Sex, Love and Videotape

On movie sex and movie love...

Month: September 2019

Gone Girl

YEAR: 2014
DIRECTOR: David Fincher
KEY ACTORS: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 8.1
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 87%

SEX SCORE: 2/5
✔️Rewatchable. God, is it rewatchable. I can’t drag my eyes away.
✔️And it passes the Bechdel Test. Admittedly, much of the talk between named female characters is about Amy but it passes the rest!
❌ But I do not want to fuck either of them, no matter how hot they are! They’re terrifying and deeply, deeply unattractive because of it.
❌ And there’s nothing here to prompt fantasies for me. It’s messed up!
❌ Finally, it’s not sex positive at all. Sex is a weapon; relationships are a lie. It’s. Messed. Up!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on. Seriously, I’m going to reveal all sorts of plot twists so if you’ve managed to avoid them, please watch it before reading as the reveal is incredible!

[CW: rape, abusive relationships, murder]

STREAMING: Netflix, Amazon Prime (rent £3.49, buy £3.99), YouTube (from £3.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

Gone Girl poster showing Ben Affleck under a cloud of smoke hiding Rosamund Pike’s eyes

This week is usually the week for a ‘bad’ film – one with a bad message or one that’s really sex negative. It’s previously been a chance for me to rant about offensive humour or the patriarchy. This week’s movie, however, is not a bad film at all. In fact, it’s a pretty incredible film! But Gone Girl still gets to go in the ‘bad’ movie slot as it only scores 2 out of 5 – from a sex positivity perspective, it is a bad film. And although I couldn’t give it marks for its sex content as, wow, all the relationships are weaponised in a grossly unhealthy way, Gone Girl does have some fascinating and pertinent things to say about marriage and, you’ve guessed it, the patriarchy!

Gone Girl begins when Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) discovers that his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has been abducted from their home. Investigations suggest that she’s been murdered and soon Nick is the prime suspect. He’s been having an affair, there are money problems, and Amy’s diary reveals that their marriage has been on the rocks and she is afraid of Nick. He has been violent towards her, he has pushed her to the ground; she fears he might kill her. Except that Amy isn’t dead at all. And, other than the affair, none of the terrible things she accuses Nick of are true either. She’s planned the whole thing to frame Nick for her death as revenge for being such a terrible husband. It was going exactly according to plan until she is robbed and has to turn to an old lover for help. Unfortunately, Desi is as bad a person as Amy and keeps her locked up in his lake house, nominally for her own good and acting like a blueprint for how to be an emotionally abusive partner. Amy can only escape by murdering Desi after framing him for rape as justification for her act, at which point she returns to Nick and manipulates him into staying with her.

Nick at a vigil got his missing wife, speaking from a microphone

It’s so fucking messed up!

Before I properly get into what I find interesting about this film, there are a couple of problematic themes that I want to cover, and these certainly contribute to why this isn’t a sex positive film. The first, and most potentially harmful, is the idea that a woman would lie about being raped for her own gains. Ouch. Twice Amy ruins the life of someone who has wronged her (one of whom she kills) by fabricating a rape – and she is believed. It’s because of exactly stories like this, and the always present power of the patriarchy, that he-said-she-said disputes rarely side with the accuser. How do you know she’s not making it up? they ask. Can you prove it? And to add fuel to the fire, here Amy does have evidence but she’s made that up too. It makes a great story, without doubt, but it saddens me every time I see it as it’s just one type of story but it drowns out the millions of real ones; the one falsehood that rape deniers bring up as evidence when they don’t want to believe an accusation of assault. And now we have ‘proof’ that evidence should be distrusted too, even physical and DNA evidence can be manipulated. This is not a good message and one that I wish would stop getting airtime.

My other potential problem is one more of language than theme, because I don’t know how to talk about Amy: she’s a psycho, she’s insane, she’s batshit crazy…she doesn’t have a diagnosis of a mental health disorder, she’s just not a good person. Although Amy’s choices and decision making processes aren’t rational or potentially that healthy, I am very aware of the damage that can be caused by resorting to language associated with mental health conditions to describe bad people. It perpetuates unhelpful stereotypes and encourages stigma. So yes, Amy is horrific; she’s arguably one of cinema’s greatest villains, but I’m not going to call her a psycho.

Amy looking to the right, standing in front of Nick who is looking at the floor

So…Gone Girl. Wow.

This is going to sound strange considering the fucked up and murderous conclusion of the film but there is a lot about the film that is really quite relatable.

Not the conspiracy or murder, obviously, but in how our true selves are revealed as we progress through long term relationships and marriage, and how disappointing this can be. In her book, ‘Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: monstrosity, patriarchy and the fear of female power,’ Sady Doyle suggests that Gone Girl – book and film – were so successful because ‘that kind of rage bubbles underneath the surface of many “normal” marriages, and behind the smiles of many seemingly happy women.’ Through Amy’s extreme actions, women were able to ‘vent their daily indignities and unspeakable anger safely and without consequence.’ Now, I don’t mean to suggest that many, or any, married women are suppressing an anger of that degree, but it’s not such a stretch to imagine a large proportion of women who find out many years down the line that their marriage isn’t what they expected.

Because who among us hasn’t worked to only show the best of themselves in a new relationship? Who hasn’t pretended to be more interested in their potential date’s hobbies, or pretended to be someone slightly different to who they really are to make themselves more attractive? And this might not be a conscious effort; sometimes we just don’t share our whole warts and all selves straightaway. But we can’t keep up the charade forever so what happens when the NRE (new relationship energy) and shine has gone and we realise that we don’t like who our partners really are or who we are with them?

Amy and Nick in a bookshop

And this is again is where the influence of the patriarchy can be felt. In a traditional marriage, women are much more likely to be the ones to change and make sacrifices for the marriage, fulfilling their role as housewife. Once children arrive, this divide between who we were before the marriage and who we are now widens, with women tending to take on the majority of childcare responsibilities. It’s really not hard to imagine this as a situation that breeds resentment and anger. And I say this as someone who is very happily married! As Sady Doyle put it, Gone Girl is a reaction to the ‘daily, grinding violence of subservience and loss of self’ associated with an unfulfilling marriage: ‘if you’ve been through enough, the difference between making a man better and making him sorrier can be tough to figure out.’

Viewed in this context, Amy’s anger and violence could almost be a direct attack on the patriarchy, and is perhaps more understandable for that. Discussing it on the Unscrewed podcast, Jaclyn Friedman felt that Gone Girl ‘takes seriously the suffering of misogyny’ – all those little slights, little oppressions and little dismissals, all those micro-aggressions, that wear us down or wear us out. Or in Amy’s case, fire her up.

And, obviously, Amy takes this way too far! Nick may not be that great a guy but he doesn’t deserve what happens to him. But I think that’s why Amy is such a fantastic and horrifying villain. She’s not a megalomaniac, she’s no Bond baddy in her evil lair; she’s a fucking genius but her end goal feels oddly suburban, even in the context of her incredibly complex plan. She could be any disgruntled and disaffected housewife; she could be anyone of us. Her complaints aren’t irrational, her reaction is. So what’s stopping more women responding in this way?

