Monday, October 31, 2016

In to win (not)

They say you've got to be in to win, and it makes a bit of sense.

And I used to understand that, I think, being rather competitive once upon a time, spending much of my teens and twenties competing for one or other dance or academic prize and, incredibly, having some success too.

But recently I seem to have forgotten that in order to win you need to be in the competition and managed to miss out on entering my first book in the main writing competitions it was eligible for on account of missing the deadline for submissions by some months.

I'm not sure if I can win without being entered but I think it unlikely.

I'm also not sure who to blame. You're supposed to blame yourself when things go wrong but I'm reluctant to do that. My publisher could have given me a prod or entered the book themselves, yes, but they have other books to enter and promote and I only have the one. They also thought I wasn't eligible because I live in the wrong country. Easy mistake.

Instead, I think I'm going to level blame at a certain someone who entered himself in the competition to run the free world and in the process threw all sane people -- me included, on the margins of that group -- into an epic shit storm of angst and anxiety that is a tiny bit distracting.

If only he'd missed the deadline for submissions.Yeah, right, like he'd ever miss a chance to win.



Monday, October 24, 2016

Man on a rig

So, last weekend it was a female film (see previous blog) and this weekend a male film. It's important to keep a balance. It is also important to read and record the gender of a film, not only because most films have a gender and few reviewers (and viewers) seem to recognise this, but because most films are male -- written and directed by men with male heroes and male themes (adventure, disaster, violence, crime, fantasy, sex).

The few films without a gender, or with a gender balance, are those that are truer to life in avoiding taking either a male or a female perspective while having a more gender-balanced cast. Wracking my brain to think of one, I can only come up with The Lady in the Van, which I reviewed here favourably in March of this year. That rare film was based on a book and play written by a man about a real-life woman, hence the rare gender balance.

But The Girl on the Train and Deepwater Horizons are as gendered as A-grade films get and running concurrently make for a good gender comparison. Their casts have predominately male/female leads and gender reverse secondary characters. They are also films of roughly equal quality and entertainment value, in my opinion. As a woman I enjoyed both equally, more or less. I found Train more intriguing and original and Horizons more exciting and coherent.

There were gender flaws in both, though more for Horizons than Train because the male hero trope it deployed to the max, has been done and overdone in film in general, though as this trope was more true to life than in most male-hero films (though I don't know how true to life and expect it was exaggerated), some of this can be forgiven. Train scored highly on a gender front not only because it was female-centred but because it portrayed a deceptively violent (good-looking, white middle-class) husband, an all too real character who rarely appears on film.

However the reviews strongly favour the male film, with Rotten Tomatoes, for example, giving Train 44% and Horizons 83%. Most other reviewers follow suit, which is, to me, telling. I suspect most of the reviewers for RT are male, even though women reviewers (like the one for Time magazine I highlighted in my last blog) can go out of their way to show they are not in favour of a female film, like Train, just because they are a woman (the type of woman that also had a bad case of 'feeling the Bern', I suspect), which of course doesn't happen in reverse. Male reviewers aren't ever trying to prove they are not biased towards male films just because they are men, though that is so often exactly what they are, they just don't know it. Ah, the irony!

In fact, our own film reviewer for the NZ Listener, James Robins, who this week gave a brief review of each of these films, has a bad case of this implicit gender bias.

According to Robins, Train is 'A reliable memory-loss thriller, but its fine female cast [patronising whot] are reduced to tearful blubbering too often -- an exploitative, uncomfortable, and infantilising technique.' He gives it 2.5/5 stars.

Horizons, by contrast, he says is 'A shockingly good disaster flick, though do try to leave before the tacked-on documentary ending [about the less-heroic, more real damage caused by the oil spill. We didn't leave]. What's more surprising? That BP is evil or that Marky Mark Wahlberg can actually act?' He gives it 4/5 stars.

In Train the problem is a gender problem, in Horizons there is no gender, problem or otherwise.

