Those Scary, Liberated Types (or Why Manohla Dargis Should Shut The Fuck Up)

When Rob came to hang out with me today his beard was gone.

I felt a shock like hearing a friend had been in a car accident or like I should hold up a lighter, lit in remembrance.

Either way, it was good to have him back.

We met up for an 11am matinee of Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary about “Oz-ploitation”, the genre cinema out of Australia in the 70s and 80s out of which came some interesting movies like Mad Max and some… other movies, like Flashgasm.

The documentary was both refreshing and extremely masturbatory, both in the filmmakers stroking of their own egos and celebration of their Corman-style exploitation flicks, and, more literally, in the sheer amount of nudity excerpted from these films. In fact, one of the joys of the film is seeing the women who, having given gratuitously of their bodies to the questionable “art” value of these gory sex-flicks, reflect on their exposure, sometimes with disgust, but often with free-wheeling abandonment. “We thought we were educating people.” One of the actresses said.

For me, this was an interesting piece within an inconsistent film.

For Rob though, the film depicted a place as fanciful as Candyland, showing an atmosphere where films were created much like the ones he writes, a world where his vision might have found a place to be funded, as opposed to the big-budget seriousness of the present (despite holdovers like Sam Raimi).

Anyway, it was fun.

“I don’t know the last time I saw that many boobs in a documentary.” I told Rob as we headed out of the movie.

“Women’s lib, man.” He told me. “It changed a generation.”

***

“Women’s lib” as it was scared me. Or at least I had discussed with my friends the idea, of “those scary, liberated types” among women I met.

I referred, of course, not to an expectation of domesticity on my fellow female, but rather the attitude towards sex and dating some female friends of mine have.

“If a boy’s cute, he buys me a drink and he has two-thirds of a brain, I’ll fuck him.” One girl told me. “Why not? It’s fun. And it makes me feel good.”

I winced.

Somehow, along with my previous claims as a case of arrested development, is an aversion to casual sexuality. Perhaps it’s because of a lack of different kinds of experience, perhaps it’s because it just gives me the willies. But when people talk about “casually fucking” each other, it not only makes me feel uncomfortable, but something in my gut tells me it can’t be true.

And I have several friends embarking on this path.

The idea is some reversal of the “player” notion for men; the idea that women can sleep casually with men, desiring nothing more than sex and leave a number or leave nothing and then move on. But more than that, more than a drunken, unintentional hookup, these “scary, liberated types” actually seek this sort of interaction out as an ends as opposed to a means.

“Listen,” I told one of them. “I don’t know what it’s like for a girl. I’m not a girl. But I can tell you, this thing, this ‘casual’ thing you are doing. I know guys who do it. They’re miserable.”

She seemed unimpressed.

“Really,” I told her. “Now, I can’t speak for all of ‘man-dom’, but the guys who I know who sleep with different women seem to be as a whole unhappier with themselves and their lives than the guys who I see in more stable relationships.”

“Even more than that,”” I went on. “Most often the guys who are doing that, are doing that because us guys are dumb as fuck and fucking girls is like dogs peeing on a tree, marking our territory. But just like dogs, we don’t mark our territory so we can abandon it. We mark it so we know we can come back to it.”

The girl I was with didn’t seem pleased, though I didn’t know if it was because of the critique of her lifestyle or the comparison.

I admit: it was an unfortunate comparison.

“Look, Nick.” She told me. “You just have to get over it.”

“Some girls aren’t looking for relationships, they’re just looking for fun. Or they’re looking to feel good about themselves. Or they’re looking for some cool exercise.”

“Join a gym?” I suggested.

A glare my way.

“What I am saying,” she said. “Is not that I or anyone else necessarily wants to be alone forever. Just that I am not looking for anything right now, but sex and fun guys and maybe a date or two.”

“Wonder how the ‘fun guys’ feel about that.” I muttered.

Which elicited another glare that in this case was mouth-shutting.

I admit to being a judgmental person.

I am someone with strong, but indefinite sense of right and wrong. A moral compass that seems somewhere buried next to my gut, whose rumblings I sometimes confuse with those of my stomach nearby.

As such, I have to say that it is impossible for me to understand or concede the idea that people in life aren’t essentially searching for love. I feel like it must be nature, that it’s in everyone somewhere, that need for a semi-constant companionship, the denial of which is only a denial of one’s self and one’s desires.

Furthermore, chemically and emotionally, sex is something incredibly fraught with, if for no other reason than an evolutionary one, complicated emotions of closeness and exposure. To enter into it seems to require the same warning as on a rear-view mirror: “Warning: objects may be close than they appear”.

At the very least, to throw one’s self in and out of such things requires a form of emotional acrobatics and at worst, a replacement for the more significant feelings (and dangers) of emotional intimacy.

