Monday Movies Is Strong Enough To Be the Woman That Was the Best Part of Our Manhood

I loved Tootsie the first time around, and I want to say “it holds up,” but really it does much better. There was far more for me to enjoy seeing it in 2012 than I ever could have understood at the age of eight, when it first came out, thirty years ago, in the summer of 1982. (Didn’t hurt that I just saw it at the magnificent Orpheum Theatre as part of the LA Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats series.)

As much as it lodges in the mind as a canonical 80’s comedy, next to Splash and coming up on Ghostbusters and Working Girl, Tootsie retains a lot of the grit and texture of 1970’s film drama. Director Sydney Pollack shoots the New York of hustling hand-to-mouth actors with the same eye he used for Three Days of the Condor (indeed, with the same director of photography, Owen Roizman). He creates a lived-in city of shared, under-furnished apartments and messy streets, and he populates it with working people–men and women who labor at their art and business.

Dustin Hoffman’s Michael Dorsey, a passionate craftsman of acting with a reputation as a prima donna, is the artist as a not-quite-anymore-so-young man. His decision to turn himself into Dorothy Michaels–to shed the identity that dogs him and try out for a female part that his friend, student and ill-advised lover couldn’t get (Teri Garr) allows Hoffman to showboat grandly, but the showboating is grounded in what Pollack has established, believably, about Dorsey’s character–he’s both a workhorse and a talent. In character as hospital administrator Emily Kimberly, Michael-as-Dorothy improvises fierce, feminist lashings to reroute the soapy scripts she’s been given. But before Dorothy shows up to work, we get to see Michael’s laborious self-creation: the makeup, the padding, the curlers, the outfits.

Tootsie‘s feminism is problematic, but sly as well. There’s an element of “mansplaining” in the film — Dorothy is hailed as a hero to women, and there’s a clear analogue to the white savior in the suggestion that all that feminism needed was someone who deep down wasn’t a woman to get the ball rolling. Dabney Coleman’s philandering soap director, and the near-rapist elderly star played by George Gaynes, are easy targets as broad phallocrats. But as Michael recognizes his own character in their actions, the story deepens. “I was a better man with you, as a woman… than I ever was with a woman, as a man,” says Michael to his co-star Julie, delivering the line with tongue-tied inelegance to hide the simple poetry.

Tootsie poster

More interesting than the film’s attempted feminism is its attempted patriotism. Dorothy does a magazine cover in front of an American flag; her rise to fame is accompanied by a red-white-and-blue Amtrak train hurtling into the pastoral hinterlands, where Julie’s father Les owns a sun-kissed farm decorated with extremely wholesome-looking wood furniture. There’s an insistence that Dorothy’s feminism, pushy and individualistic, is the right fit for America, whose women and men alike have been left adrift by sexual revolt. She’s not just popular; she’s a populist symbol.

A personal coda: in my experience with drag, it is powerful magic. My drag persona, adopted for a community pageant in 2002,  chose me more than I chose her, and she frightened my first wife.There’s something that feels very honest and familiar about the distance Dorothy takes Michael out to sea.

What did you see, and where did it take you?

Monday Movies Hopes the Roof Flies Off and We Get Sucked into Space

I surprised myself, a few weeks ago, to realize that I was nothing but excited to see Moonrise Kingdom. After The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which I liked less and less the more I sat with it, I became suspicious of Anderson, suspicious enough to skip out on The Darjeeling Express. Continue reading “Monday Movies Hopes the Roof Flies Off and We Get Sucked into Space”

Monday Movies Wishes We Had an AK-47

Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter with a penchant for interviewing his clients about their art collections and their dogs. Establishing an absence of the latter, he makes arrangements to send them on job interviews so he can steal the former. He’s good at it, though not as good as he thinks; the cautious criminal conceals a deeply insecure man, who believes he’s too short for his Scandinavian goddess wife, who will only stay with him so long as he can buy her baubles with his illicit heist windfalls.

For Roger, meeting Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones) comes as both opportunity and crisis. Continue reading “Monday Movies Wishes We Had an AK-47”

Monday Movies Can Tell You This: If You Build It, It Will Fall

If you’re ever toodling around southern Colorado on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, anywhere between Durango and I-25, you could do worse than to stop in to the Ryus Avenue Bakery in La Veta. Tell my Aunt Adrienne I sent you. She’s owned the place, with her partner Mary, for the last 21 years, and she’s been in the area since 1970. That was when the band she played drums in, the Anonymous Artists of America, who used to open for the Grateful Dead at Kesey’s acid tests (they merit a mention in Tom Wolfe’s book) decided instead of being a band they’d rather be a commune, and so they found some land in Huerfano County, not too far for from the Great Sand Dunes. The AAA Ranch made it through the first winter in teepees, and then they built permanent structures, and in some fashion they remain there today, as do several other communes.