And the gender problem in Train is that the women, though 'fine', are reduced to 'blubbering tears', not sexy soft tears, 'too often.' Blubbering tears are 'infantilising', presumably, because that's how children cry. Adults don't blubber? I think you'll find they, including men, do cry uncontrollably when given good cause, as they are in Train, which is anything but childish. It shows the depth of the human capacity to feel emotion, which is a vital quality.

In my recollection the only tears that could be described as 'blubbering' in Train are those from the character who had previously come closest to being 'cold' and distinctly unblubbering when she finally reveals she accidentally drowned her baby in the bath when she fell asleep, which turns out to be the cause of her apparent coldness that is, in reality, self hate.

These tears rang true to me as a reality for most women who feel deeply about loss, especially the loss of a child, and especially when they blame themselves. If Robins finds this 'exploitative' he misses the point entirely, of getting real women and women's pain and stories on screen. That the women characters were good looking, is more of a problem than their tears, though Blunt is not classically beautiful and often looked worn out, which balanced that classic problem somewhat.

I find it telling that the critics of Train attempt to couch their criticism as feminist, when it is actually good old fashioned sexism. These critics want modern women to be sexy and bad, not sympathetic and emotional, which is just another way of denying real women a legitimate place on screen.

Man on a rig, as I would have called Horizons, shows real men at their best, and worst, with a bit of exaggeration toward the best. The Girl on the Train essentially does the same for women, though with more of an emphasis on the worst. I think it's harder to show real women on screen because we just don't believe women's realities, as we believe men's, having been lied to about women for so long.

And for my money, I'd be happy to see another female-centred thriller soon but have no need for another male-centred disaster film for a while. It's a question of balance.      

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Woman on a train

So Emily Blunt is not pregnant in her latest film, The Girl on the Train, and that is where her problems start, at least ostensibly. And I guess if you could look this good pregnant you would feel bad if it didn't happen for you (we all look beautiful pregnant, I know, but it helps to have height).

But, according to Time film critic Stephanie Zacharek 'the sad thing' about this film, and Blunt's role in it, is not that she fails to fall pregnant and, as a result, becomes a sad tormented alcoholic with paranoid delusions and fantasies about people she sees from the train, but that she is not 'bad' enough.

According to Stephanie Zacharek, the film is spoiled by a society 'trying to be progressive' and in that effort, not allowing 'classic bag girls' to be portrayed on film anymore.

For Zacharek, this failing is a sign of a feminism gone wrong as, she says, it paints women as flimsy creatures who 'are not wholly responsible for their behaviour.'

Is anyone wholly responsible for their behaviour?

This strikes me as distinctly unhelpful commentary in a world that continues to struggle with the basic idea of feminism: namely, that women's lives have been, and continue to be, constrained on every level by men, often through violence, and that one of the most powerful weapons that men have used to sustain this oppression, is to blame women for the violence inflicted upon them, from rape to domestic homicide. Courts have upheld this reasoning and the real life violence of men has continued unpunished.

A more helpful and interesting review of this film that I found intriguing, if a little disjointed in the first half, comes from Eileen G'Sell (strange name) who compares it with Fatal Attraction, a film that presumably would qualify for Zacharek's 'classic bad girl' acclaim.

G'Sell calls her review 'the rise of the sane angry woman' and says that after decades of portraying psychotic angry women, Hollywood has finally sided with female rage in this film, to take the woman's perspective, for a change, instead of the man's.

She mentions, too, that Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction took the part understanding that her character kills herself in the end, but when preview audiences weren't responding and they changed the ending to make her proper psychotic and homicidal to be finally killed by Douglas -- a box office smash -- she was not at all happy about this change. She knew that it undermined the integrity and truth of her character and sold out women. She was not wrong.

The change might have done wonders for her career, but still she would rather not have had to sink to reproducing the stereotype that perpetuates the myth that women are psychotic and often ask for the violence committed against them.

That was the 80s. If you believe Zacharek, we have degenerated as a society since them in 'trying to be progressive' and failing. I'll agree we are trying today, some of us. But some, like Close, were trying back then, and others, like Gloria Steinem, were trying back in the 60s, and many others were trying much further back than that still. We will always be trying, some of us.

