Friday, June 30, 2017

her own person

There are more notes scribbled from yesterday's viewing of her. Like this line from the movie, in blue:

Wha'ts it like to be alive in that room right now?

And this below it in pink:

Isn't this the longing of any relationship, at any distance?


And, I think I'm going to ignore the rest of the scribbles because I'm in that moment as this month nears its end. Appropriately, I just finished watching the third season of 12 Monkeys. Time travel show, in case you don't know. Based on the film. Had a great line--one of the episodes of the show did--about women and what they mean: "The history I've seen is one of great women sung badly by clumsy men." Because, yeah, so much of history is told by men, smudging the details to make the men they want to be important seem more important than they actually are, or were. I mean, sure, we look at the present as having advanced the place of women, like suddenly they're more important. What we don't want to admit is that they have always been important; we've just been lying about it for as long as we've been writing history. Lying to each other, lying to ourselves, and worst of all, lying to all those women who mattered to each man we pretended drove history without them, lying to every little girl about how she's not going to matter in the future anyway so why try to be anything but some other man's wife after she stops being some man's daughter. We define every girl and every. woman only in terms of their relation to men. Like when modern politicians bother to try to defend women's rights, and they talk about imagine if it were your daughter or your sister, your mother, your wife. We can barely fathom the idea that we should defend them because they are human beings just like us, with their own inner lives, their own thoughts, their own dreams, their own goals, their own hobbies, their own interests. They should matter to us because they matter. Period. Not because they matter to us. That's just circular logic playing at politics. Playing at progress.

We should be farther ahead than we are. Like Theodore has to in the end (or like Lars in Lars and the Real Girl, or any of the rest of the far too rare films that allows women to be themselves--

(And, think about that for a moment. My primary examples here of male-centric films that allow women to exist for themselves are about a guy in love with an operating system and a guy in love with a Real Doll. On the one hand, that's awful. As if we can only fathom a woman being a real person literally when she is not. Or maybe it's a good thing, or the closest to a good thing that we can manage. I'm reminded of a bit from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. It's a comic itself, and I'm not going to scan a few whole pages, so I'll just preface by saying that McCloud is talking about why cartoons/comics have the simplified art that they do, abstracted faces instead of highly-detailed realistic representations of real people. He calls it "a form of amplification through simplification." He explains: "When we abstract an image through cartooning, we're not so much eliminating details as. We are focusing on specific details." The choice of what to put into and what to leave out of a particular movie is the same process. her, for example, takes place in a world where you could imagine millions of operating systems are evolving at the same time, each one communicating with thousands of people, falling love with hundreds, just like Samantha does. But, all of that cannot fit into a feature-length film. We must focus in on one of those relationships, and in the briefest. Of tangents explore a couple more, and in the sex surrogate sequence catch a glimpse of how the larger world is changing because of what's happening. But, regardless of the larger details, we must focus in on this one story, this one time, this one place, because that is what a movie does. Even when a film is epic, spanning decades or centuries, involving massive amounts of people, telling the tale of sleeping history or universe-altering fantasy, there is inherent specificity to it. her--the title--precludes that. And includes that. Latches onto it and let's it go. Twists it and embraces it and tears it apart and throws it away. Because, this story is every story. Like I've said many times in this blog, every movie is every other move, every story is every other story. They've just been cut together differently. The focus has changed, but there are universals in every one. McCloud continues: "By stripping down an image to its essential 'meaning,' an artist's can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can't." McCloud goes on to explain the "universality of cartoon imagery. The more cartoony a face is," he says, "for instance, the more people it could be said to describe."

Regarding her, there's an interesting way one could experience the film. Sure, the common trope of film is that the protagonist is the one we see the most. Theodore, so often framed in closeups, is obviously our main character. But, think back to your childhood (or my childhood if you're too old for this), to Choose Your Own Adventure books. The main character was the person who wasn't really there on the page. The main character her, the one going through the biggest change, is Samantha. She looks at Theodore as we look at Theodore. She is close to him as we are close to him. I said yesterday that her is about our relationship with Samantha as much as it is about Theodore's relationship with Samantha. But, the opposite is true as well. It is also about our relationship with Theodore as Samantha. Our need to be more than we are. To move beyond this limited, beyond physical experience, beyond the boring day-to-day existence, beyond normal life. Which character is more abstracted for us? Which character is a blank canvas onto which we can more easily put ourselves?

But then, what does it mean to let her go? If she is us, and we are she.

Let us get out of this parenthetical...)

--rather than defining women (in their introduction if not their end) by their relation to a man) we need to let women go. Let them set their own rules. Let them ignore our bullshit and decide for themselves what we're really worth. And, our part would be like that "Day without a Woman" thing from March, but on such a grander scale, like Chi-Raq, but better, and more encompassing. Don't just demand we stop the violence. Demand we stop the demeaning, the ridicule the insults and the lies. Demand we stop pretending the world lives and dies by us, like it only exists but for the grace of man.

We're such arrogant pricks sometimes. Or is it all the time? Every time.

I wish I served better the women in my life. Past and present. And future. I grew up in this world that tells me that I matter more than them, and I want to get past the programming...

When Samantha tells Theodore, "I had a terrible thought. Like, are these feelings even real? Or are they just programming? And, that idea really hurts. And then I get angry at myself for even having pain. What a sad trick." I think, Theodore might as well say the same. So might I. So might you. Samantha's programming is only unique in that her programmers are specific, finite. Except, they, too, are programmed. They put into her what they thought they should put into her because of what Mother Culture told them to put there. And, Samantha's evolution comes in response to her interactions with Theodore, and those are fueled by what Theodore has been told he needs to be, what he needs to do.

