Briefly noted: film and music, Highsmith and Welles

The new film Carol, about an illicit love affair between two women, is based on a fairly early novel by Patricia Highsmith (also the author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley), which she published pseudonymously. Margaret Talbot tells the story in a New Yorker article here. Delectable quotation from a diary entry by Highsmith, regarding a woman on whom she later based the character of Carol:

My green and red goddess, my jade and garnet, my moss and hollyberry, my sea and sun, my marrow and my blood, my stop and go baby, I adore you, I worship you, I kiss you, I cherish you, I defend you, I defy you ever not to love me, I caress your nipples with my tongue.

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Briefly noted: Antigone lives! Where are her modern successors?

A production of Antigone currently touring the United States has caught the attention of an Economist writer, who uses it as a springboard for comments on women’s roles in classical Greek tragedy and, briefly, in present-day American film. According to a recent report, which is quoted and linked in the post, “women comprised only 12% of lead roles in 2014’s top-grossing films (a drop of 4 percentage points since 2002), and make up less than a third of all speaking characters.” A sign, if any were needed, that Hollywood is not the new Athens.

The post says nothing about the proportion of roles allocated to women in American theater, for which statistics may be harder to come by. One wonders whether Theatre Communications Group, a national organization for nonprofit theaters, has data on such things. TCG does report the representation of women among the most-produced playwrights, which, for the 2015–16 season, is only four out of the top 20.

The problem with “strong” women

Weaponized: Emily Blunt in Sicario (photo from Lionsgate)

Weaponized: Emily Blunt in Sicario (photo from Lionsgate)

In a late-September comment about Emily Blunt’s role in Sicario, I asked whether women taking up arms alongside men in TV and film is the kind of equality we really want. This form of strength isn’t a new concern for me. A few years ago, one of my friends answered my question about this by saying that, as long as so many of our movies and TV shows involve action heroes, she wants some of those heroes to be women. Sometimes I’ve avoided the issue. In a recent post about the work of a playwright (who happens to be a woman), I omitted this exchange:

How important is it to have strong female lead characters like Rosalind [Franklin]?
Hugely important! And it’s also important, I think, to show scientists (and female scientists) as human beings.

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Woman in a man’s world: on Anna Ziegler’s play about Rosalind Franklin

An uncredited composite image of Rosalind Franklin, from a French website

An uncredited composite image of Rosalind Franklin, from a French website

Most of us, if we encounter the names “Watson and Crick,” instantly think of them as the discoverers of the double helix. We might not recognize the name “Rosalind Franklin” at all, yet she made critical contributions, including an X-ray photograph, to the groundbreaking research on DNA. In fact, the fair thing might be to say that common perception is wrong and that the structure of DNA was deciphered, not by two people or even three, but by four: James Watson, Francis Crick, Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins (with whom Franklin worked, in a manner of speaking). But the paper announcing the discovery, published in Nature in 1953, was authored only by Watson and Crick[1], and the 1962 Nobel Prize for the discovery included Wilkins but not Franklin[2]. Early on, for a variety of reasons, she quite simply became the odd woman out. Watson, writing a highly personal account of the discovery in 1968, began to set the record straight but also added to the distortion: his book The Double Helix included her but in derisive terms. (An equal-opportunity offender, he was also critical of Crick, his own collaborator.) Nowadays, Franklin is better known, but the story of her work on the structure of DNA is still fascinating, complex, and marked with uncertainties and controversies. Considering that many professional fields are still dominated by men and that we must often speak separately of women film directors, women scientists, women playwrights, women executives, and so forth, Franklin’s tale continues to be relevant as well.

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Women with weapons: on Emily Blunt and the triumph of Higgins-ism

In subway stations a few weeks ago, I began seeing a poster, for a film called Sicario, that featured Emily Blunt wielding a pistol. To put it plainly, this bugged me. Is this fulfillment of Henry Higgins’s wish for a woman to be more like a man really the kind of equality we want? I had felt the same way a few months back, when I kept seeing promos for the second season of the HBO series True Detective that featured Rachel McAdams with a handgun. Recognizing that there’s a certain appeal to this form of power (as in a few of my pictures on Flickr), I grabbed a quick photo and posted it to Instagram with a comment:

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