Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Stereotypes and the Movies By JoAnn Melton

Stereotypes some of us grew up with:
This morning, mindlessly flipping channels on Charter's basic, very basic network, I paused on an old Western featuring music that I'd heard many times in a movie I've never seen. "The River's Edge" with Anthony Quinn, playing a struggling rancher. Opening scene has a bull trying to leap a fence. Being a Midwestern tomboy, and while living in a village of 751 people, agriculture dominated my landscape and shaped my life from my girlhood to this day. Living around farms the first many years of life, I can say I've never seen a bull leap as high or with such speed as the one in the opener. Before seeing the branding iron on the pitiful fire, a saucy female slams outside the screen door, wearing a shirt, tied tightly at the waist, over shorts every female I ever saw wore on the farm, but the camera pans to her long leggy gams, and the feet, shuffling down the obligatory step into the dirt off the creaky wooden porch, displaying feathery mules. The mid-heel shoe with fluffy feathers adoring the wide top cut off just before the highly polished toes.

By now, when I thought I was heading to breakfast - I am hooked. The list of stereotypes had begun and I would forgo some unhealthy plate at a nearby eatery to stay here and watch this Western drama unfold.  [mental note:  PLEASE get a replacement recording device so you can get away with less planning - surely someone has a VCR gathering dust as they have moved on to TIVO]

Storyline:  Rancher's woman is bored, as she puffs on a cigarette. She slinks across the dusty patch to where he is not branding a calf, which the film spares us and does not show, nor does the calf squeal.

Rancher blows off her mood, telling her to go back inside. Once there, the screen shows glimpses of her undressing in an alluring scene. A screen shot shows how suddenly a scorpion can crawl into one's slipper, hinting that danger lies all around if one if not aware. Within a few moments, she heads for the shower and her screams draw her husband to the scene of muddy water spurting all over her vs. pure clean water.  He laughs. Fortunately for her, she had on her white swim cap to protect her hair from all of that muddy water.

Within a few moments she dries her muddy self off on a towel and emerges in a dress, with new heels - again - slipping them on alluringly.

Suitcase packed the ensuing argument we learn that (1) She feel his rescuing her from the prison where her former lover had abandoned her is the reason he thinks he owns her and (2) He reminds her of the man who abandoned her there and never came back.

As they spar over whether she can or should leave, a knock at the door [gasp - who could it be in the god-forsake dust-bowl location?]

The mystery visitor is wearing a silk sport coat and scarf knotted at his neck.

a) He has come to hire the husband to scout for him and get him into Mexico
b) Yes there are other scouts, but he wants only this man
c) Oh, btw, Ma'am, hello . . .

From there, the husband refuses,
the man is leaving
the husband says, "My wife needs a ride into town, perhaps you could take her."

When visitor and wife leave, husband immediately runs to a dressing table covered with nail polishes and feminine items, retrieving a box which contains a few souvenirs, including an 8x10 glossy of the face that was just at the door.

Once in town, she approaches the desk to register for a night at the hotel, where of course, the clerk knows her husband's name and asks if he will be joining her.

Mystery guest stands in line behind her, asking the clerk if he will please send a bottle of bubble bath to her room, please, because every hotel in the dust bowl of Texas has bubble bath, sandalwood to be exact, on hand for their guests.

Guest is cleaned and dressed awaiting the woman, near a dance floor.  He has changed into a looser fitting back sport coat, with several pleats stitched down above the waistline, and pleated linen clacks, with a scarf knotted in a knot I've never noticed before in any movie. [Shades of what designer?  Edith Head perhaps??]

Scorned wife appears in a chiffon dress, with an up-do that would rival any hair salon. [Side note, my mother being a hairdresser for 50 years, and definitely in that era, would have needed 3 hours to make something like that happen, plus 100 bobby pins.]

Woman saunters up next to him, and within 35 seconds they are swaying to the music, dancing perhaps a minute before he says, "May we sit down and have a drink?"

I can go on and on but you likely know the routine.

1) In the car ride  to town, in his peach color convertible T-bird, her hair did not blow, and very little dust stirred.
2) They have exchanged barbs only a few moments when his excuses began about why he never came for her.  It involved displaying the scars of his accident which knocked him unconscious for 5 months, and the extensive efforts required for his hand again to be able to write, and of course the 'when I wrote you, the letters came back.'
3) Husband blasts into town in his rattletrap pickup, swings directly into the surveyor's office to sell his ranch and begin a new life.

Supportive roles:
a) rattlesnake
b) cow (shot dead as woman fears what is walking through the cornstalks
c) suitcase which soon displays fistfulls of money, loosely displayed [no bags,
twine or anything to hold it in place]
d) guest chases woman scene in which the beautiful Thunderbird car strikes a boulder
e) car abandoned
f) pistols, depending on who is in control as the winds blow
g) scene in which woman is wounded, and gan-ga-rene (as Quinn pronounces is) turns into the obligatory heat the knife and open the wound, then pour in one bullet's worth of gun powder
h) Bad guy abandons couple when a boulder amazingly slides from it's place to pounce on the Quinn's ankle holding him captive
i) Quinn gives stranger directions to town with a choice:  one way to escape for himself only, or take a turn to the 'right' to leave word for the locals to come save him and the woman
j) Mexican family in truck, kids riding in the back - strike Quinn on narrow road causing Quinn to fly off the mountain, as his suitcase flies open with money sprinkling the winds into trees and all the way down to the stream. [Parents fear police will soon be coming and do not even try to scramble down the mountain to pick up money in the stream, load kids back in the farm truck and continue on their way.]

Meanwhile, back up the mountain, woman digs furiously to free rancher's leg.
While lying there, trapped, a blackbird flies onto the branch of a tree, carrying a wad of paper money, before opening his beak to release the bills.
When freed, the rancher doesn't even limp.
He sweeps up a fist full of bills.
Wife declares, “You're no longer looking for the man, you're looking for the money.”
Of course he drops the bills so he does not appear to be a money grabber.

As husband and wife walk the stream bed, they stumble onto more money, but don't pick any of it up.
Next he spots Quinn, and warns wife not to look as he is pretty messed up.

From the death scene they calculate he was right of where he needed to be to simply escape, and had in fact
gone to “the right” and was going to try to save them.

What messages we were given in this film and the morays of the time?

Women are restless sluts who wear feathery mules with their skin tight short shorts at all possible occasions
Men are unfeeling roughnecks who struggle to do whatever it takes to take care of their woman (refer to previous message)
Many women have been done wrong by their man, but still yearn for him
A rich man will be forgiven nearly anything
Ranchers struggle
Animals must be corralled and identified, unless they can  win the high jump at the local county fair
Rattlesnakes always want to be in movies; Once shot, they leap incredibly heights before landing back on rocks and never rattle nor wriggle again
Money is evil
Money is :
Mexicans are :
Hotel clerks are:
Hotel services include:
A dance floor is present in every hotel, during daylight, with pairs of dancers who dance well, in synch, as the band plays on

What stereotypes did you see in this tale?
What stereotypes did you grow up thinking?
What are the 'types' of today's films?

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