Friday, March 26, 2010
But Pajiba's Monday review of The Runaways was stuffed to the gills with gross, demeaning descriptions of the women onscreen, replete with and bitch-and-whore bombs, almost unreadable past author Brian Prisco's gendered insults. He argues that the film could have, and should have, treated the band members of The Runaways more seriously in the context of women in rock, a good and fair point. But I can barely distill that above the liberal use of words and descriptions that are so hatefully loaded for women.
It's not a coincidence that Prisco also authored the only other Pajiba review that has ever inspired similar ire with we me. In last year's review of Sin Nombre, Prisco writes that a gang leader attempts to rape the film's protagonist because he finds her "alluring." Ah, the rape as a compliment canard. For anyone who hasn't seen the film, in this scene the gang leader is trying to assert his authority on a train packed with terrified immigrants. His attempted rape is a power play. The main character is a pretty girl, but her allure had nothing to do with the attempted assault. The fact that the same gang leader attempts to rape another girl earlier in the film, also to assert his authority over another gang member, makes this statement even more bizarre and incorrect.
Ugly women get raped. Fat women get raped. Old women get raped. Frumpy women get raped. Disabled women get raped. Any woman who isn't considered traditionally beautiful in the very, very narrow American standard--they get raped, too. So do men of all descriptions. And it's not because they flirted or dressed slutty or drank. It's because some dudes didn't treat them like humans.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
In the feature, three young Newsweek writers explore what has changed for women in the workplace since 1970, and what has stayed the same. They do a great job capturing the subtlety of sexism in the workplace--suffocated by legal ramifications, the sexism we deal with is more insidious and harder to punish.
The authors have set up their own blog. I'm especially interested to read an essay from one of the authors about her parents' "failed experiment in gender neutrality."
Also, I have no idea why I now receive Newsweek. It started showing up in my mailbox last month, with my married name on it. Thank you mystery magazine-sponsor.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
One was this one, from Elle, at Shakesville, on the ways in which human reproductive processes are gendered. She makes some really excellent points about the ways in which sperm are anthropomorhised, expressed as active and even lionized, while the egg is described as the passive recipient of sperm and a prize to be won; the female reproductive system as a whole is expressed as landscape to be feared but ultimately conquered.
The other was an article by Amanda Hess of Washington City Paper's The Sexist about the dangers of *always* defending "choice" specifically the "choice" of women to "vajazzle" (google it if you must), without considering the wider sexist culture that constrains the choices that women can make without consequences. especially regarding our appearance.
The quote, from Hess' piece, that got me thinking about these two things together was this:
When it comes to personal appearance, it’s no coincidence that femininity is marked by performance, while masculinity is just as often defined by men not performing things. Shaving your body hair is feminine; not shaving is masculine. Plucking, waxing, or bleaching stray facial hairs is feminine; growing a few days of stubble is masculine. Applying makeup is feminine; not painting your face is masculine. Dying, styling, blow-drying, and curling your hair is feminine; keeping a low-maintenance hair cut is masculine.
Funny, that. In most cases, men are portrayed as active and women as passive. Men DO. Women wait, watch, motivate, receive action, etc. The one exception to this is the performance of gender. In this realm, women DO and it is masculine to NOT DO.
My thought on it is that it goes something like this: women, "the fairer sex" are bombarded by the images associated with their ideal form as perceived by the makers of messages and images: men. So they achieve that ideal form by any means necessary because of the rewards that can come with compliance with the ideals, fleeting though they may be. As Hess points out, there are punishments for women who don't conform and perform. Social construction has taken things that are human (like having eyebrows and under arm hair) and made them masculine. So in order to perform her "natural" gender, a women must alter her natural state.
In this way we're at a point where (mostly, there are exceptions in the particulars) women are the ones who must perform their gender in time consuming rituals. Women perform gender, while men just HAVE it, by virtue of being the default human (except trans men, in the cultural reasoning at large-- trans men must perform masculinity, regardless of what the trans men themselves may think. And I'd love to hear that, since I lack the perspective to deal with that issue in any complete or compelling way).
This is all part of the idea that masculinity is defined in hierarchical contradistinction to femininity, and the problems that causes.
Reggie Watts will be opening for Conan O'Brien's Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour, starting this April.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
The poor guy. He's up for tenure at his university. He's got a stay-at-home wife, of whose state of mind he is so oblivious he has no idea she's involved with another man and preparing to divorce him. His kids are assholes who walk all over him, because he lets them. His rabbis are alternately dismissive or moon-faced. His lawyers are expensive. His brother is a loaf. His name is Larry.
A Serious Man opens with a puzzling vignette that takes place in an Eastern European shtetl, telling a several-minute tale in Yiddish about a married couple who may or may not have come across a dybbuk, or a possessed corpse. This boring Cohen-brothers-fabricated folktale has admittedly nothing to do with the rest of the film, and yet it is the first thing the audience has to sit through.
Thus, after the atmosphere of ennui is sufficiently set, we enter a Midwest suburb to see just how suck-tackular life is for Larry in the suburbs, and how much worse it can progressively get. Larry endures and endures without managing to learn anything or prove himself along the way, and then receives some more bad news before a ridiculous and abrupt in medias res ending. For this ladybrain, the ending made the film even more infuriatingly bad. Thus, audiences spend the entire film in frustration.
And Larry's life is frustrating, it's hard not to pity the guy. But what is more frustrating than his family, friends, colleagues and congregation is the fact that Larry is a lilly-livered worm of a human. He takes it all lying down. He does nothing to help himself.
Some have said this story is supposed to be a modern-day parallel to Job. By that comparison Larry's plights are even more eye-roll inducing. Does anyone remember what happened to Job? His entire family was murdered. He had painful boils. He didn't have a neighbor who conveniently sunbathed naked.
