Friday, February 23, 2007

Oscarblogging, Year the Second, Part the Fourth: Maaahhhchismo

I know, I know, I KNOW Hollywood's always been a boy's club. This year, for whatever reason, it's bugging me disproportionately.

The Departed is an excellent film. It really is. I'm by no means a Scorsese expert, but based on my viewing of this film alone I do hope he wins the Best Director Oscar, 'cause that's some bloody *masterful* work, keeping that level of depth, pace, development, visual engagement in a two-and-a-half-hour film. Matt Damon carried the whole thing off with concision and grace, I didn't quite realize Mark Wahlberg was Mark Wahlberg until the end of the film (that's a compliment), and I was quite impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio, a phrase that hasn't even entered my mind since What's Eating Gilbert Grape. (Nicholson was perfectly fine, but only in The Sopranos does the mob boss have anything really interesting or challenging to do.) I responded to the violence, which is to say, it was not nor was it intended to be desensitizing, which in a crime thriller is no small feat. Every killing mattered, had an impact on viewers (I speak as one of the most desensitized to film violence among the people I know) and characters, had both a moment of shock and a sense of inevitability to it. It's a tight script and mind-blowing editing. I like it, and I'm frustrated by how much I like it.

The only female character, using the word "character" to mean "someone in the film who actually does something in the film," is Vera Farmiga's Madolyn. Through her performance the character becomes a little bit more than the cherchez-la-femme figure, she can only push it so far. Matt Damon's character keeps his entire life from her, his social worker girlfriend-turned-wife; Leonardo DiCaprio's needs her as a nurturing, comforting resource, and that's all she's got. There are three other peripheral women—the mob boss's sexy lover, the sexy state police secretary in tight jeans, and the heavy working-class Irish aunt—but, as should be obvious from those descriptions, there's not much to them. It's a boy's club movie, a shining example of Margaret Atwood's frustrating statement, "You can have a men's novel with no women in it except possibly the landlady or the horse," a statement that one would hope had dated in the twenty years since its publication. Okay, yes, the crime and cop syndicates are men's worlds, and Scorsese is probably portraying them honestly—though in a contemporary context, might there not be a few more female players?—and I can't even pull out the truth-and-insight distinction here, as it's quite an insightful film, winding tightly and beautifully around itself and around us, its audience. But I can't shake the feeling that, no matter how much I like it, it's just another dick film. I don't like that thought any more than I like liking the movie.

The trouble, really, is of the four Best Picture nominees I've seen thus far, The Departed seems to me the most deserving of the award. As someone who admires artistry first, I want it to win; I don't want the false social consciousness that honored Crash to reward Babel, Little Miss Sunshine doesn't have the resonance it seems to think it does, and The Queen is more Mirren's virtuoso performance than anything else. (And Iwo Jima might give me even more trouble in the boys' club category.) But I don't want it to win, because I don't want to encourage the cheap imitations of it that are sure to follow (or, for that matter, that have preceded it); in the hands of a lesser director and lesser actors, it really would have just been a bunch of guys sitting around throwing testosterone at each other. Having considered this writing project a project of social criticism, this boys' club thought is certainly one I have to pursue, but I don't know if making a judgment based upon it is okay.


At 11:29 AM, Blogger tyromaven said...

Have you seen Taxi Driver? One of my highschool boys was desperately into that movie, and desperately in love with the depiction of Cybil Sheppard (sp?) as this glowing angel of sophistication and grace who couldn't be touched or tainted by a dirty, corrupt, stupid world. I mean, he was a teenage boy in Catholic school, let's give him a break.

More recently, a young man friend of mine explained what it is that Scorcese does for men, including young men: he shows men trying to navigate the darker consequences of being masculine. And some men idolize his characters, and some men see a warning. My thoughts about Scorcese are more enmeshed in my thoughts about liberation for young men than they are in conversations about female roles. I think that Scorcese's work shows us, whether he has this agenda or not, that it's men's understanding of there own masculinity that simplifies women by default. Scorcese's work is so full of alienation and attempts to assert control over a f*cked up world, that I don't feel like I'm watching some stable misrepresentation of women. I feel like I'm watching men on the verge of drowning.

And given that I understand that as Scorcese's project, I'm not expecting him to give me complex female characters. His characters can't even hold those concepts in their head, much less interact with them in real situations. So there's always this limit in Scorcese's work, where his very specific project ends and his characters don't quite realize more about the world beyond that point.

Still, he is a master. And it's worth seeing a few of his films, even if you're a lady of complex tastes

At 4:36 PM, Blogger tyromaven said...

my utter apologies for misspelling scorSese's name. all shame, etc.


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