Feminist Frequency at WAM! LA, and the Trait Spread

Dear Millicent,

Just got home from WAM! LA, which continues tomorrow, and broadly covers one of our favorite conversations: women and media. Anita Sarkeesian was the first speaker that I caught, and her presentation kind of bestilled my Millicent and Carla Fran heart. She said the phrase ” to see women as full and complete human beings” as much as we have typed “three-dimensional character” here. We have a shared quest: seeking the real woman on the screen.

Sarkeesian, who you might know from her Feminist Frequency videos (also now featured over at Bitch), presented an analysis of typically feminine and masculine traits as valued on TV.  We know these well (men are strong, women are intuitive, etc.), and she made an interesting point that onscreen, in the few instances where men have negative traits, they are usually an overabundance of of their positive traits. The example Sarkeesian used was a man with too much confidence becomes arrogant, etc. Meanwhile, with women, there were very few positive traits (ability to connect with others, focus on relationships, nurturing) while the motherload were negative (weak, passive, messy, out of control, materialistic).

And in an interesting extension of the conversation, she showed her ideal characters, men and women who have a balanced spread of negative and positive traits. In her definition of what a feminist character is, Sarkessian said “I want to to see her struggle with balancing these values…especially since the world is hostile to these values.”  An example was to see a character working cooperatively, and the difficulty of doing so since our society values independence.

The first example that jumped to mind was again Louie CK. His show is all about how he attempts to have both negative and positive traits in a world that does not reward a man for doing so (the scene where he refuses to get in a fistfight and is told that this choice made him instantly unattractive is a prime example of this). Sarkeesian’s theory explains some of what makes his work so compelling. Like I said before, both CK and the Munro are excellent at showing the struggle of being “a full and complete human being” in a world that only values specific traits for each gender. And I think what we love about literary protagonists like Harriet Vane is that they show the lack of give the world has for these other values.  It’s validating to see the complexity exist for somebody else, and very helpful to see that the confusion exists in another consciousness besides the one we are trapped in.

It would be grand if we convince Sarkeesian to stop by MCF for a chat…I’d love for us to talk Brit TV, quibble a bit about True Grit , and look at how comedy might rearrange the spread of traits (am hoping to get a copy of her charts to link to soon).

Yours,

CF

 

 

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A Female Moment?

Dear Millicent,

The world is falling apart. But, I have some frivolous and cheering news. I think we might be in for a bit of a female moment, coming soon, to movie theaters near us.

I say this because, yesterday, I went to go see the new Simon Pegg Nick Frost genre bender, Paul. It was fine. Fine-ish. I will forget it all by next Thursday. BUT, the previews that aired before this dude-heavy sci-fi comedy movie were kind of like some of my wildest dreams coming true. Every movie previewed had a female lead. There was not a princess, a hooker, or a mother…shit, there was a princess, but she was schooling her menfolk. The women were often kicking ass and taking names. And, doing despicable, unattractive things.  The theaters are going to be populated, come April and May, with actual three-dimensional womens. (Possibly, if one is to believe the promises of one set of movie trailers).  I think  we can look theaterward and see,  rare but real, a constellation of sloppy janes, women heroes, and a supreme passing of the Bechdel test.  An optimistic outlook for sure, but I am so used to cursing the movie industry as I sit in a theater, that I was caught a bit off guard to see every movie presented have a woman allowed as many dimensions as the men. I doubt this moment will last. It might be a like a comet. But, also, proof that Hollywood can actually do this thing that it has insisted on ignoring since like, forever.

First up was Hanna:

We have Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchette, Focus Features, antler rifle practice, female friendship, and a dad not knowing how to prepare his daughter for the battles she’s got to face.  I love assassin movies that get to the marrow (my favorite movie, possibly ever is La Femme Nikita), and am hoping Hanna does it. It reminds me of Run Lola Run. Here’s hoping.

Next, Bridesmaids:

The first time I saw the trailer, I thought, compared to everything on British television, this is all too little too late. I was worried that this movie might boil down to what men think women do that is funny. And it might be. I have a feeling it had a thousand rewrites, even though it kept Wiig’s fine name on it. And that may be what needs to happen to get anything out of this stature and oomph, because this thing is getting the full Apatow big movie treatment.  It’s the big honcha–getting the chance that the likes of Spring Breakdown never had. We might have a eyeful of the awkward woman, showing us how expansive and devastating (the good way) comedy can be when we let women in. Or, it might be The Hangover sent to the cleaners, and back with a box of tampons and some lesbian jokes. My aim is that this movie pushes things forward.  That’s all I ask, Apatow.  Keep the Wiig gold.

Then, Your Highness:

Yes, it’s about two brothers, but it is NaPo herself that lends the effort a sense of…establishment? Yes, the trailer includes a shot of her stripping down to a leather thong, but it also shows her legitimately being a better “quester” then her male cohort.  The movie is banking on inverting the prince charming trope, and playing with all of its accessories. This, and dick and pot jokes.  But, she gets to make a lot of them, and is never rescued, but does indeed rescue.

