The Great Villain Blogathon: Waldo Lydecker, Laura, 1944

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This post is part of the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin, and Kristina of Speakeasy  — see all the movie baddies at any of these three blogs.

YES, there will be SPOILERS.

“I don’t use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.” – Waldo Lydecker

When it comes to film noir, the 1944 film Laura is a bit of an odd duck. Most detective noirs widen their scope to the lower echelons of society, including the underworld of organized crime. Rich characters may be revealed as slumming among the lower dregs of society, as drug addicts or other kinds of addicts (i.e. The Big Sleep). The crime may have international and/or political implications (i.e. The Maltese Falcon and Chinatown).

Laura never leaves the upper crust world of its handful of characters. It’s structured more like an English cozy mystery. Instead of a matronly busybody, a professional detective investigates the crime.

The film opens after Laura Hunt’s (Gene Tierney) murder has occurred and is narrated by Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). He is a newspaper columnist and radio commentator who was her friend and mentor. Police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) questions him. He also interviews her fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) and aunt, Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson). Continue reading “The Great Villain Blogathon: Waldo Lydecker, Laura, 1944”

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Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Shadow

ClariceLecter

I will be participating in The Great Villain Blogathon next week, so what better way to set the tone than a post about the shadow archetype?

1. I’ve already done a post with tips for creating a great antagonist, but shadow characters don’t necessarily have to be antagonists or villains.

As I will demonstrate with examples, it’s perfectly possible for shadow characters to have functions in a story other than that of the antagonist.

2. That said, shadow characters make fantastic antagonists.
Continue reading “Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Shadow”

Great Villain Blogathon Reminder!

I will be participating in The Great Villain Blogathon next week! My subject is Waldo Lydecker from the classic film noir Laura. Please take a moment to check out this AMAZING line-up of bad guys and gals!

9 Tips For Creating A Great Antagonist

zod21. Think of your antagonist as the potential outcome for your protagonist. We hear a lot about how antagonists should contrast with your protagonist, but few people recognize how many great antagonists are actually very much like the protagonist. General Zod is exactly what humanity fears Superman COULD become (an alien out to dominate and/or destroy humanity). Harry Potter fears constantly that he will become like Voldemort, because he can also speak with snakes (in fact, a part of Voldemort literally lives within Harry). Darth Vader is the Jedi knight who gave into the temptation of the dark side of The Force, something Luke must constantly struggle against. Khan in Star Trek loves his “crew” just as much as James Kirk loves his.

The struggle between protagonist and antagonist mirrors an internal struggle within the protagonist. Remember that internal conflict when composing the external battles.

2. Give your antagonist credibility within their society. Often, antagonists were at one time evolved heroes who are currently still riding a wave of good will because of some good thing(s) they did in the past. That gives them tremendous power, and makes it difficult for the protagonist to defeat them. Even dictators, i.e. President Snow in The Hunger Games, have their supporters who believe they are working for some greater good. Many of his supporters believed Hitler was the savior of Germany. Without a strong and credible support system, they will not be good opponents.

Even if you’re writing a contemporary story, say, set in a high school or the work place—remember the power of popularity, and how that can make life awesome for some and miserable for others.

3. That said, don’t make them SO powerful it’s impossible to believe they can be defeated. Just like your protagonist, your antagonist should be deeply flawed. Something needs to help bring them down in the end. Many are felled by things like arrogance, overreach, fear—even love. Make certain you give them some chinks in their armor.

4. Give your antagonist positive aspects to their character. The days of the mustache-twirling villain are long gone. Just like your protagonist, your antagonist should be a study in contradictions. Hannibal Lechter is an example of an antagonist who charms readers and audiences into liking him. Norman Bates can be a very polite and kind. Tywin Lannister can be utterly ruthless and a complete bastard to his children, but he can also speak to a servant on an equal level.

5. Give your antagonist motivation(s) that make sense—at least to him or her. Dorothy dropped her house on top of the Wicked Witch of the West’s sister. Even though it wasn’t intentional, the Munchkins see her as their heroine for doing it. It’s a pretty good reason for the Witch to hate her.

6. Not every antagonist has to be a villain. Which is why this article is not called tips for creating a great villain. Antagonists can be good people who simply happen to be working in opposition to the protagonist. You see this a lot in stories about anti-heroes. For instance, in Breaking Bad, Walter White’s brother-in-law Hank, a cop, is a good guy—Walter even likes him—but is also his natural antagonist.

It doesn’t have to be limited to anti-hero stories. I would argue that in romances, the hero and heroine are each other’s antagonists. Parents can serve as antagonists to their children (or vice versa) even if there is a loving relationship between them.

7. Not every antagonist has to be a person. The forces of antagonism can be a thing (a hurricane, a zombie invasion, an iceberg meeting up with a sinkable ship). Or, the antagonist can be the protagonist—in other words, the protagonist’s own worst enemy is herself.

8. The protagonist can face more than one source of antagonism. Though you should vary the level of antagonism from character to character. Harry Potter has to face several antagonists besides Voldemort, including Draco Malfoy, his classmate. In Malfoy’s case he’s basically just a typical school rival–which is eventually used by Voldemort, the story’s personification of evil.

9. Characters who seem to be the protagonist’s allies can turn out to be a source of antagonism, and vice versa. In Braveheart, Robert The Bruce seems to be an ally of William Wallace, and then betrays him. Snape seems to be Harry Potter’s antagonist, when in reality he has been protecting him from Voldemort. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is convinced that Peeta is her enemy, when he’s not.

Change it up sometimes. Readers love to have their expectations of characters challenged, and that’s just as true of antagonists as any other characters in your story.

My Favorite Female TV Villains

Note that I’m saying “favorite” instead of “best” female TV villains. I haven’t seen every TV show, and it’s mostly a matter of opinion, anyway. Here are my top five favorite female villains on TV, past and present:

gillian1. Gillian Darmody, Boardwalk Empire: I’ll admit I’d never been that impressed by Gretchen Mol as an actress before her first scene on Boardwalk Empire. That’s when her character jumped topless into the arms of a young man who turned out to be her own son. Thus began the tale of the chilling Oedipal nightmare that is Gillian Darmody. An undoubted victim (raped by a powerful man at the age of 13, resulting in motherhood less than a year later) she is also one of the most terrifying sociopaths, male or female, I’ve ever seen on TV. Or anywhere.

Mol brilliantly underplays Gillian’s villainy, having her speak in a very sweet and controlled tone of voice, almost a throw-back to Victorian age demureness. Whether she’s berating someone by playing on their biggest fear or weakness, running her whorehouse, beating the crap out of the completely debilitated man who raped her years before, seducing her own son, or committing murder, she still talks and acts as if she’s at a tea party with the Queen of England.

It says a lot when fans of the show would rather hit man Richard Harrow take custody of her orphaned grandson than have him stay with his soft-spoken and very scary granny.

livia2. Livia, I Claudius: There have been few TV miniseries as good as I, Claudius, the 1976 adaptation of Robert Graves’ book about Imperial Rome. The story starts with the first Emperor, Augustus, and the notorious career of his ambitious and ruthless wife, Livia. Played by the incomparable Sian Phillips, she has one burning desire: to ensure the succession for her son, Tiberius. Problem is, there are a whole lot of people standing in the way of that desire. So she gets rid of them, one by one, via various methods, such as framing them for crimes so they are exiled or executed. Her favorite method is poison. There is nobody, no matter how closely related to her, that she won’t get rid of to suit her purposes.

The genius of I, Claudius is they manage to make even the darkest characters, including Livia, human, even funny. Some of the dialogue is classic:

Livia: [to the gladiators] These games are being degraded by the increasing use of professional tricks to stay alive! And I won’t have it! So put on a good show, and there’ll be plenty of money for the living and a decent burial for the dead. And if not, I’ll break this guild up and I’ll send the lot of you to the mines in Numidia.