If it wasn't clear already, women don't play a particularly positive role in Larry's life. In fact, they're right at the front of the pack making Larry miserable. His wife Judith is a cheater and a manipulator, who steam rolls and intimidates Larry with condescension and taunting. His daughter Sarah is a vapid ingrate and a thief, whose only joys in life are washing her hair and saving up for a nose job. The only women who don't lead to Larry's downfall either encourage him to seek advice from ultimately counter-productive rabbis or get him stoned and provide naked-fantasy-material.
But ultimately, his family and friends can't be held responsible for Larry's fate. If he'd grow a backbone, maybe we'd care more about his trials and tribulations. If only this film had a fraction of the insight or humor of other Cohen brothers films, which are some of this ladybrain's favorite films of all time.
Feminist grade: F
The few women who are in this film are by turns malicious, vapid, selfish or just fodder for sex dreams. Since this movie is all about Larry, it fails the Bechdel test.
Moviegoer grade: D-
That this film was among the 10 nominees for Best Picture is a complete joke.
Friday, March 5, 2010
"War is a drug."--Chris Hedges, journalist and war correspondent
And so aptly begins one of the most talked about movies of the season, The Hurt Locker, directed by filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow. This film has generally been accepted by the public as “the kickass war movie directed by a woman” but to any Ladybrain, such glib assessments are markedly deficient. In truth, the movie is not about war at all. It’s a complex and cavernous character study of men facing oblivion.
Set around 2004, Sgt. 1st Class William James (Jeremy Renner) assumes responsibility as bomb disposal specialist in Iraq with Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) comprising the rest of Bravo Company, which is currently stationed in Baghdad with 39 days left of deployment. It’s a slow and agonizing countdown of days as these three men of contrasting mentalities are all too aware that they must work together or die. Sandborn is as precise as the playbook he follows; believing his only chance of survival is to follow the rules. Eldridge is young, panicky, and ashamed of his own fear. But their new team leader James plunges headfirst into his bomb disposal duties with a cool and efficient intensity that alarms the rest of his unit. They don’t know that James is an artist, a genius, a connoisseur with eyes only for his craft. As the movie develops, it becomes apparent that, for the same reason the painter paints or the writer writes, James reaps an intangible fulfillment with each explosive he deactivates, sometimes at the expense and safety of his team. And so, the spellbinding heart of The Hurt Locker lies not in the explosiveness of war, but in the precise unraveling of these men as they exist in terrible danger; the exposure of human nature.
Now, that’s not to say that this film isn’t kickass (a technical term). The Hurt Locker is expertly executed, with exceptional combat sequences and explosions. Indeed, watching the pebbles fly during a super slow motion explosion makes this Ladybrain’s hair stand up on end, even on repeated viewings. Jeremy Renner is completely deserving of his Best Actor recognition as he expressly and seemingly effortlessly conveys an indefinable character. The steady and genuine pacing creates actual suspense that is a real treat compared to the hysterical exaggeration, false alarms, and trickery of recent cinema. The photography is stylistic and yet hyperrealistic, and coupled with the intimate portraits of the characters, involves the audience as if they, too, are in terrible danger as the fourth member of the U.S. Army’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit. Ultimately, The Hurt Locker is a profound and beautiful film, well beyond a simple exercise in craft by reaching new heights of cinema and human expression.
And it was directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow. Bigelow recently became the first woman to win Best Director in the Director’s Guild of America Awards earlier this year, and she could be the first woman to win Best Director at the Academy Awards in two days. There have only been three previous women nominated for Best Director in the history of the Academy: Lina Wertmuller for 1976's Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for 1993's The Piano, and Sofia Coppola for 2003's Lost In Translation. But just because a film is directed by a woman, does that mean it is inherently feminist? This Ladybrain thinks not. The Hurt Locker fails the Bechdel Test, as it is specifically about the human nature of three men. The only woman in the film (besides screaming bystanders) is James’s wife, who he resents for supposedly shackling him into a life of fatherhood and domesticity. Somehow this Ladybrain doesn’t think it was all his wife's fault.
But is it because there was a woman at the helm that this film, that it surpasses many others in the exploration of the human condition? Would a male filmmaker take the same material and inadvertently generate a more “kickass” rendition of The Hurt Locker with less of the complexity of humanity and more of the violence and war? While interesting to think about, these questions are generally unanswerable. Defining a filmmaking style by the filmmaker’s gender is a decades-old prejudice that is the reason why there are not so many prominent female directors out there today. It’s simply thus: Bigelow has made great strides for female artists out there, and certainly not in the “women can make war movies, too” sort of way. But rather, would The Hurt Locker have the severe impact it does without the direction of dedicated artist Kathryn Bigelow?
Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director at the 2010 Academy Awards!
Feminist grade: C
It fails the Bechdel test but is a huge boon for female filmmakers.
Moviegoer grade: A
An excellent example of the artistry of cinema.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
Quentin Tarantino considers his latest film, the obnoxiously misspelled Inglourious Basterds, the "best thing he's ever written." That's saying a lot, when one considers Tarantino's kick-ass filmography, especially since he is known most for not just stories but dialogue. There's nothing that annoys this ladybrain more than mindless hero-worship and name dropping, so don't get the wrong impression. In fact, this ladybrain wasn't keen to see Inglourious Basterds on this basic premise: Tarantino has become exponentially more popular in the past few years, and thus must have also become exponentially less interesting (this ladybrain's love for Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill notwithstanding). Having skipped over Death Proof amid poor reviews, this misspelled magnum opus thus was reviewed by skeptical lady-eyes.