By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Photo: UPI/Corbis-BettmanTHERE'S NOTHING FANCY ABOUT HBO'S DARE TOCompete: The Struggle of Women in Sports, just the usual admixture of archival footage and photographs sprinkled with talking heads that describes most every television documentary. But the footage is splendid and rarely seen, the heads not often heard, and the story -- in which every victory on a court or field is a victory not just for the athlete and her sex, but for the planet at large, the struggle being not only to win but simply to play -- so inherently inspiring that it's enough for the filmmakers just to get out of the way and let the history roll. Time spent with people of talent who take what they do seriously enough to be taken seriously at it, who refuse to subscribe to faulty common wisdom, to accept a meager portion or to do what Daddy says just because it's Daddy's house, is time invariably well spent, just as it is always useful to be reminded how far we have come since the day before yesterday and of those who first said no so that we might say yes. "Tomorrow is a mystery," says Billie Jean King, whose joke-encrusted yet fundamentally serious 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match with Bobby Riggs is covered at perhaps disproportionate length, "but we can shape it if we know what came before" -- a sampler sentiment, possibly, but one worth believing. It might even be true.
In a time when a woman's well-developed bicep is accepted as plainly attractive, former notions of feminine delicacy, as well as the once-universal medical opinion that strenuous exercise might destroy the ability to reproduce -- which is to say, her reason for being -- seem very quaint indeed. But it was as late as 1966 that Bobbi Gibb, applying to run in the Boston Marathon, was officially informed that women were not "physiologically capable of running 26 miles, and furthermore they're not allowed to do it" (she ran it anyway, in nurse's shoes, sneaking onto the course and finishing in three hours, 20 minutes); and it was the next year that Kathrine Switzer, who had acquired an official number by applying as "K. Switzer," was physically attacked by a race director as she ran. The political dimensions of this second-class citizenry are not ignored, nor are questions of race, sexual identity and attractiveness (looks still count). But at heart, Dare To Compete is a love song -- to channel-swimmer Gertrude Ederle, to the polyathletic Babe Didrikson, to the barnstorming bloomer girls of 19th-century baseball and the All-American Girls league of World War II, track phenom Wilma Rudolph, court rivals Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, basketball pro Sheryl Swoopes, to Title IX and its historic leveling of the playing field, and to all those who helped change what it means to throw, or run, or shoot, kick, swing, hit or steal second like a girl.
THE ONE INARGUABLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEN and women is the subject of another HBO documentary, Private Dicks: Men Exposed, in which dudes variously shaped, sized, colored and aged display and discuss the proportions, performance and pathology of their little Elvises. (Which also vary in shape, size, color and age -- though, as is argued more than once, it's not the meat but the motion, and a poor workman who blames his tool.) You will encounter, among less remarkable others, a man with a tiny one, a man with a big one, a man with one he made bigger, a man who uses his professionally, a man who can't use his at all, a man who got rid of his to become a woman, and a man who, having been a woman, had one made to become a man. You'll hear tales of erection, masturbation, defloration, ejaculation, procreation, contraception, circumcision, infection, dysfunction and other medical conditions we need not discuss here-- the agony and the ecstasy of the phallic condition exposed without sniggering by filmmakers Thom Powers and Meema Spadola, the careful hands who previously molded HBO's Breasts: 22 Women on 41 Breasts. "Men don't talk about their penises," says one subject, but evidently some of them do, and with an easy candor that seems positively un-American, and overall a self-awareness and sensitivity that ladies and gentlemen alike might well find surprising.
"I DO HAVE MORE WATCH IN MY TOWER," THURGOOD Stubbs, the Eddie Murphyvoiced "star" of Fox's new "foamation" series The PJ's, noted recently of the priapic side effects of his hypertension medicine. Even the animated get animated nowadays.
Taking as its subject what Mad magazine might have dubbed "The Lighter Side of Poverty," The PJ's (for "projects") is set in and around the many-storied building Stubbs superintends. The castaways of this urban Gilligan's isle ("You can see where the city services end," observes the super from the top of his building) include Stubbs' wife, Muriel, in classic sitcom mode the commonsensical counterweight to his impulsiveness, the sweet to his salty; her sister and Korean brother-in-law (a self-styled "Seoul brother"); a cranky old woman given to strokes and shotgun blasts; a Haitian sorceress; a smoke-wreathed Rasta; and, for younger-set identification (though, the ineffable, infallible magic of stop-motion notwithstanding, this is in no sense a children's show), a couple of kids, one of whose parents are too fat to leave their apartment. Also in the neighborhood are Smokey the ex-crackhead, Tarnell the street-corner fixer, and the shadowy woman from HUD. In spite of their factory-installed quirks and shortcomings, they are cute and lovable -- certainly owing in part to their great big heads and little tiny bodies, but also because, beneath the slapstick, squabbling and social commentary, The PJ's concerns mutual support, counted blessings and underdog pride.
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