As an infant, the world is a no-dimensional haze, a warm fuzzy blanket that encompasses the entire universe. Then one day, you realize that the universe is actually made of two distinct parts: 1) you and 2) everything else. Your tiny infant brain splits the granite block of existence into here and there.
Even better, you discover the joy of holding an object and then throwing it away. It’s close! Then it’s gone! Then one of those gigantic oafs brings the object back to you, and you throw it away once more. And you laugh, because that shit is hi-larious. The oafs aren’t laughing, but who cares about them? They’re just robots meant to serve you. Check out that stupid shtick they pull where they pretend not to see you. Morons, amirite? My advice is to just smile at them until you get bored and poop your pants. Because you can.
Sooner or later we get tired of eating strained food and pooping our pants (mush in, mush out). But we never, ever tire of things that re-enact that here-there action. Here are the top ten retractable objects we love in movies.
10. Fire Escape Ladders
Any movie with a telescoping fire escape ladder is okay in my books. The presence of one of those ladders automatically means backstreet alleys, pre-war buildings, steam venting from manholes in malevolent plumes, the metal-on-metal sound of the ladder dropping to the ground. And it means tension: that beat of time in which the villain or hero is escaping and the pursuer is pulling down the ladder. Every moment counts when a retractable ladder is involved.
You may hear about yo-yos as Polynesian weapons or whatever, but the truth is that the yo-yo is the über-toy,a thing perfectly designed to appeal to our here-there fetish. The more you look for yo-yos in pop culture, the more they reveal themselves. Tommy Smothers is the ultimate embodiment of the yo-yo spirit. If you want yo-yos in your literature, Thomas Pynchon makes much out of them in his debut novel V. (and of course, the corporation Yoyodyne appears regularly in subsequent works). Yo-yos pop up in A Christmas Story, but my favourite yo-yo movie moment comes in Octopussy, where James Bond is threatened by a saw-blade yo-yo.
8. Grappling Guns
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, cooler than a grappling gun. You want to create an impromptu zipline over the street? Grappling gun. You want to shimmy up the side of a building? Grappling gun, motherfucker. Batman, Rorschach, James Bond… they know that a grappling gun is a portable bridge in your holster, a way to eliminate distance and retract space itself. I love those things.
When I was seven or eight I loved visiting my cousin, because he had all kinds of crazy tacky crap that only a boy in the 1980s could love. He snipped his own throwing stars out of tin, created his very own nunchuks (which really hurt when they whip around and catch your elbow), but best of all, he had a switchblade. The handle was worn fake wood grain, and the button, when I pushed it down with my soft thumb, flicked out with a force that jolted my arm. Remember the switchblade-wielding gangs in West Side Story? Or the plainly phallic blade that Robert Mitchum carries in Night of the Hunter? There’s only one thing better than switchblades:
The lightsaber is probably the most elegant version of a retractable weapon ever dreamed up. A beam of contained energy carried by an elite crew of people in bathrobes? Clearly there’s nothing more awesome. The lightsaber is a switchblade of honour and power. Why is it honourable? It’s bigger, that’s why.
5. Cartoon anatomy
Everyone knows the style of Tex Avery cartoons. The wolf sees a beautiful woman, and it’s yowzah time. The eyes pop, the tongue unrolls, the heart wham-whams out of the chest. It’s all a sly smokescreen for what they’re really talking about, which is:
Junk: it’s what’s on your internet. I don’t have any stats on hand, but I figure hat 99% of the web is nothing but dicks pistoning in and out of vaginas, appearing, disappearing, here, there, now you see it, now you’re watching someone trying to smile with semen in her eye. I assume that last bit must be sexy for someone, right?
3. Vampire teeth
Sometimes I like my porn with a heavy layer of metaphor. Hence True Blood and the last century of vampire movies, vampire fiction, vampire etc. True Blood probably does it best, though, with fangs that pop out and retract whenever a vampire gets its blood up. It’s probably really wrong that I find it sexy when vampire Jessica’s fangs emerge.
2. Alien jaws
Here is the point where the sex metaphor folds back into horror. Those miniature retractable Alien jaws that shoot out and take a bite are probably the most visceral and creepy things about those damn creatures. Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger gave new meaning to the term vagina dentata when he turned the dentata into a hideous and unexpected phallus with teeth all its own. Bravo, you sick fucks.
1. The divine presence
Deists and some Christians may insist that the divine infuses our world and animates it, but I prefer to think of Jesus as God’s switchblade, puncturing the skin of our reality and retracting with a terrible snick back into eternity. Every so often we see the Shimmer of His Blade, and it slices into us. If you accept my theology of the Switchblade Jesus, though, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether God is a Shark or a Jet. Or Robert Mitchum.
So what do you folks think? Any retractable objects you like? Let me know in the comments.