#0128 - MRS. ROBINSON, ARE YOU TRYING TO SEDUCE ME? - Novelist Paul Theroux has a nice piece in the Times of London on older women, particularly the paragon of the predatory panther - Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols' The Graduate. At the end of the piece, there's a list - I don't know whether it was compiled by Theroux or the editorial staff at the Times - of "Icons over 50", sexy women years from being ingenues. It includes Julie Christie (no argument), Oriana Fallaci (a ferocious woman, and that's undeniable sexy), Goldie Hawn (still a more vivid presence than her pallid, starlet daughter, Kate Hudson), Catherine Deneuve (we all knew thirty years ago that Deneuve would age well, didn't we?), Helen Mirren (that handsome face, that rare, devastating, triumphant smile, like an animal surveying a kill), and Susan Sarandon (a political basketcase, to be sure, but it's hard not to look at those huge eyes, those long legs and that pillowy bosom, and see why Tim Robbins is still there, over a decade later).
Theroux is admirably candid, and states his position forthrightly, one that I couldn't agree with more as a photographer, newspaper photo editor, and movie critic, and thus forced to survey the parade of underdone nubile flesh that's considered the ideal of the cultural marketplace these days:
"My fantasising has never been the boring defloration mania, nor the connoisseurship of the paedomorphic face and figure, the Hollywood starlet, the pop-music object of desire that looks like a seal pup in a tank top labelled Boy Candy. That kittenish teenybopper with soulful eyes and skinny legs is the undoing of many drooling geezers, which is just what they deserve. I don't think I could describe my ideal woman, but my fantasies have often circled around someone resembling Mrs. Robinson."
Twenty-five years ago, while still in his early thirties, Theroux wrote an essay, "Home to Mrs. Robinson", in which he imagined attaining his ideal. It's the fantasy of a younger man, to be sure, but one who has passed over the first major emotional ridge in the topography of his life, the first one with enough elevation to allow him to look back and survey the rocky road behind him, to see and regret the poor choices, the blasted terrain that once felt exciting, receding into wince-inducing memories. It's the revelation that youth, far from being wasted on the young, is less a gift than a trial, and anything you may have learned in your headlong stumble through your teens and twenties - and pray to God you learned something; many don't - will only help you. The Mrs. Robinsons of the world, Theroux imagined, are humming with this bitter knowledge, and that accounts for their undeniable appeal:
"I imagined her self-possessed, confident and intensely sexual, somewhat domineering and most of all knowing the score. Her most attractive quality, it seemed to me, was the one we usually assign to the young, the ability to live in the moment. But younger people tend not to do that. They worry about the future; they don't want to waste time. They think: is this good for my CV? They fear that casual sex might erode their self-esteem. They tend to look for Miss Right, not Mrs. Robinson."
Literature, Theroux writes, looks upon relationships between younger and older people with a harsh eye, if at all - Lolita, Death in Venice, The Ambassadors - and even then, the older woman scarcely figures at all. The movies have been more generous, and he offers us a list: Sunset Boulevard, Torment, This Sporting Life, Nothing But The Best, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, A Cold Wind in August, The Last Picture Show, Room at the Top, Fear Eats the Soul, and The Gypsy Moths. He calls Deborah Kerr in the last film "the older woman to perfection", but anyone who's been a fan of Kerr's work could tell you that this was a woman who never came across like an ingenue. Kerr, like her contemporaries Patricia Neal and Lana Turner, or earlier figures like Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Arthur or Myrna Loy, gave a burnished glow to women in their thirties, past the intemperate emotions of youth, but still glowing with urgent and well-considered wants and needs. Today, Julianne Moore occupies this rare position, without nearly as much competition as she would have forty or fifty years ago, more's the pity.
But Theroux still reserves the central place in his pantheon for Anne Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson, in her jungle cat fur coats, with her whiteeaked hair, shapely stockinged calves and throaty, dangerous laugh. She was absolutely in charge, of her husband (a sad figure receding faster than his own hairline) and her life, and it was hard not to see why Dustin Hoffman's Ben, unmoored and adrift, was drawn to her. "The most telling episode was not in the bedroom but in a bar when the young man was out of his depth, leaving Mrs. Robinson so take charge," Theroux writes. "Was there anyone who saw that movie and did not regret that the hero went with the daughter and not the mother?"