And Zacharek wouldn't have the job she has -- Time's first female film critic? -- if some of these triers hadn't succeeded in making society more progressive and gender equal, too.

But more would succeed, there is no doubt, if there weren't so many -- women, like Zacharek included -- determined to fight against this progress by mocking the efforts, often of women, as in the case of this film, to present more realistic and substantial women on screen, and more realistic men, too, not the Michael Douglas of Fatal Attraction who is pushed to kill Close by her psychotic jealousy.

To read any serious study about the real life violence between men and women in relationships, is to know that the psychotic, and all too often homicidal jealousy of men -- not women -- is the single biggest factor driving the abuse that destroys millions of families (one in three), the world over.

So, well done to the women involved with The Girl on the Train for giving us a slightly more realistic glimpse into this sad reality, and to Emily Blunt for bringing the main character, a real woman, to life with so much feeling and depth. This is progress indeed.


Friday, October 14, 2016

RAW reprisal: The age edge

Okay. So this is not me. I don't do nail polish (I don't have any nails). But it's a little bit me. She (Viv Groskop) has the age edge too, only not so much (she's 43).

Earlier this week I took the plunge, polished up the wrinkles and put away the pride to do my first stand-up gig at the Classic Comedy club in Auckland. It went surprisingly well.

I was the oldest stand-up of ten performing and the only first timer, which is not an ideal equation for a person of the female persuasion, especially. I was even older than the MC, a seasoned comic with twenty years stand-up experience.

But... turns out, age gives you an edge as a comic because everyone else who thinks they're old, namely all comics over the age of 24, have to pack up their getting-old jokes and think again when they see me arrive. It's quite funny to watch.

Anyway. I didn't do any 'getting-old' jokes because I didn't have to; it was all implied. I talked about John Locke and my husband's penis instead -- admittedly, two quite old things.  


Sunday, October 9, 2016

From Dickens to Dicks

Yesterday, I happened to read two statements by famous men on the subject of women. The first was: 'I am sure I don't know why "a great girl" should be a term of reproach, for every rightly constituted male mind loves 'em great and small.'

That was written in 1857 by Charles Dickens (45) in his eleventh book Little Dorrit, which I am currently reading for the first time, better late than never.

The second was: 'Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything.'

That was a recorded statement, published yesterday in the Washington Post, made in 2005 by the 2016 Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump (59), bragging to a TV host about how being famous allows him to do virtually anything he wants to any woman he meets, without sanction.

In both statements women are objectified as 'them' or "'em", and both comments are spoken during conversations between two men. But there the similarities end.

For Dickens, women are objectified in order for his humble, honest character, a prison turnkey, to question this objectification through usage of the term 'a great girl' as a put down reference for men who get emotional: '...makes me take out my pocket-handkerchief like a great girl, as people say...', says this humble character within the prison walls.

In 1857 this would have been progressive social commentary and a reflection, too, of Dickens' own maturing gender consciousness and critique that was not so evident in his earlier books.

That this kind of gender critique has clearly been ignored, as we still, 159 years on, put women down by telling boys and men they're acting 'like a girl' or 'a big girl' when they are showing emotion; indeed, ironically, when they're being human and decent, rather than woman-mocking bullies and dicks, shows that most men never mature beyond seeing girls and women as silly, and men as silly if they behave 'like girls'.

In truth, boys and men continue to put women down as silly and easily used in order not to feel so intimidated by them, as Trump still clearly is at 59 when he has to brag about the women he can do anything to and not be punished for. In the video of what happens after this brag, when he meets the woman he said he might kiss or grope, Trump is clearly intimidated and uncomfortable around her and not at all in a position to do what he wants to her. Instead, her beauty overwhelms him (she is much younger than him, of course), as well as the TV host he had been bragging to, and instead of groping and disrespecting her they both vie for her approval.

The 'rightly constituted male mind' is supposed to love womankind, for the species to prosper, not mock, objectify and dominate us. Boyish fear of women lasting into manhood is at the root of the misogynist mockery Trump and so many other modern men are guilty of, and a humble male maturity in recognising the goodness and value of women, is at the heart of Dickens' rarely expressed sentiment, then or now.

