07/02/05 Other Writing # , , ,

AIDS Movies

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what motion pictures about AIDS are worth. Film has not simply changed a cultural attitude toward AIDS as a disease, preventing it from becoming closeted like tuberculosis was. Films about AIDS have broken through stereotypes, boundaries and emotional barriers that feed alienation and breed disaster between family members, friends and communities – not to mention nations. As World AIDS Day brings attention to the heroism required to bring unpleasant truths out into the open where health can triumph, take another look at films that have paid attention — and made a difference. What was once shrouded in darkness and prejudice has now begun to inspire kindness, courage and humility in people who thought it was only an affliction of ‘the other’.”

What films have made what kind of difference since 1980 – a scant twenty-two years – since the NY Times first reported AIDS as “gay cancer”?

The FirstParting Glances, 1986, dated as it may be, assumes what later had to be proven — gays are normal and worthwhile. It’s a milestone film, an up close and personal story of small scope where a freelance writer in Manhattan has a friend dying of AIDS and a boyfriend leaving for a job in Africa.

The BestLongtime Companion, 1990, dashes the stereotype of gay men as promiscuous against the wall, elevating their ‘manly man’ traits of caring, concern and fierce loyalty in a crisis to a well-deserved, long ignored, heroic status. It dramatizes a change in consciousness arguably equivalent to the atom bomb; no longer can even the first sexual encounter of any young person be innocent, free-spirited without fear of something more devastating than pregnancy or herpes.

The Oscar BestPhiladelphia, 1993. No doubt about it. Tom Hanks opened the hearts of the American people to AIDS. Hanks represents the apple of any parental eye, gift to corporate glory and the perfect honey of a guy to his honey who, in this film, happens to be gay. Watching lovable Tom Hanks, shut out by mean-spirited bigots, succumb to the horrors of AIDS brought the issue home to everyone. It could be you. What the film lacks in veracity of true experience by those who’ve ‘been there’, glossing over and idealizing realities, it makes up by being honorably memorable, embossed in the American psyche.

The Most RivetingAnd The Band Played On, 1993, reveals the terrifying fear, laced with every kind of resistance, that government agencies, gay groups and scientists alike felt while bringing the truth about AIDS to the American public. It documents the long, arduous trail of the Center for Disease Control’s initial discovery in Africa and San Francisco in the mid-seventies to its medical clarity of AIDS as a virus in the eighties. The information is enlightening, the search is intense and the performances – with special cameos by actors who know how to tap soul – remain fresh. It’s message of caring, fighting for the good of country, is still relevant to health issues now, approaching 2003, as we discover that half the population with AIDS are women.

The Most Life AffirmingBefore Night Falls, 2000, opens with a naked child playing with a dirty bottle in an empty dirt hole that serves as his playpen in Cuba, 1943. Reynaldo Arenas was born, as he says in the voice over “in absolute poverty and absolute freedom”. He managed, somehow, to publish twenty books and win international acclaim in spite of being scorned, hunted and imprisoned as artist and homosexual before dying in New York City of AIDS. A magical triumph of spirit, Arenas came to the U.S. in the Mariel boat lift with a friend who was not gay, bringing us a deeper, broader understanding of what freedom truly means.

The Most Like TV SeriesJeffrey, 1995, inverts the typical, almost infamous stereotype of the heterosexual man who cannot commit and tells it like it is. He may say he’s afraid to commit to someone he may lose (in this case, to AIDS) but, just like a man of any persuasion, his real problem is that he doesn’t have a clue how to connect emotionally so control is his only solace. Comedic as the film is, it never loses sight of the tragedy of AIDS — Patrick Stewart’s performance may be worth the whole movie unless you count his partner’s after-death message “Hate AIDS, Jeffrey, not life.”

The WackiestThe Cockettes, 2002. Has America arrived? It’s hard to imagine the antics of this group being received anywhere outside its Haight Ashbury origins, interesting to anyone but a groupie of sorts. But The Cockettes, half of whom died of AIDS have caught a national airstream, playing in movie art houses in major big cities all across the country. With little interest in anything but their ‘art’, The Cockettestreats its film audience like its old time theatre audience; they go for the laugh, performing life to the hilt with and without clothes, talent or restraint. The message? Life is short. Have a great time!

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13/04/01 Film Essay # , , ,

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Director: Sharon Maguire
Writers: Helen Fielding (screenplay), Andrew Davies (screenplay), Richard Curtis (screenplay), Helen Fielding (novel)
Stars: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant


“Worried about your weight and feeling sorry for yourself? Put all the bad stuff in your diary and take all the good stuff to the office!”

