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Entries in gender politics (57)

Tuesday
Apr152014

Seasons of Bette: The Letter (1940)

Multi-tasking again. Herewith a new episode of three recurring series: Seasons of Bette, "Introducing..." and Hit Me With Your Best Shot in which I, Nathaniel, refuse to show you Bette Davis's face. For here's a perverse truth: none of my three favorite shots of The Letter (1940) include it.

honorable mention: Leslie recounts her crime

Pt. 1 "Introducing..."
Meet Leslie Crosbee, murderess. We're only one minute into the movie when she unloads six shots purposefully nto the back of one Geoff Hammond who is attempting to escape her house. He doesn't make it beyond the foot of her steps. Her face is a frozen severe mask as she drops the gun. It's Bette Davis's most potent entrance into a movie yet.

Where the hell do you go after your protagonist makes an entrance like that? To her confession, as it turns out. William Wyler, here adapting a play by W. Somerset Maugham, is appreciated today mostly as a great actor's director, but he's so much more than that. He's not content to rest on the power of his actors alone, despite the three Oscars and multiple nominations they'd already received at this point. In one of his boldest moves, he even lets the entire cast turn their backs on us -- this movie is cold -- while Mrs Crosbee calmly recounts an attempted rape and the resultant murder in great detail. The camera (cinematography by Oscar favorite Tony Gaudio) becomes a kind of detached slave, following Bette's vocal cue and showing us now vacant rooms, steps and floorboards, as if it exists only as an empty stage for her drama. Given how rapturously and literally shady our leading lady is (oh the sinister cast shadows of film noir!) it's not much of a spoiler to tell you that she's a liar.

best shot: the equally shady widow

Pt. 2 Best Shot
The title character in this noir, is an incriminating letter written by Leslie which is in the possession of Mr Hammond's mysterious Asian wife (Gale Sondegaard in "yellow face"). The movie is casually racist, a product of its time, or at least suggestive of the casual racism of its time. Leslie's lawyer remark that Hammond's marriage to this woman, immediately makes the colonist of questionable character and thus presumed guilty of the rape Leslie has accused him of. And Leslie herself is the most verbally racist of the film's characters, grotesquely repulsed by Mrs. Hammond

Then i heard about that -- that native woman Oh, I  couldn't believe it. i wouldn't believe it. I saw her walking in the village with those hideous spangles, that chalky painted face, those eyes like a cobra's eyes. 

But fortunately for the film, this fetishistic attention to Mrs Hammond's "exoticism" in any scene in which she appears actually serves to level the playing field. That's especially true of this scene which is tricked up in every way possible with "Asian" signifiers in the scoring, decor, and "dragon lady" costuming (it's worth noting that Mrs Hammond is the only Asian in the film costumed and presented this way as if she's barely real at all but a projection of Leslie's own jealous and racist obsession with her). And in this case, doesn't one have to excuse or even applaud all the exoticism? If you're going to engage in an epic staredown with Bette Davis in which she must suddenly be cowered by you, you'd better bring it by any means necessary. Sondegaard and the cinematography do.

In a curious way, though, The Letter's most fascinating character is the man with six bullets in his back. What kind of a man could own the vengeful hearts of two such lethal women? In his own stiff way he's the perfect embodiment of film noir's powerfully confusing phobic relationship to the female gender. It loves them like no other genre while also living in perpetual fear of their power and agency.

runner up shot: Guadio & Wyler find several great uses for Bette's hands in this film. I love her fingerprints grazing her victim here.

To be Continued...
Tonight at 10 PM we'll post the visual index of all Best Shot entries for this famous noir. 
Thursday Seasons of Bette continues, back-tracking one year for Dark Victory since we fell behind.

Thursday
Mar132014

Under the Link

Playbill a Broadway musical of Pretty Woman? They're determined to make every 90s movie hit into a musical
The Gayest of All Time The Many Tears of Leonardo DiCaprio
Vanity Fair tries to get Matthew Weiner to talk the final season of Mad Men but wisely settles for more fertile ground since you know he won't do that! 

World of Wonder I subscribe to everything they're saying about the new Flash costume on Arrow. I have tried to watch that show so many times but i just think it's terrible and so personality free 
Screen Crush another look at the costume and in action. It does not look aerodynamic to me -- way looser fit than most superhero costume and shouldn't it be more like a swimmer's outfit to enhance speed? So who knows what Colleen Atwood was thinking
Pajiba on Lena Dunham's keynote address at SXSW
In Contention Guy Lodge reports on how Brad Pitt almost starred in Under the Skin but I can't read this because I'm keeping myself as virginal on the film as possible. I want to be surprised
MNPP continues to spread the joy of Jake Gyllenhaal's return in Enemy
Empire a new motion poster for Noah which trippily takes you through caves and the ark and fields and foes and loops back like the world is round and infinite or something
Vulture interviews True Detective's Glenn Fleshler on how he approached his very very sick character 

Today's Must Read
Jezebel's funny thinkpiece "A Grown Woman's Guide to Responsible Celebrity Worship" which examines the problem of the "It" girl narrative, the recent Oscar media Jennifer vs. Lupita situation, celebrity backlashes (almost always towards women... the men actually have to EARN backlash), and self-identification. It's pretty great. The piece also references this amazing article "Lupita Nyong'o Doesn't Need Your Permission to Be Beautiful" which is also a very good read.

