. . . 2000-07-27 . . . The Hotsy Totsy Club
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A Call to Arms

J: They offered me "a documentary about the Dogma movement in filmmaking," but I passed.

R: "The Dogma movement"... sheesh. It's amazing that trick still works: all you have to do is call yourself a movement, and boom!, free publicity forever.

J: Especially if all of your movies sexually degrade women.

R: Hey, that must be where the Weblogs are going wrong!

. . . 2000-07-28

Last week I was trying again to explain why the "information overload" and "drowning in noise" clichés don't apply to the weblog world. I wish I'd just waited till today when I could link to David Chess's compare and contrast with Usenet.

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If I Can't Masturbate in Public, You Can Keep Your Revolution
(part of our Sexual Degradation Special)
I'm all for porn, but I have to admit that this art students dressing slutty stuff seems about as genuinely liberating a revolutionary act as the Andrews Sisters cover of "Rum and Coca-Cola (Working for the Yankee Dollar)."

Which is one of my favorite records.

Schmalhausen trouble
from Is Sex Necessary? by James Thurber and E. B. White

. . . 2000-07-30

(Continuing with what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called "that gentle degradation requisite in order to produce the effect of a whole"....)

Legs The 100 Super Movies au maximum: The Married Woman

One of the nice things about works of art, and vacations and drugs, is that they give us delimited events to point to and say, "This -- this was the turning point. This was where my life changed," as opposed to the usual waking up to find yourself in a strange bedroom thousands of miles away with a resculpted nose and no left leg and the phone off the hook and the cops hammering on the door.

For example, I used to be pretty normal about movies. I liked them and so forth. I'd say things like "Wanna see a movie?" and then later on say things like "That was pretty good."

Then, twenty-three years ago, I went to the Temple University Cinematheque (which I guess is closed down now) and saw Jean-Luc Godard's movie from thirteen years earlier, The Married Woman. And by the time it was over, I had turned into me.

An essential aspect of turning into someone is that other people don't simultaneously turn into the same person. Even while I sat there head ringing and sparkle-eyed, comments like "Did you get that?" and "Weird!" began to worm their way through my protective daze. On my shamble out, I stopped to thank the wizened Anglophile who ran the place. "I hate Godard myself," he said, "but someone has to show him."

Yeah. Nowadays I'm just embarrassed when I see those 1960s Godard movies, but I wouldn't blame the old guy for that any more than I would blame my mom for how embarrassing it is to think about toilet training. The only one I enjoy all the way through is his comedy noir, Bande à part, which reminds me of the Coen Bros., who, like Godard, seem to have been raised in some sort of white plastic box from which they take random stabs at what real life might be like -- there's a very thin crust of experience sagging under the weight of all these violent gesticulations, a bouncing on the plywood mood that seems to work best with dimwit comedy. Of Godard's work from the 1970s, I like the TV interviews with "real people" where he sounds like Charles Kuralt from Mars; from the 1980s and 1990s, his crazy old coot self-typecasting in Prénom Carmen. The only serious Godard moments that still work are the ones where he finds himself back in that white plastic box trying to figure out why everyone looks at him funny: for example, staring into a coffee cup while taking a break from trying to show off those supposed Two or Three Things I Know About Her that, nowadays, it seems obvious to me that he never knew at all.

How to Strip Not that anyone called him on it. There's no safer way for an uncool nerd to show off than by bragging about his up close and personal knowledge of women (or, safer yet, "Woman"). All those nouvelle vague guys leaned on that tactic big time; Godard, being Godard, just did so most explicitly. (As French censors realized, the title's "The" is an important part of The Married Woman's ambition.)

And, to Godard's credit as a forever uncool nerd, he was the only one of the nouvelle vague guys to try to engage equally explicitly with feminism. Unfortunately, he's also forever unable to approach female characters without interposing the clearest (and most brain-dead) demonstration of "inside knowledge": nude photography.

At the time, of course, I was more than willing to fall for such demonstrations; as an eighteen-year-old sex-crazed uncool nerd, they seemed like a darn fine idea.

And at the time, all such considerations seemed completely unrelated to what was most important about the experience, which, the next day, I inadequately described as the realization that "movies can do anything."

At the present time, my inadequate description would be that "movies can combine the discursive and the narrative."

I don't feel as comfortable with either account as I feel with explaining why they differ: It's natural for the individual who's gone through an ecstatic revelation to assume that there must be some relevance to the individual's life.

What's changed in my life is what seems relevant.

Twenty-three years ago, I probably thought of myself as someone who "could do anything," so that's how I was predisposed to understand the experience. Right now, I think of myself as someone who has to drag the discursive into every experience, so I think that the movie just happened to strike a natural-born critic.

You see, even though I promised a couple paragraphs back that I wouldn't bring blame into it, I couldn't just leave the question alone; I felt like I had to try to figure out what happened. For us natural-born critics, it's not enough to say, "My taste changed," or "Can you believe we used to like that stuff?" When we like something, it's a public statement, like pledging our troth.

Not that marriages really do last till the death-do-us part. What marriage means is that, having made a public statement of allegiance, you have to make some correspondingly public statement of divorce.

And then you get to make jokes about your ex for the rest of your life.

. . . 2000-07-31

Just in time for our Sexual Degradation Special, here's Episode 4 of Juliet Clark's tell-all serial...


