Monday, March 18, 2013

Bringing Up Baby

Okay, so I finally did my homework and watched this film. Now I'm just sorry I didn't do it sooner.

I enjoy the Hawksiness of it (supposedly the script was long enough that it would be three and a half hours if dialogue were handled normally), and after all these years Hollywood has still not found a suitable replacement for Cary Grant

And I had kind of forgotten just how much of a babe Hepburn was in her younger years (I don't know how old she is in this film). And hearing her drop the distinctive Hepburn accent for the gun moll business in the jail was jarring but fun.

The basic screwball comedy has been done a thousand times since (you should watch What's Up, Doc, which might represent the culmination of the genre) but this seems particularly well-tuned. But I haven't watched on in a while and I was kind of unpleasantly surprised at how close it comes to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl template. But I think a couple of aspects distinguish it.

MPDG movies are about a woman coming in to help the man straighten out his life, but here Hepburn never seems like a tool for helping Grant self-actualize. She sees him, she wants him, she proceeds to pursue him in a very Hawks-womanly direct way, and not because she is declaring that he really needs her to fix his life. She really has no idea whether his life needs fixing or not (in fact is well into her pursuit before discovering he's engaged), but wants him because she wants him. His big epiphany hardly gets much play, particularly notable because the film is so leisurely paced at times (I'll get back to that). In fact, she gets top billing. It's very much her story, so that's cool. It's possible that you could remake this with Zach Braff and Zooey Deschanel, but in my mind that becomes more about awakening his captive heart, and really, who cares.

Maybe it's part of the fashion of the time, but I really like the fact that she is an actual woman and not elevated to some inhuman force of nature, so over-the-top as a comedic device that she stops being an actual woman. Given that this is basically a farce, that's a pretty neat trick. Nor does she have to be made to suffer for being so direct and assertive. In the 30s a strong woman in film has to pay for it even if, like Scarlet OHara, it's so we can admire her strength in adversity (before she finally loses), but Hepburn never does in this film. In fact, now that I think about it, her "competition" is no weakling, either. In fact, if anything, the fiance is kind of mannish (businesslike, emotions subordinated to career, practical, buttoned-up clothing) which sets up Hepburn to be womanish, but in a totally kick-ass way.

I do think this is superior Hawks, though I don't know if it's his best. On first view, I felt a bit of a sag in the middle when we were just shuffling some characters about at the country house; I just felt we lost some forward thrust there for a while in what is, for 1938, a pretty long comedy. I had no idea that this movie was the first film to use "gay" in the modern sense. The technical tricks with leopard management were impressive for 1938. And IMDB tells me that this was her first comedy, so props for that.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Leslie Knope

I think I may want to nominate Leslie Knope for our Good Woman Hall of Fame. I think she's one of the best candidates we've raised so far.

Bechdel-ing the classics

Many of these I have not watched. I'm prejudiced against All About Eve because it later turned into the stage musical Applause, which is one of those musicals in which actors gather on stage to tell audiences how special it is to be an actor. But thinking about it makes me wonder if Bechdel needs a piece of shading. Yes, there's a lot of fighting over a man and using a man to keep score, but he's treated rather like a piece of meat and not an object of adoration.

Bonnie and Clyde I still haven't seen. Philadelphia story is still in que. Sound of Music I've avoided for decades, particularly when I was getting ready to direct it. Swing Time-- I agree. In fact, now that I think of it, the 30's might be a fertile decade for us to look at, with a fairly good supply of hard-boiled women.

Wizard of Oz. Good catch. Not only are there a bunch of ladies, but what men are present are largely ineffectual-- the Uncle, the Wizard, the trio. It's the women who have to sort everything out. But does Dorothy count as a strong woman if she's written to be a girl?

Bringing Up Baby. Tell you what. You don't have to feel bad about not watching Aliens until I finally watch this.

Cabaret. Again, I'm going to allow half a point if the woman is looking for a man, sort of, but not to rescue her or fix her.

Singing in the Rain. Wow. The two female leads are together for the discussion of whether Cathy will sing for Lena or not. And Rita Moreno had some more stuff that got left on the cutting room floor.

Some Like It Hot. There's a trombone player named Doris, if that helps. Several of the band girls get names in passing, and the band bus scene is an interesting femaled-up locker-room talk scene.

