Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Full Metal Jacket and War-time Masculinity

Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is an unusual Vietnam war movie. It doesn't have the raw, gut wrenching emotion of Platoon, and though it is somewhat bizarre, it doesn't have the full psychological horror trippy-ness of Apocalypse Now. It is, in typical Kubrick fashion, a film that is hard to access, hard to connect with. It is distant, austere and odd. In some ways, it doesn't seem an authentic portrayal of war. The first part of the film documents the rigors of basic training and seems far more real than the scenes that take place in Vietnam. Those are the scenes I want to examine anyway as they are all about the creation of a specific masculine identity. There is a strange doubling (a theme Kubrick loves) attendant in basic training in that "the military [tries] to create a military form of masculinity, but masculinity has already inflected the creation of the institution of the military in the first place, as well as the desire to propagate that genre of masculinity." It's difficult to tell where masculinity begins and ends in this situation. In a way, men go off to military bases to become what they already know, to become what is so familiar to them from images of military men in movies and books.

Private Pyle is not enjoying basic training.
The opening of the film starts with the standard procedure for new recruits--getting the regulation haircut. The camera zooms in on the faces of the men, they look serious; some frown, some look angry, others are nervous. This is a rite of passage, an entry into military life. What follows is the systematic erasure of identity beginning with the nicknames that Sgt Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) gives the privates. He doesn't allow them to select a name for themselves, rather he chooses names that are somewhat degrading, yet also reflective of each individual's physical or emotional characteristics. He also beats and punches the men who don't perform as he would like. One man, nicknamed Pvt. Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio) bears the brunt of Hartman's anger. Pyle is slightly overweight and slow to learn which causes problems for the rest of the privates once Hartman decides that they will be punished for every mistake Pyle makes.

Stress levels in this situation are high. Basic training is tough, there are obstacles to overcome (actual towering wooden contraptions that poor Private Pyle can't navigate). At the same time, Hartman is trying to merge man and gun through endless drill marching that features cadence calls in which the soldiers sing about their rifles while grabbing their crotches. Later, the rifle becomes a girlfriend to the men, when Hartman demands they give their rifles a girl's name and sleep with them in their bunks. All this activity is supposed to make these men into soldiers- to make them forget who they used to be.  Indeed, Pyle gets in a lot of trouble when he makes a mistake during a march. Hartman immediately accuses him of trying to be "different." To become a soldier, difference and individuality must be eliminated. There is very little freedom in the soldier's identity- especially during the time of the draft when half the men serving weren't there because they wanted to be, but rather because they were forced.

All this training does make some of the privates into good soldiers and it drives others insane. Kubrick seems to be saying something about the fragile nature of masculinity-- attempt to create it with too much force and violence and it will self-destruct.

Reeser, Todd W.,  Masculinities in Theory.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Limitations of Maleness

It is almost impossible to write about masculinity. It isn't done. Many would say that masculinity has been written about since the beginning of human existence. That all stories have largely been written by men, about men and their exploits. This perception seems erroneous, or, at the very least, lazy. Certainly, men have been the dominant force throughout history, but it might be wrong to assume that dominance is without its drawbacks.  Dominance, in itself,  might be limiting.  Consider the "paradox of masculinity-- that it is often perceived to be free, unlike femininity and its imagined constraints. [However, this] is an illusion of freedom, the illusion that masculinity itself can be defined as freedom, whereas in fact it is this very imagined freedom that insures subjugation and hides its own arbitrary functioning."

Really, there are only a few ways to be a man, or there are only a few ways to represent masculinity in the proper way. If anything, the action and crime film reveals this very limited spectrum of acceptable maleness. The violence inherent in them could be representative of a pushing against this construct (since there isn't anything else for men to do, why not take it as far as possible?) or it might simply be that scenes of explosions and car chases and fist fights are entertaining and make good movies. (And they do.) However, it's interesting that women always complain about how their gender are portrayed in movies as weak and one-dimensional, but men are often shown as strong and one-dimensional. The 70s film allowed men a little more depth, but by the 80s most men were flexing their muscles suggestively for the camera. When gender theorist Todd Reeser writes about masculinity, he insists that,"masculinity might be in crisis when many men in a given context feel tension with larger ideologies that dominate or begin to dominate that context." He suggests that "feminism in the 70s and 80s precipitated a crisis of masculinity."

