Girls Gone Mild
by James Killough
I was only briefly a fan of Sex and the City, during its first season, and then only by osmosis. I had something of a crush on my female writing partner, photographer Amy Peck, and she was trying to get us away from feature films into TV, but I was stubbornly, stupidly resistant. Yet she was equally stubborn so we compromised and I wrote a spec script each for episodes of SATC and Will and Grace. That’s about as far as our foray into TV got; Amy went off and had a second child, and I slipped back into the torpor of indie filmmaking.
The reason we chose SATC and WAG is because they are both shows about gay men and the women who need them (the female characters in SATC are basically gay men in drag), which was our relationship in a nutshell: Amy and I were Will and Grace, as are many gay man/straight woman relationships.
We even attended a lecture given by WAG’s creators, David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, at UCLA. Just to accentuate how much we were the models for this show, during a break in the lecture, Mutchnick, the gay part of the writing team, sidled up to us on his way to the bathroom and said, “You two are our favorites.”
“That’s because we’re wearing Gucci,” Amy replied.
Needless to say, we didn’t parlay this encounter into a staff-writing job. And that’s for the best. I think writing those spec scripts for two shows I didn’t create taught me that working in someone else’s voice, with characters that aren’t extensions or imaginings of me is like confining myself to a spiked iron coffin that is several sizes too small. With the exception of a recent similar experience when I was commissioned to finish a feature script for another writer, I have never been through something so excruciating. I would rather write ad copy. Seriously.
SATC had limited appeal for me. Like many gay men of a certain lingering pulchritude and sex drive, I identified sometimes with Samantha. But it was always her whorish antics, not her persona; I found her unrelentingly vulgar, aesthetically unappealing and just plain unfunny.
I knew many of the creative people behind SATC from my years in publishing and swirling around the demi-monde of New York City, which I always treated with the same innate aloofness and caution that most native Manhattanites have towards transplants like Candace Bushnell and her posse, who come to NYC to be fully self-expressed and escape the boredom of wherever they’re originally from, but who rarely become part of the City’s bedrock.
Those transplants are no doubt what gives New York much of its vibrancy and energy: they supply the art for the galleries, the talent for the shows, the fashion for the runways, the excitement for the nightlife, the glitter for Pride parades. But unless they breed and integrate with the true soul and infrastructure of NYC, they have the impermanence and seasonableness of vivid perennial flowers in a generous clearing of what is really a vast, somber forest of concrete-and-steel oaks. And they seem only to be aware of each other.
HBO’s new series, Girls, is so similar in premise to SATC that the show’s writer and creator, Lena Dunham, immediately makes the comparison in an opening scene by pointing it out with a poster of Carrie Bradshaw and Co., accompanied by a monologue about how alike one of the lead characters is to each of the SATC characters at some point in her day. It is the weakest moment of the first episode, but necessary.
Unusually, Dunham also directed the pilot, and I was deeply impressed with what she accomplished: her actors infuse their roles with that much more depth; the point of view of the entire show has that much more realness. Dunahm is definitely the reference I am going to make in the next production meeting I’m in where I ask if I can direct the pilot of my show and I’m treated to a patronizing chuckle while the producers wonder if Danny Boyle might be available.
So observant and compassionate is Girls of the dynamics and struggles of smart, talented twenty-something women in New York that one would expect the reaction to the show to be almost unanimously favorable on Twitter and around the female blogosphere. Sadly that isn’t the case; as Tuttle has observed about reality-show competitions, women’s teams rarely show solidarity, much to their detriment.
The baseless online kvetching was summed up for me by a piece last week in The Hairpin by Jenna Wortham, a black writer who complains that the show is lacking because it only features white girls. This despite the fact that,
… the show (at least the first three episodes) is actually good. It gets So. Many. Things. Right. It’s on point again and again, hitting at the high and low notes about being in your twenties, about being on your own and still so far from grown.
Wortham’s rather retro 80s PC complaint goes on to try to make a fragile glass slipper of an argument fit, and never succeeds. She says that it’s not just because minorities aren’t represented, because she herself is part white and identifies as such. It’s because of some amorphous “uncomfortable exclusivity.” But that applies to the portrayal of any group of individuals. The fact is, Ms. Wortham, birds of a feather do flock together, so just because this isn’t representative of your particular milieu doesn’t mean it isn’t great viewing.
I can only think that detractors like Wortham, who admit that the show is good but flawed for various picayune reasons, are picking at it because it does so hit close to home so successfully. And to me, even as a middle-aged man for whom Girls has even less relevance than SATC, that makes it worthy viewing.
If she hasn’t gone mild, then one girl who is certainly taming her hitherto random, wayward visual expression is Lady Gaga. I’ve blogged in the past that it is going to be interesting to see her focus and mature as an artist, and one step in that direction seems to have been her choice of Giorgio Armani as the costume designer for her upcoming tour. The first sketches for her outfits were released last week, and I’m beginning to appreciate the whole Harry Potter couture aspect, even if the overall medieval lady goblin’s castle theme still leaves me a bit cold.
The lack of a decisive winner for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year left many people more than a bit cold, no more so than the authors who went through the Herculean process of getting to the final selection to begin with. The New Yorker responded with a humorous piece in their ‘Shouts & Murmurs’ section that was a classic, not to mention pithy.
To be honest, these days I’ve been having a hard time finding novels that can engage me for longer than half a book, but I do have the excuse that I’m so preoccupied with the writing at hand that it’s hard to focus on someone else’s stories, which is both lame and maybe why I found The New Yorker satire to be so spot-on: I am being derailed by being online so much.
The best quote of the week belongs to a dear friend of mine, whom I haven’t seen in ten years, but who shall remain anonymous because I would rather quote him than expose him. Now in his seventies, my friend hasn’t aged a day since I saw him last. “I attribute my youthfulness to great drugs and fucking around as much as possible,” he explained. Right on.
One of the more bizarre legal cases to affect the entertainment industry in the past years has been Lee Storey’s claim that documentary filmmaking should qualify for a tax write-off, as it should. Tax Court Judge Diane L. Kroupa had questioned whether documentaries could be considered a for-profit business at all, which threw an entire niche of our business momentarily into the category of a hobby. As if documentaries weren’t marginalized enough.
Last week, Judge Kroupa ruled that Storey could write off every penny of her investments, that it simply takes more time for a documentary to generate a profit than most other businesses, which had a ripple effect of relief throughout the indie filmed entertainment business.
No doubt this is good news for the backers of Jay Bulger’s doc, Beware of Mr. Baker. As Jay explained to us Friday night over drinks with my friend Dame Bea, Baker took him four years to make, and the costs for music rights alone were staggering. I’ve seen the film and it is a gem, worth every penny. Jay is now experimenting and reinventing distribution models, which I will be keener to follow than a muddled tax judge trying to figure out how long even revamped models will take to recoup investment.
I wouldn’t call the rather colorful character producer Leda Maliga and I ran across at the appropriately meta-named Stir Crazy Café last Thursday a schizophrenic, so I’m being a bit off target by naming him our Schizo of the Week. However, given that he goes around looking like the picture below and still calls himself an actor certainly makes Jeffrey a little delusional; we’re not quite sure what auditions he’s going for, unless he’s currently starring in a post-punk gay hipster adaptation of The Wizard of Oz and doesn’t mind being so limited. Here he is with his dog, Senji, perhaps checking online for casting breakdowns: