Witness to the Masturbation

The Year in Movies

Witness to the Masturbation

The Year in Movies

Witness to the Masturbation
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 9 2004 8:21 AM

The Year in Movies

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One last, later-night posting: Sometime this year, I plan to write a piece about all the movie images that I wish I had never watched, including the shot of the guy with the lit candle stuck (deep) in his ass in this queasy-funny Austrian movie, Dog Days. To this list I think I need to add words I wish I had never read, including David's short post: "As is often the case, Sarah, you nail Kill Bill but you end up on the wrong side of the equation. You say that Tarantino is 'essentially masturbating on screen, with the gall to invite us back for a second installment.' I say it's rather entertaining to watch this guy's masturbatory fantasies, especially when they're epic. N.B.: This is NOT a general principle, but for some artists, masturbatory fantasies and art are very close-knit."

Dude, I did so not want to go there—either in your posting or Tarantino's movie. I don't want to watch anyone's masturbatory fantasy unless I've specifically skulked in and out of my neighborhood video store or am watching pay-for-view in my lonely Lost in Translation-style hotel room and have nothing better to do. (And to that I must add that I really don't want to think about your love muscle, David.) I guess that was part of the problem with watching Tarantino's fantasies (from now on the word masturbatory will be assumed): Watching other people's jerk-off fantasies is generally about as fun as watching someone else's coke/dope/junk high, meaning not very. And, no, for those who care (probably just me, Sarah, and some gray-haired bluestocking crone cackling away in a corner), I don't find anything hopeful about the character played by Uma Thurman. Not only because I think her character is a guy in drag (the revenge fantasy seems very "male" in an AIP kind of way to me, as do those ugly toes), but also because there's something scarily masculine about Thurman now—she's whittled all the femininity off those bones. Give me Lucy Liu, Dragon Lady clichés and all, any day. That chick is fierce, but she's also a chick.

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As to some of the readers: Alice Aixel writes that the "female sexuality in In the Cut is perverse and dank." And your point and problem is what, exactly? Me like perverse and dank—in the movies, that is. Meanwhile, M. Rantanen writes: "When can a movie character or story be just about that particular character or story and when does the character or story have to represent its respective group (gender, race)? I then ask when does the politics of a movie be called into question? In other words, is it possible to have a movie about women or African-Americans without said characters having to represent its own identity? Does every woman or black character in a movie have to represent all women or all black people? I'll answer my own question and say that it all depends on the person doing the criticism. That's where the politics really exist."

Of course, movies can be just about specific characters and stories, and characters don't have to "represent" their own identities (though I'm not sure even what that means since everyone I know is far more complex than any one "identity"). I just would like better, more diverse, and a far more human aspect to movie representations, you know, women who aren't just whores or ornamentation, black women who aren't judges, and gay men who aren't fabulous and neutered. And, yes, the critic certainly, in part, defines a movie's politics. But there is a political dimension to even the most ostensibly nonpolitical film, just as there is a political dimension to clothes (Made in China ... by slave labor!) and food (McDonalds or Slow Food-approved). There is a political dimension to how movie money is raised, what screenwriter and director are chosen, how many and what kind of theaters a film opens in, and it is naive to believe otherwise. Everyone decides what is important to them—how much compromise he or she can stand, and what he or she does with their contradictions. That's why I try to fess up to the compromises I make and embrace rather than flee my contradictions, and why, too, I will always hold a special place in my heart for Jerry Bruckheimer.

That's it for now, so good night my friends.

Love,
Manohla

Each year, film critics gather in the "Movie Club" to chew on the year in film. This year's group includes Manohla Dargis from the Los Angeles Times, David Edelstein from Slate, J. Hoberman from the Village Voice, Sarah Kerr from Vogue, and A.O. Scott from the New York Times. Hoberman is the author, most recently, of The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties.