Sunday, March 11, 2007

Greetings, Spinsters.

I recently got the most heartening email from a reader, who complained that I hadn’t posted in over two weeks. I love that someone is actually reading this, and I love that this reader/friend keeps me on my toes.
Now that I’ve had a taste of power, I’m hungry for more. By that I mean that I want more people to email me. Possibly people who read this blog. As such, I have set up an email account, strictly for spinster-related purposes:

Incidentally, it seems that more than one gal fancies herself a spinster aunt, seeing as how the name was already taken in Gmail. I ought to email her and have a chat.

Moving on.

I’d love to tell you all that I’ve been terribly busy these past few weeks, but we all know that lies make baby Jesus cry, therefore I am forced to admit that I’ve been up to nothing much at all and there is absolutely no reason for me not to have written more in the past few weeks, not an internet crisis, not Christmas, not plumb forgetting I even have a blog, nothing. No excuse. Just laziness. Well, that and I was reading a very un-spinstery book, which was magnificent but I felt no desire to blog about it (the book is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and it made me cry in front of people because it was so great – don’t finish it in a public place if you’re a sensitive spinster like I). I have since recovered and am back to reading good old-fashioned mystery novels, specifically, Mortal Remains In Maggody (hilarious so far, of course).

But what I’d really like to tell you about today is a great movie from 1980 starring Goldie Hawn and the United States Army, a movie in which she decides spinsterhood is preferable to marrying a rich French doctor who lives in a castle: Private Benjamin.

I Netflixed this movie at the behest of my roommate, who says the final scene made a lasting impression on her when she saw it as a child. It made quite an impression on me too, and got the old mind whirling. In a semi-buzzed haze (red wine is always a pleasant accompaniment to movies) I started making all kinds of weird semiotic connections based on that last shot, mainly based on the fact that Goldie looks a bit like the Lady of Shallot in that scene.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. First, the film. I liked it quite a bit, and thought Goldie did a great job proving her comic chops. The general consensus seems to be that it isn’t as funny as Stripes but that it’s pretty good and Goldie is terrific. A lot of folks seem to think it’s dated, and some find the third act really boring and strange, like a different movie. I have to admit that there was a feeling of disconnect when we swung into act three (and confusion, since Goldie’s voice over says she’s in Belgium just as we’re looking at a shot of Paris, but whatever), but I kind of like that: it’s abrupt, but it’s such a departure from the structural formula that I thought it was kind of fun. And if you found the third act boring I think you missed a lot of the point of that film – and it’s not like it was super subtle, so there’s really no excuse here.
I personally liked the film quite a bit, as is to be expected, because I’m such a big ole feminist. Girl wants to leave philandering jerk and have a real career, that’s fine by me. And no, that’s not dated. That’s never dated. Not marrying jerks is always fresh. A Hollywood cliché, yes, but always a good idea in real life.

Okay, now that Lady of Shallot thing.

In the final shot of the film, Goldie tosses her veil and strides confidently out into the French countryside to meet her fate. Looking at her in her white dress with all that “bright hair streaming down” made me think of the Waterhouse painting of the Lady of Shallot. Observe:


The Lady of Shallot

Alright, so big deal. So she looks like some painting. But it’s kind of interesting given that the Lady of Shallot was stuck in some tower, broke the rules and died, and Judy Benjamin was stuck in a symbolic tower, broke the rules but instead of dying, she triumphs.
And what about all that “crazy” talk that her parents give her, telling people she’s in a mental home, telling her she doesn’t know her own mind, she can’t make her own decisions? And her jerk of a fiancé trying to gaslight her, telling her she’s being crazy to imagine him sleeping with the maid (which he later confesses to, using the exact phrase, “OK I slept with her one night when you were acting CRAZY”)??? Everyone around her is telling her she’s crazy, she’s got this insane-looking hair and the same crazed look in her eyes she had at the beginning of the film, she looks like a raving Victorian madwoman! And then all of a sudden she begins to see clearly, she stops looking at life through a mirror (if you will) and faces it straight on. Only instead of boating to her death downriver to Camelot, she marches gracefully along on her way, never looking back.

Call me nuts, but it’s always bugged me how the patriarchy will tell a perfectly normal woman that she’s acting insane just because she doesn’t want to conform to their damn standards. All that was subtextually expressed in this film, from the more overt lines of dialogue (OK, I guess the subtext was text there) to the imagery of the lady in white in the final shot.

And all the army stuff was funny as hell, too.

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