Monday morning I got an e-mail from Steve, the Producer at Opie and Anthony, a New York radio show co-hosted by comedian Jim Norton. The same Jim Norton whose review of Eat, Pray, Love inspired my “Why is Eat, Pray, Love a Joke?” post.
Norton, whose comments I called “sexist,” “unoriginal” and “infuriating” wanted to discuss my blog comments on air Tuesday morning (the whole 20-minute segment can be found here). [Ed. Note: I strongly recommend you listen to it, as it was a phenomenal segment and featured our very own Sarah Arboleda, who is not only super talented in her writing, but is super articulate, too.]
Everyone associated with the show that I spoke with was fantastic. The producer and the hosts really let me get my thoughts across and while there was some good-natured sparring, I didn’t think either side was “attacking” the other.
Let me just say that when I’m typing up these posts, I never assume that the people they’re about are actually going to read them. And maybe I should. This experience has certainly made me more responsible about what I say and how I say it.
The one point that I had really wanted to get across — that I think unfortunately did not make it into my original article or the radio show (my fault, not theirs) — is that this isn’t about making it “wrong” to laugh at crappy chick flicks. I hate crappy chick flicks. I believe it was Anthony who said, “If have to sit through another movie preview of women drinking wine and dancing to old music in their living room, I might vomit,” and I agree.
But there is just a stigma about “lady films” that movies about guys just never get. The Expendables might be bad, but women will still go with men to see it because there is no ingrained belief that The Expendables compromises your femininity.
But I do think a lot of guys believe that going to see a movie like Eat, Pray, Love does, in some way, threaten their masculinity. And that was what I thought Norton was talking about on Red Eye. Particularly the part where he said he got ready for the film by repeatedly punching himself in the balls.
Now clearly Norton didn’t actually see the movie. But my point was that, whether or not he had seen the movie, there was still the assumption that it was still a women’s film about women’s issues that a man couldn’t necessarily relate to. Norton said he was being absurd, and as a stand-up comedian, Norton was trying to get some laughs. And let me be clear: he succeeded. I thought the bit on Red Eye was funny, and I should have said that in the original post. As a sidenote, I found out after the fact that Norton is a friend of my favorite comedian, Louis CK. And I’m also somewhat embarrassed to realize that Norton took part in one of the best scenes from CK’s new show, “Louie,” which you can see here (NSFW). If you’re not watching “Louie,” you’re probably a bad person. Just saying.
But my attack on Norton made it sound like I was calling him a sexist, which was not at all intended. Instead, my argument was that his comments were a reflection of a societal attitude about women’s films, and I was using his quick comedy bit on a TV show as a jumping off point to air my own concerns.
Ultimately, my issue — both as a woman, but more importantly as an avid filmgoer — is this: if you get two Oscar-baitey scripts or cool Indie films, one starring a man and one starring a woman, both of which are likely to do so-so at the box office anyway, I think most film companies look at the receipts for things like The Expendables and Eat, Pray, Love and think, “Even if this (Indie/Oscar bait) movie won’t make a ton of money, movies starring men typically make more than movies starring women.” And so you get a dozen films like Inception or A Serious Man before you’ll get one Amelie or Kill Bill.
But even if a movie does star a woman, the film’s advertising won’t necessarily make that clear. Take Inglourious Basterds, for instance. All of the American ad campaigns — trailers, posters, TV and radio spots — focused on Brad Pitt and the “basterds.” This film had a total run time of about two and a half hours, and Brad Pitt n’ the Boys were in it for what — forty-five minutes? An hour?
The stars of that film were Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna Dreyfus and Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa. A lot of people who went to see it complained that they had not gotten the blood-splattered WWII action film that the trailers had promised, but rather a dialogue-heavy drama about a young woman trying to outsmart a devilish Nazi who had murdered her whole family. Inglourious Basterds was Tarantino’s most financially successful movie to date, and for my money one of his best. Would it have done as well if the ad campaigns had been honest and shown that it starred a woman? I don’t know — but the American advertisers weren’t willing to take that risk.
But like I said on the show and on this blog, at the end of the day, I really just want to see a well-made film with compelling characters and a good storyline. The gender of the lead character is a marginal issue. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like to see more films with lead females that are as plentiful and as good as the ones starring men. I love Stand By Me, Reservoir Dogs and Fight Club, but I also love Steel Magnolias, Run Lola Run and Jackie Brown. I just wish that I didn’t have to work as hard to come up with my list of favorite female-centric films as I did my list of male-centric ones.
I want to see films starring women where the plot does not revolve around the fact that they’re women. You know why Now and Then sucked? Because Stand By Me, the movie it so blatantly ripped off, was about four kids. Now and Then was all about four little girls — bras and lipstick and fashion and sugar and spice. I don’t know about you, but at eleven or twelve, I wasn’t a little fashionista.
There’s a perfect line in Stand By Me where the boys are all lying around the fire, talking about Wagon Train and cherry-flavored Pez and Richard Dreyfuss’s voice-over says, “We talked into the night. The kind of talk that seemed important until you discover girls.”
That is why I love Stand By Me. It’s that beautiful moment right before you become a teenager, right before you enter high school, where you’re just a kid hanging out with your friends. Before all of the dividing lines of gender or status force everyone into labeled compartments. And that is what Now and Then got so wrong.
Because far too often, a movie starring a man can be a movie about people, while a movie starring a woman is almost always a movie about women. And that’s what needs to change.