The Good, the Bad, and the Lovely

I’ve been watching Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti western” films lately. They’re fantastic. Gritty, tough as nails, oddly touching, full of drive and purpose and that wonderful “waow waow waooooow” noise. They make me happy. They make me want to be Clint Eastwood. And then they make me sad.

Because where are the powerful ladies? Where is the “Fistful of Dollars” with an all-female cast? When’s the last time there was a movie with a strong female lead that had no kind of romantic arc whatsoever, because it wasn’t necessary to the story?

If I’d had movies like this growing up, movies that modeled women whose ultimate quest wasn’t for love, and even more whose journeys didn’t need to include romance in any way, maybe I could have used my imagination for more than figuring out what it would be like if I were the love interest in “Indiana Jones.” Maybe I would have created palaces and floating cities and temples washed up from the bottom of the sea instead of thinking about just how to banter with a guy to get him to kiss me. Maybe I would be able to visualize monsters without worrying if this time it would suit the romance more for me to rescue him or vice versa.

In “The Mists of Avalon,” Marion Zimmer Bradley introduces a version of the Druidic religion that holds that people reincarnate and that each lifetime we have one major lesson to learn, that gets repeated over and over until we conquer it. If that were to be the case, I know what my lesson would be, and I see thousands of other bright, motivated young women who need to learn it too. It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that you don’t need to be in a relationship to have a fulfilling, happy life. It’s much harder to internalize it and live happily without worrying about being “forever alone.”

It’s cliched at this point to rag on the media, to point fingers and blame everything on too-skinny models and the stories sold on celluloid. This problem is apparent everywhere, is engrained in people’s cultural understanding of the world. Used to be that women weren’t allowed to do much more than clean and birth babies, and it mattered that you were married off, because if not you’d have to figure out pretty quickly how you were going to make it through life, and like as not you’d end up on your back. I know this. I know there’s a long, long history of reasons why people are primed to think of women as vehicles for romance–because that leads to babies, which are something you just can’t make without women. (Most of the time you can’t do it without men, too, but I digress.) But what I particularly don’t like is that now that women (in prosperous countries especially) are about as likely as men to have jobs and to pursue their own way of life, there still aren’t very many stories out there that acknowledge that a full life doesn’t need to involve romance.

I’m not ragging on romance in itself. It’s great. Plenty of men and women love it. We all need love of one kind or another, and most of us want a relationship at some point in our lives. I just can’t remember a single movie, TV show, or book at the moment that doesn’t throw in a romantic plotline for the benefit of its heroine when the male lead can have a perfectly complete story without one. I want to see the Woman With No Name.

And the sad thing is, with the way that movie studios work these days, with age 18-35 males being the key demographic to sell to and working from the assumption that they don’t want to see women doing much other than looking hot (a Hollywood assumption, not my own), I really don’t think it’s going to happen.

Not until we start the Ovary Revolution*.


*Which, come to think of it, termed that way frightens me.



Filed under Rants

4 responses to “The Good, the Bad, and the Lovely

  1. I know it’s not quite the same as female-led Sergio Leone-style spaghetti westerns (the closest you’ll find to that is Sam Raimi’s “The Quick and the Dead” with Sharon Stone), but you need to check out the “Clockwork Century” series by Cherie Priest. You want strong female protagonists with none of the usual romantic subplots? They have ’em. Start with “Boneshaker” and go from there.

  2. Rita

    I don’t know much about movies, but my movie obsessed roommate once was telling me about how Quentin Tarantino loves bad ass, take charge women. She had me and my other roommates watch “Death Proof” due to her love of stunt woman, Zoe Bell (who plays herself and does all her own stunts in the movie). But, obviously, Quentin Tarantino isn’t exactly fun for the whole family…

    Also, when you think about it, most movies have a romantic subplot, whether they’re geared towards men or women. Romance, sex, and love are such a vital part of our existence that it doesn’t bother me that they’re in every movie ever. We want those things as humans. We want love because we’re social creatures, we want sex because we’re mammals, and we want romance because- well, I guess that IS kind of cultural but…but, I mean, most female mammals require their partners to work for them to prove their worth (in creating optimum offspring). And I know plenty of men who like to be romanced as well.

    So romance’s involvement in movies alone doesn’t bother me because we really do spend a good chunk of our lives trying to get it (both men and women). What bothers me is how the love comes about in male and female movies. In action movies, the man is always a total bad ass and gets the girl because he saves the day. In chick flicks, the woman often begins the movie as a strong, independent woman who just doesn’t have time for love!! But then some stalker comes and breaks her down and gets her to believe again (and often, at the end of the movie, she quits her job or moves her life or does something huge to be able to be with him). It’s as if women have to choose between love or independence, while men seek out independence to find love.

    • Yeah, I agree that romance is something that a lot of people of both sexes want and that’s portrayed in many movies…I guess it’s just that there CAN be movies with men that don’t involve it that riles me up when I don’t see that possibility out there for women. I’ll have to check out Death Proof. Kill Bill is a good example, although there’s the past romance between The Bride and Bill. I can overlook that and grant Kill Bill a pass.

  3. This is EXACTLY why I plan on making movies. Not completely on the subject of romantic plot lines per se, but you might find this article in the Times magazine of interest (…I read it a couple months ago and felt that I couldn’t agree more — which is how I feel about this rant of yours as well.

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