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August 04, 2011

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Matt Miller

Have yet to see BELLFLOWER, but based on Phipps' review, it seems that the main characters are obsessed with the Lord Humungus in ROAD WARRIOR, and are also raging misogynists. So, is there any acknowledgement of the implication that the Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla was, er, not really into the ladies?

Bilge

"Inventive!" - Glenn Kenny, Some Came Running

bill

How interesting, I suppose. That "I suppose" is directed at the film, not you're genuinely, actually interesting post. I hadn't even heard of this movie.

What I'm really waiting for is Swanberg's werewolf movie or whatever it is.

Glenn Kenny

@ Matt Miller: Oh, no way. As is frequently the coeval to this variety of he-man wimmen-hating, the characters here are a couple of the biggest closet cases in the History of Western Culture, and would likely turn their flamethrower on you at the mere suggestion that their beloved Lord H. enjoyed a spot of sodomy every now and again.

@ Bilge: Heh! Well, they DID build a lot of shit, right? I've said this before, but so many of the interviews with the BELLFLOWER filmmakers read like they're conducted by guys who are suddenly really ashamed of the fact that they flunked shop class back in the day.

Lex

It is a MASTERPIECE.

This has the 100% LEX SEAL OF APPROVAL, which oughta tell you everything you need to know: IT IS GOD. It is the BIBLE. If you can make it through the excruciatingly boring opening 70 minutes, you will be rewarded with the MOST ACCURATE depiction of nihilistic misogyny ever put to film, with AWESOME music and METAL and synth and CRAZY CUTS and this "holy shit" mood where I couldn't even BELIEVE someone else had these fears and feelings. It's like Taxi Driver or Fight Club as a "THIS is what I am trying to convey" LANDMARK of wholesale domination. I was on the edge of my seat for that last 30-40 hallucinatory minutes, TRANSCENDED into a mind-space that is EXACTLY about macho failure, wanting to be a tough guy but being a douche, getting housed and owned by women and cooler dudes, and escaping into TOTALLY juvenile fantasias of sexy violence and hypnotic violent sex, these two TOTAL FUCKING IDIOTS on this "adventure" that's so insular and no one cares...

It is GENIUS. All will BOW. It is about DOMINATING WOMEN when you're really an impotent douche.

American Masterpiece.

Matt Miller

@Glenn: I guess my question is more about Glodell's acknowledgement of the characters' blindness to the irony, then. Most reviewers are being (understandably) coy about the final act, and some seem to hint that it's a refutation of the characters' worldview, while others (like you and Phipps) seem to imply that the attitudes of the filmmaker and characters are pretty interchangeable.

In other words, if the characters don't get that they're gay, fine. But if Glodell is too dumb/blind to see the "Film Appreciation 101"-level subtext in a 30 year old movie, I don't get why anybody's giving it the time of day.

Brian

Here here! Saw this awhile back and it did nothing for me whatsoever. It's only got any juice to it when the filmmaker's passions (cars, flamethrowers) are on screen. Anytime the narrative is at its center, the thing is shallow and can't overcome its often poor acting.

Donald

I just saw a sneak preview of this the other night in Los Angeles and it's still very much on my mind. I didn't go in with high expectations but it's probably one of the best films I've seen so far this year.

I think the charge of misogyny is odd. I think anyone who's gone through a harrowing breakup, man or woman, could relate to the main character tipping over into violence. Indeed [spoilers of a sort to invariably follow], one of the most disturbing scenes is of the ex-girlfriend and a male accomplice exacting revenge for his torching her belongings by tattooing a garish beard on his face. When Woodrow seeks revenge in turn, it is a scene of violence that is eerily opaque (we're not quite sure what has transpired, but the aftermath is horrific). The escalation of violence in the much-talked-about last third keeps spiraling outward.

Above all, the film is just so intimate and personal, it's hard for me to see it as trying to make any grand statement (misogynistic or not). As the director said in a Q&A afterward, the idea of the film came to him after a very bad breakup - which I know sounds laughable. But specifically, Glodell said something to the effect that he was trying to figure out "what happened there, what it did to me" - that is, not the slut-bitch-ex-girlfriend, but the whole experience.

Think I'll try to see it again to get a firmer handle on what I've tried to say here. But regardless of what one thinks (or more likely, what one thinks one will think about its views on women if they haven't already seen it), this is a powerful, singular work - not to be missed.

Glenn Kenny

@ Donald: Well, I'm not really talking about how people react after a harrowing breakup so much as about why the breakup was harrowing in the first place. That is, Woodrow (Glodell's character) gets off on the erratic behavior of girlfriend Milly (Jessie Wiseman)...until he doesn't. And the point that he doesn't is when she's asserting her sexuality in a way that he can't control. The sexism at play is, yes, rooted in old conventional notions of romantic love, but it's entirely real. As for the scenes of the ex tattooing a beard on his face, that would appear to be a dream or fantasy sequence and it's a projection entirely in keeping with the puling, hyperbolic hysteria of an enraged "betrayed" male. And when I'm discussing what I see as its misogyny, I'm not referring to it in terms of a grand statement, because I don't believe that's the grand statement the film wants to make. I'm referring to the atmosphere in which the characters function, as it were; the water they swim in. You want to believe it isn't there, that's your privilege. And I never said the film wasn't worth seeing. It is.

nrh

Is that the dreaded **(Worth Seeing) on the Rosenbaum scale?

Donald

Glenn, your points, in your response as well as the original post, are all well taken. If anything I'm replying more to the Keith Phipps AV Club review, the comments there, here and to a large extent what I see as a general backlash charging misogyny that will be nowhere near as nuanced as your take.

No doubt there is very much to object to in the two friends' attitudes and behavior toward women - but where you and Phipps seem to see it as manifestations of hatred or sexism, I'm more inclined to see it as sheer incomprehension. That incomprehension - like the violence that seems to follow in its wake - isn't limited to their relationships with women, either.

During the Q&A afterward, there was an interesting moment - for me anyway - when the moderator mentioned to Glodell that the scene where Woodrow finds his girlfriend cheating on him was probably "one of the most disturbing cuckolding scenes ever." It was immediately clear that Glodell didn't know what the word "cuckold" meant - he looked nonplussed, but not exactly embarrassed either, before the moderator said "... when his girlfriend's fucking another guy" or something like that. There was something completely honest and forthright about that moment that said a lot to me about Glodell and his film: he may not know or care what the word cuckold means, the idea of an unfaithful woman tattooing a beard on her ex just might be a tad on the nose, but if he walks in on some guy fucking his girlfriend he's going to want to burn shit up.

Anyway, thanks for giving this film the careful consideration this film deserves. I'm curious to hear more thoughts and reactions from people after it opens this weekend.

David Ehrenstein

Gay men do not hate women. Only straight men do that.

Oliver Bloch

If "gay men do not hate women," then how do you explain the fashion industry?

Graig

Walked out of BELLFLOWER with mixed, mostly negative feelings, thinking the director had his hands around some interesting ideas about male fear and anxiety, and admiring the energy and audacity in his delivery (those colors! and all that dirt on the lens!), while also thinking it slipped into incoherence by the final third and was wildly misogynistic in its treatment of the female characters. All the women in this movie are sluts and whores. Milly fucks her roommate because, ya know, she's a slut and sluts fuck dudes (why'd it take her so long? He was living right next door! Did anyone find that platonic living arrangement remotely plausible? ) And Milly's friend fucks Woodrow because she's a slut, too, and like her fellow slut Milly, she just has to fuck whomever happens to be around.

The director's previous comments about the film being inspired by a bad breakup made sense to me. It's got a "fuck this bitch" quality.

BELLFLOWER reminded me of another recent film, Joe Swanberg's SILVER BULLETS, which is also movie about sad-hearted, pale-faced boys who try to control the women around them, and failing that, lose themselves in fantasies of violence and obliteration. That film isn't perfect (Amy Seimetz is wasted, and I'm not sure the final slip into phantasmagoria really works), but it's a much more credible relationship piece than NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS and Kate Lyn Sheil lives and breathes as a character with agency and dimension in it.

John M

Can't quite shake the suspicion that Swanberg and Glodell are what you get when you take a fairly privileged twentysomething man and subtract introspection, wisdom, and advanced education.

Basically, their champions are cheering on willful ignorance by calling it "raw." As though nothing could be more audacious than yelling at the world, "I'm kind of an idiot!"

My question: how much of this can/should be blamed on David Gordon Green?

John M

Also, I really wish David Ehrenstein would stop spreading gay stereotypes. It's very offensive.

lex

This movie kicks TOTAL FUCKING ASS, it made me wanna fuck shit up when it was over... It is GOD COME TO EARTH, on par with Fight Club, Natural Born Killers, Scarface, American Psycho, and Taxi Driver. I can't believe any of you dudes don't feel these emotions every single day, especially with regards to women. It's not misogyny if it's LIFE, if it's real-- this is what dudes face and feel every day when they move to California thinking they're gonna DOMINATE like Lord Humongous then end up some TOTAL LOSER dreaming of shit they saw in movies.

It's also one of those deals where it's all ambiguous about whether any of this in the end really happened, but I like to think Woodrow wreaked massive havoc for real like a GOD.

BOWFLOWER. I'm gonna see it 12 more times this weekend.

Oliver_C

"Gay men do not hate women."

Evidently you haven't spent much time on websites devoted to what is known as the 'furry' subculture.

Mark Asch

I've struggled with this movie's ironic distance, or lack thereof, since seeing it in spring. (Not struggled, like, full-time or anything: I've been able to say have drinks with friends or go on bike rides or take a long weekend to Iceland without this issue weighing too heavily on my conscience, but you get the idea.) Lex's comments constitute I think a pretty canny in-character reading of the film: it's one in which characters who're not so unlike Lex take refuge in ass-kicking movie-fed misogynist fantasies not so unlike Lex's. Glenn, what did you think of the friend's speech late in the film, in which he laid down his pathetic but proud bros-before-hos proclamation? The script makes it almost clumsily explicit that he's overcompensating for his disappointment, romantic and otherwise. (In response to your argument about the female characters I might offer the defense that they're written that way so as to preclude the possibility of the dominance that the guys clearly associate with a romantic relationship.) (Though of course writing them as brazen proudly slutty emasculators is its own kind of reductive.)

The problem I guess I have with the movie is the problem with, to reluctantly use an analogy drawn from this blog, actually with Lex's persona itself, which is that if you spend enough time indulging in this stuff the better to deconstruct or parody it, the Fallacy of Imitative Form eventually comes into play in a big way, YEP YEP. I finally think the havoc of the film's final third is so incoherent--so AWESOME!!1!--that it reads as Glodell's fantasy as much as Woodrow's.

I.B.

Are 'Turkish delight' (film, haven't read the novel yet) and 'Wild wives' (only novel, as far as I know) mysoginistic? Just askin'.

Marcy

The latest sociological cliche going around is the one that says that this generation coming up has an almost obscene sense of entitlement, coupled with immense self-pity, which manifests in their personal and working lives by expecting everyone to welcome them as an arriving savior and flying off the handle at the slightest bit of criticism, suggestion that they're not a savior, or anything else regarded as "unpleasant." There's certainly a bit of old-crank about the theory, as well as a fair amount of disregard of the fact that being a smug know-it-all is a phase that most every early-20-something has to pass through (I certainly did). But I can't let it go entirely, because I look around and see a certain amount of stuff like this movie, and the reaction of, er, certain folks to this movie.

Glenn Kenny

Hey Marcy, do me a favor, okay? If you've got something to say, come out and say it. Don't be coy and beat around the bush with ostensibly pokey phrases like "sociological cliche" and "certain folks" and "old-crank." (And hey, big ouch on that last one; I turn 52 on Monday!) Geez, I'm almost sorry now that I spent my own early 20s parsing Henry Cow lyrics rather than building flame-throwing cars, I certainly would have, had I known I coulda gotten a pass from you on it. Anyway, Glodell just turned 30, so he's pretty much run out of his own excuse anyway. And while I've never claimed myself to be a sociologist, I wonder if YOU'VE heard the sociological display about people who collude in their own oppression on the condition that it allows them to feel plugged in to whatever the current fashion is.

lex

Hmm, had the 180-opposite take on that from Glenn; Thought Marcy was saying she/he hates to be an "old crank" and judge the younger generation, then she sees movies like this come along and how the "kids" lap it up.