Indeed. When Ben falls for pretty, pale, insipid, lank-haired Katherine Ross, the film seems to lose speed, and when he's shown wanly searching for her, haunting her college town, Simon and Garfunkel in the background, you can't help but wonder just what got into his head. Many people talk about the pregnant moment at the end of the film, Hoffman and Ross in the back of the bus, their triumphant smiles facing as their future descends on them like a fog, as bracing and poignant. For me, it was inevitable - whenever anyone speculates about what the future holds for Ben and Mrs. Robinson's daughter, they always talk about things like a hasty marriage, a child concieved as a desperate lunge at re-capturing intimacy, extrangement, divorce, lingering bitterness; the whole blasted emotional landscape of the Baby Boomers distilled into one imaginary relationship.
I could always see that from the moment Ben shifted his gaze from Bancroft to Ross, embarking on an emotional quest that would prolong his flirtation with disaster into four long acts. There was no way that Ben would find long-term happiness with Mrs. Robinson - she would tire of him soon enough; who wouldn't? - but her sharp, practiced rejection would be more merciful than the drawn-out, dismal afterglow of his elopement with her daughter, which would emotionally wound the young couple, estrange them from their families, and draw subsequent children into the inevitable, hopeless grudge match of guilt, disappointment and recrimination. It's a place that so many of us, literally the children of the 60s, have lived in most of our lives.
(posted 11:16am | 03.15.03)
NEW REVIEWS! - Bend it Like Beckham: A very cheerful Brit assimilation comedy. Not great but good, and more deserving of success than My Big Fat Greek Stereotype Fest, for sure. Ayurveda: The Art of Being: New Age quack propaganda. And some NEW DVD REVIEWS: "The Osbournes", Moonlight Mile, I Spy and Swimfan.
#0127 - HUNH! GOOD GOD, Y'ALL - WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? - If Tears of the Sun tanks at the box office, it'll be regarded as proof that the bellicose mood anticipated by Hollywood marketing types and prognosticators in the wake of 9/11 was oversold, that the dominant mood is in fact fearful and pacifist, and that celebrity anti-war types were right, after all. A much worse film - Black Hawk Down - did very well in the months after 9/11 attacks, but is it possible that war fatigue has already set in, before the real shooting has even begun?
It's for this reason, I suppose, that Antoine Fuqua's film is being regarded as much as a foreign policy statement as two hours of running, shooting, sweating and suffering. Negative reviews have been, as one might expect during a time when emotions are so polarized, vociferous. "God save us from directors who, with the best intentions, use real-life atrocities as a backdrop for the same old Hollywood heroism bunk," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon, dismissing the film as "a weird blend of politically aware filmmaking and Hollywood hucksterism."
David Edelstein in Slate calls Tears of the Sun "an opportunistic mixture of up-to-the-minute atrocities and old-fashioned corn." Most reviews, positive and negative, admit to hopelessly mixed reactions; Edelstein writes that "there's something about Tears of the Sun that rips me right down the middle." He sees the film as "a sort of opium dream of heroism, a collective fantasy to make us feel better about ourselves on the eve of a controversial military action." Risking precious optimism, he says that he'd "really like to believe that Tears of the Sun is more than self-deluding mush", but he's unable to mollify his skepticism, accusing the film of "a dizzying lack of moral gravity". He ponders whether US troops have "ever moved into stop an ethnic cleansing" (our Etch-a-Sketch historical memory always seems to conspire against ready recall of the recent actions in Kosovo these days, but whatever...), admits that UN forces have a poor record for this sort of thing (ahh, memory stirs!) but concludes with an outraged admonishment to the filmmaker: "You don't use a real-life atrocity as a prelude to a Hollywood fantasy of macho humanism starring this year's international sex goddess."
A.O. Scott in the NY Times calls the film "a spectacularly incoherent exercise in geopolitical wish fulfillment", scorns "Hans Zimmer's wretched fake-world-music score" (admittedly a low point), and summons an (inevitable) charge of racism: "...the film amplifies the selflessness of the mostly white rescuers and the helplessness of the black victims..." He admits that "buried amid the sodden rhetoric and the jungle muck is an honourable intention", but regrets that "Tears seems positively spooked by any hint of complexity or any anything that might invite viewers to think too hard about either the characters or the world they (and we) inhabit."
The most positive review comes from the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter, who wrote his piece apparently still buzzing from the film's setpiece sequence, a long scene where Bruce Willis' team of Navy SEALS decisively intervenes in stopping a village massacre. "The pleasure of the moment is profound if subversive," Hunter writes. "Even you highly evolved, post-national pacifists out there will probably enjoy the spectacle of highly-trained American commandos with suppressed weapons moving through the glades and lanes with the grace and purpose of athletes and - pffft! pffft! pffft! - serving up justice in 9mm portions, hot and steamy." I'll admit to some part of me finding the scene grimly exhilarating and even vicariously satisfying, but methinks Hunter takes too much pleasure in the thing.
"The politics - both of the movie and of the moment - are interesting," Hunter writes, underlining what should be, I think, all too obvious. "It seems to be an endorsement of the American right of intervention, just when most of Hollywood, led by commandos like George Clooney and Janeane Garofalo, is in the opposition. When the film end with Burke's famous line 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," one wonders who is listening." Hunter's review hits the ball squarely into the pro-war camp, one that's found a sympathetic home these days more online than in the op-ed pages, but even to someone like myself, unquestionably in favour of action in Iraq, it seems too eager by half.
Roger Ebert is more cautiously positive, praising Bruce Willis' performance up front. No surprise: Ebert's reviews are always first and foremost at the service of the star factor, a valid-enough take on Hollywood films, but one that sells ideas and politics short. He divines interference - "'input' from producers, studio executives, story consultants and the like" - in the machinery of production: "Where the screenplay originally intended to go, I cannot say, but it's my guess that at an earlier stage it was more thoughtful and sad, more accepting of the hopelessness of the situation in Africa, where 'civil war' has become the polite term for genocide. The movie knows a lot about Africa, lets us see that, then has to pretent it hasn't."
David Denby in the New Yorker calls Tears of the Sun "a fable of American military virtue." (I'd call it a "fantasy of intervention" and split the difference.) He suspects that some of the film's appeal lies in a metaphorical appreciation of the halting romance between Monica Belluci's beautiful, stubbornly idealistic European doctor and Willis' brusque, brutal but ultimately noble professional killer, a rote and inevitable romantic subplot where "American power and European scruples join together (a relief, perhaps, to moviegoers exercised over the current rift in transatlantic relations)."
It's a vivid image, especially if you recall the last shots of Willis and Belluci, being airlifted by Black Hawk in a cloud of golden dust, Willis wounded and limp, his head against Belluci's (amply photographed) breast, an image more ultimately beatific than merely romantic. It's hard to imagine America, spent but triumphant, turning to Europe's bodacious bosom for succour, at least just at this "interesting" moment in history, but stranger things have happened and, after all, we have no way of predicting the next year, or decade, despite all reports to the contrary.
Denby anticipates the derision that the film will inspire, but invests it with more significance in the long term than it's possible, perhaps, to imagine now, in its first week of release:
"The over-all meaning of the movie is that Africa has dropped out of the American consciousness - that we are guilty of neglect in places like Rwanda, and that we must act to stop atrocities in the future. Tears of the Sun may be a flattering myth, but it's not a bad myth to be flattered by. And when future historians want to understand the lock-and-load moralism of the Bush Administration at the time of the second Gulf War, they will look to this simpleminded but rousing celebration of the American warrior as an inescapable guide."
