Thursday, August 23, 2007

Old fashioned gals

Left: Cybill Shepherd in The Last Picture Show

Today's question: How can we make art that is truthful to the past, without being obnoxious? We need to tell the truth about the role of women with sympathy and awareness, without being anachronistic.

I am particularly interested in the AMC series MAD MEN, which I assume was inspired in part by Tom Wolfe's dead-on essay about the advertising world, The Mid-Atlantic Man, also written in the 60s.

Plain(s) Feminist commented briefly on MAD MEN:

And while we're on the topic, I don't really care that the gender "issues" brought to the fore on Mad Men are true to the era. They make me damn angry to watch. What is the point? Yes, television is supposed to make one think, but it's not supposed to make me pissed-off for no reason. I have enough sexism to deal with in daily life without needing to reach back into the sixties for a fix, thank you very much.
The New York Times recently reviewed several TV shows about domesticity in an article rather cutely titled Say, Darling, Is it Frigid in Here? Here is Alessandra Stanley's description of MAD MEN:
This Madison Avenue drama, set in the advertising business at the dawn of the 1960s, recreates middle-class life in the pre-Friedan era, when graduates of Wellesley and Bryn Mawr wore girdles and aprons as they raised the children and waited for their husbands, who stayed in town late, drinking and smoking and carousing with compliant secretaries. “Mad Men” has a satiric edge, but it is a stark reminder of what the battle of the sexes looked like before women’s lib, civil rights, the Pill and legalized abortion.

The series also serves as a taunting rebuke to modern wedlock: Careful what you wish for.

One couple on “Tell Me You Love Me” has a happy, vigorous sex life that is undermined by the wife’s inability to get pregnant. Another has two children and no sex at all, which is undermining the family bliss. Both end up slowly and guardedly confiding in an older sex therapist, played by Jane Alexander. She has an uninhibited sex life with her loving husband, Arthur (David Selby), but even her time-weathered marriage has a few cobwebs.

Katie (Ally Walker) and David (Tim DeKay) haven’t had sex in a year, but nothing appears to be wrong. They are a loving if repressed couple deeply and equally involved in raising their children, from grocery shopping to Little League practice. David is not impotent; he masturbates with furtive relish when his wife leaves the room. Yet neither seems able to summon desire for intercourse or take the initiative. A clue to their problem spills out during a therapy session, when the mild, buttoned-up David unleashes a rant about the lust-numbing domesticity of his life.

“I guess, yeah, I should be in the mood every time I clean out the gecko cage,” he hollers, his sarcasm turning to rage. “Everybody else is, it seems. I’ll tell you what turns me on: Buying Cheerios is really hot, and then of course getting shoelaces or fantasizing about minivans, that’s sexy too.”

Those intimations of emasculation stand as a cautionary tale next to Don Draper (Jon Hamm) of “Mad Men.” Don has a wife, two kids and a freethinking mistress in Greenwich Village. He doesn’t buy Cheerios or mop the floor. He’s barely ever home. But he has enough libido to sleep with two women and chase a third.
Dump that pesky equality, guys, and get back to basics! Wink, wink, nudge nudge.

As I commented on Plain(s) Feminist's blog, one drama that succeeds in being sympathetic to women, yet totally realistic for its time (the 50s), was THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, which--not coincidentally--stars several (all?) self-identified feminists. Was it the strength of their performances and/or interpretations of their characters that made the difference? Or the stellar writing of Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich?

Which old movie makes you cringe regarding the role of women, yet you like it anyway?

And like Plain(s) Feminist, which one is impossible for you to watch without getting pissed off?


Daisy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryce said...

gone with the wind, racism & sexism & marital rape. lots of others but that one stands out.

plain(s)feminist said...

Thanks for the link!

I used to love My Fair Lady when I was a kid, but I saw it a few years ago and almost couldn't watch it. It was THAT bad in terms of gender issues and stereotypes.

belledame222 said...

Rosemary's Baby is hard to watch, even though I thoroughly enjoy it for the horror-camp value and the acting, etc; on another level, though, even without the conspiratorial/supernatural trappings, the husband's a total shit, and all that ever happens to him is she spits at him, at the end. but yeah, it's cringe-making. not in a fifties and previous way, but enough.

one film that I love unreservedly is "All About Eve;" officially there may be retro attitudes about gender and sexuality, but there's so much depth and so many layers doesn't bother me at all. plus, Bette Davis is -phenomenal.- I keep meaning to write about that one. soon, hopefully.

kactus said...

The Graduate. I was madly in love with Anne Bancroft for years, and it was all because of this movie.

KH said...

They showed 'The Misfits' on TV here a few weeks ago, & it was so upsetting I couldn't get through it, & that never happens to me. Maybe all Monroe's movies are like that. I saw Fritz Lang's 'Clash by Night' not long ago & it was offputting too. Also her part on 'The Asphalt Jungle,' another Huston movie.

Daisy said...

I have a love/hate relationship with the movie PICNIC. I love Kim Novak and William Holden, but I hate the sexual politics of the movie. When Rosalind Russell begs the guy to get married, I want to slap her and tell her to SHOW SOME FUCKING SELF RESPECT, girlfriend!

KH, not surprising, Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT is disturbing, too.

Iamcuriousblue said...

daisy said:

"KH, not surprising, Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT is disturbing, too."

Did you find it disturbing because of the level of violence in it (and I think it was definitely Lang's intention to be disturbingly violent here) or something specific about the gender roles?

I love Lang's film noir work, and of course, Metropolis. I've been meaning to put aside a few nights for all three Dr. Mabuse films.

Iamcuriousblue said...

Actually, on the level of pure violence, one of the most disturbing for me was the original Hitcher, which I saw on cable the other night. The scene where Rutgar Hauer racks Jennifer Jason Lee to death between two truck is so disturbing to me, I had to change the channel. And I'm usually pretty non-squeemish about films.

But actually, the movie itself was very well-done in a lot of ways, which is probably why I found it so disturbing. The biggest problem with the movie was the guy who plays the film's hero, C. Thomas Howell who's a really bad actor.

Daisy said...

IACB, Re: The Big Heat. I didn't like the whole facial-scarring thing, which is a really sexist plot and reduces women to their appearance. She is regarded as "ruined" after that.

The whole "scarred woman" plot frightens all women who see it, and I also refer to this 'propaganda dynamic', same thing I said on Ren's about CSI, Law and Order: SVU, etc. IMO, propaganda that SCARES women is far more misogynist than porn, and causes women to have more "everyday fear" which causes us to limit ourselves.

risa bear said...

I agree about My Fair Lady and mourned its passing in my heart's shrine.

Daughter and I stopped in while Last Son was watching Goldfinger, which I had thought pretty innocuous at the time, and when Connery poped a Bond Girl on the fanny and announced she had to leave because he was going to have some "man talk", she spontaneous jumped at the TV and said, "PUNCH HIM IN THE NOSE!"

Eight years old at the time!

-- proud mamacita