Monday, September 26, 2011

The U of U's Midsummer Night's Dream

University of Utah’s Department of Theatre
 A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Review
Date Seen:  September 25, 2011 at 7:30
By Kevin Dudley

The University of Utah Department of Theatre’s Babcock Theatre opened its 2011/2012 season with William Shakespeare’s a Midsummer Nights Dream.  It is believed this classic Shakespearian play was written in 1594 or 1596.  However the exact date is unknown.  It is know that the play was first published in 1600.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream was likely first performed as a bridal masque and preformed at the wedding of nobility.  Today, it is one of the Bard’s most well-known and frequently preformed plays from his body of work.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the whimsical tale of love offered and love spurned, of jealousy, magic, and dreams woven into three disjointed plots.  Lysander loves Hermia and Hermia loves him.  Hermia’s father has determined Demetrius is a more worthy suitor.  Demetrius was once betrothed to Helena but threw that love over for the beauty of Hermia.  Helena still loves Demetrius.  Lysander puts together a plot to run away with Hermia and they share with Helena.  Helena tells Demetrius in hopes to win his favor.  The four find themselves in the woods and all victims of mischief of Oberon, the King of the fairies and Puck.  Oberon uses the sport of the lovers to distract himself from his war with his Queen, Titania, whom has refused to deliver a changeling child Oberon wants.  In the meantime, a band of Rude Mechanicals finds themselves in the forest to rehearse a play that will be offered to Theseus on his wedding night as he seeks the affection of Hippolyta.  TheMecahnicals become entangled in Oberon’s plot when Puck changes Bottom, the lead actor, into an ass and enchants Titania with a love potion.  She of course is destined to fall in love with Bottom in his unnatural state.

Risa Brainin directed the University of Utah’s production.  Under her direction the play, set in modern day, was presented with a slightly different interpretation; Oberon, (Summer Spence) is the alternative personality of Hippolyta.  Hippolyta finds herself trying to resolve the conflict that results from being a once great warrior who now must submit herself as not only the subject to Theseus (Stuart Ford) but as his bride.  In this production Hippolyta has a child who’s she fears will be taken by Theseus.  Theseus’ alternative personality becomes Titania and the dream world exists in mind of Hippolyta.  Risa Brainin also uses this device to explain the conflict over the changeling child that exists between the two Fairies.  I found the interpretation thought provoking and interesting.  I hadn’t considered a more complex or darker interpretation to this classic tale.  It also puts a woman in the position of power and manipulation in contrast to what would have been the traditional interpretation of the script.

The result of Risa Brainin’s interpretation; however, gave much of the personality of Puck to Oberon.  As a result, the most whimsical, and usually favorite character of the script was lost.   Puck has traditionally been the narrator of the story who weaves the three otherwise unrelated plots together as well the central character to mischief and magic.  With this interpretation we find Oberon taking much of that role. 

Oberon and Titania were not the only characters where an unorthodox approach was taken.  Bottom and Flute were also played females.  Actor Marin Kohler played Bottom with a fresh but traditional edge that was very successful.  When paired with Chelsie Cravens’ high energy and zany interpretation of Flute the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe was a delight. 

The sets designed by Nayna Ramey gave us the idea that we were at the beach watching the plot unfold.  The designer used poles and wooden folding chairs to signify the shift into the Hippolyta’s dream.  The change was subtle but effective as the poles went from a vertical to diagonal presentation and the chairs went from their upright orientation to lying on their side.  The minimal set was effective and did not in detract from other elements of the text and instead allowed the audience a richer experience in the interpretation of that text.

Ethan Olsen designed the lighting.  Mr. Olsen was able to reflect the airiness of the beach in a subtle but sometimes stark and dramatic lighting plot. He successfully added to the environment of the production.

The University of Utah’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream presents a fresh take on the classic tale by William Shakespeare.  The cast provided solid performances, as a whole, with some notable fresh interpretations of some of the trademark characters.  This is a production that is worth seeing because it is anything but traditional; which entertains as well as challenges the audience by providing a richer subtext. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Five Films that Represent America