Boiled down to it: I would say as someone who has had “casual encounters” that I now can’t comprehend why anyone would seek them voluntarily. For me, the rubbing of bodies and attraction falls away at the point that you realize that not only do you know little about someone, but that as opposed to a consummation or a realizing of openness, you are closing yourself to someone emotionally as they close themselves to you.

Which seems to me, in all my myopia and inexperience and stymied world-view, nonetheless, as almost entirely missing the point.

One final example.

I went out with two of my old Magic-playing buddies last night, to karaoke it up and celebrate old times.

When I Karaoke, I tend to get zen, concentrating on the songs I’m hearing and on the songs I am about to do. By contrast, my magic-buddies were out and about, trying to hit up every drunk chick in the place.

“I just broke up with my girlfriend today.” One of them told me. “So tonight, it’s time to drink.”

I had known his previous girlfriend, a nice girl who had driven to get me coffee from Dunkin Donuts to help me nurse my first hangover at a Magic tournament at a church basement in Edison, NJ.

I asked about her.

“Her?” He said. “No, we broke up a while ago. I still love her, but she won’t take me back.”

I asked if he had cheated on her or ignored her.

“No,” He said. “She just didn’t love me anymore.”

As we pushed back beers and my friends became and more social I asked the same one about a brunette, slightly sloppy, who he had been kicking songs with all night.

“She’s all right,” He said. “Kind of cute. I don’t know.”

He put down his beer to look out plaintively.

“I guess, for tonight, she’ll do.”

***

Manohla Dargis needs to shut the fuck up.

For those unawares, Ms. Dargis took over, at some vague point in time, as the lead film critic for the New York Times, eclipsing A.O. Scott and Stephen Holden, the other two-thirds of their film-criticism triumvirate.

Ms. Dargis, as a critic, has a predilection for “pretty pictures” that I find regrettable, as well as a love of Michael Mann that is only rivaled by Mr. Scott’s self-proclaimed love for the actress Kirsten Dunst.

However, this is not why I would an issue such an injunction at Ms. Dargis.

No. It is because she tries to view movies made by men through a pseudo-feminist viewpoint.

To Ms. Dargis, testosterone appears to be some sort of ectoplasmic mess haunting the American cinema, against which she stands as some sort of “ghostbuster”.

Classic examples of this can be seen in her review of the film, Oldboy, where she dismissed the film’s action, pacing and paranoia as “crude”,”adolescent” and “spurious”. Ms. Dargis’s main objection seems to be that Park Chan-wook, that film’s director, is both excessive in his “pulp-fiction cool” and “unoriginal” in it.

Really though, everything Ms. Dargis seems to be criticizing the film for seems like an endorsement. If it is unoriginal (and I do not think it is), it is in the same way Tarantino is, spinning off of other filmmakers as homage while simultaneously channeling a new, more violent aesthetic. If it is “adolescent”, then it is because it feeds on something universal within us, a child-like reversion to rage-filled outbursts and the consequences that we learn.

But instead of recognizing at least the duality of the film, Ms. Dargis mocks not only the movie but its fans for their “crude aesthetic relativism”, a term that makes her sound like Armond White.

Except two things, Mr. White would ground his reviews in at least weighing the merits or attempts of the filmmaker before dismissing, preferring a dribble before his attempt at a slam-dunk, and, secondly and most importantly, Mr. White is writing from the fringe, where as Ms. Dargis is writing from the mainstream.

While her criticism did not affect Oldboy in the least (bound for an American remake soon), her pan of Funny People was both more efficacious and more spurious.

Ms. Dargis has proclaimed herself an enemy of Mr. Apatow and his films, claiming repeated boredom at how such ugly, stupid guys get such beautiful women, while only talking about their dicks. Simultaneously, she praises a movie like Juno, which offers the same sort of laughs and insider-ism without the foundation of Apatow’s film in full, life-based laughter.

For Funny People, she continues her tirade on schlubs and the lovelies that love them, but she also blames the characters, the actors and the director for creating such “self-satisfied”, jerk-off worlds.

What Ms. Dargis doesn’t understand about Oldboy and Funny People, is that they are male movies. And there is nothing wrong with that. They are honest attempts by their respective filmmakers to distill parts of themselves into cinema, whether through gore and isolation, or the more mundane world of self-immolating comedy. They are movies where we live in the characters fucked-up head and their fucked-up world. Ms. Dargis wants them to be something they’re not, which is something they are not obligated to be: Fair.

I remember the great quote I heard when someone criticized the maker of Waltz With Bashir, a spectacular Israeli multi-genre war movie, by saying that it didn’t do enough to show the perspective of the Arabs involved.

“I am an Israeli filmmaker.” The director answered. “I know Arab filmmakers. I will tell my story. I will let them tell theirs.”

Ms. Dargis sees the faults in these male-dominated moves without focusing on their pleasures or letting herself enjoy them.

You might ask then, what is the problem with that. Isn’t Ms. Dargis free to tell her own story? Isn’t film critcism an art?

As both a film critic and an occasional filmmaker, I think I can answer that: yes, film criticism is an art.

But there’s a difference.

Where as it is the filmmaker’s prerogative to tell their story, their vision, the prerogative of the film critic is not to tell their own story, primarily, but to explain a film in a way that helps people to understand it; the film critic’s job is to act as a lens through which a movie can be scene.

Like or hate, Armond White, he always gives you a lens through which to see a movie, myopic as it might be. Ms. Dargis just throws her own feces at the films she doesn’t like and tells you to leave them because they smell.

Funny People is not a perfect movie. Not nearly. Neither is it Mr. Apatow’s best film (probably Knocked Up).

What it is, is an honest self-effacing drama about people who die and kill for laughs, who exist the only way they know. In this sense, Funny People is more like a Western or a Greek tragedy, in its examination of its characters flaws’ and ambitions. These are interesting angles to look at it by, as well as criticize it. Ultimately though, Ms. Dargis continues to see film through her cookie-cutter of disjointed, wrong-faced feminism, a stance which both prevents her engagement and punishes, unfairly, her readers.

Now that ought to make me popular with the ladies.

Advertisements

5 Responses to Those Scary, Liberated Types (or Why Manohla Dargis Should Shut The Fuck Up)

  1. Chadd says:

    great post

  2. Lisa says:

    agree completely wonderful

  3. Parisa says:

    Wow. Yes. Yes.

    but you know, film criticism may be an art, but so is having a voice. And I guess technically you need a voice to “do” any kind of criticism. I don’t read anymore, especially not the New York Times film section, but if I did, I would probably agree with some of what you’ve said about this Vargis character. Right now however, I’m only going to respond to the fact that you’ve chosen to write about her, specifically, her “pseudo-feminist” perspective, in conjunction with this whole larger schema of women’s lib, thus gender issues, AND the much much broader universe of SEX.

    emotional acrobatics. brilliant. the point is, good sex seems to take a lot of nonthought. a lot of turning off and turning on. of the brain of course. (and by the way Avita Ronell wrote this awesome piece on the evolution of the english language and it’s relationship to technology: turn on, turn off. computer. sex. it’s all very postmodrn as we like to say back here where i’m from and no one quite “gets” what modernity means anyway.) ANYWAY. and there’s this numbing quality to it, to sex, ironically, since sex is supposed to be all about the inundation of the senses. It’s like bingeing. Or being a klepto. Hard to explain to the issue-less.

    I think people have very individual relationships to sex. you’re speaking from your perspective. casual sex wasn’t for you. and i totally agree that too much of it reeks of a “thing” one deals with. like anorexia, or using one’s nostril as a straw to shortlived euphorias. i dunno. i think it all comes down to the fact that sex can be just sex, and sex can be god. the problem is, god was born from love and judgement. this whole judgement thing, see now i have to talk about the criticism again, and i feel like my response is officially going nowhere.

    ANYWAY, to try again: judgement can be good. judgement can be bad. the key is never to impose YOUR judgement on another person, unless you’re able to back it up with at least a 5-minute RATIONAL explanation that the other person can confirm bears said adjective: RATIONAL. nearly impossible.

    when it comes to film criticism, or any kind of art/literary criticism, if it’s truly good, it’s not going to be about putting things/people/artists down for the sake of promoting your own voice or for the sake of twittering away. at the end of the day, let’s face it, you’re voice is just as small and empty as the voice you’re throwing your own feces at….if you’re doing critcism that’s worthwhile, then there was an intention behind it. let’s call it love for now. you saw something in the film/art/writing that inspired you. thus helped you. and you want to help other people see the source of your inspiration. it’s a twisted twisted task. takes a lot of self-awareness to do nicely. not many people are all that self-aware. stop using the word myopic so much. you’re farrrrrrrrrrrr from it frend. xoxo

  4. Parisa says:

    Dargis fine whatever. i’m having a very slow, unproductive, sick friday in da upstate. i juat went to the NYT film section and read her review on cold souls. ehhh. yea, i get it. she sucks. i haven’t seen cold souls, and frankly, i probably never will. though the idea intrigues me. chickpeas? i dunno, that’s borderline cool. well but anyway, there’s something about a critic that makes you want to punch someone in the face. she’s that kind of critic.

  5. nathaniel says:

    i’m bored by apatow’s “ugly, stupid guys get such beautiful women, while only talking about their dicks.”

    it doesn’t reflect my male experience of the world.

    and in a male dominant film world where there are far too many male views on the world, i would really prefer something a little more nuanced then a bunch of male chauvinist conservatism masked as “ugly, stupid guys get such beautiful women, while only talking about their dicks.” for that i can just watch pornography.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: