Monday, December 13, 2004

I heart America.

I wish to fangirl two things that I love inordinately and that have been reduced and slandered, to my mind, very unnecessarily, in spite of the fact that one belongs to a high modernist classic and the other just came out five days ago. So this is an I ♥ America post because it takes America. It really does. So the other, first.


Of course I think Ocean's Twelve is a highly flawed movie even if you compare it to Ocean's Eleven alone, and that's not saying much because Ocean's Eleven was fluff. I don't usually like fluff. And I always, always, hate Matt Damon movies. But it was snazzy, well-tied up fluff. Like an Oscar-Wilde-meets-the-Rat-Pack-meets-Steven-Soderbergh film. I really enjoyed it.

Ocean's Twelve was quite fuzzy and not at all well-tied up. The geometric dissolves, jump cuts, all the flashy Soderbergh stuff just didn't work for me this time around because the little G-string of a plot kept bunching and chafing between the buttocks of the film.

But they were nice, cocoa-buttered, suntanned and shamelessly springy buttocks!

This film is an outrageous celebration of everything that is a Hugo Boss-sponsored bachelor party: moneyed, smooth, suave, well-dressed, adventurous. It's made like a Page Six, and I have read enough celebrity gossip in the last three years to know that Ocean's Twelve is really one huge in-joke between George Clooney and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon and Julia Roberts. And Catherine Zeta-Jones who was annoying. I almost always find it impossible to dislike Julia Roberts, it's like she hypnotises me into liking her. I am a very weak creature that way.

Now where was I? Yes. Catherine Zeta-Jones is unfortunately whiney. The only reason I loved her was because she played a Europol cop in high heels and I am always ready to fangirl cops in high heels, especially when they take themselves seriously in a purposeful yet resigned way. 'Yes I am a statistical impossibility, what are you going to do about it? I have more smarts and a cooler trenchcoat then you will ever have. Fie.'

All the reviews of the film so far have ranged from virulent abhorrence to 'oh, it's moderately entertaining', 'oh, it's a huge in-joke, its funny'.

Why didn't anyone explicitly view it for what it was, which is a goddamn spoof film?

I mean the *pant* Entrapment! The James Bond! The every-single-Julia-Roberts-film-there-is! It was right up there, hitting you in the face. And there were levels of spoofery. Admittedly this was also imperfect at best and the film could have been a lot funnier. It fell flat more than once. But for once I didn't mind watching an experiment.

And I knew it was not simply for the male hotness quotient. (Me? Look at men's bodies in that way?) Brad Pitt is not beautiful in this film. Neck-upwards, he is the opposite of beautiful. He has a patch of carpet for hair. He dresses in silver. But he has what this film asked of all its actors, and all the actors (except ol' Catherine, imho) had it in spades, right from George 'do I look fifty?' Clooney to Elliott Gould. Charm, in its most technical, stripped-down aspect. That sense of timing. They all had it. They oozed it. I totally agree with whoever said Brad Pitt needs to do more comedy. He has a sense of the ironic that is impossible to ignore. I watched him in this movie and thought, maybe that's why he was so crap in Troy. He just knew it wasn't worth taking seriously! Ah! Brad, I am right with you baby! And I will go so far as to say - I like you! Perhaps even that - I think you are cute with the fuzz on your head! You dress like a gigolo!

Ya, so why it could only have been made in America: Charm on that scale takes money and audacity and a certain disregard for - things.

It really worked for me.

Funniest moment of the film: Everyone is saying incomprehensible things around a sleazy bar table in Amsterdam, ostensibly code for an engineered deal for very high-value art theft.

Sleazy Netherlands contact: *says seemingly marijuana-induced things about trees*
Danny (George Clooney): *makes disconnected observation about other elements of nature*
Rusty (Brad Pitt): *adds his own two cents about rivers or something*
Linus (Matt Damon): ...
Linus: Uhh.
Linus: *blink*
Linus: Don't let the sun beat down upon your face.
Sleazy contact: *blink*
Danny and Rusty: *blink*
Linus: And stars to fill my dream. I am a traveller of both time and space. To be where I have been.
Look on Linus' face: *priceless*

For those who aren't Led Zeppelin fans, those are the opening lines of Kashmir.



I have always tried to avoid reading the stuff that comes under the very specific and precise definitions of Great American Literature. Anything that isn't John Berryman and Stephen Crane (and e.e. cummings when I'm in the mood) bores me to death. Don't ask me why. Hemingway, Steinbeck, even Salinger (although I love Franny and Zooey) have left me colder than a refrigerated cocktail. Every reader has their prejudice, at least I hope they do, and this is mine. So I've neglected The Great Gatsby for the last three years it's been on my shelf. Now this is where I eat my millinery. Consume a baked confection of humility. It may still be that I have no wish whatsoever to read any more Hemingway or Steinbeck. But I've fallen head over heels in love with F Scott Fitzgerald, who also stands, in Nick Carraway's words about Gatsby "for all the things for which I have an unaffected scorn."

Part of it is of course, his writing. I don't remember the last time I read a book and was simply blown away by how intensely beautiful it was: "We walked through a high hallway into a bright rose-coloured space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end, The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up towards the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-coloured rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea."

I don't ever want to write like this. I know I can't. Perhaps it's scented, taken out of context. But I've never read a more intense description of an ordinary upper-class American house.

Anyway, apart from sharing the Fitzgerald love, the point is just to rant about reductive readings of the damn book, which make me cringe. I understand it's widely thought that Gatsby is a tragic hero and Daisy is some kind of thieving, shallow bitch. And it gets my hackles up. It's bad enough that I vehemently disagree with the idea of Gatsby as any kind of tragic hero, because he really isn't that straightforward. And then to dismiss Daisy, who is to me the essence of the tragic heroine!

This would never do, I thought to myself, leaning on my hoe and chewing my blade of grass. Cue some cussin' and fussin'.

I love Daisy because she's the most complex out of all those characters. Even more so than Nick, who is obviously more than a little bitter about his genteel impoverishment among the genteel non-impoverished of his own class. Clearly part of the reason why he adores Gatsby so is because he can offer Gatsby something. But Daisy, that girl has issues. She's the caged bird, the quintessential trapped heroine, the inevitable Jocasta who everyone forgets because Oedipus blinds himself. (Although, Gatsby? Oedipus? Call me Helen of Troy, I say!) From the very first, she displays qualities of insight and intelligence, humour, warmth, and, fabulously converse, a shy, over-serious, awkward youthfulness. In the first forty pages there's more to her than there will ever be to anyone else in the whole novel.

Of course she's not a good person in the conventional sense of the word. I think it's fabulous that she is also very much like her own husband in that way: they both break people and discard them after it's over. But she's not a scheming seductress and she's not a giddy gadfly, at least not any more so than she requires to survive in her world. She's like Scarlett O’Hara without Scarlett's complete lack of innocence. So how come Scarlett is allowed to remain a "figure" among literary women (although that book is a fucking travesty in more than one place) and Daisy is rendered not even equal, much less superior, to her?

Daisy never takes matters into her own hands because she never has to. The narrator, her lovers and Fitzgerald himself are very much male. They're the windows through which we see Daisy, they're the frames that "fragilely bind" the rose-coloured space of Daisy Buchanan.

If she ever makes a mistake, it is to misjudge the extent to which she symbolises her class, her money, her privilege - in short, the American Dream - to Gatsby. I don't think that's Daisy's fault at all. That's Gatsby's fundamental lack of insight and knowledge. To me knowledge and doubt are the essence of a tragic hero. Doesn't his obsession prove that Gatsby doesn't really love Daisy, that he's merely objectifying her? So why blame Daisy for embarking on a tentative experiment to renew an older, purer love?

Then, when the end comes, she doesn't stand by her man. Well, boo. Did you ever tell her to? Daisy is not a girl from an Enid Blyton book. She belongs to a time and place in which men had just made a big success out of shooting Europe to hell and making a heap of money thereby. They bought women pearls and silk stockings and bound them to gratitude and dependence. Women had more than ever to listen to men and be helped by them. In a crisis, it's Tom, her husband, who is the first to reinforce this norm in Daisy's mind. Gatsby's lost his chance. He's become a criminal for her sake, of course, but now what of his promises and his ardent declarations that nothing could hurt Daisy anymore? How is she going to live if he goes to jail? Hasn't she just been told that his money's all dishonestly come by?

Well of course it isn't a feminist text. It's too delicate to be one. And it's made of F Scott Fitzgerald, the way Daisy's voice is made of money. Daisy isn't Mrs Dalloway. But Nick's last lines, which he hammers out so beautifully as an elegy for Gatsby, always make me think of Daisy, standing in turn on her terrace in Chicago or wherever Tom has taken her to, bleaching the grey out of her hair, developing crows' feet around her eyes, perhaps growing too dignified to bare her soul to cousins she doesn't know very well. Alone as always, full of her 'aching, grieving beauty', not even knowing for certain whether she's unhappy or not.

"And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue dawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...and one fine morning -

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."