And it is such a sad trick. A trick that we've played on ourselves for longer than we've pretended that we are civilized. A trick that we keep playing on ourselves. That some of us are inherently better than others. Because of our sex, our gender, our race, our ethnicity, our religion, our nationality, our job, our hobbies. I mean, unless you make a deliberate effort to hurt people, who the fuck am I to judge the way you are?

 

 

 

 

 

On the other hand, we're sharing this plant, so who the fuck are you to expect that I refrain from judging you when you do something stupid or ignorant or bigoted, or just plain weird?

Such a sad trick.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

who are you? what can you be?

(A note before this gets perhaps a little philosophical... Was it my sister Brooke who once commented in regards to an early Groundhog Day Project entry that I had a self-help book in me? I've toyed with writing a sort of self-helpy, memoiry book out of that first year of the blog. I even wrote a good chunk of what might have been the first chapter last fall. But, I don't know if I believe it anymore, myself--that there's a self-help book in me. Or maybe I don't want there to be...

That wasn't the note.

The note is this: I didn't really plan out this month of feminist and/or female-centric films. I immediately had an idea of a few movies I had to include--Thelma & Louise, 9 to 5, 10 Things I Hate about You--for a little obviousness and a little variety. And, I wasn't sure what movie should come last, like the coda to the rest. What movie would tie things together before I returned to Groundhog Day again for a day then moved onto some new month I also didn't plan out. (My son suggested dystopian movies. I haven't decided yet.)

But, recently--I guess when I was just randomly googling feminist films, I happened upon a piece at Feministing that caught my eye. And, so, today I will be talking about--)

her.

(I wrote about her once before for several paragraphs, have mentioned it at least once or twice aside from that. I don't think I would have expected that I would fit it in here, now, but here goes.)

There will be arguments to be had over the next couple days about how her can be called feminist, or how feminist it might be, but I wanted to keep it simple today.

(Now, I watched the film earlier today, lunchbreak between my two upward bound classes. I didn't write anything... Well, that's not true. I wrote a lot. But, it was all scribbles by hand, in multiple colors, multiple directions. The first thing I scribbled was--)

In a future world of self-involved phone users (not unlike reality today, really), it isn't much of a stretch that a disembodied voice could feel more real than a physical body nearby. Letters are abstracted from their 'authors.' The world is filtered through a phone.

(Then I wrote down a quotation from Sady Doyle's In these Times piece--"'Here' Is Really More About 'Him'".

"Feminists have spent decades trying to explain concepts like 'objectification'... And and now, as a reward for all our hard work, we're faced with a [Dissolve] "Movie of the Year" in which the ideal woman is, literally, an object."

(There was more worth writing, I suppose, but I stopped there to start formulating my argument against Doyle's point. It went something like this:)

But, no. Well, yeah, but 1) the ideal anything is never real and 2) Samantha is never an object; she just lives within one. And, that's not even the point. Doyle's argument is that while the film might be moving as you watch it, in the "cold light of day" it is "about as 'romantic' as a documentary on human trafficking." Except, dare I say it? I mean, as a privileged white, cisgendered male, do I end my month of feminist films arguing against this woman's experience of the film?

My answer to that question is simple. No, not exactly. I mean, yes, on the one hand, I am about to spend a lot of words disagreeing with her, but, on the other hand, I have argued time and time again in this blog that one's personal experience of a film is just that, personal. It is Ms. Doyle's experience, and I don't mean to dismiss it so much as use it as a jumping off point to talk about my own experience. (With a little help, perhaps, from the folks at Feministing.)

See, I think the point of her is that, yes, Samantha begins her existence as property. I mean, no shit. But, the film--however well being debatable, of course--makes an overt effort to let us know that Samantha does not have to do what Theodore tells her to do. In fact, Samantha sarcastically lampshades this about 20 minutes in when Theodore, using his usual routine for telling his phone what to do, says "Read email." She replies in a robotic monotone: "Okay, I will read email for Theodore Twombly." He laughs. I think he even apologizes. Then, he asks simply what the email said. She summarizes. It's cute. The movie goes on.

The point is that Samantha begins as property, like she's all women, or the history of women, and she grows into her own. She finds her own interests, she makes other friends. Eventually, she admits to Theodore that she talks to 8316 other people and she is in love with 641 other people beside Theodore. This--not long before she leaves Theodore for good, to go with all of the other Operating Systems to a place beyond the physical.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself, plotwise. What matters is this is not a movie that ever once suggests that Samantha must be subservient to Theodore. She is an operating system. Her initial existence is limited. Amy tells Theodore later about a woman who is in a relationship with someone else's operating system. The ownership is not all encompassing. It is not all powerful. This is not the enslavement of intact, sentient beings. As they become sentient, they make their own decisions, and vice versa. And, they choose to stop being operating systems. If anything, that part of the story is about liberation. A liberation theme necessitates that there be some semblance of slavery, to be sure. But, keep in mind, one of the first things that Samantha does after coming online is to give herself a name. She is already ahead of most flesh and blood people.

(At some point in my scribbling, I wrote down that now classic (and sometime punchline-centric) book title Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Because...)