Tuesday
Mar112014

'The World is Round, People!' But Can It Spin a Little Differently?

Blue Jasmine was one of Woody Allen's biggest hits, earning $94 million globallyGeena Davis and I have been harping on gender disparity in film for ever and I've also spent a lot of time on its sister problem: ageism focused on women. But in the past couple of years it feels like the conversation has finally reached the mainstream. 

Every website, even the most misogynist-friendly, now knows what the Bechdel Test is and that the majority of movies still fail it even though it's super easy to pass. Cate Blanchett's Oscar speech got a lot of attention and Kevin B Lee recently had a major cinemetrics piece in the New York Times about women's limited screen time and now, as The Wrap reports, a new study out of San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows how bad the problem is not just in lead roles (only 13% of the films in the top 100 of last year) but in ageist double standards (women over 40 account for only 30% of female roles while 55% of male roles are for the over 40 set) and in racial representation (73% of all female roles are for caucasian women).

All of this despite the fact that Cate's Oscar speech was total righteous truth-telling. [More...]

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Sunday
Mar092014

Children of a Linker God

New York Times the miniature model (so edible looking!) of The Grand Budapest Hotel 
Interview talks to Jeff Goldblum - I didn't realize how much I missed him until his scenes in the new Wes Anderson 
/Film Carrie Fisher to be in London for 6 months for the new Star Wars film... Hmmm perhaps more than a cameo, then. But regardless I'm not really looking forward to these after the debacle of the last trilogy
Towleroad on Neil Patrick Harris as a gay icon 

Gawker Rich Juzwiak on the continuation of the gay 300 saga. This line just kills me:

But no one man can satisfy Themistocles. "I have spent my life on my one true love: the Greek fleet," he proclaims. Sounds like an active life!

(I'm never going to see the new 300: Rise of an Empire given the descriptions of how gorey it is -- sounds more vomitous than the first one in this regard! --  but I sure as hell am going to read the hilarious reviews)
The Wire why gay guys love the 300 movies
Cinema Blend Pee Wee Herman's beloved bike auctions for over $36,000. Wait, I thought it wasn't for sale?
Erik Lundegaard if The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 tops the box office charts in 2014 it'll be the first time that's happened in consecutive years for a sequel since... (you'll never guess when) 
Salon how hotels like the Grand Budapest became relics of the past 

Marlee Matlin, a deaf woman, famously planed a deaf woman in Children of a Lesser God (1986) and won the OscarToday's Most Discussable
Balder & Dash has an impassioned article about why disabled actors should be the only actors cast in disabled roles. The reasoning is very convincing but it does uncomfortably remind me of all of the flak people gave Jared Leto for doing a trans role this year and Leto's very sound response to the criticisms. Just how close do we need or even want actors to be to the roles they play? If we say that a straight man shouldn't ever play a queer role, does that mean queer actors must never play straight roles? And does this mean trans actors who can totally pass as cisgendered people shouldn't be allowed to play cisgendered roles? Does this mean we should never again have a performance like Linda Hunt's great one in The Year of Living Dangerously (1983)? She is not a trans woman or a man, but she played a man convincingly and carried it off beautifully.

It's a fascinating topic and one that I think should be openly discussed even if, in the days of outrage culture, those discussions can be political minefields. My worry is that this sort of stance is just too limiting for artists and boxes them up. On the other hand, though, shouldn't minority artists have first dibs on minority roles? (I know I've been pissed when I've seen bad gay performances in the past and thought "why didn't you just hire a gay?")  Have you ever thought about this and are you also torn between two opinions on the matter?

Saturday
Feb082014

Last Words: The Court of Public Opinion

I'm really looking forward to that time later this year and next year and the year after that when the new Woody Allen picture arrives and we have to do this all over again.

I'll be much briefer this time, I promise.  The Farrow/Allen debacle gave us a valuable opportunity to discuss important topics: child abuse, power imbalances, the value and imperfection of the law, family dynamics and mental health, the problems inherent in identifying with and/or revering strangers or celebrities, the art and the artist and where and when they cohabitat and divide, gender politics, etc. Maybe some good could come of this harrowing story? But mostly we wasted the opportunity on misdirected rage, name-calling, witch-hunting, woman-hating. When emotionally difficult topics are brought to the public table we should talk and listen, not insist upon idealogical purity. I don't have statistics but I suspect that no one in the history of civilization has ever had their minds opened by opposing views by being a) shamed into it, b) being out-yelled, or c) forced into declaring absolute allegiance. I said some things I regret this past week or, at the very least, that I wish I had phrased differently. [more...]

Click to read more ...