Another week, another cinematic misogyny row. Last week the silt was stirred up – in a rather intriguing way – by Sex and the City 2, a franchise extension which seemed to unleash an informal contest amongst largely male critics to come up with the most scathing dismissal. I think Philip French probably took gold with his, perhaps debatable, suggestion that "most reasonable people would probably prefer to be stoned to death in Riyadh than see this film a second time". But it wasn't just men who hated the movie. Women writers also weighed in, to lament the way that the characters they loved had been reduced to air-headed clothes-horses capable of nothing more creative than swiping a credit card. The charge of misogyny was aimed squarely at the film itself, with some ingenious bloggers introducing an extra triangulation, pointing out that the writers of series and film are gay, and that this might have fed into less than enlightened views about what women really care about.
Then the charge of misogyny bounced back – with at least two women columnists complaining that attacks on Sex and the City 2 might conceal an unconscious misogyny themselves. Weren't women just as entitled as men to escapist fantasy? And were male critics defending women by dismissing the film as trivialising trash or simply being snotty about an exclusively female pleasure? If you can enjoy the stereotyped machismo of The Bourne Identity, they argued, surely we can relax to Carrie squealing over a pair of Manolos.
This week's misogyny row is more straightforward and is centred on Michael Winterbottom's film The Killer Inside Me, from a grim Jim Thompson novel about a sociopathic sheriff which has very conspicuously not been watered down for the screen. Again the reactions to the film are broadly divided along gender lines (though not exclusively). Female critics and viewers have questioned the morality of a story in which the rape and murder of two women is depicted with such unblinking and detailed candour, while some male critics have praised the unblinkingness.
And it's easy to see why the charge of misogyny might have come up – since both of the killer's victims seem to collude, or to forgive the violence visited upon them. There's an assault that turns into passionate love-making – that most dangerous of fantasies – and there are overtones of sado-masochism in both relations, with the male character administering the pain and the female characters absorbing it. There is surely a difference, though, between a film that women don't like and a film that doesn't like women.
The most controversial scene in The Killer Inside Me – the effortful and horribly extended sequence in which the sheriff sets out to beat his lover to death – is appalling. Indeed it's hard to imagine anyone but a sociopath liking it.
But then what would you want violence against a woman to look like? An exercise in style? A master-class in film editing? I can't really judge whether this scene was either myself, because I could only bear to watch about half of it. But in that it seemed to me to properly register the horror of the event, and the depravity of the character perpetrating the crime.
Reading some reactions to this scene I couldn't help but feel that Winterbottom had fallen victim to an ancient confusion which often crops up when the misogyny accusation is made – a failure to distinguish between representation and approval. Martin Amis suffered from something similar when he wrote Money – unquestionably a depiction of a misogynist mind-set, but hardly the celebration of that prejudice as quite a few female readers interpreted it. Indeed, one wonders whether a kind of misandry powers some of these accusations – with their unstated implication that no man can address the cruelty of male violence without secretly endorsing it. Or, even worse, that any man who watches a film about such a subject will covertly subscribe to the worst instincts in it.
I won't pretend that The Killer Inside Me presents an uncomplicated case. It's a potent, disturbing film which leaves you wondering what, exactly, your discomfort has been for. You might reasonably make a case that it does nothing socially constructive with the revulsion it generates – or even that it puts into the world images that depraved men might actually enjoy.
But if a misogynist was looking for a good night out – one that reinforced his contempt for women rather than presented it as a kind of illness – I think I'd recommend Sex and the City 2.
Look and don't touch, please
Tate Modern has been fairly enterprising about exploiting new technology – producing podcasts and iPhone downloads relating to its collection. I'm not entirely sure about its latest effort, though – an app called Tate Trumps which uses the gallery as the raw material for a children's game. You can choose one of three modes. "Battle" invites you to reflect on the question, "If the artworks came to life, which ones would be good in a fight?" Players select their champions and meet up to discover whether Lichtenstein's Whaam!, for example, would defeat Epstein's Rock Drill in a one-on-one bout. Alternatively, "Mood" hunts for works which exemplify exhilaration, menace or absurdity. (Rodin's The Kiss scores seven for exhilaration and two for menace.) It is, I take it, aimed at the younger gallery-goer and so one isn't really allowed to be sniffy. But if you find that your next visit is interrupted by stampeding children stabbing at an iPod Touch, I think a quiet tut would be forgivable.
It's not a revival if it never died
What exactly is the rule for distinguishing a new production from a "revival"? You wouldn't use the latter term to describe the production of All My Sons which has just opened in London because, I take it, there's no sense that the play needs a theatrical kiss of life. I don't suppose it has been in continuous theatrical production since it was written, but taking amateur productions into account, it's entirely possible that it's been on more than it's been off. On the other hand, the Donmar's new production of Simon Gray's The Late Middle Classes is unquestionably a revival – since the play was clearly aimed at a West End transfer when it was first produced in 1999 and never made it. I guess a lot of people would have assumed it was six feet under until David Leveaux dug it up, pounded on its chest and got it upright (and, by most accounts, in vigorous health). Now that it has been produced again, though, how soon does the next outing have to be in order for it to count as simply a new production?
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