View From the Balcony

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.

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.

Young filmmaker enjoys first directing opportunity to produce tape of local dance company

If necessity is the mother of invention, then hunger must be the father of creativity. It was during one of his frequent breakfast trips to the Brady Street Pharmacy that Jason Helgren got put in touch with the Milwaukee Dance Connection. The dance group wanted to obtain a finished videotape of their spring performance on April 26, and Jason was asked to produce it. Jim Searles was the go-between, doing one of the things he does best: uniting people with similar interests and inspiring them to tackle the tough stuff.

The Milwaukee Dance Connection, a sort of hybrid modern dance/African dance troupe, is in its infancy. The company happily uses the upstairs space at the Astor Street Performing Arts Center for occasional rehearsals.

While this filming project was Jason’s first three-camera shoot, he’s been involved in video, music and other creative arts production for several years. At 30 years of age, he’s already a seasoned artist.

Freelance TV commercial production is one of his three primary creative outlets at this point. “It’s how I make a living,” he says. “That’s the one I can count on.”

And, Just this past winter, Jason started producing a line of clothing – t-shirts and tank tops for men and women. He bought his own silk-screen press and set up a little lab in his basement. The business is only a month old and already he’s showing in three different stores, and expanding into the Chicago market.

Jason’s third job is freelance website production.

He got a degree from UWM in Film Production, but he knew almost immediately that he was going to have to diversify to survive.

“I guess when you’re going to school, at least for me,” he says, “I’m like, yeah, going to school for film. Having a lot of fun creating this art. Hopefully, I could get paid someday to do work on my own.”

After he found out “real fast” he had to do something to survive, he got a lucky break in finding the TV commercial production business.

“Film school let me have my freedom to do whatever I wanted,” he says. “I got experience using a camera and editing. But working on a TV commercial, I see lighting techniques, camera techniques I meet a lot of different people.” He points out that most of his colleagues in the commercial production field are also artists who use the TV work as a source of income, in order to fund projects of their own, as well.

“For a tot of the people involved, some offshoot of film is in their life in some way,” he says.

As if his time weren’t spread widely enough already, Jason would love to do work on music videos. He spent part of his time at UWM in the electronic music department there.

“What I think is best for me, and what I’m best at as a filmmaker, is image and sound together, and how each one plays off of the other,” he says.

If he suddenly was on the receiving end of a cash windfall, Jason says he would love to buy the equipment he’d need to produce music videos, but also to expand his video production capabilities.

“If I won the lottery, I’d love to produce my own commercials for the betterment of the world,” he says. “If there was a cause that I felt was not being promoted commercially, something I felt strongly about, I’d work to give a voice to people who didn’t otherwise have a voice on TV.”

There’s so much power there, in TV. The ability to reach millions of people is something he now only dreams about, but “it would be awesome.”

Jason’s work on the video for the Milwaukee Dance Connection is a tiny example of the power of film and videotape to reach people, to communicate with as yet unknown audiences.

The MDC would love to ultimately get a full-length documentary for itself, but in the meantime, Jason’s finished tape of their spring concert will serve a valuable purpose. The group plans to use the tape to promote itself, to expand the company’s touring range and possibly to show to potential financial contributors.

Jason had a great time on the project, which was his first three-camera shoot. He coordinated the shoot with his cameramen, figuring out what equipment they needed and what it would take to get a good final product. They looked at getting enough coverage from the three cameras so that, when edited, it would look better than a simple high school play, for instance.

The three cameras were set up at different distances from the stage: one for close-ups and short shots, one for medium views and one in the second balcony for “establishing,” wide shots. A system of monitors helped him see what each of the cameras was recording and he used walkie-talkies to communicate with the cameramen

Jason Helgren is, certainly, a filmmaker, but he’s so much more. “I like doing a lot of things,” he says. “I don’t think I could center in on just one thing at this point in time.”

The Milwaukee Dance Connection shoot was a good opportunity for him to do a lot of things, but this time, simultaneously.

“It was fun to organize, to be able to use my brain a little more than just for setting up monitors,” he says, referring to his work on TV commercial production. “I like commercial work, I like my job, but who wouldn’t want to be the director?”

Halle Berry – Monster Ball

When Halle Berry presented this year’s Best Actor Oscar to Adrien Brody the youngest man ever to win in that category perhaps she was thinking back to last year, when she herself made Oscar history. As the first African-American woman to win a Best Actress Oscar, Berry must have been able to appreciate at least some of the thrill that Brody experienced this year.

But, was Berry’s excitement dimmed by Steve Martin’s introduction of her? Taking his role of jokester-emcee a little too far, in this writer’s opinion, Martin said that Berry had broken significant barriers last year by showing that a “really hot woman” could win an Oscar!

Of course, that single comment couldn’t diminish her success. Her acting in “Monster’s Ball” was done in large part without any makeup, looking tired and careworn, as her character’s portrayal called for. And that performance earned awards from many other organizations besides the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

But, Martin’s comment could leave us to wonder how far women, and particularly minority women, have come in the eyes of the motion picture industry, since the days when the names of female actresses were often mere afterthoughts in movie promotions, if not left out altogether.