Five Films that Represent America
                I am not one of those  Americans who is convinced beyond all reason that America is the greatest country in the world and that no other country can do it as well as we do.  So in showing someone who has just immigrated to our country I would be willing to show America’s weaknesses.  While America has some strengths and we all enjoy a certain amount of freedom and success, We have our list of social problems and ills.  My perspective of what it is like to live in America through cinema is illustrated in the films The Grapes of Wrath, Milk, The Graduate, Jesus Camp, & Chicago.  In the above-listed films we discuss the issues of poverty, equalilty, justice, religious extremism, and what it means to chase the American Dream.
            The oldest film I have selected for this celluloid history and commentary on the United States of America in John Fords’ The Grapes of Wrath (1940).  This film was based upon John Steinbeck’s novel by the same title.  John Steinbeck wrote the book after his real world Depression-era experiences.  The characters in the film were real world people he fictionalized.  The film used both social commentary and a unique documentary film style that was barely noticed by the industry in its era.  This film serves as post depression commentary on organized labor, exploitation of labor, the plight of the poor and the failures of capitalism in the 1930’s.  At the same time it illustrates the government cannot fully fill the gap when the economy fails.  Because of the gritty content of the novel and the film, children were restricted from admission.  The film was also filmed under the code name ‘Route 66” to avoid issues with the unions.
            The Grapes of Wrath  for its social commentary is also a story about the American Spirit and the grounded wisdom that its population represents in time of crisis.  Though the depression tale is told from an American perspective the resilience of the human animal resounds through many cultures.  However, so do the issues of tribalism as represented by this quote: (Gasoline Attendant) “You and me got sense. Them Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain't human. Human being wouldn't live the way they do. Human being couldn't stand to be so miserable.”  Even white Americans were discriminated against if they were perceived to be outsiders.
            The Graduate (1967) is the next film.  While the Grapes of Wrath discussed the awakening of America out of a financial crisis The Graduate discusses the slow awakening from the malaise of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The film is set in Vietnam era 1967.  Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college.  Benjamin who should have his future firmly set wants no part of his father’s commercial success.  He instead walks through life in a very dysthymic stupor.  He goes through the motions attempting to partake in every expected American convention or vice but find’s little happiness. While this film is well known for the relationship Ben has with Mrs. Robinson I see her as more of a metaphor for the establishment class.  Graduate School, corporate America, and Mrs. Robinson may offer the fringe benefits of American culture but they won’t guarantee happiness.
            The film follows the general American film tradition.  Against all odds the protagonist always wins.  When Ben decides he is in love with Elaine and pursues here despite her engagement and quickly approaching wedding, nothing can stop him.  The final scenes of this film have become iconic in the imagery of Ben racing to the church and pounding on the glass, screaming, ‘Elaine’ and swinging the cross to ward off those who would try to stop him.  Ben and Elaine escape from the church and board a city bus to make their life together.  However it is in this final scene that the director makes his loudest statement in total silence.  The characters seem to be asking, ‘now what’.  Despite what we hear through the news media and our idealistic high school history class, following the formula does not always guarantee success or happiness.
Milk (2008) is the story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) and his eventual election as the first openly gay City Supervisor in San Francisco.  This film comments on the nature of discrimination in the United States.  However, in the case of Milk discrimination is not race-based it is lifestyle-based.  Milk plays back out attitudes toward homosexuality as a culture through visual images in 1960’s and 1970’s America.  Stock news footage gives us the idea in the beginning we are watching a documentary.  It is apparent from the beginning that Harvey Milk will be assassinated.  It is not apparent that the culprit would be a fellow (Dan White) city supervisor who has difficulty with the idea that Harvey can be successful, liked and gay.
Milk represents the current civil rights battle going on in the United States.  It is relevant in the context of this discussion because it is happening today.  It is not from our distant history and to someone looking at the United States it is important to understand that we don’t always behave ourselves.  Milk comes at the viewer as a vehicle to allow them to assess their attitudes and propensity to discriminate.  This is apparent in Harvey’s trademark line used over and over,  My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you!”.
Milk also frames the contemporary arguments that infect the discussion on equality today.  This exchange between Harvey Milk and Dan White illustrates one of those arguments.  Dan White: Society can't exist without the family. 
Harvey Milk: We're not against that.
Dan White: Can two men reproduce?
Harvey Milk: No, but God knows we keep trying.”
I think, like with every preceding civil rights struggle, Harvey Milk makes clear that this fight is not about his own ego; it is about being accepted and having a place free from bigotry and violence.  This is illustrated in the following speech, “I am here tonight to say that we will no longer sit quietly in the closet. We must fight. And not only in the Castro, not only in San Francisco, but everywhere the Anitas go. Anita Bryant did not win tonight, Anita Bryant brought us together! She is going to create a national gay force! And the young people in Jackson Mississippi, in Minnesota, in the Richmond, in Woodmere, New York, who are hearing her on television, hearing Anita Bryant telling them on television that they are sick, they are wrong, there is no place in this great country for them, no place in this world, they are looking to us for something tonight, and I say, we have got to give them hope!
September 11, 2001, changed the rhetoric in our country dramatically about how we view religion and where we place it in our society.  Unfortunately our acceptance of others who come from religiously diverse backgrounds has diminished.  The film Jesus Camp (2006) shows where that conversation has led us and how that conversation has been less and less about tolerance.  Becky Fischer gives the following narrative, “It’s no wonder, with that kind of intense training and disciplining, that those young people are ready to kill themselves for the cause of Islam. I wanna see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I wanna see them as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all those different places, you know, because we have... excuse me, but we have the truth!
Then there is this statement from a young Levi’s mom, “We believe that there's two kinds of people in this world: people who love Jesus and people who don't.” 
Equally concerning is the continued movement to keep science and alternative points of view from our children.  The idea that we can opt out of things that we don’t believe in, in exchange for teaching things that we know are not true or accurate.  Again Levi’s mom leads the conversation while she is home schooling him using a text Physical Science and Creation,Did you get to the part yet where they say that science hasn't proven anything?
 “I think Galileo made the right choice by giving up science for Christ,” Levi responds 
The rejection of popular culture such as Harry Potter is equally odd. Becky Fischer says, “And while I'm on the subject, let me say something about Harry Potter. Warlocks are the enemies of God! And I don't care what kind of hero they are, they're an enemy of God and had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death! 
Crowd: Amen!
Becky Fischer: You don't make heroes out of warlocks!”
Chicago (2002) is the final film that I have chosen to illustrate what American Culture is about.  Chicago was a best picture winner in 2003 at the Academy Awards.  Continuing on the theme of showing the underbelly of what American Society is really about; Chicago tap dances through the entertainment industry of Chicago in the 1920’s.  Chicago plays heavily on the stereo types and iconography of America.  Those icons include the femme fatale (Roxy Hart, Thelma Kelly), the prison matron, the impotent husband (Amos Hart), and the slimy attorney (Billy Flynn).  Of course Utah and the Mormons did not escape stereotypical poke as well.  Annie says, “I met Ezekiel Young from Salt Lake city about two years ago and he told me he was single and we hit it off right away. So, we started living together. He'd go to work, he'd come home, I'd fix him a drink, we'd have dinner. And then I found out. "Single" he told me. Single, my ass. Not only was he married... oh, no, he had six wives. One of those Mormons, you know. So that night, when he came home, I fixed him his drink as usual. You know, some guys just can't hold their arsenic.” 
Also indicted in Chicago is the pursuit of fame and in that the American Dream.  Roxy, Thelma and Billy Flynn are chasing fame and using each other up.  As Billy Flynn says, “This trial... the whole world... it's all... show business.” Billy Flynn is the ultimate in narcissistic personalities and he utters gems like, “I don't mean to toot my own horn, but if Jesus Christ lived in Chicago today, and he had come to me and he had five thousand dollars, let's just say things would have turned out differently.”  For the three it is about the pursuit of those 15 minutes of fame.  The idea that you are only as good as your last press release leads the to the ridiculous distortion of truth and spin.
Ultimately, I chose Chicago, because as bad as America may seem from my first four films and slimy as Billy Flynn is and as farcical as the narrative is; Chicago represents our freedom of expression.  We live in a country where the “spin’ isn’t just presented by our government.  The “spin” is also presented by our art and our media and frequently the government is the recipient of that spin.  I also chose Chicago because there is nothing more American than the Broadway-style musical.
The five films that I chose to represent what culturally it means to be an American take a critical and cynical look of what it means to be an American.  I believe that we many times get caught up in the chest thumping assertions that ‘this is the greatest country in the world.’  We lose sight of the fact that we have problems in the country that are incumbent upon us to fix.  The Grapes of Wrath, shows poverty… we have that.  The Graduate shows that the American Dream does not always bring happiness.  Milk shows discrimination… we still have that.  Jesus Camp shows religious extremism and intolerance…. We have that and it’s home grown. Finally Chicago shows corruption…. We have that… but it’s forgivable in a slick production number with jazz, beautiful people and great choreography.  What it means to be an American is that we have creativity and when not blinded by our success, we have the creativity to solve problems that protect our minority and despondent populations and to reinvent what it means to live in America.

