Monday, January 03, 2011

"Get the look"

One of the marks of a sophisticate is to be able to judge Art without getting distracted by identity politics. So what if a given work offers all signs of being racist, homophobic, etc. If it's sufficiently high-culture, it is simply not done to be dragged down in that muck. It is far too simple a reading of a text or movie - film - if you end up pointing out that the director couldn't possibly have thought too highly of (insert marginalized group here.)

This is a useful impulse when it comes to that which is from a different era, culture, etc.* Not so much when we're speaking of contemporary American entertainment. I'm thinking in particular of A. O. Scott's assertion, re: "Black Swan," that "to scold the director, Darren Aronofsky, for what he doesn’t get about dancers or how he looks at women is almost deliberately to miss the point." He adds, cryptically, "Much has been made of the punishing regimen that Ms. Portman undertook to prepare for the role, and the results are both ravishing and frightening."**

Ravishing? Presumably "ravishing" refers to the dance technique, "frightening" to the unwholesome appearance.

If the buzz around Portman's (and, to a lesser extent, Mila Kunis's) dramatic weight-loss has mostly been of the professional-stunt, don't-try-this-at-home variety, that's coexisted with a more straightforward, positive embrace of the resulting aesthetic. We're told how to dress like Natalie-as-a-ballerina, how to turn your legs into hers. "Get the look," as it were. One can't, I suppose, blame the director for how the movie's received, except insofar as one can - having the costumes designed by a hot fashion label, and so on.

I'd be inclined to say that we need to all grow up and accept that these are actresses who did as they did for a movie, and who, even if they maintain this look off-set, at least get wealth and glory for doing so, and so should not be held as an example to us regular women, who, if we skip lunch, will be crankier and no more successful versions of ourselves. But the suffering-for-art, the this-is-just-a-movie, kind of falls apart when one considers the back-and-forth between the worldly and the ethereal, between 'this is a film about The Artist' and 'something for everyone - lesbian love scene and thinspiration!' It's not that the movie presents no more to think about than a catalogue model with tell-tale eating-disorder arms, but that these are not part of two entirely separate realms.

* It's possible to assess what was bigotry for the time by looking at the response of contemporaries, but that's not always practical, so it's often best to say that something was probably normal for its pre-PC age and not dwell on it further. Fascist literature is a touch more complicated - it might be what was thought at the time, but what a time...

** This is the last WWPD readers will be hearing, for a while at least, about the delightful Ms. P., whose image, in a more robust state, buttoning or unbuttoning a dress-shirt - an ad for the Ashton Kutcher art film she's also in - decorates every subway line in lower Manhattan, unless the obviously stellar publicists behind her recent rise start compensating me, preferably in the form of Bloch or Repetto ballet flats.

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