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February 22, 2006

Arts Connoisseur? Or Dirty Old Man?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The Wife and I recently watched the straight-to-DVD problem drama "Havoc." Have you caught it? It's a strange one to have gone straight to video. The film had been widely anticipated for a variety of reasons, two of which were its classy writer and director: script by Steve "Traffic" Gaghan and direction by the well-known documentarian Barbara Kopple.

As a nonfiction-filmmaker, Barbara Kopple is very talented if relentlessly earnest. I liked "Harlan County USA," her account of an Appalachian miners' strike, and I loved "Fallen Champ," her nuanced and thoughtful film about Mike Tyson. Given Kopple's NPR/Nation orientation, she's surprisingly easy to take. She doesn't make agitprop and she doesn't sermonize. She's also consistently open-minded. Despite being political, her first loyalty seems to be to what she encounters while filming. She's also alert to moods and feelings in ways that too few documentarians are. Hey, fact-oriented filmmakers: Moods and feelings are as much facts of life as numbers and actions are.

Directing her first fiction film -- she has directed some episodes for fiction-TV series -- Kopple shows a a talent for texture, both of the audiovisual kind and of the texture-of-characters'-lives kind. Unfortunately, she also shows a heavy spirit and zero flair. Although it's set in L.A., "Havoc" is a primo example of what I think of as the School of Upper West Side Concerned Filmmaking.

[A small break here for those unfamiliar with New York City. New York's Upper West Side is its own peculiar timezone and mind-zone. With Lincoln Center on the south and Columbia University on the north, it's the favorite neighborhood of prosperous New Yorkers with cultural interests. Book and magazine-publishing people like the UWS, for instance. It can also be a very dull caricature of itself: Woody Allen-ville, only minus the satire. Academic credentials count for a lot, and people seem to enjoy imagining that their personal sufferings are emblematic of something much larger. Think "Live from Lincoln Center"; think PBS; think the NYTimes' Arts and Leisure Section, and you've got the Upper West Side in a nutshell. The Wife and I enjoy our visits to the UWS. We have some good friends who live there, and many of the blocks are beautiful. But when we run home at the end of the night, we feel very pleased to be Greenwich Village people. ]

"Havoc" is a small indie problem drama. It's the film equivalent of one of those lifestyle-section stories that feature well-off kids wasting their lives, black and white photographs, and teens looking with hurt and accusing expressions at the camera. Obviously, these teen screwups are indictments of us! In "Havoc," too-rich-for-their-own-good, snarkily-ironic Pacific Palisades kids act out rapper and gang-banger fantasies. What else have they got to do with themselves? But what would happen if they encountered the real street thing?

Parents: You're too self-absorbed! Your kids are out of control! And America -- an uncaring society of haves and have-nots -- is finally to blame!!!

I tend to enjoy misbehaving-teens movies, at least when they're in a trashy, cheery, and sleazy mode. As The Wife likes to say, What are teens good for entertainment-wise, if not being stupid and sexy? We both think that horror moviemakers deal with the problem of "what to make of teens?" very successfully: Force 'em to shriek, cower, misbehave, strip, bleed, and die.

But I seem to be more irreverent about teenage-hood than many Americans are. I can't take its travails as seriously as many people do. I'd have been happy with a film that was part "Clueless," part "Cruel Intentions," and part "Blackboard Jungle." But "Havoc" isn't intended as mere entertainment. Instead, it's straight-faced, intense edginess for fretters who can't help being "concerned" about everything they encounter. Laws need to be passed! Or -- better! -- society might need a thoroughgoing, top-to-bottom make-over! Otherwise, well ... Gosh, teens will keep misbehaving, I guess. The fact that 99% of teens make it through their growth spurts intact never seems to occur to a certain kind of person.

Actionwise, what all this intense moralizing translates into is that the movie's troubled/spoiled-girl main character (Anne Hathaway) feels the siren call of Latino street life. Something about those dusky, jive-talking drug dealers is so ... so real, y'know? Will she find the love that she's looking for from the gang-bangers she gloms onto?

The Wife and I weren'd sucked in. The film's ponderous tone instantly sent The Wiife into a tizzy of mockery. She kept riffing about how much better the film would have been had it been directed by one of the Zucker ("Airplane!") Brothers. As for me, I whined and complained, and kept saying things about how "Havoc" was like a less-flamboyant James Toback movie, or maybe a Larry Clark movie minus the moral diciness. And a Toback movie without the flamboyance -- like a Clark movie without the diciness -- doesn't have much to recommend it ---

But who am I kidding? The real reason I rented "Havoc" was because -- like every other 14 year old boy with a cable modem -- I'd heard that Anne Hathaway was gonna get nekkid in it. The really pathetic thing in my case is that I perked up and rented even though I barely knew who Anne Hathaway was. I was at best dimly aware that someone with Shakespeare's wife's name had starred in a few movies that I'd avoided watching on airplane flights.

Still, still ... Hmmm. Have I earned enough credit to indulge in some pretentiousness? OKOKOK, yesyesyes, it's intrinsically fun and interesting for a het guy to watch cute chicks strip. But, if I enjoy searching out young female performing talent, it's also because there can be something more substantial to be enjoyed too.

The moment when a girl-performer transitions from being a girl to being a woman can be a very beautiful one. There's all that butterfly-emerging-from-the-chrysalis tenderness. There's an emotional/spiritual glow too: all those overheated passions ... the urgent need to declare herself ... the headstrong desire to take on meatier subjects ... ("Me and my friends, we're feeling all kinds of crazy things! And we're acting-out in all kinds of nutty ways! I gotta embody that!") When a real performer at a particular moment in her life puts these drives out there on stage or on the screen, I sometimes find it quite wonderful.

I also find the self-enraptured passion and the absurd tenderness of young performers moving and poetic. The performer stands there before us, doubly naked and flushed with purpose and life. This holds whether or not the actress does in fact strip. It sometimes holds even when the movie presenting her is lousy. I thought Molly Ringwald was memorably wonderful in "Fresh Horses," for instance. As far as I was concerned, there was something to be cherished in an art-and-aesthetics -- even in a religious way -- in the spectacle, bad movie though it was.

There's an exquisite few years when an actress is a dewy girl-woman. She incarnates a worldly/innocent spirit that the camera adores. At such moments, an actress isn't just a sexpot; she's gracile and charmed. Before this moment, she's a kid. After it, she's who she is, frozen in place. But for an eyeblink, she's both adult and newborn. And then it's gone. Enjoy it now or miss it forever.

And then there's the question of what America makes of these moments ... Sigh. I find it sad and horrifying what American culture makes of these girls, and of such moments. In our usual clueless/ empirical/ clodhopping/ lascivious/ uptight way, we tend to slam back and forth between two poles, each as annoying as the other. On the one hand, we get uptight and prissy. The girls shouldn't be displaying themselves, and no one should enjoy the spectacle. Let's all think wholesome thoughts instead! On the other hand, we shove what's private in each other's faces and then do our best to pick each other's pockets. We either protect or exploit. We're either sentimental prudes or porn-hucksters. If sex isn't boringly healthy, then it's aggressively commercial.

Unlike us, the French treasure these moments of freshness. In their art, as in their cuisine, they're forever creating, reenacting, and savoring these kinds of nature-poetry experiences. (Apologies for falling back on the French once again. France is the only non-American culture I've ever known well.) Boucher and Fragonard were specialists at painting hot, rosy cheeks, and Colette wrote many stories and novels about being a heedless young girl, and about being an older woman enchanted by young boys. One of her novels defined the moment once and for all with its title: "Le Ble en Herbe," or "The Ripening Seed."

The French are often brilliant at knowing how to dress such a moment up, how to frame it, and how to present it. And they're often sensibly amoral about how to enjoy it too. They treasure such experiences, even while savoring them in a juicy and sexual/spiritual way. Reverence and erotic relish aren't at war; instead, they enhance each other. The sexual, the spiritual, the religious, and the aesthetic merge. We're alive on many different levels. But all really is one, eh?

The savoring of youthful freshness as a kind of poetry is in fact one of the standard things that French movie culture creates and sells. Over and over again, French filmmakers have searched for, found, and presented luminous and enchanting young things at key moments in their lives. Some names from recent decades: Juliette Binoche, Sandrine Bonnaire, Virginie Ledoyen, Julie Delpy, and Ludivine Sagnier. One movie example: "A Single Girl," which is nothing but a showcase for Virginie Ledoyen. Yet what an exquisite showcase, if a little too exquisite for my tastes. Although the film is chaste, it's also plainly meant to be experienced as half erotica, and half religious poetry.

