Men, eh? (Shakes Head)

Christopher Fowler
Following on obliquely from comments about the last post, back in prelapsarian days of 1982 a Hollywood movie was made called 'Making Love'. It was touted as the first gay film from a major studio and starred Kate Jackson and Harry Hamlin, and was meant to be a huge hit, because love is universal, right? The film was a timid tip-toe through don't-frighten-the-horses scenes that reminded me of 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?' But Harry Hamlin's chaste little kiss with Michael Ontkean had America throwing up in the aisles. Bad timing. Last year a group of Hollywood power-brokers decided that now was time for the first major gay rom-com. It's not the first, of course - that accolade surely belongs to the charming 'Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss' - but studio expectations were running high for 'Bros'. Its lead, Billy Eichner, is apparently well known over there, and the script is peppered with star cameos and a few decent one-liners. The stateside reviews were ecstatic. The film massively bombed. From a British perspective I can see why; it's godawful. Eichner is a grating, hectoring LGBT bore who's a curator at a museum of gay history. He delivers his performance through a megaphone, like Gilbert Gottfried on amphetamines, and he never shuts up. In between dubious hook-ups he whines, kvetches and moans, only ever thinking about himself and whether he can possibly love a ludicrously handsome body-building lawyer. We also get chunks of polemic sandwiched between sickly swathes of sentiment. When the film finally winds down and this obnoxious man shuts up it's like a road-drill switching off. Just as embarrassing were the knowing winks at the hip metrosexual audience who never turned up. Aren't we daring? they try to say, but honestly, if this is how New Yorkers live their lives they might be better off moving somewhere less urban and getting their sense of perspective back, rather than injecting themselves with god-knows-what before going out in the evenings because they have to sparkle at yet another gallery opening full of pretentious people. Perhaps what the movie accidentally revealed was the rift between what we find funny or charming on either side of the Atlantic. But hey, it's a Hollywood rom-com so just eat your popcorn and try to leave before the country & western musical number. Seriously. And if I ever watch another gay film it'll be 'God's Own Country' again. To balance this, I saw 'Men' from Alex Garland, which presents us with a more intellectual problem. How do you open up a discussion on hetero toxic males and their misogynistic tendencies? Here the great Jessie Buckley takes a healing trip to the countryside (richly green, wet and depressing to any urbanite), to recover from her husband's blame-filled suicide. Instead she becomes lost in a folk-horror scenario in which all the men in the village (and even a child) are superbly played by Rory Kinnear with the same face. From the Hail-Fellow-Well-Met landlord to the creepy local priest who blames her for her spouse's death, they appear to represent the seven ages of man's attitudes to women. The conclusion is not heartening; that the unbroken chain of cruelty and violence will never cease but will be reborn to each new generation. It's incredible uncomfortable and at times terrifying. Garland understands atmospheres. If you've ever stayed with someone in, say, Devon or Somerset, and got lost in dank woodland, 'Men' will utterly creep you out - indeed, its jump-scares are brilliant thanks to a shorting-out garden security light. Then Garland ramps it up and - I suspect - loses much of his audience. To base the film's last third on an abstract intellectual argument is brave (although here Garland certainly has form). To visualise it with all the men giving birth to each other is Cronenbergish overkill. It looks to be the director's lockdown film (sparsely populated) much as Ben Wheatley's folk-horror 'In The Earth' was, not that this matters, but afterwards you'll be reverting to the safety of childhood and seeking the warmth of normal human contact again.


Roger (not verified) Tue, 18/10/2022 - 17:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"hetero toxic males and their misogynistic tendencies"
It's a puzzling
and frightening question: why do so many heterosexual men hate women so much?

Joel (not verified) Tue, 18/10/2022 - 18:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

ah, "making love"...i had to rent the video cassette...although i didn't find it shocking or inspiring...i did love seeing two men kiss...really have no desire to see bros, but one of the best gay rom com's i've seen is "big fish"..it's maybe a little awkward, but i enjoy the regular people muddling through feelings..."men" sounds fascinating

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 18/10/2022 - 20:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have seen that poster before - or the image at least. (here?) I love the isolation and depth in it.
The question of the day, well. I think there is beginning to be a serious discussion amongst average people. I grew up in a family where the men were gentle normal (to me) people and was not surprised when the family I married into was the same. My husband told me that he had lately realised that the two or three small groups with which he is involved consisted of a familiar sort of man - the sort he met in his family and mine - but as soon as you get into a bigger group with more general reasons for being there you invariably find at least one a**hole with unacceptable attitudes toward women or others. That is a generalisation and I don't want to speak for the husband but I think he's right. We pick close friends from people we're comfortable with while other groups are drawn from the general population so you get the ones with attitudes you can't accept. So then what do you do?
Just as I was typing that a friend of my husband came by and I asked him what he thought. He agreed with the assessment and said that things are getting worse and we're doomed to destruction. "After all this time you would think humanity would have learned to do better and it's not that everyone hasn't been told and told again." On that note we said "have a nice day" and parted.

