spoilers for Eternals below]

When a Bus Fight Is More Than a Bus Fight: Shang-Chi’s Cinematic Roots

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for borrowing a dash of flavor from other films or genres. Captain America: Winter Soldier draws some of its feel from the paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s. The MCU Spider-Man movies take some cues from the teen comedies of John Hughes. The Ant-Mans (Ant-Men?) pilfer from various capers. Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 is a Shane Black movie. They aren’t exact copies, but the influences are there if you look for them.

It’s unavoidable that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings would emulate the forms of martial arts cinema, and more overtly than the spiritual kung-fu movie Doctor Strange. What I found interesting was the mix of martial arts subgenres at play. There’s Jackie Chan-inflected Hong Kong action, nods to period kung-fu movies of the 70s and 80s, wuxia romance, and blockbuster fantasy that wouldn’t be out of place in Tsui Hark’s filmography.

At times, Shang-Chi feels likes a history of movie watching for Asian-American kids of a certain age.

[Major Shang-Chi spoilers below]

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