Next up: Bad Teacher

Or what I like to call, Sloppy Jane extraordinaire. She doesn’t like kids, she wants things that are bad for her, unapologetically. I am excited about this because here we have an unattractive female protagonist (at least morally, if not physically), where the joke is that she is an asshole. I can’t think of the last morally unattractive female lead along the lines of Tracy Flick in a long time.  Diaz might be able to do here what was attempted in The Sweetest Thing, and hope this will reward for her long suffering in The Green Hornet. I am also trying to forget that Justin Timberlake has anything to do with this.

And last, Arthur.

My fingers are crossed that while this movie wants to be Russell Brand heavy, the women will sweep the show. Replacing key male roles from the original with female leads (Mirren as the new Gielgud), and surrounding Brand with a nanny, a fiance, a mother, and manic pixie (maybe authenticized, because, after all, they chose Greta Gerwig and not Minka Kelly), along with the fact that Brand can’t really carry a movie on his own (Get Him to the Greek) but fabulously supports others (Sarah Marshall), I think we might have a good recipe for a good time. Or, this will be about women telling men what to do. It’s a gamble, especially since they have removed all the alcoholism from the original 1981 script. Why can’t we have fun drunks anymore? Can you imagine The Thin Man without all  the codependent drinking?

So, in all, we have an action movie, Apatow with ladies, a stoner comedy castle quest, a rom-com that offers nothing sweet, and a remake updated and upfemmed.   This spring might be a heavy moment. Or, this might be a skewed representation, pulled from the inadequate sample of one set of previews that were shown before a movie that relied heavily on jokes about an alien’s balls.

Fingers warily crossed,

CF

 

 

 

Looking for Lady Gere and Her Swept Men: Rich Women in Love

After recently hearing an anecdote that men are more attracted to women who inherit their wealth compared to those who earn it, and upon just watching Daddy Long Legs (a movie with the biggest ballet sequence dedicated to Daddy issues, ever), I want to look at the rich woman/poor man romances we have in media to compare to the bounds (bounds!) of rich dude/poor lady love stories we are used to. By this, I mean that kind of story where the wealth swoops in and makes everything a bit more fantastic, operatic, and delicious.

When Elizabeth sees Pemberley for the first time, the audience becomes giddy. It’s not because Darcy is a knight in shining armor (he’s serious, we get it), as much as a communal swoon of oh-my-god-it’s-all-just-working-out-so-well. In a way, we become savvy Mrs. Bennets, titillated because of the wealth, our nerves overwhelmed by the idea that our heroine could be rewarded for her self-reliance with the immense luxury, the extravagance, of authentic love and all the satin pillows she could ever want. We want to see Elizabeth in that wealth, with all her dignity intact, which is why there is a spate of continuations (all on the bookshelf at Target, and their titles make me blush…In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Become One, Mr. Darcy’s Obsession…seriously, I’m blushing right now).

This luxury of true love with immense swag isn’t new. Prince Charming, etc. And since marriage, until recently, was usually a method of community and status building between families, it makes sense that love stories indicated that it was best to truly love the guy with all the goods.  This made it easier for parents to convince their daughters to get in the  mood for nuptials, and for the daughters and sons to stir up any kind of romance needed to get the business negotiations done, or at least play with the idea of love in a safe fantasy space that didn’t muck up the real life transaction.

And so we have our modern fairy tales, which win me over every time. I have to admit, I LOVE it when the guy turns out to be wonderfully rich and totally in touch with the desires of the girl he pursues. The dates he arranges are so awesome (the gliders in The Thomas Crown Affair), the vacations are great (don’t they go live in the Caribbean for months in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?), and sometimes he buys you a store (Romy and Michelle’s Highschool Reunion).  It all just feels so damn luxurious, where the viewer and the characters get to eat their cake and have it too. And this high comes from the fact that we feel like all the protagonists deserve their wealth, because they use it well, and that we are ensured of their very comfortable and therefore fantastic future (since money is the # 1 reason couples fight, according to the entire internet and Jane Austen). The audience, and the couple, are completely released from angst.

Unless the roles are reversed, and it’s a lady with all the cash. Those stories never offer the same high to the audience, and they usually have, at the best, a sober ending, and at the worst, everybody dies or wishes they were dead. Let’s do some breaking down, looking at a list that got started on Twitter last night, starting from the best case scenarios.

The Only Example of the Reverse Pretty Woman

Only one came up that really fit the bill, (though several movies were mentioned that I haven’t seen), and that is, well, how do I say this? It’s a fact of the modern world: all roads lead to Sex in the City. Yes, Samantha is our rich woman, and her taking on of Smith (as GPE noted, she even renames him). She makes his career, genuinely loves him, and they both enjoy the immense swag of their glitzy life. Like Gere, Samantha has to learn how to trust and open her heart and all that stuff, and she does. But unlike Gere, she can’t fully commit, and she never quite relaxes. She does have all the satin pillows she could ever want, but she wants more than one good man, so off she goes. Samantha’s ending is interesting, especially as a foil to Miranda’s class struggle with Steve, but ultimately, as fantasy her account is still open (we don’t get to relax in knowing that all will be fabulous forever and ever, as much as we get that Samantha at least believes this herself). And the overall lesson of both Samantha and Miranda is that if you have money, and you date, you have to atone for your wealth through self-introspection. That dating with money is not fanciful as much as it is fraught.

