Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tootsie Chat

Tracy:  Can I borrow that little yellow number?

Natalie:  Hmmmm. Have to think about it :)

Tracy:  So this movie is basically part of my DNA--it was one of my grandmother's favorites, and I can't remember a time before I've seen it. Therefore, I am in now ways objective about it. What did you think?

Natalie:  Ha! Somehow I've never seen it before I watched it Saturday. I knew about it just as a part of cultural knowledge but not the specifics. I liked it a lot and, save the wardrobe and hair choices (that, actually, I guess are back in style thanks to brainless children), it holds up. The issue of type-casting or black-listing actors/actresses is common and in the news now--Hello! Uproar over a black girl being cast in Hunger Games (not to mention the lesser conversations of whosit being too short to be Peeta, Cinna shouldn't be black/Lenny Kravitz, etc). And the hoopla about an able-bodied actor being cast as disabled in Glee or Robert Downey Jr. being "black" in Tropic Thunder. All of these have different implications, of course, but are all rooted in the same sort of issue.
And that doesn't even open the can of worms that is casting a straight person to play gay or vice versa.

Tracy:  You know, I never even thought about it in those terms--but you're exactly right. I tend to think of it more as a movie of how a man becomes feminist. I love all the " there was a woman in me" and "I was a better man with you as a woman than I was with a woman as a man" stuff. But it's just as much a movie about acting and the politics of casting. Which you're right--are just as immediate now. As an aside, I totally want to see "Return to the Love Canal."

Natalie:  Oh, right, how a man becomes feminist--and, larger in scope, how an industry (starts to) becomes feminist. Women were just starting to earn decent salaries in the industry at this point. I did like how the talking to a woman as a woman didn't necessarily get the answer--he completely bombed with the direct "let's just make love" approach that she said would work when she thought she was just talking to a girlfriend.
Ha! All of their faux films seem pretty fabulous

Tracy:  Again--you're blowing me away!  Yes! Totally how an industry was becoming feminist--never thought of that! And I think it makes sense that it starts with soaps (I owe whosit a quarter)--a maligned genre that nonetheless usually is one where boundaries are broken first in terms of representations of marginalized identities and relationships, and one where women are traditionally "allowed" to be more powerful.

Natalie:  Sometimes I can say smart things :)  Oooh, yeah, absolutely soaps are strangely at the forefront of changing the way TV works. It should be interesting to see what happens now with soaps dying off because we definitely haven't broken all of the boundaries that need breaking.

Tracy:  You always say smart things! It's just that I know this movie so well, that I don't know it at all, if you know what I mean. Description: :) I wonder what will take up the vanguard that used to belong to soaps. Cable? Online shows? They don't get the audience that soaps once did. One of my other favorite things about this film is the supporting performances: Murray, Coleman, Garr, Durning. Even Pollack. There's so much talent all the way down the cast list. And I even like the cheesy 80s ballad.

Natalie:  I'm not sure what will pick it up. Cable seems a different sort of thing. And some of cable just takes it too far (looking at you Showtime) to be productive. What was (is still marginally) interesting about soaps was the viewers' complete immersion in the show because it was daily and, because of the frequency, much more has to happen and the viewers "know" the characters better. A once-weekly show that takes at least one hiatus if not multiple can't achieve that sort of time with a character. I was surprised at a super young Gena Davis! I loved the cast and was tickled to find out that all of Bill Murray's dialogue was improvised. I love when an actor can just be let loose on set and be trusted to further the plot. Another interesting tidbit I learned is that Hoffman came up with the idea for this film while filming Kramer v. Kramer. Talk about two completely different films! And! one more thing! Can you believe how freaking fit Hoffman was?! He was 45!

Tracy:  45??? Shut the fuck up!

Natalie: I KNOW!

Tracy:  I didn't know that Murray improvised his dialogue. That means that awesome speech about how he wanted an audience that had just come in out of the rain, and how he wants someone to come up to him and say "I saw your play . . . what happened?" was straight out of his brain. Love. It. I really cannot draw the throughline from K vs. K. Feminism? That would be nice, since I thought KvK was remarkably bad for women . . . though I guess it was also about a man discovering his "feminine side." I think this film does it a lot better. An example of how sometimes comedy can make an argument more successfully than (melo)drama.