In France, once an actress's fleeting moment of bloom is over, she doesn't vanish. She doesn't repudiate who she's been or what she's done. It's telling that in France, if an actress has a public moment as a confused, passionate, exhibitionistic, and pretentious young thing, this does her life and her career zero harm. The actresses I listed above have all gone on to dignified adult careers. As far as they (and France generally) are concerned, their moment as a burstin'-with-it, confused, self-centered, ripe young thing helped perpetuate a poetic tradition. They all made genuine cultural contributions.

A question for the jeerers who think I'm talking total hooey: What's the difference between the pleasure people take in watching strippers and the pleasure they take in watching performers do intimate scenes? My own answer is that, for strippers, bod-display is just a job. (Incidentally, bless 'em when they do the job well. I'm just trying to emphasize a distinction.) For actresses, to display the body is also to display character and self. The revelation of flesh can be the revelation of much else too. It can be a special moment. And, somehow, a sense of that specialness can richochet back and forth between the performer and the spectator.

My small-t theory about why America has such trouble with the frank-but-respectful enjoyment of such moments runs along these lines. We're practical and results-oriented. We're about getting places, not about the going-there. Transitional phases -- when much is as-yet undefined -- aren't lingered over, they're rushed-through, and then made too big a deal of. We're also a combo of the puritanical and the lewdly exploitative. The result is often jokey, jabbing atmosphere that makes many girls who would like to put the poetry of their beings on display and to feel that it's appreciated conclude that they'd do better to defend themselves instead.

Our loss. We don't do well with poetry, with beauty, with tenderness, or with the charm of undefined things, do we? Poise in the face of temptation, aesthetic appreciation, and the eroticism to be relished in all these things aren't exactly our specialties.

In any case: Anne Hathaway. Good for her for throwing caution aside and doing the film. She does indeed cast a reckless spell. I'll be following her future work with interest. Anne is a moody beauty with pale skin, dark liquid eyes, quick-to-flush apple cheeks, a chameleon nature, a porn star's mouth, and a lot of shyly defiant pride in her flesh. She's pleasingly archetypal yet earthy. Her features have something timeless and mythic about them, yet you can also imagine her ratting her hair and rockin' out to Pat Benatar.

In "Havoc," Hathaway plays "entitled" with a vengeance, moving back and forth between cynical camp diva and easily-bruised, needy child. She throws herself into her provocative moments with control and fire, and with a tough-scared awareness of her own beauty and power. I was amused by the way that Hathaway (whether she means to or not) also radiates self-serious college-girl-who-will-disrobe-only-for-quality-films. That's an interesting/annoying turn-on in its own right. I see at Wikipedia that Hathaway pursued Women's Studies at Vassar before moving over to NYU -- perfect.

Down-and-dirty yet privileged, reluctant yet eager -- Yeah, mama! In this and in other ways, Anne Hathaway reminds me of Jennifer Connelly. (If only JC were a real actress!) Although the film doesn't present Hathaway as enticingly or appreciatively as it might, still, what a talent. FWIW, a friend who's a musical-comedy buff tells me that he has seen Hathaway perform on stage, and that she has a dynamite stage presence and a beautiful, knock-out-the-back-row singing voice.

In any case: No need for anyone to see the movie, if I haven't been clear enough about that. Those eager to see the highlights of "Havoc" and willing to scroll through hundreds of screencaps will find what they're looking for here. A Google search on "Anne Hathaway Havoc" isn't likely to disappoint either.

Anne Hathaway tells Out magazine that she once wanted to be a nun. A nice quote from that interview:

When I chose to make Ella Enchanted, I didn’t know I was going to have to do Princess Diaries 2. All of a sudden I had cornered the princess genre without meaning to. By the end of Princess Diaries 2 I was ready to do something completely different. I got into this not to typecast myself. I got into it to be an actress, to scare the shit out of myself, and force myself into a place outside of my comfort discussion.

So: Do I qualify as a dirty old man or as a sophisticated aesthete? And does anyone have any ideas about how and why Americans struggle so much when the erotic and the poetic commingle? Why does it seem to suit us so much better to think of the erotic and the poetic as being at war with each other?

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at February 22, 2006




Comments

...."poetry of their beings on display"....