Doesn't change the fact that Bellflower is THE TRUTH. I have a half-serious question, actually, but neither Glenn nor anyone here is really the target audience, but I will go ahead and ask anyway:

Does anyone find it a little disingenuous that some King Dick male movie critics/bloggers -- say, guys with names that rhyme with Kevin Saraci, but not restricted to him -- are going so far out of their way to "distance" themselves from the characters and actions in Bellflower. Like these ARE THE GUYS who've lived 30 years thinking they're Mad Max or Snake Plissken or Han Solo or whoever, guys who are ALL aggro bluster and braggartry and MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY blowhard shtick... then this movie comes along, and like Faraci's on Twitter all day being so MEASURED about the movie's misogyny, or about the implications of the finale. Just weird that a FANBOY could suddenly feign some enlightened Donahue liberal N.O.W. card when discussing this, when their WHOLE DEAL is aggressively hetero-meathead violent properties.

Also I find it hard to believe Devin's ever gone on a date. ZING!

Glenn Kenny

Well, if I did misread Marcy—and it's entirely possible given the late hour on the East Coast and the fact that I'm so, well, old—then I apologize.

As for your semi-serious question, Lex, well, yes, I did notice that Mr. Faraci is in the anti-BELLFLOWER camp and was a little surprised. The matter merits further investigation. I don't necessarily think he's being disingenuous, or even making the classic counterintuitive "can you believe I like/don't like THIS?" grandstand play that Longworth and many other feisty young critters almost live for...but yes, it bears looking into. But not this evening.

Marcy

I was saying that the theory is out there (see the latest Atlantic, for instance, about how the Cult of High Self Esteem is creating a nation of brats) and that while some of it that I've read has a "these-kids-today" tone, I also can see evidence of what they're talking about in the real world. So, closer to what Lex said - though I'm very much in agreement with just about everything in your original post, Glenn. Apologies if that wasn't clear.

Josh Ralske

Feel a little less confident about my take on the film now:

http://www.criticalmob.com/tv-and-film/more/bellflower

Glenn Kenny

Actually, Marcy, apologies should be from my end: I COMPLETELY misread your post. Now that I see better what you were actually saying, I admit that what jarred me most sociological-wise (and this film's just one example ofthe notion) is that it seems to depict a world wherein feminism happened for the female characters but not the males.

Simon

It seems to me it's pretty simple; either you take the movie as being OF or ABOUT misogyny. Based on the movie itself and the brief chat I had w/ Glodell, I'm inclined towards the latter. The whole argument of crying "bullshit" at the main character's feelings of betrayal because the girl was "wild" or whatever is dubious - as if heartbreak is something processed rationally?

Also, were as many folks crying foul at All the Real Girls? (That's the movie it reminded me of most, though Glodell told me he hadn't seen it.)

Glenn Kenny

Okay, so, now I'm a bit more rested and my reading comprehension's back to normal levels, more or less. And no, I wouldn't say the movie's ABOUT misogyny, because if it was, it wouldn't summarily dismiss its female characters from the narrative in the final fifth the better to focus on the passion and the pain of poor Woodrow. Simon isn't the first person to say, "Well, what about 'All The Real Girls'?" which is actually in danger of becoming a "Gotcha, you pussy" question in arguments about/defenses of "Bellflower;" all I can answer is that "All The Real Girls" keeps its eye on ALL the characters throughout, and never privileges the male lead's behavior the way "Bellflower" does. I understand that heartbreak (awww) isn't something you process rationally, but I'm not talking only about heartbreak; I'm talking about an ethos that says, "It's great when chicks are 'wild,' but only up to the point where it doesn't mess with my presumed sexual ownership of them." That's why they call it the patriarchy, by the way. I'm not saying Glodell ought to be pilloried for it or anything; the attitude is in fact a mere degree or two removed from what is still the accepted norm in heterosexual relations. But it is rather distinctly pronounced here, and it's always interesting to find such thoroughly retrograde/reactionary ideology at work in art that's hailed by some as "radical" or what have you.

Simon

I don't think the movie supports the ethos that leads Woodrow to getting his heart broken is supported by Glodell or the movie; when I think of the last fifth I don't see us honing in further on Woodrow's troubles, I think of total retreat, epitomized by Aiden's remark about what life will be like after the apocalypse they both crave (something along the lines of, "we will dominate women and they will like it"). It seems to me that it's a pretty natural progression from one attitude that, as you mention, is only slightly removed from societal norms, to one that should be eyebrow-raising to pretty much everyone.

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