Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What Really Matters

Here's Hendrik Hertzberg, writing for the New Yorker:

[James] Cameron knows a lot about science, but he's happy to bag it when necessary, as suggested in this colloquy, from a recent interview with a men's magazine:

PLAYBOY: How much did you get into calibrating your movie heroine's hotness?

CAMERON: Right from the beginning I said, "She's got to have tits," even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na'vi, aren't placental mammals.


Athena Andreadis said...

Yes, totally spiritual. To say nothing of the fact that Neytiri has no plans or actions that don't revolve around Jake. The future chief, and she changes the Chosen One's diapers -- willingly yet. One step forward, ten steps back.

Josh said...

The academy'd better give the prize to this guy's ex-wife, is all I'm sayin'.

Anonymous said...

My comments are on my LJ.


Timmi Duchamp said...

Yes, Jane Campion sometimes disappoints me. I thought she got fragments of the emotions right in Bright Star, but am with you, Rebecca, on being annoyed by her choosing to make Brawne a sort of a personal convert--maybe not a poetry groupie, as you put it, but rather a groupie of the poet, which as the movie has it comes about as a result of her falling for him (which is the opposite of the groupie dynamic).

What I most object to is Campion's depicting Brawne as shallow until Keats gets hold of her. (She was 17 or 18 for godsake.) I'd like to have had Campion showing her reading the Divine Comedy in Italian, as she probably did-- since Brawne's ability with languages would have been at a least a partial counterweight to Brown's constantly expressed contempt for her. I also wondered why Campion omitted to note that Brawne's father died of consumption (as her brother was later to do). Keats' family & hers had a lot in common. (& more than just consumption.)

The idea of a muse who isn't obsessed with (and narcissistically enamored of) the poetry she inspires would be an interesting one to explore.

Timmi Duchamp said...

Oh, & on Avatar, Rebecca: I didn't spot a single teen-aged boy in the theater when I saw it. The fact is, nobody gets that kind of budget when they're confining their audience to "teen-aged boys." & no film makes that much money if it's aimed only at teen-aged boys.

Athena Andreadis said...

I must disagree with you, Ms. Duchamp. I believe that Cameron, like Lucas, did target Avatar to teenage boys and young men. The fact that associated paraphernalia appeared almost concurrently with the film (a video game, a projected novel) makes this clear, as the Star Wars tie-ins -- lunch boxes, toys, video games, spec novelizations -- also did. The rest of the viewers watched Avatar from curiosity and/or peer pressure (uncool not to be able to discuss it first hand).

Athena Andreadis said...

Postscript: Practically all major Hollywood films target the 15-25 male demographic, not just Avatar. The rest of Cameron's Playboy interview makes his goals on this point crystal clear.

Timmi Duchamp said...


Timmi Duchamp said...

My last comment was a bit cryptic-- except, of course, for people able to read my mind. (Haven't encountered anyone who can do that, yet, so that's a pretty meaningless exception.)

My sigh came at the end of a brief train of thought provoked by Athena Andreadis' correction of my assertion that Cameron's target audience wasn't teen-aged boys. My first thought on reading her comments was that oh yeah, that's about right, the powers that be in Hollywood are perfectly happy to allow global consumer culture to be dominated by their perceived notion of what teen-aged boys want films to be. And my second thought was, how ironic, given how little actual power people in their teens and twenties have in the world.

At that particular moment in my reflections, it seemed that all there was to do was sigh...

Josh said...

Well, it's not your friends' fault that we can't read your mind, Timmi: you're just not thinking hard enough at us! I kinda has a sense of your "first thought," however. "Teenaged boys" as imagined by powerful image-brokers who think they know "what the public wants." Or would find "relatable," to cite an old post by A White Bear. Whereas real US teenagers, for example, rarely seem to want Asians to be turned into white characters on the big screen (21, Dragonball Z, The Last Airbender). Heck, remember that the movie version of Ghost World was rejected by a Hollywood exec who said, "It's not realistic: teenaged girls don't use strong language in real life."

Anonymous said...

Keats himself said that he didn't want to be involved with women who would be married to a poem and given away by a novel. He met at least one such women (his publisher's mistress). Brawne's letters to his sister and his letters to Brawne show that the relationship was based on who they were together. Keats felt fairly despairing of his poetry and Fanny did him the honor of taking his opinion of the situation at face value (much arguments about whether this was depression or oxygen problems from early TB in print).

If she'd been a big fan, she would have tried to tell him he was wrong.