He might be on to something. It could explain the way 80s film became so much about a pumped up masculinity. Certainly, by this time women were really invading the working world in numbers never before seen. A way to respond to this invasion would be by emphasizing physical difference via becoming an enormous, muscle bound man. Yet the action star of the 80s, in some ways, seems less masculine because of this behavior.  He's certainly far less complicated than the 70s star. He parades around in his form fitting clothes so that the world can see his physique. Sure, he's got guns, and knives and rocket launchers, but everything is about his body.  And everything is about the body with men. Men's brains are important, of course, but emphasis has always been placed on being big and strong. More importantly, male roles are concerned with providing and protecting-either their women, or their family or their country. Indeed, there is little that men can call their own if one eliminates all the responsibilities attendant in manhood.

Many of the films of these eras attempted to examine these responsibilities. In the next few posts, I will review some of the war films of 70s and 80s and see how masculinity is portrayed in them.

Reeser, Todd W. Masculinities in Theory

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Carl Weathers and the Problem of Black Masculinity

Most famous for his roles as Apollo Creed in the Rocky films and as Dillon in Predator, Carl Weathers had a moment in the 1980s. He even starred in his own action film that was so filled with action it had action in the title. That would be Action Jackson for those not in the know. Weathers was muscular and handsome. Really, his appearance was almost unreal. In his day, he looked something like a black Ken doll; which, I think, invites some closer consideration. He had the right look of an action star but he was the wrong color for the time. For the most part, black actors were sidekicks in action films, they were part of a duo as in the many buddy cop films of the 80s. Or, if they did star in their own action films, it was made evident that they weren't real action stars. Eddie Murphy's role in Beverly Hills Cop was more comedic than tough, thereby preserving the norm of the white action hero. It wasn't until the early 90s that black actors such as Wesley Snipes and, to some extent, Samuel L. Jackson got to carry an action film. Now, of course, Will Smith's action movies make millions, but again, there is the humor aspect that changes the whole tone of his image.

But to return to Weathers-- in the 80s, he never played a stereotype and was always a good guy (in his role as Creed, he went from being Rocky's opponent to being a friend)-- playing either boxers, cops or military men. Yet he was never able to be in the league of the major action stars of the day. He just didn't catch on. It could be argued that some action stars just didn't reach the pinnacle that others did. Certainly, Chuck Norris or Dolph Lundgren, who are famous in their own right, aren't in the same category as Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe the same set of circumstances kept Carl Weathers out of the top tier of action stars. Except he wasn't in the same set of circumstances. He starred in two of the blockbuster hits of the 80s. (Lundgren did play the villain Ivan Drago in Rocky V but that is precisely why I think his situation is different than Carl Weathers. Few action stars of this era rose to the top playing villains. The only actor who did that was Arnold Schwarzenegger with James Cameron's Terminator. However, it must be acknowledged that Schwarzenegger promptly reversed that performance by playing the reconditioned and no longer villainous terminator in Terminator II).

What likely kept Carl Weathers out of the mainstream was an unease surrounding black masculinity. It also didn't help that Action Jackson wasn't a very good film. In some ways, he made a career out of a stereotypical idea of blackness, in that black men are often considered only in terms of their bodies, their physicality. Yet he made a point of subverting that by playing stereotypically white roles- that of brave soldiers and cops. Though Weathers got his start playing criminals and thugs in blaxploitation films of the 70s (Bucktown and Friday Foster) he avoided those types of roles later in his career.

The Subtle Toughness of 70s Gangster Films

If anything, masculinity in the 70s film can be characterized as an open display of silent toughness. If that last sentence seems contradictory it's because it is. Certainly, violence occurs in these films, yet it is more the sense of unuttered menace in them that is suggestive. They have an atmosphere. So much so, that a film like, say, for example, Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets or Peter Yates' The Friends of Eddie Coyle seem to pulse, to vibrate with energy; the viewer can almost smell the desperate sweat of the characters or their cologne. Both of these films hint at violence. The occasional violence that does occur throughout is accented and made more intense by the threat of it, which seems to be in the air at all times.