Terrifying attack on the patriarchy aside, I do think this film has some very interesting perspectives on relationships in general. Although Amy’s version of events prior to the beginning of the film is manipulated for her own gain, she does state that the start was real – ‘it had to be.’ And the beginning of their relationship is just adorable. It’s exactly what Hollywood has led us to believe new love should be – softly lit, with flirtatious humour and beauty all around. They look good together, they have adorable in-jokes and literally sweet familiar gestures like the lip swipe after walking through the sugar snow: ‘We’re so cute. I want to punch us in the face!’ It’s perfect; they’re perfect. There was a lot about their marriage at that stage that made me wonder if I wasn’t making enough effort in my own – I’ve never made a treasure hunt for our anniversary, for example! ‘We were the happiest couple we knew,’ Amy boasts.

But she also makes it clear that this perfection isn’t real and isn’t without effort: ‘I forged the man of my dreams.’ And not just in her efforts to mould Nick. This, of course, is where the famous Cool Girl monologue comes from:

Oh, this is a powerful idea. And I’ve written about it before because it was such a familiar idea to me. I have spent so much of my life trying to be the Cool Girl and always feeling like I didn’t make the grade. Knowing and recognising the Cool Girl, and knowing and recognising how easy it is to fall into the trap of being the Cool Girl is such an important part of new relationships. She’s a movie trope, like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but that doesn’t stop men from wanting her, and wanting women to be her.

(As an aside, I actually only stopped trying to be the Cool Girl when I essentially gave up dating and met up with the man who would be my future husband for sex! He wasn’t supposed to be important so I didn’t bother to pretend – we wanted to fuck each other and luckily that didn’t change the more we got to know each other. As a dating strategy, it was hugely liberating and I’d definitely recommend it!)

Amy’s take on the Cool Girl is also interesting because she doesn’t see it as a universally bad idea. She and Nick both became better people for pretending to be exactly what the other wanted. It made her smarter, it made him better – hence forging the man of her dreams! But forging really is a violent and explosive metaphor that suggests a lot if energy and effort, and Nick’s unforgivable sin was no longer making the effort to maintain the delusion. Although Amy clearly resents what she had to do to be the Cool Girl, it was worth it to be part of the whole. Their marriage looked good from the outside so it was worth it. Except Nick stopped pretending and Amy realised that she didn’t like who he’d become – or perhaps who he really was: ‘He actually expected me to love him unconditionally.’

And this is where Amy’s ideas about marriage, in my opinion, do split from reality and where her true villainy lies. Yes, Nick may not be the same as when they married, but she isn’t either. Her dismissal of him without taking any responsibility is irrational. Also, Nick’s version of events don’t exactly paint her as the ideal wife – and I don’t mean ideal as in Stepford. Her anniversary treasure hunt quite obviously does not bring Nick joy and yet she persists. She’s trying to force him to remain that person he was pretending to be, even when it’s obvious that it’s making him unhappy.

And is that fact that Nick barely knows his wife his fault or hers? Maybe he wasn’t paying attention or maybe she was keeping too much hidden. Whatever the truth, they did not communicate enough for the relationship to work. Long term relationships require constant adjustment and compromise, especially when the two of them have gone through such significant life changes by losing their jobs and moving from New York to Missouri. How could they stay the same?

My final point on this movie is about how it plays with the idea of appearance vs reality. This is, of course, Amy’s main complaint in their marriage, but it extends beyond this one area. Amy has always had to maintain an outward appearance of success and overachievement because she has constantly been in competition with her fictional alternate in the Amazing Amy books her parents wrote. Appearances were important to her – which may be why Nick’s actions were so unforgivable.

Nick standing next to a ‘Missing Amy’ poster with a ‘shit-eating grin,’ to quote Amy

The film also dwells a lot on public appearances with regard to the murder investigation and trial. Nick’s reflexive smile when on camera or when taking a selfie mark him out as insincere and suspicious; Andi, the young woman Nick was fucking, fundamentally changes her appearance once his infidelity is revealed to make him look worse: ‘Why is she dressed as a babysitter? The girl with the giant come on me tits?’ The main role of Tanner Bolt, the fancy lawyer that Nick hires, seems to be to manage the optics of the situation as it got further out of control, reminding Nick that ‘this case is about what people think of you. They need to like you.’ The truth doesn’t matter, Bolt seems to imply. It’s how he appears.

Which, of course, is the crux of the whole plot and how the movie ends.

Nick and Amy are back together; she’s persuaded him to stay by becoming pregnant and using the guilt of his own absent father to convince him not to leave her. And his tour de force performance to persuade the American public that he wasn’t a murderer worked so well that Amy sees some hope in him after all. Their marriage filled with resentment as their real personalities were revealed has become a knowingly sham marriage where they keep up appearances and, I can only imagine, torture each other forever more!

‘Promise me we’ll never be like them,’ Amy asked Nick early in their relationship, eager not to be one of those drab and predictable couples who argue all the time.

Well, they’re certainly not like other couples…

Nick Dunne: You fucking cunt!
Amy Dunne: I’m the cunt you married. The only time you liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt might like. I’m not a quitter, I’m that cunt. I killed for you; who else can say that? You think you’d be happy with a nice Midwestern girl? No way, baby! I’m it.
Nick Dunne: Fuck. You’re delusional. I mean, you’re insane, why would you even want this? Yes, I loved you and then all we did was resent each other, try to control each other. We caused each other pain.
Amy Dunne: That’s marriage.

Wow.

This movie is messed up…

Next week: Practical Magic

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Dirty Dancing

YEAR: 1987
DIRECTOR: Emile Ardolino
KEY ACTORS: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Cynthia Rhodes
CERTIFICATE: 12
IMDB SCORE: 7.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 71%

SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️Definitely rewatchable – the soundtrack alone would tempt me to watch it again before even considering the dancing!
✔️ And yes, I’d want to fuck Patrick Swayze at his peak. Didn’t we all?
✔️ For a film made in the 80s when rape and misogyny were often amusing plot points, this is such a sex positive film! It supports easy access to abortion, and the coming of age through holiday romance, hot hot sex and dance. It would rank higher than a lot of more modern movies; it’s extraordinary.
✔️ Just as Up in the Air is an archetypal hotel fuck movie, this is the holiday romance movie to inspire all holiday romances. Of course I wanted the hottest guy on holiday to notice me and want me and fuck me in secret and then publicly announce his love for me. It’s the dream of a teenage girl who never thought she’d be noticed but it’s still a great dream… Oh, and I always always always want to dance like I’m being fucked. It’s everything.
✔️AND it passes the Bechdel Test! Only the second 5/5 film yet!!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Netflix, Amazon Prime (rent £3.49, buy £5.99), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

Dirty Dancing poster showing Swayze and Grey in the starting position for their dance

I don’t remember when I first saw Dirty Dancing; I genuinely don’t remember a time when I hadn’t watched this film. But I do remember watching it in my early teens and realising what it was really about.