Oh, that's just wonderful. I suppose, to an extent, many adults are afraid of just that. Well, of putting their 'being' on display and having it found wanting, non-poetical.

*Blogs are lovely for discovering this about people, btw.

Posted by: MD on February 22, 2006 4:21 PM



Hmmm. "Americans" might have trouble with it, although I would point out that you are kind of being as un-nuanced and generalized as the moviemaking you are criticizing ("somehow, it's all our fault" seems to sort of be what you are saying, too). I think part of the reason people don't see the same difference between strippers and actresses as you are defining is that often it isn't there---too many actresses aren't conveying emotions as well as simply displaying, or if they are trying, they're failing!

Plus, for me at least (not a het male, but then you aren't talking about just enjoying the show, you are saying there is more to it than that, something more "emotional" and experential) the emotion and experience is a more delicate thing---as evident in a smile or the look in someone's eyes as seeing the act.

But maybe that's just me. An unhip American!

Posted by: annette on February 22, 2006 4:30 PM



Man= Monkey. Quit fighting the monkey in the base of your brain and enjoy. Follow my moms sage advice, "You can look, you just can't touch." Now, relax. Take a deep breath and drink her in. There. Feel better? I do.

Posted by: Introspectre on February 22, 2006 5:14 PM



Thanks for your hilarious description of the UWS--Zabar's and Fairway (and Ruth Messinger) epitomize it. Hangout for knee-jerk left-wing liberals--on the minus side-- and classical musicians--on the plus side.
I am a transplanted Greenwich Village person, living in boring midtown, and miss the Village all the time.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 22, 2006 5:33 PM



Was that a rhetorical question?


I have to [sadly!] agree that your perception of French cinema/culture in general (in regards to love/poetry/bud-turning-into-a-flower thing) might be outdated. What they offer now for Red Shift festival has certain...mmm...aftertaste...


Intelligent, alluring, and as complexly interwoven as the passing glances, familiar greetings, and critical stares in a crowded Parisian café, Ephèbes et Courtisanes is a highly literary exchange of passages and thoughts on the merits and vices of loving girls or loving boys culled from Arabic poetry, scripture, and science, both ancient and modern, including such sources as Rumi and Abu Nuwas

Posted by: Tatyana on February 22, 2006 5:50 PM



Michael,
Do you touch type?
You write so much that you must also be writing quickly.
But as you are somehere near being an old codger, you must have grown up in an era in which typing class was for girls, secretaries-to-be. No?

Posted by: Raw Data Complex on February 22, 2006 6:30 PM



Sophisticated aesthete. It's a pleasure commingling with your erotic poetics. But then I'm probably just a dirty old man.

Posted by: robert on February 22, 2006 8:45 PM



MD -- Blogs are great for lots of things, don't you think? But you're right: one of the best is the chance they give people to declare themselves. Very sweet and moving, often ...

Annette -- I overgeneralize an awful lot, don't I? And if you're unhip, I'm doubly unhip. Are there or have there been films or performances that you found dealt respectfully yet movingly with youth, beauty, craziness, etc? Me, I'd love to see such facts and considerations built more fundamentally into films. Instead, we seem to get "the hero needs a girlfriend," or "we need more t&a." Hard for performers to do anything but tighten up in the face of expectations like those.

Jill -- Or as Deb once said around here, "I'm married, I'm not dead!"

WS -- On the other hand, the classical-music-going on the UWS beats the classical-music-going in the Village ...

Tatyana -- I'm 30 years out of date at this point. Sigh. Now I'm feeling more like an old man than a dirty old man.

Raw Data -- I'm a fast touch-typer. What an interesting topic: the history of men, women, and typing. I wish I knew something about it. I didn't think there was anything girly about it when I learned how -- from my mom -- in the mid-'60s. And newspaper-type guys had been touchtyping for years. One of my grandfathers was an excellent typist, while his wife didn't type at all. Typing on a manual typewriter was hard work -- what a relief electric typewriters were. But you'd suppose that there would have been *some* distinctions between the sexes in terms of their attitudes towards typing. I wonder if there were.

Robert - Maybe we should wear t-shirts with "Dirty Old Man" on the front and "Sophisticate" on the back.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 22, 2006 9:19 PM



The Upper West Side is indeed a world of its own. If the city told area residents that it was planning to build a treatment center for homeless mentally ill registered-sex-offender drug addicts with AIDS right in the middle of the neighborhood, they would welcome it with open arms.