These two films can be categorized as gangster films. They portray connected life in New York
and Boston respectively and were made in the same year (1973). Perhaps it is the shared release year that makes them feel similar. In no way am I inferring that the content is similar. It's not. It is simply that the energy is the same. The similarity lies, I think, in the sort of grasping quality these films have. Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and (Johnny Boy) Robert DeNiro desperately want something. Charlie wishes to own a restaurant but also to quell a sense of questioning anxiety that he has concerning his place in New York, the world, the universe, whereas Johnny Boy wants to avoid responsibility but still live a kind of glamourous existence. Robert Mitchum's Eddie Coyle is an older man so his desires are smaller- to preserve his way of life, rather than stake a new claim. But the same feeling is present in these two films- the sense of uncontrolled desire. This is in keeping with a theme of all gangster films. The gangster is an outsider; but one that desperately wants to be an insider and will resort to crime to gain an approximation of an inside life.

Barry Keith Green writes about the history of the gangster film in his book Shadows of Doubt. To him, the "gangster films [of the 20s and 30s were] a cultural response to the closing of the frontier...its protagonists embraced a pioneer individualism placed in a contemporary setting." Moreover, he perceives that gangsters in film are "remarkably American in spirit for they were, at the same time, unethical businessman, a newer breed of Robber Barons seeking the American Dream amid the dangers and opportunities of the new urban wilderness." The same could be said of the 70s film gangster. They are business minded at the same time that they are criminal minded- they simply marry the two impulses to achieve a kind of imagined American ideal. A later Scorsese undertaking, the 1990 film Goodfellas explores this idea at greater length. It is a film that is primarily about materialism and consumerism. It celebrates all the gaudy accoutrements of the gangster life.

Yet in all these gangster films there is the sense of being trapped by the life or the things acquired by the life. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu quotes Karl Marx in his book Masculine Domination when he states that men are "dominated by their domination." These films seem to showcase that idea if it is taken that these three characters are acting on an ingrained ideal of manhood-- and all evidence suggests that they are. From Coyle's insistence that his wife remain a homemaker and that she also be forced out of the room to other quarters of the house when he handles business, to Charley's need to figure out a way to be a success, to Johnny Boy's endless accrual of debt and general freewheeling chaotic lifestyle which includes fancy clothes and girls. They're all men that see no other way, or rather, they can't imagine another way to be men. The treatment of homosexuals, women and blacks in Mean Streets and in The Friends of Eddie Coyle by these characters shows that they are very subconsciously aware of their status as men-- that what gender theorist Todd Reeser calls, "masculinity [as] [a kind of] 'unmarked'...norm" which is in "opposition" to all these Others has occurred to and is cherished by them because they don't have anything else to fall back on.

Reeser, Todd W. Masculinities in Theory
Grant, Barry Keith. Shadows of Doubt: Negotiations of Masculinity in American Genre Films
Bourdrieu, Pierre. Masculine Domination

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Action Hero or Sex Symbol: The Mystery of Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson is an anomaly. He is an action star, who, early on in his career, allowed himself to be sexualized. He was one of the few action stars of the 80s who had sex scenes in his films. Mickey Rourke was another actor who allowed himself to objectified in this way. Though this comparison may be inaccurate because Rourke stuck primarily to dramatic roles. Action stars of the 80s were never sex symbols. Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis (to some extent) etc, used their bodies in film but in a purely action oriented realm, i.e. in killing, fighting or heading to kill and fight. This sort of behavior is expected and is perceived as a normal portrayal of maleness in film. In her book, Big Bad Wolves: Masculinity in American Film, critic Joan Mellon asserts that the "ideal man of [films] is a violent one. To be sexual he has to be not only tall and strong but frequently brutal, promising to overwhelm a woman by physical force that was at once firm and tender." In films of earlier eras, sex was implied and never shown, yet the viewer still got the sense of the characters as sexual beings. Then in later films, actors such as Richard Gere and Michael Douglas starred in more pointedly sexual roles (though none took it as far as Rourke). But these actors aren't action stars. In the case of the 80s action hero, the height and strength and brute force are ever present, but they seldom if ever "overwhelm" women. In fact, they're seldom even near women. If they are, it is is in a rescuing or protective or, in some cases, teaching or training capacity.