But Aren’t There Other Romantic Comedies Where the Gal is Rich?!

Yes, of course. But again, we have more sober, less champagne.

My Man Godfrey, for starters. Here, an obscenely rich Carole Lombard hires the “forgotten man” William Powell to be her family butler. And they do end up together, but, the entire movie is about laughing at the rich and their uselessness. The audience never revels in the glory of Lombard’s money, as much as laughs at the stupidity of it. And in the end, Powell saves the rich idiots with his own financial acumen. [The Thin Man series almost works here too, except that Myrna Loy’s money is always slightly inconsequential to Powell, but still great fun for the audience].

Baby Boom: This might be the happiest offering we have, because while Keaton gets removed from the corporate boardroom, and gets rewarded for her mastery of house and home (her conquering fortune comes from baby food), she does win. And like Samantha, she has to walk away from the expected social narrative and make her own way, which is her happy ending. Keaton does end up with the veterinarian here, but her money has little to do with their courtship.

Management: Okay, this one is quite happy, too, but man, they make you work for it. Aniston has money, and Steve Zahn is the dope who loves her. The romance is not giddy. It’s sometimes sweet, often embarrassing, and leans towards the idea that a sweet dope who treats you right (and stalks you) is better than a millionaire that treats you wrong. The love in it is the kind of love that might better be called authentic settling.  And it works, but, still, ouch.   Financial resources come together quite well here, but it is a mutual offering (Zahn gets to keep his family hotel, Anniston gets her dream by making it into a homeless shelter). But there is not much fun–the end fantasy involves a homeless shelter, for goddsakes. It is all so…responsible.

The Proposal: Here we have an example of women with power and money are also monsters. Monsters that need less powerful men to come along and melt their icy hearts. But, this trope works both ways with monstrous men becoming human because of less powerful women. Here Bullock’s power never actually helps Reynolds as much as controls him, but they do love each other in the end, both have grown and stuff. Interestingly, too, instead of the idea that his cares will all now be attended to (a la’ flowers and a limo like Pretty Woman, or all of Pemberley), we enjoy this couple’s fate because he has been defined as a good literary agent, and they will have commercial success together, as well as the romantic kind. He is elevated in validation and use, not just in goods.

Other considerations: Bedazzled (but, she’s the devil), Notting Hill (wealth as a trial?), Wimbledon (she has a killer apartment), Bones (tv series) (has immense fortune, helps out what’s- his-name as needed), The Princess Diaries (?), Lipstick Jungle (tv series), The Wind of the Night (thx Subabat!). And I hate to ask it, but does Hannah Montana ever have a love interest? [I can’t believe I forgot this, and am adding it late: Apatow’s Knocked Up!]

And Then  You Die

And then there are the bounds of movies where it’s really bad to hang out with a woman with money. It’s clear that in traditional movies, men don’t relax into the cushiness of female wealth. It makes them itchy. It’s totally a tragedy. Sunset Boulevard, The Heiress, pretty much any noir film with a rich woman who wants to sleep with you (don’t do it!), Hollywoodland, Matchpoint, The Graduate…

Many of these women are older women, which brings up the question that, since it takes time to earn money, is another reason for the lack of Princess Charmings is that women with money make for older love interests, which are completely scarce anyways. And the other kind of classically unattractive rich female, she who dare be plain (old time novel code for ugly), suggests that women with money are kinda unfuckable. Men with money get to seduce, dazzle, woo. Here, women with money have to be taken down a notch, tricked, guarded against,  brought back to earth, softened, or they just want to eat you, your balls, and your soul.

So….

In the romantic comedy fantasy, women’s wealth is not the stuff of wonderful dates or grand opportunities. She doesn’t get to dazzle, (no glider dates!)  because, apparently, dazzling your date with spoils is a dude’s job. And the fantasy that this kind of female wealth puts forward instead is one about independence, social responsibility, and mutual work (clear eyes, pure hearts, can’t lose!).

What’s the heteronormative male equivalent of a great guy with a huge fortune? The kind of fantasy that just feels good to imagine, the kind that makes heteronorm guys sigh out loud thinking “well, that worked out amazingly well!” From the same range of movies and tv shows, it seems like it must be a woman who is that other rare thing: beautiful and easygoing (code for never a hassle).  The woman who loves sex, talks wittily about his interests, and never takes her guy to task about clipping his toenails in the living room. Penelope Cruz in Vanilla Sky.

What have I missed?

