Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 May 2009

A Wise Latina

So Judge Sotomayor said "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

And people have a problem with this? I heard that Newt Gingrich twittered that she is a "racist" and Rush Limbaugh has accused her of "reverse racism."

I have some thoughts on this.

First of all, I do not know what reverse racism is. The idea seems absurd to me.
The playing field is not level. People of color discriminating against white people is nowhere near the same thing as white people discriminating against people of color. White people, who have the majority of power in this country, discriminate with impunity against people of color all the time, every day, in the United States and in many other countries of the world. The painful and shameful history of racism in this country and in others is simply not comparable with some kind of imagined reversal of this trend where white people (for the first time) feel their power being limited. The placement of limits on the powers and privileges granted to white people--particularly males--may be inequitable: I will buy that (I don't necessarily buy that it is somehow wrong, but I will grant that it is not fair). But let us not even use the word Racism to describe inequities that favor people of color over white people. To do so is to pretend that we already possess equality in the United States, that people of color already have access to all the privileges that white people have. Such an idea is laughable.

And so a bunch of wealthy white males have a problem with the notion that "a wise Latina"--and this next phrase is very important--"with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male"--let me draw your attention again to the qualifier she uses--"who hasn't lived that life."

I have heard commentators say that she shouldn't have chosen those particular words, and I guess the Obama administration is calling it "poorly phrased" or some such business. But can we go back and pause? Why is this poorly phrased. I think it is delightfully phrased. And I think she is correct. Sotomayor is saying that white men--who are born into power structures and privilege--lack access to something to which people of color and women have access. She is saying that there are definitive benefits to growing up as part of a minoritized group and being forced to struggle against white male privilege. She is saying that these struggles give her a perspective on life and the law that differs profoundly from the perspective of a white man.

Is she wrong about this? Certainly not. What, it seems to me, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Limbaugh take issue with so vehemently, is the notion that there is any difference at all in their positions: for what Justice Sotomayor has drawn our attention to is that white men have the greater access to power that they actually do have. Misters Gingrich and Limbaugh would understandably prefer to continue to assert that everyone has the same access to power, that the majority of lawmakers is not white men, that the majority of justices on the Supreme Court is not white men. This insistence that we all have the same access to power is purely ideological, designed precisely to cover over the fact that white men have a majority of the juridical power in the United States. If it is true that everyone has equal access but white men possess a majority of the important positions in the United States government, then the goal of this ideological project is clearly to state that these white men deserve the power they have, and have earned that power because Latinas and other people of color like Justice Sotomayor are less qualified than white men.

Now that's racism.

26 May 2009

Words I Have Added to My Microsoft Word Dictionary

This is sort of a nerdy thing to do, I suppose, but I add words to my dictionary all the time (so that Word will catch them when I spell them incorrectly) and today I was wondering what kind of crazy words I have actually added to that dictionary. Anyway, here they are:

ableism / ableist — I have been studying Disability theory and these words come up all the time.
anilingus — I can't believe this wasn't already in Microsoft Word's standard dictionary already!
anticolonial / antihomophobic — These aren't really words, but I write them all the time.
Chicana — Microsoft Word is obviously racist. Am I the only person in the U.S. who talks about Chicanas? No.
depoliticization — I mean, no one uses this in conversation.
diasporic — This is probably not actually a word. Or maybe it should be capitalized. I don't really study postcolonialism, so I don't even know why I was using it.
erotics — Use it in a sentence: "Today I was thinking about the erotics of churchgoing and the eucharist."
fetishization / fetishized — We don't talk enough about fetishes, to my mind.
heterofemininity / heteronormative / heteronormativity / normativity — I wonder why I haven't added "heteromasculinity" yet. I use these words all the time.
heterotopian — I don't actually understand the concept of a heterotopia. Why is this here?
homosocial / hybridity / infantilization — How are these not in Word?
jouissance / sinthome — These are Lacanian terms, I understand why they aren't in Word.
lynchings — But this?? Word is racist.
medicalizing / pathologized / queercrip — More Disability Theory lingo.
moribundity — I feel like this is a standard word.
Nietzschean — I think I probably write this a lot more than I should. But Nietzsche is everywhere and if you don't put this in the dictionary you will always spell it wrong.
performative / performativity — Performance Theory.
phallocentric — Stop thinking about penises!
serostatus — I don't write about AIDS a lot, but I guess I do sometimes.
specular — I am not totally sure what this word means.
subjectification — I can never remember this word and I always need it.
synecdochically / terroristically — I like to make up adverbs.
transgressive — Um, this is a real word. Why isn't it in Word?
transhistorical — Across history.
transsexuality — Yeah, baby.
transvestism — Only for fun.
USAmerican — I always use this construction. Most everyone objects to it, but I like it. So I keep it.
voilà — :-)