Natalie:  And Murray consented to having his name not in the opening credits/poster whatever so that people wouldn't expect Caddyshack. I think what you said is the throughline from K v. K. But, yes, this one does it much better and makes me want to see it again. I don't think I'm ever watching K v. K again; it's so depressing.

Tracy:  I'm SURE KvK is on the list. And yeah. It's just brutal. We have it to thank for Squid and the Whale. So are you on board with this being in the book? I already was, and you convinced me even more!

Natalie:  I'm sure it is too--pretty sure that's why I watched it in the first place. I've not seen S & tW and I don't want to either. I am on board with it being in the book! Speaking of though, the book says some stuff that needs chatting about. First, this: "British critic Judith Williamson once disparaged the ‘Tootsie Syndrome’ in contemporary culture—the device that decrees it only takes a few days in the shoes of your social ‘other’ in order to completely understand and sympathize with their plight." Do you think this is what the film does? I don't so much.

Tracy:  A "few days"? No. He was in it for months. And also, I like the way it highlights that performing a gender (which we all do, according to the one and only Judy Butler) is a way to demystify and expose its underpinnings. By putting on that face and those clothes and that persona, he was able to access not only certain conversations but parts of himself that would otherwise have remained unknowable. And it's not like the point is that he "sympathizes with the plight" of women. He realizes his own misogyny and asshole-ness. It's not about understanding the struggle of women, it's about him learning to be more human and less self-centered and entitled. What do you think?

Natalie:  YES! Way to bring Judith Butler to the fight! I completely agree. I don't think the movie makes him understand or sympathize with women at all beyond the comment about how much money it takes to be a woman. He strikes out trying to pick up whosit even with the inside knowledge. And, what the book says about the critic at least, seems to make it sound like you can't understand or sympathize with the other without a LOT of work. Seems you can just be a human (probably a liberal human but whatever) and sympathize/understand people who are different than you without a single minute in the others' shoes.

Tracy:  Right! Why do you have to embody that person in order to have empathy? Then it's not even empathy!

Natalie:  True. I'd like to see the original article or whatever so I won't completely slam Judith Williamson but she seems wrong. The book also says, "The [plot] complications . . . evoke the days of screwball sex-and-identity farce in the 1930s and 1940s . . . . Tootsie, alongside the work of James L. Brooks, pioneered a new style in mainstream cinema: intensely busy, bristling with subplots, pop allusions (such as, here, a cameo from Andy Warhol), and jazzy montage sequences—raising dramatic complications and hinting at subversive implications while skating gracefully past them to an entertaining, happy ending." Do you think it "skates past" the implications?

Tracy:  I don't even understand what that means. I certainly would NEVER put the words "James L. Brooks" and "subversive" in the same sentence. And were there really a whole lot of subversive subplots? It seems to me the, you know, PLOT was where the subversion was. You have Jessica Lange admitting to lesbian inclinations, a dude-on-dude proposal (that doesn't end in violence or disavowal) and, well, drag. The subplot, as far as I can tell, was about how difficult it is to be an actor in New York.

Natalie:  HA! Good points--I don't know what subplot could be more subversive than, as you point out, the actual plot. I also just thought, the "new style" lists a lot of things that were kinda common in Shakespeare's comedies: intensely busy, bristling with subplots, raising dramatic complications, subversive implications, entertaining happy endings . . . so the "new style" offers Warhol and montages? And, well, Shakespeare couldn't have had either of those.

Tracy:  Hah! Right. Though I'm sure Shakes would have cast Warhol if he could've. Speaking of, can you imagine how that phone call went? We're making a movie about Dustin Hoffman in drag playing a woman in a soap opera, and we'd like you to show up for a faux-photo shoot. Who even makes that call? Pollack?

Natalie:  I take that back. The chorus could have been the montage. They could be "jazzy." HAHA! I would have died to overhear that phone call. Pollack would have been the best at it. I wonder if someone was just friends with Warhol. So, anyway, we're keeping it but for our reasons that are better than the book's, right?

Tracy:  Hah! Yes! The chorus probably was "jazzy"! And yes. As usual. We get why the movie is important for reasons that indicate we have actually watched the movie.

Natalie:  HA! And thought about it. Super! So, next we're back in the 40s with The Postman always Rings Twice!

Tracy:  I'm excited! It's noir, yes?

Natalie:  Um . . . .I'm not sure if it's noir. But I'm excited for it!

Tracy:  Questions that will be answered when we chat next! 

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