An LA Times feature published the week before the film's release clears up a few of the reviewer's suspicions, vindicating Ebert, in particular, for his diagnosis of what went wrong. In John Horn's history of the production, there was a battle between Willis and the director, who fought against the star's call for "more African Queen romance and gung-ho bravery". A kiss was filmed with Willis and Belluci, as well as a scene where the doctor lobs a grenade back at the rebel troops. Both were cut. With the film done, Willis is apparently adamant that they made the film he wanted to see, but we'll see what he says if the film underperforms at the box office.
In Fuqua's bleak, original version, none of the SEALS survive. An earlier cut of the film extended the village ethnic cleansing to "a gruelling 21 minutes". Fuqua was asked to cut it back. He submitted an 18 minute version, which the studio trimmed down to fourteen minutes, then restored when it tested badly. Reading stories like this, I'm grateful that I'll probably never make a movie.
The latest news is that Sony Pictures has postponed the European release of Tears of the Sun to October, at the earliest, fearful that "the movie's celebration of U.S. military might play badly with anti-American sentiment running so high", an understatement, to say the least. What the world will be like in October has never felt so unimaginable. Whatever happens, I have no confidence in any notion of America, bloodied but unbowed, at rest against Europe's holy, nurtuting decolletage. I can't remember finding so little consolation in imagining the future, yet being so anxious for it to arrive.
(posted 12:37pm | 03.12.03)
#0126 - HOLLYWOOD GOES TO WAR - Last week, the Screen Actors Guild issued a press release warning against the revival of a "blacklist", which would target prominent actors, directors and writers that have publicly spoken out against war with Iraq. "We deplore the idea that those in the public eye should suffer professionally for having the courage to give voice to their views," the SAG release read. "Even a hint of the blacklist must never be tolerated in this country again."
The spectre clearly invoked by SAG is the blacklist of left-leaning movie people in the 1950s, which began unofficially in the late 40s, pre-dating the McCarthy hearings, and which wasn't broken until Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten, was given his screen credit for Spartacus in 1960. "Over 50 years ago, this nation was faced with a monumental test:" the SAG release recalls, "whether the world's greatest democracy was strong enough to truly allow its citizens the exercise of their rights of free speech and assembly during a time of international tension known as the 'Cold War'." I find it fascinating that the author of the SAG release feels a need to remind us of the Cold War, as if it were as buried in history as the the Wat Tyler rebellion, or the Risorgimento. "Most of America failed that test," the SAG release admonishes, "averting its eyes as the House Committee on Un-American Activities persecuted citizens, destroyed careers, ruined lives and gave rise to the notorious 'blacklist'."
"During this shameful period, our own industry prostrated itself before smear campaigns and witch hunters rather than standing on the principles articulated in the nation's fundamental documents." This is a fact, but to me it says a lot more about the morally and ideologically insipid nature of Hollywood than about the politics of the industry. The movie business could be pressured - it was among the first targets picked by HUAC. It was only when McCarthy turned his attention to the armed forces that the Red Scare broke against an immovable barrier.
But is there really any chance of a blacklist, here and now, at the turn of the 21st century? SAG obviously thinks so: "Some have recently suggested that well-known individuals who express 'unacceptable' views should be punished by losing their right to work." Still, SAG doesn't say who, in particular, is calling for a new blacklist. Is it other stars, powerful directors or producers, movie executives or politicians? I can't, honestly, think of a single notable instance of a blacklist being invoked by anyone in a position to take work away from Martin Sheen, Susan Sarandon, or Jessica Lange. Certainly, the largest, most powerful representative of Hollywood actors is clearly opposed to any such movement. Still, the SAG release is clear that "even a hint of the blacklist must never be tolerated in this country again."
