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April 07, 1974 - Image 4

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Michigan Daily, 1974-04-07

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I S SC tY~f\.Y **[VJ1 S 't A L-1

.JulAIuJy, 1 pfJi IlI I1- 4 -


___________ -BOOKS
Women in film: The problem of
creating believable characters

Six-month journey by
a modern-day Dante
VEGAS: A MEMOIR OF A ters more to his purpose than in
ARK SEASON, by John Greg- Las Vegas.

ory Dunne. Random House: Ne~w
York. 288 pages. $6.95.
FOR DANTE, the sign read
"Abandon All Hope Ye Who
Enter Here." For John Gregory
Dunne the sign is a billboard
featuring a roulette wheel and
the inscription "Visit Las Vegas
Before Your Number's Up."
Dunne's Vegas: A Memoir of a
Dark Season chronicles a six-
month sojourn in Hell. Dante
made the trip "midway in life's
journey" after straying far from
the True Way. Dunne, a disaf-
fected Catholic on the verge of a
nervous collapse, makes the trip
at age 37, already more than, as
he puts it, "halfway home."
Dante's guide is Virgil, the
symbol of human reason, who
leads the poet through all the
pithalls of Hell. Dunne is mostly
left to his own resources: in-
surance doctor Virgil Kerides
only tells him that he has "soft
shoulders." The crypticism here
leaves Dunne unprepared for
what he will experience.
Troubled by his failing mar-
riage, obsessed with the thought
of death (" in the evenings
I would go to the Frank E.
Campbell funeral home . .- . to
see if I knew anyone who had
died."), Dunne goes to Las Ve-
gas seeking "absolution through
voyeurism." An ex-Time corres-
pondent, he is confident report-
ing will be restorative. "Report-
ing anaesthetizes one's own prob-
lems. There is always someone
in deeper emotional drift, or
even grift than you, someone
to whom you can ladle out un-
derstanding as if it were a chari-
table contribution." And no
where, he is equally sure, will he
find seedier, seamier charac-

BUT DUNNE is not Dante and
he cannot keep a sense of
moral superiority over his char-
acters. He basically focuses on
three: Artha King, the ex-ac-
counting major turned prostitute,
who keeps a meticulous ledger of
all her tricks; Buster Mano, a ex-
policeman turned constipated
private detective, whose wife's
faith is so deep that she is on a
first name basis with the saints;
and Jackie Kasey, ex-unknown
comic turned Las Vegas "semi-
name." Dunne does not rise
above these characters,but pro-
ceeds to sink beneath their level.
For Buster, Dunne becomes a
tag-along Peeping Tom, follow-
ing silently as the detective hunts
up people and information for
the casinos. For Jackie, he is
little more than the comic's side-
kick, the audience to his off-
stage moods and anxieties. For
Artha, he is the pimp, escorting
her through the casinos on her
nightly rounds to avoid trouble
from the police. These charac-
ters - with the possible excep-
tion of Jackie - are stronger
and more resilient than Dunne,
and they need him less than he
does them. Artha invites him to
her house with her mother not
out of friendship but out of con-
venience -- he can answer the
phone when tricks call up.
Yet, Dunne claims at book's
end to have found in Las Vegas
a kind of peace, a tolerance of
life. How he does this is a mys-
tery. Certainly not by "ladling
out understanding" to these
tough, uncompromising charac-
ters. His wife tells him that he

vandalizes others' lives without
coming to grips with his own. If
this is so, Las Vegas does afford
him ample opportunity to drift
between roles, but how this leads
to personal salvation remains un-
answered. Dante went through a
great learning process before he
was cleansed of his sins; from
what we see, Dunne experiences
but learns little.
Comedian Jackie Kasey's com-
plaint is that he is a semi-name.
Vegas' problem is that it is a,
semi-novel. The author of Delano
(the story of the California grape
strike) and the novel The Studio
has added fictionalized elements
to an autobiographical core --
his actual stay in Las Vegas and
the description of his personal
past. Artha, Buster, and Jackie
are all creations, but there is an
unmistakable sense that they are
patterned after real people and
are not just composites. Dunne
tries to balance the details of
his own life (growing up in Con-
necticut, education at Princeton,
and amateur voyeurism in New
York - delivered in a vein some-
where between F. Scott Fitzger-
ald and Philip Roth) with those
of his characters, but the pieces
stay distinct. One half of the
books seems to ache to be a
novel, the other to be a true
HERE ARE very good, very
funny moments in Vegas.
What is called for is a greater
reason for stringing them all to-

RAPE by Molly Haskell. New
York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
388 pages, $10.00.
Rosen. New York: Coward, Mc-
Cann & Geohegan. 380 pages,
AS I WAS reading these books
and thinking about how wo-
men have been presented in the
movies, my mind kept flipping
back to ones I've recently seen,
trying to find sensitively drawn
w o m e n characters. Consider
these: The Sting continues the
Redford-Newman love affair be-
gun in Butch Cassidy and ,the
Sundance Kid, but the only wo-
men who figure even peripheral-
ly in the plot are a manager of
a whore house and a woman
bent on rubbing out Redford (she
also sleeps with him); Serpico
develops a portrait of a moral
and dedicated cop, but his two
girl friends are unimpressive,
one a blonde vixen who aban-
dons him for a wealthy Texan
from Amarillo, the other a nurse
who loves him but tries to make
his compromise his principles;
Sleeper, Woody Allen's comic
dystopia, has Diane Keaton as a
poetess influenced by McKuen
and unable to find sexual satis-
faction except with the help of an
orgasmatron, a machine which
provides euphoria in seconds;
The Last Detail, Papillon, and on
and on. It seems that the prime
women's roles this year have
gone to a nine-year-old in Paper
Moon and a fourteen-year-old in
The Exorcist.
Why this lack of well-developed
women's roles in the movies?
Influenced by the women's move-
ment, Marge Rosen and Molly
Haskell have sought to deal with
this question. Haskell's From
Reverence to Rape and Rosen's
Popcorn Venus both explore a
problem particularly important
to the women's movement: how
women have fared in movies
since the days of D.W. Griffith.
Though we've had a multitude of
histories of the movies, these are
- to my knowledge - the first
comprehensive studies of women
in American film.
A film 'critic for the Village
Voice, Molly Haskell mingles
two themes throughout her book.
Her primary contention is that
the image of women and her
importance in the movie indus-
try has steadily declined since
the thirties. In the early silent
days, women were either Vic-

torian maiaens (Vickford, the
usns) lr vawes tineula tara),
Lut as Ule i tWCleS WUI'e oi, ne
tiappers vir ILzgerai were n1r-
roreu in tne romantic comieuies
of marion avies and Uara bow.
'ne thirties, peak time for wo-
men stars in the studio system,
were divided by the Production
Code of 1934. Before that, sen-
suous mysterious women like
Garbo and Dietrich, and the
brash manipulator Mae West,
were in vogue. The effect of the
Production Code was double-
edged: though it repressed any
free expression of sensuality,
linking sex and guilt, it did lead
to the development of roles for
witty, intelligent and active wo-
men-Jean Arthur, Kathryn Hep-
burn and Rosalind Russell. But
by the end of WW II, as men
returned home and the studio
system began its steady decline,
women were cast either as neu-
rotics (because they were single)
or as sexual objects for men to
gape at. The pinup of the forties
became the blond bombshell in
the fifties, and as the Code was
relaxed in the sixties, women
became sexual partners for the
sensitive youthful heroes, or in
the male comradeship movies
Midnight Cowboy, The Dirty
Dozen, Easy Rider, were absent
entirely or cast in peripheral
Haskell's second theme is that
"Women, by the logistics of film
production and the laws of West-
ern society, generally emerge as
projections of male values;"
and more specifically, as projec-
tions of a director's values, ob-
sessions and fantasies. Thus, wo-
men b e c o m e incarnations of
some ideal female principle in
the work of such Victorians as
D.W. Griffith or Chaplin. Or, in
the .case of Catholic directors
like Ford and Fellini, she is wor-
shipped as Mother. Yet again,
directors like Keaton and Hawks
both fear and celebrate women
as separate from men but equal
to them.
Throughout her book, Haskell
opts for a psychological analysis
of directors and of actresses'
roles, and emphasizes the psy-
chological dimension of films,
but the very nature of her topic,
demands that, if one is seeking
to understand not just how but
why women were portrayed in
certain ways through the history
of the movies, a greater con-
centration on the historical place
of w o m e n in the twentieth

