Note From Jamie
“Hi, my name is Jamie Schwaba and I just read your recent Theatre News issue. First off, thanks for the fun articles and second of all, I think I have a newsworthy story. I am currently working for Milwaukee Youth Theatre as an office manager/theatre instructor. MYT is a small but wonderful organization that could use some press. First Stage is obviously the most well known children's theatre company, and they are a wonderful organization (I know – I taught for them for two summers and have seen many of their productions). But MYT offers something different – our classes are smaller (offering more attention), more affordable and we focus on the whole production – kids get the chance to help write, work on props, scenery and costumes. We also do three productions a year that give performance opportunities and directing opportunities to young directors (often, 20 somethings).” Back to topics
Milwaukee Youth Theatre
Milwaukee Youth Theatre has been around for 13 years. MYT is a resident at Lincoln Center for the Arts. MYT’s mailing address is: P0 Box 510075, Milwaukee WI 53203. Our street address is: 820 E. Knapp St., Milwaukee, WI 53202 (414-390-3900).
Milwaukee Youth Theatre's Mission is to provide positive learning experiences in theatre arts. Students ages 5-18 are involved in all aspects of production by taking roles of actors, writers, stage managers, technicians and marketers. Each year, MYT does three productions, and holds three sessions of drama classes. Our classes focus on the actor's tools and help students to strengthen various theatrical skills. The students will participate in theater games focusing on building acting skills and teaching improvisation. By writing an original script, students will use story elements to develop a plot and create unique characters. All classes conclude with an original production performed by the students. MYT holds auditions open to any student between the ages of 6 and 18 about eight weeks prior to each performance. Audition information is listed in the Monday Cue Section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and on the MYT webpage: www.MilwaukeeYouthTheatre.org. Auditions for "Beanie and the Bamboozling Book Machine" will be held Tues. and Thurs. Jan. 11 and 13 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at Lincoln Center of the Arts, 820 E. Knapp Street.
MYT serves around 200 students per year with classes and through their participation in shows. We also reach more than 2,000 students each year through performance. Milwaukee Youth Theatre offers scholarships to students to attend classes who could not normally afford to attend. MYT is a non-profit group. If you are interested in donating money to the Scholarship fund or other MYT programs to help promote Youth Development through the Theatre Arts, please call: 414-390-3900 or send a donation to Milwaukee Youth Theatre, P.O. Box 510075, Milwaukee, WI 53203. Back to topics
Young Actors Find What Theater Has to Offer by Jamie Schwaba
Arielle Yanasak, age 13, and Camille Cole, age 10, may be young, but the theatre bug has already bitten them. Both girls were a part of Milwaukee Youth Theatre’s Fall Production: “Children’s Collection, The Sequel.”
Camille, who is a 5th grader at Holy Redeemer Christian Academy, has been dancing since the age of 4. While continuing to study dance at City Ballet Theatre, she decided to audition for her first play and was cast as Ellie in “A World Of Ellies” and Goldilocks in “Hair-um Scar-um,” both short plays within “Children’s Collection, The Sequel.” When reflecting on her first theatre experience, she said: “Theatre is fun because you can be loud, and you don’t feel alone because everyone is working together.”
Unlike Camille, Arielle has been involved in theatre for quite a few years. She has performed in “Les Mis” at Pius XI High School, “Snoopy” with Circle Stage Theatre, various school productions, “Birth of a Nation” and “Children’s Collection, The Sequel” with Milwaukee Youth Theatre. During Milwaukee Youth Theatre’s summer camp, she has also had the chance to go through the process of creating a play from scratch from beginning to end including writing a script, finding costumes, picking music and performing in the final presentation all within one week. When asked what her favorite part about being involved in theatre was, Arielle answered: “ I love being on stage and making new friends.” She also mentioned that it has helped her in school. “Theatre has helped me give better presentations and stay focused.” Arielle was also surprised when she and her classmates started learning about the American Revolution and she was already one step ahead because of her involvement in “Birth of a Nation” last year.
Outside of theatre, Arielle is enjoying being a first year member of Milwaukee Children’s Choir, she plays volleyball, likes to hang out with friends and collects miniature lighthouses. Dancing, singing, and shopping are a few activities that Camille enjoys.
So, even though theatre is not the end of Arielle and Camille’s interests, they both love this creative outlet that they have found and hope to continue learning and making new friends through theatre arts. They are both planning on attending Milwaukee Youth Theatre’s upcoming auditions for “Beanie and the Bamboozling Book Machine.” Back to topics
Marketing Film by Peter Fraser
Marketing films requires a lot of savvy. For one thing, the timing of a film--entertainers can have a short shelf life; what seems a sure hit because, say, Brittany Spears is available, can bomb because Brittany Spears is imploding. Likewise elements of the culture can change rapidly – events like 911 or Columbine turn the industry upside down. Also, films that do succeed often touch some nerve that may not be immediately visible. Bankers who back films are very conservative and often pig-headed folks, as you well know, so they are not always willing to go with risk.
Independent films are hard to pull off – so many variables, so much that can go wrong, so few guarantees. Milwaukee, Minnesota was a decent little film, but with little appeal for non-Milwaukeeans, I think. The crowd at the Oriental came because of the festival event and because they hoped to see a familiar place or person in the film. That wouldn't happen in other markets. Beyond those connections, I thought the film lacked the energy that would have it catch on. All that work and then splat. it's a very tough business. Back to topics
On The Benefit of Student Venues by Zachary Pieper, Film Student
The process from a film’s conception to it’s premiere is rifled with conflicts. Just like any creative process, one might say. The most obvious obstacle for aspiring filmmakers is often said to be that foreboding question of finance. This means much more than ensuring appropriate equipment and technical support. It also means being prepared for every unexpected or unfortunate possibility preventing the realization of one’s film; including uncooperative weather, actor/actress unavailability, or other time restraints. Conception often must meet fact. These obstacles, though, can also be a remarkable platform for further creative inspiration. After all, Eisenstein didn’t predict the glorious fog his beaconed ships rose from. Losing a set of car keys or a smudge on your windshield is not always in itself a problem that produces a moving and unique insight. But these minor tribulations can produce sparks. Try finding out your lead actor who’s supposed to play a charming drunk has wound up in de-tox the morning before a scheduled shooting. Such unexpected conflicts are the nature of the reality we share.
In any great narrative film, we are guided by a conflict whose resolution suggests a particular insight. What prevents a character often defines who he is, and the audience is unified by the anticipation of each conflicts’ unique resolution. In the production of most student films, scripts will often be drastically compromised to meet financial strains. The real conflict often lies within the reconciliation of the practical with the creative. The less that separates a student film from its audience, the more the filmmaker can learn from it. The theoretical context of audience in many film studies courses really must expand beyond the critique of other film students. As a medium, film is always a presented reality in some sense. The support of local film committees and theatres is any future filmmaker’s real safety net. Finances seem to be a more distant annoyance when one considers the reality of an audience that will react intimately. Who else can appreciate film but the community that works, not only to preserve it, but also encourage it as a public and shared art form? Smaller scale productions are a necessary communion, and invaluable to the artist who need a more sharply defined sense of cause and effect in the dramatic arts. A common conflict in all endeavors, creative or otherwise, is achieving an awareness of where one’s hat rests, so to speak. A film is realized when the broad spectrum of its obstacles are accounted for. One supports what one may benefit from on a number of different levels. Small things are not only considered, but can also make up the determining force for many struggling filmmakers.
For example; I’ll most likely be taking your order today. Back to topics
Reviewing the Movies by Peter Fraser
Film is one of the most powerful influences in society. If we see movies as either “harmless entertainment” or “completely corrupt,” we miss an opportunity. One view excludes a greater understanding of our culture. The other lets ungodly values become part of our society. “A film not made solely by or about Christians can still be uplifting and connect with us spiritually – as long as it conveys truth and cinematic excellence.” We need tools to determine how a movie meets that qualification. Using a wide range of examples from cinematic history, Pete points out how a film is created, “what the story line means for its effectiveness” and how films impact society.
We embrace the idols of the crowd – led by cultural convention. We see the same movies, read the stories of the stars in the popular rags, await the promotions, applaud the same awards and see the trailers on TV. Pete taught a student who had seen Titanic (rated as a C+ movie) seven times.
