Sunday, November 29, 2020

Power Play

 Variety (1983) - Gordon

Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 2.02.21 PM Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 4.09.42 PM Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 4.10.30 PM Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 11.54.30 AM Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 1.58.53 PM Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 11.37.43 AM Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 2.01.37 PM Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 11.56.32 AM Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 4.07.48 PM Screen Shot 2020-11-29 at 12.00.55 PM Christine (Sandy McLeod) needs a job. She's not making ends meet as an occasional journalist/reporter/writer. At her friend's suggestion, even though it might be beneath her, she takes a job as a ticket taker at Variety - a porn theater in the heart of the Red Light District in the city, near the 42nd street. 

So starts Bette Gordon's lumination of the gritty 80s New York and its feminist underground culture scene where emerging female cultural voices are presented- Variety's script is scripted by Kathy Acker and stars photographer Nan Goldin as one of the recurring characters- who later published stills from the film which became famous. Gordon examines female sexuality in a world dominated by male sex.

It is not about gradual change we witness in an uptight girl from Michigan into a raging slut, because her environment made her so. It is more to do with a women's point of view in sexual politics. As emboldened Christine talks about the sexually explicit materials with her male counterpart (Will Patton's journalist Mark and an unsuspecting pinball player at the bar), the increasingly uncomfortable men have no choice but either to flee the premises or stay put and listen silently. 

The movie then becomes a sort of detective noir as Christine follows a mysterious businessman Louie (Richard Davis), an occasional Variety patron who shows an interest in her and who might be involved in expansive illigal mob activities. Her snooping takes her to various places in New York - from the Yankee's Stadium to now defunct Fulton Street Fish Market to Chinatown to Brooklyn and to Asbury Park, NJ., showcasing the 80s gritty New York through the blurry lens of veteran NY indie DP Tom Diccilo. The fish market scene where she is the only female, surrounded by ogling eyes of all male fish mongers reminded me of the scene in Antonioni's L'Avventura where Monica Vitti's character walks down the stairs and watched by group full of men. It also features young Luis Guzman as the kind hearted manager of Variety. 

Christine reading dirty magazines or dressing up like a prostitute in front of her mirror or imagining scenarios where she starrs in a 'dirty movie' with Louie is not indicative of her turning into a slut. Variety is about sexual power. She calls Louie with her findings about him. Her reason is not to blackmail him, but rather, to have power over him. Variety directly counters the macho NY of Scorsese's Taxi Driver and it's fresh and delicious.

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