Works Cited
"Chicago (2002) - IMDb." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 20 Apr. 2011. .
Chicago. Dir. Rob Marshall. Perf. Renee Zellweger, Catherin Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere. 2002. DVD.
"The Graduate (1967) - IMDb." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 20 Apr. 2011. .
The Graduate. Dir. Mike Nichols. Screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. By Charles Web. Perf. Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katherine Ross. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1967. DVD.
"The Grapes of Wrath (1940) - IMDb." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 19 Apr. 2011. .
The Grapes of Wrath. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1940. DVD.
"Jesus Camp (2006) - IMDb." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 20 Apr. 2011. .
Jesus Camp. Dir. Heidi E. Ewing and Rachel Grady. By Mira Chang, Jenna Rosher, and Enat Sidi. Perf. Mike, Papantino, Lou Engle, and Becky Fischer. Magnolia Pictures, 2006. DVD.
"Milk (2008) - IMDb." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 20 Apr. 2011. .
Milk. Dir. Gus Van Sant. By Dustin L. Black. Perf. Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emilie Hirsch. Focus Features, 2008. DVD.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Importance of Context in Discussing Sexuality

How the Films, Kinsey, Milk &, Juno illustrate the Importance of How Questions of Sexuality are Framed

How often have we heard in our relationships with others, “It’s not what you said it is how you said it.”?  The method of information delivery directly influences the outcome.  Context is important when giving instructions, obtaining information, providing information and making decisions.  Context influences how we react to every topic.  The manner in which a topic is framed directly effects how receptive we are to either receiving or providing information.  It also influences our ability to make critical decisions about the information we receive.  There is no place that information is twisted and contorted to influence the outcome is better represented than in the consideration of sexuality.    I am going to discuss context using three films: Kinsey, Juno, and Milk. In this discussion I am going to explore how context influences our attitudes regarding sex and those having sex, our prejudices to gender roles and expectations, and the way we make decisions regarding sex and sexuality.
Developing Attitudes
Kinsey(2004), starred Liam Neeson and Laura Linney.  The film opens with Dr. Alfred Kinsey (Neeson)  teaching an interviewer how to frame questions in context to get the most accurate answers.  The interviewer is asking Dr. Kinsey about his sexual habits, which is the spring board for an autobiographical narration of his sexual past.  Opening in black with the voice over of Dr. Kinsey saying: “Don’t sit so far back.  Anything that creates a distance should be avoided.” Further instruction to the interviewers include avoiding facial expressions that create judgment, phrasing of questions, tailoring questions to the education level and social status of the subject.  This opening scene is important for two reasons.  First, it gives context to how his study was conducted and offers, to the viewer, credibility to the study outcome.  The second gives context to his foundational information of sex and sexuality. 
Kinsey was raised by a Methodist minister.  The opening scene quickly establishes that 19th century attitudes for sex were at the core of Dr. Kinsey’s upbringing.  Not unlike today completely uncorrelated causes were being blamed for decay of morality in their society.  “Lust has a thousand avenues; the dance hall, the ice cream parlor, the tenement saloon, the Turkish bath.  Like the hydra it grows new heads.  Everything, even the modern inventions of science are used to cultivate immorality. The gas engine has brought us the automobile joy ride and an even more pernicious menace, the roadside brothel. Electricity has made possible the degrading picture show. Because of the telephone a young woman can hear the voice of her suitor on the pillow right next to her. And let’s not forget the most scandalous invention of all… the talon slide fastener otherwise known as the zipper which provides every man and boy speedy access to moral oblivion.”, preaches Kinsey’s father. 
Dr. Kinsey’s formative sexual education is passed on to his peers in his late teens.  He uses a text book that again takes puritanical or maybe more appropriately a Victorian view of sex and specifically of masturbation.  His friend nervously reports, “I had one of the old fits again. I tried to stop it.”
The young Kinsey reaches for his texts and reads, ”Any habit that causes the sex fluid to be discharged must be resisted.  Doctors link it to an assortment of illnesses including: insanity, blindness, epilepsy, and even death.”
“What if it happens while you’re asleep?”
“It is said that the loss of one ounce of seminal fluid equals the loss of 40 ounces of blood.” , reads the young Kinsey.  His friend notes the absurdity of the passage by noting that he is killing himself and he is not even awake.  The opening setups nicely the context by which Dr. Kinsey learned his basic sexual information and why his forthcoming research was so important. It further sets up the context for the societal expectations of sex and the climate in which he is starting his study. 

Of the three films I am using to discuss context, Juno (2007) is the only one based upon a fictional character.  When we discuss context in this film, the characters Juno (Ellen Page) and Bleeker (Michael Cera) are metaphors for our contemporary views on teenage sex and sexuality.  The film opens with Juno making the cavalier assertion that the sex she engaged in was planned and by the result we can assume that it was not protected.  At the convenience store the pregnancy test is pulled off the shelf and used in the store’s restroom.  There is some irony in this scene as the result of the pregnancy test is juxtaposed against the prominent display of Trojan Brand condoms behind the checkout counter.  There is an assumption that the teens who are sexual active should know that they at risk for pregnancy and as a result they should have planned for it.  Leah (Olivia Thirlby) asks Juno, “So you were bored? That’s how this blessed miracle came to be?”
                “No no.  The act was premeditated. I mean the sex. Not the whole let’s get pregnant thing.”
                “So when did you decide you were going to…. do Bleeker?”
                “Like a year ago… in Spanish class.”, smirks Juno.  It is quickly established that Juno loves Bleeker and the sex occurred as a progression in that relationship. 
The film immediately and maybe somewhat disingenuously explores the options Juno has for dealing with the pregnancy.  However what the film does establish is that in the context of teen sexual relationships, there is an absence of investment by or with adults.  There is evidence presented that Juno had information regarding “safe sex”.  There is a scene where her health teacher is seen rolling a condom over a banana as she explains that she hates the ambiguous term “sexually active”.  There is little evidence that there is good communication between adults and teen that results in an exchange of ideas, discussion of values, or a forward focus.  In fact it is quickly established that Juno and Bleeker both have communication challenges with their parents.  Juno’s are working class non-nuclear parents and Bleeker’s mother comes off as judgmental and controlling.  Juno let’s her father and step mother know she is pregnant.  It is apparent they love her but are disappointed in the choices she made and the resulting pregnancy.  Furthering the idea that cursory information about sex and the assumptions we make about teens and sex is illustrated by the exchange between Juno and her father. “Juno I’m coming with you to meet this adoption couple. You’re just a kid and I don’t want you to get ripped off by a couple of baby starved wingnuts.”, says Juno’s father Mac Mcguff (J.K. Simmons).
“Thanks Dad.”
“Boy I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.”
“I don’t really know what kind of girl I am.”, said Juno, who is painfully acknowledging her father’s disappointment.   In a reflection of our popular attitudes toward teen sex, the first 25 minutes of this film shows teens engaging in sex, talking about sex, and keeping secrets about sex with the belief they know how to handle the consequences. 
Milk (2008) is the story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) and his rise as the first openly gay City Supervisor in San Francisco.  While Milk, is most relevant to the second and third category I outlined in the opening paragraph, the filmmaker immediately provides context for contemporary attitudes regarding homosexuality.  The film opens with stock media footage of police in the 1960’s rounding up gay men at what can be assumed a gay night spot in Miami, Florida.  New York newspaper headlines, “Homosexuals and Police Clash.” flash across the screen.  Seeming conservative dressed men are rounded up and the headline from the Los Angeles Courier January 19, 1967,”Tavern Charges Police Brutality” expands in to view with soft but slightly discordant music playing in the background. 
1978: the narrative begins with Harvey Milk foreshadowing his death with a recording only to be played upon his assassination.  We can assume, as the viewer, he has been assassinated because we are hearing him recording his story.  Harvey Milk’s assassination is confirmed with stock news footage.  The filmmaker places us in a position to assess, in the context of the greater civil rights movement and resulting activism, how we feel about the injustice we see on the screen.  These are not men who are rioting in the streets and their only crime is congregating with like men who have similar attraction.  The writer is not asking us to look at how Harvey Milk became gay; but, how we perceive homosexuality.  For some viewers the reaction might be one of disgust.  Maybe simple acknowledgement of the way the men are treated poorly is the reaction.  Once the writer has provided the environment for us to assess the context in which we, as a culture, have developed our attitudes for homosexuality and provided us the opportunity to feel some empathy; he immediately challenges our level of comfort with it as we see Harvey hook up for the first time with a younger man in New York City, 1970.  Harvey meets Scott Smith (James Franco) in the stairwell of the New York subway in the evening of his birthday. It is established that Harvey is turning 40 and works for corporate America.  Scott is a curly headed 20 something.  “You’re not going to let me spend my birthday all by myself are you? “
“Listen Harvey you’re pretty cute but I don’t date guys over 40.”
“Well then this is my lucky night. “
“Why’s that.”
“I’m still 39. It’s only 11:15.”  Harvey then kisses Scott and Scott reciprocates.  The filmmaker then uses extreme close ups of their eyes and mouths adoring each other and obviously in the throes of passion and then a short montage of Scott and Harvey’s relationship as they move from New York to San Francisco in 1972. 
Now that the filmmaker has pulled you in with empathy and challenged your comfort with men kissing each other; he again checks to see if you’re still on board as Harvey moves into the Irish Catholic Castro District in San Francisco and opens a camera store.  He is ‘greeted’ by a local business owner who noticed Harvey’s affection for Scott.  “If you open those doors, the merchants association will have the police pull your license.”  When asked under what law, the local business owner responds. “There’s mans law and there’s God’s law in this city…. The San Francisco police force is happy to enforce either.”
Gender Roles and Expectations