Channeling his intensity into other things besides crime fighting.
Enter Mel Gibson to totally buck this trend. Perhaps he was able to do this because he wasn't very tall, was only sort of muscular and also had an ability to play emotional torment well. These displays of emotion could certainly be characterized as feminine, but in the Lethal Weapon films Riggs' tears were usually followed by someone being shot, punched, drowned or thrown off a building; or, as in the case of Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs' emotional vulnerability towards Rika Van Den Haas (Patsy Kensit) is promptly followed by rigorous sex in which Gibson is both "firm, tender" and also partially nude. More to the point, the year before Lethal Weapon 2, Gibson starred in an abysmal movie called Tequila Sunrise, in which he plays Mac Mckussic, a drug dealer who, according to a witness to his sexual exploits, "fucks like a world champion." It follows that if an action star is going to be sexual it must be made evident at every turn that they are also the best at sex.

Somehow Gibson managed to be both tough yet tender and be an 80s action star. Yet it is interesting that in the first two Lethal Weapon films, he never gets the girl. As if to reaffirm the idea that action stars can't fall in love, both his wife and Van Den Haas are killed. The latter event reminds Riggs of his previous loss and makes him even crazier which leads Lethal Weapon 2 to its violent conclusion. In this way, the film takes a risk in that it lets Gibson be sexual, but then promptly undermines that by returning him to his usual work-obsessed, crime-fighting, tough guy ways. Still, the vulnerability is naturally present in Gibson's face. There is a wildness to his eyes and a set to his mouth that is compelling. He became a sex symbol for women and someone men could admire. He also almost fell into the regular guy action hero category (a niche Bruce Willis basically owns) except somehow he wasn't- and this was owed to his intensity and the depth he possessed that most other action stars of the day lacked.

Mellon, Joan. Big Bad Wolves: Masculinity in American Film.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Warriors and Gang Masculinity

Director Walter Hill has said that every movie he has ever made, regardless of genre, has been a Western. His 1979 film, The Warriors could easily be categorized as such. It certainly has a flair for costuming reminiscent of Westerns- some of the gang members are dressed in bandanas and elaborate headdress. Also, the gangs in The Warriors maintain a wild west mentality- they shoot and fight each other over some of the most trivial events, such as invading another gang's turf, or for kicks, or for no reason at all. Yet the film is set far away from the west, in the urban underground of late 20th century New York City. This film showcases 70s New York at its grittiest. The subways and nearly every surface of the buildings shown are covered with graffiti, while the street gangs roam, terrorizing the residents of the city.

The main subject here is flamboyant, youthful masculinity. These gang members are flashy, some wear make up, robes, baseball uniforms, overalls, leather vests with nothing underneath and every other possible outfit combination imaginable. They find their identity within the group, they follow. Yet their ideas of control over turf are meaningless. There is one man named Cyrus (Roger Hill) who makes an attempt to become a leader of all the gangs. Unfortunately, he is killed before he can begin by Luther (David Patrick Kelly) a member of the Rogues gang. Incidentally, Kelly deserves special mention for his many portrayals of utterly villainous masculinity in late 70s and 80s film. Aside from The Warriors, his most notable roles have been as bad guys in such films as Commando, Dreamscape and 48 Hours.

There is the suggestion of the aimlessness of gang life in this film. The Warriors (the aforementioned leather vest wearing gang) get blamed for the murder of Cyrus and spend the duration of the film in a harried attempt to get back to the safety of their home turf on Coney Island, all the while being pursued by different gangs. Yet there are no other plot points, the film is simply, run, be chased and fight and then repeat. Furthermore, their whole purpose as gang members is to prove how manly they are and how much tougher they are than the other gangs. For example, Ajax (James Remar) spends much of the movie attempting to score with women, or prove that he can do so, or calling everyone else in the gang a "faggot" for avoiding fighting or sex.

The final scene does imply that at least one of the gang members sees the meaninglessness of being involved in a gang. Once the Warriors reach Coney Island, Swan (Michael Beck) surveys the scene and wonders why they've nearly killed themselves trying to defend the (in his mind) bleak setting. In this moment, Hill is showcasing the grim world of these young men. They have few options, their only means of forming an identity is within a group that has been brought up in the same hopeless environment. For them, image and protection of that image is most important. This film is interesting because it examines the ways young men attempt to assert their masculinity. Often, in The Warriors, it is done foolishly, in clumsy fights and awkward attempts at flirtation. The film ends with The Warriors being victorious over the Rogues but it isn't really evident what the spoils are.

Die Hard and the Celebration of Average Masculinity

Bruce Willis' portrayal of John McClane in John McTiernan's 1988 film, Die Hard ushered in a new era for the action hero. McClane seems like a regular guy. He's sort of muscular, but not ripped and he even has the slightest hint of a gut. He seems like a man more likely to crack open a few beers rather than pump iron. Where many of the action heroes of the decade played bachelors, Willis' McClane is not. He's married (though his relationship is troubled) and he has kids. While the formula of the 80s action film is present in that the film concerns one man against seemingly insurmountable odds (also with a little interracial buddy cop action too, in the form of Reginald Veljohnson's character of Sgt. Al Powell whom McClane communicates with via police radio), the difference is that McClane is not superhuman. Which isn't to say that he isn't somewhat remarkable. He is the "fly in the ointment" for the mixed band of terrorists that take over the Nakatomi building. Yet his ability to defeat these men stems more from a dogged determination rather than unusual feats of strength. More importantly, he reveals vulnerability, something few 80s action heroes ever showed. During a moment in the film when it seems that he is giving up, he asks Al to find his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and then proceeds to become emotional when detailing to Al his love for her and his failings in the relationship.

In Die Hard McClane remains, despite or perhaps because of his shortcomings, a typical American hero. That he is pitted against a group of primarily European criminals is interesting. Alan Rickman does a stellar job as Hans Gruber, the German terrorist with the British accent. His acting performance is over-the-top and totally suited for the role, clearly he realized the inherent silliness of the character, which is really more caricature than anything. This film also seems to pointedly pit stereotypical American values against stereotypical European values. Consider the fight sequence between McClane and Carl (Alexander Godunov). Godunov was a dancer and it is evident in the balletic kicks and twirls he employs in this scene. Yet  McClane responds to Carl's graceful beating by bashing Carl's head against things and punching and kicking at him wildly. There is almost the sense of a kind of natural European elegance against American thick-headed clumsiness in this moment. Of course, none of that matters because McClane is victorious in the fight because Americans always have to win. Gruber makes a point of mentioning that during the films' climax, even referencing the habit of Americans to be eternally desirous of happy endings in movies. His statement, "You Americans all alike. Well, this time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly" is interrupted by McClane's reply, "Sky Cooper, asshole," which both corrects Gruber's mistake with the actress' name and also his mistaken belief that this particular scenario will end unhappily for the American John McClane.

Die Hard represents a return to a more average type action hero. That it references John Wayne (the most regular of regular guys) is telling. The fact that McClane's name rhymes with John Wayne's suggests that the two are being linked. More to the point, McClane is a realistic character. He isn't invincible, he can be harmed- he sustains both a gun shot wound in the arm and a serious injury to his bare feet when Gruber, after discovering McClane is only partially clothed, directs his henchmen to "shoot the glass." This weakness makes McClane rather like a 70s action star. Interestingly, this film seemed to set the tone for 90s action movies. The end of the 80s marked the beginning of the end of the domination of the genre by the huge action star.  By the mid 90s, action heroes had become less muscular and more realistic in appearance. The runaway success of Die Hard likely had something to do with that.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gazing at Big Men: Objectification in the 80s

The most striking change in the films of the 1980s versus the 1970s was not the wardrobe of the actors/characters, but rather their physical appearance. As if to mirror the excesses of the decade, the 80s action star was swollen, buff, massive, almost cartoonish in appearance. In films such as Predator, Commando and Rambo the camera lingers over the muscular physiques of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. The camera objectifies, regardless of whether the subject is male or female, though much has been made of female objectification in film. The difference, here, is the way men on screen get to perform their objectification.  Critic Laura Mulvey refers to a kind of "looking [that is located] solely in relation to activity/passivity," specifically, that men "look" and women are the "object of the look." This is largely true and is a legacy of the patriarchy and certainly film has been a reflection of that, but an examination of any action film of the 80s turns that point upside down.

This, too, is what makes these films so unique. While they are performing and upholding a conservative Reagan era agenda, they also seem to be playing with these ideals, poking fun at them. Schwarzenegger, despite his Austrian origin, is American might writ large. In Commando, he carries trees that he felled himself on his shoulder like a modern day Paul Bunyan; later he rips seats out of cars, phone booths out of walls. In Predator, he wins a punching match with a seven foot alien.  This sort of strength is ridiculous, it's impossible. Attached to this strength is a kind of joviality. Schwarzenegger never loses his sense of humor, even when he kills. This seems in some way to be an intentional or unintentional jab at American wholesomeness--the American belief in the over-arching goodness in all that is American, no matter what is done in the name of patriotism and to whom.

