Friday, March 1, 2024

‘Say It. Out Loud.’ Going Back To Twilight 15 Years Later… A Ridiculous, Perfect Movie

Former Twi-Hard Emma Clifton takes a stroll down memory lane at the obsession bubble that was The Twilight Saga, as the first movie celebrates its 15th anniversary (yes, we’re old now)

Fifteen years ago, when Twilight mania hit, I was in prime position to catch this wave of hysteria. One, I was a disgruntled adult virgin. Two, I was working for Creme magazine, which was aimed at tween and teenage girls. In hindsight, the growth pattern of Twilight fever was probably similar to a pandemic; it started slowly over the summer of 2008, and then by early 2009, it was everywhere.

Everything about the first book, and the first movie, was absolutely ridiculous and therefore, perfect. I mean, no more ridiculous than a series of films dedicated to driving cars fast (and furious). Or cars that turn into monsters/fighters/Transformers. Or any other car-focused content that is totally legitimised by mainstream pop culture and it’s male-only audience.

The Twilight franchise was just for the laaadiezzzzz, which meant it was supposed to be a guilty pleasure.

I feel absolutely no guilt over my raging 2009 love for Twilight. It was a beautiful time and the plot line of mysterious hot student falling for clumsy, ‘awkward’ brunette is one for the ages. Twilight was the Normal People of a decade ago, only with more action and character growth. (Normal People is for people who think they are too good for Twilight, and turns out, they’re not.)

The movie was directed by Catherine Hardwicke – something I didn’t even need to Google, so imprinted is this franchise in my mind*. Catherine was an indie director who had already done Thirteen, a gritty drama about sexually active teens. She knew how to capture the bubble of teenage lust and put it on screen, and that’s why Twilight became the hit it was. Catherine understood horniness… and she respected it.

The books were nonsense, but the kind of nonsense you can’t put down, even though when you look back they’re very problematic when it comes to the power dynamics of relationships; right from Edward’s control of Bella through to Jacob… falling in love with a newborn baby (a joke that the internet is very much enjoying now that actor Robert Pattinson is now expecting his first child in real life).

Writing this now, I’ve just realised that it’s probably no coincidence that my first proper boyfriend was an emotionally withholding British man who turned up and then disappeared from my life over and over again. But, well, at least I didn’t fall in love with a baby.

My colleagues and I first saw the movie in November 2008 at a preview screening and knew immediately, in the way you know in your bones when you are experiencing a pop culture moment, that it was going to be a hit. We inhaled the rest of the book series – each one hornier and more insane than the last – before we returned to high school our workplace the next year, at a fever pitch.

Because we worked for Creme Magazine, it was our job, nay, duty, to become obsessed with Twilight and we committed 100%. Alice O’Connell, then Creme editor and now Capsule contributing editor, was the first editor in the world to put Kristen Stewart on the cover.

This made us, a tiny NZ magazine with the budget of a child’s science fair project, immediately a valued part of the worldwide Twi-Hard community. Here is me, with my Wall of Rob, featured on a Twilight fan blog called ‘Letters to Rob’. I am 23 in this photo (no regrets).

Like all obsession bubbles, it had to end at some stage. While the initial book was cannon, the rest of the series disintegrated quickly. Because the first movie was such a hit, the studio immediately assumed a female director wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype, or some other sexist bullshit, and so they took Catherine – an auteur of hormonal teen lust – off the sequels and put in some out-of-touch, middle-aged male director instead.

Everything immediately got worse.

Robert Pattinson’s lighting was suddenly terrible. Kristen Stewart’s wig was an atrocity. Taylor Lautner, supernatural sex pot #2, wore long denim shorts – ‘jorts,’ if you will – for every scene. All of the sneaky, forbidden, seductive energy of the first one was reduced to the wet rag of a man’s interpretation of what young love should be. Too many fight scenes were added to encourage a male audience (honestly, in what world), replacing the many hours of endless, longing glances and steamy make-out sessions us virgins  viewers wanted.

But I will always look back fondly on Twilight: the book, movie, soundtrack and corresponding merchandise (I owned the Edward doll. Again, I was 23.). And now, like Rose in Titanic, I think I’m finally ready to go back (to Forks). Do I think this movie has aged well? Absolutely not. Is this going to stop me from watching it again? No.

In the same way that actual teenagers love Olivia Rodrigo but she’s also expertly marketed herself at nostalgic millennials, Twilight provides the – inexplicably blue-tinged – view of the teenage infatuation, drama and chaos that we wanted for ourselves. And that is why it will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Are we trying to escape the realities of life? Are we trying to relive our youths? Or are we just in need of the specific high that comes from that movie; in particular the scene where Rayban-wearing Edward puts his arm around Bella in the Forks High School carpark? You know the scene. It’s perfect.

*Yes, this is a Renesmee reference.

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