I Found My Level And I'm Living It
by MOLLY LAMBERT
The Hot Spot, 1990
dir. Dennis Hopper
Once there were three friends who took it upon themselves to overthrow and destroy an old guard system they knew they could clearly improve upon. They had grown up on the work of the people whose jobs they now had to take. They realized it was a funny way to thank them. But when it came down to it, the old legends had succeeded because they were so much a product of their time, and new times required new products. It was necessary to invent Easy Rider/The Social Network/This Recording.
The new sixties Alpha Male sensibility ultimately didn't turn out to be any different from the old Alpha Male sensibility. It was exactly the same with long hair. The new Alpha Male may have even preached a good game on gender politics (although just as often not), and then not followed suit in his personal relations with women. It might seem difficult to reconcile masculinity with feminism, BUT IT'S NOT. Only an insecure man/person has to always be right or in charge all the time. Traditional masculinity is a cool looking hot rod with a shitty engine that stalls in middle age. It is a lemon.
Nothing is worse than a guy who thinks he is a revolutionary because he reads foreign newspapers and Al Jazeera's twitter feed but who can't seem to fully renounce male chauvinism in his own life because of course he loves the perks. There's an economic principle that these perks come at the expense of another group, in this case women.
nothing in her way except THE FUCKING PATRIARCHY
The Privilege Denying Dude meme caught on because it was so true. It is only heterosexual white men who ever believe that we live in a post-anything world. Romanticizing traditional masculinity is like romanticizing the Confederacy or the Nazi regime. Great uniforms, accessories, and anecdotes. But your politics fucking blow.
Straight white dudes often want to believe we are past these problems because the alternative is that they are the villain in the movie called World History. But I mean, it's true that they are the villain. And like any legacy sullied by genocide and imperialism, no one is asking them to claim all the responsibility for it but it is absolutely required that it be acknowledged. To refuse to acknowledge the continued dominance of racism/sexism/homophobia/socially exclusionary practices is to reinforce them.
Here's the thing about unconscious biases. They are unconscious! So when people say "I am not a sexist/racist/homophobe" they are being well-intentioned about meaning it, but just saying it doesn't automatically make it true. It is about deeds, not words. And thoughts are not deeds. They are not even words. A person may think a tremendously offensive thing, and then feel as though this is an intrinsic betrayal of their real sexist/racist/homophobic feelings. But it's not. Necessarily. It also can be.
You have been conditioned, and then encouraged not to think about it. Often rewarded for not thinking about it. But you must think about it. True self-analysis is a revolutionary act. And unlike revolutions in other countries where you are just sympathizing hopefully with the proletariats, it is a revolution you have a shot at being an actual part of. The personal is political. Women are the universal proletariat.
The individual has the most power over itself. More than any outside group can influence, and more influence than it can have on any outside group. It is impossible to renounce dominance in all its forms because dominance can be incredibly useful. Dominant behavior exists in nature to such an extent that it is often conflated with "nature" (although of course nature is equally a pond as much as it is a tidal wave).
The desire to dominate exists in the self, but why is it so rarely felt as the desire to dominate the self? To subordinate and win control over one's worst urges and tendencies? It spins outwards instead. Other people seem easier to take control over than oneself, because other people appear static and one's self is always shifting.
Which brings us back again to gender. To see "women" as a foreign country you must conquer is the definition of denying them personhood. To assume that to fuck a woman is to take something from her, to degrade her as a person in some way, or alternately but equally insidiously, that it is to promise commitment. Yo she might just want to get laid. To assume anything about "women" as a body: that single women are lonely, that married women are happy. That you can make any universal statements about what "women" are like. You can't make any universal statements about what any group is like, because then you are denying individuals their differences. You are perpetuating your privilege. That is how stereotypes work. They are useful! It is scary!
Everybody is different. Women are not automatically Taylor Swifts just like men are not automatically whores. Believing that all men are whores/assholes/dogs is just as damaging and untrue and fucked up as believing that all women are Taylor Swifts. Even Taylor Swift is not really a Taylor Swift. Everybody is a whore sometimes.