Was Denzel Washington’s comment, in announcing Nicole Kidman as Best Actress in a leading Role for her portrayal of Virginia Wolff in “The Hours,” scripted or off-the-cuff?

Washington paused after saying, “And the Oscar goes to… by a nose, Nicole Kidman,” an obvious reference to the prosthetic nose she donned in the movie. Even when a serious, albeit beautiful, actress takes on an equally serious role, portraying a brilliant woman not known for her physical beauty, it seems the superficial often takes precedence over the profound.

Berry had other things to think about when she left the stage, after Brody laid a liplock on her, swooping her nearly off her feet. Had Kidman done the same to Washington, what might the reaction of the audience have been?

Still, there is room for optimism that the movie industry as a whole is broadening its horizons to recognize the achievements of other than white, male actors, artists and other industry professionals.

Under The Gun

Deadlines, ultimatums tend to get exaggerated in film format. But they’re also increasingly becoming a major factor in our everyday lives.

In The Graduate (1967), Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock makes a mad dash to a church, to try to keep Katharine Ross as Elaine Robinson from getting married. She’s there, in her wedding gown, and so are the groom and a church full of guests. Benjamin arrives in the nick of time and he and Eiaine run off together, she still in her gown and veil. They jump onto a public bus just as it’s about to pull away from the stop.

All sorts of deadlines and time pressures are involved in this dramatic conclusion to the movie, not the least of which was their catching the bus on time to avoid being caught. Beyond the immediate press of time, though, Benjamin also was struggling with who he wanted to be when he grew up, having recently graduated from college and having had an affair with Elaine’s mother, played memorably by Anne Bancroft. So, he wasn’t just running to Elaine, he also was running from pressures both self-imposed and those placed on him by his parents and society at large. In the end, it seems that Benjamin was able to figure out what he wanted in life and he got it, with no time to spare!

While Americans in 2003 reportedly spend less time actually in the workplace than ever before, and we have the benefit of umpteen laborsaving devices, we still seem to be on ever tighter and tighter schedules, even in our social lives. Where would 20- and 30-somethings be without their Palm Pilots and PDA’S to help them keep track of their hectic calendars, for work and school, and let’s not forget party time.

Headlines in parenting magazines talk about the “over scheduled” children in our country, when even high school and junior high age kids dash about at a frenetic pace in order to keep up with all of their deadlines and appointments. Network (1976) is another fine example of how time pressures and work deadlines affect us, most notably Peter Finch as Howard Beale, who unforgettably exclaims in the movie:

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going take it anymore!” He also encourages the viewers of the network from which he is about to be fired to join him in this “movement,” by exhorting them to go to the windows of their homes and workplaces and shout the same thing. Beale also announces his intention to commit suicide on the air. Somehow, all of that ranting and raving turns him into “the mad prophet of the air-waves” and his once-slumping ratings skyrocket.

Also in Network, Faye Dunaway loses the love of William Holden. Seems Faye, as Diana Christensen, is so wrapped up in her job at the network that Bill, as Max Schumacher, breaks up with her, feeling he can’t compete with her utter devotion to her job, and the attendant deadlines and demands of breaking news.

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), based on a Jules Verne novel of the same name, was so popular that it was remade several times, including a 1919 German version, and turned into a TV series. A 2003 edition is in production, with Jackie Chan as Passepartout, Phileas Fogg’s butler, and Steve Coogan as Fogg.

In the classic 1956 version, David Niven, as Phileas Fogg, an emotionless English nobleman, makes a bet at his gentlemen’s club that he can literally travel around the world in 80 days, not a simple task in 1872. (If you haven’t seen this movie and you want to be surprised, skip ahead to the next paragraph.) Phileas does, in fact, lose the bet, but gains an appreciation for his fellow man and for his own feelings and emotions. His need to have a traditional English tea each day on the journey, regardless of the circumstances and the time remaining before the bet would be lost, is just one endearing, albeit maddening, quality that humanizes him for the viewer.

Finally, The Mexican (2001) takes Brad PItt as Jerry Welbach to Mexico at the behest of his mob boss, to obtain a priceless antique pistol called “The Mexican,” or face the consequences. Jerry gets a second ultimatum from his girlfriend Samantha, played by Julia Roberts. The plot twists and turns, including Samantha’s abduction by a hit man who happens to be homosexual. But again, just as in The Graduate, the main character ends up redefining his goals and values.

Perhaps what we can bring away from viewing any or all of the above films is that frantic attempts to meet deadlines and “now or never” type ultimatums only rarely result in personal success and/or happiness. Rather, such behavior almost always ends up leaving the chaser less well off, figuratively and literally, than the object of the chase. Meeting deadlines for the simple sake of meeting them is not, in and of itself, the Holy Grail.

Neither is scheduling and plotting out your own life on the basis of someone else’s personal planner and goals. Just as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. Howard Beale in Network, and Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days learned, happiness is rarely found by acceding to the directions of someone who has only their own needs and desires in mind. We need to establish our own goals, setting deadlines for ourselves if need be, and pursue those goals at a pace that works for us.

Tally ho!

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.