sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2012-07-09 04:09 am

Now it looks to me as if, without the women, we couldn't carry on at all

1. The Gentle Sex (1943) is a less graceful propaganda effort than the similarly encouraging Millions Like Us (1943), but I think I may have found it more interesting. It's Leslie Howard's last film, even though he's glimpsed only briefly at the outset of the story, the omniscient narrator surveying a crowded railway station from his God's-eye catwalk, choosing his subjects and commenting on them with an amused tolerance that it will be the film's entire business to refute. "Women! Women all over the place. This station's seething with women. They think they're helping, I suppose . . ." Like the male gaze personified, he assembles his cast with such teeth-grating condescensions as "Now there's a dear little thing. Oh, we must have her!" or "Good, is she? Well, let's have her by all means," but he is part of the same irony that picks out the opening credits in demure needlepoint with a sampler-like verse about the frailty of women before bringing up the writers' names, all female—indeed, the longer the film follows its seven new recruits to the ATS through their early training and into their various stations in the field, the more like a running joke the narrator sounds, admiring but clueless and crestfallen by his own expectations of women's places in war. Observing a young flying officer bidding his mother farewell, the narrator sententiously begins to quote Kingsley—"Well, men must work and women must weep"—and then, finding the scene abruptly cut to a convoy of lorries all staffed by female drivers and about to leave on a top-priority mission, has to finish halfheartedly, "At least, that used to be the idea." Yes, the leather-jacketed despatch rider on the Triumph is a woman, too. Don't forget the anti-aircraft spotters. That marching band and those radio operators know what they're doing.

A recruitment ad at the time, the documentary-style film now makes a striking record despite the fictionalization; it boasts that it was "made with the co-operation of the War Office and the Auxiliary Territorial Service" and a number of the boot-camp scenes especially look as though the camera simply followed a season of real-life recruits with a smattering of actors in speaking roles. I just can't decide whether I think it's more interesting for what it does or what it doesn't do. It passes the Bechdel test so naturally that the viewer actually notices when the topic of men is raised, because the expected love-in-the-time-of-war angle has been so far absent from the narrative. Some of the characters have romances, some don't. There is no suggestion of them being torn between their feminine desires and their military duties; that having a boyfriend or not defines their femininity. (We are treated to a pleasing moment of female gaze when the most forthright of the seven catches sight of a handsome Highlander at a dance: the camera lands first on his lean, fit legs in their piper's stockings and lingers its way up to his face, which is John Laurie's, dark-browed and beaky and bent in a matchingly appreciative smile. The film is not trading in stereotypical reversals of behavior, though. A boyish, generous joker of a Tommy on a crowded train at first looks like the lightweight contrast to the efficient women, but when he drops off to sleep we see the commando badge stitched on his sleeve: he mutters and twitches in his dreams, mission nightmares. This is not a film which wants its audience to underestimate anyone.) It was probably inevitable that one of the protagonists should lose her lover to enemy action, but it is explicitly not the be-all, end-all of her story any more than a marriage would have been: "You won't forget," the narrator says, for once understanding. "But you won't go under." There are no catfights. The character who clashes the worst and most often with her fellow-recruits is stiff-necked, standoffish, inclined to hold insufficiently thought-through political opinions, and—as her cabmate finally diagnoses—shy; she is not a bitch. And the film is not complacent; it acknowledges and endorses the social sea-change of the war, but it doesn't erase earlier contributions. When a newly promoted driver, herself the daughter of a professional soldier, declares proudly that "For the first time in English history, women are fighting side by side with the men," her prospective mother-in-law quietly reveals that she met her husband while recuperating from injuries she sustained in the last war, when she was an ambulance driver hit by shrapnel and he was a flyer like his son. The only real down note is unintentional: the egalitarian future all the characters assume they're moving toward, straight on into peacetime when the contemporary viewer knows it wasn't—isn't—as painless or as reasonable as that.

