erik lundegaard

Gosh, Sweetie, That's a Big New York Times Summer Movie Section

I used to look forward to The New York Times' summer movie section to see, you know, what movies would be playing during the upcoming summer. But that was B.I. (Before Internet). Or maybe BIMDb.com. Either way, I rarely look at the list anymore. I know what's coming. In a way, we all do.

But I still look forward to the section for, as they used to say about Playboy, the articles. This year's includes rising stars (Dominic Cooper? Still?), summer movie faves (I like Maya Rudolph's choice: “Purple Rain”), plus profiles of Mario Bello, Michael Fassbender and Thor.

Then there's Terrence Rafferty on summer beach movies, which I was slightly disappointed in only because it's Terrence Rafferty. Isn't the point that beach movies began as fictional farce (Gidget, Frankie and Annette) and ended as non-fictional art (“The Endless Summer,” “Step into Liquid,” “Riding Giants”)? Or that the pop cultural moment may go (Beach Boys, etc.) but the waves keep coming? At the same time, I like the background Rafferty give us on American International Pictures and the Frankie/Annette flicks, and the observation that parents were around for Gidget's film but were essentially banished for Frankie and Annette. Plus these lines:

[“Beach Party”] was awful, and its sequels — “Muscle Beach Party” (1964), “Bikini Beach” (1964), “Beach Blanket Bingo” (1965) and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” (1965), all directed by Mr. Asher — were, if anything, worse. In the last two, the comic relief is provided by the great Buster Keaton, whose characteristically melancholy expression seems, in this context, fully justified.“

But the big article, and the headline of the week, is ”Gosh, Sweetie, That's a Big Gun,“ a back-and-forth between Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott on the rash of young, violent heroines in movies.

In the intro they lump them all together “Hanna,” “Sucker Punch,” “Super,” “Let Me In,” “Kick-Ass” and ”The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“ trilogy, so initially I was worried. Aren't these movies, and these characters, vastly different? You can begin with the notion that ”Sucker Punch“ is for boys and ”Dragon Tattoo“ is for girls; that the characters of ”Sucker Punch“ never escape the fetishistic fantasy role assigned to them by boys, while Lisbeth Salander is a kind of role model for girls. She is, as I wrote in my review of ”The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,“ a heroine unprecedented in film: the rescuer rather than the rescued; the pursuer rather than the pursued. Scott points out that most of these girls rely on men for their training (”Hanna,“ ”Sucker Punch,“ ”Kick-Ass“) but fails to mention that Lisbeth relies on the men in her movies for nurturing. She's tough on her own. That's a massive-enough difference to turn the world on its head.

But to the main question: What or who is driving all this?

  • Scott: ”It seems to me that what fuels these fantasies is also a deep anxiety ... about female sexuality“
  • Dargis: ”Male anxiety about female sexual power [can always be depended on to make trouble, but] one difference is the tender age of these recent combatants.“

Dargis gives us a pretty good recent timeline: from Luc Besson's ”The Professional“ to Quentin Tarantino's killer ladies, but even this timeline is misleading: Portman in ”The Professional“ is precocious, not supertough. She's a real young girl. You can't say that about Baby Doll in ”Sucker Punch.“

The two critics, particularly Scott, keep going off target. His ”Social Network“ interlude is particularly unncessary, as his need to assure us, as the father of a 12-year-old, that he likes tough women. He writes that Michelle Williams' character writes ”a new chapter“ in westerns. To which Dargis responds dryly: ”Maybe a paragraph.“

Then Scott does what Scott does. He spends an article dithering, or going off target, or stating the obvious or soothing, and then all of a sudden he lays out the point perfectly:

I think the first Salander movie ran into a serious problem when it tried to translate Larsson’s anger about pervasive sexual violence into cinematic terms. It is in the nature of the moving image to give pleasure, and in the nature of film audiences — consciously or not, admittedly or not — to find pleasure in what they see. So in depicting Salander’s rape by her guardian in the graphic way he did, the director, Niels Arden Oplev, ran the risk of aestheticizing, glamorizing and eroticizing it, just as Gaspar Noé did with Monica Bellucci’s assault in “Irreversible.”

Exactly. I just saw the Japanese film ”13 Assassins," in which there's rape and cruelty. We don't see the rape; we see its aftermath. We see the aftermath, the result, of even greater cruelty. Those scenes are always sobering and horrifying, never titilating or exploitative.

But, now that I think about it, that's a different subject, violence against women, rather than the subject at hand, girls with big guns. Why these girls and why now? Dargis and Scott don't come close to an answer. Maybe because they never bring up comic books, the driving force of the entire industry now, and the source of half the heroines they're writing about.

Lisbeth Salander from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and Baby Doll from "Sucker Punch"

Dargis and Scott don't see much difference between Lisbeth and Baby Doll.

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Posted at 10:32 AM on Sun. May 01, 2011 in category Movies  

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