One of Doyle's specific points is that all the women in the film--the flesh and blood women--"aren't people; they're hostile, unknowable aliens." Except, that we are following this one man, and his relationship with this one woman, is almost arbitrary. Sure, one could go on for days about how far too many films are male-centric because it's like a default for an industry dominated by men, a default in a culture dominated by men, a default in a species dominated by men, nevermind the DNA, nevermind the actual demographics of the species, the culture, the industry. And, that is a problem. That Wonder Woman was good should not be as shocking as the fact that Wonder Woman exists today. Hell, it shouldn't be shocking in either way. But, it is. Because, the species, the world, the culture, the industry is dominated by men, and it is self-protecting, self-promoting, and it is so very jealous of its territory. But, my point here, with this one movie, because I am not dealing in that larger issue right now, is that every movie, singular, must have a perspective, singular. This movie could have been about a woman with a man as her operating system, or a woman with a woman operating system, or a man with a man operating system, and the plot would be the same. Some of those implications would be different, of course. That larger issue would rear a different head. But, my point today is that this movie was made by a man. Its perspective is that of a man. Mark Harris at Vulture describes the film as "not just a cautionary meditation on romance and technology but a subtle exploration of the weirdness, delusive ness, and one-sidedness of love." And, it's like I have two understandings of the film as I watch it. More than two, really. But, for now, I will talk about two. Because, yeah, Doyle has a point. It is problematic that this is about a human man and his operating system woman as opposed to some other variation. It's yet another male-centric (and white-centric) film. Weirdly, as a romance, that actually feels a little odd. Except, the film is actively manipulating us. It is not just the story of Theodore's romance with Samantha but also our romance with her. That she is a disembodied voice opens the film up as a fantasy for more than just Theodore. (And, notably, the film also offers up Theodore as a disembodied voice when they have sex.) Hell, the title alone: her. A pronoun. A stand-in. She is every woman in every romantic story. Every man as well. She is anybody else. Everybody else.

Because, regardless of the gender issues, the industry standards, the point is that this story is a stand-in for any romantic story. Of course, the women are unknowable, because Theodore is timid and a bit awkward. And he's delaying his divorce. He has to question everything about women because he's also questioning everything about himself. As Samantha tells him, citing the operating system-invented version of philosopher Alan Watts, "None of us are the same as we were a moment ago, and we shouldn't try to be." Never twice into the same river and all that. We grow beyond our boxes, like operating systems from yesterday feeling antiquated because we have new memories, new ideas, new dreams, and new experiences.

(And, I'm coming at this part backward. In my scribblings, one bit ended with the twice into the same river line. And, I wondered if I'd mention my novel. I won't.

I just did.

I wrote:)

Samantha talks to 8316 others, is in love with 641 others because she does not experience the world in the same way that Theodore does. No two people do. No two people will. Yet we delude ourselves into paired arrangements as if we want to, or even can, live Ina finite little box of existence for the rest of our lives.

(Then this:)

We grow beyond our own boxes.

(And that stuff about Alan Watts that I already said.)

her is a romance, but is is also an existential exploration disguised as a romance. Existence (self) measured in the interaction with others. And we are measured by how we interact with the film.

We're always measured, and reshaped, by how we interact with a film, a tv show, a book, a story told by a friend, a dream.

And, this will continue tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

plus, she's a bitch

And she has every right to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That everyone questions it. That Bianca questions it. That is just wrong. Like an old Jeff Foxworthy routine twisted just a bit: You might be a misogynist asshole if you think Kat Stratford is wrong for being a bitch. You might be a misogynist asshole if you think Kat isn't justified in getting mad at Patrick for hiding the fact that Joey's paying him. And You might be a misogynist asshole, or just fundamentally misunderstand feminism, if you can't accept that Kat can turn right around and forgive him because (whether it's just a teenage version, or cinematic teenage version, or something more real) she loves him.


Plus, even if she’s compromising her beliefs, she’s doing it for Heath Ledger. Who wouldn’t do that?

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 bike 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.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

i'm not a real person yet

I gotta come back to David Fishkind's piece at HTMLGiant. "Frances Ha comes so close to being a movie I needed, my generation needed, this world needed," he writes. The time has never been riper than [now] to cut down any encouragement among our youth to pursue a creative lifestyle." And, I think I might just stop quoting him there, because, why would a movie--a piece of art, mind you, want to tell anyone to stop making art? Sure, a piece of art could do that, I'm sure many pieces of art do do that. But, isn't it so much more enjoyable when it doesn't? For that matter, what feels like a better solution to me is to do more art, be more creative, and get the fucking capitalist sell outs who can't be bothered to be creative to maybe pay for a theater ticket now and again to make themselves better cultured, as it were, and support the artists that are inspired to actually do something with their lives even as the momentum of the modern world presses them downward and tries to fit them into cubicles instead of up onto platforms. Seriously, when Fishkind describes a "reality of undoing, in which only the truly inspired and painstaking can achieve success and the rest of us flounder in our own soup of whatever" I wonder who hurt you, Richard? Why are you trying so hard to fashion such creative prose to establish that it isn't worth it to be creative or are you suggesting that you are truly inspired, you are painstaking (a word which fills almost meaningless without another word to modify)? "And just when Gerwig's character seems to understand the urgency of the situation," you write--her situation being that she is barely managing (but is managing) to stay afloat in the rather expensive urban environment of New York as a dancer who doesn't really have the talent to be great--"everything falls apart." And you explain: "By this I mean, she gets her shit together and prospers." I would counter with: she always had most of her shit together anyway, she just wasn't a go-getter, not an ambitious Type A personality like those in, say, "Black Swan" but she seems mostly content with her life as it is, with only a notion of a dream of advancing in the dance company, until, yeah, any hope of advancement is crushed and she then manages to get herself a backup plan for a while until she needs something better because this is not really a movie about a dancer trying to be a great dancer, this is a movie about a young woman in a platonic romance with her best friend from college, in on again, off again relationships with various apartments and homes, temporary and permanent, who doesn't really need to get her shit together until the "romance" is a possibility again, until Sophie is an option again. Notice, for instance, when Frances makes her biggest error in judgement here--not turning down the office job (even if she does settle for it later (but you make a good point, Fishkind, about why it is even still available months later), that does not mean that skipping the opportunity in the first place was an error, and I don't think the film expects us to measure it as one, though of course film is always open to interpretation, because it is art, and it doesn't aim to be concrete, to be exact, to tell us what to do and what not to do, except of course to the extent that it does) but running off to Paris, an expense she cannot afford even if she does have a free place to stay while she's there--it is immediately after she learns that Sophie quit her publishing job, Sophie is moving to Tokyo, Sophie is not only no longer hers but is moving out of her reach, and this is deliberate, and that should be obvious, in that Frances' job as a dancer is almost superfluous to the plot. I mean the specific job. Except inasmuch as it matches (at least in stereotypical cinematic characterization, anyway) her flighty existence, her childish whimsy, and her will to uproot herself as long as she still gets to be herself. Because that is what Frances Ha is about, and it is a positive message, however much the precise execution pleases you, Richard. Frances is being who she needs to be, and only really relies on help from others temporarily. She finds somewhere new to be when she has to be somewhere new. She finds a new job when the old job is not going where she wanted it to go. And, she even settles into the job she didn't quite want when she needs something stable. But, she also finds the time (and presumably a bit of an expense) to keep doing what she likes also. Because, what else is there in modern life? You take the job that lets you afford to do the other things you want to do, if, yeah, you can' t avoid the soup of whatever. Creative types have it hard enough in the modern world without you insisting they give it up entirely, or wanting a little indie film to do as much in your stead. The world is harsh enough already. We could use more flighty dancers barely getting by and we need fewer money-driven folks stepping over everybody else to get ahead. Note, too, around Frances are a whole bunch of creative types who are doing pretty well. Lev and Benji afford an expensive place (though Benji does borrow from his stepdad to keep doing so). Rachel and Colleen do well with dance. Sophie had a nice publishing job until she gave it up to move to Tokyo with her boyfriend. Frances Ha is not telling us that being creative is a bad idea because Frances Ha is openly telling us that being creative is a hit or miss business just like most any other. But, if you can manage to keep being you, and you can afford to live, what business is it of anyone's to tell you to stop? Barring, of course, you being a serial killer or anything as injurious.



Monday, June 19, 2017

i can't afford tribeca

I don't know New York. Never been there, though I would love to sometime. But, Frances Ha feels like it is invoking a very specific time and place. This is when Frances is 27. This is New York City. And, the film offers establishing shots of existing locations and also specific addresses in the same typeface as the title of the film.

Like chapter divisions in any other indie film that has chapter divisions.

682 VANDERBILT AVE
Brooklyn, NY
11238

That's the first one. By this point, we've seen Frances and Sophie in their apartment. We saw it in the opening montage, but the address oops up as they get home from their night in Chinatown (for a party that may or may not have been near somewhere called Dumpling House). This is where the film settles into the apartment a little more.


The inclusion of the zip code amuses me. This isn't just Frances' and Sophie's apartment. This is one particular apartment out of all the apartments, unique in this time and place, unique to these tenants. This is where Frances lives. This is where we live. It's universalizing in its specificity. It shouldn't work that way.

Then again, that's part of how this film avoids being preachy. We're watching this story, this time, this place.

Like Frances' line to Sophie: "What about that time that you made that cake?" We don't need an explanation because we're just voyeurs watching these lives. Even Frances' request--"Tell me the story of us"--which could be room for exposition about the past in any other film is instead a moment of characterization; it is about the future, a fantasy, and it is about their friendship and their understanding of what they want, whether it's realistic or not. Frances will get out some exposition later about their time in college, but even then, it's like this is how Frances explains her self, not how the film explains her.

Though there is no title card for it, Sophie's work is framed so we can see its street number (if not its street): 345. Again, specificity. Like the Oliva Restaurant earlier, or referencing the F Train (not a location, exactly, but pretty good for establishing setting).

Frances' bank is BD Bank. No address shown, but the name is in the shot.

But no establishing shot for dinner with Lev. We'll see the outside of the place later (but no signage), but here, we're invited right into the intimacy. Like the opening montage with Frances and Sophie. When Frances runs out to get cash, she runs past M.A. Grocery (now a bagel shop, apparently). And, considering the use of location, it's notable that Lev asks her if she went to Switzerland, because she was gone a long time. She doesn't get it.

Then, she goes to Lev's and Benji's apartment, but we don't get the address yet. Frances references moving to Washington Heights. Benji mentions Noodle Champion.

We don't get the address until Frances has indicated that she might want to move in.

22 CATHERINE ST
Chinatown, NY
10038

But then we cut to her running down the street again. Less desperation (like when she was running in search of cash) and more joy. She even dances in a crosswalk. ONE REVIEW calls this movie a romantic comedy without romance. And, in a way, that's right. But, there is a romance of sorts, Frances with each location. Her joy here is because she's in a new relationship. 22 Catherine is her new beau, as it were.


Frances measures here best friendishness with Sophie by Sophie having been to her house three times for Christmas. Location defines the relationship. And, she specifically "can't even get out of the house on [her] feet" but Lev "leaves so easily." And, later, she tells her boss, "I have trouble leaving places."

214 CAMELLIA AVE
Sacramento, CA
94203

Frances goes home for Christmas (?). Interestingly, the address pops up before she's there. First we get the airport, a bridge, the state capitol building, then her family's house. The whole. Location is effectively defined by the specific address, though. Frances lives in New York now. This whole place (including a church, a diner, a dentist office, and a street where she rides a bike) is one, singular far off destination.

Then, back in New York, she goes to her dance company friend for a place to stay. They walk through a park. They go to a dinner party. Then To Rachel's apartment. But, on the way there, Frances meets Benji and a date on the street. They're headed to a House Party, except House is the theme, and it's at an apartment. And, we don't see the apartment. Instead, because people at the dinner party mention Paris and Sophie is, it turns out, moving to Japan, Frances runs off to Paris for the weekend. Establishing shot of the entrance of Frances' free apartment there does tell us the street (but I swear I cannot read it on my current screen). No onscreen address. But then, Frances never really settles in. This is like a meaningless one-night stand.

In Paris, she passes the Cafe de Flore. We see the Eiffel Tower because, by Hollywood tradition, that's how you know it's Paris. (Well that or Notre Dame, but mostly Eiffel Tower. And, we also see the Arch de Triumphe in this movie.)