So who's doing the hinting? Well, there's websites like Boycott Hollywood, which also calls for a boycott of France, and links to the sites of right-wing pundits like Ann Coulter, Peggy Noonan, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. It's group blog, and their preferred tone is a kind of righteous outrage, as this passage on the upcoming Oscars demonstrates:
"Those who abuse their celebrity status to spout their opinion and pretend they speak for me, my friends, my city, my country, my fellow citizens. They have forgotten who gave them their celebrity status.. our wallets! The will remember who gave them their celebrity status as we vote with our wallets! Personally I will be pushing for everyone I know to boycott watching the oscars.. boycott watching these trained monkeys bounce around on the television screen with their self idolizing ways.. Yes unfortunately that also means that the not so follywood members like Dennis Miller, Bruce Willis , James Woods and Van Damme will not have us there to applaud their patriotic stance BUT I am sure for the greater good and for the loss of money that the likes of martin sheen need to feel (thats after hes done paying for charlies constant drug rehabs and jail scentences and lawyers.. by the way.. Nice Job in raising your son there!) they will understand."
Hollywood Halfwits names names - an alphabetized roll call of actors, directors, and musicians running down the left side of its front page, with links - the sort of convenient resource that the web does so neatly, available on the first page or two of a Google search. The meat of the site is a Drudge-like list of headlines down the centre of the page: "SAG Whines: Don't Pick on Anti-War Celebrities"; "Belafonte Says U.S. Leaders 'Possessed of Evil'"; "Anti-war Activist Janeane Garofalo Says "It Wasn't Hip" to Protest Clinton's Wars". It's a slick little site, a sort of "one-stop" shop for media citations on celebrity protests, but it hardly seems like it'll put a dent in George Clooney's wallet anytime too soon.
The more pro-active can sign a petition by Citizens against Celebrity "Pundits" on the iPetitions.com site - provided this notoriously unreliable site is up and running. If you agree with the following statement, you should probably add your name to the list:
"We the undersigned American Citizens stand against Wealthy Hollywood Celebrities abusing their status to speak for us. We do not believe that they have a clear understanding of how we live, what we fear, and what we support. We believe that celebrities Martin Sheen, Mike Farrell, Tim Robbins, Rob Reiner, Barbara Streisand, and others with them are using their celebrity to interfere with the defense of our country... We do not claim to know more than anyone, especially President Bush. We elect a President who we can trust to make proper decisions based on facts available to him and not available to the rest of us... This Statement and its signatures will be published publicly and or delivered to Martin Sheen and Mike Farrell."
What Sheen and Farrell will do with this petition remains to be seen, but it's notable that no one is threatening to deliver the list to Dawn Steel, or Sherry Lansing.
Celebrity protests, far from being seen as principled stands against an unpopular government, have quickly taken on the air of a punch line in an opening monologue, and have inspired little more than this (remarkably unfunny) Onion infographic on "Hollywood Vs. The War": "Susan Sarandon - Personally visited every pro-war American and tried to dissuade them in that condescending, Earth-mother way of hers." "Catherine Zeta-Jones - Spouted off to reporters some anti-war stuff she heard from Michael Douglas." I don't know whether it's been the topic of a David Letterman Late Night Top Ten yet, but it should be.
Probably the best response from the web, so far, has been DumbCelebs.com, a personal website that blunts its outrage with the appropriate air of amusement. Responding to the SAG release, the site's owner - Anthony - "a 30-something tech support guy and part-time History major living in San Diego, CA." - quotes the SAG assertion that "it is the fundamental right of citizens to express their support or their fears and concerns."
"I agree wholeheartedly," Anthony writes. "Not only is it the right of our citizens to express their opinions, we also have the right to criticize those same citizens. The right to free speech doesn't stop after a celebrity makes a statement that criticizes our government, it extends to all who wish to reasonably respond to that statement." So far, there's been a minimum of response to Ed Asner, Sarandon, Tim Robbins et. al. from their own peers, except for the usual suspects - notably right-leaning actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Charlton Heston or venerable has-beens like Jane Russell - and even then the response has been muted, polite, and probably under-reported. Even the op-ed pages have been remarkably unwilling to pronounce on the topic, which leaves the impression of a remarkably thin-skinned Hollywood liberal rank-and-file trying to pre-emptively tar their critics with the McCarthyite brush.
