Monthly Archives: May 2011

RIP George Tiller

By Ashley

Two years ago today, Dr. George Tiller was serving as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kansas. That’s when anti-choice activist (and terrorist) Scott Roeder shot him point blank in the face, killing him. Dr. Tiller had been wearing body armor, as he had been for several years at the time after becoming aware of what a target he was. He had been shot before, in 1993 outside of his clinic in Wichita. Unfortunately, this time he didn’t survive. Dr. Tiller was killed in cold blood on May 31, 2009.

Dr. Tiller was one of only three practitioners providing women with late-term abortions in the United States. His compassion and kindness helped countless uterus-owning people and couples through one of the hardest decisions a person can make. The thing that anti-choice activists fail to recognize about late-term abortions is that these are pregnancies that are very much wanted; no one goes 7 or 8 months into a pregnancy and then thinks, Oh, nevermind, Imma get a late term abortion! These are pregnancies that endanger the health of the mother, these are fetal anomalies that no one could have foreseen, fetuses actually suffering from defects or fetuses that are no longer viable or will be born with little to no hope of living. And these are parents who want to hold the children they wanted and give them a proper funeral service.

And anti-choice activists not only ignore this but make the pain that these people who choose to go through late-term abortion worse by spouting out a bunch of shit about miracles and how that very non-viable fetus that would probably live a brief and painful life still deserves that chance at life. Ignoring the very real suffering not just of the child that would be born but the parents who would have to deal emotionally (and financially) with the painful death of a child. These people have the right to self-preservation and if that includes a late-term abortion, then so be it.

Dr. George Tiller made this possible for many, many patients during his career. Feministe has put together an absolutely heart-breaking collection of patients’ stories about their experience with Dr. Tiller. This man was a true hero. Even after his clinic was fire-bombed and even after being shot the first time, he continued providing  late-term abortions because he knew how vital it was for the people who needed them. That is truly honorable.

Rest in Peace, Dr. George Tiller. Thank you for the amazing service you provided to so many of your patients. You are greatly missed.

I’ll end with some inspiring words from the good doctor himself:

The women in my father’s practice for whom he did abortions educated me and taught me that abortion is about women’s hopes, dreams, potential, the rest of their lives. Abortion is a matter of survival for women

Hell no, we won’t go.

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The Foxy Grey Fox

By Andreas

Howard Hawks mystifies me. A former pilot and avid outdoorsman, Hollywood’s “Grey Fox” was tight-lipped in interviews and is popularly viewed as the poster child for Hollywood classicism. By and large, his movies are old-fashioned genre fare about teams of professionals in tough situations (a synopsis that covers 4/5 of the movies on this list). Whereas some filmmakers give me an impression of flamboyance or eccentricity, Hawks feels vanilla and taciturn—the strong silent type.

But this vague sketch is totally insufficient when it comes to Hawks’s films. I’d rank his masterpieces alongside those of his modernist collaborators, like Hemingway and Faulkner; they’re sublime works of art made by an utter genius. Clearly, more was going on beneath the surface than Hawks chose to give away. This extends to the realm of sexuality: on the surface, Hawks was just a thrice-married heterosexual filmmaker who specialized in action/adventure movies. But buried in his work were strange, compelling sexual undercurrents. I’ve already discussed the queerness of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, so here are a few other Hawks films with surprisingly sexy moments…

Throughout Hawks’s gangster classic Scarface (1932), anti-hero Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) is pretty preoccupied with the sexual comings and goings of his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak). He slaps her around for daring to dance with other men, and is consistently abusive and controlling. Yet in the film’s last scene, as he’s holed up in his steel-shuttered bunker and surrounded on all sides by cops, Cesca is there for him. When he asks why she didn’t kill him (he did murder the man she loved, after all), she explains that it’s “because you’re me, and I’m you.” This scene blazes with incestuous tension, and when Cesca dies moments later, it does not play as a brother/sister death scene. “I’m no good without you,” says Tony as his sister breathes her last. It’s pretty obvious what he means.

As Sugarpuss O’Shea in Ball of Fire (1941), co-written by Billy Wilder, Barbara Stanwyck is a firecracker of compressed libido. She’s a stripper on the lam who stumbles upon a coven of academics working on an encyclopedia, and decides to tap into their latent desires… especially those of the lanky, sexually unaware Bertrand Potts (Gary Cooper). He’s an easy mark, as Sugarpuss introduces him to the wonders of “yum yum,” a slang term that becomes a running joke. You get one guess about who gives the film its title. (1941 also saw Stanwyck seducing the professorial Henry Fonda in Preston Sturges’s The Lady Eve, which is a better film and contains a hotter seduction.)

Hawks had the rare privilege of working with Hollywood’s hottest couple twice, first in To Have and Have Not (1944) and then in his noir masterpiece The Big Sleep (1946). Both films contain scenes of explosive sexual tension: the former has the infamous “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” exchange; The Big Sleep has the brilliant horse-racing conversation. Bogey and Bacall throw double entendres back and forth, metaphorically mixing sex and detective work with talk of being “rated” and “who’s in the saddle.” When Bogey says “I don’t know how far you can go,” they’re not discussing horses anymore. It’s a remarkably crude-but-subtle way to undermine the Production Code in the name of sexy, sexy art.

I think this image from Hawks’s Red River (1948) gets the erotic point across pretty well. Matt (the very gay Montgomery Clift) and his potential rival Cherry (John Ireland) have just met and, knowing one another by reputation, decide to test their “sharpshooting skills.” To do so, they trade “guns” and evaluate how well each “gun” handles. Maybe, just maybe, you can detect some subtext. As usual, Hawks’s use of sexual metaphors is unobtrusive and undeniable, saying exactly what he wants it to say with minimum fuss and maximum erotic power.

Although credit for directing The Thing from Another World (1951) technically goes to Hawks’s frequent editor Christian Nyby, everyone and their grandmother agrees that it’s covered in Hawks’s auteur earmarks. So I’m including it for its bizarre but fun example of fairly explicit bondage. Kenneth Tobey, playing a tough military man stationed in the Arctic, expresses a romantic interest in the only woman at the base, played by Margaret Sheridan. He offers to let her tie him up, if she has a drink with him, and she takes him up on it. The hand-tying always strikes me out of nowhere: so much of The Thing feels conventionally 1950s, and then it’s like, “Bondage!” Oh, Howard Hawks, you perverted devil.

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Link Dump: #35

This pretty white kitty comes courtesy of Lee Grant, playing the wealthy matriarch in Hal Ashby’s debut The Landlord. It’s a very underrated satire of class warfare and racial tension in the early ’70s. It’s also includes a kitty. Now here are some links!

We had a pretty fantastic assortment of gross/bizarre search terms this week, like the vaginally themed “cunt eat mouse” and “bloddin on pussy.” We had the aggressive “bash your fucking skull,” and the gentler “pornfor a nice man.” My absolute favorite, though, was definitely “tutu fecal.” Seriously. What in the world does that mean? I’ll let you ponder that one.

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Gentlemen Prefer Rocky

By Andreas

Probably the most homoerotic sequence in any Hawks film is the musical number “Is There Anyone Here for Love?” [sic] that Jane Russell performs in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Russell is surrounded by muscular men in briefs who seem to be oblivious to her charms (“Doesn’t anyone here want to play?”) but are very interested in showing off their bodies to the choreography of Jack Cole. —Vito Russo in The Celluloid Closet

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) is a cultural magpie, incorporating everything from sci-fi B-movies to Renaissance art into its DNA. It should be no surprise, then, that it steals liberally from the seminal ’50s musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Through some campy alchemy, Rocky Horror transmutes Jane Russell’s showgirl Dorothy Shaw into its sweet transvestite and mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter, as played by the inimitable Tim Curry.

The most obvious resemblance between Russell’s “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?” and Curry’s “I Can Make You a Man” is their shared obsession with muscular, scantily clad men. Both numbers casually objectify these men with their giddily horny lyrics, and Dorothy and Frank-N-Furter both have near-identical cocksure, lusty attitudes. You could easily see her line “I like a beautiful hunk o’ man!” coming out of his mouth with the exact same enunciation.

Granted, the numbers diverge aesthetically: “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?” has a rigid pink/black color scheme and is mostly in medium shot to show off Jane Russell’s dancing, while “I Can Make You a Man” is much more stylistically haphazard, freely mixing colors and angles. But there’s one utterly damning similarity that sealed the connection for me, and that’s the strut. Both Russell and Curry strut and swagger in exactly the same manic, show-offy, ultra-confident way. They invite the viewer and other characters straight to their genitalia.

So all in all, it’s not surprising that “the most homoerotic sequence in any Hawks film” would influence one of the most homoerotic horror films of all time. (Give or take Bruce LaBruce or Clive Barker.) Tim Curry appropriated Russell’s musical/sexual aggression, then exaggerated it with his own tics and lascivious gestures, like those fuck-me eyebrows. Whether we’re talking about Russell’s slinky outfit or Curry’s glittery lingerie, though, there’s no question: they’re both seriously hot.

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One Hour Mark: Only Angels Have Wings

By Andreas

This image is from 1:00:00 into Howard Hawks’ adventure yarn Only Angels Have Wings (1939). In the South American port city of Barranca, macho airman Geoff (Cary Grant) sits in his rickety office, facing a tough situation: he has just grounded his closest friend and much-needed pilot Kid (Thomas Mitchell). Despite cheating on countless vision tests, Kid has finally been cornered, and Geoff forces him to admit that his eyesight’s too poor for him to fly.

This scenario, in which Kid’s derring-do clashes with painful reality, is built on clichés that were already hoary in 1939. But in the all-too-capable hands of Hawks, Grant, and Mitchell, they make for essential cinema. Who needs an original plot when you’ve got three men who are the best in the world at what they do? Grant, as usual, plays a handsome daredevil, but he has to suppress his lighter, sillier instincts here as he doles out tough love in order to save his friend’s life.

Mitchell, as usual, plays an avuncular sidekick, but he’s never just a neutral accessory to the protagonist. His narrative role, here as in Gone with the Wind and It’s a Wonderful Life, is tainted with pathos, as he’s becoming old and obsolete. (Mitchell was 12 years older than Grant, and it shows.) Mitchell’s Kid sees himself as a potential hero, but like T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, he’s “at times, indeed, almost ridiculous— / Almost, at times, the Fool.” That ridiculousness is compounded by his eagerness to sacrifice his life just so he can keep flying.

In The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris briefly notes that “the heroes of Hawks [are sustained] by professionalism,” and that’s really the glue in Geoff and Kid’s relationship. They must balance their personal desires and their love for each other with the well-being of their whole flying team. That’s the pain in this scene, and it’s why they can’t look at each other. How do two rugged men of action express their complex, uncomfortable emotions? They don’t. Geoff castigates, Kid wheedles, and they awkwardly avoid each other’s eyes.

All of that is conveyed very cannily in the composition of this shot. It’s visually clean and legible, with criss-crossing slats and shadows filling in the background, and the physical relationship between the two figures in the foreground. Grant is glancing at the back of Mitchell’s head while assuming hostile body language; Mitchell fiddles with a cup. Hawks communicates emotion through ellipsis, by not saying anything. Their averted eyes say more about wounded masculinity than screams or tears could.

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You Cannes Always Get What You Want

By Andreas

Now that Cannes 2011 has wrapped, here’s a short list of my most-anticipated films from the festival. With any luck, most or all of them will be headed to an arthouse theater near me soon!

  • Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. The lackluster trailer and Woody’s recent track record weren’t exactly getting my hopes up, but once I learned that Kathy Bates and Scott Pilgrim‘s Alison Pill play Gertrude Stein and Zelda Fitzgerald respectively, I knew I’d have to see it. Will Owen Wilson make a suitable Woody surrogate? Will it be so cutely erudite that I’ll throw up? I can’t wait to find out!
  • Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. I already wrote about how intensely I want to see this, and that intensity continues to grow. An Oscar-caliber Tilda Swinton performance! John C. Reilly! Stream-of-consciousness narrative! YEAH.
  • Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist. I’m excited by both The Artist‘s plot—it’s a silent comedy/melodrama about Hollywood’s transition to sound—and its loose resemblance to Guy Maddin’s movies. It sounds like the best kind of cinephile junk food.
  • Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. I can’t wait to see Durkin’s debut feature, a harrowing cult-themed drama (which, like Midnight in Paris, played out of the main competition). The fact that it co-stars John Hawkes from Winter’s Bone is icing on the cake.
  • Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Although sometimes put off by his ponderousness, I adore Malick’s childlike wonderment at the world. (And just try not to be blown away by the house-burning sequence in Badlands.) I’m a sucker for cosmic spectacle, so Malick’s long-awaited Palme d’Or-winner might just do the trick for me.
  • Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Speaking of cosmic spectacle, the trailer for Melancholia really impressed me, and the casting of John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling as an old married couple would get my ass in the theater to see Transformers 3. When mixed with Von Trier and the end of the world? Ohhh yes.
  • Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. I’m just crazy about face transplant movies like Face Behind the Mask, Eyes Without a Face, and The Face of Another. If I can get that with Almodóvar’s uniquely dark, sensual sensibility, I will be a happy moviegoer.
  • Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. This is tied with Kevin, Melancholia, and MMMM for “most most-anticipated.” Ryan Gosling in an existential action movie? Yes please, and thank you.

What Cannes-tastic new movies are you excited to see?

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Link Dump: #34

Kitties are generally cute—but since this kitty is from Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max, it’s cute in a depressing, oddball way. While I’m mentioning it, kudos to Elliot for making a black-and-white animated movie! That takes chutzpah. Especially when that movie is tragic and bizarre. And now I give you: links.

Not too many amusing search terms lately, but I did like “ζωο σεξ,” which is Greek for “animal sex.” I didn’t like “i got robbed and fuckin raped hard and i enjoyed it” because, um, NO. Somewhere between the two was “lesbiansim curiostiy killed the cat,” which combines non sequiturs and misspellings. Finally, I really like this pair of phrases, searched for simultaneously: “of course i do” “it was fucking awesome.” Of course I do! It was fucking awesome.

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