SLAVES OF NEW YORK: A Visual Guide

A picture's worth a thousand words. Especially when those words are written by Tama Janowitz and the pictures are by Merchant Ivory.  If you ask us, SLAVES OF NEW YORK (1989) is the kind of movie that's best projected (silently) onto a wall at a gay club night.

Since our own words could barely do justice to the film's hair and hats and hunks, here are a few select screenshots to whet your appetite for our forthcoming Episode 037.

It's not Cousin It, but the progenitor of all this mishegas: Tama Janowitz herself, offering some whacked-out wisdom to her alter ego Eleanor (played by Bernadette Peters).

First appearance of the cartoon motif. Bernadette crouches for a closer look!

Where has Adam Coleman Howard been hiding all our lives? I'll take narcissistic art-twinks for $1,000, Alex.

And what about the young Stanley Tucci? Guess he never heard about gun control. Hubba hubba.

The flesh just keeps on coming: Stash's armpits paired with Marley Martello going commando.

Even Steve Buscemi looks kinda cute in this movie!!!!

Bernadette auditioning for WORKING GIRL. Shoulder pads, blouse, broach. But the orange eye-shadow kills it.

Every girl deserves the luxury of chinoiserie at bedtime....

...complemented by Russian fur for daytime.

Stanley and Mercedes Ruehl are shocked to learn that they're supposed to have characters in this movie.

Bernadette looks nearly as bewildered as we were watching this. Can someone find her a plot thread? (How about that Woodrow Wilson dummy in the back??)

SEASON 2! Broad Appeal: Chick Lit

"The trouble with a book is you never know what's in it until it's too late"

Nicole Kidman as Isabel Archer from The Portrait of a Lady (1996).

Nicole Kidman as Isabel Archer from The Portrait of a Lady (1996).

The writer Jeannette Winterson attributes these words to her strict Christian mother, explaining the seductions -- and perils -- of reading. She had a point. Unlike movies, books don't come with ratings for concerned parents. How many young minds have been led astray by the ideas they first found when wandering through unfamiliar sections of the library?  Every journey we take between the covers of a book is a journey into the unknown.

For centuries, the reading of novels has been considered a typically feminine activity. The rise of the novel in the 19th century was driven by middle-class women readers, who were able to take imaginative journeys during an era where they were confined mostly to the home. Excluded from politics and many professions, "lady novelists" like Harriet Beecher Stowe and George Eliot found ways through writing to shape minds and influence society.

Tilda Swinton as Orlando, 1992.

Tilda Swinton as Orlando, 1992.

It's become commonplace these days to decry the fact that we live in a visual culture, sitting passively as streams of images assault our eyeballs from screens of all sizes.  To read a novel in the 21st century is the intellectual equivalent of "slow food" - it is to be reminded that some pleasures take time, some imaginative journeys require our active collaboration.

For Season 2 of Broad Appeal (arriving in your earbuds 19th January) we've set ourselves a big task: reading twelve works of literature with female heroines and then watching the film adaptations they inspired. I am shuddering already at the amount of hours we'll be spending in preparation for each episode, sometimes reading hundreds of pages before we can even start watching the films. Why do this? After 2016, the year in which so many of us were slaves to the news cycle, mindlessly consuming each new hot-take, it feels refreshing to take our time living within a story, wandering leisurely within another's consciousness for extended periods of time.

Diane Keaton just wants to read, but Richard Gere's pretty distracting....

Diane Keaton just wants to read, but Richard Gere's pretty distracting....

And what incredible consciousnesses they are! This whole project began when Seán and I started reading Henry James's masterpiece The Portrait of a Lady, which represents better than nearly any book I can think of the subtle layers of awareness that shape a mind, the mental drama of an intellect and an identity coming into formation through thought, observation and emotional experience. Jane Campion's film of the book was controversial for failing to observe the standard decorum we associate with "literary adaptations" onscreen. Yes, there were corsets and bonnets - but also plates of talking beans. The director boldly sought her own visual language to convey the striking effects of James's finely-wrought sentences.

It was surprisingly fun to read James aloud to one another; and now we can't wait to see if Shelley Winters and Shelley Duvall adopt similar characterizations to the ones we did when reading the dialogue of Mrs. Touchett and the Countess Gemini. But when we drew up our reading list, it was striking how few of the titles are traditional "costume dramas." Horror, romance, Gothic mysteries, heist capers, social satires, modernism, musicals -- they're all represented on the list.  It's a testament to the truth that through every age filmmakers have been cannibalizing the printed word as fodder for new works of popular art.

Here's the list of books - and films - for those reading and watching along with us (in chronological order of publication):

  • The Portrait of a Lady (1881) by Henry James (dir. Jane Campion, 1996)

  • Orlando (1928) by Virginia Woolf (dir. Sally Potter, 1992)

  • Rebecca (1938) by Daphne DuMaurier (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)

  • "Yentl the Yeshiva Girl" (1960) by Issac Bashevis Singer (dir. Barbra Streisand, 1983)

  • Carrie (1974) by Stephen King (dir. Brian DePalma, 1976)

  • Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1975) by Judith Rossner (dir. Richard Brooks, 1977)

  • The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1985)

  • The Piano Teacher (1983) by Elfriede Jelinek (dir. Michael Haneke, 2001)

  • The Handmaid's Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood (dir. Volker Schlondorff, 1990) 

  • Slaves of New York (1986) by Tama Janowitz (dir. James Ivory, 1989)

  • Jackie Brown (published as Rum Punch, 1992) by Elmore Leonard (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1997)

  • The Bridges of Madison County (1992) by Robert James Waller (dir. Clint Eastwood, 1995)

Without consciously planning it, we've also ended up with a far higher proportion of female-written and directed work than we have in our previous series (though still not enough!). Glance at the list and you could easily mistake it for the syllabus from a seminar on feminism (OK, maybe without The Bridges of Madison County....

It's 2017. It's about time we all got a bit more literate, and feminine, don't you think? Get reading.

MINISERIES! Broad Appeal: The Male Gayz

When Brian and I started this podcast over a year ago, we set out with a few simple aims of what we knew it could be. We've all had the experience of someone telling you about a film they saw, or a book they read, handing it to you or buying you a ticket and saying: You need to see this. Almost everything good that I've been exposed to hasn't been because a major advertising campaign compelled me but because it came with a personal recommendation, an experience. We decided to turn our collective viewing into our podcast, and recorded those (at times conflicting) conversations into something we could share with others.

We have a lot to say about this scene from Cruising (1980)

We have a lot to say about this scene from Cruising (1980)

As for the content of each episode – actresses – this was much easier. We were so tired of the dominant cinema celebrating men constantly, how men were touted as big box office draws, and how films about men were being peddled to men (or more accurately, to teenage boys – but that's another blog post). We always found actress-driven films to be so much more compelling, to be emotionally richer, and to be stories we wanted to know about. The real reason is twofold. Full disclosure: I am not and never have been a woman, but at the same time, the men I saw on my screens were people I could never aspire to be, and why would I want to!? Gay male spectatorship has always been a funny topic. We are at the same time celebratory of women, while simultaneously finding ourselves complicit in a patriarchy we didn't wittingly realise – men may put women at the centre but make them gorgeous, ugly, strident, weak, glamorous, dowdy, victims, heroines, etc. Camille Paglia has described gay men as the greatest misogynists, but as Paglia attests, misogyny is not solely the crime of men.

We view the women in our podcasts in ways that the straight men who made these films never did, thus skewering the male gaze ever so slightly but significantly. When I was much younger, I would watch romantic films and always place myself in the position of the woman getting kissed. I have rarely identified with men in pictures. And although we are now living in a time with greater gender identity and expression, I am permanently a cisgendered male, a gay one, albeit one who is self aware of the rules of the game, who can comfortably blur them, ignore them but sometimes play the part with gusto.

We view the women in our podcasts as people we identify with. If you believe that masculinity is the most studied and ordered performance of gender, then at its core, feminine expression (whatever that means really) is true, natural, unhindered, messy. The characters we spoke of - from Eva Peron, to Dolores Claiborne, Catherine Tramell and Susan Stanton exist within a male realm. The actions of each are the consequence of existing under patriarchy. The gay male experience is split. We are enforcers of the patriarchy, but historically punished for violating its terms. The women in the podcasts, both the actress and the characters are aspirational in ways the gay male experience can relate to. Their roles fluctuate between active and passive, swimming against the tide or being carried by the current. The queer male spectator has often dived into these cool waters.

But sometimes it is good to cast the gaze inward, to reflect, to ogle some guys, basically. We are happy to announce our miniseries Broad Appeal: The Male Gayz, a seven episode palette cleanser between series one and two. We are viewing films which are largely by straight men with masculinity at the centre, but heavily feature queer themes, characters and sensibilities. Some of these films are explicitly queer in subject, while others deal more with heterosexual displacement or crisis. The films range from the 1940s to the mid 2000s, each depiction of maleness and masculinity uniquely its own.

