Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Cyrano de Bergerac =/= Pinocchio

The Closet . . . of Love

I don't know when the Romantic Drama (Movie) became universally aligned with The Chick Flick, and I've just started wondering about this. In the 40's and 50's, Romantic movies were a lot more well, macho than they are now, in that the voyeuristic gaze was set so that the female characters could be the objects, of desire for men and of replacement for women. I can get into the psychoanalytic specifics, of scopophilic gaze and how the female is always feminized in an objectifying sense, but I won't now. Males leads, from Clark Gable to Cary Grant were portrayed as individuals of immense strength, whose mere presence would carry the movie, and the heroine, to a romantic ending. These movies were clear cut, good male, bad male, heroine, and people liked it that way. I have news - people still do. It's just that movies these days can't do it without seeming derivative, and thus we have what is called the Chick Flick, the movie directed towards pulling the heartstrings of the female audience and the pursestrings (or walletstrings, as it may be) of the male audience. There are only a few movies that buck this trend, and they do it in surprising ways.

Attempts to make a real Romantic movie these days (Kate and Leopold is a strange example, as they literally have to drag the main character out of the depths of time) either fail miserably or are hailed as spoofs, mindful of an earlier time when men were men and women had really pointy boobs (Reese Witherspoon, Pleasantville reference). The point I'm trying to make, however, is that these times may be cynical, but they are also conservative. Some people still want the old Romance movies, but the Hollywood bigwigs have a hard time finding a director and a script that isn't self-referential and snide in some way or another. What we end up getting are a bunch of crappy "feminist" movies starring Kate Hudson that, while claiming to break gender roles, just has the woman get together with her main love interest at the end. Even indie films like "Kissing Jessica Stein" don't have the courage to take the final leap and either break the standard or stick to it completely. There are three movies that stand out immediately when I think of good Romantic movies, and they have very strange ways of distancing themselves from not only the modern chick flick, but the old time Romance, which is part of what makes them good. The problem is that their way of reinventing the Romantic Drama is such that it reduces the target audience. Oh well. I can still enjoy them.

I'm going to skip over Woody Allen movies, but not because I don't have any respect for Woody Allen. Woody Allen's romances fall into a category of romatic comedy that I'm less concerned about. Actually, that's not true, is it? He has made dramas, and good ones too. Fine. Woody Allen is just special, but not like George Lucas is "special", i.e. Woody Allen is not retarded. Part of Allen's brilliance is making unattractive, funny heroes that appeal to the audience in different ways - 1) men identify with the hero - an everyman that, while not perfect and not Fabio, still can get a girl on personality alone. We all want to be this guy. 2) men and women laugh at the hero, so that they understand what makes him so lovable. While I'm not familiar with what's been written about his camera work I wouldn't be surprised if it upended some gender particulars that are common to Hollywood film.

1) Harold and Maude. A romance involving an 80 year old woman and a 17 year old boy is not going to attract a large audience. In fact, I can't think of many better ways to scare an audience off. But this movie happens to be one of the most poignant movies I've ever seen. One reason is that Harold is an amazingly humorous character, and yet he's the epitome of adolescence (barring the hearse that he drives around). The way that the relationship between them are built up is just astounding, and incredibly realistic as well. Approaching this film with an open mind was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Thanks Mr. Lowe. The Cat Stevens Soundtrack helps too. Deportation indeed . . .

2) Secretary. The fact that I just saw this movie for the second time today was what precipitated this blog. Some might call this a romantic comedy, but if you laugh at this movie, you're missing the point. The point of this movie is the story of a girl (Maggie Gyllenhall, in a great performance and looking a little like Karen Allen pre-institutionalization) that discovers her place in the world and in love. The acts of submission and dominance that occur between her and James Spader are not intended to be humorous. The two are truly experimenting, throwing off all expectations of a conservative Florida society, and part of that means running the spectrum of dominance and submission. James Spader also turns in a performance that he should have won an Oscar for. The cinematography and set design for this movie was stupendous. Great camerawork captures monochromatic sets (Spader's red office is amazing). Flashes of Blue and Green, and the jarring shots of an outside world, Florida under the sun, are brilliant. And I love the meticulous nature of the film, which might sugges that the director was not unlike Spader's character. Every little detail is covered, from Gyllenhall's self-destructive rituals embodied in childish pencil cases to the actions that the characters make that make the characters (Gyllenhall's perfect flip of Spader's collar at the end of the movie, etc). This movie is a quintessential romantic drama - girl in need, guy in need, girl meets guy, conflict, climax, happily ever after. And then it's not. That they engage in various acts of bondage and masochism are mere expressions of their real characters. And for a romance, there is an amazing amount of gender-bending in this movie. Spader's man is not just a dominant male, and Gyllenhal is not just a submissive female. They accept each other, and Gyllenhal's gaze straight into the camera at the end of the movie tells you how strong her character is and that she doesn't give a damn if you accept their characters for what they are. Because they're so much stronger with each other that the rest is irrelevant.

3) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This movie, for all it's sci fi atmosphere (going into the mind of Jim Carrey's character) is a well-filmed little story of two people falling in an out of love. And in and out, and in and out and so on. It gets a little ridiculous with the side plots involving the employees at the Doctor's office and the Doctor himself (the one that removes memories of a person you want erased from your head), and actually this just tells me that the writers didn't trust their main plot enough, which is a pity. Jim Carrey is good but Kate Winslet is actually better. Again, sets and clever camera work really makes this movie transcendant. Besides the hilarity of the sets meant to depict the inside of Carrey's head, I really enjoyed the beach sets. If you could take a Billy Joel song, and translate it to a vision, it would be a Long Island beach. In the winter. With car crashing. Ok, scratch that last one, even though cars do crash in this movie.

I Have seen God, and He is David Bowie


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