Bridget Jones’s Diary surprised me. The media pitched Bridget as a plump thirty-two year old feeling sorry for herself because she isn’t married. And then – like wow, somehow – she captures the eye of her playboy boss as well as the heart of London’s most eligible, just divorced bachelor. This pushed a few too many “dream on, honey” buttons for me. When I rented the video, I fully expected to fast forward through Ms. Jones’s antics, amusing myself with yet another predictable romantic comedy where mishap overcomes mismatch and ends happily ever after.

But, as I said, I was surprised.

I think you’ll agree that Bridget Jones (girl next door, Renee Zellweger) falls in that category of normal weight that turns into overweight when summer requires a bathing suit. You’re looking at magazine models and thinking “maybe I’ll go for the one-piece with see-through mesh at the waist instead of a bikini”. Even in a “fat girl” designer wardrobe, Bridget doesn’t seem particularly overweight on the big screen until the skinnie-minnie ad agent from New York shows up. Then the camera lines them up in direct competition across the handsome shoulders of Daniel Cleaver, Bridget’s bad-boy boss and lover (an ever charming, Hugh Grant) while he pits one against the other. Bridget didn’t have any trouble attracting this guy when she wore her mini-skirt to the office, nor a moment’s problem arousing him to perform his sexiest tricks in the sack. And he comes back for more. Apparently at any weight, a mini-skirt is a powerful thing while skin deep beauty –– even at the thinnest of weight –– barely lasts through the night.Bridget Jones’s Diary makes the weight issue a non-issue.

Then, even more surprising perhaps, Bridget Jones’s Diary reveals the truth about a subtle but growing pressure for young women to fit into the career girl image. Bridget, a “girly” girl –– one who is sweet, sensual, caring and delightful but also a bit scattered, politically inept, not especially ambitious nor particularly intellectual –– struggles to feel okay about herself. The problem is that while many women have learned the tricks of getting validated in the public world, that validation still depends on male-dominated values. You gotta perform. Or you gotta be married. Or, preferably you gotta be both. Just being yourself to the max is a fantasy of fulfillment perpetrated by the media without a very close look at how “the max” –– at the minimum –– means fitting into a tight skirt, getting a glam job and being articulate at critical moments.

We may worry a little about what’s going to happen to Bridget after the movie ends. They’ve puffed up her image as a fledgling journalist who wins national acclaim for a first interview, arranged by you know who –– London’s most eligible. But he’s the same guy scripted to make a big point about liking her for who she is, not the professional she could be. So for now, we can love her good-hearted spirit, wacky friends and willingness to go out on a limb to chase a feeling that doesn’t quite fit into a real sentence. I’d like girls to feel okay about staying “girly” as they grow into women if that’s what “being one’s self to the max” means to them. Loving and living would be a lot more in sync, and a lot more fun. I believe Bridget Jones’s Diary makes this point.

And, making another point that was made best by Mae West, Bridget Jones’s Diary puts forth the London lawyer, Mark Darcy (Jane Austin era, Colin Firth), as a man “better looked over than overlooked”. Another stereotype goes center stage for scrutiny. Women often believe they have to choose between adventurous and stable when choosing a mate. But I believe Darcy, “the boring guy with a wild passion under his overcoat waiting for a snowy day” makes a statement for men not women. Mark’s been dumped by his wife, wears tacky gift attire to family Christmas parties and can’t muster a facial expression past a longing puppy. This hardly seems like a man to give Hugh Grant a run for his money. However, Mark proves to be a wolf under grandma’s clothes as well as a stand-up guy, making grand romantic gestures just when they’re needed.

Who thought this guy up? Whoever! Open the closet, guys!

Mark proves there really isn’t anything about being quiet, high-powered, ambitious and well-mannered that disqualifies a man from cooking up a frightfully good evening of fun, fighting with his fists as well as his head and being a great kisser. And you gotta love that new diary thing. Here’s a man who seems to trust that a woman putting all that bad stuff in a diary makes for a lot of good stuff in real life. Maybe we’re headed for a sequel –– and maybe Bridget will fulfill my dream as Mark’s beloved, staying pure of heart and surprising us with soups of many colors.

P.S. Dare I mention Bridget’s mum? She wakes her husband out of the dark ages when men took their wives for ninnies, freshening up her marriage with –– as I said, dare I mention it –– an outrageous fling to match a Hugh Grant escapade any day.

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