Keats was pretty immature about women, but in a fast learning curve when he met Brawne. The initial tiffs and dismissals more signal early serious attraction than anything else.

Brawne was a woman sewing her own clothes after the introduction of machine made cloth but before sewing machines. Wanting to have nice clothes required considerable investments in time on her part. She wouldn't have been making money from her sewing because of family position, but as an ex-self-clothing seamstress myself, the work is closer to technical/mechanical work than anything brainless (shopping for clothes is far closer to brainless).

Women who claim to be feminist should get traditional and transitional women's work right, damn it (pet peeve of mine about a number of people).

The thing was she left the poetry as something that was his. His male friends thought she should be more involved in it.

If Keats had stopped writing poetry and gone on to journalism (which he was trying to do at one point), she would have still loved him. She wasn't involved in his poetry and that was what drove the guys nuts.

Campion follow Motion's interpretation of Keats, which follows Shelley's. Keats was not the frail depressive that Keats and Motion condescended to (and Shelley very obviously made Keats grit his teeth and try not to be rude). The letter show someone who was developing considerable insight and who was basically sane. I saw Campion's Fanny as Campion's Mary Sue following Motion's Keats.

I think being involved in the work of another person tends to get old quickly. May explain why some writers have serial spouses. End of the day, reading and commenting on the spouse's work (and nothing is as good in draft as it is finished) is no substitute for having a good conversation at dinner and a considerate lover and someone who make you laugh.

I believe that Gene Wolfe and Chip both have spouses who don't read their work. And Diane Wakowski's marriage to someone who adored her work and decided to marry her didn't last.

Cameron -- if The Valve and various others hadn't been fussing about it, I wouldn't have looked up the nearest 3-D theatre and thought about seeing it. I'm sure he's quite happy about the buzz, whichever way it goes.

I did resist and watched White Collar instead.

Rebecca Ore

Anonymous said...

Timmi, in the movie industry's analysis of audiences that I think I read in The New Yorker online, the idea is that if you target teenaged boys, their girl friends and families will go to, if only to see what the boys are watching.

Another significant audience is older women, but they're far less easy to please with formal repeatable tropes (tits and big hair and boomy things being formal tropes in movies). They can make a hit out of Thelma and Louise where making a sequel is just impossible. Then they can find something different.

I love it that we're this hot but unpredictable audience.

Other groups don't appear to go to movies as much if I'm remembering correctly.

Andrea Hairston said...

Targeting teenaged boys, or males from 15-25 is possibly self-fulfilling marketing. They go to these movies because the movies are for them. Women of all ages go to movies that are "targeted" at them. With the exception of Avatar, films that center on women have dominated the Box Office and the audience has been predominantly female and not just the older women.
See Martha Lauzen's research for this or Sex Change: The Rise of the Female-Driven Blockbuster

which I quote:
Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, concurred. “Women are just as likely to go to the movies as men,” she told CNN, right after the huge premiere of “The Blind Side.” Instead, she noted, studios are making more movies now that accurately reflect women’s experiences and interests.

In her research, Martha Lauzen argues that how much money producers invest in a picture correlates more strongly with the picture's box office than the gender of the star or director.
See: Women @the Box office.

Athena Andreadis said...

It's true that women go to the movies as much as men. However, very few Hollywood films reflect or appreciate their interests and even fewer pass the Bechdel-Wallace test (not even the so-called romantic comedies, which have devolved into showing women panicky over their mating prospects, or the recent blossoming of "bromances" in which women are as peripheral as they are in westerns or noirs).

Manohla Dargis, the NYT film reviewer who is closer to the ground than Martha Lauzen, wrote about this issue recently.

Josh said...

Rebecca, with respect to Chip's "spouse": The Motion of Light in Water is actually one of the two books Dennis Rickett has read. More interestingly on the gender front, I believe Marilyn is still Chip's "first reader" quite frequently.

I had the interesting experience a few weeks ago of a couple of my white freshmen saying (in response to a question I'd asked the class about cross-cultural identification) that they didn't feel the way their POC peers did about wanting fictional heroes who resembled them, physically or culturally: indeed, they (a young man and a young woman) had both wanted to grow up to be Morgan Freeman. The obvious conclusion to draw is that it's about their never having been deprived of the option to see "people like them" in a variety of cultural positions in fiction, and they need a better understanding of what that deprivation feels like; but their view also suggests how backward Hollywood (and publishing, although I see more diversity there) might be in its assumptions about white teenaged audiences.

