nenya_kanadka: rubber stamp text: "complete and utter bullshit" (@ bullshit)
[personal profile] nenya_kanadka
Rewatched Spellbound last night. I really think it's going to become one of those movies that goes in the queue to be watched again every year or two. Peck is so pretty and Bergman is so determined!

It's really her movie, too, in the sense that she's the main protagonist and it's all told from her point of view. And pretty much from the moment she opens her mouth in the first scene where her male coworker is trying to get her to soften up to his romantic advances and she's like "Lol, no," I just really like Dr. Constance Peterson. (He tells her she's too cold and cerebral, and she asks if he's buttering her up; he says her "lack of emotion" is "fatal for her as a woman" and a doctor, and she says yes, yes, she's heard that from any number of amorous psychiatrists who toootally want to make her a better doctor. :D)

And she's the one who takes action to find out what's wrong with Ballantyne and try to get him some psychological help before the police lock him in the slammer. She's the one trying to figure out WTF is going on (while Gregory Peck is intermittently collapsing, staring off into space, being grouchy as fuck, or looking attractively dishevelled). And she doesn't give up. Not just because Peck is hot (though she certainly thinks so) but because she believes in his innocence and she isn't satisfied with the explanations she's getting. And then they get a happy ending, entirely due to her efforts, and Peck swoons a little less but still canonically "madly adores" her and thinks she's "brilliant."

So, I like her. She's cool. Bergman is hot. She gets the hot woobie. Very nice.

But then of course I run across someone being Wrong On The Internet about her. Okay, maybe Wrong In A Book? I was googling around to see if anyone had any opinions on Peck's more slashy roles, and came across some essay in a book on Google Books1. Some kind of "queering the text" analysis of Hitchcock movies. And oh boy, are they wrong!

I mean, for starters, they have somehow (???) decided that the villain is queer. I know there is a tradition of queer villains. But in this case, Dr. Murchison is preeeettty much 100% hetero-patriarchal? Male boss of a staff made up of all men (except Constance). They're all pretty sexist towards her. Everyone's into Freud. Murders his replacement because he doesn't want to retire. I didn't scroll back far enough in the essay to figure out exactly why they concluded he was queer-coded, but I think it's because he murdered a man. (Completely offscreen, too, so there isn't even a slashy death scene.) That seems insufficient evidence to me.

So because the villain is queer-coded, it's bad to treat him as a villain, and Constance's crowning moment of awesome at the end of the movie is "reaffirming normativity" and it's soooo sad that she and he can't talk to each other like friends any more! It's clearly an example of straight women and queer men being at odds! (I think there was something in there about "straight women symbolizing the hetero-patriarchy," but that might have been in the bit about some other Hitchcock movie Bergman was in.) And so she sucks, or something. It's not like the villain is a bad guy because he murdered someone and happily pinned it on an innocent party or anything! It's not a victory when a woman quietly and with no nonsense figures out what he did, tells him to his face, and keeps him talking until she can get away!

So they're wrong about that. Murchison is a hetero villain. And a jerk. This queer doesn't want him. Ugh.

They do seem to have noticed the whole thing where the gender roles are swapped: Constance takes all the action and makes all the decision and pushes for a resolution, and her coworker/boyfriend/patient is the swooning amnesiac who says things like, "I love you, but I'm not worthy of love." Yes! Good! I like that about this movie, and I like that this essay picked up on that (hard not to notice, really). But then they're like, "He says he feels like 'nothing' at one point [bc amnesia, no memories of his past, etc], and because Shakespeare used 'nothing' to mean 'vagina' and because he's in the helpless acted-upon role, that makes him feminine!" Which, no. I realize this may be a fine distinction (though I've shouted about it many many times in het F/m kink circles), but there's a difference between a man being given a role that is usually given to women, and a man being a woman/feminine/not manly.

So they're wrong about that. It matters to me that Constance is a woman in an active role and Ballantyne is a man in a passive role. It doesn't make him a girl. That's the whole point, at least to this bisexual who likes her women active and her men to leave her a bit of room to exist.

Then they seem to go full-on into the Freudian implications of the Salvador Dali dream sequence ("People argue over whether the weird wheel-shape in the dream is a penis or a vagina. I think it's both--no, wait! I think it's an anus and it means Murchison is offering Ballantyne gay sex!") and how Ballantyne keeps staring at Constance's knife while she eats, not because he's thinking of murder weapons and freaking out that he'll hurt her, but because it's "phallic" and he totally wants the dick, and oh btw he totally looks upset while they're skiing because he wishes she was Edwardes (not because, again, he's terrified he'll hurt her). Something something a razor is phallic and a glass of milk is yonic (except when it stands for semen). The essay says that this is one of those cases where the woman is just a stand-in for the tensions between men who can't admit up-front that they actually desire each other.