What attracted the student to the movie? The visuals were great – some scenes beautiful. After that, Pete ran out of good explanations on her attraction to the movie and started thinking of possible bad ones (“Seven viewings, after all.”) “She wants that self-confidence and brashness that throws the most precious jewel in the world into the sea. She finds Leonardo DiCaprio attractive. She wants an artist to sketch her in the nude.” Actually, the only person who would see a film like Titanic seven times is a person who wants to be part of that world. The messages in “the films out there” both explicit and implicit leave us with a collective lack of the ability to evaluate and understand the art of film. “It’s acceptable to see Titanic seven times because it’s about nice people having illicit sex. The problem in America can be blamed in part on how we have been trained to think about religious issues.” George Marsden documented the history of the schism between Christianity and the subjects we study in school. He opened his argument with the observation in “The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship” that Contemporary University is hollow at its core.
“One of the best films of the last two decades is a Canadian production directed by Bruce Beresford, entitled Black Robe (1991). It contains scenes of graphic violence and three scenes displaying sexual activity; yet it is one of the most provocative films ever made about the challenges of Christian missionary work. The story is based on a novel drawn from the diary of Noel Chabanel, a martyred 17th century French Jesuit priest who gave his life to bring Christianity to Indians in Canada.
“I showed this film in a course in a Christian college once and received an angry letter from a female student who said that I had corrupted the innocence of her mind by having her see a film with sexuality that was not ‘Biblical.’ The irony was that the she admitted to having willingly seen two gems of ‘innocence’ and purity, Pretty Woman and Flashdance.”
“The temptation is to think that the student didn’t like the sexuality in Black Robe because it involved American Indians in a smoky teepee, rather than Julia Roberts in a glittering American hotel room. But on reflection, a better conclusion is that in the mind of many like this girl, Pretty Woman and Flashdance are just ‘entertaining and fun,’ while Black Robe is thoughtful and serious. The rules that apply to the one don’t fit the other. This is compartmentalization of the worst kind.”
Excerpted from Reviewing the Movies, by Peter Fraser, Chair of the Dept of English, Wisconsin Lutheran College. Dr. Fraser received his Ph.D. In Literature with a specialization in Film and Popular Culture from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is a Staff Minister at St. Marcus Lutheran Church. Back to topics
Films and Children by Peter Fraser
Excerpts from Reviewing the Movies, Chapter 5
“The first rule in children and film is simple: Visual sophistication is the standard by which most young children evaluate what they watch. If a film is fresh and technically sophisticated, kids are more likely to find it entertaining. Practically speaking, this means that it may be hard to get your little ones to warm up immediately to Darby O”Gill and the Little People (1959) and Shane (1953). Great as these films are, they are old; and to the modern child, old is not a good thing. Most parents know this from humbling personal experience.“
“A child does not discriminate as an adult does between the play and the reality behind the play. The play is the reality. A child will, for example, have difficulty watching two versions of a particular film or two actors playing a certain role. At Christmas time, most adults still carry the childhood tendency to watch either the Reginald Owens Christmas Carol or the Alistair Sim Christmas Carol, not both. There can be only one Heidi – Shirley Temple.
From this we can conclude what many psychologists have concluded: Children are far less able to witness screen violence at a distance than are adults. The carryover into the real world is much more pronounced. Think of a child’s tendency to play out Batman punches and Bruce Lee kicks after viewing a movie with that kind of violence.
A child assumes a basic integrity and truthfulness in the message of a film. Why should a film lie when it looks so real and entertains so well? Beyond this, why should one film be truthful or worthwhile while another, that looks just the same, not be? The child sees the earlier Disney films in which the heroes pit good versus evil in a head-on fashion. “These deductions become assumptions when that child sees future Disney films.”
Think about the shift in role models in the newer Disney films (The Mermaid) compared to the older films such as Snow White. What change do we see? Children assume that which they see in the movies is true. In Pocahontas, John Smith is portrayed as a handsome, heroic hero. Actually he was a short, red-faced mercenary with a talent for enlarging stories.
“We have to remember how Paul used the words of Greek poets in Acts 17 as a method of creating a point of contact for the presentation of the Gospel to those gathered at Mars Hill. Paul was translating into the language of that particular culture.” Now we may not be “saving” our children in the evangelistic sense that Paul intended. But we will be giving the children the tools that they need. Back to topics
Values Missed by James Searles
Laws of Attraction (1995), a comedy, at least on the surface, is worth viewing. The movie almost blew apart 15 times before it ever premiered. Like The Passion, no one wanted to put money into it, saying people wouldn’t go to see a movie without special effects.
The movie is somewhat in the Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy (for example, Adam’s Rib, 1949). The two main characters are divorce lawyers. They appear to be denying a mutual attraction. While in Ireland on a divorce case, they go out drinking. The morning after is “interesting,” to say the least, because they’re now married! They return to America and attempt to play out their marital roles, if only for the benefit of their professional colleagues. Trouble is, somewhere along the way, they’ve fallen in love.
The now-married couple returns to Ireland and discovers that the marriage ceremony was a sham. Pierce Brosnan’s character agrees to a divorce from Julianne Moore’s character, because, he says, that’s what you do for someone you love. Once she comes to her senses, she follows him, admitting her own feelings. Laws of Attraction asks the question: What holds a relationship together? The filmmaker uses his craft to keep the viewer off guard throughout the film – then slams home the message in the last scene. For a relationship to hold, you have to fight for it. So, this presumably “light” comedy has really brought up a whole slew of far weightier issues. Back to topics
The Passion of the Christ by James Searles
One of the main rules in Hollywood is not to finance your own films. And, only six out of ten movies ever make a profit. Filmmaking is, in many ways, a brutal business.
When Mel Gibson first looked for financing for The Passion of the Christ, no one would underwrite his movie. Gibson’s purpose for making the film was, ostensibly, to give viewers a new take on the life of Christ. Gibson identifies himself as a religious man and this film was, apparently, his attempt to share his beliefs with the movie-going public. But, movies are meant, after all, to turn a profit. Finding no outside support, Gibson financed The Passion out of his own pocket. A moderately expensive movie to make, with no guarantees of commercial success, The Passion was initially seen as a huge risk for Gibson. After completion of the film, he struggled to find a studio to distribute it.
In the end, Gibson’s risk certainly paid off. Financial analysts of the film industry estimate that he has so far netted about $81 million, after expenses.
The style of this widely controversial film should not come as a surprise to anyone, considering other films such as Braveheart (1995) that Gibson also directed. The same fierce bloody style in The Passion is, in part, what has kept many otherwise interested viewers from seeing the film.
A lot that is in The Passion is not in the Bible. To really understand the film, a background in world history is needed. For instance, if Jesus had been Roman, the Roman soldiers would not have touched him at his trial. All that Jesus would have had to do was say: “I appeal” and he would have been sent to Rome – just like Paul had been.
Paul, because he was Roman, could not be put to death by crucifixion – it was considered a fate far too cruel for one with Roman blood in his veins. If you weren’t a Roman citizen, the sentence by the Prefect (Pontius Pilate) was carried out after the trial – there was no chance for appeal. The tormenting of the prisoners by the guards was part of the Roman tradition. Crucifixion was meant to be a slow painful death as a deterrent to others who might defy Rome.
In addition to the bloody nature of much of the film, some of Gibson’s filmmaking techniques also elicited feedback from moviegoers. In one scene, at the end of the movie, Mary looks directly into the camera. This technique generally is not used because it creates a direct connection between a character and the audience that skews the usual relationship, making the shot more of an “interview” format or even an aside. This haunting stare by Mary, who is at the time in the forefront of the scene, seems to be her condemnation of the viewers, blaming them for the death of her son.
The Passion, for a variety of reasons, is a movie that continues to raise more questions than it answers. One of many split reactions to the film is by religious liberals and conservatives. Another, that Gibson’s film roused slumbering anti-Semitic views when he showed the Jewish religious leaders conspiring to have Christ killed. “Some Protestants have reacted badly to the film’s dependence on such Catholic traditions as if the film is somehow a polemic for Catholicism, which certainly it is not. What Gibson seemed to do in the Passion is find in the patterning of the Stations of the Cross a structure for the screenplay, and a point of view for the camera.”
These and many other aspects of the film are far too complex to fully consider here. The reader would be well-served by reading “Sounding Out The Passion of the Christ” by Dr. Peter Fraser, originally published in the Summer 2004 issue of CHARIS. Back to topics
Seduction of the Wallet by James Searles
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell’s PC game hero needs hi-tech gadgetry to find secret documents hidden in an embassy. In a moment of crisis he turns to his Sony smart phone. Actually the real tension was between the video game publisher and Sony negotiating a deal to get the phone-camera used in the video game.
