10 January 2012
Busy here again, and my post on The Artist is just not writing itself. Apparently if you love something that much, one’s own words about its deliciousness cannot seem but dreary and pedantic. So for today I’m going to tell you to see Weekend, Andrew Haigh’s beautifully brilliant and radical film about two men who encounter each other.
There’s a very sweet story here about their attraction to each other, especially because we see all of it through the eyes of the lovely and perennially self-deprecating Russell (Tom Cullen, above left), who sees in Glen (Chris New) the possibility of something more serious. As much as Russell’s shy, admiring glances almost break your heart for their eagerness and caution, the film’s radicalism comes from its portrayal of a weekend-long gay relationship — sex, drugs, disagreements, personality clashes, and, most of all, their different ways of being gay in a broader culture deeply squeamish with gay sex.
It’s perhaps closest to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset (2004) — that talky and fraught encounter between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke — but Weekend is so much more stunning. It simultaneously takes for granted that two men might wear their political commitments and identities differently, and also brings to the forefront how debates over gay marriage or queer sex speak utterly and pervasively about any given man’s soul and what he wants in an ideal world. It’s spectacular and quiet, and might be my favorite love story of the year.
Early on, Glen asks Russell to retell how they met each other at the bar. Russell can barely lift his eyes as he describes seeing him across the room, and “I thought you were out of my league, or whatever.” What league do you think you’re in? Glen asks. “Third division,” he responds. This exchange somehow breaks my heart even to remember it, and captures that horrible combination of magic and nails-on-chalkboard of those early days of a relationship. Their story is a gay story, not packaged prettily for straight people and not shy about showing you the sex. It’s radical and wonderful and beautiful — spectacular.
18 February 2011
It’s been a long, busy, hellish week — a week so busy that I’m now focused on having a cocktail with my Dear Friend and then collapsing on the sofa. Thus I thought I’d offer my gentle readers the two stories from The Onion that I’ve been giggling over.
First is no story at all, but a thumbnail image that appeared in the paper copy a few weeks ago. Let’s just confess right now that this captures my punchy attitude better than anything.
And second is this wonderful story (click for continuation of text) that captures perfectly how I feel any time I talk about a subject like slavery or the Civil Rights era or US intervention in Latin America in my classes: my students look at me blankly and say, essentially, why did people used to be such boneheads?
11 April 2010
…in which I think about smart objects of desire and girls’ willingness to identify with both boys and girls.
I used to have a crush on Jon Stewart, but for a long time now it’s been Rachel Maddow. Exemplary of her crush-worthiness is when she interviewed J. D. Hayworth — the conservative Tea Party opponent of John McCain in the upcoming AZ Republican primary — who’s been making a lot of political hay reviving the gay marriage “problem.” The homophobic Hayworth claims that the Massachusetts Supreme Court defines marriage as “the establishment of intimacy,” and argues that such a definition leaves open the possibility that men will marry horses:
Maddow: “Where in Massachusetts law or in the Supreme Court ruling does it say, ‘the establishment of intimacy?’ I read, spent the whole afternoon sort of looking for that, and couldn’t find it anywhere.”
Haworth: “The high court in Massachusetts defined marriage in a rather amorphous fashion, simply as, quote, ‘the establishment of intimacy.’ Now, I think we all agree there’s much more to marriage than that.”
Maddow: “Sir, I’m sorry, it didn’t.” (Goes through every example of the use of “intimacy” in the decision and MA state law and shows it doesn’t appear.)
Hayworth: “Well, that’s fine. You and I can have a disagreement about that.”
Maddow: “Well, either it’s true or it isn’t. It’s empirical.” (Hayworth stumbles and fumbles on his way out of the interview.)
Me, fawning: “Rachel, will you marry me?”
It’s not just that Maddow speaks truth to power, like Stewart did on “Crossfire” back in 2004; it’s the brevity and lucidity of her comments like “it’s empirical” that make me go mad for Maddow. (Plus, obviously, she takes no prisoners, likes cocktails, speaks frequently of her partner Susan, and is a geek). But then I have a long history of wanting to be with smart girls, wanting to be them, wanting to do them, wanting to watch them. It’s baffling to me that, according to received wisdom, men only want to watch men. (Cheers to all those actual men out there who feel the same way I do about smart women.)
Smart girls are hot. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) in “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) from “The Wire”; Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) from the “Prime Suspect” series; Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) in “My Brilliant Career.” They’re hot because they don’t need to please men; indeed, much of the time they’re smart enough to do without them altogether.
One of the problems I keep circling as I write this blog is that according to popular culture, men are the privileged readers/viewers: they avoid women’s films and “chick lit.” Women will read/watch everything, but men only read/watch stuff by/about men. Because of this, it’s no surprise we have Harry Potter rather than Hermione Granger as the main protagonist. I remember reading Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three aloud to a ten-year-old girl who unabashedly identified with both male and female characters. When Scott O’Dell wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins in the 60s, he had to fight to keep the protagonist a girl. (Never mind that it was based on a true story, or that he won the Newbery Medal and other prizes – the important point, from a publisher’s perspective, is he didn’t sell as many copies as he might have otherwise.)
In a different mood, this might be the opening for me to denounce the sidelining of women authors and women characters — and the concomitant emphasis on all those male buddy films, the fact that children’s shows have three male characters to every one female character (according to the new Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media), “The Frat Pack,” and all things Judd Apatow, in which men bull-headedly just don’t get women, and engage in a lot of fag and fart jokes.
I’ll keep denouncing those things, to be sure. But for the moment I’m struck by something else: the fact that, in essence, female reader/viewers learn what you might call a queer view of self. I think women learn to see the world with queer eyes, a perspective that holds the possibility of allowing women simply to enjoy looking at women in a non-male-oriented way altogether. The problem comes when women simply channel this toward making themselves attractive to men – but I think that if we can teach them to emulate the smart girls rather than the Playboy bunnies, we might see this queer view as really pretty subversive.
Now, Rachel: please cover women’s issues more.