Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Brief Word About Modern Manliness

Jake Gyllenhaal: An example of 21st century
manicured masculinity
I am considering doing some future blog posts (along with the upcoming series The Male Appetite and more 70s and 80s blog posts) that include analysis of modern action films. I thought this would provide an interesting opportunity to compare and contrast the presentation of manhood in the 21st century as compared to the 20th. Before I do so, as with everything else I do, I thought I'd take a moment to ponder  what modern manhood is all about. If anything, manhood in the present day is a little less restricted. There are many more opportunities and different ways to showcase manliness. Men today are seemingly more concerned with the details of their physical appearance. It isn't just about physical strength and muscles. Lean definition is important but there is, too, a focus on certain aspects of grooming. Men get manicures, pedicures, wax their eyebrows and other parts of their bodies. There's more attention paid to wardrobe. These changes are welcome to some but others see it as a disturbing trend.

In the past fews years, many sociologists, political figures, writers and anyone with an opinion has commented on the changing state of masculinity. Some suggest the role of the modern man is unclear. Others have said that men are becoming obsolete. Still others talk of the rampant feminization of men. This last assertion interests me most. Are men becoming more feminine? If so, what is the cause? Is it something chemical, is it some after effect of the feminist movement, or is it evolutionary? Obviously, I won't find this answer through watching a bunch of bad modern action films, but sometimes clues can be found in art. Perhaps it is a stretch to call an action film art, but for the purposes of this post I am doing so.

Stallone: Then and Now.
Many of the top 80s action stars have made their way into 21st century films, and though these men are technically senior citizens, they remain as buff and firm as ever. Then there is the 21st century action star- these men aren't necessarily locked into a permanent action hero role. Like Jake Gyllenhaal in the photo above, many get really ripped and toned for one performance and then go back to their regular bodies to play a part in a non action oriented film. I'd imagine this puts more stress on the body then just maintaining a muscular physique at all times. Nevertheless, in many ways, these modern actors are much less limited then a Stallone or Schwarzenegger, who played essentially the same role their entire careers.

What can be made of all these changes? Do they benefit men or harm them? Do men need a specific type of masculine ideal to follow or is there power in breaking down these traditional notions? Is the modern action star any different then those of the 70s or 80s? I will try to answer these questions upon viewing some current films* and if any readers have any ideas as to the answers, comments are welcome on this topic or any other.

*This will likely not become a series. I will probably get frustrated and annoyed by the modern action film and return to watching 70s and 80s stuff pretty rapidly.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Seven Reasons The Seven-Ups is a Deeply 70s Film

Never mind the fact that Philip D'Antoni's The Seven-Ups was made in 1973 which automatically makes it a 70s film, there are certain aspects of this movie about a secret special forces group of police officers (nicknamed the Seven-Ups for the maximum sentences they get for the criminals they capture) working undercover in New York City that are unapologetically 70s.  Here's seven of them:

Roy Scheider doing his 70s thing.
1. There are scarcely any ladies in it. This is a movie by for and about men. They do manly things. They smoke cigars, they chase each other in cars. They meet at piers, they drink beers. This movie is all about men meeting, plotting and occasionally killing, all while wearing smart leather jackets and trench coats.  The scenes in which women do appear are brief and these women are either wives, waitresses or nurses. They include a wife who says little and brings her husband some mixed drinks. She appears later as a whimpering crying mess when her husband's criminal activities bring the police bursting into her home brandishing weapons. The waitresses and nurses say nothing at all.

2. Roy Scheider is in it. Studies have shown that Schieder's presence in a film ups the 70s quotient dramatically. Seriously, Scheider is the quintessential 70s male action hero. Made famous by his roles in Jaws and The French Connection, he's stoic, intense, lean and wears a suit well.

3. The background music rarely matches the scenes. The incongruity of the music actually works quite effectively during a scene in a car wash that is far more tense then might have been intended. The music   used here isn't action movie music at all, but rather the kind typically reserved for thrillers. Other times the music is far too jaunty or vaguely disco-ey. This is an entirely 70s film phenomenon. There are countless films from this era in which scenes are made jarring, dramatic and odd through bizarre selections of music. In an unusual way it makes the films more realistic. It's almost as if the music is coming from someone's radio nearby.

4. The bad guys are suited up and look like bankers. 70s era bad guys are the best. Suits, tweed coats and subtle bell bottoms are everywhere. These men are grey-haired, paunchy and look like they belong in an office or board meeting somewhere. The scenes in which they gather to discuss their nefarious business are made all the more interesting because these men manage to appear both sinister and totally on the up and up.

5. The car chase that lasts forever. Nearly every action film of every era has at least one car chase. But this scene is about fifteen minutes long. Roy Scheider weaves his car through the streets of New York in pursuit of some shadowy bad guys while the snappy soundtrack plays. Out of the city and onto the highway the car chase continues. It ends with Scheider looking believably dazed and bloody.

6. It requires an old-fashioned attention span. This is a film that reveals quite clearly the change in the attention span of viewing audiences over the years. Scenes are longer and the actions and motivations of the characters are not explained in depth or at all. The casual modern viewer of this film will get lost easily. Though the car chases and shoot outs and fighting abound, it is paced in a totally different way than modern films.

7. There aren't any heros here. Unlike 80s films, the police aren't really portrayed as great, noble men. They are shown instead as driven to do the job because they need the money or they are just driven and intense in general like Scheider's character. Moreover, the lack of heroism and heroics underscores the general grim tone of the film. Shot in winter in and around New York City, there is a grey heaviness over everything. Most scenes seem to take place in isolated places of subtle decay such as industrial settings, empty piers or lonely stretches of highway. Even the most populated places seem bleak, such as the bustling Midtown street of the film's opening scene. There is the ever present manic buzz of the city, but it is vaguely melancholic. The feeling produced is a kind of muted agitation which is in keeping with the tone of the film.

So those are just some of the reasons this film is very 70s. It's a quick gritty little film that makes for intense viewing if the viewer is willing to pay close attention.