                In Kinsey’s narrative gender roles and expectations are first discussed in the context of marriage.  Kinsey implores his love interest Clara (Laura Linney) to marry him stating, “I see marriage as a lifetime partnership between equals.  You’re a brilliant scholar with a keenly perceptive mind and a profound respect for nature.  You’re a capable hiker and camper and a champion swimmer and you’re the one girl in a million who is as interested in insects as I am.“  This line of dialog does two things.  It first establishes, while Kinsey may value a woman who has the same values he does,  it is not the expected norm.    Kinsey runs into sexual difficulties on his wedding night, because Clara’s hymen is too thick and does not rupture, resulting in extreme pain.  The condition is corrected by surgery and the resulting mutual sexual exploration occurs because she is seen as vital to the relationship and her comfort and pleasure is of consideration.   The partnership Kinsey has with his wife and the fact that he judges her to be his intellectual equal, is very important to his future studies.
                The above is contrasted by the relationship dynamics between Kinsey’s father and his mother.  After their wedding the newlywed couple travels to Kinsey’s parent’s home.  Dr. Kinsey is asked by his mother to tell her what he is working on.  He starts to tell her and his father interrupts, ‘Don’t bother Al.  She won’t be able to follow you. She has only had a fourth grade education.”    Later in the conversation Kinsey’s father asks Clara, “So I assume you plan to start a family soon? Don’t rush it. Once you have children you are tied down for ever.  Your life is over.”  Clara does eventually have children and does give up her graduate studies to raise the children.  However I believe this has less to do with gender roles in the case of the Kinsey’s and more to do with who has the established career.  It is fair to note there was a period expectation that she would stay home with the children.
Gender roles are further challenged as Dr. Kinsey starts teaching sexual education, finds himself experimenting with another man, and challenging the conventions of monogamous marriage.  It is in the context of gender roles that Dr. Kinsey runs into problems with his sexual research.  Dr. Kinsey published his book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.  The book, according to the film, was well received.  There seemed to be little issue discussing the sexuality, sexual promiscuity and sexual shortcomings of the American Male.  Where he runs to trouble is in the publishing of its companion… Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.  His studies run into problems when they realize that the women providing the sexual histories and submitting themselves for sexual research and observation were mothers and grandmothers.  While it was acceptable to obtain information from research and observation on males, with women, there was little knowledge even in the field of medicine, so the same research was scandalous.
Juno in contrast, challenges conventional gender role stereotypes through a teenage girl who seems to be the one who is in control.  There is, at least in the beginning, an air that Juno can handle her impending delivery on her own as well as the adult decisions and adult relationships that involve the adoption of her baby.  Bleeker, the male is not assertive and in many ways is portrayed as incompetent.  Her father, while a stronger and a fatherly character, is aloof, and to some degree clueless.  Her step-mother in contrast is a strong and assertive character.  The potential adoptive mother is again a strong if not overbearing woman.  The adoptive father is a man who failed to grow up and reluctantly takes on the responsibility.  There is some commentary that occurs from the challenges of gender roles in this film. Challenges to gender roles do not really shake up convention. They do further some negative stereo types, i.e. assertiveness in female characters is not shown in a desirable light.  In the context of gender role expectations ,what the filmmaker does show, it is not really the sex of the individual but the age and character that determine positive outcome. 
In the film Milk, Harvey and the other members of the homosexual community in 1972 Castro are not commenting on their gender role expectations, they are commenting on ours.  The characters are presented how they are.  In the portrayal of homosexuality and the homosexual community they do not represent the homosexual community’s growth or an attitude metamorphosis within in the community.  What the filmmaker does is show us our metamorphosis over time.  Harvey Milk meets many of the stereotypes we have for homosexuals.  He is promiscuous, flamboyant and crude.  He and his contemporaries kiss in public, hold hands, and dress outrageously.  Harvey learns to use gender expectations and stereotypes to his advantage.  Playing on the old adage that homosexuals recruit otherwise straight people, He opens his campaign for city supervisor with the tag line, “My name Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you.” 
Our attitudes toward the stereotypes of homosexuality are played back to us in news clips.  Anita Bryant, America’s Orange Juice Sweetheart, is shown making broad generalizations about homosexuality that were just not true.  In attempting to repeal a Dade County Florida law she made the following claims, “I believe that, more than ever before, that there are evil forces round abouts,  even perhaps disguised as something good. That would want to tear down the very foundation of the family unit that holds America together.”  In a Tom Brokaw interview she states, “You see if homosexuals are allowed their civil rights, then so would prostitutes, or thieves or anyone else.  God puts it in a category of morality… I believe homosexuality should be illegal.”   Though these attitudes were presented as recently as the California Proposition 8 referendum, they no longer hold the same credibility. 
 Milk, also gives us an interesting twist in gender roles when Harvey Milk brings in a woman to run his campaign.  The gay males in the campaign office are noticeably threatened and suspicious of her.  Even after it is revealed she is a lesbian they still are suspicious of Anne Kronenberg  (Alison Pill). After bantering about a couple of obvious racial and gender stereotypes Anne asks this question, “Sir my girlfriends say you guys don’t like women.  I am just asking, is there a place for us in all this or are you all scared of girls?”  The question ‘is there place for us in all this?’ was the right one and a question being asked of the viewer rhetorically.
Decisions Regarding Sex and Sexuality