More importantly, there is something almost silly about the kind of hyper-masculinity displayed in these films, and, I'd argue, these movies are, to use a Terminator 2 term, "self-aware" of their over-the-top aspects. Manliness is being celebrated in these films, but it is also being fetishized. These bodies are being used, to beat and bludgeon, yes, but they are still performing objects. Critic Steve Neale focuses on this idea in his essay "Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men in Mainstream Cinema," he asserts that these films treat "images of men" in three ways, by "identification, voyeuristic looking and fetishistic looking." Furthermore, he perceives that there are "erotic elements involved in the relations between the spectator and the male image [that must] be constantly...repressed and disavowed...[else] mainstream cinema would have to openly come to terms with male homosexuality." With this last point, I disagree. I think that the 80s film is so concerned with showcasing the right (in the conservative sense) kind of masculinity that the point is that the male viewer is to watch and admire these bodies and to aspire to become strong and brave in the same way. The characters are presented as courageous and tough- they are the ideal male.  In most of these films, they are so busy killing there is no time for sex. If anything, they seem asexual. This isn't to deny that some viewers may watch and get aroused by the characters, but that isn't the point. The bodies on display in the films are for use solely for their strength; they are essentially big machines.

These are purely physical beings, not mental. They don't have rich interior lives- they act, they react and that's it. This seems to be very similar to the way in which women are objectified--except these male bodies are used for strength, not sex and while they aren't always portrayed as particularly bright, they are still powerful.

Mulvey, Laura. (1975). "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" & "Afterthoughts...Inspired by Duel in the Sun." (1981).

Neale, Steve.  "Masculinity as Spectacle."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Intersection of Masculinity and Race

Striking Poses, Striking Difference
Though Walter Hill's 48 Hours was released in 1982 it still retains a rather late 70s feel. Jack Cates' (Nick Nolte) wardrobe has very nearly the same drab brown button down formality of Eastwood's Harry Callahan except Cates appears to be loosening up ever so slightly for the new era. He wears blazers, but no tie or sweater. His oxford shirt is unbuttoned at least to the second or third button. Instead of slacks, he wears fitted boot cut jeans and cowboy boots. He is casual yet still formal. When Cates and Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) are introduced in one of the earlier scenes in the film, it is evident that Cates is a little square on fashion. Hammond makes a point of correcting Cates' assumption that his suit cost $500 when in fact its price was close to $1000. Aside from differences concerning fashion, Cates and Hammond clash in other ways. One source of tension is that Cates is a cop who needs Hammond, a criminal, to help capture a fugitive named Ganz (James Remar). The primary cause of the friction, however, is racial- Cates is white and Hammond is black. It is clear from the outset that Cates is not too thrilled about black people, referring to Hammond first as "watermelon", "a charcoal-colored loser", a "spear-chucker" and then later breaking out the biggest racial slur of them all in a dramatic confrontation. Not only is Cates sporting a similar though modified look as Harry Callahan, he is also carrying over the racial attitudes of the previous era, using racial epithets with the same aplomb as Callahan.

Cates is slightly more open and relaxed than Callahan, however. In this way he ceases to be a 70s character and becomes more of an 80s one. Sure, he's tough and somewhat formal as evidenced by the blazer, but he has a swagger, a looseness. There is, from the outset, banter between Cates and Hammond that, as the film progresses, becomes friendly as opposed to hostile. Of course, this follows the true buddy cop (Hammond becomes an honorary cop in this film) movie formula. Certainly, 48 Hours can be credited with paving the way for a later and even more popular interracial buddy cop film, Lethal Weapon.

Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon was released just five years after 48 Hours but the mood couldn't be more different. Though they both take place in California, 48 Hours' San Francisco and Lethal Weapon's Los Angeles seem worlds apart. Where Cates and Hammond visit San Francisco's grimiest spots, Riggs and Murtaugh are searching for drug smugglers in the glitziest LA clubs. When Sgt. Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Sgt. Murtaugh (Danny Glover) meet, they, like Cates and Hammond, take an instant dislike to each other. This dislike isn't due to their racial differences, nor to different life experiences (they're both cops) but rather because Murtaugh perceives Riggs to be a loose cannon and Riggs fears Murtaugh is going to be a strictly by the book type of police officer.