Posted by: Peter on February 22, 2006 10:29 PM



When I see a fine young actress who is tipping over from girlhood to womanhood, I melt into her and enjoy living "as" her for an hour and a half or so. To come to your point of view, watching the poetry of transition, time's arrow piercing flesh and transfixing the heart, I look at men of a certain age. In our culture, even in the back country of ranchers out here by the mountains, there eventually comes a point when a man softens and begins to take a more tender look at life. A bit of a paunch, wrinkles around the eyes and neck, and a willingness to take a second look at things -- even to reconsider what was earlier carved in stone. Some grief, some regret, but still time to look for a dream. And a sureness that comes from accomplishing things, often difficult physical things that have nothing to do with jogging or a gym. A willingness to protect what is young and vulnerable.

Not often seen in movies. Ben Johnson and Bill Farnsworth could do it -- because that's who they really were. Sexy old men. I personally wouldn't care if they were dirty or not.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on February 22, 2006 11:20 PM



The film's ponderous tone instantly sent The Wife into a tizzy of mockery. She kept riffing about how much better the film would have been had it been directed by one of the Zucker ("Airplane!") Brothers.

Just as I'm happy to see you admit that your refined aestheticism grows from a root of dirty-old-manism, I'm delirious with joy to realize that your wife even temporarily belonged to my faction of moviegoers--i.e., those of us who can't help but think that there are very few 'serious' movies that wouldn't be better as comedies or even parodies. It's time for the world to admit that comedy is, by and large, far more intellectually meaty than drama...not that this will ever occur!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 23, 2006 3:13 AM



I basically agree with Friedrich and your wife. Usually the hilarious moment is often quite insightful or poignant.

My problem (if it is that) is that people always think the "girlhood-into-womanhood" thing is sexual. Sexuality is certainly empowering. But its not so directly about "the act". I still think the very best girlhood-into-womanhood moment I've ever seen is the last two scenes of "Roman Holiday" with Audrey Hepburn, who was sort of tailor-made for girl-into-woman. Clearly her metamorphasis came from her feelings for Gregory Peck. But the transforming moment is when the little princess draws herself up to royal size, quietly tells off her fussing, controlling attendants---and makes her own decision. As they are lecturing her about her irresponsibility in running off, and how she was forgetting her obligation to her country, she stops them and says "If I were not acutely aware of my responsibilities to my country, I would not have returned tonight, or, indeed, ever at all." It's quite a moment, and she isn't naked. It is unnecessary for her character to ever be naked in the movie, and she has quite a little romance with Mr. Peck.

Posted by: annette on February 23, 2006 9:12 AM



Looking at some of the Havoc screencaps merely confirms the First Rule of Movie Nudity:

The dirtier the scene,
The darker the screen.

Posted by: Peter on February 23, 2006 10:07 AM



Prairie Mary: What a knockout comment. Wow! Good show!

Posted by: Yahmdallah on February 23, 2006 10:47 AM



Why does the American entertainment scene prefer the fake over the real?

This is a subject I plan to address in some detail in relationship to my late wife, Myrna. Maybe this isn't the best place to do it, so I'll keep it short.

Myrna was everything that Madonna, and actresses like Hathaway, can only pretend to be. She actually grew up on the mean streets of Olongopo and suffered the fate that that carries.

I'm not complaining too much, because shortly before her death, she was about to make a tremendous impact in New York. Her death was also a part of that legacy of Olongopo.

I look at pretenders like Hathaway (and Madonna) and, Michael, I apologize for saying this... but they aren't even sexy to me. The brat attitude makes them ugly to me.

The beauty of suffering, and the development of the soul that results, is absent.

I guess that, in a society of spoiled children, we are more likely to identify with other spoiled children.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on February 23, 2006 10:58 AM



The beauty of suffering, and the development of the soul that results, is absent.

What a breathtaking thought. She sounds remarkable. And, certainly, "development of the soul" is not want Madonna was ever selling, more to her detriment.

I think Prairie Mary and Shouting Thomas are onto something. Unfortunately, I don't think Hollywood is.

Posted by: annette on February 23, 2006 11:10 AM



I remember reading somewhere about how hunter-gatherers in Australia dealt with sex. Basically, there was no privacy whatsoever. Children would track down lovers-in-the-act, observe in detail, then return to camp and playfully re-enact what they saw, to the amusement of all. Making penis and vagina jokes were a mainstay.

No matter where you look in American culture, children are raised to think of sex, if they are to think of it at all, as something for future consideration. And how many new parents experience a drop off in their sex lives for fear of the primal scene?

I wonder, where would all this talk about sex, aesthetics, and culture be if we had grown up watching everyone we know do the hubba? It seems like we have a pretty enlightened, liberal, feels-ok-with-our-sexuality crowd here. But I wonder.

Who knows really? None of us can think outside the box on this one...we were all raised in more or less the same sexual climate. But I can't help but wonder just how screwed up we are. Have you ever read Mantak Chia? The whole "Taoist secrets of sex thing" makes me think that we are more or less sexual amateurs, even at our best. And from what little I know, the old hunter-gatherers were on a similar track--wouldn't doubt that the Taoists got it from them in the first place.

How to treat sex as both sacred and funny? How to enjoy it without being and addicted? You're on to something Michael. We are so damned ambivalent about sex. And I think it's ok, even healthy to admire and get pleasure from the sexuality of others, even blossoming young women. But I can't help but noticing how our culture frames this stuff even though I don't really know how it would look otherwise.

Posted by: chris on February 23, 2006 12:46 PM



Michael: that just pushes the question back another level -- why is the prude-porn dichotomy so strong in the US and not France? I think this brings us back to, among other factors, the breakdown of long-term relationships here. The shorter the duration, the more girls want genetic god guys, who in turn want sluttier girls. But once girls act more porn-star, this sets off another pressure -- to be a prude around everyone else, lest the alpha male think you're running around. Steve Sailer's written a few articles on the same thing happening in the UK, and that jives w/ my experience of Britons when I was in Barcelona. These two countries were the HQ of radical (not equity) feminism, surely not a coincidence.

Say what you want about the longer-term relationships in the Latin Euro countries, but at least it dampens the bestial "how porn can I be?" contest among girls as well as the "bring on the sluts" attitude among guys. Reminds you of the difference b/w Rome and Athens, in more ways than one. I'm not a connoisseur of Japanese film, but I'd wager that they allow French-type portrayal of girls in the age range you're discussing. It takes a high level of civilization to have this be normal and marketable rather than marginal.

Posted by: Agnostic on February 23, 2006 1:33 PM



Peter -- The funniest thing about the UWS, from my point of view, is that they consider themselves normal.

P. Mary -- That's so true, and interesting (and beautifully evoked) ...

FvB -- I think I was born a dirty old man. Everything else about me is pretence.

Annette -- That *is* a great moment in "Roman Holiday." It's one of those declarations of self (along with the pride and reluctance and shame and everything else) where the character and the actress seem to merge. A big part of the appeal and the magic of movies, as far as I've always been concerned. Whatever its faults, traditional movies were sometimes able to pick the magic up and convey it along to audiences. Can contempo storytelling (and contempo technology) accomplish anything similar? I wonder, gloomily. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect we're both looking for some similar things from art and movies. I sometimes find that, when it's well-judged and shrewdly used, nudity and provocation can heighten and intensify the experience. But I can certainly understand it if someone disagrees, and I'm certainly thrilled to run across it even when the girl doesn't get stripped. I'm not so dumb I'm going to turn down art-magic when it comes along.

S. Thomas -- Myrna always sounds like quite a woman and quite a phenomenon too. Sorry we all didn't have the chance to know her. A developed soul, imagine that. Something we've lost too much touch with.

Chris -- It's interesting to look into other ways of conceptualizing sex, art, and erotic experience, isn't it? There's always the risk that you're being hoodwinked. But, like you, I got something out of reading Mantak Chia and others. I like the idea of seeing sex and eroticism as being akin to food-and-eating. It's a necessity, potentially a great pleasure, that can be approached functionally, and dealt with unclassily. But it can also be investigated, refined, pursued, etc etc. What's odd (to me, anyway) about the usual American view is that we make such a big deal out of it, yet in such a limited way. It's all about being a hot teenager. Once that hormonal surge is gone, nothing seems to remain (except maybe going to the gym). That it might be a long-lasting, mysteriously fascinating and rewarding adult pursuit akin to food or art seems to occur to almost no one. Bizarre.

