Pull Back A Little?

Here’s a quote from some young actor who is currently appearing in a TV show about homosexuals (which I’ll never watch):

“It is awkward, but the thing was, on the show we had people called intimacy coordinators and their jobs, they’re amazing, they’re jobs are to help with the sex scenes and everyone doing the sex scenes to feel safe and fine and not awkward.”

Here’s a thought:  if your actors are requiring what is essentially psychological counseling just to get through a sex scene, perhaps you might just want to dial back the sexuality a tad?

Look, I love me a decent sex scene:  Body Heat, Impulse, Zefferelli’s Romeo & Juliet, Don’t Look NowUnfaithful and the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (not the rape scene, though) — all those and more have been fun as hell to watch, and even now are still quite titillating.

The problem is that as the sexual boundaries have been pushed back on screen, the sex scenes have become not only more explicit, but more intense — and along the way, more harrowing.  Erica Jong once described porno movies as (paraphrasing) after the first ten minutes, you want to fuck somebody, and after the next twenty minutes, you never want to fuck again for the rest of your life.

Modern mainstream movies about sex are like that.  I defy anyone to be anything but depressed after watching Gaspar Noé’s Love, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac , 9 Songs or Anatomie de l’enfer (to name the most extreme examples).  In some of the modern French movies (e.g. Anatomie), I start to feel depressed during the first sex scene, which must be some kind of record.

I’m not suggesting we go back to the Hays Code era, where the husband and wife had to sleep in separate beds, and extra- or non-marital sex had to result in the death of one of the participants (which is downright sick, sicker than the taboo sex).  But seriously:  let’s just leave a little to the imagination, shall we?

Here’s a thought:  if a sex scene means that the actors have written into their contracts that the acts must be performed by a body double,  then dial it back and ditch the sexual stand-ins.  And any sex scene which lasts longer than one (1) minute should be edited until it doesn’t.

Let’s keep it sexy, but also keep it subtle, and short.  Sex doesn’t have to be spelled out — we all know what it’s about.  Here’s an example, from Hitchcock’s North By Northwest :

Anyone remember what this scene cut to?   Yup:  here it is.  Thirty-five seconds.

Warning

Do not, under any circumstances, watch the movie Marauders  on Netflix.  Barely three weeks into 2021, we already have a hot favorite for Totally Shit Movie Of The Year.

An unbelievable premise, a terrible plot with more holes than ten golf resorts combined, a mailed-in performance by Bruce Willis, and because the main storyline is so weak, half a dozen sub-plots of absolutely no relevance are added to pad the thing out — all made even worse by editing that wouldn’t have passed a high school film class exam, and lighting that looks as though the movie was shot during a California brownout.  And when the thing finally ends, there are more loose ends than on the back side of a pre-schooler’s sewing assignment.

Some movies are so bad they are fun to watch.  This is not one of those.  Absolutely every single person involved with the making of this movie needs to be flogged, right down to the guy who washed the dishes in the studio cafeteria during filming.

Kim’s Rating:  not only zero stars, but a black hole.

No More Bill

I see with great regret that the peerless travel writer Bill Bryson is closing up his inkwell for good.

In an age when cheap airfares and package tours — not to mention online “visits” through media such as Gurgle maps and InstaGram — could have made travel writing about as relevant as toenail clippings, Bryson’s refreshing, no-nonsense style has defied the trend.

I first encountered the man through his Lost Continent: Travels In Small-Town America.   I found in Bryson a kindred soul because at the time, Longtime Buddy Trevor Romain and I were doing very much the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale:  once a year we would take a long weekend off work, pick a part of the U.S. that we’d never visited before, and fly in (he from Austin and I, at that time, from Chicago).  Then we’d rent a car and set off, destination unknown and only the return flight’s departure time as a deadline.  The Golden Rule:  No Interstate Highways.  Even major U.S. roads with only two digits (e.g. U.S. 30 or Route 66) were treated with suspicion, and we’d get off into the back country roads with alacrity.