Yours,

CF

A Thousand Ways to be Pissed Off: The Green Hornet

Dear Millicent,

Yesterday I had a kind of attack in the movie theater. It was like all my talk about the protagonist’s diet became real, finding me in a reckoning of blood pressure and sweaty hands. This movie was the straw that broke my hump with its the insistence that nobody but white dudes have full measure in the world.   It was a blindness spiral. I had to become an angry humorless feminist because they so severely reduced everybody except the lucky white male protagonist. This must happen in all kinds of movies, but this was the one for me that did it. I couldn’t see anymore because they couldn’t see, but I had given 11 dollars to be there, and all I got from them was a big fat dose of ire.

We talk a lot here about the rarity of the three dimensional female character in media, but that rarity extends to most groups who aren’t of the privileged white dude variety. The Green Hornet has become the blazing example of how bad of a thud that loss makes.

I get that The Green Hornet is a spoof, and enjoys poking at the rigidity of the super-hero genre.  After the first scene of the movie, I was in, happy to see a script (and a Franco) making fun of the stuff of movie villains, calling out wardrobe, names, and secret hideaways. I thought we were about to watch a smart movie with a lot of action and some 3-D icing on top. It seemed like a nice way to go braindead for the afternoon.

Instead, you get a tour of how great it is to be a privileged white guy. The movie could practically be a manual for how to move around with privilege and power built by race and gender. Seth Rogen, as the Hornet, becomes our very lucky white guy/textbook example of power and privilege. He has inherited his fortune from the empire building of his dad. He parties and likes to ruin things with abandon (there is a distinct joy in smashing plasma TVs in the movie).  He gets a super powerful job because of his family. He has little regard for how his actions affect others. He’s stupid, but it doesn’t matter. He never gets called on any of his trespasses.  The world changes on his time alone–it’s only when he realizes things matter that they actually matter.

Here’s a more of a breakdown of the roles in the movie:

Lucky White Guys:  the hornet, the hornet’s emotionally cold dad, the district attorney. The all wear suits and have huge offices with couches. They have POWER.

The criminals: corner criminals are all black or latino men.  The kingpin is named Chudnofsky and fights with Armenian and Korean kingpins, so all crime is controlled by foreigners.  Sexy assassin types are provided by Asian women who work in a massage and nail parlor. The one white criminal is a sweaty guy who makes crystal meth.

Edward James Olmos belaboredly announces in some rough exposition that he was Rogen’s father’s “most trusted friend for 46 years.” I think he starts as the chauffeur in the early scenes of Rogen’s childhood, but in present day is the savvy news editor who knows what is good for the paper, if only idiot Rogen would listen to him.  We all know he should be the real director of the paper, but Rogen takes that desk after his father’s death, and only gives it over to Olmos at the end as if bestowing a grand gift to a grateful man.  And, we are not supposed to be happy for Olmos, but happy for Rogen in that he has learned something and become a better man.

Kato: His character is from Shanghai, and he provides all of the action in the movie. He knows martial arts, builds machines, appreciates good coffee, and drives his motorcycle really fast.  In one way, it’s great to see an Asian man have a major role in a movie. But he has to be a servant for a man who uses all his ideas and takes credit for his successes. And the amount of jokes relying on the word “little” is ridiculous. He is constantly called “my little sidekick,” or “you are so cute and little,” as Rogen tries to insult/feminize him, or when Rogen is absentmindedly just sounding like an asshole. Plus, there is an amazing Devil Wears Prada moment when Rogen snaps back all of the cozy “we are brothers” friendship shit that he and Kato have been enjoying and reduces Kato back to his proper servant status (he asks him to get a coffee, something, that when he recruited him, he said Kato should never have to do again, ever), all because Kato dared talk to a girl he likes. The movie plays with the idea that the two men are equals, but Rogen’s character only lets that balance exist when it suits him,

Women:  Women in no way exist in this movie. We have: the Asian assassins (who walk around in the movie for about 30 seconds, but with daggers and lace!), the framed picture of the Green Hornet’s dead mother, one female editor who is at a meeting, girls at parties around Rogen, the girl he makes out with in his father’s cars, and Cameron Diaz, who is harassed so intensely throughout the piece that I wanted to slap everybody. Diaz shows up mid movie as a temp. She is all sweetness, even wearing a prim linen dress. Rogen refers to her instantly as “the hottie mctottie” who is quickly hired because of her fineness.  She never blinks at how he talks to her, and graciously takes the job.  During her interview, he asks her age and finds 35 to be ridiculously old.  The only chance her character has is to say that she doesn’t want to talk about it, which is barely respected.  Of course, she turns out to be smart and really good at research, so they rely on her for all facts about what the Hornet should do next.  They both hit on her constantly, fight over her, and she gets fired for the rumor that she slept with one of them.  Then they show up at her door and want refuge, calling her the “mastermind” of their escapades, as if that is some gesture at giving her character some actual value. You could take her out of the movie and nothing about the plot would be altered, and she is treated solely as a prop who wears very short shorts when at home alone. She does utter the words “I will sue you for sexual harrassment,” but it is only after Rogen has verbally harrassed her, fired her for an alleged sexual encounter, tried to walk into her house without invitation, leaned in for a kiss, so it all just seems like the worst.