In Kinsey, a couple of married students ask to meet with Dr. Kinsey to discuss a sexual problem they are experiencing.  The husband is unable to arouse his partner.  She feels relatively nothing.  He asks them about their habits in the bedroom including foreplay and oral sex.  They assert that they do not engage in oral sex because they have heard it cause babies.  Dr. Kinsey learns they developed their attitudes from a text that purports authority.  “Ideal Marriage-its Physiology and Technique. (reading from the text) ‘Oral contact while acceptable for stimulation is pathological if carried through to orgasm and possibly injurious… the hand should never be used for the purpose of excitation.  There is but one finger of love what which to approach the female genitals with and that is the male organ.’  It’s all Just hooey, morality disguised as fact” Because it claims to have authority and is written in textual form the couple was not willing or comfortable to explore the possibility of alternative sex play.  Additionally the information provided in the Hygiene course taught by Professor Thurman Rice (Tim Curry) provided this information, “The idea that men need sex is a lie.  If it were true they boy who exercises his sex organs regularly would achieve the greatest sexual experiences in later life; where in fact that boy is likely to be sexually dead by the time he reaches adulthood.  Abstinence poses no difficulty to the college age male. Men don’t reach their sexual peak until the age of 40.  It is the lower class male, often the negro, who finds it difficult to control his urges.”  The quality of information received effects, ultimately, the risks you are willing to take.   
                In  Juno, the quality and context of information make all the difference in how choices are made.  Juno, even with the sex education course under her belt, seems surprised that she became pregnant.  She reports she guesses the day they did it, Bleeker went “live” and that was why “he got that look in his face.  Additionally, I suggested earlier that the film disingenuously addressed Juno’s options.  Her choice to obtain or not to obtain an abortion is directly influenced by her chance meeting with Su Chin.  Su Chin is standing outside of the women’s health clinic and we can immediately assume by the dialog that she is emotionally unstable as is Juno.  At no point in the process did Juno actually meet with an adult who could assist her with the post family planning options. 
                Bleeker is completely in periphery when it comes to decision making regarding the child and kept at arm’s length.  One is left wonder how the story might have been richer if he had been involved and nurturing.  Instead Juno makes the decisions and does not consider his feelings for her or how he has a role in the outcome when the decision is made. 
                If Juno had the information regarding the real status for Mark and Vanessa’s marriage; would she have chosen them to be the adoptive parents?  Would Juno’s parents have tacitly allowed the decision?  Finally, would she have crossed boundaries putting her in the situation to be seduced by Mark? 
                Probably the most interesting discussion in context on this film came from the viewing audience.  It hit the theaters and in its genre was criticized for making light of teen pregnancy.  I knew of several parents who told their teens they were not allowed to see it.  As a comedy, I agree it does make light of a tough subject.  It is also classified as drama and a romance by the Internet Movie Database.  I would add that is also a tragedy.  I saw this film with my wife and really enjoyed it. I did not think that it was a vehicle for sexual delinquency but rather an opportunity for dialog with my children.  It was also an opportunity for the broader community to have an open discussion on teen sex and sexuality.
                Milk, doesn’t challenge what the homosexual community does with information on sex and sexuality, but how we use the context of the treatment of the homosexual community,  flanked by Harvey Milk’s assassination to form our opinion of them.  For me the questions that arise are: Did our community allow for an environment for homosexuals to engage in pro-social sexual relationships?  Did we provide them with a safe place to establish societal norms inside our community?  Does sexual preference diminish the homosexual community’s needs for equal rights and the right to have housing and jobs? 
                The thing that makes the Harvey Milk story interesting is not that it happened but that the progress has been slow in answering the questions posed above and in many ways they are still an issue.  In one scene in the film Harvey Milk receives a phone call from a young homosexual boy who is about to be institutionalized by his parents because he is gay. The boy says, “My folks are going to take me to this place tomorrow…  a hospital…  to fix me.”
To which Harvey responds, “There is nothing wrong with you. Listen to me. You just get on a bus to the nearest big city like Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco… it doesn’t matter just leave. You are not sick and you are not wrong and god does not hate you.  Just leave.”
As the camera pulls back you see that the boy is confined to a wheel chair.  He says, “I can’t leave.  I can’t walk.”  In that interaction the films writer, Dustin Lance Black, ask us if we have the capacity to accept homosexuals for who they are because ultimately they cannot escape who they are.  In that context can we accept them?
The conversation regarding sex spans many topics.  The context of those discussions is important as we ask is homosexuality deviant or normal.   We ask questions about whether teen pregnancy is really preventable and is our conversations with our youth enough.  What is normal sex behavior in humans and what are the consequences of withholding that information?  Milk shows us that homosexuality is a topic that still needs our attention.  We need to examine our attitudes, the choices we make regarding the homosexual community and how our prejudices toward homosexuality inhibit not only their community but ours. Juno shows us that we owe it to our children to have conversations about sex.  To help them find to the context by which they develop healthy attitudes about sex and sexuality.  Juno illustrates prejudices about teen sex merely close the conversation down. We cannot just throw a condom their way or sit them in a class room but that the conversation is much more complex. Finally, Kinsey, tells us to not be afraid of the questions. We need to find answer through studying and observing the problem.  We should not tolerate bad information that purports to come from sources of authority.  Ignorance in our education and denial of the evidence does not further the species.  When we get any information about our sexuality and are put in a position to influence others in matters sexuality we should ask, “In what context.”

