So Uncle Sam has us all back to work, at least until this continuing resolution expires in a couple of months. Ah well. It was fun while it lasted, at least for me. Not so much for those who really feel a tardy paycheck. Books were read. Naps were taken. AbFabs were knitted.
And movies were watched, so back to the National Film Registry.
Letter from an Unknown Woman, black and white, 86 minutes, 1948. Wiki article. IMDB page. Available on DVD, but not on Netflix. Sometimes shows up on TCM. Godawful. If you defy my advice and watch this movie, I hope you like spoilers. Here are the key problems: (1) Joan Fontaine is Jesus Christ! She’s 95 and she’s still alive! Ahem. Joan Fontaine is not even a little bit interesting in this role. (2) Sometimes I just want to thrust my hand into the screen to choke some sense into a movie heroine. This is not a healthy impulse. Here, from almost the first moment, I suffered from the impulse to explain to her how worthless this bozo was. (3) Louis Jourdan, forever tainted by his association with Gigi, the most objectionable movie ever, appears here, thereby spreading the GigiStench and killing this stupid movie before it even had a chance, which it didn’t. (4) The letter itself, part 1: It starts “By the time you read this letter, I may be dead.” AAAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH! (5) The letter, part 2: after the dead bit at the beginning, the rest is embarrassingly schmoopy as if written by a 13 year old girl rather than a 30-year-old woman who should have grown up by now. (6) HE DOESN’T EVEN REMEMBER WHO SHE IS!!!!!! Stronzo.
On the other hand, at 86 minutes, it’s mercifully short.
Where Are My Children?, silent,
creepy orange tint black and white, 65 minutes. Wiki article. IMDB page. Available on Youtube and on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s DVD compilation Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film 1900-1934. Back in the beginning, there were lots of directors making commercially successful films who also happened to have ovaries. However, filmmaking became almost entirely a boys’ club by the mid-1930s which, oddly, was about the time the Hays Code was passed. I’m not aware of any direct connection between the two but, if you think about it, the code reflects the oppressive paternalism of the Decency Faction that protected us from sex, drugs, blasphemy, flag desecration, or the idea (painfully obvious everywhere) that crime sometimes pays. Come to think of it, that’s still the Decency Faction’s party platform, with the exception of the “crime pays” problem, because it has now become the case that white collar crime is an acceptable, or perhaps even the most desirable, way of achieving wealth so it would be silly to discourage future Banksters from learning their trade. I can see how the people with the money (and during that time period, that increasingly meant the studios) would be less willing to take risks in a more restrictive creative environment, and it’s always an enormous risk to put a woman in charge of anything except diaper changing, especially if she’s a creative woman with something to say. Not only that, there was no reason to keep women away from the fun until the men discovered that filmmaking was cool, and that took awhile. If men ever decide that cleaning hotel rooms is cool, I predict a paradigm shift in the job market. Anyway, this film was one of the social issues films from Lois Weber, one of the great film directors of her era with or without ovaries.
Where Are My Children? presents an unsettling view of female sexuality combined with a mixed message about contraception. Let me see if I can summarize. Women who have sex outside marriage or within marriage but not for reproduction are bad. Brown people and immigrant white people should have small families and contraception is perhaps a tolerable to accomplish that. Rich white people should have large families and contraception is very very bad (even though it’s the rich white women, and not the brown and/or immigrant women who have the access to quality health care and the access to contraception). Rich white women have an obligation to have children. Those who refuse this obligation are selfish ninnies who only want to hang out at tea parties with their disreputable friends, drinking and smoking behind their husband’s backs. Decisions about the law and policy of human reproduction should be made exclusively by men. Doctors who perform abortions should go to prison. Women who have more than one abortion are thereafter medically unable to have children. Women who have abortions should be prosecuted for murder. The men–those rascals–who are the other half of the cause of an unwanted pregnancy are not very nice, but there is no societal consequence for being a baby daddy, even if baby daddy refuses to acknowledge paternity and refuses to provide any form of support for the baby.
You may have noticed that I omitted the date of this film from my introduction. You might perhaps think that this is an Issue Ad cooked up by Karl Rove to aid Mr. Cuccinelli in his gubernatorial race this year. But no! Where Are My Children? was released in 1916, which goes to show how much the conservative agenda has advanced in the last 100 years.
The Silence of the Lambs, color, 118 minutes, 1991. I saw this one when it came out in 1991 and the consensus is that it’s a great film containing great performances. However, I can’t get past “It puts the lotion on its skin.” Gave me nightmares for two weeks and still upsets me to think about. Helped me to accept that however sophisticated I may want to be, I do not like scary movies or horror movies, no matter how arty, and it’s OK not to watch them.