The documentary Huerfano Valley picks up with three of the veterans of the Huerfano commune scene — George, who still lives at the AAA (and whom I’m going to join for dinner after I write this on Sunday afternoon); Dean, who lives at Libre; and Muffin, who left Libre and works as a veterinarian in Huerfano County. Each reflects a certain flavor of sadness about this very American god that failed. Continue reading “Monday Movies Can Tell You This: If You Build It, It Will Fall”

Monday Movies Was Considered Volatile, Self-Centered and We Don’t Play Well with Others

In the past, when I’ve complained about superhero comic book movies, friends have suggested that I just don’t like superheroes that much. More than some, less than others, I guess, but I’ve hung on to the belief that the right adaptation could spark the 10-year-old K-sky whose 500 Marvel books of the early mid-1980’s sit yellowing in bags and boxes in his mother’s Chicagoland basement. It hasn’t always been easy. But it was worth the wait for The Avengers. Continue reading “Monday Movies Was Considered Volatile, Self-Centered and We Don’t Play Well with Others”

You Get a Series Four De-Atomizer and Monday Movies Gets a Little Midgy Cricket?

My writer’s group recommended that I look at Men in Black as a spur to rewriting the feature that I’m working on to submit for the Academy Awards’ Nicholl Fellowship. It was moderately helpful — I’ve been struggling for a nice punch at the end, and the sight of Will Smith stomping on cockroaches to infuriate the savage “bug” that had been previously hiding in Vincent D’Onofrio’s skin made me ask myself what would infuriate my own villain? (He’s a PUA who’s been possessed by a vengeful alien intelligence. The short answer is… Continue reading “You Get a Series Four De-Atomizer and Monday Movies Gets a Little Midgy Cricket?”

Monday Movies Draws the Line at Reading the Latin

“The trailer kind of spoils it, don’t you think?” asked a friend of The Cabin in the Woods. The trailer suggests that Joss Whedon is up to certain of his old tricks, specifically the initiative of Buffy Season 4 and the Rossum Corporation of Dollhouse. A shadowy, powerful bureaucratic organization is engineering a ghastly device/monster/technology/outcome. Whedon’s take on the banality of evil is not a settled question; a bureaucracy may be the setting where humans lose perspective on their work, or a protective middle-management complement to a genuinely, primordial chthonic evil.

Whedon likes to talk about “surprise being the point of storytelling.” So it may seem odd that the trailer gives away so much, and odder still that the movie opens inside the shadowy bureaucracy, with Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins acing it as a pair of seen-it-all-bureaucrats whose job, from a hidden command center, is to lure five college students into the titular cabin.

That the horrors they will find within are in some way rigged by the bureaucrats is a starting point, and there’s a show-offy pleasure in the way that Whedon and director Drew Goddard still manage to deliver surprises. Plenty of surprises remains: lap-jumping shocks (I’m an easy mark), unanswered questions, jaw-dropping cameos, and most of all, a surprising richness and openness of themes. By the end, The Cabin in the Woods has delivered a meta-horror flick that paves a road past the Scream template, the fattest of fiend folios, a startling brief for deontology over consequentialism, and what I’m gonna go out on a limb and call a postcolonial call for American decline.

Also, it’s funny, and there’s some very wry cake-having-and-eating slasher-flick sexiness. See it, and then let’s do the spoilers.

What did you see?

AAR/SBL 2012: Please Boycott Hyatt

Workers at Hyatt Hotels have asked patrons to boycott their workplaces. In conjunction with a group of religious scholars supportive of labor rights, they have addressed a special plea to participants in AAR/SBL to boycott the Hyatt McCormick Place and Hyatt Regency in conjunction with the conference. They’re asking attendees not to stay at, eat, or attend panels or interviews at those two hotels.

A petition you can sign at the link above will be delivered to the AAR and SBL Boards of Directors in advance of the conference. A strong, early show of support from scholars affiliated with the organizations will allow them to pull conference events from Hyatt early, and prevent them from forcing attendees to choose between attending events and respecting picket lines.

In Chicago, Hyatt has refused to adopt the contract that other major hotels abide by. Nationally, the boycott against Hyatt is based around their use of exploitative subcontracting arrangements, poor working conditions for housekeepers (and lobbying to prevent regulatory improvements), and other reasons explained here.

I have worked alongside the UNITE HERE union in many capacities, as an organizer in my first post-college job, as an ally when I was in local government, and as a member in my college dining hall. In the labor movement at large they are passionate advocates, tactical innovators, and well known for empowering workers as leaders in the union structure and as a “countervailing force” within their own workplaces. I have complained in other venues about dumb boycotts, but this is a principled and effective use of the tactic. (It’s notable, and common to boycotts led by this union, that they are called by workers in the hotels, who go into it knowing that reduced business means short-term sacrifice of their hours and tips in exchange for long-term strength.)

It’s by comment-section felicity that I ended up connected to this community, and I’m grateful to have the soapbox to connect something personally important to me to you. Please sign the pledge and help persuade AAR/SBL to move its conference business out of Hyatt.

Monday Movies Was Meant to Have a Business Meeting. With Destiny.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is the fourth feature outing of Jay and Mark Duplass. Their first, The Puffy Chair, helped define the “mumblecore” genre, along with the early work of Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski. Their second, Baghead, a mumblecore-horror hybrid with a metacommentary on filmmaking, indicated a lively impatience with their creation, demonstrating a consistency that showed they knew their strengths in addition to an openness to teaching themselves new tricks. After that they made Cyrus, about which I know little other than that it starred Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei, and while indie was not quite a micro-budget film. (Of those, I saw only Baghead, which I liked a lot.) Continue reading “Monday Movies Was Meant to Have a Business Meeting. With Destiny.”