Works Cited
"Juno (2007) - IMDb." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). 11 Apr. 2011 .
Juno. Dir. Jason Reitman. Prod. Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith, and Mason Novick. By Diablo Cody. Perf. Ellen Page and Michael Cera. DVD. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2007.
Kinsey. Dir. Bill Codon. By Bill Condon. Perf. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O'Donnell. DVD. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2004.
Milk. By Dustin L. Black. Dir. Gus Van Sant. Perf. Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emilie Hirsch. DVD. Focus Features, 2008.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Homosexuality in Film

Homosexuality in Film
“In a hundred years of movies, homosexuality has only rarely been depicted on the screen.  When it did appear, it was there to laugh at – or to pity – or event something to fear.”  ~Vito Russo

Vito Russo, Author of The Celluloid Closet, finishes the quoted by indicting Hollywood for telling Americans what they should think about gay people and even more preposterously what gay people should think about themselves. So how do we see gay people how are they portrayed in our cinema? What are the bench marks for change that has lead to more progressive attitudes toward homosexuality in the Cinema and do the most current depictions of gay Americans dispel the negative stereotypes or do they perpetuate them? What is the harm in perpetuating the stereotype?

The earliest depictions of homosexuality were often played for comedic effect. In the film The Florida Enchantment, two women dance off together leaving their dates confused and bewildered the men then dance off together as well according to article Homosexuality in Film.

The comedic device is played out by showing characters that are effeminate and exaggerating the characters in a larger than life fashion. This worked best when the character was juxtaposed against a manly brut. The brut of course was representing what we believed to be the normal socially acceptable and more desirable character. So why is this? According to Patricia Erens article in Jump Cut, Images of Minority and Foreign Groups in American Film 1958-73, “….Images of national types derive both from objective information gained through fact and from subjective biases perceived from environmental influences. The first approach relies on the objective determination of stereotypical tendencies which exist in the portrayal or each group and the relationship between these tendencies and the political realities of U.S. society.” I have to agree with her here as we bring a certain expectation the theater when it comes to gay characters. We don’t want to be left to squirm in out seats by something that may make us uncomfortable. It is easier to see the gay character as a clown or as what has developed as a typical stereo type than it is to see them as someone like us with mannerisms that are more like ours. A character that straddles the divide between what it is to be a man or a woman is non-threatening. “Sissy characters are always a joke,” explains elder queen Quentin Crisp. “There is no sin like being a woman. When a man dresses as a woman, the audience laughs. When a woman dressed as a man, nobody laughed. They just thought she looked wonderful.” (

The alternative to playing with the stereotypical sissy role might be to play the character as dangerous to society. If you turn the character into a monster then to spurn them or to hate them is acceptable right? Play them as criminals, sociopaths or even better: villains who resemble the devil… like vampires? If you remove the humanity from the character by playing either as a frivolous clown or as monster you don’t have to develop empathy for the character and it is easy to just not care if they are ridiculed or destroyed.

Homosexuality has been represented in film since the beginning of the medium. Not necessarily as explicit openly gay but by exploiting the stereotypes discussed above. The earliest examples of homosexual or the allusion to homosexuality occurred in a film from Thomas Edison’s studio in which two men are dancing together and a third is playing the fiddle. The aforementioned film The Florida Enchantment, 1914, while a silent picture the audience was familiar with the stereotype and the device allows the viewer to fill in the context. This was common in films of the 1920’s and 30’s however as Hollywood became bolder there was a push back from the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency. The response to his push back was the institution and eventual adherence to the Hays Code by the studios.