It wasn’t just a film about learning to dance and having a holiday romance. It wasn’t just a film for girls or teenagers or something that should be dismissed (famously by prominent male critics) like so much romcom and chick lit. It is a fucking gritty film for women about women’s pleasure and women’s issues – abortion and privilege and class – that just happens to be wrapped up in a lovely dancing plot with a cracking soundtrack. This is a frivolous, hilarious, cheesy film but it is such a Good Film and rightfully deserving of its 5/5 score – only the second one I’ve given. It’s a feminist masterpiece!

Dirty Dancing follows the Houseman family through their summer holiday at a resort in America. The youngest daughter, Frances, is always called Baby (Jennifer Grey) and, because she’s in the right place at the right time, becomes aware that one of the dancers, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), is in trouble – Penny needs an abortion and has neither the time or the money to get one. Baby uses her privilege to get her the money from her father, who trusts her without question, before she is taught to dance by Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) so she can cover for Penny while she sees the doctor. Sadly, the ‘doctor’ turns out to be nothing more than a back-alley quack with the equivalent of a coat hanger, and Baby once again turns to her father for help as he’s a doctor. Of course Baby and Johnny then fall in love. Of course Mr Houseman is horrified that Baby is mixed up in all of this mess. Of course it has a happy ending with a rousing dance number that will never fail to bring a smile to your face.

Penny, Baby and Johnny dancing in formation

Oh, I have so much to say about this film!

For a start, it’s so fucking hot! And I mean that from the perspective of an innocent young teenager and from that of a horny woman in her 30s. I have spent my entire life wanting to dance like the staff dance at the beginning in their secret club. It is literally and figuratively hot; steamy, red, gyrating, dirty, close, sweaty, dishevelled, talented. Fuck. It’s probably the closest thing to sex that I’ve seen on screen that isn’t actually sex, and it’s certainly hotter than most movie sex! And it’s so fucking performative, it’s an exhibitionist’s dream. They’re all dancing like they’re fucking and they’re doing it in front of each other. Unff. I think about this scene whenever I dance with someone new. I think of this scene whenever I press myself up against my partner when dancing. I think of this scene and I imagine that I’m that sexy just because I’m dancing!

And it’s not just the dancing that’s hot – Baby and Johnny are so good together. They’re clearly having so much fun and they are so into each other. They’re affectionate, they’re considerate and they look good. I also love the teacher-pupil dynamic between them with the dance lessons. Hot. It’s just hot. They were a relationship model of sorts for me growing up – I wanted to laugh like that with my partners, I wanted to be that proud of them and that comfortable with them. And it is such an empowering image of female sexuality. Perhaps knowing what it would cost him if he were to make a misstep, Johnny lets Baby lead and the camera follows her hands across his body and in every gratuitously topless shot, revelling in the female gaze. To find all that in a holiday romance is almost too much!

Swayze, topless, standing behind a Grey who is laughing hysterically

I’ve not seen Dirty Dancing 2, mainly as I cannot imagine lightning striking twice, but I know it doesn’t follow Johnny and Baby’s future. Swayze has a role as a dance instructor but he’s not named – I assume he’s Johnny but I don’t know why they wouldn’t name him if he was! Anyway, I often wonder what would have happened to the two of them after the events of the original film. When I was younger, I never doubted their happy ending, but would they have stayed together? Could they have overcome their class differences and heavily implied religious differences and made it work? Their love seemed too great to just be over, but now I can’t imagine it working out any other way. ‘I’ll never be sorry’ Johnny tells Baby, and that somehow made it all OK that they’d likely go their separate ways now the season was over. Heartbreaking, and likely a love story that would weigh heavily over all of their future relationships, but OK. I don’t know that they’d have made each other happy long term.

Of the various nuances that I missed in my early viewings, the class differences wasn’t one of them. The already existing customer/service divide is exacerbated because the Housemans seem to be special guests of the management. Are they rich? Or high status? Or just friends of the Kellermans? Such is her privilege that Baby doesn’t notice the difference. ‘I envy you,’ she tells Penny when she hears that Penny has been dancing professionally since she was 16. Baby sees only the romance of life on the stage but I dread to think what hoops Penny needed to jump through to succeed.

Johnny and Penny dancing

Johnny is also very aware of the divide between him and Baby. He knows that despite being Baby’s teacher and superior at the holiday camp, that isn’t their future. She plans on volunteering to join the Peace Corps; he is soon to start a manual labour job. He knows that he could never financially support Baby in the manner to which she is accustomed, never compete with her intellectually. It’s frankly quite adorable how grateful he is when she acknowledges him to her parents, and I realise how patronising that sounds. As the film progresses, the extent of Baby’s privilege becomes more and more obvious – the revelation of her affair with Johnny causes disappointment in her father’s eyes but isn’t likely to affect her future. Johnny is fired and is unlikely to be re-employed next year.

But the class divide isn’t just played out through Baby and Johnny. The waiters are instructed to romance the guests’ daughters, ‘even the dogs,’ but the entertainment staff are only for dancing. The class divide here is too great; that would be an embarrassment to the wealthy families. Except this works in reverse with the bored wives – they’re not looking for a future for themselves so instead throw themselves at the hired help! And it’s difficult to say no. This was an early lesson for me in coerced consent – Johnny can’t really afford to say no to these rich women, both through immediate tips and because he needs to keep his job. ‘They’re using me!’ he tells Baby, and the power differential here is obvious.

This is just one example of what I find so extraordinary about Dirty Dancing – it casually covers subjects that remain topical and pertinent today, and manages to do so in a way that is real and sympathetic. As described in an opinion piece in the Guardian written in 2017, it lightly and almost casually portrays ‘the kind of issues that today’s Hollywood would handle with Christopher Nolan-esque gravity or sidestep altogether for fear of criticism,’ such as abortion and sexual assault. As it quite correctly concludes, this film would never be made today!

And it remains astonishing that it was made at all. This is a notable exception among 80s teen movies to show sexual assault as wrong rather than an amusing plot point – Molly Ringwald being casually fingered without her consent in The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall sleeping with a drunk girl who doesn’t know who he is in Sixteen Candles; the 80s were a difficult time for women and I fear that this freedom to feel up unsuspecting women is what boomers are talking about when they moan about how the world is not like it used to be.

But Dirty Dancing takes a dim view of that kind of behaviour. As much as this movie has a villain, it is Robbie – the cocky waiter who is the father of Penny’s baby but won’t help her. He’s also shown to sexually assault Baby’s sister and sleep with other guests, which is ironic as he accuses Penny of sleeping around. Particularly viewed with post-#MeToo sensibilities, his entire attitude is pretty revolting. He wants Dr Houseman’s support and recommendation before starting a career in medicine so dates his daughter (!), tries to force her to go further with him that she wants (!!), and then presumes that Dr Houseman will side with him and understand when he admits to his role in Penny’s pregnancy (!!!). ‘Some people count and some people don’t,’ he tells Baby when she confronts him about Penny, effectively summing up the whole film!

