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October 30th, 2003


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05:17 am - Dark and colourful
Whitby is a sleepy seaside town of about 30,000 people in the north-east of England. Its main claim to fame was that it was one of the settings of Bram Stoker's Dracula. For the last ten years, though, originally once a year, recently twice a year, it has become a gathering point for goths from Britain and abroad who enjoy the music, the culture, the lifestyle and animal welfare. The tenth anniversary Whitby Goth Weekend from Thursday to Sunday is another iteration in the cycle; you can see the lineup of music, shopping and games.

The town is about 40 miles south-east from here - the other side of the North Yorkshire Moors, which are what pass for hills around here, peaking at an altitude of a whopping thousand feet. Whitby is hard to reach by public transport; you have to take a nice fast East Coast main line train from London to Darlington, which will cover 210 miles in about two and a third hours. Then you need to take an awful little local train to Middlesbrough (15 miles in 25 minutes), have a dreadfully dull connection bereft of even the most rudimentary conveniences on Middlesbrough train station's platform two, and then take another local train from Middlesbrough to Whitby (40 miles in about 90 minutes - lovely scenery but very stop-start). So the last 20% of the journey takes close to 50% of the time.

I shall go on record as putting out a standing invitation to meet anyone from my friends list who is going to Whitby by train; I will try to liven up the no-fun-whatsoever 20-minute layover at Middlesbrough train station. Today I met lnr and her seven travelling companions (ewx, marnameow plus five) in just that way and gave them the grand tour of platform two. (Better than it sounds... slightly.) It was a very goth platform, but entertainingly there were some mundanes there who were neither forewarned nor forearmed. (Rather smoky, alas, being between a 30-minute no-smoking train journey and a 90-minute no-smoking train journey.) Eventually the local train operator will learn that Whitby Goth Weekend trains need more carriages than those at other times of the year, I hope.

Lovely to see them all there - I can think of a few others who go to Whitby from time to time. Perhaps next time I can meet up with more of you, should you stop by.

From a platform of dark and colourful clothing to a cinema of dark and colourful film; for three nights only, the Middlesbrough UGC have been showing Secretary, notorious for its presentation of a sado-masochistic lifestyle relationship. In short, I enjoyed it considerably and would like to see it again, finding it a very well-made but slightly problematic film. It's not disturbing by the traditional way the adjective is applied to films, but I've been to bed for half an hour and couldn't get to sleep due to thinking about the film, so this discussion may hopefully clear my mind.

Fair use quoting the IMDB plot outline, A young woman, recently released from a mental hospital, gets a job as a secretary to a demanding lawyer, where their employer-employee relationship turns into a sexual, sadomasochistic one.. The last 15 minutes of the movie wrap up the relationship established in the first 90 minutes. The main problem for me is that I'm not convinced that the two parts mesh that well together. The first 90 minutes are a slow-burn chiller, the final 15 minutes a romance movie. The nature of the relationship in the last fifteen minutes is very different from that in the first 90; while there are elements of commonality in the physical relationship, the mental thought processes involved are very different indeed. I find it difficult to buy that the relationship really could jump from one to the other.

I also have a problem with the background that was given to the submissive secretary - a history of self-harm, a failed suicide attempt and a stay in a mental health institute. I'm sure that there are people who take such a background into a sado-masochistic lifestyle relationship, but I'm also sure there are many more people who enter into such relationships with completely different backgrounds. This is overtly an adult film, so one can only hope that the interested but ill-informed will be mature enough not leap to conclusions about the motivations of all those who might choose to enter into the submissive part of such a relationship by extrapolation from the one example in this film, but I'm not convinced. On the other hand, perhaps the crew are better-informed than I am and such a background is relatively common after all. I'd be interested to know about any research on the subject.

Yet the reason why this film is such a success is a standout performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal in the title role. She has an unattractively waif-thin body and a remarkably childlike collection of facial expressions. The script lets her find moments of intense happiness, though, which she portrays blissfully well. There are explicit and graphic sex scenes, but they came across as being primarily for the participants' enjoyment rather than for the viewers' enjoyment - they were there as an inherent and logical part of the story rather than as pure smut. (With about, I would say, four glorious seconds of exception.) Perhaps the DVD might have some extended scenes for titilation purposes, but it would be a noticeable deviation from the tone of the rest of the film if it did. I'm curious to know if there were any cuts in versions around the world which attracted a significantly lower certificate.

