Stevie Ryan
IRIS. 2007

Director: Stevie Ryan

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Stevie RyanStevie Ryan has been taken for "an original" though she's kind of a Judy Tenuta clone, although until she learns to play the accordian & can sing "I Just Want a Cowboy" without it being a lipsync, she'll never be the equal of the original.

Stevie has produced a large body of work for youtube in less than two years. This first outpouring won her the sobriquets "Queen of Youtube" & "youtube's first diva," but also some less flattering ones.

I'm a fan of her work but by no means all of it. That for which she is best known is pretty miserable stuff. Her vlogs under sundry sockpuppet characters range from complete trash to barely okay but never artful. Her ethnic "character study" videos (if they may be so likened) are to me harsh, ugly stereotypes that reveal no cinematic intent or value, even though upon those, rather than upon her actual talents, her first flush of fame was predicated.

What I admire are her "produced" videos which have been her least addressed because those who were first to love or hate her would rather see a beauty ranting & raving with as much finesse & courage as any trolly dickwad on usenet or in the vlogoverse.

Fans & detractors alike have obsessed on her possibly well-intended but dubious chola impersonations. I believe the produced videos show a nacent actress & filmmaker of potentially enormous talent. This is a woman could easily grow into a film artist of some sort, though probably not as a writer if the material she comes up with for her "character" performances represent her writing skills. As a director, producer, actor, or comedian, however, she well turn into something great, in any combination.

The complete liberty to do anything one wishes even with little or no thought has ruined many a talent in many a field, folks who couldn't tell their good work from their bad & really needed an editor or director to help weed through the rotten & preserve the superb -- whether it's a novel that needs the confused bits worked out, a film script that needs repairs, or a stage-act with bits in it that would tire the buttocks of even the most patient audience.

Youtube permits budding talents to get attention at least from fellow youtubers without getting better at anything. Indeed, in some cases, the worse it is, the more attention it'll get.

Most great talents would look less skillful if totally reliant on themselves for every aspect of their work. What would Lily Tomlin be without Jane Wagoner to write great stuff for her? How good would Jay Leno be if he didn't have the highest paid writing staff on late-night? Even with help crap slips through from time to time. Stevie has done it all from her own enormous foundation of multiple talents. And I want to address first the produced videos, the first ones tepid or weak, but with a learning curve so rapid that within mere months she was making brilliant films.

Lovers LoveOne area of Stevie's creativity would be the videos that recreate the look & attitude of silent film era movies. These move her away from the in-fighting & cruelty of vlogging back & forth with people she's mad at, & puts her more in the direction of artistic creation rather than an ability to be outwit a sixteen year old child in the insult game, which she has alas wasted a good deal of time doing on the web.

The produced videos are not all good, & the b/w silent Oh, Valentine (2006) is too slight to hold much interest. It just shows Stevie drawing & cutting out a valentines card for someone named Boo, with silent film intertitles.

There's absolutely nothing of interest happening during this short-short piece, & it's hard to imagine why it was shown to anyone but Boo. It needed a script, the script needed revisions, & if she never found a direction or structure that would give it at least a little substance, the script should've gone in the trunk unfilmed.

Satin DollLovers Love (2006) is a sepia silent film with intertitles that is more elaborately staged that was Oh, Valentine as a period story. But it's still void of content. Stevie the flapper is waiting for her girly boyfriend Boo, but he's apparently very late & when he does arrive she's annoyed & angry.

He chases her about the room while acting apologetic & finally she lets him catch her. They end this piffle with a kiss. Again, it just wasn't quite worthy of the effort expended on it.

Another sepia-tint three & a quarter minute silent is Satin Doll (2006). Stevie duplicates the look of vintage softcore footage, a bit like 1940s adults-arcade panoram films, or more closely like 1950s silent nudie-cutie home movies. The ability to recreate a talentless filmmaker like, oh, Irving Klaw, is intriguing, but how much better if it had been done well.

These were what passed for adult entertainment in an era when arrest & imprisonment could occur if any actual nudity occurred. Films of that era were frequently less daring than films not labeled adults only, because the mere label got it scrutinized by the FBI. To today's fans of vintage softcore, it is the sensual innocence that has sexiness, while harsher stuff is just a turn-off.

Stevie Ryan The above three weaker items that I've called "produced films" to distinguish them from her great welter of ill-planned vlogs are all from 2006 when Stevie first arose from obscurity to the boiling hot water of flack for her chola impersonations, regarded by many as racist.

I'm eager to assume these were made earlier than the next three films I want to assess, each of which hints of the potential for greatness, & is the only reason I have put Stevie on the "yes!" list for are-they-cool in spite of some very uncool things she has posted that possess neither art nor integrity.

In the fewer appealling works, I find evidence that it will be a bloody awful pity if she settles for webfame or retires to the life of a suburban housewife & is never heard from again or disappears into a temp job or just never gets the big break to do major work.

She's got a lot of attention, but opportunity provided on the basis of notoriety rather than ability easily evaporates. And if haunted by videos in which a racist persona savages a little kid, or assumes everyone with a Georgia accent is an inbred shoeless hillbilly, will have to already prove itself profitable before producers will forgive it. Make it profitable & you can bite the heads off bats, but no one is instantly profitable on the way up. And at any moments the rungs can disappear from the ladder.

At her best she's a totally fabulous sweet & goofy. She's like a nerd wrapped up in a hot babe's body doing PeeWee Herman impersonations, old-fashioned blue humor as innocent as it is sexy, or a Bettie Page impersonation. She should be doing comedy specials on HBO; she's got the potential of a natural stand-up lunatic, a wild & crazy beauty who can actually make you laugh.

Usually she's just doing vlog shtick or commentary or trivial performances that don't try to be any more movie-like than the next three thousand assinine vloggers whose dim lives don't interest even their own families. But now & then she makes something I think should be preserved into perpetuity alongside the greatest avant garde films of the past hundred years.

The terrible stuff includes her rape-bait performances as breathy nitwit Brigitte the faux Frenchy who pouts & lipsynchs & has no talents whatsoever. Or the slightly funnier southern white trash gal Jamie Lynn who has a few funny lines despite that the character has no conviction whatsoever.

Jamie as a chainsmoking racist alchy no-IQ trailer trash Nascar floozy with a broken down car & generic southern accent sadly puts into perspective the antics of her chola character Little Loca, whose recurring spews against fellow vloggers includes disdain for southern accented critics who get intantly pegged as hillbilies who can't afford a pair of shoes. Her attempts at humor as a hillbilly go a long way to negate the impression of talent provided under her own name, void as these character-acts are of even slight authenticity.

A third character is ultra-ditz The Real Paris, just so boring she makes the real Paris seem interesting.

None of these characters have substance. She has no ear for accents, & none of the vlogging bits done "in character" are worthy of consideration in the context of cinema. As comedy routines it often seems like she might have a better chance if she'd lampoon what it means to have grown up a weirdo in a milquetoast suburban place like Victorville, California.

But given the shallowness & ineffectiveness of such creations as Brigitte, The Real Paris, Jaimie Lynn, & her insult-comic-puppet which leaves out the comedy part, it's perhaps understandable that she can't let go of the only one character which had enough spark even to anger anyone, unpleasant Little Loca.

Icky Little Roca Stevie alas misued this persona to rip into fellow vloggers who had made her angry for one reason or another. Feeling free to insult anyone & everyone who displeased her in this semi-anonymous manner got her pegged a bully & a coward, & the fact that she even went off repeatedly on a sixteen year old child didn't make it easy to deny the charges.

She added a puppet persona to her numerous vlogging characters & got even more aggressively cruel to all & sundry, often for no perceivable reason, certainly not with anything resembling wit. How can it be the same soul who made iris? Definitely the "what gets done next" syndrome.

But the context is the vlogoverse, which often seems like is swings from a nice little techno-method for building community, to an easy method to just be bullies who can form cliques & assault anyone one selects to injure verbally without personal risk. In that context Stevie was merely better at it than the average vlogging monkey.

But as a woman of authentic talent, it makes her seem especially moronic to play the game in this manner when she could be someone great, as the rest of those whining angry "community builder" crackpots & short-side-of-the-bell-curve janes & joes never could be. And for as long as Stevie's satisfied to be Queen of Youtube she probably won't have much time to be all that she might've been, which would be a loss to those of us who consume art.

If you ever saw Cartman on South Park do his drag routine as a "bad" girl saying "Whatevah. I do what I want," then you've seen Stevie Ryan doing Little Loca. Much as I adore Stevie Ryan, I would personally dismiss this subset of her work in which she impersonates a Latina in terms you'd expect of an observer without the experience.

She's great at staying in the character, but I can see why the role makes some people angry at her. I know that Stevie means this chola caricature respectfully & if I didn't know who she really was I might, just might, believe Little Loca was a genuine skank who embraced the artificiality of chola culture.

But I would also have suspected she actually grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, & constructed her self-image from a distance, like black guys raised in white families who reach their early teens & start trying to be gangsta rappas & may do it pretty well but the phoniness of the street cred eventually surfaces. Little Roca was similarly only convincing to a point, & seriously nobody should've been surprised that she wasn't real at all.

Silent Girl & Little LocaReading the oldest commentaries on Little Loca underneath those video diary posts, it's obvious some at first did think she might be for real, but only because ignoramuses exist all over the place. But many suspected it must be an act, cuz no one can actually be friends with & know Latina streetkids & think this is all there is to them, no more than you can mistake Jamie Lynn for a real person without being some kind of nutsack.

To see ones culture imitated by a white girl in this maximumly offensive manner is an awful lot like seeing a white man performing a watermelon skit in blackface. I'm not saying it shouldn't be done, but if it's done this badly, don't be surprise that the asskissers without real friends dote on it & the assbiters without real friends expend maximum energy trying to get even. Sometimes the hostility she evoked was totally excessive but it was certainly understandable.