And perhaps Robbie isn’t that wrong to believe that Dr Houseman shares his views on who is worth attention. Baby calls her father out on the hypocrisy of his actions compared to the more magnanimous ideals of providing help and support to everyone that he taught her, declaring that ‘you meant people like you.’

But the most important and most radical plot line involves the representation of abortion. The film’s writer, Eleanor Bergstein, talking to Hadley Freeman for her book on 80s movies ‘Life Movies Pretty Fast,’ said that she had intended to present social messages in a ‘pleasurable way so that the moral lesson would sneak up on people,’ and she definitely succeeds!

Baby and Johnny messing around on the floor. She is crawling towards him as he plays air guitar

I love love love how intentional Bergstein was in using this film as a vehicle for a pro-abortion message. Her film was dismissed by men on all sides as it was a film for teen girls, and they apparently didn’t even notice the abortion plot until it was too late and money had been invested. It’s completely integral to the plot – nothing would happen without it. I suspect that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t yet heard a credible suggestion of remaking Dirty Dancing.

For me, it strikes exactly the right note with regard to discussions about abortion. Penny is not judged for needing an abortion; she’s portrayed sympathetically but her response to the predicament is understandable. No one ever suggests keeping the baby. Why would they? And yet her sensible and reasonable need for an abortion almost kills her as she is unable to get one safely and legally. She can’t go to the doctor even after she’s been butchered as what she’s done is illegal. Again taken from her conversation with Hadley Freeman, Bergstein is so ahead of her time with her intentions: ‘when I wrote the film, abortion – like feminism – was one of those issues that people thought just wasn’t relevant any more…But I thought Ros vs Wade was precarious…The film is set in 1963 but it came out in 1987 and I wanted young women seeing the film to understand that it wasn’t just that she went to Planned Parenthood and it went wrong.’

Wow.

Set in 1963, first came out in 1987 but upsettingly relevant today.

Rolling back our reproductive freedoms and limiting access to abortions doesn’t mean more babies; it means more people desperately resorting to ‘some butcher…with a folding table and a dirty knife.’ People will die. Without any doubt, people will die. And disproportionately people like Penny – people who can’t afford to see doctors with clean operating theatres and who are willing to risk ignoring the rules. Vulnerable people will die. And that is just not good enough!

It should also be noted that, importantly, Dirty Dancing does not suggest that sex should be avoided despite acknowledging these potentially tragic consequences. The plot around Penny’s abortion is what brings Baby and Johnny together; they have all this wonderful, hot, life-changing sex almost immediately after seeing what happened to Penny. The fault, it correctly implies, is not with the people having sex – it’s with the system that denies them access to safe abortion.

Baby and Johnny lying in each other’s arms

God, I love this film!

It’s not perfect. I don’t know why Baby does so much of the dancing in her underwear, except to unnecessarily perve on her body, which feels out of character with the rest of the film, and the ‘gu-gung’ heartbeat scene is nauseatingly cringeworthy. I also don’t know if it can be forgiven for the number of copycat weddings, parties, dance scenes etc that have tried and failed to recreate Johnny’s prance down the aisle at the end or the iconic lift scene.

(I can forgive this one)

And yet Dirty Dancing‘s importance cannot be underestimated – it’s a quiet yet ‘powerful morality tale.’ It shows the consequences of limitation of our reproductive freedom in an accessible way; it demonstrates how ‘youthful indulgence [and] daddy’s girl privileges can be harnessed to foster social unity’ – as the Guardian comments ‘Ivanka Trump take note!’ – and it demonstrates and condemns casual indifference to sexual assault. Big, important issues, all displayed for the mainstream to see.

All this, and it’s just so joyful. It’s wonderful. It’s the time of our lives!

Next week: Gone Girl

I have specifically chosen this film as it has an abortion theme because Smutathon 2019 is approaching! A charity smut writing challenge when an entire community of erotica and sex writers will be writing as much as we can for 12 hours on 28th September to raise money for the National Network of Abortion Funds, a charity that aims to reduce all barriers to accessing abortion in the USA – financial, logistical and legal.

Click the button below to read more about our challenge or click here to donate!

The Smutathon badge showing a woman’s legs in fishnet tights bending over a chair

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Up in the Air

YEAR: 2009
DIRECTOR: Jason Reitman
KEY ACTORS: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 7.4
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 91%

SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ Rewatchable – it’s soft and gentle and sweet and funny and thought provoking and easy watching, and I could watch it every week!
✔️ And yes, I do want to fuck the cast. I’d even argue that this film is George Clooney’s hotness peak!
✔️ Hotel sex with a handsome stranger was certainly a fantasy before this film, but it added the idea of luxury and exclusivity to this fantasy; a frisson of transience and possibility on expensive sheets.
✔️ Although it is another movie that has a possible cheating plot, I do think it’s sex positive as the main focus is on being OK with who you are. Whether you’re frequent flier Ryan or his home girl sister, it’s OK to have the life (and the love and sex) that you want and in the absence of significant sex negative themes, I’m going to give it the mark.
❌ But does it pass the Bechdel test? Can it be only the second 5/5 movie?? In the end, this comes down to accepting nuance in a binary question. There is one conversation between two named female characters that isn’t about men or dating – Natalie fires Karen Barnes, the women who later takes their own life. It’s an important plot point, but it is only one conversation and the women’s name is only revealed later. She is also not listed in the credits. Is that enough to scrape over this lowest of bars? I don’t think it is…

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Amazon Prime (rent £3.49, buy £4.99), YouTube (from £2.49). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

The Up In the Air poster showing silhouettes of Clooney, Kendrick and Farmiga against a big airport window

George Clooney is a good looking man. I don’t think this is a controversial opinion. But when was he hottest? Young and spunky in ER? Slick and tuxedoed in the Oceans movies? Cocky and criminal in Out of Sight, a strong candidate?

I’d argue that George Clooney’s peak hotness is in this week’s film, Up in the Air. Not only does he look incredible in a suit and is at a perfect level of silver foxness, but he’s also playing an unattached business man, moving from hotel to hotel and maxing out on perks and upgrades. He oozes the pleasures of an anonymous nomadic lifestyle and you just know he’d be the perfect hotel stranger to fuck! Yes, this is George Clooney at his absolute best.

Clooney and Farmiga sat in a bar and laughing

But I love this film for many more reasons than just the beautiful men and the hotel sex. It’s a beautiful film and it makes me really happy, even though it objectively doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s a real ending with real growth for the characters, and I love it.

The film follows Ryan Bingham (Clooney), a travelling business man who visits companies to fire their employees, a particularly pertinent role in 2009 during the financial crisis. His whole raison d’etre is to be anonymous and impersonal – he’s the bad guy, he’s the face of the faceless corporation that wants to fire these people, allowing their bosses to remain sympathetic and unaffected. And this impersonal existence has bled into his entire life. Ryan is on the road over 300 days a year, living in hotels and flying American Airlines across the country. He has hotel membership, he collects air miles by the million, he lives out of a carry on suitcase to save time at each check in. As the Guardian review noted, Ryan essentially neglects the ‘real loyalties of family and emotional commitment’ in favour of reward schemes and loyalty programmes. He feels light and free and unencumbered by his transient lifestyle – so much so that he gives motivational speeches about discarding the unnecessary weight in our lives.