If only Trump was the man of old and Dickens the man of today, we'd be heading in the right direction. As it stands, it would appear we're running backwards at a pace.

PS: Having finished Little Dorrit now, it seems I was a bit hasty -- and hopeful -- to cast Dickens as a any kind of feminist. He finishes on a moralising note about a woman's 'duty' to serve, expressed by a father figure to a young woman who had been in his care, as maid servant to his daughter, then rebelled against him. She comes round to thinking she was totally in the wrong and was mislead by an older woman who is also cast in the final hour as a bitter and twisted lost cause, though he had suggested some sympathy for her earlier on.

Apparently he was fighting with his wife at the time he wrote it. Hmm...

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The 9th man

In the fifth season of Veep, my preferred go-to for political insight these days, someone suggests an all-female ticket for President and VP, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus replies: 'You can't have two women! That'd break the universe'. So we get Hugh Laurie instead, and he's not even American.

Tears of injustice in 1998 from Helen Clark, when local Maori excluded her, as
leader of the Labour Party, from speaking on the Marae for NZ's national day,
because she is a woman.
And so, with Helen Clark's failed bid for UN Secretary General today and the appointment of yet another man to that job for the next 4-8 yrs, the universe is once more saved.

Indeed I can't help thinking that the appointment of the 9th man in a row to lead the institution that is most directly set up to improve the lives of all the world's people -- HALF OF WHICH ARE FEMALE -- and expressly to reduce global conflict between nations, something that men have proven to be slightly crap at since the beginning of time, was influenced in some part by the prospect of a female president of the US, which made voters for the top UN job, who may or may not watch Veep, apply the same top-notch reasoning of saying we can't have two women in such powerful positions, we might break the universe.

There were ten men and one (token) woman in the group that made the announcement, which is a little bit of a clue to the real reason why Clark, as well as the many other very qualified women bidding for the job, was probably never in the running.

The only upside is that institutionalised misogyny is further exposed to show us how it is that men have held power all these years, nothing to do with their professed natural ability to lead, but a banal boy's club mentality of sticking together across religions, races and nations to oppose and put down women, above all else.

Apparently the guy who got the job was seen as a 'warmer' character than Clark. Yeah, right. And Trump is 'warmer' than Clinton, I suppose. He is quite orange, like the sun. Men in general, let's face it, are warmer than women. Why else would we have global warming? It all makes perfect sense. Leave it to men to explain all things and make sure the universe remains intact.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The RAW boat

Urzila Carlson: Comedy's hostess with the mostess.
So last night we went, for the first time, to RAW, the Classic Comedy club's Monday night session for new stand-up comedians.

It was a fantastic night, hosted hilariously by ex-pat South African Urzila Carlson, who blamed us for her weight issues on account of us all spending so much time and money trying to save (feed) starving Africans, among her many other amusing themes.

I had been thinking of giving RAW a go myself, for my sins, but as the other stand-ups last night were so good, I am thinking again. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately.

Perhaps I would rather devote my time to saving starving Africans instead; if it makes the world a funnier place then that seems worthwhile. Alternatively, there's always the firing squad, a comparatively painless option.

In fact, I found out last night (always the last to know) that the RAW sessions officially finished last week in preparation for a 'best of Winter's RAW' event next Saturday, and so some of the comedians last night were likely not raw raw, but prepping for that gig. Perhaps some were even auditioning for a place on the best of RAW night.

So it looks like I've missed the RAW boat anyway and might as well cut my losses and join a bridge club, another hobby I've been considering. Bridge isn't funny, so much, but it does make constructive use of the word 'trump', which is not so easy to do these days.

I'll keep you posted.

For now, the cat's at my door wanting some more raw beef. It was the first thing I touched this morning, raw beef -- the cat likes her raw beef hand shredded not sliced -- and she can probably smell it on my hands, the closest I'm going to get to RAW for the foreseeable future, I fear.