There have been, no doubt, nasty letters, most of them anonymous, and intemperate rants on websites - the usual, unreasonable responses that you can expect in a society where the freedom to speak your mind is a stick that prods ugly little scraps and carcasses from ill-lit corners and dusty ledges. "The key here is reasonable," writes Anthony at DumbCelebs.com. "There's no place for hate mail or death threats. I'm not even a fan of organized boycotts - I choose what I want to watch based on whether I enjoy the programming or not... I don't watch Bill Maher's show because I can't stand him as a human being, not because I don't agree with him. I feel the same way about Rush Limbaugh."
"I'm more than happy to make fun of conservative celebs on this site, I just haven't found anything that I feel the need to comment on. Believe me, I'm eagerly awaiting a quote from Ted Nugent or James Woods that I feel is 'dumb'. The name of this site Dumb Celebs, not Dumb Liberal Celebs."
In a comment attached to Anthony's post, a reader going by the sobriquet "Hep Cat" writes that "celebrities, especially actors, are self-employed. Gone are the days of working exclusively for one studio. Many have their own production companies... I too do not like boycotts, they are sometimes misused and dangerous. But I absolutely refuse to give someone money to insult me or my intelligence."
Movie actors today have a lot more options than they did fifty years ago, when labour contracts with studios were far more exclusive, and took away most of their control over their image and press. The blacklist lasted just over a decade, and ended when independent production companies - like Kirk Douglas' Bryna Productions, which made Spartacus - could ignore the blacklist and the pressure groups, like the Legion of Decency, that threatened to enforce it. Careers and lives were ruined, but the blacklist lingered mostly in the personal enmity and confused political allegiances that accrued around someone like Elia Kazan, the "ratfink" who enjoyed the lifelong support of notable Hollywood liberals like Warren Beatty and Martin Scorsese. The furor surrounding his controversial honorary Oscar presentation was a highlight of the 1999 ceremonies, and a relic of a what seems like a simpler time.
As it stands, the anti-war crowd in Hollywood is going to have to make a better case if it wants to lead public opinion the way it seems to fantasize that it did in the last years of the Vietnam War. Back then, though, Hollywood was still full of war veterans, an older generation whose political standard-bearer was California governor Ronald Reagan; anti-war protest was limited to the young, blacklist survivors, and eminent nonconformists like Gore Vidal, who was even then a marginal figure without any real power at the studios. The dark, relentlessly pessismist tone we associate with Vietnam and latter-day war pictures in general only began to work its way into the movies themselves when the war was over, and the older generation began to retire and die. Apocalypse Now went into production two years after the fall of Saigon; Platoon was released twelve years after Nixon left the White House.
Today, anti-war celebrities like "M*A*S*H" co-star Mike Farrell seems a bit at sea debating fellow actor and former Senator Fred Thompson, on the effectiveness of sanctions against Saddam Hussain's Iraq, as Spencer Ackerman in the New Republic points out. Farrell, a last-minute replacement for the higher-profile Martin Sheen, began with the standard line that a war with Iraq was a distraction, diverting energies from the capture of al Qaeda militants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who, alas, had been arrested that weekend - a possible reason for Sheen's no-show.
Farrell went on to state that there was no reason to go to war since inspections - enforced, it should be noted, by a massive US military presence on Iraq's borders - were working. Saddam needn't disarm, since he was obviously boxed in, albeit at massive cost in terms of manpower and international diplomacy. It's not an unusual position - the Prime Minister of my own country has endorsed it - but it completely ignores the bedrock demands of UN Resolution 1441, and effectively moves the celebrity anti-war position to an intransigent "no war at any cost".
It was not an impressive performance, and Thompson seemed amazed that he was being called upon to defend, not attack, the UN and Resolution 1441. "Ever since Jane Fonda visited North Vietnam," Ackerman writes, "the cardinal rule of celebrity involvement in politics has been to appear neither deluded nor frivolous." When Renee Zellweger says she's mad at her government, admits to not knowing much about the situation, then goes on to say that she's reading Michael Moore's Stupid White Men to get the facts, it's hard not to view celebrity anti-war jitters with a bit of disdain.
In the meantime, actor Vince Vaughn has come back from a UK location shoot with sad tales of political confrontations everywhere he went. "I'd say one in three conversations ended up the same way, basically that 'America is the devil'," he told USA Today for a story on European anti-Americanism. "So I'd ask folks to think about the Marshall Plan a bit and get back to me."