Agnostic -- I think you're on to a lot! And I think you're right in you hunches about Japanese film, which I know in the usual film-buff sense. Bhe Japanese film tradition is a bit like the French, both in terms of its (occasional) intense aestheticism and in its refined-lascivious view of girls and young women. The same cross between exaltation and lewdness, the same ability to juggle desire and restraint (and to enjoy the tensions that come from the juggling...) Somehow the Japanese and the French are able to enjoy the head-swirling erotic fantasies without letting it disrupt their actual lives. The Japanese read and watch violent stories about schoolgirl rape, yet have very low levels of rape. The French enjoy their arty-despairing tales of BDSM and suicide, but get on with their bourgeois lives. Maybe they're able to do this because their cultures are so much more traditional than ours is. And maybe they don't have the same kind of inescapable feelings of "if this turns me on then it means something about me and I have to go do something about it," gotta-express-myself that we seem so prone to.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 23, 2006 2:45 PM



The picture of Ms. Hathaway in the posting brings up a question that's been troubling me: why does our society now regard rump cleavage (aka "plumber's crack") as erotic?

Posted by: Peter on February 23, 2006 3:22 PM



Cheer up--Reese Witherspoon in "Legally Blonde" is actually a girl into woman story!!!

Posted by: annette on February 23, 2006 4:19 PM



Michael - re prude/porn - um, might this not have a bit to do with the economics of film? That is, isn't French film subsidized to some degree, making it feasible to produce films for adults, whereas Hollywood has (or certainly appears to my middle-aged self to have) given itself over entirely to the profitable global adolescent-male market? Not a marketing imperative likely to promote the erotically exquisite. Prude/porn isn't a an inexplicable dichotomy- it's the natural lot of (many) adolescents. Both smuttiness and prissiness are hallmarks of the sexually immature. (And the same dreck that inundates our theaters tends to make money in France and everywhere else, too, no?)

So is what you bemoan American, or just contemporary product of the bottom line? People may have kept their clothes on in classic American cinema of the last century, but there were many movies of that period that were obviously made by people, and for audiences, who knew a thing or two about erotic appeal, and who liked portraying it, and liked viewing it.

Whatever the reasons for the oft-lamented indifference of Hollywood to adult tastes, we rarely if ever go to movie theaters, and rent those (subsidized?) foreign films. (As you say, French cinema is full of actresses who are fascinating to look at - even in a dog of a movie - and I don't have to listen to Fleck complain yet again about the off-putting "blonde, bland, sexless interchangeableness" of the current crop of American actresses.)

Posted by: Moira Breen on February 23, 2006 4:53 PM



I have a special affinity for Chinese (not Japanese) movies, esp. the ones that deal with the great Western grasslands there. One of my favorite movies is "Xiu, Xiu, Sent-down Girl," about a bright, pretty urban schoolgirl who is sent out to Mongolia to herd horses to keep her from getting all fancy about being an intellectual academic. She withers in the life. The bureaucracy forgets to bring her back. She tries everything to go home and barters the one thing she has: sex. We see her go from being an immaculate flower to being debased.

Her guardian is a eunuch but he cannot intervene without making matters worse. What he can do is dig her a bathtub out of the earth and line it with waterproof cloth so she can bathe as she yearns to do.

No punches are pulled. I won't tell you the end so you can see it yourself, but it puts the young girl with her late middle-aged guardian in the same tent -- never to f**k but deeply to love.

The butt cleavage thing? They say that so many men are "into" anal f**king (why am I suddenly prissy about spelling the word?) and so ravaging when full of Viagra that emergency rooms are having to deal with burst rectums. I don't think Xiu-Xiu's eunuch guardian would approve.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on February 23, 2006 8:29 PM



Actually, my mother used to follow her sage advice with that very same line! HA!

Posted by: Introspectre on February 24, 2006 5:18 PM



I found myself thinking about this post for days after I read it, unusual for my experience in blogland. I liked it. I can't come up with anything particular germane to say, but kudos, Michael Blowhard.

Posted by: chelsea girl on February 24, 2006 8:45 PM



Mike, for a different view of teenagers try the link I provide.

But be sure to remember these words of wisdom, "Arguing with a teenaged girl is like being locked in a car trunk with a wolverine."

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on February 25, 2006 8:43 AM






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