Anonymous said...

Josh, I was going on what Chip told me when I met Dennis. Things must have changed since then.

One of the reasons many people can't get what Keats was talking about is that we have a GIant Romantic Fallacy about artists, writers, and all that. End of the day, I'd rather have friends who make me laugh (Marilyn Schaefer in Philly never read anything I wrote) than people whose relationship with me is dependent on me being a name to drop (I've had some serious problems with people who did that i).

One of my closer friends dropped out of s.f. to do gardening books. I'm still in touch with her; I'm not in touch with people who wanted to get to know me because I was a s.f. writer unless the friendship moved on to interests we had in common beyond that initial interest in my writing (which did happen in one case, but there we're all Southern left of center people.

Andrea, it's easier to push teenaged boys' buttons than it is to come up with new, unique, and moving stories for people old enough to have gotten through needing to see what their friend saw and wanting lots of repetition of certain visceral thrills.

Sometime I think the easier way for Hollywood to get women in the theatres would be to let women make movies, but a lot of careers are invested in believing they can figure out how the female mind works (without realizing that there isn't one such thing).

Anonymous said...


Imagining being successful famous person regardless race strikes me as far easier than imagining oneself to be not so successful.

Athena Andreadis said...

Rebecca, I agree -- though it's Athena, not Andrea. Vis-à-vis Hollywood we're dealing with laziness, timidity, unquestioned assumptions and catastrophic failure of the imagination. I've written several articles about this issue. Here is the paragraph from one, to whet appetites!

"It’s bad enough that films since the maturation of F/X have been aimed at 15-year-old boys. Far worse is the fact that the most lavish Hollywood films have been made by their directors’ 15-year-old inner boys – tightly conjoined with plans for lunch boxes and video games whose complexity far exceeds that of the films."

A few pertinent links:

We Must Love One Another or Die: A Critique of Star Wars

Avatar: Jar Jar Binks Meets Pocahontas

Lab Rat Cinema: Monetizing the Reptile Brain

Anonymous said...

I was actually responding to Andrea Hairston.

I knew a family of Hairstons in Virginia.

Anonymous said...

Athena, more women are directing and producing. I remember a early 1960s newspaper account mocking a woman director who did, if I remember correctly, an episode of Gunsmoke. I don't think that would happen these days.

But then I'm so old, I remember when women couldn't serve on juries in South Carolina and when state senators felt free to suggest in print that the League of Women Voters should go home and tend their families.

Most of Cameron's movies have been swinging dick movies from the early Terminator movies on (and those literally swinging dick movies as one could see the silhouette of the now Governerator's in one of the films).

I even wonder if they knew the concept was lame because it's made in 3D. I can't remember any first rate movies made in 3D in the past. It could be possible to make a good 3D movie, but when the movie is more about the special effects than anything else, that's a sign.

Timmi Duchamp said...

Last night, after watching Truffault's Shoot the Piano Player, I couldn't help thinking of your comments, Rebecca, about artists' partners. The protagonist, Eduard (aka "Charlie" when he's playing honkytonk in a bar), is a narcissist who doubts his own talent as a concert pianist. The woman who married him (a waitress) sacrifices herself (without his knowledge) to get his career off the ground-- but only because she thinks that will make him happy. It doesn't. Instead, he loses interest in everything except his obsession with others' opinions of his playing, which is, of course, excruciatingly boring. His career ends when she kills herself. (Both women in the film who love him (for his sweetness, not for his musical talent) end up dead. Even his sex-worker neighbor, with whom he has a friendly sexual relationship, gets roughed up.) & so he becomes "Charlie," a piano player in a bar.

Truffault had quite a romantic streak. But apparently he wasn't romantic about artists' groupies...

Anonymous said...

Timmi, I can't imagine a man sacrificing himself for his female partner's talent. Maybe Diane Wakoski's marriage to the MFA candidate, but in that case, he appears to have thought she could do him some good.

Appears Five Easy Pieces owed a lot to the Truffault movie.

Athena Andreadis said...

Actually, research shows that there are fewer women both in front and behind the camera lately. The numbers of women directors and women film critics has decreased substantially since 2001, now standing at 1987 (!) levels. This despite the fact that box office success correlates with film budget, not with the gender of the protagonists in the film.

One of several sources:

IT Services said...

Yes Jane seems to be pretty correct the book of the whole essence revolves around the two books two books Dennis Rickett has read and there are some people who dealt with some unnatural assumptions.