Sunday, December 06, 2009

Movie Notes: The Twilight Saga: New Moon

A few years ago, George Clooney gave an Academy Awards acceptance speech in which he lauded Hollywood for its "out of touch" political stances. In the face of a socially backwards population, the Hollywood community had, according to Clooney, stood tall for progressive values. His speech was widely mocked for its smugness, and it was that. It was also wrong; what's most striking about the films that Hollywood cranks out every year is how politically and socially regressive they are, and even downright reactionary. Case in point: The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

This film is being heralded as a victory for female moviegoers because it was designed for girls and has turned a profit, giving the lie to the Hollywood belief that it's not economically feasible to make movies for women. So, let's start there, shall we? Can you think of any other art form whose professionals are uncomfortable making art that might appeal to women? Could you imagine publishers saying, "yeah, we're not into publishing books about women because girls don't read"? And yet, for some years now, there has been an whispered belief in Hollywood that movies whose main perspective is that of a woman are losing bets, and so it's better business sense to crank out mounds of summer blockbusters conspicuously aimed at 13 year old boys, expecting that girls will show up with their boyfriends.

In exchange for that, every year sees a handful of "chick flicks", and we two-fisted he men are expected to groan, "Oh no! Not another chick flick!" every time one comes out. Of course, as a movie addict, I'm aware that they only make about 3 to 5 of these movies a year- in an industry that usually makes 100-200 movies/ year, so it seems a bit much to worry about. Given that at least 2/3rd of Hollywood movies are aimed at young men, having 3% aimed at women seems okay.

Usually, the "chick flicks" do poorly at the box office, and Hollywood's geniuses claim this as evidence that "women don't watch movies". Of course, the reason they fail is really that they're usually truly bad movies about borderline retarded idiot women who can't take care of themselves or even function as adults in society, before finally discovering that the studly man who can do their thinking for them was right under their nose all along.

Between the idiot women in romantic comedies and the hot sex toy babes in blockbuster CGI movies, there are almost never fully functioning, complex adult women in Hollywood movies anymore. The exceptions- notably always played by actresses from across the Atlantic- are characters in the "prestige" pictures that come out right before Oscar time during the one month of the year that Hollywood films are geared towards adults. Otherwise, it's all Megan Fox all the time. And remember, this view of women- as mentally helpless, but sexually available damsels- is that of our "progressive" betters. Or, at least, it's the view of women that they assume we moviegoers in the sticks are most likely to buy.

In The Twilight Trainwreck: Gettin' Mooned, the main character, Bella, is a young woman who is so "vulnerable" that she can hardly speak, which I suppose is intended to be cute. She hems and haws and mumbles and is completely inarticulate and uninteresting. For some reason, which is never explained, this makes extremely popular at her High School. The actress, Kristen Stewart, also appeared in Adventureland, and gave exactly the same weird performance. It's as if she's embarrassed and put out to be acting in a movie. But, her "vulnerability" plays well in a movie about a young adult woman who needs two men and a vampire cult family to think for her.

See, Bella is in love with a sensitive and controlling vampire, played by Robert Pattinson, who looks like a transvestite mime due to his white pancake makeup and dark red lipstick. I never saw the first film, but apparently, I didn't miss very much because it was easy to follow this one. Pattinson also mumbles all of his lines, so the dialogue went something like:
She: I... um, don't... want to... like, leave you!
He: Bella, murrgshs mussrsgg blarg...
She: Don't.... say that!

Anyway, she wants to become a vampire because she loves him, and he doesn't want her to because vampires have no souls; and overall he's really sensitive and depressed all the time in that sort of passive-aggressive way that really insecure men use to control their girlfriends. Mostly, he follows her around and "protects" her. However, she is still human and, after a bloody paper cut makes another member of the vampire cult family go bonkers, he decides to leave her forever. Luckily, he still follows her around in some sort of spirit form to "protect" her from doing foolhardy things like riding a motorcycle at a low speed on a totally abandoned dirt road, like the good vampire mime on her right shoulder.

Of course, Bella responds by doing dangerous things like riding a motorcycle and associating with the wrong sort of boy in order to make the vampire jealous, because she really wants him to come back and mope. Meanwhile, she's fallen in with a tribe of homoerotic werewolves who also want to follow her around and protect her. So, at this point in the film, all of the tension stems from the very real "danger" that this young woman might do something that the men who follow her around "protecting" her don't approve of. Seriously.