"Sometimes the complaints left him speechless," the article recalls, "like the time he was told 'American had no culture' by a kid wearing a Kobe Bryant T-shirt and listening to rapper DMX." Worst of all, Vaughn and his friends were blown off by a bunch of young women who flirted with them until they admitted to being Americans. "One girl turns and says, 'We were hoping you were Canadian,'" Vaughn told the reporter. "Canadian? Since when was it cooler to be Canadian?"
This war is doing terrible, terrible things to people.
(posted 01:33am | 03.11.03)
NEW REVIEWS! - Tears of the Sun: A war film that advocates "just war". Not particularly good, but interesting and, yes, timely. More later. Expecting: A Canadian film about an annoying, implausible "performance artist" whose homebirth brings together her friends and family. The sort of thing that could turn you against, homebirth, pregnancy, and performance artists forever.
#0125 - TALIBAN: THE MUSICAL - The true story of an Indian woman who escaped from Taliban Afghanistan has been made into a movie, and in the Bollywood tradition of "masala" films, it has something for everyone: romance, songs, choreographed action scenes, beatings, burkas...
According to a Guardian story, Escape from Taliban is based on the story of Sushmita Bandhopadhya, who fled Afghanistan in 1995 after a death sentence was imposed on her, when she refused to convert to Islam. She went to Afghanistan six years earlier, after marrying an Afghan muslim against her family's wishes. She opened a pharmacy, which was destroyed when the Taliban took power, but only after Taliban enforcers came to her house and beat her for refusing to wear the burka.
"Two men stood on top of me and beat me mercilessly while the others pulled at my hair," Bandhopadhya recalled. "Other womn of the house just watched as mute spectators."
"They were too scared. I don't know what would have happened if a [local leader] had not intervened. He was fond of me for my work among the sick women. The Taliban, on that occasion, could not continue and fled."
The Hindi version of Escape from Taliban, with five musical numbers, was released early last month in India. "The film is not technically very sound," said Prerna Singh Bindra, a film writer for the Pioneer daily, "and this is a very sensitive subject, but it is not very subtle. The film is very loud - it is made to cater to the Indian audience which likes overdramatization."
"If I was to sum it up in one sentence, I would say that it is not that bad a film and I think it deserves an audience because it shows the Taliban from a woman's perspective."
An English version, with only two songs, has been prepared for international release. Manisha Koirala, who plays Bandhopadhya in the film, is also "tipped to play the lead role in a Bollywood film based on September 11", to be directed by Ujjal Chattopadhyaya, the director of Escape from Taliban. Koirala would play a woman who loses her husband in the 9/11 attacks, in a story to be filmed in India and New York, and which is said to "end with the December 13 assault by gunmen on the Indian parliament in New Delhi, an attack which has been described as 'India's September 11'."
(posted 09:59am | 03.08.03)
#0124 - KISS ME, SPOCK - "The First thing that greets me is Capt. Kirk's package," writes Mark Simpson, in the first line of a Salon essay about visiting "Star Trek: The Adventure", an exhibition currently running in London. It sets the tone for Simpson's enthusiastically salacious look back on the psychosexual dynamics of the Trek universe, with special attention paid to William Shatner's Kirk, or rather the image of a "rug-wearing bisexual WASP jock captain" that the writer formed in his mind, as he "watched 'Star Trek' on '70s TV in a state of arousal bordering on psychosis which, obviously, has yet to subside..."
At first, Simpson's impressions of the Trek exhibit are what you'd expect - a tawdry, depressing exhumation of props, costumes and sets from warehoused oblivion. "The disrupters and phasers are bits of badly painted wood; the scale models of the various Enterprises are the discarded toys of rich kids. The recreated bar from 'Deep Space Nine' lookes like the sort of place you wouldn't hang out in unless you wanted to pick up a low-rent transvestite (mind you, if that had been true of the infantile series itself it might have been worth watching)."