I can't dispute the fails. In fact, the entire original Star Wars trilogy-- three entire movies-- only has Leia, the Aunt, and some unnamed female crowd person in the last one. Outside of that it's dancing girls and crowd scenes. It's six hours and an entire universe of boys. I suppose some of the ewoks might be female, but that's a stretch. We know Ben Burtt could even have created female robots if he wanted to (he did it four decades later for Wall-E), but no-- even the hardware in Lucas's universe is male.

And while Woody Allen movies may have well-written women, in terms of lead roles, all Allen movies have the same woman in them-- she's just played by different actresses over the years.

The Most Bechdel-y AFI 100 Movies

1.All About Eve- Movie about women treat eachother when fame and men and power are on the line. But I mean that in a good way. This movie is the bomb, and pretty much the best for women on the whole list.
2. Bonnie and Clyde- Actual dynamic and tension-filled relationship between two flawed but well-rounded characters. Two great performances as well.
3. Philidelphia Story- Mother and two daughters talking to each other like actual family members do (though you don't want to think too hard about Katherine Hepburn's accent and the other's lackthereof).
4. The Sound of Music- How do you solve a problem like Maria? A lot of films could really sidestep their Bechdel problems with a chorus of nuns.
5. Swing Time- Ginger and her older lady friend. Both of them are sassy and genuinely unimpressed by the men dancing around them. Funny, and the best any Fred and Ginger movie did at showing off the awesomeness of Ginger.
6. Wizard of Oz- Man, I never thought about this before, but there are a ton of ladies dominating this sstory. And even though Dorothy rolls with a male entourage, she often gets to be the hero of her own story. Plus, the women aren't around only for romantical purposes.
7. Bringing up Baby- Katherine Hepburn and an old aunt. The Bechdel scale is helped by some awkward dinner conversation, but KH is the bomb in this movie, which changed my opinion on her forever.
8. Cabaret- Ahhh Liza, just amazing. This one frontloads the fellas, but it passes the test, even if only by a hair.
9.  Singin in the Rain- Ok, I can't actually say this for sure! The girls talk about how one has to sing for the other right? They are both present for that conversation? Talk about getting by by a hair, but there are some fun parts for women in that movie.
10. Some Like it Hot- A hoot and the women essentially steal the show. Only one of the 4 leads is a woman, but most of the rest of the ensemble is female, and plenty get their moment to shine. Plus, there is lots of talk about drinking, to balance out the talking about men.

Doesn't Pass the Bechdel Test, but has an Awesome Lady Character
The African Queen- Katherine again. In this movie's defense, there are really only two characters, so 50% of the screen share isn't bad at all. Great romantic movie because of the age and orneriness of its leads.
Network- Faye Dunaway is great in this (and she does talk to the Black radical Laureen HObbs briefly I think, but Beatrice Straight won an oscar for 5 minutes of screen time and she earned it.
The Graduate- Again, maybe the women do talk to each other, but its not outstanding enough in the plot for me to remember. But kudos to them for having 2 female characters.
It Happened One Night- Claudette Colbert comes off as a little cliche, but I wonder if it just that people have now been copying this movie for 60 years.
Lord of the Rings-3 ladies- never talk or see each other, but each is a bit of a badass and has some narrative sway.
Star Wars- Leia's the bomb. Again, maybe some brief lady to lady conversation, but I don't remember it.
Annie Hall- Woodt Allen is a lot of things, but he can write great parts for women. It's no Hannah and her Sisters or even Manhattan, but Dianne Keaton's Annie is still a pretty great character.

Ok, this may seem pretty promising, but I have seen 43 of these movies so far, and I think it would be tough to make a solid argument for any of the others. And you know I have been putting off the ones where there are no women given any sort of billing for the movie. I will let you know if anything surprises me.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Current Viewing

Ok, so I keep putting this off because I know I need to watch Aliens, but I just haven't gotten there yet. I am a bad daughter. Or a bad feminist film viewer. Definitely a bad something.

So I can't say much about Bones, because I have missed that whole thing. If there is no Ice-T and Mariska involved, then I really don't care about crime shows. It's sad they are pulling the classic needing a man and baby trick on her. It's a pretty played out plot line, right? Make a (sort-of) strong female character and then continually show what a fool she is? You know what all of these shows need? Some mother-fucking Murphy Brown. She would destroy them all, though I can't remember much about once she spawned, except that Dan Quayle was pretty upset about it.