We were often asked why we did this — and we did it for nearly a decade — and our reply was simple.  We did it to remind ourselves why we had both left our country of birth and settled in this new, this wonderful and this dauntingly-large and diverse land.

To say that we met interesting people would rank among the great understatements of the century:  in New Orleans, Queer Tom and Opera Kate (an out-of-work opera singer working as a barmaid);  the lady in a little town outside Portland who collected frogs of all descriptions (stuffed, porcelain, wooden, whatever) and displayed them all in her restaurant;  the huge guy in New Hampshire who, when we asked him if he’d ever played football lisped:  “Nope.  I got weak kneeth”;  and the slightly-batty breakfast diner owner in Rhode Island who wore the most eccentric earrings we’d ever seen, a different pair every single day;  these, and many, many others were encountered in our travels, and gave us both dinner-party conversation topics and “Remember when?” reminiscences that survive to this day.

And during every single trip, Trevor and I fell in love with America all over again.

So when reading Bill Bryson’s books, it was like reading about one of our own “Blue Highways” trips (the name taken from the title of William Least Heat Moon’s book of the same ilk).  And when Bryson settled in Britishland, it gave rise to works like the astonishing The Road To Little Dribbling  and Notes From A Small Island  — books which, because I’d been to the U.K. often myself, made me nod my head because I too had been to Little Dribbling, only it was called Upton-Under-Wold, Thirsk or Lesser Foldem.

I cannot recommend his work highly enough, because he is an extraordinary writer who sees everything through a pair of clear-sighted lenses and not rose-tinted ones.  Never one to suffer fools or stupid things, he still talks about them with affection covered by incredulity.  If you’re looking for a reading project for the winter, you could do a lot worse than read everything Bill Bryson has ever written.

And Bill:  good for you.  While I am distraught at your retirement, I am forever grateful to you and your wonderful works.

As to why he’s getting out:

“I would quite like to spend the part that is left to me doing all the things I’ve not been able to do. Like enjoying my family, I have masses of grandchildren and I would love to spend more time with them just down on the floor.”

I can think of no better reason.  Give them each a hug from me.

Blacklists Matter

Over the past weekend I watched Trumbo, the story of the Marxist screenwriter blacklisted by Hollywood during the Red Scare back in the 1950s.  To say that I watched it with a jaundiced eye would be a very big understatement, because I suspected (just from the trailer) that the movie would just be one big blowjob for both Dalton Trumbo and his merry little band of Commiesymps who infested Hollywood back then.

And it was.  Needless to say, the movie made villains of the conservatives who opposed the Marxist infiltration:  people like John Wayne and Hedda Hopper in particular, Wayne because Wayne, and Hopper because she had a son serving in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.  Of course Wayne was made out to be a bully and Hopper a vindictive bitch — and the Senators and Congressmen who haled the Commies in front of the Senate and House Un-American Committee (HUAC) were depicted as ideological purists who saw Communists behind every bush — even though, in the case of Hollywood, there were Commies behind every bush at the time.

Of course, much was made of the fact that being a Communist wasn’t actually illegal (then, and now), and Trumbo made a great show of this being a First Amendment issue — which it was — and how these Commies all wanted to improve America, but of course there were evil right-wingers like Wayne, Joe McCarthy and HUAC harassing them at every turn.

The execution of the traitors Julius and Ethel Rosenberg got a little puff piece in the movie, which didn’t — couldn’t — actually say they weren’t not guilty of treason espionage, so it was brushed over with the throwaway that it was the first execution for esionage in peace time, as though peace time should give espionage a pass.  And if that wasn’t enough, the Rosenberg children were paraded around as sympathy magnets — as they still are — because Communists have no problem using children to serve their own purposes.

Anyway, it all ended well because a few courageous moviemakers flouted the blacklist and finally posted Trumbo’s name in the screenwriting credits for Exodus and Spartacus.

