Thursday, February 28, 2008

Leave The Women Alone!

I've heard for a long time that there were plans to do a remake of George Cukor's brilliant 1939 film (oh, that magical year) The Women. The rumors really annoyed me, but now that it's actually happening and will be released later this year, I'm downright furious. First of all, I hate when anyone messes with a classic. Whether you agree with the film or not from a feminist perspective (I'll get to that later), it's a wonderful film. It's witty and hilarious with fantastic performances. So, the film surrounds a bunch of catty high society women and their shenanigans. The cast is all women, down to the animals. There's not one man in it. That's pretty remarkable in itself. Here are my thoughts on the original (and only, as far as I'm concerned) from when I first watched it on October 19, 2005 (I watched it in a life-altering class, so it's chronicled because we kept a journal):

"Wow. Where do I begin about The Women? I have never seen another film like this, so completely dedicated to women, without a man in sight. This film just blew my mind. There have been so many times at Columbia where I have seen really amazing films that completely validate my coming to film school. They make me feel like I made the right choice with my life. And this film is one of them. I think it is quite shocking for its time, and it amazes me how much it got away with as far as the Production Code. I mean, it really pushes it, and I wonder how that could happen. Maybe the idiot male censors figured a bunch of women could not possibly be talking about anything substantial. They probably thought, “Oh, those silly women, with their silly clothes and their silly problems!” What suckers. Anyway, I am exhausted from listening to them for over two hours, but I loved every second of it. I also am so impressed with the unparalleled ensemble cast. There are just so many strong, talented women in it. Also, the women who wrote this are unbelievable. This film is one of the smartest, funniest, most biting social commentaries ever written. I have a whole new respect for George Cukor after seeing this. Surely, no other director could have made this film, especially no male, and probably most would not have wanted to. He really does have a knack for working for with actors, especially women. His camera style is not as flashy as other directors, but who cares when he can encourage such incredible performances and get Rosalind Russell to throw dishes around? It seems like the set was a very warm and nurturing place.

As far as the character of Mary (Norma Shearer), I do not think she sells out. Even though Steven really does seem pathetic, she loves him and forgives him, and I think that makes her strong. People do make mistakes, and he has certainly done his penance. If she wants him, even after everything, she should have him. After all, she is a human being, and the heart wants what it wants. And I think this time around, she will have the control in the relationship. Maybe it would have been more satisfying if she had told him to go to hell, but still, there are so many other strong women in the film, it hardly matters. Also, there are so many different types of women in this film, so it makes it really easy to relate to. Everyone knows someone who is like at least one of those women. Joan Fontaine is adorable as the sweet Peggy, and Mary Boland is a riot as Flora. While Norma Shearer is very good, Joan Crawford (Crystal Allen) and Rosalind Russell (Sylvia Fowler) steal the film. Crawford is perfect as the delicious bitch you love to hate, and her scene in the bathtub is incredible. It is easy to see why this made her a star again. Crawford is fantastic, but I have to say that Rosalind Russell was my favorite part of the film. She is such a firecracker! I have only seen her in His Girl Friday before (one of my favorites), and I loved her in it, but she is so great in The Women. She is so beautiful and unique-looking, but I love how she just immersed herself in her character and went for the whole ugly, awkward look in this film, glasses askew and all. Sylvia is certainly not a glamorous character. But she breathes such life into the film, and the scene where she throws the plates is one of the funniest I have ever seen in any movie, and Russell does it so brilliantly. I am so grateful that we watched this film, and I want to show it to everyone I know."

(Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Rosalind Russell - Keep in mind that Crawford and Shearer hate each other in the film and loathed each other even more in real life. I think some of that comes across in this picture, which I find fascinating. It's also just a beautiful shot.)

Aww, memories...that brings me back. Since then, George Cukor has become one of my favorite directors, Rosalind Russell has become one of my favorite actresses, and Norma Shearer has become incredibly grating. Alas, I love the film more than ever. George Cukor would never make an anti-women film. Never. The Women is pro-feminist all the way. Yes, these women are bitchy, catty, and quite awful people, but it's done in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. The original play was written by the incomparable Clare Boothe Luce (an uber-feminist), who wanted to expose the vanity of (some) high society wives. They're exposed for what they are. The movie follows suit, because it isn't saying that all women are like that, just the ones in this warped universe. It's telling women NOT to be like these people. You have to go deeper, because it's a satirical look at the society of the time and women's roles and the unreasonable expectations placed upon them.

The Women basically takes all of the stereotypes and nonsense about women only being superficial and weak and throws it in your face by amplifying it to such a ridiculous level that no one could possibly believe that Cukor and company don't 100% support women's rights. This film is their revenge, for all the times they were slighted in Hollywood. Also, these are strong characters, even if they have questionable motives and reputations. The Women undermines the male superstructure of the time by pumping it so full of estrogen that it would make a misogynist whimper out of fear of the wrath of women united (despite the fights, they're a community). And did I mention there are NO men in it? No matter how much they talk about men, you never see one penis (not like you would have seen it back then, but you get it). That's empowering! This is in no way anti-feminist. It's a satire. Lighten up!

That being said, the remake is an atrocity. I don't think it's going to be tongue-in-cheek at all. I have a horrible suspicion that it's going to lose all insightful commentary and nuance and just be a glorified bitch-fest with none of the intelligent bite of the original. The poster even mimics the one for 27 Dresses, so how promising does that look for feminism? Here's just some of the line-up: Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Jada Pinkett Smith, Carrie Fisher, Annete Bening, Debra Messing, Candice Bergen, Debi Mazar, Cloris Leachman, and Bette Midler. Those are some stellar actresses, but it's just going to be a wreck. Don't mess with the women of 1939. Ryan is playing the Shearer role (which is okay, because I think Ryan is annoying, too), Bening is playing Russell's role (What????? How outrageously awful!), and Mendes is Joan Crawford (please, honey, you wish). What's with the hourglass-shaped torso on the poster and drawing the boobs with lipstick? Gag. Very classy. And then if you read down, it gets all sappy and sentimental. The great thing about the original is that, with the exception of Mary, no one gets particularly sentimental. They bond, you know it, and no one has to weep to get the point across. This remake is going to turn into a Hallmark movie. It's an abomination.

Find the original and watch it. You can get it on Netflix or even buy it cheap on Amazon or just check for it on TCM. It's pretty easy to find, because it's a cinematic gem. And my final bit of advice? Run, don't walk, from the remake. The remake is a bitch slap to the face of the original.


Anonymous said...

I saw the original and did not like it. It does not fit in with the age we live in now.

The new updated version sounds like a lot more fun to me!

Sara said...

Well, anonymous, that's why you're stupid.

Hey Lisa! I love love love "The Women" as well. I recently bought the second volume of the Joan Crawford collection and watched another Cukor/Crawford called "A Woman's Face." Have you seen it? If not, you should! Jeff and I see each other once a week or so and we gushed about Crawford for half an hour. It was fun! :)

Oddly enough, I'm fine with a remake of the film IF (and that's a big IF) it stays true to the original story with its themes and morals. I remember hearing about this a few years ago and, if memory serves, Sandra Bullock was supposed to play Crystal. That could have been amazing. I'm not a fan of hers in general, but she can be bitch---y. As far as the IMDB line-up is concerned, there aren't any men listed, so that's a good thing...I hope.


Bill Treadway said...

The 1956 musical remake called The Opposite Sex added men to the basic premise and it wasn't any good.

The fact that Meg Ryan is in it already has my inner Bad Movie Alarm ringing off the charts. She was a good actress at one point (When a Man Loves a Woman deserved a better fate than it was dealt)but these days...ugh.