And I mean. That's totally a thing, sure. I can think of lots of movies where the het is pastede on, yo, and only half-succeeds in papering over the obvious slashy vibes. In Gregory Peck movies alone you've got, in decreasing order of slashiness, Guns of Navarone2 (three slash ships and counting, canon het ship occurs in two scenes, one of which involves the woman congratulating Peck on his choice in Anthony Quinn as boyfriend partner), The World In His Arms (Peck and Quinn again, foe-yay off the charts, epic chase to save canon het love interest turns into dick-measuring contest between the guys), and Gentleman's Agreement (where Mucca and I are convinced Phil and Dave have been banging since high school, and will probably end up in some kind of poly quad with their wives).

So when they talk about desire between men being mediated through the canon het love interest, I know what they mean. But Spellbound? Spellbound??

Spellbound, the movie that's 90% increasingly entangled emotional scenes between the canon het pair. Spellbound, the movie where they're both incredibly focused on each other, and when it's not about the romance it's about her poking around the inside of his brain. Spellbound, the one where he faints into her boobs at least three times, and has to be talked down from just snogging her a lot instead of doing therapy. Spellbound, the movie where the chemistry between the leads was so intense that they ended up fucking IRL. And not in a hatesex way either. Spellbound, where the female lead loves her career and wishes all these sexist, middle-aged jerks around her would quit perving on her--but then gets the hots for a gorgeous young Gregory Peck in full pillow-lip mode, who literally swoons for her? Spellbound, where they pretend to be fake-married three separate times, and the first thing Gregory Peck does when he's got his memory back is to propose to her for real? That Spellbound?

So they're wrong about that too. There is at least one character I can read as queer in Spellbound (see below), but the canon het is pretty damn intrinsic to the story, and not in the slightest some kind of fakeout to hide secret queer content.

(The actual queer bit, and something I love: Constance's mentor Professor Brulov's lovely little turn of phrase that "Any husband of yours is a husband of mine." Now that is pretty gay. He says it twice, too--the first time, it could be just a slip of the tongue, but the second time, he's had time to realize how gay it sounds, and he says it anyway. It's actually the last real dialogue in the film. Brulov is also a bachelor getting along in years. Him, I could happily read as queer. And unlike the handwringing in the essay about straight women enforcing heteronormativity against queer male characters and how this tragically destroys friendships, Peterson and Brulov are still BFFs at the end of the tale. If anything, his occasional sexist remarks to her--something all the male characters do in this movie--would support a thesis that even gay men aren't always on board with feminism. Because, like I said, this is Constance's movie.)

It all starts to remind me of fans who decide that a female character has gotten in the way of their slash ship, so she must be a huge raging bitch (and that plant in the corner proves their faves are doing it). Or people who see an advertisement that features a beautiful, sexualized, perhaps vulnerable man, and go, "Oh wow! That's really homoerotic!" without stopping to think that, wait, straight and bi women just might have some interest in male beauty. Halfway through reading this thing, I said to myself, "Good lord. Some people just REALLY can't handle women being in charge." Women can't be assertive or take the lead role, especially not in a het relationship! No, there has to be some other explanation. He's gay. She's an alien agent of patriarchy. (I never did figure out why that was supposedly the case here.) Something. Anything, to prove a woman can't be the knight in shining armor.

I'm queer. I'm also a woman who really appreciates active female protagonists. I also enjoy a good dose of beautiful man occasionally, and if he's a little vulnerable along with his gorgeous broad shoulders and deep brown eyes and delicious ruffle-able hair, all the better. (I might, too, have a carefully-nursed pet peeve about how alpha male heroes are so much more common than dominant women and their pretty boy-toys in het romance.) I'm a m-slasher and a fem-slasher as long as the day is long. But it really gets my goat when people take a female hero I love and pretend all the awesome things about her don't exist.

Dr. Constance Peterson: brilliant, determined, gets the hot boy. And badly-conceived meta can go fuck off.


(1) I've lost the link now, but I think it was for something called "Intimate Violence." I'm not opposed to queer theory generally, but just as I sometimes disagree with queer fandom meta, I had huge issues with this particular iteration of queer theory. It really felt like they were trying to force the facts to fit the thesis ("someone in this movie is queer and being oppressed by a straight woman, I just know it!") rather than the reverse.

(2) Even the 18-year-old son of Mucca's assistant lightkeeper feels that Guns of Navarone is pretty damn gay.
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October 2017


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