Searching for the Men among the Boys
This article is my entry for the “For the Boys” blogathon hosted by The Scarlett Olive classic film podcast (http://www.thescarlettolive.com/) I’m very thrilled to have taken part in it!
It must be heaven for a 21 year old heterosexual male like me to watch movies in Hollywood today. It seems every other cinematic offering is tailor-made just for me! I have my pick of the bunch, from semi-trailers that transform into break dancing robots to fat stoner vampires who make penis jokes via armpit farts.
Well okay, to be fair I’m sure they aren’t all like that. But suffice to say that it’s clear Hollywood has a clear genre of blockbuster movie they feel is suitable for someone like me. Oh, I’m sure it’s fine for your average joe to turn on the lights in the mental attic just for a 10 second shot of seeing Megan Fox’s cleavage and shutting off his brain for the remaining 90 minute series of explosions, but damn it, I want more!
Although thinking about the archetypal movies that today’s Hollywood rolls out mindlessly like toilet paper really does make one wonder about what they think of their male audience. In the two main categories I’ve discerned (action and comedy - and trust me, that covers a LOT of ground on both fronts), male intelligence is thrown out the window and replaced with a near Neanderthal level of basic instinct.
The brain has shrunk, so filmmakers need to keep our attention. Cue filmmakers like Michael Bay who are content to shoot a sequence of a car reversing out of a driveway from every conceivable slanted angle with a cut every 0.8 seconds if it means preventing the male audience members from being distracted looking down their girlfriend’s blouses in the movie theater.
For people like me who wish to be treated as an adult/human being, there are films that cater to me, but I’ve had to look back. Back several decades, in fact - to a time when movies were for men and not for boys. And now well-worn film genres that were established a century ago have helped fulfill this wish.
For instance, crime movies from the 1930s and beyond have held some wonderful gems, particularly ones spawned from the film noir world of dames, double crossings and private dicks. Seeing a staple film noir for the first time, Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) exposed me to the tough guy antics of Edward G. Robinson. And he appealed to me, if not for his almost bulldog-like stature, then definitely for that trademark cigar-smoking sneer.
Edward G. Robinson: tough guy to the end, in Little Caesar (1931). GIF courtesy of The Asphalt Jungle.
And above all, he had CLASS. That’s what appealed to me the most. And in all honesty, wordlessly lighting the cigarette of a man who’s laying near dead on the ground after having been shot stands as a true example of being a badass. Heck, there’s a reason why Clint Eastwood, the king of badass, did the same in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)! In the same film he also set off a cannon using a lit cigar which then shot a guy clean off a horse, which is also badass if not borderline outrageously silly, but I digress.
Still on film noir, as a person well aware of the emotional impact words can hold, the dialogue in so many of the films in this genre crackle with nonchalant wit and hard-boiled bitterness that it begs the question why more girls in my own life haven’t melted to the charms of a line like “I collect blondes and bottles too.” (The Big Sleep ).
In all honesty though, film noir more often than not holds all of the elements that any adult male needs in any film, period: Humphrey Bogart at his peak is the prime example for any guy desiring to engage in a verbal sparring match with that H.B.I.C. that all of the other men (and women) are afraid to approach for fear of getting scratched. And yet the strong and sensual femme fatale in these films also adds the next level of appeal; perhaps in the non-politically correct sense of their participating in an epic battle of the sexes based purely on one-liners and their level of coolness in lighting a cigarette, but also their sex appeal on screen.
Rita Hayworth playing the title character in Gilda (1946) epitomises this near-effortless level of seduction with the simple gestures of flipping her hair back and slowly taking off her evening gloves in a raunchy musical number, immediately surpassing an army of Jessica Albas and Megan Foxes sitting in the corner wearing a bikini and gathering dust with bland cardboard expressions on their faces.
But I digress!
So okay, the cool private detectives demonstrate the true man’s life in these films. But again from a personal perspective, it makes one wonder whether my personal favourite films or actors can co-exist with traditional masculine film characters like Philip Marlowe or The Man With No Name (of whom I strive to imitate daily. My Eastwood squint is near perfect).
One of my favourite actors and filmmakers of all time is Charlie Chaplin. And it’s fair to say that he hardly fits this traditional masculine stereotype in many of his films. He was able to inject his comedy with enough heart to the point where it moved an audience but was not sappy or over-sentimental in the least. The best example is his 1931 film City Lights, which contains my personal favourite romance in any of his films, and perhaps any film at all for that matter. The sheer overwhelming sweetness and gallantry the tramp shows to the blind flower girl throughout the film is definitive proof that the role of the chivalrous knight is still a most appealing role for a man to take. Case in point: I challenge anyone, anyone, even the most gorilla or robot types among the male populace to not at least feel the urge to shed a tear during the final scene of that film.
Chaplin’s charms don’t discriminate! Male or female, all are won over by his hat twirling (here to a physically imposing boxer before a fight in City Lights ).
Another favourite actor is Jimmy Stewart, and in my second favourite film of his, It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), Stewart plays a character that epitomises masculinity as well, but in an entirely different way, and unfortunately in a way that most males nowadays still staring agog at James Cameron’s explosions (now in 3D!) don’t seem to aspire to.
In any case, Stewart as George Bailey is perhaps one of the most admirable male leads in any film in history. As a young man he’s charming, mischievous, ambitious and a romantic at heart as he woos his love interest, soon to be wife. As he grows older he shows overwhelming love and concern for both his children and his wife, though not expressing it flawlessly sometimes, and yet you still can’t help feeling compassionate for him.
But perhaps the most resonating aspect that George Bailey encapsulates is the idea that one must learn that they are always part of a wider system. Especially in a modern world where a top news story on TV involves where Kim Kardashian had a coffee when she was in Australia for a few days (I swear on a million Hitchcock cameos that that’s true).
The “me” culture in modern society presents celebrities as the pinnacle of modern masculinity - one built on fame and pointless tweeting. And yet most of us know in our hearts that this kind of life can never be fulfilling. George Bailey’s life shows empathy for his friends and family in a way that promises to be nothing but fulfilling! And telling a girl that you would lasso the moon for her may be a cheesy notion (pun unintended), but if I were a girl, I can assure you that my heart would be melting faster than you can say “buffalo gals”.
Though a shame that the traditional views of what it means to be a man seem to have disappeared completely under a pile of discarded Transformer parts, it’s still safe to say that the film noirs and westerns and movies about guardian angels which have stood the test of time can still offer people like me a beacon of hope. Shia LaBeouf may be mumbling and stumbling over every one of his film parts nowadays, but so long as I can still watch Clint Eastwood gun down four outlaws in a fewer amount of seconds and afterwards quip a line that seriously contends with what previously transpired in terms of which was more freaking awesome, then I’m still damn happy to be a man.