So I’m watching the second Pirates of the Caribbean the other day, and there’s Johnny Depp, aka Capt Jack Sparrow. The place is packed, a week into its run. The critics hate it (and insist they’re hating it for us, which is hilariously fraudulent). I keep thinking, okay — conflict, got it, more conflict, right, ooh even more conflict. But witless conflict, and Orlando Bloom is as stiff as that starfish mashed on the face of Stellan Skarsgaard.
But Captain Jack is the real disappointment. He’s only as deep as his affect this time around, all eye makeup and dreds and arms still up in the air like an effeminate muppet on Disney-writer marionette strings… but for what? He’s got one good grin, just at the end, and the girl I’m sitting next to lets out an involuntary moan.
Seriously, a moan. The last time I heard one of those in a theater was when I got draggged to the ballet at 19. Neve Campbell is sitting right behind me as Mikhail Barishnikov, in his farewell tour, leapt through the air and crumpled in front of us, pretending to be dead in his snug white unitard. There it went, right by my ear, an arrow meant expressly for a man whose film greatness climaxed with White Nights: the airborne moan. Ooooh, went Neve. Ooooh.
Which makes me realize part of why women my age love the Pirates franchise. And it ain’t fond flashbacks to their inebriated Disneyland grad night.
It’s the fact that if you were a girl and you grew up remotely near the Eighties, your sex symbols were sexually ambiguous. Every glam metal band from 1980 onward had lacquered eyeshadow and ion-treated hair and war paint.
– Van Halen, Bon Jovi: big hair
– Duran Duran, Def Leppard: big hair, eyeliner, leather chaps
– The Cure: smeared lipstick, big hair, miniskirts, eating disorders
– Poison, Whitesnake, Warrant, Motley Crue, Cinderella(!!!): don’t get me started. “Girls, Girls, Girls” my ass.
But at its primal root, the fey sneering son of Ziggy Stardust, is Adam Ant. Of course Jack Sparrow, mincing and shuddering, hands and eyes akimbo, sidles directly into the collective unconscious. Mr. Ant, with all of his face-painted preening, has done all of that foreplay ages ago. Johnny Depp is, no doubt, shuttling a small sum over to the Ant estate for copyright infringement settlements as we speak.
I’ve heard Keith Richards was Depp’s inspiration. Please. Who ever let out an involuntary moan for Captain Emphysema Bag O’Bones? It’s pretty, floppy, arch Adam Ant who ought to take a bow — or a curtsey, garb permitting — when the third Pirates installment beaches next summer. And then, perhaps amid the collective oooh, I’ll figure out finally how to get the eyeliner right for my next date.