Since Simpson's attraction to the Trek universe is, admittedly, predicated on some pivotal sexual identification born in the fecund confusion of early adolescence, he has a lot to say about attempts to sex up later Trek. He regards the "restraint cage" from the latest Trek film, Nemesis, with bemused disdain, dismissing the film and "the rather tired, S/M catalogue feel that dominated that later, Borg-rich episodes of 'Next Generation' - the nearest that series ever got to sex. The Borg were, after all, everyone's nightmare fetish-party people - sadomasochists who tried to accessorize themselves a personality and considered themselves irresistible."
But Simpson has nothing but praise for Shatner's Kirk, and the louche sexiness of the costume designs, in particular, of the original series. They are, to his mind, "timeless classics, ones that seem to have directly inspired '70s glam rock - Ziggy Stardust, for instance, looked as though he would have fit in on the Enterprise. Certainly, Kirk would have shagged him."
As far as Simpson is concerned, Shatner is "simply the greatest actor that Canada has ever produced," even though Gene Roddenberry and most of the original cast - Leonard Nimoy in particular - thought him a preening ham. For Roddenberry, he was "too aggressive, too violent, too sexist, too vain." Patrick Stewart's temperate, anodyne Jean Luc Picard of "The Next Generation" was apparently more like what Roddenberry had in mind.
It's this temperamental discord - which Simpson imagines as sexual and political as well - that made the original series work. "Jim Kirk, as I say, was clearly a Republican, while the Federation itself was clearly Democratic. The arrangement appeared to reflect that of a Republican White House and a Democratic Congress, the favored mechanism of Cold War consensus." Kirk's compulsive violation of the Prime Directive was proof of his barely concealed disdain for the Federation's timidity, and Simpson sees the current administration in Washington as an echo of this dynamic. "Bush probably thinks himself more Kirk than Picard," Simpson opines, "but he's mistaken: He simply doesn't have the pathos. Or the twinkly eyes."
Or perhaps Bush just isn't Simpson's type. In any case, he zooms in on the soap opera that always seemed to be simmering beneath the surface on the original Trek, in the form of the core trio - Kirk, Spock, and Bones - whose heated exchanges suggest something more like a menage a trois. Spock, as a huge, thriving school of Trek fan fiction writers - mostly female - have theorized for years, was in love with Kirk, "somthing not lost on the bitchy, swishy and rather jealous ship's doctor ... who wasted no opportunity to tease his green-blooded colleague. (For some reason all the male 'Trek' medical staffers have been queeny, even the holograms.)"
Simpson, whose essay on the "metrosexual" male contained a hilarious interpretation of Tobey Maguire's version of the "webbed weirdo" in Spiderman, has become my favorite gay writer, certainly since local boy Bruce LaBruce's brush with a muslim boyfriend turned him into the lavender jihadi, self-righteous and suddenly afflicted with a forced, peevish - and much-diminished - sense of humour. Keep it up, Mark - phasers on stun.
(posted 01:05pm | 03.05.03)
NEW REVIEWS!: Blind Spot - Was Traudl Junge utterly naive, totally ignorant of what her boss did? Was she just "following orders", even if those orders were for little more than dictation? Has she come to regret her tiny role in the most criminal regime ever? You decide. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - The prettiest, most romantic movie ever set during the Cultural Revolution. Why is there something terribly wrong with that? NEW DVD REVIEWS - The Day The Earth Stood Still, Tuck Everlasting, From Here to Eternity superbit disc, and Quitting.
UPDATE - Kind reader and fellow film critic Douglas LeBlanc has generously offered to buy a copy of Kim Jung-Il's On The Art of the Cinema from amazon.com for me, in response to my (rather undignified) pleading earlier this week. I will, in a couple of weeks, be revelling in the Dear Leader's juche thought on the motion picture arts, and will share my discoveries with all of you. Once again, thank you Douglas - now, there's this little house up the street that looks like it'll hold a growing family, if anyone else is moved by the concept of cyberpatronage...
Also, there are some new DVD reviews up, including a look at the Criterion re-release of one of my favorite drug movies - Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.