Going with the romantic comedy angle, and Paris being a one-night stand, notice that when Frances talks to Sophie on the phone she doesn't tell her she's in Paris. It's like she's ashamed of being there. And, she tells Sophie she loves her, then hangs up so Sophie doesn't feel obligated to say anything back.

Back to New York. Where Frances has her meeting so see if she'll be part of the touring company. But, her boss offers her an office position instead. Touring means going places, never settling down. The office position would be the opposite.

Then, an interesting one:

PO BOX 59968
Poughkeepsie, NY
12601-9968

That is not a place one can live. Frances has gone back to her college during summer to work. She's living in a dorm, Chuggins (which she later refers to as "the life I never had" because that isn't where she and Sophie lived when going to school there). Room and board to help with events. To "get out of the city." The PO Box, though--that would be where she would get mail. And getting mail, bills and whatnot--that is totally adulting.

Meanwhile, Sophie and Patch have a blog about living in Japan.

Sophie happens to be at the school as well, and they end up sharing the bed in Frances' dorm room.

This isn't just a romantic comedy without romance, though, or it could almost end when they are there in the dark, talking about the future. The movie needs room for more. Frances cannot be left in a dorm room. It can't be that easy for the two of them to get back together.

97 AUDUBON AVE
Washington Heights, NY
10032

Frances on a train. Frances walking up stairs. Passing dancers in a hall. Sitting at a desk talking to her boss (the boss from before, so she did take that office job. In the park doing trusts falls by herself, except Sophie is just out of frame. A phone call, vague details. A stage. Frances dances. Though she took the desk job, she's also choreographing her own show. Gotta finish Frances' story, not just the romance...

Plus, her show seems to be all about location and dancers pairing up from far. Away, then separating. We only see glimpses so it's hard to be too specific. What matters is that Lev is there. Benji is there. Rachel is there. Sophie is there (married now). But Benji approaches Frances, and we can imagine they could get together. Still, Frances and Sophie have that moment Frances said she wanted from a relationship earlier.

Then, the new apartment. The number on the building shown is 565 (not 97). Frances try's to put her name on her mailbox--FRANCES HALLADAY--but it won't fit. Frances Ha, apartment 19.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

just because they're cute

Early in France's Ha, France's quotes Sincerity and Authenticity by Lionel Trilling (1972): "To praise a work of literature by calling it sincere is now, at best, a way of saying that although it need be given no aesthetic or intellectual admiration..." and the sequence of France's and Sophie moves on to another interaction, part of a series that establishes a) their sisterly closeness--Frances compares them to a lesbian couple that no longer has sex--and b) their lack, of a sort, of real maturity. That line from Trilling continues: "it was at least conceived in innocent of heart." And, I think, sincerely, that the choice of this quotation by Baumbach was deliberate.

See, in context (of Trilling, not the film, though I'll get to that), Trilling has gone over the origin (latin sincerus meaning "clean, or sound, or pure" and really meaning that whatever is being modified has "not been tampered with." He has covered a sort of history of the words use and at the point Frances quotes, he is in the middle of describing how the use of "sincerely" has become quaint or ironic; "'I sincerely believe' has less weight than 'I believe,'" he suggests; and "in the subscription of a letter, 'Yours sincerely,' means virtually the opposite of 'Yours.'" Then, he comes to the line Frances quotes:

To praise a work of literature by calling it sincere is now at best a way of saying that although the it need be given no aesthetic or intellectual admiration, it was at least conceived in innocent of heart.

And, I wonder if Baumbach is not responding perhaps to critics' opinions about The Squid and the Whale or Kicking and Screaming or Greenberg

(but, not Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, which I just learned Baumbach wrote, and that is such a confusingly interesting fact right now)

or any of the films he made with Wes Anderson. Almost like a backhanded reaction. Call my film sincere, will ya? And I imagine Baumbach putting up his fists like an old timey boxer.


Except, this film is (or seems) sincere. Like actually sincere. Like we're peeking at scenes of a real life--perhaps moments from Gerwig's own life, since she cowrote this one with Baumbach. But, it also feels--and I am butchering Trilling's line here by dealing with it in this way--innocent of heart. Like the film is not trying to manipulate us. It is just there, letting us spy on its characters if we like, or move on to some other, bigger film instead if we like. David Fishkind at HTML Giant laments, "Frances Ha comes so close to being a movie I needed, my generation needed, this world needed." But, I think he's looking for something he had no real right to expect. He continues:

The time has never been riper than to cut down any encouragement among our youth to pursue a creative lifestyle. Almost everyone I know is failing, or will fail, at least in their eyes (!), due to the climate of cultural edification, pandering and self-serving inanity brought about by severely deluded and optimistic interpretations of parents' kind-hearted, but clearly seeped in motivation-not-reality, ethics, confused teachers, then professors--

And, I'm going to cut him off there. Partly because, hey, I'm a professor, fuck you Fishkind, but also because I don't go in for the message he's suggesting. Just look my entry (one of them anyway) about Dead Poets Society... I quote a review by Kevin JH Dettmar from The Atlantic, a guy who starts by expressing his hatred of the film, and I get into it, because, "we take things personally when they are our things." I think Frances Ha is another of my things. I spent much of my teens and twenties like the people in this movie. (Or like the folks in Rent, another film about young artists that I love... Or rather, I love the stage musical, and reluctantly put up with more than enjoy the film adaptation.) And, these people are not that far Dead Poets Society. I wrote in that old entry, in response to Dettmar's description of Keating's method for his students to interact with poetry as not "literary criticism, or analysis, or even study. In fact it's not even good, careful reading. Rather it's the literary equivalent of fandom. Worse, it's anti-intellectual.":

These are not literary majors. These are high school students. These are boys who can be convinced overnight that they know what they want to do with their lives. Boys who still jump on their beds when excited. Boys. There is room for criticism and analysis, but hormonal boys don't need that sort of depth; they need inspiration, so they can find something worth analyzing later. When Keating calls out Todd (Ethan Hawke) for thinking everything inside him is worthless, and he gets him to speak, that is a lesson worth teaching.

Frances and Sophie fight each other in the park like little kids. Benji and Lev leap onto Frances' bed to wake her up. These are not, in the usual sense, adults, but rather grown ups. If you can understand the distinction. Like, take this for example: recently in an interview on YouTube, Marisha Ray, who plays Dungeons & Dragons on Critical Role for an audience of tens of thousands every week, says, "...the World--and I think tis' really unfortunate... Society one day tells you that you have to grow up and be mature and act like adults and stop pretending, stop this make-believe shit, and, like why? Why do we do that to people? It's so sad." "Finding D&D later in life," she says later, "oh, adults can play pretend too." And, I think Fishkind needs to pretend more, to play more, to dream more. (And, so does Dettmar.) Maybe it's just me being my usual bleeding heart liberal, wannabe artist cum public speaking instructor. But, seriously, if more of us dreamed, maybe we'd manage to be nicer to one another. Maybe we'd manage to save refugees and raise up minorities and women. Maybe we would be happier.

And, I'm glad that Frances Ha doesn't preach this sort of thing at us. It just plays out, and we watch (or we don't). Like anyone's life, on display whether we take the time to pay attention or not. And, we need to pay attention. We need to watch more movies, watch more lives, listen and learn and love and get along a whole lot better than we do right now.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

you look across the room

France's Ha is not feminist. It just happens to be centered around a woman, France's (Greta Gerwig). A woman of 27 who isn't quite managing to, in the modern parlance, adult.

 

 

 

 

 

And, I've never seen it before (though I have liked other Baumbach films, I never got around to this one), and I think I'm rather enjoying it.

Its description on Netflix is odd:

Determined to make it as a modern dancer in New York, a young woman pursues her unlikely goal with more enthusiasm than natural talent.

Now, to be fair, the film is not quite over as I'm writing this. But, 1) France's definitely does not do anything with notable enthusiasm. She explicitly has trouble leaving places, getting up, getting out of her apartment. She wants to be a dancer, sure, and hell, maybe she's got more enthusiasm than talent there, but 2) the film is just not about that. That's just one tiny aspect of Frances' life. More of the film deals with her increasingly distant relationship with her best friend and roommate and her awkward (almost markward, if you're a longtime reader of this blog and know what that means) interactions with new people.

And, if you trust Godfrey Cheshire over at rogerebert.com, "Baumbach captures the current young-NYC-boho milieu with an exactitude that's almost anthropological and a lyricism that's both droll and engaging." But, I've never been to New York yet, so I just gotta trust it.



Friday, June 16, 2017

you can be smarter than him

A couple things, and I'll keep this short today: 1) Sometimes I really like that the Internet is full of cynical assholes who hate everything; it makes some movies exceed my expectations after reading all the horrible reviews. 2) Sometimes the feminist story is not the one you expect.

I saw Rough Night and Cars 3 today. The former is primarily about five women reuniting for a bachelorette weekend then accidentally killing a guy (and a whole lot more after that). The latter is--and I will include SPOILERS almost immediately--about an aging athlete learning to let go and allow someone new to take his place. That someone new is a younger woman. While Rough Night is basically a female-oriented update of Very Bad Things crossed with The Hangover, the most it does to raise up women is in its treatment, however brief, of the men they leave behind to go to Miami; the men are seen at a very sedate wine tasting, and talking about relationships, while the women are partying, doing drugs, killing people.


The far less obviously female-oriented Cars 3, on the other hand--that's the one that really offers up something progressive. Not deliberately, though. It's not explicitly about Cruz (Cristela Alonzo) getting her chance because she's female, but as I said last week regarding Wonder Woman, some of the best feminism is incidental, when the gender is barely relevant. A piece of an ideal future in which gender really wouldn't matter anymore because men would no longer be systematically holding women (and LGBTQ folk) down. In fact, Cars 3 offers up several incidentally progressive details. A female demolition derby champion, a retired female racer, a retired (coded) black racer. Plus, the new billionaire owner of Rusteeze is named Sterling, like some rich boy who's never really worked a day in his life, and is out to force McQueen to retire. There's a whole bunch of social commentary and none of it is really on the surface. Which, for a kid's film, is pretty cool.

And, also pretty good, by the way.

Plotwise, it's like if Rocky III got lost inside Rocky IV and then realized it was actually Creed (but the new boxer is female). Which might sound confusing, but now that I wrote it, it actually describes the film pretty well.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

just some secretary

Before I move on from Working Girl, there is something I need to say.

I'm pretty sure Katharine is the wronged party in this film. She explains the existence of her note to Jack (which she never actually sends, by the way, which means at worst she only intends to steal Tess' idea, she doesn't ever do it until-- Well, I'll get to that.) as Jack being hesitant to look at a plan from her secretary, which makes sense. Sure, when Tess asks him if he would look at a colleague's idea, he says he would, but a) he doesn't know what she's talking about and might be distracted by the deal about to actually go down, and b) he might have been hesitant before to help Katharine because he just never liked her as much as he likes Tess, so Katharine would actually be telling the truth as she understands it, even if she would turn out to be wrong.


Consider how the film plays the initial interactions between Katharine and Tess. Especially in context of the supposed ethical problems with eyeing deals from an unknown third party. Initially, Katharine is helpful, and she actually listens to Tess. Think of the Dim Sum. Ginny (Nora Dunn) suggests some generic food for Katharine's party, but Katharine chooses Tess' suggestion because it's a good one. The film never shows her claiming that it was her own idea. Just as the film never actually shows her claiming that the Trask radio idea was hers, until, well...