We're very excited to cast our eye in another direction for this miniseries, and can't wait to share it with you.

by Seán McGovern

Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack have sibling rivalry in Written on the Wind (1956).

Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack have sibling rivalry in Written on the Wind (1956).

 

The series includes:

Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)

Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956)

Dog Day Afternoon ( Sidney Lumet, 1975)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975)

Cruising (William Friedkin, 1980)

Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)

Breakfast on Pluto (Neil Jordan, 2005)

BROAD APPEAL: THE MALE GAYZ

coming to a podcast near you this AUTUMN.

 

The Princess Diaries

With our Oscar Extravaganza episode about to drop, we've been reflecting on Best Actress trends...

Boo hoo! It'll be ten years before a mature actress wins again...

Boo hoo! It'll be ten years before a mature actress wins again...

A few years back, when having a particularly rough day, I thought I'd ease my mind by seeing if I could remember all the Oscar winners for Best Actress without the aid of Google or reference books.   (Doesn't everyone do that?! They should.)

This list resulted:

My own form of therapy.

Notice the little arrows?  Those indicate wins that seemed somewhat, er, anomalous for their decade: Gwyneth (then age 26) in the 1990s, Dame Helen Mirren (age 61) in the 00s and Meryl "Iron Lady" Streep (age 62) in the current decade.

To me, the list indicates that Gwyneth's 1996 win was a watershed moment - turning the tide to a decade of 'ingenue' wins in the Lead Actress category.  In the 1990s, 4 out of 10 winners (Bates, Lange, Sarandon, McDormand) were in their 40s.  Post-Gwyneth, that wouldn't happen again (with the exception of Mirren) til 2009.

What changed?  It's hard to generalize, but one does see broad trends: the 1980s included several wins for older veteran actresses (Hepburn, MacLaine, Page, Tandy), with younger and mid-career actresses mixed in.  In the 1990s, several winners were in their 30s and 40s and even those on the younger end (Jodie Foster, Emma Thompson) could hardly be categorized as 'starlets.'

But Gwyneth's girlish tears upon accepting the award for Shakespeare in Love ushered in a decade of "princesses." Whatever the merits of the individual victories, the Academy clearly had a predilection for crowning the latest damsel of the moment: rom-com heroines or former pin-up girls who went prestige, former child stars who were all grown up.

Film blogger and self-confessed "actressexual" Nathaniel Rogers of the indispensable site The Film Experience long ago crunched decades of numbers to reveal that Oscar has a real gender bias.  In his very revealing "Charting Oscar's Age Preferences" from 2010, he points out (complete with charts and graphs) that Oscar loves to reward older veteran men, whereas it tends to reward dewy young things in the female categories. More than half of all female winners throughout history were below 35 years of age vs. only 14% of male winners!

Why does all this matter?  Well, it goes to show the sorts of stories that the Oscars like to privilege.  We don't see women in their 40's (the prime of life) winning because we get so few leading characters written in that age group.  In recent years, if an actress doesn't win before age 40 she's much less likely ever to win -- because the meaty roles just aren't there.  Annette Bening, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sigourney Weaver - what's the likelihood that any of these extraordinary women will get roles now that would win them a competitive Oscar?

And it goes without saying that the situation for older actresses of color is even worse.  We'd trade our left arms to get Viola Davis and Angela Bassett the roles they deserve.

Yet another reason to feel nostalgia for the 90s a decade when, at least in prestige pictures, mature actresses got a slightly fairer shake than they do in the 21st century.

One final tidbit: the last two years seemed to hint at a reversal of sorts.  The Best Actress slate from 2013 (Adams, Blanchett, Bullock, Dench, Streep) was trumpeted as "The Oldest in Academy History!"  In fact, when Cate won for Blue Jasmine, that year's Best Actress and Best Actor winner (Matthew McConnaughey) were the same age (44).  The following year, we had the absolutely shocking result of Julianne Moore (54) winning alongside Eddie Redmayne, who had once played her son!

With Saoirse Ronan and Brie Larson vying for the crown this year, we have a return to youngsters but with a crucial difference: both of these women carry their films like seasoned veterans. Let's hope that they don't fall into the career doldrums that befell their predecessors named Swank, Portman, Witherspoon etc. etc. waiting years for more roles post-win to sink their teeth into.

Stories about and starring women of all ages - and backgrounds - please.  After all, "the world is round, people!!"