By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
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In reading Manohla Dargis’ article “She Shtups to Conquer” [April 20–26], I was reminded of the cultural vacuum we’ve created out here in Hollywood. Many times since transplanting here from Texas several years ago, I’ve found myself using my film-school pretensions to qualify or disqualify a film’s validity in terms of progressive womanhood. Only later would I realize that, as members of the minute percentage of American women (or men) who can spout off tenets of Freudian theory, quote Laura Mulvey and reference Molly Haskell as easily as we can fix a bowl of Cheerios, we have a problem. Namely, what business do we have postulating which kinds of heroism should represent the “common” female experience in lieu of the lives women have clearly chosen for themselves? For example, what woman living a 9-to-5, simple, unglamorous life would achieve any kind of fantasy identification with a gritty hooker like Bree Daniels in Klute? What does an unapologetic whore with an empty, hopeless life and a failed acting career have to do with them?
Instead of asking this, Dargis wonders at the appeal of Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockovich (among others), who fights not only for the survival of her family and the respect of a prejudiced upper class, but also for the health and safety of others like her — but makes the “mistake” of dressing provocatively. Short skirts and exposed bras may seem exploitative and gimmicky, but, taking another view, can’t her clothing be interpreted as the ultimate affront to the status quo? “I am unstoppable, I will win, and, oh yeah, I’m all woman!” In other words, Erin rises above her circumstances of blue-collar single motherhood without sacrificing her femininity.
Sure, it may be hyperbole, but the message is clear, and it went over big: The feminists are here, ladies and gentlemen. They aren’t refusing to shave, and they don’t always hate men. They’re your wives, your teachers, your doctors and nurses; they’re even your children, and sometimes your favorite stripper. Feminism is no longer theory debated on college campuses; it’s infiltrated the real world. And it’s got boobs, Ed.
At least films like Erin Brockovich, Charlie’s Angels and Double Jeopardy are portraying women in control of their lives, capable of pursuing their own destinies, and as strong as if not stronger than the men around them. As Molly Haskell suggests, it’s not the movie endings of marriage and motherhood, or the details of the heroine’s profession, but rather the principles she stands for, and how many of the audience’s own ideals she embodies, that are important, as much today as they were in the films of Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Katharine Hepburn.
At bottom is the fact that these new female-led films confirm that women can carry box-office blockbusters. With any luck, the doors that have begun to open may let in something that will eventually please all of us.
Thank God for Manohla Dargis, a film critic who likes sex and can still take Hollywood to task for botching the job!
Manohla Dargis’ article is an excellent addition to the continuing discussion of women in film. One point that should be added to the discussion: If there is a paucity of strong, independent women in film, there are a lot of them on network television. And they are not bimbos who suffer the consequences of having sex with men. There are, for example, the women in Ally McBeal, who have a lot of sex with a lot of people, including each other. Or Dianne Russell (Kim Delaney), a police detective in NYPD Blue, who has been through several relationships and has not been killed yet. Or Lilly (Sela Ward) in Once and Again, who has been involved in a steamy relationship without being less of a mother for it. And there have been a pile of relationships on ER between the men and the women of that show.
So if you want strong professional women in a variety of relationships, don’t go to the movies. Television has taken sex out of the theaters and put it back in the home, where it belongs.
Los Angeles â
Re: Judith Lewis’ “Auto Immune” [April 20–26]. As I sat and waited for the l80 on Saturday afternoon, trying not to shriek as two full buses passed without stopping, I read with amusement Judith Lewis’ pleasure in discovering the MTA. I have been a rider for more than seven years and know that her honeymoon will soon be over. I note that the bus lines she uses are what I designate as “white preferred,” where drivers would not dream of abusing passengers and where schedules are far more regularly maintained than those routes which serve the bulk of those who are forced to use public transportation in Los Angeles.