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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
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.
Don’t get me wrong: There are many wonderful bus drivers in L.A., and there
are times when the subway absolutely makes using public transportation a pleasure
— in fact, I have chosen to join a health club that is located downtown because
the Red Line commute is so easy.
Alas, however, one of these days the system will not fulfill the expectations
of the reborn Ms. Lewis, and I can only hope that she, like the majority of
public-transportation riders in L.A., does not find herself yearning not for
a better system but for the minimal dollars needed to buy a car!
—Ruth Kramer Ziony
In Judith Lewis’ story, she (correctly) quotes the Web site
www.changingtheclimate.com as saying, “Every gallon of gas
spits out 28 pounds of CO2.” Here, however, your editorial or fact-checking
staff should have applied some common sense and realized that this is impossible.
A gallon of gas tips the scales at about 8 pounds. If we could actually get
28 pounds of CO2 from this, it would probably be the greatest discovery
of the century (and we still have 99 years to go). Of course, there’s that pesky
First Law of Thermodynamics that we have to break, but why let that get in the
Re: Designfilms.org’s April 12 presentation of “Titles Then” at the American
Cinematheque, and the Weekly’s promotion of that event. To see a series
of film-title sequences rendered illegible by video projection, their original
colors and contrast lost, was a painful experience. To have advertised the program
as containing “clips of actual opening title sequences” and to have shown this
travesty in a Kodak Screencheck™ theater with a reputation for image quality,
is utterly misleading to anyone who expects to see movies in a movie theater.
To have dedicated this program, which utterly dismisses the importance of color
and texture in design, to the memory of titles artist Saul Bass, is to have
belittled his contribution to visual art, and that of all the other designers
victimized that night.
In the future, please try to identify video presentations of films and filmed
material as such in your Calendar listings, so that people who give a damn can