You probably think your humble blogeuse never does anything but write proposals and gather outrage for her next post. On the contrary! Like many denizens of A Great American Metropolis, I occasionally venture out of the apartment to do–stuff. Like eat Chinese food! Or go to movies!
On Friday I went out to see a festival of independent short films. (For independent read student.) Normally, an evening screening films is a pleasure to me–why, I’ve even sat through Robert Altman double-features and left feeling elated. (Confused and strangely unconfined by narrative, but elated.) But last night set my teeth on edge, because I saw a strong thread running through all the films, none of which, I should mention, were directed by women. What could that thread be? Read on to find out! (But, as Sady would say, Hint: THE MISOGYNY.)
Yes, I’m afraid that most of these films were either lady absent or lady silencing or, everybody’s favorite, lady objectifying. Not all the films–for example, there was a cute little Canadian Star Trek parody that was not only funny, but had a woman in it–a woman with actual lines! (This lovely young woman, incidentally, was the only woman in the entire evening’s show that had a direct line of dialogue.) There was a disturbing yet amusing time travel movie that definitely broke new ground in the genre. And there was an amusingly dark animated short about the perils of the workplace.
The rest though, primed me to gun up the outrage engines. There were two films that were montages of film clips that were cleverly edited but didn’t seem to have a real point of view. “The Control Master” was definitely a technical feat–the animation was taken from clip art advertising from the ’50s–but began with the villain stalking the heroine and turning her into a dog. Lovely. The last film before the intermission was a mash-up of video games and afternoon cartoon shows like “She-Ra” that had one good sight gag–the invaders from space were, well, Space Invaders–but mostly seemed to be an excuse to film a heroine in her panties, from behind. Oh, and the reason she and the villain are fighting is because she messed around on him (even if he is a giant cube.)
The film that really set me off, though, was “Funny Guy.” The premise began amusingly enough–a guy telling horribly bad jokes to his bathroom mirror–and our realization that he is a very disturbed young man is–disturbing. So, a good start, if not exactly the most original place to go.
It’s where director Frank Rinaldi takes this that provoked my strong reaction. It turns out that our disturbed young man wants to talk to a prostitute who hangs out across a highway from him, but is too shy. (This is the only woman in the entire film–a prostitute with no lines. Sigh.) He later chases the girl down to confront her, tracks down one of her johns and gets into a confrontation with him, and then later ambushes the john and takes him back to his bathroom. The filmaking in this sequence is tense–we sense imminent violence, especially when our abductor reveals the hideous black fungus (a metaphor for his own disease?) growing on the shower stall walls–with a human ear embedded in it.
Yet this scene deflates, and we next see abductor and abductee share a moment sniffing paint thinner. The john agrees to try and get the woman to talk to his abductor, but when he shyly hides from them the john takes off with her.
The film is disturbing all right, but what disturbed me was that it was ultimately another piece of stalker porn; that once again I had to watch a misunderstood guy who goes nuts and finds the only way to connect to women is to hunt them down. His rage over her “rejection” of him–that seems to be the way he interprets her going off with the other john–echoes nothing but the normal sense of entitlement to women’s bodies that most men feel.
The movie isn’t bad, per se–technically, it’s an accomplished student film. I’m just annoyed that these techniques are put in the service of yet another story where women are stalked, fought over, shared between men, and ultimately purely adjuncts to the plot–a motivating factor, a force of nature, incapable of speaking or acting in their own defence (it’s telling that she’s a prostitute, and thus not even allowed to choose her own sexual partners.) I spoke to the director after the movie–it turns out, ducks, that he was sitting right in front of me–and talked to him about my concerns. (No blood was shed.)
I expect a little misogyny when I go to the movies, because I expect a little misogyny when I step out of my apartment, turn on the tv, or read the newspaper. There are even great films which are profoundly misogynistic–for example, “Taxi Driver.” Scocese’s misanthropic and misogynistic gem from 1976–made at a time when he was battling a cocaine addiction, going through a horrific divorce, and basically “hated women”–remains a tough film to watch. Yet the women in that film–idealized, paternalized, and ultimately hated by DeNiro’s Travis Bickle–retain their own agency–they are people, and make choices. “Taxi Driver’s” awful force of misogyny is only part of its awful force, period–although it is women who inspire Travis’ acts of violence, it’s also clear that these actions are only possible because of a deeper instability in his character.
It might be a lot to ask a student director to approach the skill of a Scorsese; but on the other hand, it’s thirty-three years later, and not exactly difficult to learn about how women feel about, well, anything. That it remains true that the easiest way to give a disturbed character motivation is to have him rejected by a woman is yet another depressing indication of the institutionalized misogyny of your liberal media.
And it’s sad that in a city as liberal and progressive as A Great American Metropolis that the only way to ensure that you will see an independent film directed by a woman is to go to a woman’s film festival.