Also, I find it funny that this blog is being revived in the midst of your Ally McBeal watching.

Tonight I watched North by Northwest, which is basically a dude movie where a woman is bounced around a bunch for sexual use by the main protagonist and antagonist. I guess the final showdown becomes all about saving the girl, because of course the best she can do for herself is make really obvious faces and mumble about losing an earring. Perhaps not the biggest step for lady kind,  but Hitchcock isn't really known as a protofeminist, right? Anyway, going through the AFI list has been one horrible dude movie after another, but I am almost halfway. Perhaps I will be surprised by some of the things coming up- how is Schindler's List for women? Goodfellas? Pulp Fiction? The history of film is kind of the worst.

I also watched Safety Not Guaranteed, where Aubrey Plaza does her thing, but she is basically the only girl in a sea of dudes (dead mom and all). I also think Aubrey Plaza is a tricky case, because her schtick can easily fall into the "girls are dumb, look how special I am" trap without another solid female character around her. This movie made me miss Leslie Knope (as if that is a weird thing- am I allowed to say one of the reasons I love Parks and rec is because it is one of the best tv shows for female characters ever?).  She is a cool character, we are clearly supposed to identify with her regardless of our gender, and it is a nice little sci-fi love story. So all in all, not bad.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bones Fails

You know what character doesn't help in our search? Temperance Brennan, of the show Bones.

There are lots of things not to love about the show, not the least of which is that the characters are all written as if they are in middle school. Bu it was another mystery-procedural centered around a cute sparky central couple, and she was a female lead, cut from a milder version of the same high-functioning sociopath mold as House.

But as I sink into the season in which her character is pregnant and has a baby, I can't help noticing that the general show tension between down-to-earth manly-man Catholic David Boreanz and her character is always resolved in his favor. And that while we're trying not to be too obvious or heavy-handed about it, the moral of this season is that what this woman-- successful author, world-reknowned leader in her field, incredibly intelligent-- what she needs is a big strong man and a baby to help her become the person she's supposed to be. Sp phooey on them.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Brave vs. Tangled

We recently watched Brave again, and I have to agree that I didn't find it fully satisfying, though it clearly touches something in my wife that is directly linked to her tear ducts.

The writing of the film seems unfinished to me. Like the script has areas of "In this scene daughter and mother somehow share a kind of epiphany over some kind of bondy thing or other" and nobody ever finished working out exactly what was happening. They just hoped that by nodding at it we'd get somewhere.

And we get symbols without connection to anything. Twice we see a physical object that is broken/torn between characters to represent the destruction of some kind of bond by some unspecified bad thing. The prospect of the queen's humanity being lost to the savage nature of the bear is kind of scary, but it doesn't really have any kind of link to anything else going on, no chance of thinking "Hey, her loss of her human nature is kind of just like _______ "

And the enchantment itself is undercut by the transformation of the boys. For her it is supposed to be terrifying, but they're just hilarious.

The lead is wrestling with responsibility, but that doesn't really have anything to do with anything else. And her sorrow over having potentially destroyed her mother is late, shallow, and not really earned. Plus I can't shake the unpleasant f\notion that part of what she learns is that proper women should know their place. Like Dorothy and Jasmine, she has to learn that these kind of adventures are to be avoided-- the only positive outcome is that they return the young woman to her proper place.

Not that manly lit doesn't have the quest archetype. But men go on quests, achieve things, and return home better men. Women go on quests and return home having learned that the only true destination for their quest is right where they started.

Tangled gets shunted aside as lesser Disney, but I agree it makes a better case for its lead.

First, as a middle-aged man, I find the central threat really resonates on a feminine level without being less of a real threat. It's a dramatization of the very Good Girl cage that many women learn by quest to lock themselves in willingly. You're not strong enough. You're not good enough. You can't handle the world. Stay in your tower.

She does display the classic woman-heroine power-- the power to enlist the willing aid of others by making friends (same as Dorothy). And if I ignore the wacky hoodlums, I'm left with the lovable-ish rogue, who is perfectly competent and capable to handle certain situations-- just not THIS one.

Why the film couldn't give her a female sidekick or friend I do not know. For that matter, why some of the mangy hoodlums couldn't be women escapes me. But the more I consider this movie, the better I like it.

Which for no particular reason reminds me-- do we have to consider Xena, Warrior Princess at some point?