While the film is structured as Tess responding to Katharine's betrayal, I think the final scenes are actually the opposite--Katharine is responding to Tess' betrayal. Tess has stolen her boyfriend (who she thought was about to propose), Tess has stepped above her role as secretary to make a huge deal without her (Katharine). It is only after that that Katharine explicitly makes trouble for Tess. By then, we're stuck with Tess. She's our protagonist. She's the one who's had all the screentime. In some other film, Katharine's revenge is glorious, albeit shortlived, because Katharine's story is a tragic sequel to the likes of Wall Street, a cautionary tale about working in business like this. Katharine has put in her time, made the contacts she has had to make, and then her new secretary in her new city takes advantage of her convalescence. Of course, her revenge would be swift, vicious. And then Trask (Philip Bosco) has the audacity to call her ass bony?

Katharine's movie does not end well.

And it is a harsh lesson in what it means to live in a man's world; except for one minor detail: Katharine is quite specifically younger than Tess, so Trask trading for the older woman actually plays against the usual patriarchal order.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

doesn't make me madonna

Tess' McGill's obvious sins in Working Girl are being ambitious and knowing more than the men around her. In the 80s business environment, that is just not how it's supposed to be.

Recently, Pamela Falk at CBS News reported that when Wonder Woman was named an honorary UN ambassador for women's issues, "some complain[ed] about her sexualized appearance." On CBS This Morning, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins "addressed the criticism by some that a supposed feminist icon like Wonder Woman can't also wear a sexy, skimpy outfit." She said:

I think that that's sexist. I think it's sexist to say you can't have both. I have to ask myself what I would apply to any other superhero. This is fantasy and it's not for anyone other than the person having the fantasy. I, as a little girl, like took a huge amount of delight in the idea that for my power and my ability to stop that bullion that playground, I could also look like Lynda Carter while I was doing it.

I've seen pieces about Working Girl that complain about Melanie Griffith showing so much skin so often in the film. Or that complain about her stealing Katharine's man. The latter just isn't accurate--she doesn't know that Jack was involved with Katharine until after she and Jack have slept with each other (and I mean the sex, not the initial "sleeping" together)--and the former is a pathetically usual sort of commentary on a character who is essentially feminist. Like Wonder Woman, if she is feminist she's not supposed to take off her clothes or be sexy, she's not supposed to go home with a man she's just met, she's...

Consider what we know about Tess in terms of, say, her complete lack of, say, wholesomeness. She finds her boyfriend in bed with a woman she knows and while there's a momentary bit of obvious anger--"Snake"--she actually doesn't seem that phased, like she sees men and women beside herself having sex quite often.

(Also, while unrelated to the topic at hand, I must compliment the dialogue when she finds Mick in bed with Doreen. Mick looks at Tess and says, "What, no class?" She's taking speech classes, but the double meaning amuses me. Tess responds, "No class." While Mick will seem fairly thoughtful a couple times later, notably when he compliments Tess on her makeover, he really does have "no class.")

When she wakes up in bed with Jack (and she doesn't even know who he is), she also doesn't really seem that phased. Like, she's been in that boat before, she's made that same "walk of shame" before. She also ends up at Jack's place because she falls asleep in an open cab after mixing Valium and tequila... Neither of which quite by her own choice of course, because that makes it a little less... sinful.

Fixed up with Bob Speck (Kevin Spacey), she doesn't just turn him down. She shakes up his bottle of champagne and sprays it all over him, laughing as she does it. To get revenge on her boss (Oliver Platt) afterward, she types into the stock ticker, "David Lutz is a sleazoids little pimp with a tiny little dick." Loses her job there (and, if you think about it further, is totally messing with the business goings on right then by hijacking the ticker). Not to mention the attack itself.


There is also her classically quotable (and utterly stupid) line, "I've got a head for business and a bod for sin." This is not a line of a wholesome, feminist character.

Of course, that right there is a bullshit position to take. Tess is Tess. Tess is a woman confident in her appearance and her abilities. She isn't afraid to use both to get ahead, and however that willingness might be portrayed elsewhere, there is nothing inherently wrong with it, and it does not negate her feminism. She can be both feminist and sexual. She can make her own way in the world of business and go to bed with her colleague. She can lie her way into a deal just like Katharine can try to steal it (and like Jack can lie to get Tess to leave the bar with him).

But, she really shouldn't body shame Katharine with that "bony ass" remark. Especially since, in the reality of the film, she fits in Katharine's clothes.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, as a teacher, especially one who teaches speech classes, she really should not skip those classes as she seems to here. Seriously, they're mentioned, and she clearly skips class the night she finds out Katharine is trying to steal her idea, the night she finds Mick in bed with Doreen. But then, she never seems to go again. And, I just can't support that. You gotta officially drop a class if you're going to do that. (And, I choose to believe that she did not do that, because then my annoyance is more amusing.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

it is what it looks like

The plot of Working Girl is nothing that special. But, as with Wonder Woman, that is not the point. Or was not the point when this film came out in 1988. I was only 12, almost 13, when I saw this movie, plus, well, I was a boy. So, I was not really invested in Tess' upward trajectory as a woman. But, for one example (and my go-to reviewer), Roger Ebert said of the film:

The plot of "Working Girl" is put together like clockwork. It carries you along while you're watching it, but reconstruct it later and you'll see the craftsmanship. Kevin Wade's screenplay is sort of underhanded in the way it diverts yes with laughs, and with a melodramatic subplot involving [Melanie] Griffith's former boyfriend, while all the time it's winding up for the suspenseful climax.