‘How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel ’em? Now I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life…Make no mistake – your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders? All those negotiations and arguments, and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight. Why don’t you set that bag down? Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically for a lifetime – star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not those animals. The slower we move, the faster we die. We are not swans. We’re sharks.’

Clooney stood in front of a bed with all his belongings laid out and waiting to be packed

Except, of course, that he can’t stay in his bubble forever. Two women break through – one personal, one business – and change the way he sees his freedom. The first, Natalie Keener (Kendrick), is a young woman who is sent on the road with him to learn about firing people. She’s enthusiastic and ambitious and everything Ryan is not, yearning after a long term commitment. During their work trip, she breaks up with the boyfriend she gave up everything for and has an existential crisis of sorts. She is an interesting character as she is both the stereotypical needy marriage and baby loving woman that the film gently mocks for having such homely goals, and she’s the modern breath of fresh air that starts to make Ryan feel like he is missing out on something in his solitary world.

Clooney and Kendrick sat at a conference table. He is looking confidently forward; she is looking quizzically at him

The other woman, Alex Goran (Farmiga), is yet another example of a woman that I want to be. She’s cool and sophisticated and sexy, and I had to look up Vera Farmiga’s age when it was filmed as the fact that she was 34, as I am now, makes me feel very uncouth. I’m beginning to think I have some sort of suit or office wear kink as all the women I love on screen tend to dress pretty sharply, wearing trouser suits or pencil skirts with blouses. Actually, they tend to have a lot of sex too so maybe the office wear thing is a red herring…! When they meet, Ryan and Alex spar and flirt over the reward schemes and frequent flier perks that they’ve accumulated – as Alex says, they’re both people who ‘get turned on by elite status’ – and they end up having an affair in many hotels in many states, matching their schedules and making additional flights to ensure their paths cross.

Ryan and Alex’s chemistry is just so hot. I absolutely adore each of them talking about their experience of the mile high club – Ryan hasn’t ever managed to have sex on a flight unlike Alex who fucked on a daytime regional flight, a status symbol that is far superior even to Ryan’s concierge card! It did also amuse me that Ryan and Alex are shown to have Good Movie Sex. All the signs were there – ending up on different levels from each other, one on the floor, the other on the bed, with sheets ruffled around them and covered in sweat. That’s how you show Good Movie Sex!

Also, I need to make a quick side point about fucking in hotels. Why is it so hot? Is it the transience or anonymity, as it is for Ryan? Or the fact that someone else cleans up afterwards?? I don’t stay in hotels for business so I know that for me at least, hotel sex is usually so hot more because of the reason I’m in a hotel – a holiday, an erotic writing conference – than because of the literal room but still. Wow!

Anyway, and more importantly, after meeting Alex, Ryan starts to see the benefits of having someone in his life – perhaps someone exactly like her, someone who understands his need to roam – but his attempt at making their relationship more than just hotel sex backfires when he discovers that she has a family at home; a husband and children who she keeps separate from her own travelling existence.

I struggle with this cheating plot line as I really like Alex but I don’t agree with her ‘what happens on the road, stays on the road’ attitude. It’s never explicitly stated that her husband doesn’t know about her other partners but her anger at Ryan turning up on her doorstep suggests otherwise: ‘you could’ve seriously screwed things up for me. That’s my family; that’s my real life.’ Being polyamorous with great relationships with my metamours, I hope that she’s just talking about protecting her children from the reality of her life away from home and her husband consents to her extramarital affairs. It would seem the most sensible way to survive long periods apart. I hope that her husband knows and understands and agrees, even if it’s with a don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach, and although she still couldn’t commit to Ryan as he’d hoped, it makes their relationship more real and less…casual.

I find this ambiguity particularly sad as the film makes a point of clarifying that their relationship isn’t casual when that description is used in a derogatory sense, but Alex’s lies undermine the suggestion that there are different ways to have a relationship and that they’re all good. When Natalie questions whether Ryan and Alex have any future, questioning whether the casual relationship that they have could ever be real, Ryan responds by telling her that ‘your definition of “real” is going to evolve as you get older.’ I liked this; I liked the idea that the fairytale relationships that we’re brought up to believe are the only way to find happiness might not actually be the only way, which is why the reality of Alex’s deception upset me almost as much as it upset Ryan:

Ryan Bingham: [over the phone] I thought I was a part of your life.
Alex Goran: I thought we signed up for the same thing… I thought our relationship was perfectly clear. You are an escape. You’re a break from our normal lives. You’re a parenthesis.
Ryan Bingham: I’m a parenthesis?

So much in this film is about how life isn’t going to be how you’d planned it. Whether it’s an employee being fired or Ryan discovering Alex’s ‘real’ family, there’s a sense of danger when looking forward – there are too many unexpected outcomes, too much risk. Or perhaps it’s better to say that there’s that sense of danger with too much forward planning, as exemplified by Natalie’s shock at being dumped when she’d planned her whole future around a guy:

This is the scene that stuck with me the longest after I first saw this movie. The contrast between the very specific and frankly superficial needs of younger Natalie and the simpler but perhaps more important desires of older Alex struck a chord with me. I was 24 when this film came out but was horrified by Natalie’s wish to be engaged by 23 with children already, and her plans to have her career sorted and be ‘entertaining by night.’ Do people really want that at 23?

I’ve often wondered if studying medicine, and so being at university for years longer than my contemporaries at school, delayed my need to be ‘grown up.’ At 23 or 24, I was still studying and could think of nothing worse than being settled with a family and hosting dinner parties but I knew many who did want that and many who achieved it. Such is an the grip of the patriarchy that being a successful wife and mother also remains the way that many of us measure our achievements, particularly when measured against our careers. As GOTN wrote a few months ago, women are still judged by how well we take on household admin so, even though Up in the Air does depict Natalie as an extreme example, she’s certainly not unusual in wanting to put a marriage and household above a career.

It is interesting rewatching the film now I’m 34 like Alex. When I was in my early twenties, I may not have wanted the commitment Natalie does but I did have a checklist of superficial qualities that I was looking for in a partner – older than me, taller than me, smarter than me, ginger, blue-eyed, bearded – but I had given up on that sort of list long before I met my future husband (although anyone who knows him will realise that it’s a frighteningly accurate description. It seems I have a type!). Even by my mid-twenties, I knew that finding someone with similar family values or shared views on children etc really is more important than what they look like or how many syllables are in their name.

The scene is played to show Ryan and Alex as the wiser, battle-weary elders who are gently laughing at Natalie’s naivety, but it also shows that the reality of dating in your thirties and beyond does require compromises. Both agree that having a nice smile is important but, other than that, Alex’s wish list seems much more focussed on avoiding conflict than about desirable qualities. Is that what is meant by settling? Is that a bad thing? Again, I now agree with Alex that what feels like settling changes as you get older – it’s more about realising what is important and widening your options.

Clooney and Farmiga; she has her hand on his shoulder as both look towards the left

Even though Ryan is apparently on the wiser side of that discussion, he is the one whose character arc involves the most growth and change when it comes to relationships. Early on, he is dismissive of marriage, asking Natalie to ‘sell it to [him]’ and effectively countering each of her arguments. It sounds like a practiced speech, a well-worn discussion. Slick and certain. In contrast to this, when talking to his future brother-in-law, Jim, and trying to warm his cold feet before his wedding, he is less sure of himself, less certain but wholly more believable: ‘If you think about it, your favourite memories, the most important moments in your life… were you alone?’ It’s almost as if he’s coming to the realisation himself, persuading and comforting Jim and reaching the conclusion that ‘life’s better with company’ at the same time.

It is only after this realisation and after he discovers Alex’s family that Ryan achieves his lifelong ambition of earning 10 million air mile goal, but his success becomes so much more poignant with his new attitude towards having more people in his life. It’s everything that he’s worked for and is the ultimate symbol of his isolation and transience, but it seems to feel so hollow once he has it. The film’s tagline is that it’s a ‘story of a man ready to make a connection,’ and by the end, I certainly believe that he is.

After all, everyone needs a co-pilot.

Next week: Dirty Dancing

Sorry for the delay posting this week – holidaying with a baby has even less writing time than I expected!!

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Imagine Me and You

YEAR: 2005
DIRECTOR: Ol Parker
KEY ACTORS: Piper Perabo, Lena Headey, Matthew Goode, Celia Imrie, Anthony Head
CERTIFICATE: 12
IMDB SCORE: 6.8
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 34%

I’m so happy to be posting another guest post from another fabulous sex blogger, Amy Norton from Coffee and Kink! Amy writes hot erotica, detailed sex toy reviews and insightful personal essays – do go and check out her writing!

SEX SCORE: 4.5/5
✔️ Passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Main characters Rachel and Luce are shown talking about a wide range of topics from flowers to football.
✔️ Fuckable cast – Lena Headey (yes, as in Cersei Lannister) as a dorky lesbian florist? Sign me the fuck up. Piper Perabo is also super hot. The men don’t really do anything for me; Matthew Goode’s Heck is cute enough but not my type, and Darren Boyd’s Cooper is way too obnoxious to be hot.
Fantasies inspired – Half a point here. No specific sexual fantasies from this one (there’s hardly any actual sex in it!) but definitely plenty of romantic fantasies. This movie was the first piece of media which gave me hope that queer women, too, could have cinema-worthy mushy happy endings.
✔️ Rewatchable – Endlessly. I’ve probably seen this film at least a dozen times by now, and it’s a frequent cheer-me-up choice when I’m sad or sick.
✔️ Sex positive – This was difficult to decide. I’m torn primarily because there’s a major theme about cheating, which is hard to classify as sex-positive. However, it’s also a story about following your heart when your sexuality turns out to not be quite what you thought, and it’s unashamedly queer-positive (despite coming out only two years after the end of Section 28.) So, yes, it gets the point.

As ever, this post contains spoilers, so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Shockingly, this film is on neither Netflix nor Amazon Prime. It is available on Sky for £3.49, or you can buy the DVD for around £5 on Amazon. For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

The Imagine Me and You poster, showing Rachel laughing with both Luce and Heck behind her

When I was an undergraduate, a decade or so ago, we had monthly LGBTQ film nights. As a baby queer of nineteen, I’d seen almost no LGBTQ cinema before. These evenings introduced me to some films which I still love years later. One of them was Imagine Me and You, a British queer rom-com starring Piper Perabo as Rachel, a young newly-wed who feels inexplicably drawn to florist Luce at her wedding… and eventually begins to wonder if the love of her life might not be her new husband, Hector (“Heck”), after all.

Perabo is a wedding dress, laughing with Headey why stands back to back, looking over her shoulder towards her m

There isn’t much actual sex in this movie (it’s only a 12 certificate, after all!) It’s really a film about the fluidity of sexuality, and about sexual and romantic tension rather than sex itself. But that’s part of what makes it so delicious! Rachel’s attraction to Luce is immediate and overpowering, and she spends much of the movie (which spans a period of a few months) trying desperately to deny her growing feelings. That said, sex is alluded to plenty, including in some of the movie’s most memorable moments:

Heck: [When Rachel wants to have sex in a park late at night] “We’ve got a flat. It’s a good one! And I’ve confiscated your mother’s key so she can’t sneak up on us any more. I swear that woman’s got a sex radar.”

In this scene, Rachel and Heck run into a gay male couple who also seem to be getting ready to have sex in the woods. The two men explain that they have only just met, and there’s a hilarious, excruciatingly awkward handshake and exchange of names. (This movie does painful awkwardness so, so well – just search Youtube for “Imagine Me & You supermarket scene” to see what I mean.) This film even manages to poke fun at outdated puritanical beliefs about the supposed “degrading and offensive” nature of pornography:

Heck: [After nearly catching Rachel watching a lesbian porn film she has “accidentally” rented from the video store] It’s porn, right? It’s degrading. It’s offensive.
Rachel: God, yes.
Heck: Yeah… Let’s watch it anyway! Come on, Rach, I mean, things have been getting slack in that department recently. I know it’s my fault, but…
Rachel: No, it’s mine… I… uh… but I don’t want to watch this.
Heck: Why not?
Rachel: It doesn’t turn me on.
Heck: Makes one of us.

We’re also reminded of the hypocrisy of the heteropatriarchy in the form of Heck’s best friend, Cooper. “Coop” is an obnoxious womanizer who believes himself “the cure for lesbianism” and proudly boasts about all the married women who have cheated with him. (Real talk: in reality, these two men would never be best friends. They have nothing in common!) However, when Heck confides that Rachel has fallen in love with someone else, Coop realises the person in question is Luce and doesn’t hesitate to chew her out for “wrecking another couple.” Please remember: Luce and Rachel have shared exactly one kiss by this point in the film, and Rachel has tried to end things and decided to stay with her husband. Coming from a man whose answer to the question of what to do if you like someone who’s already in a relationship is, “me? I shag ‘em”… the hypocrisy and double standards are thrown into sharp relief here. Luce, to her credit, basically tells him to fuck off.

Headey is in her flower shop with Goode looking in at her

But again: the sex jokes are fun and the movie occasionally makes a serious point about sex, but this is really a film about the slow burn of sexual and romantic tension leading to blossoming love. Rachel and Luce repeatedly find themselves in each other’s orbit – ironically, Heck keeps making efforts to throw them together, thinking that Rachel could use more female friendships in her life. There are a number of moments where something so nearly happens, and then doesn’t. In one particularly exquisite and painful moment, the two women come inches away from kissing at the end of an evening out together, until Rachel breaks the spell and runs off.

When I watch this scene I am always viscerally reminded of times, before I was quite ready to come out, when I might have had the opportunity to kiss a girl but wasn’t yet able to deal with what it could mean about me if I did. Experiences like this are, I think, a near -ubiquitous part of the coming out process. I’m sure that’s why so many young queer women say they see themselves represented in this film. As the newly-out, newly-adult queer woman I was when I watched this film, Rachel’s coming-out story resonated profoundly with me. It still does.

The tension and slowly escalating pull Rachel and Luce feel to each other is so beautifully executed that when they do finally kiss, it brings tears to my eyes every single time. A heartbroken Rachel tells Luce they can no longer see each other because she is married, goes to leave… then rushes back into Luce’s flower shop and kisses her passionately. This scene is hot, tender and funny (“Thorns! Thorns in my bum!”) all at the same time. Just like the best sex, the best kisses and the best relationships in real life.

Perado and Headey smiling and hugging

And this is of the reasons the Rachel/Luce relationship is so compelling. They genuinely seem to like each other! Laughter is a major part of their interactions. Despite its unusual beginnings and the strange circumstances, their relationship seems based on genuine affection, mutual respect, and a deep sense of fun and friendship.

Films need conflict, of course. Otherwise there is no story. But the conflict in Imagine Me & You exists internally for each of the characters – Rachel as she battles with her changing sexuality, Luce as she struggles with the guilt over loving a married woman. Their relationship itself, though? It consistently strikes me as one of the healthiest on-screen romantic relationships I can think of, gay or straight.

Speaking of conflict, I do need to address the “cheating” element of this story. Having been on the wrong end of it, I feel comfortable saying I take a harder line on cheating than most. And, yes, Rachel does cheat on Heck in this film. What redeems it for me, though, is that the film does not glorify or romanticise cheating. Rachel fights her attraction to Luce every single step of the way and attempts to put physical distance between them when it seems that something is about to happen. Luce doesn’t push her to do anything, and also wrestles with her own guilt for wanting someone who is already married… even to the point of nearly leaving the country to put distance between them when she believes Rachel has chosen to stay with Heck.

When the two women do share that amazing kiss in the flower shop (and are nearly caught by Heck, coming at precisely the wrong moment to buy some flowers for his wife,) Rachel realises what she is doing and again tries to put an end to it. Later, she tearfully confesses to her husband.

“I went crazy, Heck. I went crazy for someone and it wasn’t you.”

Additionally, the scene where Rachel and Heck eventually split up is heartbreaking – for both of them. Heck, and their marriage, are not treated as disposable or easy to throw aside in favour of the “new shiny.” They genuinely love and care about each other! However, Rachel has come to understand something new and profound about herself and her sexuality, which is incompatible with the continuation of their marriage. Heck, I think, realises this very clearly while Rachel is still vainly trying to deny it to herself. He chooses to step aside, over allowing his wife to stay with him out of guilt or a sense of obligation when her heart is elsewhere. To me, it’s his last act of profound love towards her.

“What you’re feeling now, Rachel, is the unstoppable force. Which means I’ve got to move.”

I think this storyline represents an extremely common experience for queer people in opposite-sex relationships who cheat or who break up with their spouse for a same-sex partner. The new love, the new understanding of sexuality, does not negate what came before or make it somehow less real. It’s a difficult, painful, heart-wrenching decision to make. It’s wrapped up in guilt, loss, shame and fear of leaving the known for the unknown. And this film just shows that reality so beautifully.

Perado and Goode smiling at each other at a bonfire party

Finally, this storyline gets a pass from me because it neatly avoids two tropes: bisexual women as serial cheaters (she does it once and she feels terrible about it!) and the idea that the husband should be chill with the affair because relationships and sex between women “don’t count.”

Thinking about it, avoiding tired queer cinema tropes is one of the things this film does best and one of the reasons I love it.

My best friend and I like to watch LGBTQ films together. Last time we did this, we challenged ourselves to find queer films that featured none of: Death of any queer characters; violent homophobia; an AIDS storyline. It was shockingly difficult to find anything (my favourite film of all time, Pride, doesn’t clear this test either but gets a pass for being a true story.) I don’t want to diminish the fact that these things are all big, important, painful things to grapple with, which were and are a major part of collective queer history. However… we don’t necessarily always need to see that misery on-screen All The Fucking Time.

Bury Your Gays” is a trope many of us are sick of, and lesbian and bisexual women often get the worst of it. (It’s almost like homophobic patriarchy views queer women as expendable, or somehow only acceptable when made into tragic figures.) Imagine Me & You turns all that on its head. Instead, we get two happy women kissing in the middle of a busy street while a love-song plays, and then having a stable and functional relationship.

I might be a tad jaded in many ways, but I’m a hopeless romantic at heart and a sucker for a happy ending. I love so many things about Imagine Me & You but one of them is that everyone – including Heck, Rachel’s now ex-husband – gets a happy ending. And goddess knows we need more happy endings.

Next week: Up in the Air

If you’d also like to write a guest post, click here for details on how to get in touch!

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Death Proof

YEAR: 2007
DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino
KEY ACTORS: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Rose McGowan
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 7.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 65%

SEX SCORE: 2/5
✔️ Easily passes the Bechdel test – it’s a Tarantino script so there is a lot of talking about, well, everything and there are eight key female characters so it definitely passes.
❌ I’m going to say not rewatchable – I bought it when it came out but the DVD was deep in the cellar so I clearly didn’t watch it that often!
I don’t want to fuck the cast – they’re hot but no. They’re not real enough!
❌ And no, not sex positive. The women may chat easily and freely about sex and appear to enjoy full and consensual sex lives…but they’re either brutally murdered or have to kill to avoid brutal murder. It doesn’t take much psychoanalysis to see a problem here!
✔️ BUT, this film did inspire sexual fantasies. Unexpectedly so. It’s the lap dance scene. It’s just so hot!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Not available on usual streaming services, but can be rented from Microsoft for £2.49 or £7.49. For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

[Content warning: violence towards women]

The Death Proof poster showing the muscle car in the top left corner and a headless woman in short shorts is in the bottom right corner

Without really meaning to (although you can be pretty certain that I’ll carry on the trend now that I’ve spotted it!), I’ve ended up doing 3 good films for every bad one. It’s become a pattern – 3 films that score more than 2.5 followed by one that scores less, and so on, which means we were due a rant! And as the recent release of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood means that Quentin Tarantino and his views of women have flooded my timeline, I thought I’d write about one of his films.

I’m generally a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s movies – I’m actually writing this while watching Pulp Fiction – but I think it’s not possible to deny that they’re problematic. They may be clever and groundbreaking and inspiring to future generations of movie makers and they may have become part of our popular culture, but they undoubtedly glamorise crime and violence. And, honestly, Tarantino does have a problem with women. Don’t @ me – this is a statement, not a question.

But. But. I chose Death Proof as the host for my upcoming Tarantino rant for more reasons that simply because it has a majority female cast. This is mainly a blog series about sex and the impact that different movies had on me and my sexuality, and I cannot deny that the lap dance in the middle of Death Proof is hot. It’s fucking hot. It made me look at myself differently. It made me look at many things differently.