And this is where Marge Ro-
sen's Popcorn Venus surpasses
Haskell's attempt to understand
women in film. Rosen is a free-
lance film critic who was in Ann
Arbor last February when the
Program ineWomen's Studies
held its convention, "Women in
the Reel World." Though less
acute than Haskell in evaluating
single films, Rosen grasps much
better the dialectic between art
(popular culture?) and life.
Working with a dual understand-
ing - that life is reflected in
movies and that movies help to
pattern the way we live-Rosen
documents how women learned
to copy the type of beauty pre-
sented by a Jean Harlow, how
the cosmetic industry bloomed
through the help of trend-setting
stars. And, working in the other
direction, she shows how the
movies in World War II, respond-
ing to the millions of women
working at home apart from
their sons, lovers, and husbands,
tried to deal with the problems
this situation presented women.
As for the degree and type of
feminism, dedicated feminists
will find Rosen more acceptable
than Haskell. Haskell considers
herself a "film critic first and
a feminist second," and is honest
enough to admit that she ad-
mires some movies, like Duel in
the Sun, where women are sub-
servient man chasers. Though
this is a nearly essential position
for a film critic (if she liked
only films that were well made
and that treated women respect-
fully, her list would be painfully
short), it may be seen as com-
promised to those - more impa-
tient with the anti-feminist roles
perpetuated in pictures.
In contrast, Rosen seems to

have thought more deeply about
how feminists can encourage
(and apply pressure upon) the
film industry to make movies
about women as well as men.
In an epilogue she writes about
such successful women directors
as Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lu-
pino, and in an observation in-
tended to answer the objections
of the f i 1 m industry before
they're made, she points out that
Arzner and Lupino were both ef-
ficient and competent directors,
consistently finishing their films
below budget and on schedule.
Though Rosen finds some recent
movies that have interesting wo-
men's parts-Diary of a Mad
Housewife, Rachel, Rachel, The
Last Picture S h o w, Sunday,
Bloody Sunday-she is less than
optimistic that directors now
working will become conscious of
feminist demands on the movies,
noting that Peter Bogdanovich,
when asked if he had fashioned
The Last Picture Show with an
awareness of feminist issues,
replied, "The w h o 1 e- subject
bores me."
It seems to me that the cur-
rent nadir of women's roles in
films =results from at least two
factors. First, American male
artists, as Leslie Fiedler has
argued, haveehistorically been
unable to create convincing wo-
men characters, seeing only the

virgin-whore contrast or ignor
ing women altogether. This in-
ability has been as apparent in
American films as in the writ-
ings of Cooper, Melville, Twain,
and Hemingway. In addition,
many men, as their traditional
sexual roles are challenged, have
felt threatened by the women's
movement anda have reacted
negatively either by laughing at
the movement, becoming active-
ly hostile, or simply ignoring it.
One can only hope that through
the continuing activity of the
women's movement - and espe-
cially of feminist writers like
Rosen and Haskell who uncover
and emphasize information pre-
viously neglected-our collective
consciousness of personal and
social relationships will be so
raised that our movies will be-
come more sensitive and more
importantly, our culture more
humane and endurable to live
in. Considering our current na-
tional mood-one in which nihil-
ism, nostalgia, or confusion are
more prevalent than commit-
ment, despair more apparent
than hope, hatred more charac-
teristic than love - it's a long
Chuck Maland is a graduate
student in American Studies who
is writing his thesis on a group
of American film directors.

An infense account of society's
underbelly and the caseworker


Charles Storch
finest journalism

is one of' the
grad students

A new novel by Richard Adams
for people from eight to eighty

we've run across.




Summer Vacancy
1001 S. FOREST
Large 2 bedroom
furnished apts.
Air Conditioning
See Manager in
apt. 211
or call 769-6374
or 761-2559

George Konrad. Translated by
Paul Aston. Harcourt, Brace,
Jovanovich. $7.95.
IT IS ALL here-the depravity;
the hopelessness; the despera-
tion and stench of poverty; in
short the unwashed underbelly of
modern society. It can be found
in Detroit or Chicago or Gary,
Indiana or Budapest, Hungary.
George Konrad in this his very
fine first novel has established
himself as one of the writers to
be reckoned with in the seventies.
Konrad writes from experience,
having worked for ten years as
editor, librarian and as superin-
tendent in a child-welfare organi-
zation in Budapest.
Konrad writes with the skill of
a Gunter Grass and the pungency
of a Ferdinand Celine. There is
a certain intensity to this novel
that at once is very attractive
yet so bombards the senses that
one feels a continual need to put
the book down. Konrad begins by
immersing the reader in the
routine and psyche of the welfare


Undergraduate Political Science
L. Association Election Meeting
Thurs., April 10th-1:30 p.m.
6602 Haven Hall

"I myself, I believe, am a
'burden bearer without illusions,
specifically of the complaining
type, and I would gladly pass
on my load to anyone willing
to take it. Why should I of all
people be saddled with these
outcasts? True, I fell into this
trap of my own free will, but at
least I feel entitled to gripe
about it. I am an underpaid,
disabused, middle-level official
like hundreds of others; even
when I have change in my
pocket, I tend to cross the
street when I see a beggar; I
hate visiting sick people in the
hospital; I grumble when I
have to stand up for an old
lady, on the bus; rather than
listening to the sniveling of the
widower next door, .I avoid say-
ing good morning to him. Why,
then, have I chosen a job that
obliges me, day after day, to
put up with the stench of other
people's suffering?"
UT BENEATH all these levels
of sadness and cynicism, the
central character does become
involved in one of his cases. A
double suicide has left a child an
orphan. This is not any child.
Feri Bandula is a five year old
mongoloid idiot whose parents
have raised him as a savage. The
little monster spends his days
wallowing in his excrement, eat-
ing raw meat and fruit, and let-
ting out the most frightening,
piercing shrieks. The caseworker
desperately tries to find a foster
home for Feri, but with no suc-
cess. Finally he abandons his job
and family and moves in with the
child. Absolutely nothing is ac-
complished. Feri cannot be civil-
ized and the caseworker ends up

in the same state of decay as
Feri's parents. Finally t h e
Agency assumes responsibility
for Feri and gives the caseworker
the choice of returning to his old
job or being sent to an insane
asylum. And so the caseworker
returns to where he began-but
not quite.
"I could never be a states-
man, priest, or believer, the
historical and divine pretenses
at brotherhood simply baffle
me. Nevertheless, in my pres-
ent no man's land between little
Bandula, who is now off my
hands, and my family, to whom
I have not yet returned, I
search for my fellow mai, al-
ways certain that the chosen
one, my brother, is the one who
happens to be coming toward
me. Now and then my brother
stops me and asks me for a
light. In some of my modest
metaworlds I live and die
barely as long as it takes me
to strike a match and look him
in the face; in others it takes
There is something very inter-
esting about this novel. As short
a work as it is, it took me a week
and a half to complete. Possibly
this was so for the same reasons
I could never finish Celine's
Death on the Installment Plan.
Both works rigorously concern
themselves with the most dis-
gusting, repulsive realms of
human experience. Great art can
find sustenance in all areas of
the world, but this does not
necessarily mean all art is to be
enjoyed-simply appreciated.
Bob Bernard is a former De-
troit caseworker.

1205 S. University
761 -7177





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