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    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Holiday Movie-Going

    The holiday season is a good one for cinematic distraction. Over the week between Christmas and New Years, or, in other words, Hannukah and Kwanzaa, I saw two films, Syriana and Capote (I'd already seen Brokeback, people). But only today did I stumble upon Opinionated Lesbian's insightful comparison:

    One of the extraordinary things about "Capote" is that it's a flick about a world of men -- Capote, his editor boss, male cops, male murderers -- that yet has a strong female character in it. Harper Lee (played by Catherine Keener), who went on to publish the anti-racist "To Kill A Mockingbird," has lines, a personality, whole scenes, even! Be still my heart.

    Her portrayal stands in stark contrast to the chicks in the two big George Clooney movies out these last two months. George (I used to be a matinee idol, but then I got politics) Clooney has turned into such a cutie leftie. First was his cautionary "Good Night, and Good Luck" retelling of newsman Edward R. Murrow's nerve as he helped shut the door on the hysterical red-baiting of American senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. Then "Syriana," a movie that (simplistically, but hey, it's a movie) tells of the U.S. of A.'s determination to keep oil-producing nations under its thumb.

    "Syriana" features many silent women, holding babies or nodding acquiescence or sleeping through panicked telephone calls intended for their Very Important husbands. "Capote" went out of its way to add character-building scenes for a woman; Syriana treats them all like mannequins....

    This was something that bugged me too, in Syriana. I mean, I saw Amanda Peet's name on the posters and expected her to have a bigger role. Her role was important and she gave a great performance, but I thought she was going to be some kind of political or oil-biz figure, but she was, what else?, a wife and mother trying to rein in her workaholic husband.

    But I want to disagree just the tiniest bit because something interesting was going on- there were two other women characters, one of whom was a CIA desk-job type and the other we never saw but was alluded to a lot as a "problem", that is, Bob's wife, who was also a covert operative. The fact that we never saw her but that we are aware his relationship with her (as his son's with both of his parents) is fraught. I know they were trying to make a comparison between the cushy jobs of the desk-types at the CIA who were able to keep hold of decent family ties and the operatives, whose lives were at stake and whose very humanity was pretty much thrown out the window. And I thought that was an interesting case to make. I don't think it would have been effective to show Bob's wife, but I do wish there'd been more women who seemed to have roles in the plot. Because, who are we kidding? Sure, there are fewer women at the top, but they are certainly not immune to corruption.


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