Paul Hyman, Hollywood News wrote “What Sony Ericsson got for its money, says Wood, is exposure for its newest phones that is the equivalent of 300 30-second TV ad slots for 150 minutes of branding, all in front of an anticipated 13.2 million joystick-wielding gamers worldwide.”
As video games became more realistic, the game makers began to put brand name products in the games. The video game industry is now a $10 billion a year industry. If you want a character in the video game to wear Nike sneakers, cough up $250,000. The trick in the advertising is to make the product placement enhance a game without being intrusive.
The film industry has noted the profit potential. PC games based on movies are now state of the art. Back to topics
Film as Culture Mill by Peter Fraser
For years, people in and out of Hollywood have argued whether films create cultural trends or simply mirror them. All such arguments tend to be rather simple-headed. Like the nature or nurture arguments of behavioral scientists, or the mind versus heart arguments of theologians, simple answers can only be drawn on paper. The realities are far too complex.
Do films with heavy gun violence make kids who watch them more violent? Well, some, I suppose. But then again, they only do so because kids crave the violence, and the kids crave the violence most often because of some larger problems in our society. Do films that depict heroes who smoke make more people want to smoke? Well, it depends. They don't make me want to smoke, but marketers assure us that positive images of smokers in film and television do lead some to go buy cigarettes.
Underneath, it’s all about identification. What makes a person watch a film like The Matrix and go buy a trench coat, or watch old Bogie films and try out cigarettes, or watch the latest Bond film and want a haircut like Halle Berry’s is the need for a defined position in the culture, an identifiable style that provides a context larger than the individual.
It used to be that individuals had more vertical relationships that defined them. My Scottish grandfather had not only his Scottish heritage behind him when he settled in Canada, but his clan identity and his family identity, as well as his trade and religious affiliation.
My family has a long Catholic tradition – missionaries and priests and nuns and monks. I grew up with stories of Uncle William the carpenter turned Trappist monk who prostrated himself on the Brooklyn Bridge when rebuked by Aunt Catherine, the Dominican nun, when she took him sightseeing in New York City. Those relatives who didn't go the way of Uncle William and Aunt Catherine took up goodly trades – like carpentry or masonry or school – teaching. They worked hard through hard times and established themselves in a foreign land and raised families, which bred other families.
At one time in America, most individuals had these vertical relationships that gave them some position in the culture. Sociologists will say that things changed drastically after World War I. A combination of robust industrialization and capitalism coupled with the growing acceptance of divorce and then the sexual revolution began to break down these vertical ties. Young people, in particular from the 1950s Beat era onward, went on a crusade to discover who I am as an individual, since a homogenized mass culture and fractured family unit no longer provided those answers.
The film industry, one of the dominant cultural forces in the mass culture, began to capitalize on this larger cultural phenomenon in the second half of the twentieth century as it never had in the first. So much so, that now in the beginning of the twenty-first century, young people look principally to film to determine how they can fit into the culture.
In other words, a great many kids learn from the movies what they used to learn from their country and ancestry and religion – namely, their world-view and personal ethic.
Evidence from this is the enormous pressure kids feel to see the trendy movies as soon as possible. One of the newest markets, for instance, is in pirated DVDs. To see The Hulk on a pirated DVD before your friends do at the theater is a mark of prestige in the culture, even though the viewing experience is far inferior.
The gigantic image of a movie star on the screen stylized a certain way, be it Betty Grable or Bogart or even John Travolta or Carrie-Anne Moss, has always influenced film viewers simply by virtue of the strong iconic power of the film medium. But, in this particular moment in our cultural history, when so many young people have no idea who they are and how they should live, film has an even more magical power over mind and heart.
And so, we should all take extra care.
Peter Fraser is Professor of English and Chair of the Dept. of Modem Languages at Wisconsin Lutheran College. He has written two books and numerous articles on film and popular culture. Back to topics
View From The Balcony by Peggy Schultz
Hot and Bothered By Women's Annoying Habits
If you wanted to acknowledge a single male actor for his incredible tenacity in dealing with annoying female co-stars, I think such an award would have to go to Harrison Ford – hands down. The litany of roles he's played in which his female leads seemed hell-bent on giving him grey hair and frown lines began in the early stages of his filmography and have continued throughout his career.
Beginning with his first major appearance on the Hollywood radar in American Graffiti, where he found himself carting around the barely-teenaged sister of one of his buddies in his souped-up drag-racing car, Ford has played the loveable curmudgeon to a number of female characters with annoying, vexing and not-always-lovable personality quirks and behavior tics.
