Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A film review about seven decades late.

I was going through some old video tapes from the library of a deceased friend. Among them was an unopened copy of George Cukor’s 1939 film, The Women by Clare Booth Luce.

Previously I had seen the last bits of it on television but this was my first chance to watch it from beginning to end. I can’t say how much I really disliked this film. I can’t tell you how true it was to the script of the play written by Luce but if it even vaguely resembles her original work I’m surprised she wasn’t lynched by women.

This had to be the most anti-woman film that I’ve seen. I’m sure there are others that are worse, I just haven’t seen them. I thought Luce’s characterization of her own sex was rather vicious and catty -- much like the women she portrays.

My first inkling of the direction the film would take was the way the characters are portrayed as they are introduced in the opening credits of the film. Each of them is presented first as some sort of barnyard animal which morphs into a woman. The names of the women are “Mrs Stephen Haines” or “Mrs. Howard Fowler” for instance. Their forenames are presented below that.

I don’t have any problems with “Mrs. Mary Haines” reflecting her married surname and her forename but, when the woman's forename disappears and she becomes merely an appendage of her husband, it is rather demeaning. I first assumed this was merely some oddity from the era in which it was filmed. After watching it, I wasn’t so sure.

Almost all the women in the film are cruel, vicious, and deceitful. There are no male characters shown in the entire film, they are only referred to by the women.

The men are apparently all cads as well, so perhaps Luce just despises people and not just women. But it was women that she portrayed so cruelly here.

Basically you have a story revolving around Mary Haines who discovers her husband is cheating on her. The women in the film are all horrible gossips who add their own lies to what they hear. The women never, never, never shut up and much of what they say is insulting to one another. If one leaves the room they get even worse than when she is with them.

Of course, none of the women have anything except their marriages around which to build an identity. They literally are appendages of their husbands here. The only one who has a job is the one stealing husbands and she is the only one who is introduced by her own name.

Mary loses her husband and much of it is the fault of her dear friends and their gossip. She eventually connives and plots and lies to get hm back. The one working woman has succeeded in marrying Stephen after Mary’s friends pushed circumstances so that a divorce was inevitable. But the new Mrs. Haines is unhappy and cheating already. When Mary reveals the dirty laundry in a manner that made it public Stephen calls for him to come to him. We see her rush toward the camera rubbing her hands in glee that she got her man back.

It isn’t that the film was just antiquated but that it was vicious. The plot was mediocre at best and the dialoge often was boring, silly, or stilted. It was rarely amusing though it was supposed to be a comedy. It was a film worthy of dislike on many levels.

What I found interesting is that conservatives seem to love the film. Yet the “family values” in this film was pretty atrocious. Everyone was dishonest, cheating was rampant, marriages were frivolous and the level of ethics was rather low.

But Luce converted to Catholicism and was obsessed with communism. She was an active Republican. Apparently that makes the film all right. Perhaps it is the vicious way that women are treated in the film that appeals to these conservatives. But I can’t see how the moral values of this film can be appealing to them.

But then much of the conservative agenda is purely driven by reactionary thinking. They assume that if the film insults women, that means it is not politically correct, therefore it must be good. I’m no fan of politically correct thinking but the excesses of the PC crowd are no excuse to support bigotry. And many conservatives seem to think that because the Left is pushing for excessive legislation on “hate crimes” that insulting minorities ,or various groups, is therefore a good thing.

As I see it, these conservatives are not capable of thinking for themselves. They are really letting the Left think for them. What the Left hates they love. What the Left loves they hate. They react, they don’t act. They merely do the opposite of the Left. Some on the Left are similar.

One of the virtues of libertarianism, when properly understood, is that the libertarian is as far from the conservate and he is from the socialist. We can’t simply see what the Left and Right do and take the opposite position on many issues. While Left and Right are more alike than they like to admit, there are just too many issues where they are polar opposites. We can’t “react” against both of them. We have to think through the issue and see how it relates to our first principles.

Libertarians are not reactionaries, nor can they be. Of course, I don’t simply mean people who label them self as libertarian since many of them are really conservatives in political drag.

My dislike of The Women is not simply some knee-jerk feminism on my part. For instance, I enjoyed Mona Lisa Smile (2003) with Julia Roberts. Yet many feminists hated it. Roberts was a professor at a woman’s college and was trying to encourage the women to be all they could be. One decides to drop a career opportunity in order to marry and the Roberts character berates her for it. But the woman gives a powerful defense of her right to choose to be a wife and housewife and mother. I thought it was great because it reaffirmed the right of individuals to make their own choices.

But The Women doesn’t do that. It doesn’t affirm the right of women to choose. It implies they have no ability to choose. In one dialogue there is some discussion about how men pursue women for sex and women allow men to catch them. And one character’s reply says it all: “What else do we have to offer them?” Indeed, in this film, they have nothing else to offer them.

In fact, the women had nothing to offer each other. Their support was all feigned while they were doing their level best to hurt each other. It was a film where the overwhelming feeling from the characters was hatred for each other. I don’t want to call the film sexist, I don’t care for the word since it implies “sexism” can only be directed against women. It was anti-woman. But I suspect that had the men been portrayed, we’d see that Luce didn’t like them very much either. So perhaps it is simply antihuman. I just know that I shan’t be watching again.

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