During the golden era of the studios, amid Hays Code restrictions, portrayal of homosexuality and the gay character was not an open representation of what it meant to be gay. The characters were not allowed to be explicitly and honestly gay. As a result the homosexual characters were veiled in the innuendo of stereotype and audiences, if attentive or sensitive to gay issues, would find gay expression longing looks or dialogue steeped in double entendre. Sexual tension found between gay characters in some cases might be imagined by the viewer or in the case of Ben-Hur (1959) have the sexual tension engineered by the director and the writer without the consent of one or both actors.

In his Jump Cut article Homosexuality in Film Noir, Richard Dyer makes the case that film noir (1941-1955) was a vehicle for portraying a homosexual character. He further states that the devices used in film noir become a standard by which the gay character is portrayed in other genres of the era. “First, it is clearly only in a minority of films noir that gay character’s appear… yet their absence from all other types of film and the caution with which even film noir had to introduce them suggests that they do nonetheless constitute a defining feature of film noir taken as a whole.” Mr. Dyer goes on to support his case by describing the iconography used in film noir for the gay character. He includes the terms rough and severe when describing the gay women and careless for describing gay men. He made on very compelling point: “…what is significant about the iconography is that it is not explicitly sexual. Gays are thus defined by everything but the very thing that makes us different.”

In 1962, the film The Children’s Hour, as the studios started to push back Hays Code restrictions, alluded to homosexuality but only from a child’s perspective. But the homosexual character was the villain or there was a moral imperative to see the character destroyed or to show the character as one who operated outside of the desirable norm and as a result they suffered some sort of penance including imprisonment and death. The gay or equivalent gay character in the films The Detective, Caged, Dracula’s Daughter, The Fox, Rebel Without a Cause, Suddenly Last Summer and “The Children’s Hour.

With the demise of the Hays Code Hollywood produced its first all gay cast in the comedy Boys in the Band, (1970). While gays were allowed to be gay the audience could reconcile their discomfort with the characters through the films self depreciating humor. In the year prior the X-rated film the Midnight Cowboy, (1969), also explored homosexuality in the context of prostitution.

In the Europe the acceptable love story between same sex characters were played out in films like Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), and Emmanuelle, (1974). In the U.S. homosexuality was still being played for either the farcical comedy, Rocky Horror,(1975) or the atonement of the character usually through death or physical violence, Vanishing Point(1971) and Cruising (1980). The difference here is the Gay Community was willing to organize and to speak out about this type of abuse. During the next decade there would be a push back by gay activists against violence in film toward homosexuals.

The 80’s ushered in both the AIDs epidemic and the high profile Hollywood actors who were willing to take the risk and play gay characters. Among the brave: Harry Hamblin in Making Love (1982) and Christopher Reeve in Deathtrap (1982). It also ushered in nearly twice the number of movies that featured gay characters or homosexual themes than the prior two decades. In 1993 in the shadow of AIDS and the discovery of its origins actor Tom Hanks took on the role of a lawyer who dies of AIDS in the film Philadelphia (1993).

Midnight Cowboy and Philadelphia both won Oscars demonstrating that the industry appreciated the honesty that surrounded the issue in the films. So why aren’t gay themed movies where the romance is honestly depicted and the complexities of a homosexual lifestyle accurately and sensitively represented more mainstream in America? What seems to be the issue? The issue seems to center on the fact that men run the industry and represent a significant influence when it comes to distribution in movie theaters. Movies like Brokeback Mountain (2005), while obtaining critical acclaim, still represented a repugnant lifestyle to the conservative businessmen who operate studios and who own movie theaters. In Utah theater owner Larry H. Miller refused to see the movie or to allow it to be shown in one of the several theaters he owned. What was its crime? It showed homosexuality and its complexities in a way that caused straight men to squirm in their seats.

What is the danger in portraying homosexuals by one stereotype or the other especially when decent society finds the idea of homosexuality repulsive? Is it not better to laugh at the homosexual than it is to hate them? What can be the harm? To answer this question I think you need to recognize that film is a reflection of the society it portrays. While Harvey Fierstein stated in the film The Celluloid Closet that he believed gayer was better; is it really if the character is a cartoon or farce? The danger here is in the wake of a wave of gay teen suicides, are we providing a platform by which the gay Americans can find an accurate reflection of their community? The complaint has been that there is isolation in being gay. Gay youth have few healthy representations of gay adults in film. As long as the stereotype is perpetuated heterosexual American will also be starved of a vehicle in which any type of empathy or understanding of homosexuality can be gained. Film is a reflection of our society and it should reflect all aspects of American life. 

Works Cited 
"The Celluloid Closet | Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman| Lily Tomlin, Tony Curtis and Susie Bright| Sony Pictures Classics, 1995. DVD

Dyer, Richard. "Homosexuality in Film Noir by Richard Dyer." JCsplash. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. .

Erens, Patricia. "Minorities in US Films by Patricia Erens." JCsplash. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. .

"Homosexuality in Films." Listology. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. .

"Representations of Gays and Lesbians in Film." Media Awareness Network | Réseau éducation Médias. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. .

Sony "History." Sony Pictures. Web. 08 Feb. 2011. .