Bob Low (not verified) Tue, 18/10/2022 - 20:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Like "Lamb", I thought "Men" was one of the best films I've seen this year, even if underneath the Cronenbergian squishiness and appropriated but cleverly deployed folk-horror imagery it may be just another ghost story. "Just".
Your expression "chunks of polemic sandwiched between sickly swathes of sentiment" is a concise and deadly accurate description of what seems to be killing commercial cinema and a lot of new TV drama. An alarmingly large number of film makers don't want to be impressive, original or inspiring. They just want to be approved of.

Brooke (not verified) Wed, 19/10/2022 - 12:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Today's question. One answer, provided by South Pacific, "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught. Year after year, drummed in your little ear. But who is doing the teaching? And by whose authority? Answers to those questions are interesting. I imagine Garland addresses them with the seven ages;

Brooke (not verified) Wed, 19/10/2022 - 12:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I hope the frequency of blog posts means you're feeling better, Mr. Fowler. Ms. Armitage's letter surely helped.

Christopher Fowler Wed, 19/10/2022 - 13:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Dearest Brooke,
Thanks for your kind thoughts. The answer is 'I adjust'. A cool collapsible walking stick to stop me from falling over quite so much, protein drinks that I can keep down, morphine at night and the greatest balm of all, books - every new problem has a workaround.

Jamie (not verified) Wed, 19/10/2022 - 13:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Another film being released next month (here in the States, at least) is the antithesis of this one: Spoiler Alert. It's more of a romantic dramedy that's biographical. It starts with two men falling in love and continues in a romcom ,manner until one of the leads is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge play the leads and Sally Fields plays the mother of the man with cancer. Touching, sweet, and I fully expect to be bawling in my seat when I watch.

John Griffin (not verified) Wed, 19/10/2022 - 13:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In my somewhat limited experience of heterosexual (or indeed, gay) men, I tend to divide them up into
*are afraid of people in general and seek solitary pursuits and vices
* are afraid of women in particular, and often behave atrociously (incels and the like)
* brought up in violent and/or dominating misogynist households and conduct relationships in like manner
* mummies' boys, who can turn nasty if wife isn't mummy (a lot of misogynists here)
* men who adore women
* men who'd like to be women, or find comfort in drag/androgyny
Not exhaustive, but the potential for violence lurks in three if not four of those classifications.

Brooke (not verified) Wed, 19/10/2022 - 16:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Mr. Fowler, as for the protein shakes, my sympathy. If ever there was a vile , non-food invention, shakes are it. But the collapsible walking stick sounds marvelous. Must shop for one.
Is there anything we can send you from the States...

Paul c (not verified) Wed, 19/10/2022 - 17:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Shame that Garland seems to have abandoned novels in favour of films. His first two were excellent

Wonder why

Roger (not verified) Thu, 20/10/2022 - 01:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I agree with your categorisation, John Griffin; but why do so many men fall/jump/push themselves into the misogynist categories and stay there even if they could take steps to get out?
Collapsible walking sticks can collapse unexpectedly, Admin! They can be handy though - I use one to pull down branches on apple and mulberry trees hanging over the road.

John Griffin (not verified) Thu, 20/10/2022 - 12:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Roger, I think it is either they get reinforcement from some source - a sense of control, power, or even the support of other misogynists (real or online) - or simple human weakness. It takes courage to admit wrong, and even more to put it right.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 22:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sometimes I feel it's simpler than that, some people are just stupid, cowardly, vindictive *rs*h*l*s who want someone else (the easier the target) to blame for things that are wrong, in life, the world or even perceived slights, and the real culprits are happy to point the finger.


Liz+Thompson (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 17:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

To be fair all round, and as a hetero woman of 74, I have met women with a similar attitude/behaviour towards men, John, though I know that wasn't the original issue! And, incidentally, some of the most aggressively encroaching men I came across whilst working were fellow trade unionists.....not the case mercifully in my current Unite Community branch.