Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fuck The Empire & Other Thoughts About Hollywood

After having a regretful ten minute Netflix experience, I tweeted some thoughts off the cuff and after the fifth one decided to turn those thoughts into a post.

I became really interested in movies when I was thirteen, largely due to the influence of my dad, who was becoming a real movie buff around that time. As the next several years passed, he started working through a lot of old, well-regarded classics, and I grew gradually more willing to see things outside my comfort zone (which was SO NARROW at thirteen, oh my gosh) until we were watching a lot of movies all the time. I discovered new things, like how to identify a 1960s movie by the quality of the film and that Audrey Hepburn is in many ways the best. Eventually we decided to watch the very highly-regarded Hepburn machine Breakfast At Tiffany's, about which we knew very little. I distinctly recall starting it one night and then crapping out very early in the game, though I could not for the life of me remember why. I have come to assume that we became bored and just quit, which was always sort of strange to me, since we surely hadn't given it enough of a chance? That isn't like us.

So now, years later, someone recommends that I give Tiffany's another shot, and I see it's on Netlflix instant, so I started it up again full of open mind. Minutes later, I quit again, probably at the same spot, and I'll TELL YOU WHY. What I had forgotten is that an aged Mickey Rooney appears very early in the movie as "Mr. Yunioshi," Audrey's cranky upstairs neighbor, one of the most disgustingly stereotyped caricatures of a Japanese person I have ever been confronted with. Because you know, Old Hollywood was always casting white people as comedic Asian characters. And here's a thing: I've put up with that before, PLENTY of times. Peter Sellers in Murder By Death, various Monty Python sketches, the appearances in countless old movies that are small and upsetting but easy to brush aside. Sometimes it's played for laughs, and sometimes, ashamedly enough, it makes me laugh, often while peeking through my fingers like oh god, what am I watching.

There's nothing really more offensive about Mickey Rooney's performance than Peter Sellers or Graham Chapman, but somehow this time it was just NOPE. Fuck you, movie. I had a moment where I thought about just pushing it aside, that old justification, "oh it's just Old Hollywood, that's what they did, movies can still be great in spite of the social atrocities of the classic era" - but no! FUCK that noise. I don't want to sit through racist stereotypes that have no purpose other than cheap laughs, and I don't HAVE to! This may not seem very radical, but it depends on your perspective. My approach to movies has always been bound up with a lot of obligation: I appreciate good cinema and I want to make movies, so this is part of my history and art education, and I have to see as many old greats as I can fit into my life. I think a lot of people feel this way. Forgive Hollywood's transgressions because this movie is still a game-changer, a paradigm shifter. But you know what, no matter how much of a movie buff you are, how important movies are to you - there's still places where you can draw a line, and you MUST draw a line. We forgive Hollywood's bullshit all the time. Exercise your right not to forgive.

I remember being basically forced to sit through Birth of a Nation in a college film history class, and that movie had me shaking and crying by the end with how disgusting and horrible it was. Fuck the system that lets us forgive that fucker because it was the First Feature Film, because it did things with the camera that no other movie had done at that time. Fuck D.W. Griffiths. Someone else would have come up with that shit without him, and they probably wouldn't have had to glorify the KKK while doing it.

We can't pretend the various awful chapters in our history didn't happen, and that there isn't still a huge amount of hurt from it, from the insane culturally ingrained racism that led us to things like Birth of a Nation and Mickey Rooney's role in Breakfast At Tiffany's. Those things still stick in us like needles. But let's be crazy for a second: let's say we don't forgive that shit. Let's say we stop with the "it was a different time" bullshit, and if something makes you uncomfortable or angry, don't fucking watch it. I am definitely not the first person to come to this conclusion, but it's probably a point that can never be made too many times.

Breakfast At Tiffany's had its chance, twice. Moving on to something that managed to be old without being gleefully hateful.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree; we need to take a stand. I just refuse to watch when it's so blatant and turns my stomach.