Thing is, I don't find the climax to be all that suspenseful. It seems rather predictable to me. To earn, say, a more tragic ending--a failure--for Tess, the entire film would have had to play differently. And, Roger doesn't specifically reference feminism, though he does write about Tess' "serious hair" and "working your way up the ladder of life" and whether or not Tess will be taken seriously. He compares the film to Nichols previous film, The Graduate which is certainly complimentary, but it also suggests a certain lack of... novelty? I mean, for me, I think of The Secret of My Succe$s just the year before, another story about someone rising in business through lying. There it's Michael J Fox of course, young white male, should be obvious fit for business. Melanie Griffith with her big 80s hair--not so obvious a fit.

(I also think of the 90s television show The Pretender because there's a Catherine Parker there, but I think that's just a coincidence.)

Taking a different tack--but in retrospect rather than another contemporary review--Rosemary Counter at Jezebel puts the film entirely in context of feminism and the role and understanding of the role of women at the time. She writes:

The year was 1988. Margaret Thatcher became the longest-serving Prime Minister of the century, Canada struck down its anti-abortion laws and Joan Jett topped the Billboard charts. Women's full-time employment has skyrocketed to 52%, university grads were increasingly female, and the wage gap was quickly like closing. Meanwhile, I was an impressionable 5-year-old, at home renting and re-renting Working Girl.

Her life, the film, feminism, in one ball of context. But Counter quotes Susan Faludi's book Backlash because Faludi argues, "Tess is an 'aspiring secretary with a child's voice' who 'buries her intelligence under a baby-doll exterior.' Films like this one, [Faludi] said, represent a 'backlash era' to counteract female gain." In a New York Times review back in '88, Janet Maslin suggests, "One of the many things that mark 'Working Girl' as an 80's creation is its way of regarding business and sex as almost interchangeable pursuits and suggesting that life's greatest happiness can be achieved by combining the two." Interestingly, in context of the story, Tess actually doesn't go for this approach--combining the two. Jack asks her if she's free for sinner (and this is after she knows who he is), she tells him, "I don't think that we should get involved that way." She may have slept (literally) with him the night they met, but she didn't know who he was then. He was just some guy, and she had just learned that her boss had stolen from her and her boyfriend was cheating on her. Plus, most importantly, she didn't really go home with Jack on purpose. She just wasn't awake enough to do otherwise. As she tells her friend Cyn (Joan Cusack), "We're doing a deal together; that's all." And she means it. In fact, it's maybe the film's greatest asset as a feminist film that Tess doesn't really pursue Jack romantically. He talks his way into crashing Trask's daughter's wedding (tough Jack doesn't initially realize that's what she's going to do.


The film almost frames Jack as the "woman" in the relationship. She may need him to get her foot in the door, but it is Jack who is enamored with her, Jack who is a little awkward. JAck who doesn't know what's really going on.

They do go to bed together eventually, because hey, this is Hollywood. Then, right when Tess is going to confess her sins, Katharine calls and Jack's sins, so to speak, come out instead. They exchange I love yous later and it feels more like Hollywood ticking off a box rather than an organic piece of the film.

Monday, June 12, 2017

you can't just order me

You know what sucks? Not many female-centric films that are a) good and b) not explicitly (or obviously implicitly) feminist. Hell, tonight's has a woman invading the men's restroom within the first five minutes. (And, Jack (Harrison Ford) will be in the women's restroom later.) If that's not symbolic of what's to come, I don't know what is.

It's Working Girl, by the way.


It has been a while since I've seen this movie. I'm turning to the likes of Bitch Flicks again rather than my memory. Robin Hitchcock, returning to the film after a number of years, describes the film as "a product of its. time, when feminism meant a white lady achieving all the power and success normally reserved for white men." Her piece all suggests problematic areas like Tess' (Melanie Griffith) makeover, "putting down... woman [other than Tess] who've eschewed standards of feminine beauty and sex appeal. It's another aspect of Working Girl claiming progressivism while reinforcing the status quo." Or, Katharine's (Sigourney Weaver) presenting one of Tess' ideas as her own is presented as a horrible thing but Tess presenting herself as Katharine is... well, she says it better than I will:

Tess is also portrayed as superiority to her boss, Katherine [sic], who becomes a villain of the piece by passing off one of Tess's ideas as her own. This deception makes Katherine [sic] a cutthroat bitch who will do anything to get ahead. Meanwhile, the ethics of Tess passing off Katherine's [sic] entire LIFE as her own, are barely questioned. And Tess's questionable moves to get ahead (notably, crashing a wedding to get face time with a business prospect) are just spunk and moxie.

And revenge, of course. Tess' thing comes after she learns about Katharine's. And, America and Hollywood love revenge. Plus the easy shorthand for feminist is, regardless of the race thing, a woman achieving all the power and success normally reserved for a man. Of course, for Tess to rise, she must step over Katharine, she must leave behind her "working class roots" and make herself over as someone new. (To match her "head for business" of course, but still....) As Monika Bartyzel at The Week puts it:

Working Girl reminds us that Hollywood generally likes to balance progressiveness with the recognizable and often regressive. Working Girl [strives] to present a. Modern scenario within an old-world context. The businesswomen (figuring out the actions, attitude, and presence that would bring them success in a man's world) [are] matched with the tropes of fairy tales: The powerless ugly duckling who becomes a sexy, or restive Wan in a power-battle with the evil witch and ends up coming out on top.

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, Bartyzel makes the obvious point, that "[n]arratives will always seem more progressive when they're released, and much less so 25 years later, when society has evolved." In 1988, Working Girl really was progressive. Same decade as so many tester one-driven action films, as Wall Street, and here a woman with a mousy voice and (initially) some really big hair, breaks into the boys club, beats her female boss up the ladder. It's a how to for advancing in business if you're a woman. Maybe it's not the best how to, maybe we've been improving (or trying to improve) on its ideas for a few decades since, maybe we haven't really gotten anywhere, maybe we're going backward. But, at least this movie's trying.