Tuesday, June 27, 2017

not even close, not even a little bit

Some of the great moments in 10 Things I Hate about You are the more subtle things. Not Kat's overt antisocial behavior or her feminism but Bianca's disinterest in most of what Joey does, even as she's sort of stuck around him when he's near. As my daughter put it today, Bianca cannot be herself around Joey. But--and this is me. again--there are those moments that she's bothered by her own interest. Like when she calls his headshot "pensive" and he says he was going for "thoughtful." In that moment, she's more like her sister, smarter than the girl whose opening line is that shallow bit about liking her Skechers and loving her Prada backpack. Or when he's doing his underwear and swimsuit poses and she's got no more clue than we do what the difference is.

Of course, one of the subtle moments that isn't as good is Bianca's and Joey's reaction to her accidentally shooting Mr. Chapin with a bow and arrow. The subtle non-reaction is amusing, but the arrow bit ruins it for me. It's one of the 90s silly bits that echoes a little bit the likes of an American Pie film (and not the best parts of one of those. Bianca shooting Mr. Chapin is one. Michael crashing down the hill on his scooter is another. And Walter (Kat's and Bianca's father) flinging his Chest Expander off into a neighbor's yard. In a different film, with more surreal or non sequitur moments, these would have worked better. And, with teenagers maybe they worked (and work) better than they work on me. But, they just feel like remnants of some other version of the script that someone forgot to edit out.

But those good moments--the Bianca stuff I already mentioned, Patrick's visible but mostly quiet falling for Kat as he watches her, the horrified reaction from Bianca and Chastity when Walter tells Bianca she has to wear the belly, Kat's... Well, actually, part of the problem with Kat is that she doesn't really do much of anything subtly. The film itself doesn't do much subtly either. From the opening juxtaposition of "One Week" and "Bad Reputation" to Michael literally explaining the stereotyped cliques to Cameron, Mr. Morgan’s on-the-nose (but then summarily dismissed) critique of Kat's oppression to Ms. Perky' sun necessary (and ultimately unrelated) sexually-charged writing, this film does not do subtle. It wears its feminism on its (or Kat's) sleeve and it wears its... Not misogyny, but something on the other side of whatever spectrum from feminism.

Yes, I myself have argued in this blog that a character can be feminist and still be into a guy, even be crazy about it, but my point is with 10 Things I Hate about You, Kat's turnaround isn't explored or explained; it just happens. The film has let us see how cute Patrick can be, and we've seen him fall for Kat separate from being paid to go after her. We know he deserves her forgiveness. But, that doesn't mean the film can't give us more than just her poem to go by to let us know she's going to take him back. It's a basic romantic comedy trope played a little too simply. So, then the transition must be carried just by Kat's poem. And, despite Rachael McLennan’s Borrowers and Lenders piece, the poem isn't great as a poem. But, like Heath Ledger sells his enamoration (it's a word) with Kat, and Larisa Oleynik sells Bianca's perplexion (that's a word, too) at her interest in Joey despite his douchiness (also a word), Julia Stiles sells that poem, sells Kat's feelings in that moment. (And, notably, in the first and only take.) And, for most viewers, especially young girls who could use someone like Kat to idealize, the poem makes up for the shortcomings that a movie freak like me might get annoyed by.

Monday, June 26, 2017

well, she is or she isn't

And then there’s that moment that Patrick doesn’t kiss Kat. Ostensibly because she’s been drinking and might still not be entirely in control of her faculties, and he’s a better man than Joey will ever be. But, in that moment, that isn’t how Kat experiences it. Two things are going on. On the one hand, given her shorthand history, Kat expects a guy to take advantage

(and when she's the one offering, it's not even taking advantage, so much... Except inasmuch as she has been drinking, but if that's true, she's hardly in a position to judge, and if she's sober enough to judge, then she's not drunk enough for it to be)

or, on the other hand, she's in that moment feeling like a "normal" teenage girl and Patrick is rejecting her.

Thing is, Kat can be both. A teenage girl who wants Patrick to kiss her and a self-avowed feminist who still might not like boys in general. (And, no smart person should like boys in general, because they're awful. We're awful.)