I’m definitely straight. I’d say I’m a Kinsey 1 – I can appreciate how beautiful and sexy women can be, but I’m not interested in fucking them. I’m rarely even curious, although there are notable exceptions. And this lap dance is one of those exceptions.

It’s slow and lazy and indulgent, and I wanted to be Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) receiving the lap dance and Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) giving it. I wanted so much to be that cool and sexy and to be that free and confident with my body. She’s wearing flip flops, for fucks sake! 22 year old me who saw this movie when it was released only knew how to be sexy in heels and tight dresses. The women in this film, particularly Arlene, were hot in a way that soaked all the way through them, and I was so jealous.

I thought about that lap dance for a long, long time after I saw it. Having seen a friend receive a lap dance at a private party, I’ve realised that my fascination with them is mostly because they’re just incredibly hot – performative, exhibitionist, sensual, and watching from a disconnected position as I did both at the party and in the film is also voyeuristic and I love that too!

Jungle Julia sitting on a bar stool with her legs stretched out on the table in front of her

But I also wondered if I could ever be like that; if I could be that sexy and that cool. I was envious and it was that envy almost more than any arousal that meant I could not take my eyes off Arlene as she danced, and why I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and perhaps why I bought the DVD at all. And then, years later, I read the cool girl monologue from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and I understood.

‘Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot…I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.’

I know this isn’t a huge revelation in the grand scheme of things, and I was probably quite slow to come to this realisation, but the clarity that came over me as soon as I realised that Tarantino is the archetypal socially awkward man was so freeing. He almost literally wrote the movie that spawned the cool girl phenomenon!

The four girls are standing looking cool and strong

In 2007, I was still at university and had spent the entire time hopelessly in love with drum and bass DJs and stoners who, well, weren’t right for me! The contrast between who I am and who I was trying to be is almost laughable now but I wasted so much of my early twenties trying to be noticed and trying to be cool, and that lap dance was the perfect representation of everything I wanted to be.

But it’s actually kind of gross when you look at it more closely. Don’t get me wrong – Arlene is still fucking hot – but she’s performing this lap dance for a much older stranger who persuaded her to do it by calling her bluff in a way that would never work in reality. ‘There are few things as fetching as a bruised ego on a beautiful angel,’ he tells her before calling her chicken shit for not dancing for him. It just feels a bit icky after the cool girl revelation and after #MeToo.

Ah yes, #MeToo! I may have to start classifying film history as pre- and post-#MeToo in the same way that they’re divided by the Hayes Code or Technicolor. And when it comes to Tarantino, #MeToo and the necessary fallout surrounding it has been eye-opening. He’s Harvey Weinstein’s good friend after all. Not that we didn’t all suspect that there was something creepy about Tarantino anyway – for example, during the promotional tour for Death Proof he joked that his character was named ‘rapist no. 1’ and made him an action figure – but we were proved right. Worse for Tarantino, we were also shown just how little he cares.

This quote from a recent Buzzfeed article says it all: ‘The last few years have left Tarantino looking less like the usual bad boy of cinephilia and more like a crushingly familiar type of standard-issue shitty guy. Not a sexual harasser, but a man willing to disregard the well-being of women — or overlook violence inflicted on them — in order to pursue his professional goals.’

It’s why I said earlier in this post that the fact that Tarantino has a problem with women is a statement, not a question. He’s a shitty guy. He can and does make fabulous movies but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a shitty guy!

In early August, The Times posted an unexpectedly hilarious article debating the issue of Tarantino and women that couldn’t have been a more perfect example of everything women have been trying to say about him. The first (male) author argued that Tarantino isn’t a misogynist and wrote gushingly about how great his films are and how they changed Hollywood forever. He felt that the misogyny claim is ‘nonsense’ as Tarantino has centred women in his films, writing strong leads who fight back, describing Kill Bill as a ‘tale of feminist empowerment achieved through dogged determination and stylish ultra-violence.’

The second (female) author then responded by stealing Tarantino’s line, ‘I reject your hypothesis,’ before following up with a list of facts that prove how underdeveloped his female characters are and how little he gives them to do in his films, describing how ‘the only credited female characters in Reservoir Dogs, his 1992 directorial debut, are “Shot Woman” and “Shocked Woman”’ and how Pam Grier, who played Jackie Brown, was only given ‘25 minutes of screen time in her character’s 154-minute movie.’ And, of course, she undermined the entire argument supporting Tarantino’s claims to feminism by quoting Jessica Chastain who tweeted that ‘it is not empowering to be beaten and raped.’ Female characters should not be defined by the violence wrought against them. It is not empowering to need to seek revenge because of the horrors inflicted upon us, even if we are able to gain peace from that revenge.

And on that note, we return to Death Proof, a movie about grotesque violence against women and the revenge that they take from it…

Two cars dramatically colliding, the black flying over a red

It’s actually a movie that has been ruined for me by the clarity that has come with age, a greater understanding of feminism and the realisation that the cool girl trope is just as dangerous and false as the manic pixie dream girl or any other stereotype. I used to think this movie was cool. Deeply and unnecessarily violent, but still cool. Which is pretty worrying!

It’s almost like it’s Tarantino’s fantasy world made real; his wet dream shared with us all. There are so many shots of bare feet that I cannot shake the thought that he just spent however many millions of dollars making his own porn! Combine hot sexy cool women who talk like he talks, drink beer, drive muscle cars and wear cheerleader outfits for no discernible reason with a hot sexy cool psychopath who kills them in profoundly disturbing ways, sometimes pleading for their life, and, well, you have a Tarantino movie.

Kurt Russell about to stroke a pair of bare feet sticking out of a car window

And these hot sexy cool women are not real, in any way! They are the figments of a teenage boy’s imagination; they’re how the kind of guy who writes a film like this thinks women should be. The male gaze is so strong that even Stuntman Mike, the villain of the piece, is slick and cool and fast talking. It almost obscures how creepy he is, depicting his homicidal tendencies like an inconvenient character trait in an otherwise stand up guy.

I wonder if the fact that Death Proof was made in the style of the classic Grindhouse exploitation movies gave Tarantino an excuse to just let go and make the film he always wanted to make, or whether he misjudged what really needed to be remade in 2007. Did we really need a movie playing homage to something described as exploitation? Maybe he enjoyed reviving the cinematic style, the gritty colours and poor quality, adding scratches and poor edits for realism, but did we really need the violence towards women and the blatant sexism too?

I’m going to steal someone else’s words to finish as this just sums it all up: ‘This male version of women’s empowerment is bullshit…Seeing (young, hot) women being able to kick ass in Tarantino’s films may seem, on the surface, empowering. But Death Proof is still predicated on the eroticisation of killing. It is impossible for Tarantino and his ilk to simultaneously feed from and perpetuate this highly sexualised threat and empower women. The women only get to kick ass when a sufficient number of women have already met their gory, eroticised end.

Exactly.

Next week: Imagine you and me

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.