Honestly, rare as it shouldn't be, it's nice to see a story where women are competent without being flawless, funny without being ridiculed, and allowed to hold a variety of opinions and attitudes, even if it's all in service of getting more women into uniform so that more men can join up. They're still living in a man's world—the narrator doesn't mention that women in the ATS could expect two-thirds the pay of their male counterparts in the armed forces. The film's intended audience is a little confused, as it seems sometimes to appeal to women who might worry that operating heavy artillery is beyond them and sometimes to men who might doubt their wife/sister/mother's right to give it a try at all. But it is never saying, look how neatly they drill for girls, look how impressive it is when a woman changes a gasket. Maybe it's just the optimism of propaganda, but it is taken as read that the protagonists are not exceptional: they are simply doing their bit. And not subserviently, either: "The world you're helping to shape is going to be a better one," the narrator muses as our seven heroines share sandwiches in the aftermath of a successfully repelled air raid, "because you're helping to shape it."

All right, he still salutes them as "you strange, wonderful, incalculable creatures." But he's kind of an ass. And at least Leslie Howard knew it.

(Since I'd taped it with the other two, I also rewatched The First of the Few (1942). It's still the least of Howard's war movies, but it has wonderful footage of the Supermarine S.4. Not so good on gender, though.)

2. Speaking of women, I forgot to mention that I received my contributor's copies of The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Science Fiction Poetry, containing my poems "Madonna of the Cave" and "Matlacihuatl's Gift" and work by writers like Ursula K. Le Guin. Nice, nice book. You should get one.

3. I said [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel had taken a picture of me which I didn't hate. Proof below the cut.



I don't like most pictures of myself. I don't like them even (or especially) when I'm smiling; I think most of my expressions are funny-looking, which I blame on the basic structure of my face. The two best pictures I've ever taken of myself were in rear view mirrors; one was by accident in Italy and in the other you can't so much see me. That said: I'm smiling in this one and I think I like it. Maybe the sparkler helps. The photographer didn't hurt. That's my brother in blur behind me, apparently doing his best Vulcan impression.

4. Goodbye, Ernest Borgnine. When I was in seventh grade, I had to read a scene from Marty opposite a boy whose name I can't remember now; I didn't watch the movie then, but I think I should. And then The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), because you're in that and I'll take any excuse.

5. A character in today's Skin Horse used the acronym TARFU. It is my favorite of that family of acronyms and the one that gets the least airplay. Huzzah.

[identity profile] steepholm.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 08:14 am (UTC)(link)
That's a very nice photo, and it's good to see that sparklers are still legal in Massachusetts! (If that's where it was taken.)

[identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 10:07 am (UTC)(link)
This is not a film which wants its audience to underestimate anyone.

Oh: this is so much what I desire from movies and books, and so often not what I find. Either the traditionally belittled/stereotyped groups (whether societally, like, say, dorky scientists or overbearing Asian parents, or narratologically, like characters brought up to contrast with the protagonist) are still belittled, or else, in strenuous reversal, their opposite numbers are.

her prospective mother-in-law quietly reveals that she met her husband while recuperating from injuries she sustained in the last war, when she was an ambulance driver hit by shrapnel and he was a flyer like his son. The only real down note is unintentional: the egalitarian future all the characters assume they're moving toward, straight on into peacetime when the contemporary viewer knows it wasn't—isn't—as painless or as reasonable as that --cheers for the first part! And grimacing at the second part.

So glad you taped this one, too.

And what a fantastic photo! (And I like your other favorite too)

[identity profile] strange-selkie.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 11:41 am (UTC)(link)
Your expressions are not funny-looking, but I say this fully admitting that I think my nose looks like God smushed a Count Von Count triangle of foam rubber on my face.

[identity profile] strange-selkie.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 05:03 pm (UTC)(link)
Tiny Lucien Ballard needs to get on inventing a light called the Chinnie especially for my hairs, while he's at it.

I don't think anyone I know can stand to look at photographs of themselves. It's a thing.

[identity profile] strange-selkie.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 08:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, [livejournal.com profile] rosefox ain't never met my chin hairs.

[identity profile] strange-selkie.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 09:04 pm (UTC)(link)
AUGH. I HAVE them. That's ENOUGH. /capslock

I'm going to go fling myself from a tower.

P.S. I thought you went and got your brother back from the people under the hill years ago. Hadn't you noticed the ears?

[identity profile] kenjari.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 05:22 pm (UTC)(link)
The only photos of myself I really like are the ones from my wedding. And that's probably because they were taken by serious professionals with years upon years of experience.
Most of the time I think I look so very awkward. And I blink too fast, so my eyes are almost always closed or nearly so. (Plus, it doesn't help that I've never thought of myself as being particularly attractive, but I guess that's a different problem)

[identity profile] kenjari.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 05:26 pm (UTC)(link)
Also, I love the photo of you.
rosefox: Me looking giddy as my long hair is cut short. (merry)

[personal profile] rosefox 2012-07-09 06:05 pm (UTC)(link)
I like some photos of myself. You can tell because I make userpics out of them. I dated a very good amateur photographer for a time and he taught me how to be photographed, which has come in handy a lot.
rosefox: Me laughing joyfully. (laughing)

[personal profile] rosefox 2012-07-09 07:19 pm (UTC)(link)
It's not something that can be described very well in text. Insofar as I have words for it:

If you're in the habit of tilting your chin up, tilt it down so the camera isn't looking up your nose. Never face the camera straight-on; it will make you look flat and fake. When we look at people in real life they're always moving, so give the camera an angled view that looks more like what someone might see in a moment of sitting across from you, as you move while talking or thinking or reading a menu.

If you're looking at the camera, look at the camera: not the photographer, but the center of the lens. If you're looking away, look fairly far away so it looks intentional.

Put emotion in your eyes and on your face, as though the camera were your friend or your lover or some other person you feel strongly about, someone who cares about your feelings and would want to know what you were feeling from looking at you, someone you want to emote for. Have some phrase or concept in mind for the feeling that you're projecting: "We share a secret" or "I love that hat" or "How wonderful to see you! I didn't know you were going to be here" or "I tolerate you photographing me only because I love you" or "I'm sad and trying not to show it" or whatever. It can be complex or simple, but whatever it is, feel it strongly and do your best to make it shine out of you.

Talk with the photographer as they're taking photos. Have the most interesting conversation you can, and let it go where it will. The camera is a reporter, scribbling down note on the interview the photographer is giving you (or you're giving the photographer). You are a story that the camera is telling. Laugh, grin, smirk, frown, ponder. Feel things. Be who you are in that moment, as hard as you can.

I am not doing a very good job of this at all, but maybe you get a little bit of the idea.

(If you pull up my very lengthy userpic page and look for photos taken by [livejournal.com profile] banesidhe, you will get a sense of the applications of this.)
Edited 2012-07-09 19:20 (UTC)

[identity profile] ashlyme.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 01:18 pm (UTC)(link)
1. I started out wanting to hate this film. I'm glad that in the end it didn't turn out to be patronising rubbish. Probably another thing that isn't on DVD.

2. Yay!

3. That is a good picture of you; you are emphatically NOT funny-looking. No offence to your brother, but: blimey. I had to take a couple of looks before I noticed.

[identity profile] snowy-owlet.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 01:45 pm (UTC)(link)
1. Here is my theory about why I dislike so many photos of myself: I don't look from the outside the way I feel from the inside. So it's always a little like looking at an almost-stranger.

2. I think that's a lovely picture. Hi, face! I like to see you.

3. That movie sounds lovely. I have a trio of cousins who ran off to France to drive ambulances during WWI and then all moved home to Vermont, which is why my family now has a house there. I think of those women often and wish that they had left diaries.
spatch: (Linda-What)

[personal profile] spatch 2012-07-10 12:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Here is my theory about why I dislike so many photos of myself: I don't look from the outside the way I feel from the inside. So it's always a little like looking at an almost-stranger.

You sure did hit the Scrappy on the head with that one, Owlet. We all have a mental image of ourselves, a constant self-reference, right? You can't see the expressions you're making without the benefit of a mirror, but you've got a pretty good mental approximation. You can imagine them all right.

Over here in this brain, which is the only one I can speak for, the mental image is largely influenced by the way I look in the mirror. I can go over, look in the mirror, say "Damn, Mirror Self, you lookin good", then have some portraits or candids taken and get angina over how they look. Especially the ones that catch half blinks and doofy grins-in-progress. "Dear lord, that's how people see me. All the time. The camera can't lie. Welp, let's fetch another paper bag and remember to cut eye holes in this one."

Thing is, both the camera and the mirror are telling the truth. The camera just has a bad habit of catching the truth when it doesn't look so hot. A screengrab taken when a newsreader is in the middle of a word, for instance, can become a hilarious image macro/LJ avatar.

In animation terms, your mental self images are key frames, the clear poses with clean expressions, while photographs mostly catch the in-betweens, the weird stretching and squashing bits needed to get to those poses. A good photographer can help and there are some really good tips in these comments here indeed to keep you from stretching and squashing, but for a large gang of folks I think it just comes down to luck.

We can form a club. Call it [No Picture Available].

So when the fates collide or collude or do whatever the hell they do and you find yourself with a pretty decent picture, you go right ahead and cherish it. Oh, and the really nice thing? People remember you and think of you in key frames too. That's what the brain does, and that's why it's so nice when you see a good picture of someone looking good. (Vindication of memory! Hoorah!)

[identity profile] nineweaving.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 01:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Sparklers!

And a look of mischief, like one of Oberon and Titania's court.

I am pleasantly startled by how well the film got it. Not perfectly, of course--but what a downfall waiting for those women with the peace!

Somewhere Leslie Howard is still on his God's-eye catwalk with his Higgins notebook, taking us all down.

Nine

[identity profile] nineweaving.livejournal.com 2012-07-09 10:56 pm (UTC)(link)
Maybe that's where my Hermia/Puck fic went.

Many of us would love to read that!

He's a ghost I haven't written about.

Hmm. One for that book of ghost poems?

Nine

[identity profile] nineweaving.livejournal.com 2012-07-10 10:56 pm (UTC)(link)
I need to write the title poem, but it would be called Ghost Signs.

Oh yes, please!

Back a ways:

I think you would like it.

I'd love to see it!

Nine
rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)

[personal profile] rosefox 2012-07-09 06:13 pm (UTC)(link)
I love that photo of you.

[identity profile] ap-aelfwine.livejournal.com 2012-07-10 07:06 am (UTC)(link)
As always, your thoughts on films are interesting. Thanks for sharing them.

When a newly promoted driver, herself the daughter of a professional soldier, declares proudly that "For the first time in English history, women are fighting side by side with the men," her prospective mother-in-law quietly reveals that she met her husband while recuperating from injuries she sustained in the last war, when she was an ambulance driver hit by shrapnel and he was a flyer like his son.

I do like this.

I'm glad for your contributor's copies.

That is a very nice photograph. I have to say I've not seen a bad one of you; then again, I suspect most of us have similar feelings about photographs of ourselves. The only ones I've ever really liked have people I care for in them.

That's my brother in blur behind me, apparently doing his best Vulcan impression.

Lucky him! I've always wished for pointed ears. (Do his normally not look that way?)

It is my favorite of that family of acronyms and the one that gets the least airplay. Huzzah.

I don't believe I'd seen it before that strip. I like it, and I suppose that's another thing for which I must be grateful to Skin Horse.

[identity profile] irisbleufic.livejournal.com 2012-07-10 10:39 pm (UTC)(link)
What is TARFU? I can't necessarily tell from the comic currently showing at the link...

[identity profile] irisbleufic.livejournal.com 2012-07-10 10:48 pm (UTC)(link)
In which case, that is all kinds of applicable to my life right now; I should therefore have no difficulty using it! TARFU FT...wait a minute. Can I coin FTL?

[identity profile] irisbleufic.livejournal.com 2012-07-10 10:51 pm (UTC)(link)
FTF is more in-keeping with 'net-speak, true.