Livia: [to Claudius, concerning the Senate] They won’t allow me in because I am a woman, and they won’t allow you in because you’re a fool. That’s strange when you come to think of it: because it’s filled with nothing but old women and fools.

Tiberius: Has it ever occurred to you, mother, that it’s you they hate and not me?

Livia: There is nothing in this world that occurs to you that does not occur to me first. That is the affliction I live with.

sueann3. Sue Ann Nivens, The Mary Tyler Moore Show: In a weird way, Sue Ann is a kind of prototype for Gillian Darmody, a woman whose uber-feminine public persona hides a much darker aspect to her nature. Sue Ann works at the same TV station as protagonist Mary Richards, hosting a show called The Happy Homemaker. While she never kills anybody, she’s adept at homewrecking (breaking up the marriage of Mary’s friend, Phyllis) and loves to throw barbs at Mary and her coworker Murray. She’s almost the inverse of Mary, who has a truly sweet, feminine nature, but who is completely inept at things that Sue Ann excels at, like throwing dinner parties.

Sue Ann: Mary dear, do you have any idea what happens if you let Veal Prince Orloff sit in an oven too long?

Mary: No, what? 

Sue Ann: He dies!

Sue Ann was a breakthrough role for actress Betty White, who up to then had been typecast as the sweet and helpful woman. (In fact, when they conceived the character originally, she was described as “an icky sweet Betty White type.”) It will be no surprise to her younger fans that she played the heck out of Sue Ann, injecting a marvelous bitchiness that made her a perfect foil for Mary.

regina4. Regina, Once Upon A Time: There have been several riffs on Snow White’s evil stepmother the past couple of years, but none can compare to Once Upon A Time’s Regina. What I love most about the character is how she is NOT motivated by anger and jealousy over Snow’s youth and beauty. In fact, this is utterly irrelevant to this incarnation of the fairy tale.

Regina instead blames Snow for the loss of her one true love, and probably also for the fact that her subsequent grief made her vulnerable to the lure of the art of black magic. As this second season has progressed, we have seen how Regina became addicted to using magic. Lana Parrilla somehow manages to imbue the character with empathetic aspects, even while Regina is ripping out her own father’s heart in pursuit of vengeance against Snow. I think there are many more layers to be discovered with this character and it’s one of several reasons I keep tuning in each week.

constance5. Constance Langford, American Horror Story, Season 1: Talk about neighbors from hell. Jessica Lange plays the world’s most imposing neighbor during Season 1 of American Horror Story, channeling Scarlett O’Hara, Blanche Dubois and a dash of Mrs. Danvers. She knows about the ghostly goings-on in the house bought by the dysfunctional Harmon family, as she had once owned the house herself. She loves to torment them by dropping hints here and there and seems to have some unknown agenda concerning the Harmons. Her love for her children is so twisted they all meet tragic ends.

Unlike Gretchen Mol’s understated Gillian Darmody, Lange’s Constance doesn’t just chew the scenery–she spits it out, too. It’s a fearless performance (rewarded with an Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG Award) that in other hands would have quickly slipped into parody. Like Mol–and the other actresses mentioned here–Lange still found ways to convey depth and elicit empathy for a mostly loathsome character.

Do you have a favorite TV female villain? Let us know in the comments section!

Reality TV Show Villains – Real Or Not Real?

I’m not one of those people who seek to trash reality TV or their viewers. Mainly, because I like some reality TV a lot. Mostly the competition shows, like The Amazing Race, Top Chef, Face-Off (my personal favorite) and Project Runway. The ones featuring celebrities who weren’t celebrities until they got a reality show aren’t my cup of tea, but to each their own.

One thing I’ve never thought about reality TV is that it’s actually real. A while back there was a big hoo-ha over HGTV’s ubiquitous show House Hunters not being real. Turns out, the people on the show have already bought their house. The other houses they show are sometimes friend’s houses that are not even for sale.

