[In Search of Greatness]

Sports documentary In Search of Greatness has an interesting idea at the heart of it, namely the role that creativity has in sports excellence, how that creativity can be found and nourished, and how early specialization and over-structuring might harm the progress of young athletes.

It focuses on three athletes, all from team sports: Jerry Rice, Wayne Gretzky, & Pelé. They have a lot in common as to how they approach their particular games and thoughts on what helped them overcome perceived weaknesses. It can objectively fascinating to hear people who are or were the best at what they do talk about who they are, what they love, and how they got there. But of course the other thing they have in common? They are all men.

Unsurprisingly, the film suffers from this purely male perspective. I read later that the filmmakers had hoped to include Serena Williams but could not thanks to scheduling difficulties. That fact does not impress me when the five on-camera interviews they do include – the three athletes plus two commentators – are all men, and when the off-camera interviewer refers to great athletes in general with masculine collective nouns, like “guys” or “fellas”. Serena Williams is one of if not the greatest athlete of all time, and that the filmmakers could not think of a single other woman to include speaks volumes.

This skewed perspective can’t be undone by a handful of archival clips, most notably of the Williams sisters, especially when the most prominent interview subject is neither Serena nor Venus but their father. Honestly, I would have preferred a documentary that pretended women in sports did not exist rather than one that threw in this  & two clips of gymnasts and called it good.

In fact, even this token inclusion of gymnasts (in a section of the film criticizing – I believe fairly – parents who turn what should be play into a job for their children) shades the argument a bit. It made me wonder what a film would look like that included sports which are judged both on athleticism and on style, such as gymnastics, diving, figure skating, or snowboarding.

The film wraps with an almost-lament, about the athletes we’re not seeing due to lack of access to opportunity, also around the very strange idea that there is an upper limit to be found in sports, the maximum achievement by man (of course men, only men, always men) where once reached we’ll no longer be interested as athletes or as an audience. The first point made me want to scream in frustration given the lack of opportunity within this very film, and the second point was frankly absurd.

It’s such a limited view of sports to assume the full appeal in participating or observing is to reach some sort of objective pinnacle of achievement: the highest point game, the fastest run, the longest jump. This is the exact attitude that devalues women’s sports. But there’s more to sports than numbers, more to the greatest than stats, more to the geniuses than this film could have imagined.

There’s the game.

[Bohemian Rhapsody]

I didn’t want to write about Bohemian Rhapsody. I’m a Queen fan in same the way that basically everyone on the planet is a Queen fan, so I’m not overly invested. I am not the sort of person to get hung up on timelines being changed to create a narrative arc. I’m also not a musician, though the way it portrayed the actual making of music seemed pretty ridiculous. And I thought it was pretty smart of Singer/Fletcher/whoever to end it with a recreation of the Live Aid set, because obviously that’s a crowd pleaser. But I found myself yelling “and ALSO” alone in my apartment the whole weekend after I saw it, so here we are.

As I put it on Twitter, my primary problem – and the reason that upon reflection the film made me angry and not just dismissive – is that it could not see Mercury’s queerness as anything but tragic. I’d seen Making Montgomery Clift a few weeks earlier, which certainly helped put at top of mind how narratives about bisexual men can be warped to fit a preconceived idea of a tortured life, but I think it would have been a problem for me either way. It’s not just that it was shown as tragic. It’s also that queerness was portrayed as dangerous and sad, and as something that, in a lot of ways, Mercury was led into. It’s a gross, old stereotype, & frankly disappointing.

Before we get into that, though, credit where it’s due. There were a few ideas I liked a lot – primarily the openness to true and varied gender expression as shown through the beginning of his relationship with Mary (Lucy Boynton), also the oft-referenced idea of a chosen family of freaks and outcasts. Both of those elements made me hopeful (and both elements would have worked beautifully with the flawed, complex guy Mercury was). Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

The most frustrating thing throughout the film is the lack of agency Mercury is allowed regarding his sexuality. It’s a marked contrast to the decisiveness in which he moves through the rest of his life, and what’s even more infuriating is that so often the same basic event could have been told in an empowering, interesting way. Instead, it’s relentlessly negative and disempowering.

First, the truck stop scene. It’s like the end of The Force Awakens, cutting back and forth between Mercury and a trucker who eyed him up, everyone staring, no one making a decision. The film cuts to the trucker four times, and after the bathroom door closes behind him, to Mercury three more times as he stands outside. The whole scene is intercut with a performance of “Fat Bottomed Girls”. Oh won’t you take me home tonight indeed. But does anyone take anyone home? Or anywhere? The film doesn’t say. And look, I don’t need to see anything R rated. But I’d like to see a decision.