The first Star Wars trilogy, Episodes IV, V and VI, in which Ford's character Han Solo eventually gives in to the guilt-inducing tirades of Princess Leia, continued in that same vein of him grudgingly enduring not just annoying but also nearly life-threatening acts or the part of his female co-stars. Even though Leia acted like a spoiled princess, she was a legitimate princess, but that didn't make her annoying habits and behavior any easier for Han Solo to stomach.
Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, partnered Ford with increasingly annoying and troublesome females including Karen Allen and Kate Capshaw.
The more recent Six Days Seven Nights, in which Ford is stranded on a desert island with Ann Heche, was no relief whatsoever for Ford's character. Perhaps it was the ultimate testament to his ability to endure annoying female costars, as he literally had nowhere to go to escape her peculiarities.
If Harrison Ford does, in fact, deserve a gold-plated bottle of aspirin for his sufferance of so many obnoxious women, ill's a toss-up who should stand beside him in the winner's circle as “Most Annoying Female Movie Star”:
Meg Ryan or Kathleen Turner, Each woman has played more than her share of characters with a multitude of annoying, vexing, insufferable characteristics.
Meg Ryan is considered by many film fans to be the quintessential "dumb blonde" in movies. Whether it's Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail or French Kiss, she played characters at times helpless, klutzy, nosey, compulsive and demanding.
Picture the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally. No, not THAT one, in which Ryan as Sally demonstrates to Billy Crystal's Harry how easy it is for a woman to fake an orgasm. Just before the "oh-my-Gods," heavy breathing and table beating. Sally orders a sandwich. Not just any sandwich, but one with this, without that, not too this and not overly that. By the time the waitress has it all down on her order pad, you're sure that Sally Is trying out to be poster girl for Obsessive/Compulsives Anonymous! Although, maybe the minute detail with which she places her order pays off. After the fake orgasm, one of the other diner patrons who witnesses it says to Sally's waitress: "I'll have what she's having."
French Kiss takes Ryan to France, where she shares her character Kate's Ugly Americanisms with Kevin Kline as Luc. Kate doesn't even wait until she gets to Paris, however. Deathly afraid of flying, she nonetheless gets on the plane to try and win back her no longer husband-to-be, played by Timothy Hutton. Luc puts up with her odd behavior on the plane only because he uses her carry-on baggage to smuggle something into France. In the time it takes him to recover his item from her, he has inexplicably fallen for her annoying, even rude, obnoxious, displaced American self.
Picture Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone and its sequel, Jewel of the Nile, and in War of the Roses, and it’s easy to imagine she could be a contender with Ryan for the Most Annoying Woman in Film award.
In Romancing The Stone, Michael Douglas bears the burden of Turner's character Joan, a romance writer who lives vicariously through her characters. When Joan's sister is kidnapped in Columbia, she has to screw up her courage to rescue her, with Douglas's soldier of fortune, Jack Colton, at her side. Her big-city ways and near total cluelessness about life outside her New York apartment get the two of them in more than one serious scrape, more mad at each other even than at the kidnappers.
Turner and Douglas return in War of the Roses, in which both characters take "annoying" to previously unheard of depths as a divorcing couple literally battling each other over possession of their dream home.
The examples could go on and on. But, just bring to mind virtually any famous film pairing, from cinema's Golden Age in the late 1930s, to the early part of the 21st century, and at least part of the appeal of the characters is the (usually!) good-natured bantering the couple engages in.
Whether it's dark Gable/Carole Lombard, Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn or Harrison Ford/Carrie Fisher and Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan, it seems a healthy portion of sass and annoyance has to be served up along with the more dramatic and romantic aspects of film partnerships in order for them to be successful. Back to topics
View From The Balcony by Peggy Schulz
It's The Season to Get "Bugged" by Men's Annoying Habits
Film, by its very nature, dramatizes us as human beings. Each little foible and peculiarity is exaggerated, simply by the presentation of them on a screen the size of the broad side of a barn. Often, in order to really drive home the point, these sometimes annoying habits are over-dramatized. We might see them in a film and say to ourselves: No one could possibly be that obnoxious. But, there is one big advantage in seeing these behavioral tics displayed larger than life in movies. We can tell ourselves: Hey, I might be a little strange, but I'm not half as bad as that guy!
If you're looking for reassurance, by comparison, that your own behavioral and personality nuances (what some might refer to as annoying little habits) are just that little here's a sampling of annoying habits of men as portrayed on film.
As Good As It Gets is perhaps as good an assemblage of annoying habits in one film as has ever come out of Hollywood. Jack Nicholson does a thoroughly believable and, therefore, incredibly annoying job of portraying someone with so many nerve-wracking behaviors that no one can stand to be around him. Until, that is, he decides to help out Helen Hunt's character, whose son is seriously ill. The viewer probably should cut Jack Nicholson's character a little a slack, because he obviously suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But he takes the compulsive hand washing, insistence on routine at the diner where Helen Hunt's character works, and overall domination of his environment to an extreme that totally alienates him from virtually every human with whom he has contact.
On a far less serious but no less annoying scale is Hugh Grant's character in Four Weddings and a Funeral. He is almost compulsively late for every one of the four weddings in the title, except his own, amazingly enough. But it is his annoying habit of dating and then discarding women nearly as often as he gets his hair cut that comes back to haunt him. At the second wedding in the movie, Grant's character is seated at a table with many of his former flames, none of who are aware of the others' significance in his life. In his defense, he ultimately does attempt marriage, with a woman known as Duck Face to a female friend of Grant's character. The wedding ceremony is halted when Grant's brother responds to the minister's request: "Does anyone know of any reason why these two shouldn't be joined in holy matrimony?" After Grant's character reveals that he is, in fact, in love with another woman, Duck Face gives him a black eye.
In You've Got Mail, Tom Hanks manages to annoy Meg Ryan both as the man she knows him to be, and as her anonymous e-mail friend. As the scion of a bookstore chain that puts Ryan's independent children's bookstore out of business, Hanks annoys her repeatedly. At the party where she first learns his identity, he vigorously scoops a ring of caviar from around the edge of a serving platter. She scolds him, telling him it's meant to be a garnish. And he, of course, responds by clearing as much caviar from the plate as he can. On another occasion, he rants about the superiority of his chain store, and she, characteristically, is speechless. Before the two learn that they know each other in real life, Ryan asks Hanks' advice about how to deal with such annoying, obnoxious behavior.
Eventually, Ryan is able to apply what she learns from Hanks via e-mail to his real-world character and she roundly puts him in his place. At a point when Hanks knows that Ryan is his e-mail correspondent, but she is still unaware, he stands her up, leaving her sitting and stewing with the real-world Hanks, waiting in vain for her e-mail date.
Men have been playing annoying and pesky characters in movies from their inception. Would Gone With the Wind have had the same electricity if Rhett Butler hadn't toyed with Scarlett's feelings throughout most of the film, knowing she desired him deep down, and taunting her about her alleged affection for Ashley Wilkes?
Recall the classic Hepburn/Tracy films, in which Spencer Tracy was invariably doing the kind of little things that challenge even the healthiest, most solid relationship. In Adam's Rib, Tracy is an assistant district attorney and Hepburn an attorney in private practice. The couple ends up representing opposing sides in the case of a married woman who finds her husband fooling around and shoots him. Tracy, over the course of the film, continues to insist on the superiority of the male of the species.
The debate culminates in an unforgettable scene where Tracy, to make his point, confronts Hepburn when she's with a male friend and pulls out a very convincing fake gun, made out of black licorice. Hepburn and the other man don't know its candy until he puts it in his mouth and chomps down on it!
Any Doris Day/Rock Hudson pairing would present a litany of men's annoying habits. But Day was so darn cute when she got frustrated, wrinkling up her little button nose, who could blame Hudson for continuing to vex her, time and time again? Apparently, that formula was popular enough that the just-released Down With Love, with Ewan McGregor and Renee Zeilweger, revisits the "battle of the sexes" where North and South eventually, blissfully put aside their differences. Back to topics
View From The Balcony by Peggy Schulz
Men Have Used Women to Their Advantage Long Before the Invention of Film,
and Plenty of Times Since Then.
If there had been a filmmaker in the Garden of Eden, we might have had the first documentation of a male taking advantage of a female. If you get right down to it, and you can suspend disbelief for a moment, think about how woman was supposedly created specifically to meet man's needs.
Films made 2000 years later frequently followed in a similar vein, from the classic sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, 1956, all the way up to What Women Want in 2000, with plenty of examples in between.
In Forbidden Planet, Walter Pidgeon uses his daughter, to some extent, because she is his only human companion. When Leslie Nielsen and his crew are nearing the planet with orders to rescue the scientists who've been there for years, they establish communication with Pidgeon.
But, rather than welcoming them as the first humans his daughter would meet, he tries to scare them away. Undaunted, they land. And it's not long before one of the crew, Jack Kelly as Lt. Farman, manages to get the young, naive Anne Francis alone, demonstrating to her the alleged physical benefits of kissing and hugging.
Later, when she expresses her desire to leave the planet with her new beau, Leslie Nielsen (Kelly, her original kiss instructor, having been killed by the "Id Monster"), her father tries to stop her.
As if all that wasn't enough use and abuse, the movie's promotional poster trumpets the image of a longhaired voluptuous blonde (who bears no resemblance to Anne Francis other than in hair color and gender) being held by Robby the Robot. However, nowhere in the actual film does such a scene occur.
The closest image that does appear is one of Anne Francis giving Robby as much of a hug as she can, given his size, after he agrees to whip up a new dress for her, to her exact specifications, overnight.
Skipping ahead a few years, we find Doris Day and Rock Hudson, in one of several films they made together. Lover Come Back, 1961. As is fairly common in these match-ups, Day is a rather ditzy, albeit lovable blonde who falls prey to Hudson's manipulations, schemes and deceit. This time around, they are competing advertising agency pros. She's out for blood, or at least, to get him blackballed in their profession, for using alcohol and women to win contracts for his ad agency.
He makes up a product and enlists the help of a scientist to create the mystery product, "VIP." But when Day goes to the scientist's lab. Hudson is there and ends up impersonating the good doctor and of course in the process, ultimately winning Day's affections.
The ladies in our next film are neither ditzy nor quite as easily taken advantage of as Doris Day in almost any of her films. But Dabney Coleman as Frank Hart in 9 To 5, 1980, sure gives it the old college try. Variously described as sexist, egotistical, deceitful, hypocritical and bigoted, Hart has taken every possible advantage of a rather unlikely office grouping of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. When the three band together, though, Hart's days are numbered.
The Godfather, 1972, probably isn't the first film that leaps to mind when thinking of representations on film of men taking advantage of women. Maybe that's because virtually all of the female characters in the film, with the possible exception of Kay Adams, played by Diane Keaton, are largely subordinate to the men in their lives. And this film, unlike the good-natured romp of Lover Come Back or the sometimes-unrealistic 9 To 5, is far more serious and bloody.
Sonny's lover (Lucy Mancini as played by Jeannie Linero) is taken advantage of by him, largely due to her unnaturally large vagina, which better accommodates his supposedly unnaturally large penis.
Mama Corleone is there only to cook and raise the children and grandchildren of her husband, Don Vito (Marion Brando). After Diane Keaton marries Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), and she begins to see the true nature of the family "business," Mama tells her how she deals with it: by going to church and praying hard!
In the beginning of their relationship, Michael takes advantage of Kay, in an apparent attempt to distance himself from the family and establish a legitimate career. He tells her just enough about the family though, to pique her curiosity. She is a prototypical WASP, representing for him, evidently all that his family is not.
Connie, the only Corleone daughter, played by Talia Shire, becomes figuratively and literally a punching bag for Carlo Rissi, as he hopes to gain a foothold in the family business by marrying into it. His comeuppance in the well-orchestrated slaughter after Sonny's death is especially gratifying (ok, so I'm a tad bloodthirsty').
Finally, back to a little bit less intense and certainly more pacific film, What Women Want, 2000.
Reminiscent to some extent of both 9 To 5 and Lover Come Back, this film puts Mel Gibson in the odd position, after a fluke accident, of being able to hear what women are thinking. This ability extends, apparently, even to female dogs.
Unfortunately for the cause of the feminism, it is Bette Midler as a whacky psychiatrist who suggests he use this power to his advantage; after he seeks her help to rid him of this unwanted insight into the female psyche. He takes her advice and works to unseat Helen Hunt. Hunt has managed, in Gibson's absence after the accident, to win the promotion he coveted.
Just like Doris and Rock, but unlike the better part of reality, Mel and Helen wind up the closest of teammates rather than the bitterest competitors. Maybe we can blame it on that first, too-tempting apple. Back to topics