Archive | Film Matters

The Dated “Looking for Mr. Goodbar”

There are films that ripen on the vine, and then there is “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” Richard Brooks’s 1977 adaptation of the Judith Rossner novel inspired by a NYC schoolteacher killed by a one-night stand. It was a crime that seized national attention – for some, as a cautionary tale about women’s liberation; for others, as a case study in lethal misogyny. Rossner’s fictionalized account–lurid and lucid both–was such a critically touted bestseller that the term “Mr. Goodbar” became mainstream slang for a hot one-night stand. But while Brooks’s film also made bank, reviews were mixed. Viewed forty years later, you can see why. Its ambivalence about independent female sexuality makes for a jarring, fractured viewing experience if also a fascinating time capsule of the hypocrisies necessitating today’s #metoo revolution.

Fresh off the heels of her “Annie Hall” success, Diane Keaton stars as Theresa Dunn, roughly based on real-life victim Roseann Quinn. But while Keaton retains some of Annie’s daffiness, Theresa’s shadows live much closer to the surface; she’s haunted by her repressive Irish Catholic upbringing and a childhood scarred by scoliosis. When we meet her, she’s studying to become a teacher and sleeping with her married professor (Alan Feinstein), a pipe-puffing cad who sports the unfortunate male perm that was de rigueur in the late 1970s. While he struts in front of her classroom, she fantasizes about fucking him in a hot flash; the film is very big on psychosexual stills a la “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist.” Continue Reading →

Beautiful Resistance: Why Protest Art Matters

Recently I was at a dinner party of my peers, which is to say: Not Young People. (Thus far, most Generation Xers refuse to refer to themselves as middle-aged, though we surely are.) The subject came around, as it inevitably does these days, to the Trump administration and the turmoil wracking our country and world (besides France). ““I feel like there’s no protest music being made anymore,” said one friend. “Dude,” said another. “I feel like there’s no protest art being made anymore, period.”

On the way home, I realized how much I disagreed with that statement. One of the fundamental roles of art always has been to shed light on the human condition–to increase our empathy for each other. Even art that ostensibly focuses only on beauty–Monet’s lilies, for example, or ee cummings’s lowercase homages–is also about love and mortality, which brings us back to the human condition. And the concept of “beauty” has always been subjective and intensely fraught; read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye if you need a refresher on that concept.

But let’s not be fatuous. Not all art is equally charged. Karen Finley’s performance art is a provocative tool of second-wave feminism while “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2″ hardly challenges the status quo in any significant way. To even compare the two seems ridiculous, which begs the question: Isn’t there a place for fluff-o-tainment that allows us to turn our brains off sometimes? Isn’t there room in our cultural arena for, say, the “Real Housewives” television franchise and “The Wire,” David Simon’s potent examination of Baltimore power structures? For James Ellroy’s pulpy noir and Paul Beatty’s sharply observed fiction? For the works of kitsch masters Walter (and Margaret!) Keane and activist-artist Kerry James Marshall? Continue Reading →

Jerry Lewis Needed the Applause

It’s hard to believe Jerry Lewis is really dead because he survived so many health traumas he seemed indestructible and because he’d been around since Moses so why die now? Normally I’d not comment on his passage beyond that because when you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. (That voice alone, Jesus!) But it occurs to me that, by allowing himself to be cast as the most odious version of himself in the distinctly avant-garde The King Of Comedy, he not only let some extraordinary talent off the leash (Scorsese, De Niro, Bernhard), he created the prototype for basically half the films and TV shows we see today. Until TKOC, shows based on comics always sweetened their subject up; it’s not like The Dick Van Dyke Show showed raging alcoholic DVD blotto drunk, or The Mary Tyler Moore Show showed MTM spewing the retrogressive garbage she spewed off-camera. Would we have Louie, Seinfeld, The Larry David Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Master Of None, Funny People, Difficult People, 30 Rock–the list of meta comedies about churlish comics is endless–without Jerry Lewis as our sacrificial lamb? For better and worse, the answer is no. As he liked to point out: “He had great success being an idiot.”

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy