Category Archives: film

We Are All India’s Daughters

No amount of advice about the necessity of maintaining a modest appearance, could possibly have prepared me for being in India as a single lady. I saw a side, those who focus on Goddess worship as evidence that women are revered there, are in total denial, or ignorance of. The culture, supported by religious edicts, stresses purity and withdrawal from public life for Good Girls, a term used repeatedly in the 2015 documentary India’s Daughter.

The film recounts a savage attack that resulted in the death of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh. Jyoti had just completed medical school, and wanted to take in a movie to celebrate with a friend. On the way home they got on a rogue bus operated by disenfranchised young men, one of whom recounted to the director off camera, previously raping a four year -old. For the transgression of being out at night, rather then at home where she belonged, the punishment of rape was seen as justified by the assailants. Her friend was harmed for his futile attempts to protect her. Having trained as a criminal psychologist specializing in sexual homicide,such extreme violence was not new to me, though heartbreaking; even hardened investigators were aghast at the internal damage done.

In one harrowing hour watching the film illicitly on my phone in Delhi where this outrage happened, my dedication to gender justice became radicalized.I was not alone.The government had decried the documentary as misleading and disrespectful to women.It was being censored-no one was supposed to view it- yet Millions did ,and took to the streets in protest. It was the attorneys though who drew the most outrage from viewers. With callous casualness, their comments revealed how even educated professionals accept the misogyny that begins at birth,with celebrations only on the arrival of a boy baby. Almost worse then the perpetrators of rape -homicide themselves, was hearing one of their advocates say, “We have the best culture in the world, but,there is no place for a woman in it. If that was My daughter [daring to go out in public with a male friend not a family member] I would take her out to the barn and set her on fire myself.” The other, only slightly more subtle, used the analogy of a flower to illustrate how fragile the female reputation is, so it must be protected from being soiled, tended to,and admired only privately.

Segregation is solidified in the guise of such so called safe guarding. Women are discouraged from mingling in the public sphere. Sexaul harassment necessitates sperate waiting rooms in spaces such as train stations. Until recently all rickshaw or taxi drivers were male. Although some women do drive the ubiquitous scooters, wearing pants, those in saris must ride side saddle behind. Not once in three months-all but one week in the north- did I see a woman driving alone.A Victorian sensibility has been superimposed on the Hindu traditions around sexuality. Most striking is what body parts are proscribed from being uncovered, such as shoulders and ankles, while bellies are bared and deep cleavage is also permissible. Beautiful beyond belief Bollywood stars in bikinis, are featured daily in the newspapers, and myriad magazines are devoted to them. Yet on the rare day I wore jeans with a loose top that fell only to cover hips or mid thigh, rather then knees, without fail a concierge or clerk was certain to say admiringly,, “Madame is Looking Particularly Lovely Today!” At one ashram we were warned never to go beyond a certain point, and to appease locals were under strict orders to cover up even more then usual. Even in sophisticated Kolkutta a gaggle of teen boys followed me while walking aournd the National Art Museum. I finally confronted them saying, “I am not part of the exhibit.” More genteel men would inevitably approach beginning with words like, Might I Inquire if…at which point I would interrupt and firmly say,” No you may not,” leaving them astonished at my assertiveness. It was tiresome, though nowhere near as intimidating as some encounters, others report regularly.

To balance this out I must also say that there are an abundance of wonderful people in this complex country who care deeply. As the sole westerner on two 30 hour train rides, a protective porter was always accessible. I never felt in any danger from the men in my compartment either, though had heard of many subjected to unwanted touching. Being a tough New Yorker who had worked in prisons and psychiatric facilities, deflecting unwanted attention came easily. Being cautious, I also avoided injury. Reports were rampant though of young women- particularly those who wanted to have experiences with Saddhus or holy men- being raped or simply beaten up. The local crime reports were bizarre even for me, as there was so much family, tribal or clan involvement in enforced prostitituion.Land disputes seemed to be the leading cause of sexual subjecation or murder, even of children. The family structure that commands obedience especially for girls,is so strictly conditioned and enforced, that even when their own happiness is at stake, daughters cede to demands to marry or give up pursuing a career.