Or maybe she's horrified at herself because she compromised who she has chosen to be for this boy and then he turned her down (for good or for bad). In that moment, maybe she isn't mad at Patrick as much as at herself.






We want it to be simpler. Like Kat has to be feminist or she can like Patrick, she can be the shrew or she can be tamed; she can't be both. But, reality is never that simple even if films usually are.

Plus, what really matters is not how feminist or not Kat may be but how feminist or not she may seem to the audience, to each girl in the audience. Each girl who might learn to value herself a little more. And, still be "normal."

Sunday, June 25, 2017

my insurance does not cover pms

For example, Kat Stratford, 10 Things I Hate about You--she can’t just be enlightened because she noticed that the world is unfair, that girls are not given the things that boys are, the, you know the world sucks just because you’re a teenage girl; you don’t have to had sex and regretted it and he dumped her.

She can’t just be a “shrew” because the world is an awful, unfair place. No, we’ve got to have something specific, something the males in the audience can understand. Because the males in the audience are either assholes who just won’t like Kat except as much as they think she’s hot, or idiots who will just be frightened by her.

As Sage Young at Bustle, puts it, “The implication is that her shame and anger drove her into becoming interested in women's issues, possibly supporting the idiotic theory that female feminists are women who aren't loved up enough to accept second-class status.” Then Young counters with another interpetation, that “a trauma leads Kat to learn more about herself and the world. And her activist mindset doesn't shut off once she gets a nice boyfriend.” The latter is certainly optimistic for anything coming out of Hollywood. It’s more likely that the former is the worst case, and the best case is that the screenwriter just couldn’t be bothered to really explore the depth of Kat as a character. The film does make an effort to explore her present behavior and she’s just likable enough that we don’t mind spending time with her (mostly because, whatever her reasons, she is lashing out at those who deserve it, for the most part). Patrick is actually fairly unlikable to start with, as well, so it’s almost fair. And it doesn’t go as far as the original Shakespeare from which it takes its plot. It is less misogyny and more stereotypical romantic comedy.

Marie Thouaille at The Outcast, explains her take on the bigger problem with Kat:

Kat embodies an excessive form of feminism known as the ‘Femi-Nazi’, her aggressive speech and masculine clothing signalling her abrasive, shrill, feminist personality.

The message could not be more clear: being a feminist is really uncool! So that’s problem #5: the film claims to cash in on 1990s “girl power” but it’s actively undermining it.

She calls Kat’s feminism “bankrupt.” It is “not the result of carefully critical thinking,” she explains, “but an unsatisfactory sexual encounter in the wake of her mother’s infidelity to the father. The film thus dismisses feminism as a disruptive behavioural disorder originating from bad mothering that must be cured via the redemptive effects of heteronormative romance.” Of course, in the 90s, a bit of heteronormative romance could cure a nerdy girl as much as a feminist girl.

And, Kat’s feminism and anger at the world is presented as a bunch of smart ass lines that she apparently repeats. Bianca and Chastity finish her line about teen’s “pathetic emptiness of their consumer-driven lives” like she says it everyday. It’s feminism and antisocial behavior as slogans and one-liners.

The thing is, in the mid-90s, or the mid-anything, I gues sit’s good that there’s any feminism on screen at all. A young girl seeing this film can look up to Kat and emulate her without debating whether her ideology is bankrupt or not. It is a movie, after all. And a light one at that. Of course it will deal in shorthand. Of course it will shortshrift the ideologies of its characters, simplicity them for the masses.






Besides, every one of us has some damage or another. While it feels simplistic and cheap when it comes to screenwriting, maybe it isn’t so unrealistic to suggest that it takes some trauma to wake us up to what’s wrong with the world. I mean, especially, for a white suburban girl like Kat. She just might not see the faults in the world until one of them strikes where she’s standing. That this trauma, or the rape in Thelma & Louise or so many other movies and stories is a gendered trauma--does that make it cheaper? Yeah, probably. But, Hollywood deals in cheap, easy.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

in the shadow of his ass

A few complaints before I move on from Thelma & Louise:

The simple ones I mentioned in brief parenthetically yesterday. When Thelma and Louise need money, Louise needs Jimmy to get some to her. The talking through of their relationship that comes after her call to Jimmy is an interesting scene, and I'm not sure how the film would really play without it. Louise needs to realize both that she has that relationship waiting, that there is a chance for her in the regular world, and that--remember, when she can't tell him what's going on, Jimmy gets angry and breaks a lamp--even this relatively healthy relationship has an obvious problem: Jimmy is still a male, in a world where men can rage with jealousy and it's accepted. She keeps something from him and, generally speaking, we're supposed to see that as wrong. Here, she's actually protecting him from getting into legal trouble. But Jimmy is still of that man's world, and you don't keep information from your man in that world.

The other simple one is something that actually could have just worked a little differently and added to the feminist angle. Instead, it sort of detracts from it. In the motel room with JD, Thelma asks about how he robs banks, and he goes through his polite bank robber routine. She copies it virtually word for word at the convenience store later to replace the money he took. But imagine this a different way. Imagine that instead of learning how to steal from this man, instead of falling for him and getting taking advantage of, imagine Thelma stealing from JD instead of that convenience store. The only plot-problem then is the number of cops involved at the end, but for the real metaphor of how hard it is to be a woman in a patriarchal world to work... Think about it like this. What if all Thelma and Louise did was kill Harlan, and the world of men still sent all those police cars and those helicopters, because when you are a woman you DO NOT step out of line, you DO NOT refuse a man's advances. Hell, in North Carolina now, you barely can already. Stephen Tobolowsky's FBI guy isn't wrong when he tells Harvey Keitel's detective, "These women are armed, Hal; This is standard." At that point in the film as it is, they have killed Harlan, they have robbed a convenience store, they have robbed and locked up a police officer, and they blew up that guy's truck. But, had JD not stolen their money--or had Louise has access to money without having to turn to Jimmy in the first place--that chain of events might never have happened. How much stronger might the message of been had the male overreaction come from just the singular crime?

And, then there's the big one. And, since the screenwriter was a woman, I am hesitant to complain about this particular thing in this instance. So, I'll turn to a piece from Teresa Jusino at The Mary Sue from last year. An unnamed female writer says, "[Rape has] become shorthand for backstory and drama. Everyone knows rape is awful and an horrific violation, so it's easy for an audience to grasp." Now, Thelma's near rape is important to the plot. She and Louise are not two women who would exit their lives like this but to go fishing. These are two put upon women who aren't really looking to rebel in any big, meaningful fashion. Harlan forcing himself on Thelma is the trigger for more. And, sure, Louise's backstory of being raped herself is easily the reason that she shoots him, but the problem there is the "easily" part. Maybe I'm doing the thing I complain about others doing--wanting the film to be something it just isn't. Like, instead of a road picture with sprinklings of a feminist plot, I want to be a more absolute denunciation of the male-dominated world. Like just the fact that Darryl is such an uncaring asshole is enough for Thelma to want out of her life and out of the patriarchal world. Jimmy's inability to commit, his jealousy, even if he is otherwise apparently rather nice--that could be enough for Louise to want out. Harlan was too much long before he got Thelma out into the parking lot. An opportunist like JD, preying on women venturing into a world foreign to them--he's just as bad on an abstract level. In story terms, anyway. Obviously not in reality. It just feels a little too easy that Louise was raped so that makes her just willing enough to shoot Harlan that all of this snowballs. Why can't she just shoot him because he's a rapist? Why can't she just shoot him because he's pushing himself on Thelma, before it even turns to rape? Why can't she just shoot him because he's a man?

Friday, June 23, 2017

you watch your mouth, buddy

I'm looking at the trivia section for Thelma & Louise in IMDb and I notice that it says the trailer presented the movie as a comedy. So, I watch the trailer and two things are immediately necessary to point out:

1. Yes, the trailer presents the film absolutely as a fairly light comedy, two women up to some crazy shenanigans. Police get involved, sure, but we don't really see how much. The trailer even explicitly cuts around the gun that Thelma points at the cop in his car. Shows him getting out with his hands up, but avoids showing the gun. We see an explosion, but there's no context, just more happy screaming and laughter. Like this is just a fun romp. Far more Outrageous Fortune than Kalifornia. Since Stephen Tobolowsky is in this, they should have just thrown in a shot of Ned Ryerson saying "Bing!" (Except, that footage wouldn't exist yet, obviously.)

2. What else were they going to do? 9 to 5 only worked like it did because it was a comedy, and not just a basic comedy but satire and farce. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and all that. You want an American audience coming out of the testosterone-fueled, winning-the-cold-war 1980s* then you have to play your female empowerment film as a comedy.

* Just check any of my entries here from January 2015, on Lethal Weapon (516 517 518 519 520 521 522), Die Hard (523 524 525 526 527 528 529, Commando (530 531 532 533 534 535 536, Rambo: First Blood Part II (537 538 539 540 541 542 543), and Top Gun (544 545 546 547 548 549).

It's not female empowerment but rather a more general raging against the system, but compare, say, Falling Down to Thelma & Louise. Thelma & Louise made about $45 million at the box office. Falling Down made $40 million. And, I thought there would be a bigger difference there, actually. How about the aforementioned Kalifornia? Just over $2 million. Better comparison, but Kalifornia is small enough that I'm guessing more people have not heard of it than have not heard of Falling Down. Thelma & Louise is more well known than either, holds up better than Natural Born Killers...

I can't remember the first time I watched it. I'm pretty sure I didn't see it in the theater. I don't think my rather conservative mother would have rented it, but I might have a few years later. Or I watched it on cable. I knew what it was, knew what it was about, knew about that ending.

As Megan Garber at The Atlantic points out, Thelma & Louise is one of those movies that is "best known for its ending." Garber writes:

Flight, ending in flight: It's a satisfyingly symbolic conclusion to a film laden with symbolism--about feminism, about female friendship, about a word that can have such little use for either.

In an earlier Atlantic piece, screenwriter Callie Khouri explains:

To me, the ending was symbolic, not literal... We did everything possible to make sure you didn't see a literal death. That you didn't see the car land, you didn't see a big puff of smoke come up out of the canyon. You were left with an image of them flying. They flew away, out of this world and into the mass unconsciousness. Women who are completely free from all shackles that restrain them have no place in this world. The world is not big enough t support them.

She's talking about 1991 in 2011, and that last line--it's still true. We cannot take seriously two women off on their own, doing what they want. Like Thelma, they need permission from their men to do anything. They need a mostly male Congress to make decisions about their healthcare, about their wombs, about birth control and abortion and anything and everything else, because the world is not big enough, America is not big enough. Men are not big enough to accept that women might have their own hopes and dreams, their own inner and outer lives worth exploring on screen, worth exploring in reality, worth celebrating and promoting, or at least allowing.

Jimmy (Michael Madsen) tries to do something good by giving Louise (Susan Sarandon) a ring. But, he's there rather than just wiring her money because he's afraid she is with another man and he wants to give her what he thinks she wants. But, marriage just means she's locked down in that man's world she has, at that point, already escaped. Maybe she doesn't quite realize her trajectory just yet--and meanwhile Thelma (Geena Davis) is finding comfort in bed with JD (Brad Pitt) because a one-night stand in a motel in the middle of nowhere, a fixture of a man's world, just might be good for her on her own trajectory outward.

(I won’t comment just yet on how Louise needs Jimmy for money and Thelma learns how to rob from JD.)

Of course, JD steals their money. Setting them back a a bit. And Jimmy goes home. And, Thelma and Louise are already on the runway to that eventual takeoff. And, sure the ending is symbolic. Flight into a world where women can make their own decisions, defend themselves, take care of themselves. And, of course that was a fantasy in 1991, a place we can only imagine they fly to when they head off that cliff.

Unfortunately, it still is.

Just this week in North Carolina, they passed a law that says women who initially consent to sex cannot then decide not to go through with it. I guess you can't expect them to be able to have their wits about them once things get going.

Or, in the vicious cycle of this self-enforcing patriarchal world, you just can't expect women to have their wits about them at all.

Or at least you can pretend they don't. And do what you want. And, hunt them down with police cars and helicopters when they act out of line.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

she isn't having any fun

Thelma & Louise is one of those obvious titles, when you try to come up with feminist films. I was actually surprised watching the film today after many years since I last watched it, just how much of the film is virtually unrelated to the feminist core. It's that incidental feminism, or whatever you want to call it. Like if the leads were male instead, the plot wouldn't be that different. It would still be a road picture, there could still be the incidental violent act that sends the leads on the run. And, I take a moment to think of a male-centric example of the same and the first film that came to mind is The Legend of Billie Jean, which is entirely a feminist film. I know Bonnie and Clyde makes for a good comparison but it's been a while since I've watched that one, too. My mind turns to Kalifornia or Wisdom, though that isn't really a "road picture." To Hell or High Water, Natural Born Killers... So much crime, deliberate and incidental. Thelma & Louise fits right in.

But, with a clear gender divide at its core. The initial crime happens because a guy tries to rape Thelma. Thelma theorizes that Louise's past problems in Texas also had to do with rape. Thelma is afraid of her overbearing (and abusive?) husband, while Louise's boyfriend is noncommittal.

But, just for its leads, the film is... transformative? It transcends the simplicity of its setup just by being about two women, working class women no less, in 1991. Like the difference between The Secret of My Success and Working Girl.

It's almost too easy. I wish I had been writing as the movie was playing earlier (but my screens were limited at the time), so I could talk about the movie as a movie, avoid the sociopolitical angle for a bit only to loop right back into it...

I'll cut this short today. Maybe complain a little tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

i don't know that i believe anything that i'm saying

Then again, who am I to tell anyone to shut up (not that what I did yesterday was that, exactly? And, who am I to preach about being creative when my only real creative outlet lately is this blog (with barely any audience) or Dungeons & Dragons, where my audience is a whole 6-9 players depending on the week?

I had considered getting out a few of my unpublished manuscripts--the good ones--and re-editing them this summer to make available as ebooks, but then I got some summer classes to teach. Great news for the bank account but taking up a lot of my time for several weeks. Maybe I'll still get to the manuscripts. Knowing me, probably not. One little roadblock and I'll put it off, do something else. Story of my creative life. This blog--not strictly speaking an entirely creative exercise--is the one thing in recent years I have been able to stick with for a particularly long time. When I started actively trying to write fiction for the purpose of getting published--with a short story that is horrid and then a novel that has an interesting plot but horrendous writing--I would manage to write almost every day for the next 3 1/2 years. I would finish a few more novels that, again, had interesting plots but pretty poor writing, and several short stories that worked better than the novels did. Then, there was a few years when my depression kept me away from writing for the most part, but I managed to expand my social life a bit... if the internet counts as far as that goes. Then a few years of writing again, and it was better writing--this is where the "good ones" referenced above happened. Then I went back to school and got divorced and have probably only written a few dozen pages of fiction in the last decade.

I had also considered going back to one of the last stories that I started, because I think I can write well enough now, better than a couple decades ago to be sure. That first novel I completed was finished 20 years ago. I'm better at it, now. And, despite some of the rambling here, one thing I am better at (judging by the last few bits of fiction I have written) is keeping it simple and short... or horribly complicated and short. Maybe I will get to that in a few weeks when I have more time. Probably, I won't.

What I have done and could keep doing is this. This blog. Well over a hundred thousand words so far, all about movies and life and the intersection thereof. But, the rest of it, the stuff I can't (or won't) do--I'm thinking about that today because I've got Frances Ha going one more time. If I were single--well, technically, I am single, but my life is still very much in twined with my ex-wife's, and my kids' lives. But, if I were single like Frances is single, I'm sure I would seem something like her. More like Benji, I suppose, talking about finishing the second act of the screenplay he's working on as if that's the greatest of accomplishments, but needing help from his stepdad to keep paying his rent. I've never cared much about money, about making money, except inasmuch as it affords me the things I want to do, to see movies, to watch tv, to see musicals, to play games. If I made more money, I'd add some sort of traveling to that list, I suppose.






Or something. I don't know what I'm doing, rambling about my plans or lack thereof. Then again, what is Frances doing, being the protagonist of a film about or plans or lack thereof?

Of course, if you're still reading, I've managed it. Manipulated you into listening to me rant. Whether I got you to think about your own shit, or allowed you to escape your own shit by looking down on me, you're welcome.