The Nice Girl is really a Slut. Likewise, the Slut is really a Nice Girl. It works exactly the same for men. The Nice Guy is also an Asshole. The Asshole is also a really Nice Guy. There is only one type of person, and that person is a person who can be different ways with different people under different circumstances. Nobody is always nice or always awful. People are not monolithically good or bad. Everyone is capable of both.
I never really gave too much credence to the whole virgin/whore thing because like most of the most horribly misogynist aspects of life I chose to ignore it and pretend it just didn't/would never be applied to me for as long as possible. Then in the past six months I got called a slut by three different dudes, none of whom I knew well at all.
All three of whom took it upon themselves to tell me and my female roommate (unprompted, naturally) what kind of girls we are. More specifically in one case that she is a "sexy uptight librarian" and I am a "fun bar slut." All three times I was so baffled that I didn't even react appropriately and punch them in the fucking face.
Later I kept going back over why exactly I didn't. I think I probably didn't want to betray that it had any effect on me whatsoever. They are just words, after all. But it did have an effect on me, and the effect was "WAIT WHAT?" Because my roommate wears glasses and I am a ginger? I also wear glasses, and my roommate is really hot. You actually believe there are two different kinds of women, and they are "sexy uptight librarian" and "fun bar slut"? Was that a neg? Has that ever worked to get you laid?
But the truth was that it haunted me, because nothing is funnier than the phrase "fun bar slut." I saw it chiseled on my gravestone. "Molly Lambert: She Was A Fun Bar Slut." I don't even go to bars that much! I just thought about the episode of Laguna Beach where douchebag Stephen Coletti yells "Keep dancing on the bar SLUT" at Kristin.
That only happened on Laguna Beach. Things like that only occurred on reality television. That would never happen to me. But then it did, three times, all equally unprovoked. All sort of attempts to pick me up, I guess under the false auspices that a strong negative reaction from someone is better than no reaction at all (WRONG).
The virgin/whore trope plays heavily into film noir. I took a film noir class in college but all I remember is that I wrote a tight paper about the sound design in The Long Goodbye and got really mad at my friend Jon when he criticized Barbara Stanwyck's wig in Double Indemnity ("IT'S PURPOSEFUL ARTIFICE!!!" I may have yelled). There are always two women, and one is a virgin and the other is a whore. One is Janet Wood and the other is Chrissy Snow. The whore is always more interesting and usually dies.
The first time I recall my awareness of the concept of virgin/whore dichotomy was musical theater, in West Side Story. Maria is the lead. She has great songs. But Anita is so much cooler and stops the show. Maria is boringly good and humorless. Anita gets to be funny. Maria is a soprano. Anita is an alto. In chorus I sang as an alto because there were always less of them. Most girls tended to want to sing the "pretty" i.e. soprano parts rather than the less glamorous harmonies assigned to altos and men.
I sometimes envied the sopranos, but I also found them cloyingly sweet. I thought it was ridiculously narcissistic to think you should always get to sing the lead parts. Both were within my range, and I always thought about how arbitrary it was that I considered myself an alto. I could equally have sung the soprano parts, I just happened to be singing alto. Shouldn't I be rewarded for being able to do both?
In The Hot Spot, Jennifer Connelly is a sexy uptight librarian and Virginia Madsen is a fun bar slut. Don Johnson is the fucking dude. Don Johnson is so hilariously cool in this movie. So flawlessly masculine. It's dumb as hell. Is there a term for the way male directors dehumanize their male antiheroes into overly perfect idealized objects of desire? The narcissistic male gaze? Christopher Nolan has made it his life's speciality.
Dennis Hopper drains most of the ambiguity from the Charles Williams book and screenplay. This despite the fact that what's so great about Charles Williams is how he questions pulp's genre conventions. His femme fatales are usually the smartest characters in his books, not judged for wanting to have sex in crazy places. Rather than die at the end she wins the hero's heart and rides off into the sunset with him.
The emotionless drifter/private eye is an archetype like James Bond. Like James Bond it doesn't exist in real life anywhere. It's an ideal, seductive and imaginary. The same way the "Nice Girl" is an imaginary ideal of a woman who would never get upset about anything. The slut might get mad. She might leave you or fuck someone else. It is even possible she will murder you, since film noirs are hysterical masculine fantasies.
