Feminist Director Crisis of Faith: Elia Kazan

So I’m at home in Scranton for a little more than two weeks before returning to the city to direct Alcestis. Before I left I picked up a book at the Strand (another very famous New York landmark) called Kazan on Directing. Published just this year, it’s a collection of Elia Kazan‘s notes and journals. Kazan is one of the first American auteurs, in terms of both film and stage. He was a founding member of The Actors Studio and was an instrumental force in our nation’s two attempts at forming a national theater. (It wasn’t his fault they failed, America’s just pretty bad at funding the arts in general, and it didn’t help that a lot of America’s best theatre artists had Communist ties, sending certain American congressmen into hissy fits.)

Kazan also directed one of my favorite films of all time, East of Eden, the first film James Dean starred in. Dean is amazing in it, and the storytelling is just breathtaking. (Steinbeck and Kazan add up to a very twisted kind of Biblical Americana.)

Expressionism + Method Acting + Steinbeck = Awesome

After seeing East of Eden, I saw A Streetcar Named Desire, the film adaptation of Kazan’s acclaimed stage production (written by a troubled Southern gentleman named Tennessee Williams). I’ve talked about the ineffable charisma of this film before, but I will reiterate that it’s one of the most interesting studies in gender relations and cultural studies on celluloid. It both mourns and indicts genteel and blue collar Southern culture, setting up the two representations of these cultures (Blanche and Stanley, respectively) on a path to destruction.

Cultures collide. In the most disturbing and sexy way possible.

At least that’s what I saw in the film. I saw two equal forces fighting for the love of one woman: Stella. A woman who started out like Blanche, delicate, unprepared for the real world, and fell in with Stanley, a man she happily compares to an animal, because he gives her permission to be an animal sometimes too, to like sex, to be a sexual being. The battle for Stella is the fight between primitivism and ingrained chauvinism. Blanche found a way to empower herself through the chauvinism of the culture she grew up by cultivating a personality that needed to be taken care of, that made men feel secure in her dependence on them. Stanley and Stella have a troubled relationship but it is much more equal than any relationship Blanche wants to have.

Okay, that said, now this is what Kazan himself said about the piece:

Blanche is an outdated creature, approaching extinction, like the dinosaur. She is about to be pushed off the edge of the world. On the other hand, she is a heightened version, an artistic intensification, of all women. That is what makes the play universal. Blanche’s special relation to all women is that she is at that critical point where the one thing above all else that she is dependent on–her physical attractiveness, what men find appealing about her–is beginning to fade. Blanche is like all women, dependent on a man, looking for someone to hang on to: only more so! [Bold stands in for Kazan’s italics.]

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Single People’s Weeks: All the Heteronormitivity That’s Fit to Print: Blanche, Stanley and the NYT’s Single Ladies

[Update on the fallout at UNC as a result of the article discussed in this post can be found here.]

Okay. So I know I promised no romance stuff until February 15th. And I will hold to that promise. You will get no romantic affirmations, no gooey-ness in response to seeing men with babies, or bemoan-ment of my single fate. Apparently The New York Times didn’t get the message.

Today in the Sunday Styles section, the NYT published a front section article called “The New Math on Campus.” I was expecting something about mathematics becoming sexy again in college culture, or maybe a feature on mathematician,  former chid actress, and great role model Danica McKellar‘s work to encourage women in math and science. Instead I found this, a story about how the 60-40 female to male ratio on college campuses is creating a situation where

“Women do not want to get left out in the cold, so they are competing for men on men’s terms,” she [Kathleen A. Bogle, a sociologist at La Salle University in Philadelphia] wrote. “This results in more casual hook-up encounters that do not end up leading to more serious romantic relationships. Since college women say they generally want ‘something more’ than just a casual hook-up, women end up losing out.”

W. Keith Campbell, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia, which is 57 percent female, put it this way: “When men have the social power, they create a man’s ideal of relationships,” he said. Translation: more partners, more sex. Commitment? A good first step would be his returning a woman’s Facebook message.

[…]

But it’s not as if the imbalance leads to ceaseless bed-hopping, said Austin Ivey, who graduated from North Carolina last year but was hanging out in a bar near campus last week. “Guys tend to overshoot themselves and find a really beautiful girlfriend they couldn’t date otherwise, but can, thanks to the ratio,” he said.

Mr. Ivey himself said that his own college relationship lasted three years. “She didn’t think she would meet another guy, I didn’t think I would meet another girl as attractive as her,” he said.

What follows is a portrait of college life that basically offends everyone. Men are either cads who revel in “not having to work that hard” for a date or pining for dates with the school’s “enchanting, beautiful women” (whatever happened to smart, funny, kind, or talented?) that they still can only barely get (and stay with out of habit) with the math skewed in their favor. Women are either sluts who “grab men by the wrist, spin them around […] and start grinding” or shy and lonely shut-ins that are  “left alone on Valentine’s Day, staring down a George Clooney movie over a half-empty pizza box.” They also seem to only be straight. Continue reading