Your Friends and Neighbors (1998)

When I arrived at the office everybody was huddled in a semicircle around the TV in the corner of the Content Department cubicle. They were watching a video of Your Friends and Neighbors. When the movie ended, the Senior Editor noticed that I’d arrived and asked me what I thought of the movie. I said I hated it. "No, Juliet," she informed me calmly, "it was a film of tremendous courage." "IT WAS A PIECE OF CRAP," I replied, less calmly. The Senior Editor repeated exactly what she had said before. Then she repeated it again, trembling slightly. The other reviewers on staff stared at us. I figured I would have to quit on the spot, forgetting that I’d already quit my job at the web site six months earlier.

. . . 2000-08-03

Breeding tells

The Hotsy Totsy Club is proud to honor the Queen Mum with this trip down memory lane: the aristocrats of her youth, as portrayed by Harper's Monthly Magazine. Ah, to be young and a duchess!

Duchess of Geneva Duchess of Niagra
Duke of Geneva Baron of Oxford

. . . 2000-08-04

(part of our Sexual Degradation Special)

Like many another author setting out on a masterpiece, John Collier must have begun His Monkey Wife with the worst of intentions: to plan a romance novel whose virtuous heroine is a chimpanzee betrays a less than honorable attitude toward romance novels and virtuous heroines. In Collier's typical folderols of feckless poets and rich bullies, the female human plays the luscious main dish or the Acme beartrap but never the protagonist. And his novel, like his short stories, foregrounds a comically exaggerated ideology of misogynous sexism and Anglophilic colonolialism.

But rather than a Triumph of Arch, it's Collier's only really moving work. One of the wonders of narrative is that a story, when well-written enough (and His Monkey Wife is very well written), can be so much wiser than the storyteller. Once immersed in the point of view of long-suffering Emily, we're unlikely to be able to hold her chimpdom clearly in sight except as the primal cause of her suffering.

What results is not so much a travesty of romance as one of its purest examples, complicated but essentially unbesmirched by the deadpan perversity of the humor. Our focus shifts between the extremes of expressed sincerity and implied sarcasm until the two views dissolve into a wavering, headache-inducing, but very impressive illusion of depth. By the time sex is dragged in by a prehensile foot, we are, like Mr. Fatigay, more than ready to succumb.

I think Emily Watson for the movie role, don't you?

Tarzan and his mate
Bestiality has never seemed particularly profound in Real Life, but, since Robert Musil's quiet Veronika was first tempted by her Saint Bernard, it's been a sure-fire booster of moral complexity in Fiction.

Sex can work heavy-duty alchemical action on even the shallowest of animal fables, as proved by the only good thing ever written by hack libertarian and Welsh-supremecist Dafydd ab Hugh, "The Coon Rolled Down and Ruptured His Larinks, A Squeezed Novel by Mr. Skunk."

Again we find the ambition-performance ratio unexpectedly reversed. In ab Hugh's story, zero-sum economics applies to intelligence: as one part of society gains IQ, another part accordingly dumbs down, which is why democracy can't work. If he'd illustrated his postulate with, say, American ethnic groups, he might have had some difficulty selling his story to a genre magazine. And so he uses the slightly less controversial hierarchy of species.

Which is how he ended up with something more sellable and richer and stranger than he could possibly have imagined. No matter how fleabit and fanatic, cute fuzzy hungry animals can't help but gain our sympathy; a taboo against "love in the streets" can't help but predispose us to cheer on an affaire de coeur between underboy and underdog, no matter how disgusting.

So, even though the story (mercifully) doesn't work as propaganda for ab Hugh's political position, his viciousness does manage to keep this Incredible Journey from falling into Disneyesque propaganda of another sort. Thus muddling doth make heroes of us all.


Movie Comment: Chuck & Buck You got a friend

(concluding our Sexual Degradation Special)

So I wanted to finish up with a couple of male sexual degradations, you know, just for variety's sake, but I couldn't remember any, mostly 'cause I don't think it really counts as degradation if the guy is paying for the service. (Feel free to submit your own suggestions in the upper right corner....) There are those great male sex symbols of the 1920s and 1930s, but one of the reasons they're sexy is that they all seem so cheerful, like big happy puppy dogs (ref. yesterday's episode).

The best I can come up with is Hollywood's more-revived-than-ever interest in ugly, sweaty, stupid, disgusting, and utterly isolated homosexual characters. You know, the kind of thing junior high kids and other morons have in mind when they say stuff like "That's so gay." As far as I know, this was re-initiated by Boogie Nights, which posited a 100%-heterosexual porn industry in which an actor with a twelve-inch dick somehow became a star. Huh. Anyway, the one homosexual in the porn industry (heck, in all of California!) was, of course, very lonely.

The tradition continues with Chuck & Buck, which is powered by a lot of pleasing Albert-Brooks-style squirm humor but which wants to show off its indie muscles by going all "dangerous" on us. And what's more dangerous than a gay guy? Gee, how about a gay guy who actually manages to ever encounter even one other gay guy in Los Angeles? Yeah, I know, that would defy credibility....

Personally, I think the story would've worked a lot better if it had been about the degrading relationship between a Hollywood producer and a Hollywood writer.

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Trivia Corner: According to the OED, in 1782 "A priest could not be degraded but by eight bishops."

Man, that must've been something to see....

... an' anotha thing ...... then again ...

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2000 Ray Davis.