Saturday, July 29, 2006

The female narcissist on top. Part 2.

Despite the apparent cheap Hollywood cop-out at the end, I think I'd like to see The Devil Wears Prada, if for no other reason than this moment David Denby describes in his review:

This movie delivers an inordinate amount of pleasure, and, in the end, even Miranda escapes our censure. At a reception at the Metropolitan Museum, Streep wears a stunning off-the-shoulder black gown (by Valentino) that exposes a good deal of her beautiful pale flesh. As she turns her head sideways and points her sexy nose, she evokes John Singer Sargent’s most famous subject, the scandalous Madame X. At that moment, Miranda may still be a bitch, but she represents a distinct improvement: the haut-bourgeois ladies of the eighteen-eighties whom Sargent painted have been succeeded by professional women who look great and also run things.

Ok, leaving aside the question of whether it is actually better that these days the wives of the robber barons get to be robber barons themselves---Sargent didn't make his living painting the nobly poor---another attraction of the movie appears to be that it allows Streep's character to be a villainess because of what she does to other people and not for what she does for a living.

She's a Prada-wearing devil of a boss because she's a devil, not because she's a boss.

This is a change from female movie bosses of the past whose mere presence in the boardroom was presented as proof of their monstrosity. Real women didn't want or wield power.

In The Devil Wears Prada a woman doesn't turn into a monster when she turns into a boss. Streep's character would be a monster with or without a corner office. But power allows her to be the best monster she can be.

Denby compares Streep's performance to that of two other great actresses playing high-powered corporate executive types in a pair of classic films.

Miranda is a calculating monster—she has excised any remaining trace of softness from her temperament—but she understands her role in fashion so acutely that you can’t make fun of her. In all, this has to be the most devastating boss-lady performance in the history of cinema. By comparison, Faye Dunaway’s hysterics in “Network” come off as amusing freak-outs, and Sigourney Weaver in “Working Girl” is a coarse, leather-lunged shouter.

Denby's attributing the differences to Streep's superiority as an actress. Since I haven't seen the movie, I can't disagree. But I suspect he's being unfair to Dunaway and Weaver, who were handicapped by their writers and the attitudes of the eras in which their respective films were made.

I don't remember Weaver's character in Working Girl as a leather-lunged shouter, but she was a monster of ambition, selfishness, self-aggrandizement, and narcissim, so much so that it wasn't simply a case that you understood immediately why Harrison Ford's character wanted to be shed of her; you couldn't understand what he saw in her to begin with.

Shakespeare's Sister would probably reply, "The white lingerie, stupid!"

There were no other female executives in Working Girl to compare her with, so the implication, which might have been accidental, was that Weaver's character was what the business world regarded as the ideal in female bosses. Apparently, only narcissistic harridans need apply. Which is a way of saying that no decent woman would want to be a boss.

And Melanie Griffiths' character doesn't want to be one. She's forced by the plot into pretending to be one, and she's good at it, better than Weaver's character, but in the end she goes cheerfully back to her original ambition, which was just a simple junior executive trainee. Her ambition was never power, or even money, not a lot of money anyway. It was self-improvement. She was a Cinderella who wanted to live in a nice apartment of her own, but didn't care if she ever saw the inside of a castle.

It's really a very old fashioned movie, even for the 1980s.

Network isn't old fashioned in its view of women and their ambitions; its downright misogynistic.

Well, it was written by Paddy Chayefsky, whose misogyny was just a variation on his general misanthropy. But Dunaway's character is a monster out of a sexually insecure male's nightmare. She is a monster because she wants to be a man, and she's willing to turn men into women, if that's what it takes for her to be a man. Her desire for masculinity is symbolized by her masculine ambitions---she wants to be a boss---and her masculine sexual inclinations---she likes to be on top.

I was barely past trading baseball cards when I saw Network for the first time and that scene, in which Dunaway throws William Holden over on his back, climbs on top of him, and comes almost immediately with a roar, and then rushes out of bed, was the first explicit sex scene I had ever seen.

And young as I was I recognized immediately that that scene was giving me very bad advice.

Not to slight the missionary position, but the best view is to be had from down below. Ever since junior high, when I first learned that there was more than one way to go about sex, I believed that if the point was to get a girl naked, then wouldn't you want to arrange things so you could see the girl naked?

By that logic, the missionary position doesn't even provide the second or third best views.

Done right, it provides the best eye to eye and lip to lip contact, and therefore is not to be neglected. But seeing her is a big part of the fun, or would be, as far as I was concerned back then, when my voice changed and my skin cleared up and I grew several inches and Peggy Hynes finally started to take me seriously.

It wasn't until I met Sally Gilhooley, though, long after my voice changed, my skin cleared up, I grew several inches, and having Peggy Hynes take me seriously had proven more trouble than it was worth, that my expectations about the view were proven to be right on.

If it's wrong for the woman to want to be on top, I reasoned, then it's wrong for the guy to care about seeing who he happens to be screwing at the moment.

So when I saw that scene in Network I knew it at once for what it was.

This is bullshit, I said to myself, probably the first time I used the word correctly. From there it was an easy logical step to concluding the whole movie was bullshit, an opinion I hold to this day.

Network is a pile of woman-hating, man-hating, America-hating bullshit. Contrived, phony, joyless, humorless, and basically all about how right Paddy Chayefsky was to despise everybody and everything except Paddy Chayefsky.

The idea that hell is other people is a Puritanical notion.

Network is a film made by and for Puritans.

The Hospital was worse.

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