Saturday, January 24, 2004

Blue Velvet meets Lady Godiva

My library, to my surprise, has the ultra-deluxe with a bag of chips edition of Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet was a seminal movie for me because it was unlike anything else I'd ever seen. But sheer novelty has never gone that far for me because it's like eating a donut - fun for the brief moment, then gone forever. Therefore, when something novel also has substance and meaning, it's a guaranteed white-water rafting trip through a sea of endorphins for me.

I recall walking out of that movie vibrating from the experience. Yet, later on after discussing it over a couple beers, it had left one bad taste in my mouth. The humiliation the character of Dorothy Vallens endures, played by Isabella Rossellini, was hard to watch. It was difficult not to feel shame and embarrassment for Isabella herself, outside of the movie because she had to endure these things - albeit while acting and not for real - to portray them in the movie.

Included in the extras is the review from Siskel and Ebert's show where Ebert expresses pretty much the same sentiment, saying it hurt him to watch those portions of the movie. Siskel told Ebert he wasn't giving the actress enough credit for her own choice to portray the character, nor for her abilities or supposed reasons for doing it. At the time, though, I would have agreed with Ebert, having read the infamous "Male Gaze" essay - since renounced by the author herself - amongst other unintentional ironic infantilizations of female intention and intellect (for instance, the idea that all women who pose nude or participate in sexual performances are being exploited by men, regardless of the woman's opinion on the matter).

However, also in the extras, is an interview with Isabella. She said that at the time, when many had had Ebert's reaction to her role, she felt she had failed as an actress - that she wasn't good enough to carry off the part without people identifying with her personally. Here everyone was worrying about her being exploited and her tender little self being exposed to such fictional depravities. Thus, she felt it was her fault in that she hadn't done a good enough acting job for everyone to get over it and simply empathize with the character and not her. Apparently Siskel was right.

TLD: This brought to mind another incident I witnessed in the recent past. Someone asked a woman who had posed nude for a "men's magazine" if she was aware that men would probably masturbate to her picture. Her response was, "One can hope."
I think men will always be a little over-protective of women in certain ways, no matter how some forms of feminism try to beat it out of us, pun partially intended. We're just wired that way. But when a woman decides to ride on a horse buck-naked through the center of town just for the hell of it, I feel I, at least, have learned my lesson to just relax, enjoy the moment, and maybe toss her a string of beads or something.

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