The movie is also full of lines like “don’t be a pussy,” “you were penisless,” “girls are annoying, thank goodness there aren’t any here,” “this day is going to be balls” (a good thing), “I like my women with balls,” etc.

As a special companion to all of this, there is also an extreme thread of homophobia throughout. When Kato is introduced as “my man,” both men stumble on explaining that it’s not meant romantically.  This joke comes up often usually ending with the awkward assurance that it wasn’t meant “in that way.”

With every group shit on except the lovable goofy lead, I couldn’t take it anymore. I am fatigued. I know the Green Hornet is supposed to be an asshole. That might be why he manages to insult everybody except the other white men in the movie, and while I’d love to give the script this credit, I can’t do it.  It’s not calling out privilege, it’s celebrating it.  Nothing in the movie calls the Hornet on his assness. When he lashes out at Kato for hitting on Diaz, he lies and said he did it to keep their cover in the office. Kato accepts this as a reason, and though he warns him never to talk to him that way again, he lets the beef go. When the Hornet demands that he run the show, even though this ends up risking tons of lives, it’s fine. Nobody gets mad at him. When he fires Diaz for something she never did and he could never legally fire her for, she simply takes her job back with twice the pay, because he asked nicely and promised never to do it again.  The classic transformation of jerk to mature hero here isn’t even about all of his assholery. It all boils down to the dumb daddy issue that he thought his dad was a bad guy, but he really wasn’t.  The Hornet doesn’t have the epiphany that he mistreats others, he has the narcisstic awakening that his inheritance is something to be proud of, not pissed on.

And with all this, I feel broken. This movie is about white guys for white guys, and is a shining example of how clumsy and singular, and powerful, that frame of reference is. It erases all of us. I told Mr. Carla Fran as we left something that I am sure has been said thousands of times by thousands of people: I just want to see a mainstream big-budget movie that admits I exist.

Yours,

CF

A Very Cervical January

Dear Millicent,

Just as I was absolutely wondering about the origins of Flying Fish, I bet you were wondering about Cervical Health Awareness Month, which turns out to be right now.  Here’s an interesting cervical fact from Our Bodies, Ourselves: when local anesthesia is injected into the cervix, a possible side effect is a numbness of the lips and tongue.

Do you remember the 1998 Drew Barrymore Luke Wilson movie Home Fries? It’s an insane movie, Shakespearean in plot,  and one that I loved in high school.  It’s all up on Youtube. One of the oddest moments is when they make a birth education class, with all its huffing, puffing, and caressing, into a scene fraught with sexual tension. I can’t find the right clip, but I distinctly remember a scene were the couple kisses (complicated by the fact that Wilson is the baby’s daddy’s stepson), after which a very pregnant Barrymore happily proclaims that an open mouth is an open vagina. Shocking stuff in 1998–well, even the word vagina uttered on a screen was shocking to me then.  And now, we know that a numb cervix is a numb mouth.  Happy Cervical Awareness Month!

The Protagonist’s Diet

Dear Millicent,

With the recent news that Disney has decided to close down the princess factory due to the fact that girls just weren’t a big enough audience, and even repackaged Rapunzel into Tangled, complete with male protagonist and Bourne-style fight scenes to lighten the stench of icky girldom, I am have been doing some thinking about my diet.

If little girls, aka half the population of children, are just too small of a stake to make films for, then why service the other half at all?  Ah yes, that old chestnut about how boys resist building themselves into female narratives, but girls, out of sheer survival (I’m talking cozy survival here, like multiplex-entertain-me survival), quickly patch themselves in to male narratives with little flinching. Meaning, if I have twins, a boy and a girl, there is no way as a parent I could take them both to The Princess and the Frog, but I could def have a grand family day at Toy Story.

And of course this extends to our grown up selves. I’ve never heard a man willingly relate to Meg Ryan, thought lots of women have taken on the journeys of George Clooney as the thinking person’s everyman.

In this past month, I have given up coffee, booze, refined sugar, white flour, red meat, eggplant, tomato, dairy, and white potatoes. Also raw onion, grapes, and all spicy meals.I have done this great reduction under my acupunturist’s orders, in an effort to be less of a bitch (she says my liver is inflamed).  I miss everything, but not enough to really go out and get it.  I also wake up more easily, and have better breath.

What if our  movie diets changed in a similar, and equally radical manner? If girls and women aren’t enough of a market share because they willingly do what their male counterparts won’t, what happens if we stop doing it? What if we stop going to see movies that have only a leading male protagonist?  We don’t go see them with our kids, our families, on dates, or on rainy afternoons.  We don’t take our brilliant nieces or nephews to see Untangled.

I find this idea grim. I love movies and TV, and would hate to lose such a large pleasure. Hearing somebody proclaim they can’t go see a movie because of it’s lack of female protagonists would be as irritating as hearing me order food at a restaurant now (hold the dairy, tomato, and oh, is there white flour used in the bun?) But, if, like booze and red meat, you got to kick it to win it, then maybe it’s worth the hiatus?

I’m not sure I can go on this movie diet alone. It could only work if it was a huge boycott. So huge that it could end quickly, and we could feast again. This time happily gorging on the awesomeness of entertainment that admits we are a fucking large piece of the puzzle.

We are what we eat, after all. And I’d love to be a real protagonist someday.

Yours,

CF

Odd Saint: Shannon Plumb

Dear CF,

I’m nominating the weird and hilarious Shannon Plumb, also known as a present-day female Buster Keaton. Or, as I like to think of her, the love-child of Janis Joplin, Amy Sedaris and Charlie Chaplin. She’s probably best known for her series “The Park,” which was shown on four huge screens in Central Park, none of which come close to the (literally) plaintive brilliance of “Rattles and Cherries,” which you can and should watch below at 23:19. (Most of her films are less than five minutes long.)

She focuses (as she puts it) on “the imperfections of people,” and I’d say most of her characters fit into your concept of the “nu woman.”

The video below is from a talk she gave at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. I’m embedding it because it includes a collection of several silent Super 8 films she makes—by herself, for the most part. Scary, what this woman can do with a tripod.

I’m indexing them below, with special mentions for Shalmont Field (at 19:20) and THURSDAY, St. Patrick’s Day (at 31:12) which does a terrifyingly hilarious number on the performance of being boy and girl. “Discus” and “Hurdles” show women doing hurdles or throwing the discus in sexy strapless dresses or terrible wigs, with all the inelegance you might imagine that might produce. “Stewardess” is Howard Hughes’ worst nightmare.

Partial Index:

15:10 Stewardess

16:55 Nasal Cleanse

19:20 Shalmont Field

23:10  Rattles and Cherries

27:33 Discus

31:12 THURSDAY: St. Patrick’s Day

35:35 maximus

37:40 Madison and East 24th

41:25 “It’s fine,” she whispered.

My Question for The Other Guys

Dear Millicent,

My big question after watching The Other Guys stems from a helpful checklist in an old Emily the Strange Address book I once had (and a qualifier that would be helpful in a cellphone address book as well): after writing in somebody’s info you marked them either “part of the posse” or “part of the problem.” I can’t decide which box this movies gets ticked.

The movie very obviously satires the machismo of the cop movie genre by loudly riffing with Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson fulfilling every cliche of buddy cop drama possible, and then centering on their opposite as the two protagonists. Instead of leather jacket wearing hotrodders, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are their own brand of screwed up guys stationed in mediocrity.  Ferrell is a gullible accountant who carries a wooden gun and enjoys making apps for his iphone. Wahlberg’s career was re-aligned when he accidentally shot Derek Jeter, losing the World Series for New York.  After the two rockstar cops meet the kind of mortality the genre always allows them to evade, these two try to step up and take their place.

And it’s funny to see the basic Bad Boys formula get poked at, and almost skewered. It’s funny to see Will Ferrell say things like “I think I got so drunk last night I ate a tube of toothpaste thinking it was astronaut food.”  These cops drive a Prius, their captain has a second job at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and there is actual paperwork to do and the movie explains who does it.

At first glance, the poking isn’t sharp enough to cut or skewer.  The movie wobbles between joke and these guys actually becoming the trite stereotype the movie originally insisted on removing.  There is an unwieldy critique of white collar crime and the government bailout system riding underneath the plot (and fully installed in the credits–all interesting, but distracting).  By the end, they seem like nicer versions of Jackson and Johnson, their arc stalled out midway, having jettisoned the satire for plot completion.

And, my feminist hackles got all hackled up early on…at which point I sat in the theater with my lips pursed and thought “does my feminism blind me from seeing the larger whole? Can I now not appreciate something because it fails on one level that happens to be particularly important to me? Is this why feminists are so often accused of being humorless?” To which I then thought, “I’d prefer my humor to not be working against my general beliefs, and if that makes me a stalwart, then so be it.”  To which I then thought, “I really wish there were more women in power with these movies not to make things more feminine, but to just shed some goddamn light on how wack all this is.” To which I then thought of Louis C.K. saying in a standup routine, “It is great to be a white man in America. Really, I would reup every time!”  And then I started paying attention again to the movie.

Here were my initial balks:

  • To show his dislike of Ferrell’s character, Wahlberg says “even the sound of his piss is feminine.”
  • To show his dislike of Ferrell’s Prius, Wahlberg says “it feels like I am actually in a vagina.”
  • The other cops agree: to deride the Prius, they say things like “it looks like a tampon on wheels.” There are several of these, all comparing the Prius as a particularly female car, and thus an obvious insult.
  • Ferrell is a total asshole to his wife, at one point verging on abusive, and she coddles him accordingly.
  • Wahlberg woos a woman by stalking her, which she first describes as creepy, but then eventually marries him.
  • There are four women in the movie: hot wife, sweet girlfriend, shrewish ex, Anne Heche.
  • Ferrell has a history as a pimp, which he learns to embrace and accept, which makes him a better man.

I left the movie, thinking it was okay as a gesture of comedy, but disappointed by the sexism, and the fact that if this was indeed made for adolescent boys, then Priuses had become untouchable, and the idea that feminine=bad (and funny!) had been reinforced.

But, then I thought, maybe everything in the movie had been an attempt, perhaps unsuccessfully, to prod the original stereotype. Maybe even down to the sexism, it was mocking the ridiculous masculinity of the cop genre.

As counterpoint to my original balks (a rebalking!):

  • Wahlberg’s hatred of his partner’s “weakness” is overplayed to show the fear of femininity in cop movie culture
  • The bro rant against the Prius is overplayed to emphasize the above, and to highlight the general nonsensical misogyny of the genre
  • Eva Mendes’ role is a play on how often ugly cops have gorgeous wives they mistreat, and these wives often conveniently announce a pregnancy to raise the stakes, as well as always exist to offer the downtrodden male cop succor and sex (and dinner).
  • Wahlberg’s stalking is a direct reference to Carlito’s Way, where Carlito does indeed stalk Penelope Anne Miller in her ballet class, which is portrayed as romantic.
  • There aren’t any women besides wives, girlfriend’s, and a hooker or two in cop movies.
  • Ferrell’s pimp past as a take on the dark side the cops are given to show their understanding of the law, and the animal within.

And so, instead of being irritatingly blind and glib, the movie becomes savvy, part of the posse, leaning towards a feminist critique of masculinity. And, this might have actually been a key theme in the original script.  If it was in there, the movie was re-shaped so unevenly by its final product,  this theme is smothered enough to almost become invisible, and certainly for the 14-year-olds out there watching, non-existent.

Confusingly, Entertainment Weekly reviewed the movie as  “a comedy of manhood for the age of emasculation.”  Emasculation here seems like the wrong word, and leans towards the old school of offense.  Perhaps what it tried to be was a comedy of manhood for the age of men as real people.  Now, if the ladies (and the poor Prius) could get the same service.

He’s Just Not That Into You And The Incidental Female Friend

Dear CF,

So glad to have you back, and just plain relieved to get your take on films du jour. I’ve almost stopped going to the movies (partly poverty, partly inertia) so I’m hopelessly behind. To give you a sense of where I stand re: our cultural capital: I haven’t seen Inception yet, but last night I finally got around to seeing He’s Just Not That Into You.

Re: the sad-sack zeitgeist of which Scott Pilgrim seems to be yet another instance, I wondered, watching HJNTIY yesterday, whether it was doing something with the female equivalent.

He’s Just Not That Into You tries pretty hard to be our generation’s When Harry Met Sally. It wants to articulate the sexual mores of our age—Drew Barrymore’s monologues are straight-up exposition on what the internet hath wrought, and though much of the movie leaves me agape, some of Barrymore’s stuff is actually entertaining. If back in Rob Reiner’s day the guiding question was whether or not men and women could be friends, now the question is whether men and women can rise above the pervasive insincerity of the flirtation—a basic dishonesty that infects every relationship, every marriage, every nonmarriage.

I’m not awfully interested in HJNTIY‘s framing of that question (and, one devastating Home Depot scene notwithstanding, I don’t think the movie handles it with much success), but I do think the film is hitting—tangentially, maybe even by accident—on something zeitgeisty about Filmic Female Friendships in America Today: namely, the extent to which that insincerity infects woman-woman relationships too. The movie spends some expository time on the tendency to lie charitably and to spin the story so that the friend is never forced to occupy that terrible unspoken category: The Undesired.

If the sad-sack Apatovian bromance consists of comfortably joking about each other’s undesirability until the glimmerings of homosocial mutual esteem erupt (as in I Love You, Man), the sororomance (ugh—seriously, we need a word for this) wallows and sometimes drowns in expressions of mutual esteem that must, eventually, turn fake. There comes a point when the friend assuring Gigi “don’t worry, he’ll call,” no longer believes it. She says it anyway. At that point, the female friend becomes an untrustworthy source of comfort. When Gigi says to Janine, quite seriously, that her husband’s infidelity isn’t her fault, Janine can’t hear her. She’s too used to the vocabulary of sugary consolation.

I wouldn’t argue that HJNTIY is about that—the insufficiency of female advice is what gets Gigi dependent on Alex for “truthful” masculine counsel, so it’s probably just a plot device—but it’s one of the few parts of the movie I find interesting. And while I don’t know to what extent it captures a *truth* about modern friendships, it’s definitely theorizing a different modern myth of lady-homosociality than, say, the easy bluntness, the comfortably skeptical chemistry Rosie O’Donnell has with Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle. Or Meg Ryan’s candor to Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally (“he’s never going to leave her”).

Again, while the dilemma of masculine friendship remains at the fore these days, I’m panning for intelligent glimmers of the other. As I think of other films with multiple female protagonists—Mean Girls, Vicky Cristina Barcelona come to mind—I notice that none of them really take the problem by the horns. Whip It has other narrative agendas it puts first, although I have to say that friendship strikes me as more “real.”

I don’t begrudge the boys their time. Friendship is worth thinking about on both ends of the gendered spectrum. But I doubt Beaches and Thelma and Louise are really the best we can do. Until the existential isolation that frequently attends couplehood gets coded something other than exclusively male*, we might have to consign our female friendships to bit parts, and think of them as consolation prizes.

Fondly,
M

*Though actually, Janine’s existence in that half-built house in HJNTIY captures the feminine version of this surprisingly well.

PS: [SPOILER ALERT] That last scene, when Affleck proposes to Aniston after spending seven years on his principled unbelief in marriage! Intensely disappointing. Harriet Vane would have dropped him on the spot.

Boy Meets World: Scott Pilgrim and The American

Dear Millicent,

Because it’s September and I’m not back in school, I have been going to the movies like crazy.  Most of what I have seen is solid but off balance.  Late fall movies seem unevenly paced, with rougher casting choices and strange edits, and the most recent three I have seen are each their own wild representation of flatout boy fantasy. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the gamer/indie boy version where a young man without any agency in his life somehow ends up with his ex-girlfriends hugging him and encouraging him to forget about their feelings, and follow his heart. They want to make sure that he is okay. There is a quick bend to suggest that the women are empowered (they are fairly badass, and say sassy things), but at the end of the day, the two female sub-leads (Knives Chau, Scott Pilgrim’s original girlfriend who is still in high school, and Ramona Flowers, his very mature and independent lovequest) offer a spectrum of ideal cardboard girlfriends: meek and devoted (and hot) to sexually empowered and hard to get (and hot). Ramona almost has a life outside of Scott, but ultimately she needs him to save her from her evil jerk boyfriend who she is reluctantly obsessed with.  The movie almost lets her go join the other two dimensions of her character that are lurking somewhere, but instead, Scott joins her.  Scott is no catch, which is supposed to be charming and realistic. And perhaps we often do have to choose in the dating world between somebody who is too easy to date and demands no growth (and who is perhaps embarrassing), and the other that would demand we do quite a bit to catch up to them (if we are lucky enough to grab their attention).  And Scott is supposed to grow when he realizes that he has hurt girls’ feelings in the past and apologizes.  The fantasy presented here, and it is an entertaining one, is that as a kindly, unmotivated sadsack, you can find strong hot women who will coddle you into a more mature adolescence.

The American is George Clooney vs. The World, and in this version the sadsackery smells like Old Spice. Clooney’s character, Mr. Butterfly, comes complete with the requisite European spy sweater (navy blue, with a zip collar…Bond is a big fan of this sweater as well), tattoos speaking of an obvious metaphorical (one is a butterfly) and military past.  He is a version of the masculine dream: unfettered, expert, doing chin ups in a barren Italian hideway, surrounded by gorgeous women who never wear slips.  There are so many scenes of women in light dresses walking towards the sun that the dedication to the silhouette of the inner thigh is admirable.  He is so lucky as to have encounters with a beautiful large breasted assassin, and a beautiful large breasted prostitute, who is so kind as to want to start a life with our fella, and also make love in the river. The assassin just wants to astound him with her professionalism, and coyly drink some wine in a meadow. She is so professionally put together that she wears smart driving gloves when she’s not even driving. He’s the kind of man who drinks whiskey after sex, and his gal dips her finger into his drink as he sullenly watches the fire, and she lovingly watches him. But it’s not all easy for him.  He has issues.  He is always looking over his shoulder. It’s dangerous for him to get involved with people. He can’t trust anybody.  Like Scott Pilgrim, I enjoyed this movie, but it’s immense predictability made me think of it as a well made cliche’ layer cake. He’s also really good with guns. I offer that Tilda Swinton’s I Am Love is the female equivalent to this movie.  Both rely heavily on the restraint and beauty of Italian life and landscape. Both are character studies of people who are caught between suffocating rules of societies that have isolated them to an extreme point, and who have a last chance at a life of the senses.  Both lean on methods of melodrama, but Swinton’s is active and filled with small moments of suprise and delight making it messy and actually sensual. The American is so textbook that it’s difficult to call it beautiful.  Meticulous, yes, but a wonder only as much as a well-made watch pleases by correctly announcing the expected hour. He is old school masculinity, tempered by the metaphor of a butterfly, which hits the audience so repeatedly I’m surprised I don’t have bruises.  There are endangered butterflies, there are cocoons, there are butterflies flying up and up and away. This is Don Draper in Italy, sans officemates, sans new take.

Where Scott Pilgrim is barely motivated to do anything, Mr. Butterfly is keenly wound, but they are both waiting for the world to approach them.  And when it does, it involves beautiful ladies, some fighting and shit, and some weary growth.  In punk or couture costumes, women are mostly still ribs, helpmates to keep the fellas company.

The last installation to my late summer study is The Other Guys, which is its own pickle, and thus, will get a post of its own.

Yours,

CF