Woody Allen’s Women: How He Got Them, Kept Them, & Got Some More

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Woody Allen's Women Diane Keaton Mia Farrow Mariel Hemingway Mia Sorvino Samantha Morton Scarlett Johansson Winona Ryder
Let us pretend, for a second, that Woody Allen’s worst feminist detractors are right. Let’s pretend that he’s written too many manipulative women, too many heart-breakers, and too many ditzes to ever be comfortably on ‘their’ side. What then? What does this say of Allen’s oeuvre as a whole, and Allen as the progenitor of such? And, more importantly, is there any evidence of these things to begin with?

Well, there is, partly because one can find almost anything in a complex film if one searches hard enough, and partly because — as Dan Schneider argues — there is an odd tinge of “loathing” underneath it all, wherein Woody Allen’s women fight, cheat, steal, or even lust after a man too old and too manipulative to ever be fair game. At times, this is even played off for comic effect, although the irony is, of course, that there is always someone (even if not Allen) imagining himself in such a position, and tries to be precisely that. Yet assertions without numbers are a hard sell, and have gotten many a critic into trouble with such ‘frills’ as evidence. So, how does one gauge how true the claims are? How does one even measure how good or bad a female Allen character really is? The latter is easily answered: with one’s eyes. Allen’s characters all have motivations and behaviors, for good or ill, and it is up to the viewer — and not a film book, or a theorist — to untangle them. As for the numbers? Let us merely take, for the sake of this thought-experiment, a tally of those who might be OK’d by a feminist reading, and those that will simply never be.

Woody Allen's Women Diane Keaton Annie Hall

Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, perhaps the most famous of Woody Allen’s women.

Allen’s early films are none-too-fertile ground for such an analysis since they are, without question, more gag-driven than character dependent. Yet even here, one sees Allen’s desire to invert Hollywood tropes, and even play rough with gender stereotypes. Many of these women, for instance, simply reject Woody’s advances, or otherwise poke fun at him. Nancy (Louise Lasser) from Bananas wants nothing to do with a rote, passionless ‘weakling’ like Fielding Mellish; Louise (Janet Margolin) from Take the Money and Run is almost beyond analysis, given how steadfast she is, and without reason; and the Diane Keaton/Allen ‘troika’ of SleeperPlay It Again, Sam, and Love and Death has the male lead chasing her, and often losing her. Sure, one sees Boris (Love and Death) already bed a woman well beyond his means, but one also sees some interesting inversions in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*, especially the last sketch, wherein the woman is the aggressor, and a priest represents male “Catholic guilt”, to balance out some of the less flattering depictions of women. One cannot, at any rate, get what’s necessary here — at least not for our purposes.

Allen’s first glimpse … Continue reading →

Images from the “Millions March” protest (NYC)

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About to break out of Washington Square!  Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

About to break out of Washington Square!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the “Millions March” against police brutality with Milton X. Trujillo’s Atlas: DIY organization, and was struck by a number of things. First, the behavior of the cops — while unbelievably arrogant and entitled in the wake of 2 homicides, and possibly murders, for which no one will be held accountable — is quite different from what I was used to.

About a decade ago, I’d attend pretty much every protest in NYC, and was sure to see belligerence, cowardliness, and downright evil from the cops’ direction every time. On Saturday, however, it was clear that much of the status quo had changed. Part of this is due to the cops’ hyper-sensitivity about their image at this point, and part of this came from real concern from the officers, themselves. Lots has been written of the NYC arrest quota system, there’s been exposes, there’s been black cops who are asked to ‘take sides’ (and get bullied and threatened for doing the right thing), and cops, being people, likely hate much of the same bullshit as we do. This is probably why I heard a number of officers give compliments to protesters (away from the ears of other, whiter cops, of course), for only the most deluded of black cops can ever be emotionless in the face of 2014’s slayings.

Anyway, here are the images that we took, and here’s to hoping for something better…and a little fear, where fear belongs.

Making posters with Atlas DIY, an immigrants-rights organization. Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

Making posters with Atlas DIY, an immigrants-rights organization.

 

Starting from Washington Square Park.  Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

Starting from Washington Square Park.

Millions March, NYC. THIS STOPS NOW.  Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

Millions March, NYC. “THIS STOPS NOW!”

Flood.  Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

Flood.

Millions March, with Freedom Tower. Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

Millions March, with Freedom Tower.

For the kids.  Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

For the kids.

'Cuz black bears matter, too. Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

‘Cuz black bears matter, too.

They really give a damn.  Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

They really give a damn.

One of the 'famous' images at Millions March. Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

One of the ‘famous’ images at Millions March.

Signs for Eric Garner.  Eric Garner Michael Brown Police Brutality Protest Millions March NYC

Signs for Eric Garner.

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“The Devil Finds Work”: James Baldwin On Film

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James Baldwin & The Devil Finds Work. Image via Wikipedia.

James Baldwin & The Devil Finds Work. Image via Wikipedia.

James Baldwin was, no doubt, one of the deepest American thinkers to have ever lived, and, even more importantly, a damn good writer — a skill that, if ever missing, makes all the great thinking in the world quite sterile, and oftentimes irrelevant.

I’ve called Baldwin’s work blackness without bullshit because unlike, say, in the time of empty ‘nationalist’ posturing back then, or of frauds like Cornel West and Al Sharpton today, James Baldwin refused to accept any demands placed upon him by any race or creed, and, therefore, had a longevity that so many others in his niche do not. And I use the word ‘niche’ intentionally, for James Baldwin (like James A. Emanuel) is pigeon-holed as a black writer, first, despite all evidence to the contrary. Yes, he wrote of prototypically black things — gay things, as well, and literary things; European things — but in a way that dissented from the fads, ideologies, and self-limiting perspectives that afflict so many to this day. One only needs to read his reactions to black leaders (such as his brilliant take-down of Elijah Muhammad in Down At The Cross) to realize that he was, and still is, on the margins, neither desired by revolutionary blacks, who preferred polemic, nor liberal whites, who wanted their allies to be a bit more narrow-minded, and therefore more easily squirreled away into some ‘side’.

Among the many books he’d written, I’ve always found one particularly difficult to categorize: in fact, as all great writing should be, when deeper possibilities come open. The book is The Devil Finds Work, a long essay on American film as filtered through a racial lens. No, this is not true film criticism, in the sense that James Baldwin is able to give the reader a blueprint for understand good and bad art qualitatively, but it’s not the wan social analysis that passes for film crit in academic circles, either. So, here are some of my favorite quotes from the book, which — as per the James Baldwin aesthetic — combines some important social insights with flat-out great writing.

On Lawrence Of Arabia (1962):

David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. Image via Wikipedia.

David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia. Image via Wikipedia.

“For, this overwhelming desert, though it exists geographically, and was actually filmed by an actual camera crew, sent there for that purpose, is put to a use which is as far from reality as are most of the people we encounter in it. The least real of these people is Lawrence himself. This is not O’Toole’s fault: but so grave an adventure can scarcely be ascribed to the vagaries and idealism of a single man. Lawrence’s courage and steadfastness are given as admirable, because hard-won — here, the film, unconsciously, rather patronizes Lawrence; his complexities are barely — or, rather, perhaps, endlessly — hinted at, that is to say never illuminated. His rapport with the Arabs is of great use … Continue reading →

Michael Brown & Eric Garner: Stupidity *IS* Criminal Negligence!

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Eric Garner Police Brutality

Eric Garner gets sent back to Africa. Image via Huffington Post.

Now that the Grand Jury pose is over — for it was little more than a police procedural, anyway — and returned not 1, but 2 mathematically unheard of judgments back to back, and after all the justifications, the stupidity, the red herrings, it’s time to inject a little sense into what has transpired.

There is, in fact, very little to figure out. There’s remarkably little information to slog through, and even less evidence ‘pro’ and ‘con,’ for most of the evidence is, as it was then, on the side of the dead. I’ve already dealt with Ferguson’s Michael Brown and Staten Island’s Eric Garner at length, so I won’t go into detail, but merely recap and sum up the new developments. Indeed, time is but compression, and so, months after the original incidents, it is now much easier to get to the bottom of things.