It's not just a one-woman show: Jeremy Davies plays his minor role in such a way as it's easy to generate a lot of sympathy; James Spader doesn't come across as being at all loving in his actions for the majority of the film, which leads me to wonder whether or not I Just Don't Get It. (It really doesn't help that he looks much like Big Brother's "Nasty" Nick Bateman - a face typecast as dodgy from frame one.) There are some gently humorous touches in there, but a rom-com this isn't. Despite my qualms about the plausibility of the change in the relationship, the first 90 minutes of the script are paced extremely well; the familiar trick of a scene being repeated has the impact that you would hope for. Beautiful camerawork, too; picklepuss, should you read this some day, I recognised what you had taught me to be a kittywampus and thought of you. Lots of symbolism with the aquatic scenes, but I'm not sure what they're supposed to represent, so perhaps they should be deemed to be attractive yet unsuccessful.

Lastly, this was a great film for audience-watching. I would estimate something like 20 of the 200 seats in the theatre were taken, mostly by couples. (One m/m couple and one f/f couple, too! You never know...) I had to wonder what the pair who stayed even longer through the credits than I did were up to; they had chosen a very unusual and secluded place to sit just above the exit passage. Also interesting to note there was one solo spectator firmly of what might reasonably be considered a suspicious appearance. Without wishing to imply blame and hoping all is well, perhaps he (like me) had planned to attend as part of a larger group only for the rest of the group not to turn up? Ah, who's to say.

Despite the problems I have with the film, I'd happily watch it again to follow Ms. Gyllenhaal along her journey. (I note she was also in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, though I don't remember who Debbie - the character she played - was.) About the only thing which would have made it better would have been Dale Winton (US cultural equivalent: Richard Simmons) surprising us with a "No wanking, please, ladies and gentlemen" public announcement just before the usual "turn your mobile phone off" one. That would have unsettled the audience very nicelee.

Oh, and a very dark, colourful and happy birthday to scat0324!
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: 1980 "To Tell The Truth" theme going through my head all day

(15 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:addedentry
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:11 am (UTC)
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Excellent reviewage. If you see Spellbound as well, I shall feel personal pride in having persuaded you into a cinema three times.

I also have a problem with the background that was given to the submissive secretary

The introduction of self-harm was particularly glib. It's not as if any explanation was offered for her curious family life, so why the need to show motivation for her submission in this clumsy way?
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 30th, 2003 04:17 pm (UTC)
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Remind me which was the first? I don't dispute you the credit, but I confess to having rather forgotten it.

I actually changed my description of my piece last night from "review" to "discussion" - I tend to think of a film review as something which can reasonably be read and understood by those who have not seen it and which attempts to convey a concept of whether another viewer is likely to enjoy it or not, whereas this discussion probably only makes any sense to those who have seen the film. (Even if I was trying to keep it spoiler-free.)

The closest screen now showing Spellbound is in Leeds, alas, and even that's based on last week's timetables. (And Scoot, which is niftier than it is well-known.) What are student discount cinema ticket prices like where you are?
[User Picture]
From:addedentry
Date:October 31st, 2003 03:42 am (UTC)
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Spirited Away, which the entire world told you to see (-:

Reviews are funny things. Often I read them to confirm my opinions; reading a review of a book that decides it's a bad book is a strange use of my time, unless the reviewer is particularly entertaining.

Student discounts? What are they? Where they exist, they're rarely more significant than one-pound-off-the-matinee.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 31st, 2003 08:43 pm (UTC)
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So you wouldn't be too impressed by the fact that NUS cardholders can buy tickets for £3.10 at any point at the (really very nice) Middlesbrough UGC, then?

I bet the University of London has some excellent student facilities for its members. While I know you and Alice are qualified up to the eyeballed, I am convinced that re-enrolling at university and taking the minimum course which will get you a NUS card has got to be an excellent plan. Shame you have to be a full-time student to get a railcard, but you can't have everything.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:March 20th, 2004 08:33 am (UTC)

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If you see Spellbound as well, I shall feel personal pride in having persuaded you into a cinema three times.

A winner is you!
[User Picture]
From:applez
Date:October 30th, 2003 12:33 pm (UTC)

Secretary - yay!

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I much liked the film too, even with its various shortcomings. In any event, my review of the film spawned a furious series of threads on my LJ...you'll have to do a calendar search - hmm, maybe July or August of this year?
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 30th, 2003 04:53 pm (UTC)

Re: Secretary - yay!

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Wah, couldn't find any of them. One passing mention of Ms. G on July 23rd, but that's all. I faithfully looked through all your entries that I could see between about May 15th and September 5th (2003) but no joy.

Google suggests they might have been on one of your friends' journals instead. If inspiration or remembrance strike, please would you kindly link me up?

I really, really, really don't recommend that anyone ever tries to find anything from months back in my journal. I am even worse than you for coming up with useful subject lines. Roll on an eventual LiveJournal search engine... :-)
[User Picture]
From:applez
Date:October 30th, 2003 06:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Secretary - yay!

(Link)
Sorry to inflict that on you ... I'll see what I can find...
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 30th, 2003 07:52 pm (UTC)

SPOILER ALERT!

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Very interesting - thanks for digging these out. (I didn't mind the time spent going through your LJ; it inspired a few interesting notions.)