22 May 2009

Martin Ritt Double Feature

I recently watched two Martin Ritt movies—Sounder and Cross Creek—and neither was very interesting.

Both films are about the South.

I am being unkind. Sounder is not that bad. At least the family dynamics in it are interesting, and it is also smart about racism—to a point. Sounder also boasts some very fine acting from Cicely Tyson, Paul Winfield, and delightful supporting cast. Still, the filmmaking is rather boring, distant, and always "epic" without ever earning it.

But Cross Creek is a boring mess. I have more to say about why, but it doesn't even really warrant it. What a snooze-fest! Sometimes white people can just be so boring! This movie is about author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who learns about herself by moving to a backwoods part of Florida, exploiting (and being sentimental about) the local people, and writing about their earthiness. I mean who cares? I guess some people do, but I am not one of those people. Rip Torn gives rather an interesting performance in the film, but the rest of the movie is totally unremarkable.

21 May 2009

Imitation of Life

I rented the original film of Imitation of Life from 1934 by John M. Stahl because I am currently reading Lauren Berlant's book The Female Complaint: the Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Chapter four of the book is all about the supertext of Imitation of Life. She discusses Fannie Hurst's original novel, naturally, but also the two film adaptations. Anyway, I had seen Douglas Sirk's 1959 version years ago, but never the original. So I figured now was as good a time as any to do so.

Both of the films are quite centrally about passing. I guess I didn't realize this. I only thought that the Sirk version concerned itself with the light-skinned daughter of the black protagonist who does not want to be black. As it turns out, both movies cover this ground—and both do so fairly interestingly. This narrative is, in fact, the chief narrative of both movies—this is the narrative which contains the film's melodrama and almost the entirety of the film's act two conflict. There is a conflict with Colbert/Turner's daughter, as well, but it is always only a childish one and therefore a much more minor (and sudsy) storyline.

I think the reason I had such confusion about this is that both films purport to be the story of the white protagonist. The 1959 film advertises itself by making all of its print copy about Lana Turner. And the 1934 film does the same with Claudette Colbert. If you look at the poster to the left you will see that it makes the film look as though it is centrally about a love story between this woman and the man who appears to be haunting her (he is, in any case, a very odd choice for a leading man: rather a nerd, actually, and not dreamy like so many matinee idols of the day.) But the movie is not a love story, at least not one between a man and a woman. It is much more a story about the two women's track to success and their dependence on one another for survival. And, quite importantly—by which I mean it would be absolutely impossible to change this plot point—the other woman is a black woman. Yet there is no black woman on the poster.

I realize I am singing an old song right now; I just can't help it because it is so blatant.

While Lauren Berlant's chapter on Imitation of Life is very cool, and she advocates (very interestingly) in favor of what both films accomplish and (it seemed to me) against the novel's project, the film itself left me feeling a little bit sick to my stomach. And not because of all the pancakes Aunt Jemima Delilah makes in the movie. Hollywood's treatment of black characters is so ambivalent, and almost perverse. Even when a director is ostensibly trying not to be racist, the paternalism and primitivism his film displays cannot help but make a sensitive viewer uncomfortable.

One other thing I really don't understand is the book/film's title. Who is imitating life or what is this imitaton of life?

17 May 2009

Charles Boyer Double Feature

I didn't realize this when I sent for them, but I ended up with two Charles Boyer movies at my house this weekend. He was great in both of them, though they were not both great films.

The good one first:

I have never been a fan of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, nor its adaptations—you can keep that David Hare Blue Room mess, and I'm even a little bored by Sleeping Around, which boasts collaboration by my boy Mark Ravenhill—and so when I first saw Max Ophüls' film La Ronde, I did not understand the fuss. I will probably have to revisit that movie now that I have seen Ophüls' absolutely fantastic film Madame de... a/k/a The Earrings of Madame de...

First off, there is a beautiful new Criterion DVD of this movie, and it shows up just how gorgeous Ophüls' camerawork is. Madame de... is a film all about the camera. The film is a love story. Danielle Darrieux, a beautiful society lady sells a pair of earrings that her husband (Boyer) gave her for their wedding. These earrings (through a series of plot twists) come into the hands of a diplomat (Vittorio De Sica) who then becomes the lady's lover. The plot is contrived in Madame de..., but everything else about it is genius. The acting is phenomenal. Darrieux is particularly great. The camera follows her constantly and so we see every flicker of pain, every moment of indecision.

But as I mentioned earlier, the camera is the most notable element of Madame de.... Ophüls shot the film in these incredibly long tracking shots. Obviously, tracking shots have become a staple of fancy camerawork (cf. Atonement, The Passenger, Children of Men), but this is 1953, and the tracking shots tell the story in a fascinating, very cool way. Ophüls' camera chooses who to follow, and each time he decides on a character to pursue they seem hounded by a decision they need to make. The intensity of the moment, the very real time of the choice the character must make seems apparent and all the more exciting.

Madame de... is a tragic love story, of course, but it involves some bright, delightful dialogue as well as quite a few moments of outright slapstick comedy. My favorite snatch of dialogue:
A woman refuses to look at the jewelry her lover has bought her. When he asks her why she won't look at it, she says:

"A woman can refuse a jewel she hasn't seen. After that it takes heroism."
The other Boyer film I screened this weekend was Joshua Logan's Fanny. The name Joshua Logan itself ought to strike fear into your heart. And by "strike fear into your heart" I mean put you on high alert for sentimentalism. This is the man who directed Sayonara, South Pacific, Picnic, and the disastrous Camelot. Fanny is based on a play and feels like a play, though I cannot figure out why a story this bubbly and silly—and one that stars Maurice Chevalier and Leslie Caron to boot—is not a musical. The entire thing is shot in bright Technicolor as though it were a musical, and its situations are so romantic and sentimental that songs would have redeemed it nicely.

Still, I am being more unkind than I need to be. Fanny is passably entertaining and the young man who plays Leslie Caron's love interest—Horst Buchholz—is dreamily beautiful. Chevalier is his typically entertaining self, and there is a fun supporting cast. The best thing in the whole picture, though, is Charles Boyer. He received a Best Actor nomination for this part and that he did so is baffling, though completely deserved.

The plot of Fanny is that Marius (Buchholz) and Fanny (Caron) are very much in love, but Marius wants to go away from Marseille and sail the oceans, you know, make his way in the world, etc. When Marius leaves Fanny pregnant, the much older M. Panisse (Chevalier), a friend of Marius's father (Boyer), offers to marry Fanny, with whom he is in love. He accepts the child as is own and is a great husband, etc. Fanny is still in love with Marius, of course, and when he returns we have the sudsy drama that comprises Fanny.

As you will have noticed, Charles Boyer is at best a supporting character in this drama. The thing, though, is that his performance is note perfect. Every choice is superb. He brings the perfect amount of bluster, frustration, comedic timing, and pathos to every one of his scenes. He makes himself the drama's central figure through sheer acting talent. And this is a movie that stars Maurice Chevalier!

Anyhow, I am not recommending Fanny to anyone; it is far too silly for a serious viewing of any kind. But if you don't know and love Charles Boyer, you really ought to rent something of his and marvel at his brilliance. The best are Gaslight and Love Affair, but I also recommend Algiers or even All This, and Heaven Too or The Garden of Allah.

13 May 2009

Best Actor 2008

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote:

DAVID KROSS, The Reader


MICKEY ROURKE, The Wrestler


RICHARD JENKINS, The Visitor


FRANK LANGELLA, Frost/Nixon


SEAN PENN, Milk


Runners-up (in alphabetical order):
Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road)
Andrew Garfield (Boy A)
Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

Related:
My Best Actor picks for 2007
My Best Actor picks for 2006
My Best Actor picks for 2005
My Best Actor picks for 2004

11 May 2009

Best Actress 2008

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote (I have only four this year):


KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS, Il y a Longtemps Que Je T'aime
(I've Loved You So Long)


KATE WINSLET, The Reader


ANGELINA JOLIE, Changeling


CATE BLANCHETT, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Related:
My Best Actress picks for 2007
My Best Actress picks for 2006
My Best Actress picks for 2005
My Best Actress picks for 2004

09 May 2009

Best Supporting Actor 2008

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote:
I know I usually have ten or so people I like, but this year I only have three for this category.


HAAZ SLEIMAN, The Visitor


SAMI BOUAJILA, Les Témoins (The Witnesses)


EMILE HIRSCH, Milk


Related:
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2007
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2006
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2005
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2004

07 May 2009

Best Supporting Actress 2008

This is just for the record. My Spring Semester from Hell meant that I have obviously missed my chance to vote before the Academy did.
My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote:

 
ROSEMARIE DeWITT, Rachel Getting Married

LENA OLIN, The Reader

HIAM ABBASS, The Visitor

KARINA FERNANDEZ, Happy-Go-Lucky

DIANNE WIEST, Synecdoche, New York

Runners-up in alphabetical order:
Amy Adams (Doubt)
Kathy Bates (Revolutionary Road)
Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Viola Davis (Doubt)
Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Kristin Scott Thomas (Tell No One (Ne le Dis à Personne))
Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)

Related:
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2007
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2006
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2005
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2004

06 May 2009

2008 In Review

LOVED
~ ~
1. The Reader
2. The Fall
3. The Wrestler
4. The Class
5. Hunger
6. A Christmas Tale
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
8. Slumdog Millionaire
9. Caramel
10. Milk

REALLY LIKED
~ ~
11. Stop-loss
12. Frost/Nixon
13. Burn after Reading
14. Boy A
15. Shelter
16. The Visitor
17. Cloverfield
18. Love Songs
19. Iron Man
20. The Duchess
21. Kung Fu Panda
22. Changeling
23. Saturn in Opposition
24. Gran Torino
25. I've Loved You So Long

LIKED
~ ~
The Dark Knight
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Waltz with Bashir
Bolt
Tell No One
High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Tropic Thunder
The Witnesses
Doubt
Sex and the City
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
The Edge of Heaven


LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
WALL·E
Let the Right One In
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
No Regret
Frozen River
Synecdoche, New York
Mongol
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Beaufort
Teeth
Reprise
Run Fatboy Run
In Bruges
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Happy-go-lucky
You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

BARELY LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
Revolutionary Road
Paranoid Park
Hellboy II: the Golden Army
Were the World Mine
Pineapple Express
The Strangers
Cassandra's Dream
Felon


DISLIKED
~ ~
The Counterfeiters
Rachel Getting Married
Defiance
Hamlet 2
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Australia


HATED
~ ~
Funny Games
Wanted


COMPLETE AND TOTAL WASTE OF TIME
~ ~
Dog Tags
Get Smart