Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Notes from the vacation front, film edition

This is just a quick check-in from vacationland, where I've settled in quite nicely, thank you. I'm now reading my seventh book. Or maybe eighth. I'm starting to lose count. Still too fully in lazy mode to write anything substantive about any of them. Still, alas, not writing myself and still listing faux reasons why that's okay.

Teresa and I did watch a couple of old movies that have held up well. One was 12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet's intense, searing drama about a jury deliberating the fate of a young man, probably Puerto Rican (his nationality is never made clear but it is clear, based on much of the dialogue among the jurors, that he is a person of color), who is accused of murdering his father. The stellar cast includes Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden. (Yes, apparently in 1957 juries were still all white men.) It's a powerful film, well worth watching again and especially worth getting if you've never seen it.

We also saw The Wages of Fear, a 1953 French film starring Yves Montand. This one didn't pack quite the punch it had the first time we saw it many years ago, which makes sense since the drama is all about the incredible tension inherent in whether the four main characters will survive, and once you've seen it you know the answer. Still, I'm glad we saw it again. There's much to cringe at in the overlong opening section, drenched in colonialist racism and sexism as these scenes of a bunch of European men stranded in a small town in Honduras are, so it's understandable if you can't get any farther into the film; but if you do manage to, you're in for quite a ride.

Speaking of movies, I'll take this opportunity for a quick little comment about the offense du jour from Sacha Baron Cohen. Bruno is not, I repeat not, a good-natured spoof on homophobia. I'll grant him that's a clever way to market it, especially since it is in fact the opposite, but I can't let him get away with claiming to be on our side. The character always has been, and the movie clearly is to the Nth degree, a celebration, not a parody, of anti-gay stereotypes. An elevation, in fact, of the sorriest, nastiest, meanest old grab-bag of homophobic tricks to the level of high, that is highly commercial, comedy. And by elevating broad, ugly stereotypes, by making of them an entire movie, scene after scene of the prancing, mincing, primping, fashion-obsessed and utterly brainless uber-fairy main character, Cohen has created, it seems to me, the anti-gay equivalent of minstrelsy. Not the sort of accomplishment a true artist would be proud of. But art isn't what this movie is about. It's about cheap laughs, and profits, and it's at my people's expense.