And when Stevie posted her "fuck you" vlog to her critics, it could be seen as bravely confrontationally retro-punk, or it could be seen as a failure of her sense of humor, her inability to embrace the possibility that stereotypes do hurt people a lot. And she uses the stereotypes to mouth off with further hurtfulness, so it's not like she's a good soul who is misunderstood. She is a potentially good soul who should think more before she makes a piece of shit out of herself. And too damned bad the great excuse for being an offensive shit -- "it's funny!" -- just doesn't apply.

I'm glad I stumbled upon other Stevie Ryan material first or I might never have come to admire her her potential as an entertainer & an authentic artist capable of being everything from gross to appealing, from gorgeous to horrifically ugly, from hysterically funny to morbidly grotesque, from an aesthetic to a sleeze. Unfortunately she delutes this impress with a lot of rubbish which gives those who don't like her a lot of amunition. Stevie has other youtube accounts where she expresses herself through other of caricatures.

Since I juse refreshed my memory about it by looking at several of these posts before writing this commentary, I might as well provide a link to one piece that I think shows Stevie doing her chola act at its best rather than at its usual. Loca Silent Girl (2006) manages to be funny. But you only need to visit a few others randomly to find out how Stevie misses the mark most of the time attempting this character. See also her own website

Iris Stevie's artistic strength, her one observational skill as it were, is in regard to older pop culture, including the silent film.

One of her minute-videos of the "produced" variety is called Iris (2007) which captures something of the elder history of cinematic art plus brings in something new & of herself.

The intent of Iris might have been merely another try at recreating the silent films of the 1920s as she attempted with the failed Lovers Love & Oh, Valentine.

But Iris does lots more, as it appears to be inspired less by the silent era than by the avant garde b/w experimental films of the 1940s & '50s. Iris is a work that would've been worthy of Maya Deren.

IMaison de foust is so pokerfaced that it can be viewed as a serious work of cinematic art with no comical intent, even if you can't help but bring Stevie's larger video personality to the viewing. She makes you smile while appreciating her physical beauty.

She's playing a Goddess of Light because she well knows that's what she is for many viewers who know her only as pixels on their computer screens.

And this little film is authentically a visual poem that takes advantage of Stevie's beauty with or without her reputation attached, adding a whisper of special FX with unexpected restraint.

Maison de fousAnother of her films that falls into my fondness for old black & white short subjects is Maison de fous (2006).

When it comes to short subject filmmaking, I love the old stuff whether it is early Edison films from the Black Maria studio or better yet Georges Melies, soundies of the 1940s or the adult arcade mini-films that were also used on panoram visual jukeboxes, or surrealist, dada, & avant garde films that maximized the effect of minimal resources.

Very, very occasionally something totally modern comes to my attention that both understands & expands upon cinema's rich history & varied intent of art & commerce.

Maison de fous is a mostly b/w silent film with a soundtrack consisting of Maquette singing "Belleville Rendez-Vous." It begins with Stevie doing a French cafe character with intertitle cards that inform us she is seeking a psychiatrist for her mental condition (which could be construed as a fearless confession).

It then cuts to a skeleton dancing most amusingly to Maquette's music. The skeleton looks like stop motion animation done about 1915 & almost too faded to see. But it's actually Stevie in a skeleton outfit, badly lit for the ghostliest of comic FX.

ComptineAnd there are two eerie white masks drifting against a black background in time to the music & Stevie reappers as a ventriloquist's dummy in a dummy case.

She's made up to be a truly frightful & ugly dummy, though you wouldn't expect such a beauty's vanity to permit, but an artist would jump at such a moment.

It concludes with Stevie in a straightjacket. This is three & a half minutes of true cinematic art & when she eventually has her HBO special I hope she's able to include some of these "primitive" art films.

A third film bares some visual relationship to the other "silent" avant garde films. This one's Comptine D'un Autre Ete (2006), acted out to a piano piece by Yann Tiersen.

It's a fuzzy, aged-looking sepia film of Stevie under a paper umbrella looking sad, with silent film intertitles about her character's misery & outsider status.

This one like Iris & Maison de fouscompletely lifted me out of my sense of Stevie as a sexy stand-up comic or a crudely attention-grabbing vlogger. Instead, I'm watching a masterpiece of no-budget filmmaking.

ComptineJudging by youtube comments some have mistaken this for a satire, knowing Stevie's abrasive work best.

To me it's a beautiful, beautiful mood piece through which everyone who has ever felt alienated or sorrowful or misunderstood or alone can embrace a certain potential for the aesthetic existing in their condition.

Youtube can be ephemeral so I hope Weird Wild Realm readers will let me know if these links go dead. You should do a search of Stevie Ryan at youtube to see the greater body of her work, but if you want to avoid the morass of stuff that makes her look cretinishly without humor or talent, here are the links to reach the three films I count as her first of what i certainly hope will one day be many great works:
copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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