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Archive for November, 2022


Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said (directed Maria Schrader, script Rebecca Lenkiewicz), telling of what happened 20+ years later


Young Zelda Perkins (Molly Windsor) and young Rowena Chiu (Ashley Chiu) in She Said (immediately afterwards)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m writing this in a spirit of mild indignation. It’s not that no reviews have acknowledged the excellence and power of She Said: Ryan Painter in a Salt Lake City news report not too long after beginning gets round to the power and importance of this film (and accompanies the review with stills that demonstrate what is meant by “stride”), Alexis Soliski of the New York Times gives strong praise (albeit warning the reader that the film is “discreet” and “stealthy” — nothing to trigger you here, potential viewer is part of the idea), but often they are curiously truncated (Ebert’s column). Nothing like damning something with faint praise, e.g, Molly Fischer of The New Yorker. I fail to see why it is a limitation of this film that our two intrepid reporters talk with compassion and understanding neither Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) found necessary when dealing with Deep Throat. We are made to fear for them as Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor receive death threats on the phone, are followed ominously by cars, find themselves confronted by an aggressively hostile husband who finds his honor about to be besmirched.

And then there is the vehemently insulting, to me a review all the more appalling because the New Statesman is a left-of-center publication, and the review by a woman, Ann Manov who labeled it “myopic, timid and trivial”. I almost didn’t go; I felt so angry at the review when I came home I almost cancelled my subscription

Like many perhaps most women I have a #MeToo story too. In my case it’s one I’ve yet to be able to put into coherent words. The experiences occurred over a period of time, between the ages of 13 and 15 when through hysteria and retreat I managed to put a stop to it. I know this time connects it o a suicide attempt I made at age 15, years of anorexia (ages 16 to 21), and my attempt to shape my existence into a safe retreat. I tried once on my original political Sylvia I blog.  But I can no longer reach it by googling for it as I wrote it so long ago. I am cheered to see the outstanding performances of Samantha Morton (whom I have so long admired and now finally subscribed to Starz just to see her in The Serpent Queen — alas she is the only element in the serial worth watching) and Jennifer Ehle (as Laura Madden) singled out. I cannot find a still online (available to public of her telling of her experience) only this one of her as first seen with her children living in a small village in Cornwall.

Ashley Judd plays herself. We hear Gwyneth Paltrow’s voice on the phone. Patricia Clarkson is the female supervisor, with Andre Braugher as the tough male “the buck stops here” impressive deep voice on the phone and presence in group discussions

Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

Here is Angela Yeoh (as Rowena Chiu) many years later: it is this woman’s husband who stands as a threatening wall between her and Jodi Kantor

It’s not discreet — I agree we don’t have the scene where Harvey Weinstein actually bullied Laura Madden into agreeing to squalid sordid sexual activity with him, but as in Greek tragedy, a brilliant messenger conjures up the scene for us. I’d like to see the film again because I found myself remembering and reliving fragments of what happened to me so not taking everything in — as in most recent films, this one moves very quickly, with epitomizing dialogues (the lawyers for Weinstein, two of them importantly ex-lawyers, played by Zach Grenier and Peter Friedman) for many of the scenes. Not all. Not the descriptions of what these women endured. It was for me at times painful, especially when Ehle as Laura Madden confessed she had allowed Weinstein to rape her — she did not say no exactly; the anguish ever after was that she felt she had consented. She blamed herself. Much is brought forward to show why women are unwilling to go on record and what is won at the end is this team of women, and these stories eventually brought in over 80 women. There is now a law before Congress which would make illegal some of these silencing contracts employees sign before they are allowed on jobs.

As The New Yorker and New York Times reviewers state early on, the model for this film is All the King’s Men: with Twohey (who has a baby during the early phase) and Kantor (who has a family of children she must care for) we are seeking verifiable documents, women willing to be named on the record, with the difference that this time many of them have signed “settlement” agreements whereby they agreed never to tell anything and hand over all evidence upon being given a huge sum of money (the amount also kept secret). Deep Throat never was paid off, never was silenced by a court decision. There is also a bestselling book by Kantor and Towhey (She Said, available in several ways).


Megan Twohey


Jodi Kantor

So the emphasis is on the chase, and the turns are those of “thriller-mystery” formula: as in spy fiction, this kind of subgenre has come to be used for socially conscious TV serials (Sherwood) and films (Suffragette). Andrew Marr has talked in one show about how the spy thriller is a key political text for our time. The worst that can be said of it is what can be said of too many American-produced films: it’s suffused by a sentimentality at moments (particularly family scenes for our two heroines), is at moments unsubtle (again the family scenes seemingly exonerating our heroines from militant feminism), broad, with an insistence on upbeat feeling at the end.


Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison and Jonny Lee Miller as Anthony Field (“Keeper of Souls” — a sardonically ironic title)

One might compare the ending of many of the 1990s Prime Suspect episodes (Helen Mirren achieved broader fame here); I thought of episode 3 about a pedophile ring as I watched Samantha Morton and remembered a young Jonny Lee Miller in an unforgettable 10 minutes electrifying that season with his rendition of a young man remembering his years of being raped in prisons and “centers for boys”: at its end we are still not sure the key figure (played by Ciarhan Hinds) will actually be nailed down by evidence and sent to jail; all we know of the publication is that it will bring the horrible stories to the public eyes, and that is how She Said ends.

In Prime Suspect because another lower-level murderer-bully is also going to be put away for many years, we feel at least this ring of cruel ruthless males is going to be destroyed; granted Harvey Weinstein did get a sentence of 23 years. But there is nothing truly feel good about the ending, only relief that the intensely dangerous work done may be rewarded by justice (as people are exposed) and our heroine (Jane Tennison) getting promoted.

An interesting aspect about the art and plot-design of this movie is this movement back and forth between the time an assault/rape occurred and the time this investigation is taking place. In the last couple of months, I’ve seen no less than 4 serials where the film moves from past time at least 20 years ago to near now: Sherwood, Karen Pirie, Magpie Murders, and now She Said. In all of these two sets of actors do the roles, in some cases more successfully because the actors playing the younger parts really look like the older actors (the first film I saw of this type was Last Orders, with J. J. Feilds playing the Michael Caine role and Kelly Reilly the Helen Mirren role). Magpie Murders, as befits am Anthony Horowitz product adds a level of complexity and dwells also on using the same actors as characters in a novel occurring 40 years ago and characters in present time (but only some of them so our credulity is not asked too much of).

Unfortunately, in this movie some of the actors playing the younger selves do not look enough like the older actors but I can quite see that Jennifer Ehle does look much older and am glad no computer tricks were played upon her present face. And sometimes the younger actress, Lola Petticrew, is so immediately vivid in her terror, shock, and shame:


Lola Petticrew as Young Laura Madden in She Said

What more can I say? read the book, see the movie. I will be identified as an over-the-top feminist if I say I think some of these lukewarm and uncomfortable reviews derive from the reality that the patriarchy is still firmly in place (capitalism reinforced by male hegemony and male-derived values), that a female aesthetic such as is found in this thriller (the stories are cyclical with the woman repeating roles as mothers and wives they anticipated as girlfriends), with female imagery and females playing subordinate roles when it comes to some final decision as to what to print does not yield visceral consent from male critics and women primed to want male structures. Helen Mirren managed to become a central dominant presence in her series because the series had 5 years plus a 2 year reprise (1991-96, 2003, 2006) for us to see her rise to become boss, and she did play the role as (apart from her private life where we see her cry, have an abortion [very daring], lose partners stoically) as hard, unemotional, and as one of the “guys” who uses alliances with women (prostitutes to reporters) rather than becoming one of them which Mulligan and Kazan do.

But in this film our heroines are not aging mature women (like Patricia Clarkson is — about whose private life we know nothing) but presented as young women reporters themselves with a career to make — and courageously chancing it and their private lives. It is telling that this film’s norms are such that we believe they have good lives because they have supportive husbands.


Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor in She Said — chasing down people as far away as Cornwall


Carey Mulligan — filmed in Bryant Park, her career is studded (as gems) with important feminist films

Ellen

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Click to make it larger and see her face close up — look at her complex expression

Friends and readers,

Heather Cox Richardson offers immediate context and Nancy’s history in the house: very few women there when she first arrived:

And from her speech:

Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced she is stepping down from party leadership, although she will continue to serve in the House. “The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Caucus that I so deeply respect,” she told her colleagues. Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is also stepping away from a leadership position. Both of them are over 80.

Pelosi was elected to Congress in a special election in 1987, becoming one of 12 Democratic women (now there are more than 90). She was first elected speaker in 2007, the first woman ever to hold that role. She was speaker until the Democrats lost the House in 2011, then was reelected to the position in 2019, and has held it since. Jackie Calmes of the Los Angeles Times tweeted: “As an ex–Congress reporter, I can speak to the records of 8 of the 55 House speakers, 4 Dem[ocrat]s & 4 R[epublican]s back to Tip O’Neill. I’m not alone in counting Pelosi as the best of the bunch. 2 Dem[ocratic] presidents owe their leg[islati]v[e] successes to her; 2 GOP presidents were repeatedly foiled by her.”

Pelosi began her speech to her colleagues by remembering her first sight of the U.S. Capitol when her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was sworn in for his fifth congressional term representing Baltimore. She was six.

She called attention to the Capitol in which they stood: “the most beautiful building in the world—because of what it represents. The Capitol is a temple of our Democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals.”

“In this room, our colleagues across history have abolished slavery; granted women the right to vote; established Social Security and Medicare; offered a hand to the weak, care to the sick, education to the young, and hope to the many,” she reminded them, doing “the People’s work.”

“American Democracy is majestic—but it is fragile. Many of us here have witnessed its fragility firsthand—tragically, in this Chamber. And so, Democracy must be forever defended from forces that wish it harm,” she said, and she praised the voters last week who “resoundingly rejected violence and insurrection” and “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” Despite our disagreements on policy, she said, “we must remain fully committed to our shared, fundamental mission: to hold strong to our most treasured Democratic ideals, to cherish the spark of divinity in each and every one of us, and to always put our Country first.”

She said it had been her “privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people,” and noted pointedly—because she worked with four presidents—“I have enjoyed working with three Presidents, achieving: Historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush. Transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama. And forging the future—from infrastructure to health care to climate action—with President Joe Biden. Now, we must move boldly into the future….”

“A new day is dawning on the horizon,” she said, “And I look forward—always forward—to the unfolding story of our nation. A story of light and love. Of patriotism and progress. Of many becoming one. And, always, an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow.”

The rhetoric is cliched and as such (to me) meaningless, but behind it and around it, Pelosi knew how gain (by alliances), use and keep power.

Two stories: Robin Givhan about how uniquely she dressed: yes and no, he or she was not alive in the 1950s: Pelosi was a modified 1950s style

Monica Hesse: how she held it together during the deadly insurrection instigated by Trump

She is hated by the GOP and many men because it was she who put together and passed the Affordable Care Act and many other similar umbrella pieces of legislation to help the American people do what they want and need.

And from The Intercept, Ryan Grim, the “real story” of the background, early career and first successes of Pelosi

She was active in politics well before her children grew up, and before she held office; she was the daughter of a strategic democrat, and joined forces with conservative democrats to head off the intensely aggressive threat and destruction of the New Deal (all its policies begun by Reagan. Her mentor was Phil Burton ….


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington on Dec. 11, 2018 — having bested Trump on and off TV within

Posted by Ellen

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She announced this briefly last night as a last news item:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/judy-woodruff-stepping-aside-from-pbs-newshour-anchor-desk-at-end-of-2022

I shall miss her badly. Tears come to my eyes as I write this. I know I watch the show many even most nights to feel a little of her presence (as presented by herself) in my life. She projects kindness, genuine concern for the vulnerable, seeks stories that can comfort intelligent people, and in general is part of the shaping force of the choices of what to run, where to place it, as well as what is said in the segments. Over the course of the pandemic at the end of many of her hours I felt better.

I’m not going to over-praise. To categorize PBS as left of center is too generous because in many of the central interview and some secondary political segments our “correspondents” consistently avoid asking tough questions to reactionary and also (occasionally) fascist (if when on the show seeming courteous) types, do not truly challenge important lies; their even-handedness is the old mainstream liberal-social but conservative=economic (1950s style) republicanism. Some of the people there are harsher than that, bringing in blaming culture: Amna Navaz and Amiche Alcindor to me would be a fatal choices for anchor. Once I watched Judy sit before Mark Shields and David Brooks spout disguised misogyny. Not a peep out of her. The show omits stories, gives slack to where they should not. I concede many of the “human interest” and cultural segments are probing, humanitarian, egalitarian, and useful. The best of these are done regularly by Fred de Sam Lazaro, Jane Ferguson (what a courageous woman), Malcolm Brabant, Miles O’Brien (Paul Solomon is too far a compromiser). Recently Stephanie Sy has been improving: she actually said to one election denier candidate he was not answering her question! Indeed probably I might stop watching it; it does depend on who is the leading shaping force. William Branagh who would be my choice for anchor but I worry he has a slight nervousness in delivery and of course that won’t do.

Here is her rightly proud resume:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judy_Woodruff

I remember her when she was very young, one of the people on the McNeil-Lehrer hour, telling Washington DC news. There was a brief foray into commercial news broadcasts, about which my father said “she won’t last.” He meant the cut-throat politics and subrisively mean tone of some of the networks would cut her out; she was also no Leslie Stahl, a genuine left-liberal newscaster, daring too — so that made Stahl viable on the ABC of those days. Judy was ever a lady.

Who but her could have done all those end-of-shows obituaries during the height of the pandemic. I know nowadays she has a badly crippled son who cannot get about without a super-engineered walker and also about how unscrupulously and callously such people and their wheelchairs are treated at that most abominable of places, airports, where human rights are thrown away.

I remember her crying when Gwen Ifill died. How relieved Fauci was to talk to her. I shall miss her and her show.


A 1981 photograph of her working for NBC

Ellen

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