So, here are the facts as they’ve come down to…well, to everyone, really:

Michael Brown was stopped by Darren Wilson, with dozens of witnesses claiming an altercation between the two that — according to virtually ALL of these witnesses — does not really support Wilson’s account, with many outright contradicting Wilson’ claim of merely ‘fighting back’ against a far larger aggressor. Dozens of witnesses claim that Brown was pursued, with many insisting that some shots were fired during pursuit: a flat-out criminal act. Many witnesses claim that Brown turned around in reaction to a shooting, consistent with original witness testimony re: ‘appearing’ like he was shot, and, predictably, reacting to this perception.

Now, some claim that Brown ‘staggered’ toward Wilson, due to the shooting. Some said he ‘walked’ prior to acquiring any major wounds. Many said he had his hands up the whole time. Still others were unsure. Yet only a handful, out of dozens, EVER claimed that Michael Brown was charging Wilson, with most of those adding the oft-ignored corollary that the ‘charge’ or aggression occurred AFTER the first bullets were fired.

In other words, self-defense, on Michael Brown’s part — that wonderful phenomenon wherein a man who wants to kill you doesn’t get to, and is kept from engaging in such misconduct in the future, and forever.

And here’s the thing about self-defense that people don’t quite seem to get, even as they’d readily apply it to cops and to white victims. If you are being pursued by a man with a gun who — according to most witnesses — opens fire at you without real provocation, it is well within your right to not only CHARGE the would-be killer, but nip his balls, tweak his nipples, and circumnavigate his eye-balls with a phonograph needle dulled on too many bad Fleetwood Mac songs. This is called basic human etiquette, yet Michael Brown is not exactly given the benefit of such doubt. In fact, it’s quite telling that he needs the benefit of anything, really, when … Continue reading →

Health At Every Size: The Movement To End All Movement

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Back Matter

Health At Every Size

Health At Every Size, via Five Hundred Pound Peep.

[*Update 12/1/2014: a reader, below, wishes to bring your attention to this post. In it, she details her struggles with obesity, disease, and the dangers of the HAES ‘movement.’ Forget guess-work, and take it from someone who knows!]

It’s a truism that people, in general, and Americans, in particular, are scientifically inept. Sure, this is a problem, but it’s a wholly intellectual one, wherein most couldn’t give a damn even if they’d tried, for reasons of intelligence, curiosity, and their lacks. So, I am far less worried about the manufactured, non-existent crises (‘education!’; ‘violence!’; ‘the death of the Classics!’) than the tangible things, things that have a direct, quantifiable effect upon us due to laziness and/or ignorance, which ARE correctable.

Health is one such problem, and while there’s been an anti-corporate push in the last 10-20 years that will likely become permanent, it is clear that most people still have NO clue how to take care of themselves, much less move within their own bodies — a disconnected ‘thing’ that’s become quite foreign to most, an ‘enemy’ to be conquered. And, of course, much of the scientific community is no better in this regard, actively promoting dietary fat myths, or encouraging the dissolution of whole foods — which are complex, poorly understood things — into what can be seen in 2-3 elements on a nutrition label, thus turning, say, a bar of dark chocolate (cocoa butter; flavonoids; polyphenols) and a poor quality truffle (refined, nondescript vegetable fat; a little cocoa) into a self-same object, on account of their misleading macronutrient profiles. Combine this with human laze and rationalization, and it’s no wonder that people eat poorly, can’t walk (feet straight, weight on heels), or even know how to lift an object off the ground. (Hint: it’s with your back, but not ‘with’ your back. Get it?)

Now, prior to going further, I must say this about myself. By the time I was 18-19, after being a pretty fat kid my whole life, I finally hit 220 lbs on a wiry (although I didn’t know it) 5’7” frame. This was bad, people — a fact that I shouldn’t have to mention, but will, given the topic of this essay. I’d get winded by stairs, ‘suddenly’ developed knees that would pop out of their sockets at the least convenient times, sore teeth and gums due to dietary issues, poor sleep, and a back that was in so much pain that I couldn’t sit, stand, or walk for more than 5 minutes without my mind wandering off to the ‘what-if’ reveries of a bed. As for my diet? Well, in college, I’d walk up and down 7 flights of stairs to find a vending machine with my preferred Pop-Tarts — brown sugar and cinnamon, as opposed to the fruity crap! — and gyros from the Halal truck outside. Indian sweets were good, … Continue reading →