Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Olbermann's Tribute to Leslie Nielsen

On Countdown on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann made a tribute to the memory of actor Leslie Nielsen, noting the actor's long career as a performer and how his deadpan style transferred seamlessly from drama to comedy. Nielsen died on November 28th.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is Nudity the New Retard?

In the satirical film Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. and Ben Stiller played actors who go to ridiculous lengths to court the Hollywood awards circuit. One transforms his physical appearance from Caucasian to African and the other plays a mentally retarded adult. The point of the satire was to criticize just how vacuous and self serving these kinds of dramatic roles had become.

Now we have an essay by Jennie Yabroff at Newsweek about nudity by A-list actors. As Yabroff points out, "Not so long ago (think Porky’s era), gratuitous nude scenes were pretty much de rigueur for American actresses until they became big-enough stars to say no. But increasingly, nudity has become a self-congratulatory indication of European-style seriousness, an interruption of the narrative to remind the audience we are watching A Work of Art."

Although Yabroff is discussing Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal disrobing for the new film Love and Other Drugs, there are additional examples to support this claim. Consider Halle Berry in Monster's Ball, Chloƫ Sevigny in The Brown Bunny, Kate Winslet in The Reader, or Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist. In each case, the nudity was proclaimed by the press or by the publicity machine behind the film as evidence of its artistic credibility.

That's not to say that these film are artistically void. Some of them were quite good (and few of them were not). And clarify further, I have no problem with nudity or sexuality on screen. Nor do I have a problem with violence or portrayals of retardation. Try to imagine Schindler's List without violence, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest without mentally indigent characters, or In the Realm of the Senses without sexuality. In these films the content is absolutely relevant to the aims of the picture. And that's the point.

The tree Yabroff is scratching at here holds the fruit of Hollywood's awards season and the lengths to which actors, directors, and studios engineer their film making choices to appeal to voters. Self-conscious choices by artists, and especially by those perceived to be glamorous, can be distracting to the story they are trying to tell. When an actor disrobes for camera only to prove that they are a "serious artist," it is really no different from the struggling actor who disrobes only for the sake of attracting attention via their body. As Downey Jr.'s character warns Stiller's in Tropic Thunder, never go full retard.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Criticism of "For Colored Girls"

I have not seen the film yet, but here is a critical piece by Salamishah Tillet at The Root about Tyler Perry's adaptation of For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. (The film's title is shortened to For Colored Girls.) Here is an excerpt:
Ultimately, Perry's For Colored Girls could reach a larger audience than Shange could ever have imagined the stage and page versions reaching. Much like Lee Daniels' award-winning film Precious, Perry's version stands to usurp the original, not just in popularity but also in political message. Because of this, we need to celebrate Perry's ability to pull out the brilliant and magical performances provided by actresses like Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose and Phylicia Rashad and revel in his rare commitment to an all-black women's ensemble.

At the same time, we must remain hyper aware that Perry's For Colored Girls does little to dispel the sexual stereotypes and victim blaming of black women in contemporary American politics and popular culture -- especially of those women who have endured sexual assault, domestic violence, infertility and sexual transmitted infections. (Here, I should mention that Perry's new homophobic plot twist -- involving a closeted, bisexual, HIV-positive black man and his ostensibly emasculating wife -- also works against the open and inclusive spirit of Shange's brand of black feminism.)

But in the end, the durability of Shange's play has as much to do with the genius of her prose as it does with the stubbornness of racism and sexism to shape the material conditions of black women's lives. To his credit, Perry used 85 percent of Shange's original poetry in his final script. So even cloaked in his melodramatic conservatism, the potency of her words can't be fully lost.
This reminds me of last year's controversy over The Blind Side and Precious. The controversy erupted over "negative" versus "positive" portrayals of African Americans. The trouble with that kind of criticism, which often dogs the politics of representation, is that is misses the larger picture. It's true that the The Blind Side portrayed characters who were emblematic of goodness and tolerance and it carried a message of hope. But those characters were facile and their goodness was without sacrifice or insight. Precious' portrayal of African Americans wasn't so much negative as it was complex. That story was cast with full-fledged characters as opposed to stereotypes, with their own flaws and ambitions and hopes and nightmares. And ultimately, that kind of layered and sophisticated portrayal of people, of whatever color, is what we ought to seek and demand from filmmakers.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" at WSU

Panhellenic Council, Women and Gender Studies, and PAVE will be hosting a free screening of the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on Monday, November 15th at 7pm in the Somsen Auditorium on the Winona State University campus.

According to Tracy Rahm, Associate Director of Student Activities & Leadership at WSU, the goal of the screening is to address difficult topics such as rape and sexual abuse. After the movie, PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment) will be hosting a discussion. Two advocates from the Women's Resource Center will be at the screening due to the very graphic content of the movie.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Movie Talk in Politics

This isn't specifically about movies, but it is a good example of the way film, and specifically Hollywood, shapes the way we talk about other subjects, in this case politics. The clip comes from "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" on MSNBC:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Invisible People" Documentary

A public screening of the film "The Invisible People" will take place on Friday, November 5 at 7pm on the Winona State University campus in Science Lab 120.

"The Invisible People" is a 29-minute film about the lives of people living in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh. A discussion will follow the screening.