Horrors.

The big tip-off that there’s something fishy about House Hunters is how couples ALWAYS agree on a house at the end. Deep down, everyone watching has to know that’s total BS.

The reason to watch House Hunters is not to see someone’s genuine buying process, it’s so you don’t have to drag your behind off the couch on Sunday to tour open houses. Which may in part explain the obesity epidemic.

Even the competition shows I enjoy have their share of artifice. Though how much the end results are manipulated is questionable. (One of the things I love about The Amazing Race is the team that wins is the one that crosses the finish line first–period. But even that show has been accused once or twice of giving certain teams an unfair advantage.) People who are certain this cheftestant or that designer should have won like to indulge in conspiracy theories about judge favoritism and behind-the-scenes input that demand the “interesting,” i.e. biggest jerks, stay in the competition for as long as possible.

Then there’s the editing, which is blatantly used to turn certain people into vile villains and others into put-upon victims.

In the end, reality TV is another way to tell a story, one with the illusion of “being real.” Stories need heroes and villains, and the shows will create them if they have to.

But last night’s episode of Project Runway gave me pause.

Nearly every season, Project Runway has a “real person” challenge where the designers have to design for people who are not size 0 models. Yes, there’s always some grumbling about it, though this year most of the contestants seemed to embrace the challenge.

As usual, there was at least one who didn’t. This was Ven Budhu, who had been sailing high in the competition up to this point. He’s hardly the first who was not happy or even not nice to his model. Season 3’s Jeffrey Sebelia could have been much nicer to his, who happened to be the mother of one of the other contestants.

Ven made Jeffrey look like Tim Gunn in comparison.

He complained constantly that it was unfair other designers were given thinner models. He put forth the theory that he was being set up because he had been doing so well up to this point. He was atrocious to his model, a nice mother of four, whose friend had persuaded her to participate so she could get a fashion makeover. He kept making cracks about how he couldn’t find a belt to fit her, and how he was making the skirt black to make her look thinner. For the top he chose fabric in an ugly color that would be unflattering to any body type.

All because the woman had the temerity to be a size 14 after giving birth to four children.

His bitchiness and condescending attitude drove her to tears. I was surprised she didn’t walk out on him, and give her a lot of credit for sticking it out.

The irony is, Mr. Budhu is on the plus side himself, and hardly in a position to be judgmental of other people who don’t fit into model sizes.

He was so horrible to her that he was called out for it by the judges. They made him think that there was a chance for a double elimination and left him on the stage last (after eliminating another contestant).

Gee, you’d think that would have chastened him somewhat, wouldn’t you?

Nope, he continued with the same complaints about being set up and how other people had an unfair advantage — even though one of the designers in the top three had a model the same size as his. He whined about being left on the stage last.

The reaction to this has been overwhelmingly negative. Last night I was on Twitter looking at what people were posting on the #projectrunway hashtag, and even past Project Runway contestants were giving him hell for his attitude.

His response remained exactly the same as the attitude he showed during the episode. He is certain he was set up by the producers, that he didn’t do anything wrong to his client, that everyone is interpreting his actions unfairly.

Which makes me wonder — is this for real or is it not real? Has Mr. Budhu decided adopting this persona benefits him? He’s been talked about A LOT since the show aired, and I’m quite sensible of the fact that I’m adding to the chatter.

Let’s face it, villains are usually the most interesting characters in any story, and often the most talked about and dissected.

If he is playing at being the jerk as a way to keep the spotlight on him, he may have miscalculated. Unlike other “villain” Project Runways designers, like Jeffrey and the much-reviled Gretchen, he doesn’t seem to have supporters. He can’t even get contrarians on his side. One has to wonder if this will impact his post-Project Runway career negatively, as being able to work with clients is a big part of being a designer.

Real or not real, it’s still a compelling story. I’m sure people will stick around because we always want to know if the villain prevails or self-destructs. Which may be what he was going for in the first place.