The vampires hate the werewolves and vice-versa. Of course, the vampires here don't drink human blood on principle, and instead of turning to dust in sunlight, get all sparkly; while the werewolves are buff shirtless boys who turn into really fake CGI wolves. It is clearly aimed at teenage girls. The fantasy seems to be that the young woman will move out of her father's house only to be sheltered, overseen, and essentially parented by an asexual, mumbling, control freak who doesn't want to fuck her. Or will she, instead, be adopted by the jealous, somewhat violent werewolf who also doesn't want to fuck her because he's afraid he'd beat her? Choices choices.

And this movie is seen as a breakthrough for young women! Here's an article claiming that feminists should go easy on the movie, because after all, Hollywood finally made a movie for women. Feminists, of course, attack movies like this, and sometimes I think it's over-the-top to spend your time attacking fiction. But, what can you really say about The Twilight Fail? It really is pretty sexist. I understand that plenty of young women like it, but so what? Plenty of young men like Limp Bizkit. Crap is still crap, even if it's beloved crap.

And, for crying out loud, it's 2009! And it's not as if Hollywood is "finally" making movies about women. I mean, go watch a movie like His Girl Friday, made in the dark ages of 1940, and pay attention to Rosalind Russel's performance. She's a dynamo in that movie (and everything she did really): whipsmart, witty, dynamic, and crackling with intelligence. She's the perfect foil for Cary Grant and she gets some of the best lines in the film. [Grant (as her ex-husband): There's been a lamp burning in the window for ya, honey. Russel: Oh, I jumped out that window a long time ago!] Was that movie made for a target market of women? Or of men? Or, instead, weren't movies like that just made for intelligent audiences?

It's hard to imagine a movie like that coming out today. Woody Allen still tries, on occasion, but most movies with female leads feature characters like Bella, the sort of stammering milksops that Rosalind Russel or Joan Crawford could have dispatched with a single, well-aimed quip.


Min said...

Interesting. I read the whole series on my kindle in one night about six months ago. I like vampire stuff and I wanted to see if Meyer was any good. Most of the writing is cringe inducingly bad, but I couldn't let go of the Twicrack pipe until I read the last word.

Bella kicks some ass at the end, but only in the last 100 pages or so. That was the most frustrating part for me, the waiting and the whining, for the kiss, the sex and finally, the blood sucking. I kind of liked the pregnancy and half-vampire baby part. I hope they show the Cullens taking the baby out of Bella's belly with their teeth. Somehow, I don't think they will.

Your criticism of Bella's passivity and anti-feminism has been duly noted by yours truly and many others in the blogosphere and mass media, and I totally get it. I also get that this is basically teen Romance.. not too far off from Sweet Valley High shit. Little girls and (big girls) want to be swept away and taken care of by the perfect man who literally want to "eat her up" and stays up all night staring at your face. Creepy? no! true love!
I don't care if you're a feminist or not, that kind of I'm going to die without you love is what (globally, it seems) women want and it's what Stephanie Meyer is selling to little girls.

Rufus said...

That's true, and actually the male characters were a lot more interesting than the main female character. I can see where that's the fantasy version of males. And, certainly, you can see why it appeals to teenage girls.

I think I'm just generally bored with female characters in American movies. I don't even think it's feminst, really; I just usually find them uninteresting. I'm sure there are exceptions. It seems like Kate Winslet must have played some interesting characters. Offhand, though, I can't think of a lot of women in American movies that remind me of the women I've been attracted to in real life. They're certainly not like Claire!

Min said...

Yeah, American movies have very broad, bland characters. I think this goes to males roles too though. It could be that Hollywood is trying to sell movies now to the whole world, not just the U.S. They create these blank slate stories/people for marketing purposes, I think.
Park Chan Wook has great complex female characters. I just watched Thirst(another vampire movie, i know,) but it was freakin awesome. I'll have to think harder about the last American movie I've seen with an interesting female lead.

Rufus said...

It's sort of embarassing, but the first performance that came to mind was Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Sure, the feminists hated it, but I loved that her character was smarter than everyone else in the movie! The sequel... not so much.

It seems like Tlida Swinton must have had a really good role or two as well, although all that comes to mind are the Narnia films.