Archive | Film Matters

‘Lady Macbeth’ and the Unlikeability Paradox

The “female likeability” mandate has been holding women hostage in literature, as in life, since the Ancient Greeks introduced Medea and Clytemnestra. But it was Shakespeare who really enforced the myth that girls had to play nice. Though he authored some beautifully complex women, he also created a bevy of thorny female characters who either sweetened up or met a brutal fate–in King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew, especially. Then there’s Lady Macbeth. As a woman who notoriously did not know her place, she was doomed to go mad before offing herself entirely.

Though she is never name-checked except in its title, William Oldroyd’s adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s classic 1865 novel, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk, is haunted by the Lady. About a young woman sold into marriage to a man more than twice her age, this “Lady Macbeth” is a feminist screed that doesn’t just politely nudge at expectations that adult women should be good little girls. It rips them up and then stares at us defiantly. Continue Reading →

Women Problems, ‘The Witches of Eastwick’

Though the toast of the town while alive, John Updike has fallen out of favor since his 2009 death. Perhaps this is because literary styles have changed, and the notoriously prolific writer’s Proustian effusions and adverbial chattiness have no place amid the muscular, subject-verb prose in vogue right now. But Updike’s oeuvre also has the sort of “woman problem” that is less tolerated with every passing year. It’s not that he wasn’t fascinated by women – his work is arguably as awash in female bodily fluids as any male writer since James Joyce – but there lurks a hate-love dynamic in it as well. Rooted in his books is the premise that women may be the source of all life but also the source of all trouble – a conflict best exemplified in 1984’s The Witches of Eastwick. Set in a fictional New England town, it focuses on three women whose latent magical powers materialize when a well-heeled stranger rolls into town and beds each of them. Though some hailed the book as a triumph of pagan feminism, others saw it as retrogressive, especially as a man is required to rouse these women into action. Continue Reading →

Come to Fosse

Anyone who really loves show business eventually has a “come to Fosse” moment. You know you’re a real convert to the choreographer and director when you come around on “All That Jazz,” his bombastic meta-movie biography-musical, and you know you’re a real cult member when you come around on his last film, “Star 80,” about slain porn star Dorothy Stratten. (I’ve yet to achieve that status.) But even if you don’t dig Fosse – even if you don’t consciously know Fosse – chances are good you’ve fallen under his influence. Born in 1927 (he would have celebrated his ninetieth birthday last Friday), his signature style didn’t just indelibly stamp the world of dance. It redefined the packaging of sexuality and entertainment, blurring worlds that post-World War II parochialism had strenuously separated.

I first saw “All That Jazz,” Bob Fosse’s signature directorial effort – though not the one for which he won his one Academy Award – in its initial 1979 run, and was singularly unimpressed. (Of course, I was age eight, and more impressed by “The Muppet Movie.”) Years later, I saw what I had missed. Buried in the film’s dance sequences, its half-assembled spangled costumes and bare-bones Broadway backstages and editing rooms, was a winking homage to narcissism and its opposite, true communion. It was, and is, an amazing cacophony. But it is also bloated by his death wish – a courtship of his own demise that he materialized by casting Jessica Lange, one of his many, many girlfriends, in the role of Angelica, a literal angel of death. Continue Reading →

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