There is a deep concern that what is greatest about india, could be lost if modernization, including feminism, continues at the rapid pace already in progress. Some make a direct connection between wardrobe choices and decadent westernized society being a touchstone for losing touch with tradition. That this once again is all about Values attached to suppression of female sexuality and public interaction is obvious. If the culture is tied to this, then indeed it needs to change. That so many men seem incapable of being aournd women without verbally or physically assailing us demonstrates where the real problem lies. Starting at birth as pointed out earlier, boys are celebrated and told they are Superior.They are treated like princes even in the poorest of families, unless abused and cast out, which is a whole other issue. It is this Pride, arrogance and need to exert some form of Control, when they may have so little power in other parts of their lives, that reinforces and sustains such attitudes. It is aided by even the greatest of female Gurus and saints such as Anadaamayi Ma who advised her female followers that men are helpless to contain their appetites without our assistance ,which includes marriage at a young age, veiling and keeping eyes down cast so they never meet those of any adult male outside of family. This is also thought to be a sign of submission and respect.The amount of sexual violence and shaming of victims, is far worse then it ever was here in the 1950’s, which some like to compare the current climate there to.
For me the hardest part were the proscriptions against being out at night. To get round this, some travelers hire driver/companions, but it was not something I felt comfortable with.Western men evoked intense jealousy posting photos on Facebook of themselves at gatherings and sacred ceremonies,I who had studied Yoga for 40 years, could only dream of. Those who go with a group, stay in Amma’s ashram, or places like Goa and Rishikesh, have a screened pre-selected experience of partying or spiritual seclusion.

Despite all this, I long to go back -just not by myself. It is an amazing country with unique cuisine,art, architechture, landscapes, traditions, wildlife, music ,design, medicine and so much more. Vibrant, magical and transforming ,India contains unparalleled people,palaces and plants, Confronting challenges was a choice I made deliberately to get unstuck and it worked. The only regret is not having contributed more in some way while there.The changes I have been able to make in my own life though have enabled me to step up and speak out. By doing so now, I join the global conversation and commit to supporting gender justice as I vowed to do in that hotel room silently shaking and screaming in rage over what had been done to Jyoti, and is still happening every hour of every day to my sisters around the world.

Trumbo -Take a Look at the Man and the Movie

Dalton Trumbo spent ten months from June 1950-April 1951 in the Kentucky Federal Correctional Institute, far from his family as most in such facilities still are. Convicted for Contempt of Congress, in the new film version of the multiple Oscar winners life, he meets a former HOUAC Committee member who grilled him on the stand,now  serving time for corruption. As they mop the floors, in a moment arranged by the God of Cinema if it Actually Happened, Trumbo points out that unlike the other man reduced to similar circumstances, he did not commit any actual crime. The smartest man in any room, he managed to salvage his career by subverting and thwarting those aligned against him and other blacklisted writers, perceived to be disloyal for having joined the Communist party, no matter what principles they were espousing.

Trumbo testified early on in proceedings held to ferret out traitors that lasted from 1947 well into the 1970’s. He was the first of the so called Hollywood Ten, certainly the most successful and highest paid screenplay writer of his time. Having penned such patriotic Fodder as A Guy Named Joe, and 30 Seconds over Tokyo, I am personally bewildered why  he still causes rabid right wingers to foam at the mouth denouncing him, as has been evident in several articles written around this release. For a film aficionado, such as myself, all that matters is that he created Magic. But if the actual point of the hearings was to eradicate those implanting Un American ideals, where is the evidence of such subtle efforts at persuasion?  If anything, it’s quite the opposite since his screenplays embody the hopes, dreams, and strivings of average American men and women.

Kitty Folyle released in 1940, his first big hit, starred Ginger Rogers as a working-class woman  drawn into snobbery and class elitism when she dares to date the scion of a family above her economically. However it is far from a veiled advertisement for communism, as American romances have always featured such social climbing. This man Loved the Movies, and had a personal depth of character, and understanding  of humanity at its finest, that resulted in richly nuanced stories that still touch viewers deeply. Even when forced into using  pseudonyms as he did for Roman Holiday, he won awards and enchanted audiences. Many of the movies he wrote sill hold us as Classics. Why is there so little emphasis on his actual body of work, as opposed to his personal life, when seeking to answer whether he embraced Stalinist values?  Whatever his  beliefs or allegiances may have been, they did not seep into the scripts, except as ringing endorsements for Freedom of personal expression and Integrity, such as that expressed in Spartacus. Once he got the right to use his name back, courtesy of Kirk Douglas-well played here by Kiwi Dean O’Gorman- He seems to have specialized in distilling Potboilers like  Exodus into highly cinematic Smash hits. The scene where Otto Preminger pulls up to his suburban home with that “piece of shit book” needing his services is a highlight, especially because German actor Christian Berkel nails it, and once again we can laugh.

There were actually many moments of Levity and ferocious engagement. The best involve Hedda Hopper the power gossip columnist, and former c list actress, played with stellar menace by Helen Mirren. Hopper leveraged her position to align with John Wayne and others (including Ronald Reagan then president of the Screen Actors Guild) to destroy those they felt were using Hollywood to introduce demoralizing concepts of Communism contrary to the American way.There is a scene with Louis B Mayer where Hopper has been reminiscing while exchanging pleasantries before asking that he terminate Trumbo from working at the MGM studio. When Mayer protests that it’s an unbreakable contract, she goes in for the kill. Referring to his attempts to get her on the casting couch back in the day she says, “I wouldn’t  do it then,LB (pause beat) but I’ll Fuck you NOW.” It is one of Many strong moments.Hedda Hopper and others hated Dalton Trumbo even more when he ultimately outwitted them. They are exposed as vicious spite- filled, petty people who loathe, fear and despise true intellectuals and great creative artists for refusing to pander to their narrow word view.

Boardwalk Empire Gangster alum Michael Stuhlbarg cast as Edward G Robinson captures some of the qualities of this sensitive erudite art collector and wine connoisseur. The antithesis of the gangsters he played on screen, Eddy wanted to support the cause, but weakened in the face of  potential career ending ostracism. I wondered though if  they couldn’t just trace the check he wrote as a donation? The physicality is Wrong here and distracting as Stuhlbarg is just too tall. Roger Bart and Louis CK  are characters not known in our collective memory bank, so casting seems more congenial, and both shine. as fellow blacklisted idealist Arlin Hurd and Hollywood hanger on Buddy Ross. John Goodman has the most Fun playing Frank King the exploitation film maker who hired Trumbo under the table. Smashing up his office he physically threatens the Representative of Morality in the Movies who has dared to tell him to stop or face being exposed to newspaper readership.”My audience Doesn’t Read,” the unabashed producer of now beloved lowbrow fare like Gun Crazy (Yup Trumbo wrote that too),  screams in triumph. A cathartic moment many would vicariously like to share, and, wouldn’t be surprised if someone Mimics!

Trumbo at home with his family is also engaging. The ever luminous Diane Lane as his wife Cleo, and Elle Fanning (who has  real Presence and Beauty as his devoted daughter) helped ground the enormity of his loss with Love. There is a scene early on where his little girl asks what a Communist is. To illustrate  he questions her as to what she would do if another classmate came to school hungry with no lunch. if she shares the sandwich then she is indeed a Commie-Classic Teaching moment. We see him later use Amphetamines accompanied by certain personality changes, but these seem to be attributed to the stress of staying up to churn out scripts to support them. When confronted, the irritability vanishes, so there is no real exploration of the impact his usage may have had in any depth. Bryan Cranston powerfully Embodies this towering personality who typed in the tub drinking whiskey. I enjoyed spending time with him and think Jay Roach, primarily known for Comedies such as Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers, has done a Remarkable job.

This movie has received few good reviews and many critical of its character rather then content. Yet at the special SAG screener I attended,people clapped, cheered and cried. Variety called it a stodgy screenplay- I disagree. “Why does everything you say have to sound as if it ought to be engraved in stone” comrade and idealist Arlen Hird groans in mock anger at Trumbo’s portentousness,  yet what a welcome relief it is to have such a witty and erudite protaganist. This film deserves More attention on its Qualities then just contention over his Heroism although it is the Central theme. The so called controversy over his political alliances is a distraction here.  Any bio pic has to have a point of of view. The constant critique and revisionism based on verisimilitude is worthless in this context. Whether one embraces his actions beliefs or choices, the Actual hearings themselves and events as they impacted HIM and his colleagues are Accurately depicted here from Their perspective, as footage from the era will substantiate.  Mainstream attention and awards may elude it, however, anyone who enjoys Real films with Depth heart and humor-like those Trumbo wrote himself- might do a lot worse then to watch this.