Sparkly Window Dressing

Here we are, 2014.  Shameless is playing at the Sedona Film Festival next month.  Short films and mentorships are revving up with Film Independent’s Project Involve fellowship.  And awards season is well underway!  I’ve of course seen all the fashion hits and misses from the red carpets, but I’ve only been able to see one of the lauded films so far: American Hustle.

Ah, American Hustle.  Scorsese minus Scorsese.  When does something stop being an homage and start being blatantly derivative?  Or has Scorsese’s style become so recognizable that no matter what a filmmaker does, those fast push-ins and sharp bits of violent humor will always recall Scorsese’s best work, the same way that we’ll always associate that gliding dolly shot with Spike Lee?

Speaking of Scorsese, I finally saw Casino.  I don’t know how I’d missed it all these years, especially being a Scorsese fan, but I finally sat down and watched it.  Well, parts of it.  I fast-forwarded a lot.  I saw scenes through my fingers (one word: vice).  And towards the end, I actually just gave up and turned it off.  What gives?!  Me, a proselytizer of Goodfellas and The Departed, Raging Bull and The King of Comedy?  Hell, I even enjoyed The Age of Innocence, and nobody had to get stabbed in the neck with a pen.

So what happened with Casino?  Am I just coming off too many years of watching horribly violent scenes set to a jazzy, sauntering, devil-may-care score?  It makes me a little wary of seeing The Wolf of Wall Street, and I was really excited to see that one.  Will it be more men behaving badly to a badass soundtrack, and more women playing sexually destructive hustlers or sparkly window dressing?  Whose side am I expected to be on when I watch these movies?

To this day, one of my ultimate actor icons is the great Amitabh Bachchan.  I loved his Angry Young Man phase and it influenced me incredibly growing up.  I loved seeing him beat up bad guys, romance the ladies, and toss his long lanky body around for the sake of true hilarity.  It dawned on me at some point, though – I was never in love with Amitabh Bachchan.  I was never attracted to him, I never had a crush on him, and I never yearned to run off and marry him in a field of tulips.  No.  I wanted to BE Amitabh Bachchan.  When I watched his films, I completely related to who he was as a character and assumed I’d be similarly badass when faced with a raft of bad guys throwing air punches.  I never assumed that, as a girl, I was supposed to be the damsel in distress.  No – I was the hero.

Writing and portraying complex characters should, in an ideal world, go beyond gender.  But of course we all know it’s more complicated than that.  The discussion never ends in my head.  A good story is a good story, right?  An exercise: would some of our canonical films feel the same if the lead character was a woman?

 



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