OK, these are spoilers for the movie, so I'm going to put them in white. Highlight with your mouse to read. (The nice thing is that this will look OK in the automatic notification e-mail to Zac.)

You seem to have found it rather funnier than me, all things considered. I'm trying to remember what parts I found funny. Certainly some of the Lee bathing scenes, some of the Lee/Peter scenes (especially the fantasy and the miscommunication!), the "what Lee was listening to that put a smile on her face" scene, the pony play image, the very quickly abortive date scenes and the glorious four-ish seconds of open-air tree bondage sex were all amusing. Not one actual laugh out loud, though. (Then again, I thought that none of the Wallace and Gromit films were funny.)

My favourite part:
Peter: Are you doing something sexual?
Lee: Does this look sexual to you?
Peter: (well-meaning but genuinely bemused) I don't know!
?I dunno. Peter comes across very well to me as someone who always tries hard to please, even though he can't give Lee what she wants. I have lots of sympathy for him. What he did to Lee at the end of that scene was a shame - it seemed to be a cheap way to make him harder to sympathise with. In some ways I'd rather have had him leave as "perfectly nice but vanilla guy", just to make the image clear that there are perfectly nice but vanilla guys out there and they're absolutely fine in their own way.

However, Lee got who - and what - she wanted in the end. If she's happy, then as fictional characters go, that makes me happy. I've seen some criticism of the movie that the final status of the relationship appeared to be a vanilla one, thus making the D/s elements an obstacle to be overcome rather than appreciated, but I don't think this is accurate. I think that the start of the movie is in the here and now - the extended scene with the spreader bars - and the meat of the movie is in the extended flashback. It's not clear whether Lee ends up as housewife or secretary, but I think the initial scenes do imply that she at least gets to play secretary from time to time - and that if she's primarily there as a housewife then the relationship at home is likely very similar to the way it was in the office, which we know she enjoyed.


The way in which I find the movie hard to relate to is that I feel that if ever I were involved in some sort of relationship with any of those aspects, I would expect that I would have made sure that the love and the relationship were established first before the physical aspects were introduced. The way it seems to me is that "without obvious love, the acts aren't loving, they're abusive". On the other hand, this is where the "No, Chris, you Just Don't Get It" light comes on. I have a strong suspicion that that may be me imposing my perceptions and values on other styles of relationships - if you've found a way for such a relationship to work, good for you; keep doing it, whatever it is, however you got there and however people like me Just Don't Get It.

Does that win me my postmodernism badge?
[User Picture]
From:applez
Date:October 31st, 2003 09:12 am (UTC)

Re: SPOILER ALERT!

(Link)
A couple of items:

1. What notions inspired?

2.
a. re: the final status of the relationship - I don't buy that particular interpretation either. Also, unlike you, I didn't think the flashback started from the point of the film's conclusion; to the contrary, I thought that flash-story-loop was concluded by the end of Lee's first 'happy time.'
b. the ending is troubling from a pure BDSM view, but then again I write that off as both possible, and in the vein of the film's romance-comedy structure.
c. Whilst I fully agree the relationship trust and all that is a crucial precondition in most such relationships, it is not 100% the case every time; moreover, any weakness on this front I again attribute to the romance-comedy mould. Incidentally, there are many who are quite pleased to not be so linear in their relationship evolution...and BDSM seems to attract more than the average, given the seekers of adventure.

[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:October 31st, 2003 08:06 pm (UTC)

Re: SPOILER ALERT!

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1. I posted my thoughts about letterboxing in the appropriate place and enjoyed following some of the links you listed. (Incidentally, someone else on my Friends list linked to a Morford piece today and I recognised the surname from your mentions too. Accordingly, I'll look out for more mentions in the future, though I haven't signed up for the newsletter.)

2c. This is interesting but troubling. I cannot really sum my thoughts up on the matter without using words like "good", "better", "should" and "non-consensual", which is getting dangerously close to Value Judgement territory, and I recognise that my judgement is not terribly well informed, personal on an issue where judgements fundamentally must be personal and not even particularly firmly fixed at this point in time. Accordingly, I will merely repeat that if people can find something which works for them, even if that something is nothing, they should keep doing it and not worry about anyone else's value judgements which might happen to disagree with their own.

This doesn't make for scintillating comment material, but not having a bad attitude seems far more important.
[User Picture]
From:applez
Date:October 30th, 2003 12:38 pm (UTC)

Maggie G ...

(Link)
Also try to catch her in Cecil B, DeMented

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0173716/

funny!
[User Picture]
From:anya_writer
Date:October 31st, 2003 11:34 pm (UTC)

Chris!

(Link)
*drive-by smoochies*
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:November 1st, 2003 04:48 pm (UTC)

Re: Chris!

(Link)
Whee!

*randomly snogs back*

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