The Hot Spot's gender politics are more than decent in the end. Virginal teenage dream Jennifer Connelly also takes topless photos and flirts with her blackmailer. She is the one who gets Don Johnson to murder someone. So much for the Nice Girl. Meanwhile Fun Slut Virginia Madsen murders her husband (while fucking him, LOL) and asks Don Johnson to fuck her in all kinds of "deviant" ways that aren't really deviant so much as they are incredibly silly. So silly that when he ends up with her it doesn't really matter (although it's a nice twist), because the love triangle feels so weightless.
I have seen The Last Movie. It is unwatchable. And I say this as somebody who will watch anything. It's incredibly boring and not shot well. You can see that the budget was spent on drugs. The Hot Spot is fucking hilarious, but one thing it is not is unwatchable. It is totally watchable. It is the kind of movie you watch on Cinemax until 4am (as I did) and wake up the next day not sure if you just had a well-lit dream.
The lighting is a character, falling somewhere between David Lynch and Zalman King, and tending towards blue and pink. What is this kind of lighting called? Erotic thriller lighting? Overlapping with neon noir? It shows up in Showgirls and Bad Influence. It calls to mind 80s porn, Miami Vice, and Cocktail. It definitely feels extremely 80s.
Oh yeah the 80s. They were not always kind to the Easy Riders and Raging Bulls of the 60s and 70s. But then again, those guys weren't very kind to the 60s and 70s were they now? Never assume you can just rest on your past glories. Let's do a body count:
Jack Nicholson: He made some of the best movies of his career and peaked on testosterone poisoning. He starts the decade with The Shining (80) and Reds (81) and ends with making The Two Jakes (90) which presumably was the beginning of the deflation of the hubris that he was unstoppable. It's too bad, because one of the things I love about Nicholson is his extreme versatility. I like that he wrote a bunch of scripts. I liked Drive He Said. I will also point out that after Reds Jack Nicholson stopped being hot. Much like Brando he became sort of actually disgusting. He was just coasting on the idea of his previous hotness and became a dirty old man, which is why I was so confused when I found out he was actually hot in the seventies.
Dennis Hopper: Blue Velvet, Hoosiers. But Jack Nicholson still fucked your wife!
Dustin Hoffman: no1curr
Warren Beatty: Oh Warren Beatty. So much privilege to spend. Reds is one of my favorite movies, so for that alone Warren survives the 80s with his dignity intact. If Jack Nicholson is Don Draper, Warren Beatty is Roger Sterling; never taking himself seriously enough to accomplish anything truly great as an actor. And I guess there was Ishtar. Although like Heaven's Gate, Ishtar is one of those movies that is more "legendarily bad" than it is actually bad. They are both more like legendarily bloated and long, but not without their fans and moments. Beatty makes Dick Tracy the same year Jack Nicholson makes The Two Jakes. They both find out they are actors.
Bob Rafelson: After making The Postman Always Rings Twice ('81) everything on Rafelson's IMDB starts to have the word "Erotic" in it. Sorry Bob. Was it Head?
Peter Fonda: OOF.
Robert DeNiro: Jake LaMotta. DeNiro was never a partyboy. He staged Scorsese's intervention after The Last Waltz and is supposedly very mild mannered IRL, nothing like a "DeNiro character." He's just an incredible actor. He puts all his crazy in there.
Al Pacino: Scarface, the ultimate cool 70s becoming the shitty 80s movie.
Roman Polanski: You know how in every group of guys there is one guy who is the biggest asshole/fuckup and every other guy is secretly like "man, at least I'm not THAT guy" even though they are first to goad him on at parties? Roman Polanski. The guy that Jack Nicholson compares himself against when he wants to feel better about his choices. Like, cheat on Anjelica Huston? Reprehensible. Rape a child? WORSE!
Martin Scorsese: Raging Bull, After Hours and The King Of Comedy. Scorsese hustles.
Francis Ford Coppola: Lost his damn mind in the jungle. But hey The Outsiders and Rumble Fish and I do enjoy Peggy Sue Got Married, especially Nic Cage's part.
Toni Basil: Hey Mickey!