If there is racial tension in this film it isn't expressed. In five years, open use of racial slurs in films had become frowned upon. There are, however, clear racial roles in this film. Though they share nearly equal screen time, somehow Gibson's Riggs seems like the main character, while Murtaugh is something of a satellite, an accessory. Though Murtaugh has been an officer longer, Riggs is characterized as braver and smarter. In one scene in a firing range, Riggs shows off his shooting skills by achieving a near impossible shot from a great distance, thereby making Murtaugh's impressive shooting seem lackluster by comparison. The point is made early on in the film as to whom is the most masculine. Murtaugh seems to accept this role without question, seemingly following Riggs' lead as the film progresses, though he is the older, more experienced cop. Nevertheless, these roles seem to suit both characters and they successfully fight crime while becoming partners and friends.

Both 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon focus on race, the latter more subtly than the former. Each film provides a showcase on the ways in which race and masculinity intersect. In 48 Hours, Murphy's Hammond is a jive talking criminal who revels in his ability to be infinitely cooler than Cates. Yet he is never portrayed as suitable competition in the masculinity department. He gets his moment to play cop in a redneck bar, but uses a slur to describe himself during the only moment where he truly gets to display an authentic masculinity. Alternatively, Glover's Murtaugh is an upstanding character, a family man and respected police officer who still cannot compete with Riggs' toughness, intensity, bravery and shooting skills. Hammond and Murtaugh both are much more formally dressed then their white counterparts, remaining in suits throughout the duration of both films. Yet in Hammond's case the suit is too flashy to garner respect, while Murtaugh's suit seems to suggest advancing age and irrelevance. No matter what they do or wear, they still don't quite measure up.  Curiously and rather contradictorily, these films likely played a role in lessening racial tensions at the same time that they play to the racial status quo.

Sartorial Seriousness in Seventies Cinema

A curious juxtaposition occurs in the 70s film. Many of these movies are rough and violent and often best described as gritty. Whether scenes occur in pool halls, rundown bars or sad looking diners they always appear bleak, dark and grim.  Regardless of the rough appearance of these places, the characters in them are usually dressed somewhat formally. Comparatively few 80s films can be characterized as gritty. Despite the violent or rough subject matter, there is a sleekness, a sheen, a stylized glamour to the 80s film. At the same time, wardrobe becomes decidedly more casual. Somehow this incongruity works and takes nothing away from the films and may, in fact, make them more compelling. These changes, I think, are more than just the natural progression and fluctuation of fashion but rather a visual representation of character and a specific type of maleness.

There is much more of the sense of seriousness in the 1970s film. Humor, in many of these movies is absent or occurs very rarely. Consider the craggy, angular toughness of Clint Eastwood's face in the Dirty Harry films or the drawn and melancholic visage of Robert Mitchum in Peter Yates' The Friends of Eddie Coyle. These are faces that belong in drab suits and ties or in blazers and slacks. Also, there is a sense of the unflappable in these characters and their wardrobe choices. Eastwood's Harry Callahan appears neat and put together no matter how many bad guys he chases and captures. In the iconic "do you feel lucky, punk?" scene in the first film in the series, Callahan appears unfazed as he dodges bullets while successfully hitting his criminal targets, yet he is clearly bothered by the blood stains that appear on his slacks as a result of the shoot out. Callahan is the visual representation of order in an insane world. He appears in a chaotic and seemingly untenable situation and alone quickly dispatches the bad guys. He never raises his voice or changes expression, his is a robotic, authoritative neatness.

Alternatively, Mitchum's Coyle is always dressed in slacks and a jacket yet appears rumpled and worn down. He is a small town criminal facing a looming prison sentence. He almost appears to wear a uniform of failure and regret. Yet he is no less masculine than Callahan. He silently bears his fears and anxieties. Like Callahan, he makes no sudden movements, he is resigned and will defend himself but isn't going to make a show of it. Unlike Callahan, he does not engage in any physical violence, nor is he chased (though Callahan often seems above violence- he threatens it but is so intimidating crooks never rise to the challenge). Rather, things seem to happen to Coyle and he seemingly has no recourse to defend himself.

In these two films, seriousness, depth, power and the lack thereof are conveyed through clothing. Later examinations of other films from the 70s and 80s will attempt to connect clothing and character.