Which brings me to my main point.  I think we can all agree that blacklists are iniquitous — essentially, blacklists mandate the suppression of people’s livelihoods just for holding unpopular opinions or beliefs.  It’s a good thing that Trumbo never wrote the word “nigger”, “queer” or “lesbo” in any of his screenplays, or else his work would be on another blacklist, this time drawn up by the humorless and wokey censors that are everywhere prevalent in show business, academia, government and corporations.  (That these sensitive, censorious souls are proud to call themselves Communists — I’m sorry, democratic socialists or anti-fascists — is an occasion for mirth, irony and satire, but of course ideologues, Marxists most of all, are characterized by a singular lack of a sense of humor.)

So here we are, in a full circle:  people are denied consideration for employment for their political beliefs;  employers get rid of people with contrary political beliefs;  and institutions are being forced to implement policies that parrot the “party line” or The Narrative (take your pick).

But here’s the essential difference between the 1950s-era blacklist and that of the 2010s.  When people fought back against Communism encroachment into the American polity and culture, it wasn’t because they were “fascists”  or “right-wingers”;  it was because the truths of life under Communism were everywhere to be seen:  gulags and the KGB in the Soviet Union, poverty, murder and corruption in socialist Third World countries, and rampant misery in all — all — the countries behind the Iron Curtain.  There was a very good reason to prevent Communism from taking hold here.

Now?  There are no examples of actual “fascism” in America, and to any Black person from the 1880s through the 1950s, the wokeist accusations of modern-day “systemic racism” would cause loud laughter and a shaking of the head.  The only ills that modern-day Communism would seek to cure are largely imaginary, a product of a mindset that demands “safe spaces”, “freedom from hate” and “Black(-only) Lives Matter”.

One thing that does interest me, purely as an intellectual exercise:  would the late Dalton Trumbo agree with what’s going on with the modern-day blacklist?  If he didn’t — assuming he could see the parallels between his predicament in the 1950s with “wrongthinkers” of today — I would hope that he’d employ the same passionate arguments and his legendary scorn against today’s blacklist as he did for his own.

If, however, Trumbo didn’t come out against today’s blacklist and even supported its aims, then I would suggest that his blacklisting in the 1950s was fully justified.

Must-Have Movies — Part 1

Earlier this week I talked about the benefits and/or wisdom of having all your favorite movies on DVD, against the possibility that they could be “canceled” (i.e. censored or maybe worse, bowdlerized) by The Usual Suspects.

So here’s the first part of a list of movies I think one should have in one’s video library, or the stars / directors thereof, just on case they appear on some lefty’s Enemy Of The People list.

Actors:

Clint Eastwood — pretty much any or all his movies (even Bridges Of Madison County , but not Paint Your Wagon )  because a) Clinty and b) the Left hates him for being a conservative.

John Wayne — ditto, except for the appalling The Conqueror  (Genghis Wayne?  No.)

Lee Marvin — ditto, except for Paint Your Wagon  as noted above, and especially The Dirty Dozen.

Steve McQueen — yeah, he was a wife-beater.  So he’ll be on someone’s list sooner or later.

Paul Newman — as an Eastern liberal, he’s probably not going to be “canceled” anytime soon, but everyone should have The Sting, Butch Cassidy, Hud and The Hustler  on their shelf anyway.

 

Directors:

John Frankenheimer — just about all his movies, but especially The Manchurian CandidateBirdman Of Alcatraz, Grand Prix  and Ronin.  Quite possibly the best action-movie director ever.

John Milius — we all know him from Red Dawn, of course, but there’s also Conan  and Flight  Of The Intruder.

Clint Eastwood — he’s already up as an actor, but his solo (non-acting) directing shouldn’t be ignored, either.  Think of Bird, Sully and American Sniper.

We’ll talk about specific must-have movies in the next part of the series.

Feel free to add your favorite “bodies of work” in Comments.  Leave specific movies till next time.