Second, the first time a man kisses him, it’s non-consensual. Continue reading “[Bohemian Rhapsody]”

[American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace]

The second season of American Crime Story didn’t catch on quite the same way the OJ Simpson one did, which is too bad but also unsurprising. Part of the success of season one stemmed from its effectiveness in revealing new layers to a story we thought we knew extremely well, whereas season two views Versace himself as only the tip of the iceberg of the lives which were destroyed by Cunanan.

(I watched the bulk of the season over a few days, which was exhausting. Don’t be like me, kids.)

The season opens with the murder of Versace and the start of the manhunt, but for the bulk of the series, each episode takes us a step further back in time. We spend some time with Versace, but most of the time with Cunanan.

More importantly, we spend full episodes with the men he killed whose names should have been bigger news, and it increases our sense of dread every time as we know how their lives will end. We get to know them, to care about them, to see how they were vulnerable – through everything from their shame to their generosity – to his manipulation.

Continue reading “[American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace]”

[Love, Simon]

To be honest with you all, I kind of rolled my eyes at the first trailer I saw for Love, Simon. Then I registered for two preview screenings & blew off both of them. But finally I took my tiny stone heart to see the first Thursday night screening, and Reader? It is adorbs.

Love, Simon is a romcom of the teen fantasy movie variety: the well-off white family with the house straight out of a magazine, the supportive parents, the cute friends, all that jazz, all very palatable. That’s the point; this is a gay movie that kids can see at the mall.

At! The mall! Not just at a queer film festival, not just at an art house in ten markets across the country, not just on Netflix, maybe eventually if they’re lucky, but at the mall! It doesn’t have death or violence or abuse; it’s not saddled with an R rating because the mere idea of two boys kissing gives the MPAA palpitations.

It’s just a fluffy teen movie you can see & then go get fries & milkshakes. A gay movie at the multiplex so if you have to you can tell your mom you’re seeing something else instead. It’s a sweet, funny, comfort food romcom, it was exactly what I needed this week, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have a movie like this as a teen.

Continue reading “[Love, Simon]”

[Hostiles]

Note: I realized belatedly that this was its own thing, & pulled it out of What Did Jaci Think? Early February

I spent most of the over-long runtime of Hostiles thinking about why this story was being told in the first place, and even more so, why it was being told from this perspective. I think about this a lot, but this year I’m going to start talking about it more, so beware.

After a cold open of a brutal attack on a white pioneer family which leaves only the mother alive (the always-terrific Rosamund Pike), we’re introduced to Christian Bale’s Captain Blocker. He’s being charged with the task of escorting Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family home to Montana after seven years in prison for the crime of … I have no idea, actually, so I assume it’s for being Native American. Blocker doesn’t want the job, but he takes it, and he hates it, and he doesn’t open up exactly but he does sort of begin to understand that maybe he might be a little wrong but only a very little and…

I hate it. I don’t want another damned story about a racist white dude who gets to redeem himself and get the girl and (if timed correctly, which this wasn’t, thank god) the Oscar nomination. I would have much preferred even to have watched this exact story, but from the perspective of Chief Yellow Hawk. I’m over *~complex~* racist white guys. I want the Native actor to get the complex role for a change. I mean, just think about that story for a minute: you’re the chief, you and your family are stolen and taken far away from your home, then you’re locked up, unable to save them, for seven years? And then this too-old-for-this-shit jerk takes you home (only because you’re dying, btw) and treats you like you’re nothing and likely worse than nothing.

Surviving that with your humanity intact is much more interesting than inflicting it.

Also Hostiles wasted a terrific Native cast: Studi, of course, but also including Q’orianka Kilcher, Tanaya Beatty, and Adam Beach. Wouldn’t you rather see a movie starring them? I definitely would.

The one thing I am grateful for, other than the cinematography and Rosamund Pike’s wrenching, hollowed-out grief, is the fact that though there is the inevitable sexual assault scene, we don’t see it. We see the threat and we see the women after, but we never see it happen.

Even here, though, Blocker continues to demonstrate his lack of regard for the Native women in his care. He is worried that Pike’s character might be unable to ride a horse the next day. He does not express any such concern for the Native women who were also assaulted.

It’s 2018. I don’t want to see the racist white guy movie anymore. I’m over it.