Derik Badman's Journal

2020-11-08 09:47

Watched Bette Gordon's Variety (1983) which Criterion descibes as a "feminist noir". It was co-written by Kathy Acker (who I've been meaning to read again, as I only briefly tried one of her novels many many years ago). The atmosphere and lighting are often noirish as is the settings, the rundown NYC of the early 80s, where the protagonist takes a job as a ticket seller at a Times Square adult movie theater. This suited older guy talks to her a few times, and takes her out to dinner, then to a Yankees game where he leaves early on some mysterious business. She follows him to some shady looking meetings, then later follows him to Asbury Park for more shady meetings. Her boyfriend, who seems to be a reporter, has been talking to her about some kind of mob/union situation at the docks/fish market, which seems to be what sets her into this idea of this man as a criminal, and then it seems to actually be the case. He's seen at the fish market by the camera, as she walks around it, but I don't think she ever sees him. In the process she gets interested in the films at the theatre she works and in a bookstore across the street. In a couple scenes with her boyfriend, she suddenly (seemingly without any provocation or lead in) starts narrating an erotic tale, which really disturbs the boyfriend. At some point, she seems to start working in some kind of adult entertainment (it's not totally clear, it's not shown). At the end she calls the older guy, tells him she followed him and her completely vague sense of him doing something illegal, and then tells him to meet her on a street corner. The street corner (or at least a street corner) is shown at night, long take. End of movie.

It's an unusual film, very early 80's NYC: makes me think of Jarmusch's early movies or various No Wave films); Nan Goldin (the photographer) is the protagonists friend; John Lurie did the soundtrack. Seems to all be filmed on location. The protagonist is really closed off. We see some of what she does, and what she says to others, though she doesn't talk a lot or really confide in anyone, and as the plot goes on she is more and more isolated. So we never really know what she's thinking, what motivates her, why she feels the need to follow this guy around and then expose that she was.

There is a lingering sense of dread throughout the movie, I expected at any moment something bad would happen to the protagonist, but it never does. In the end she exposes herself (perhaps to danger, we are left hanging). It reminds me a lot of the various metaphysical detective stories I've read (like Auster's City of Glass or Robbe-Grillet's Erasers) where the mysterious is more of a framework for the detective's self exploration. That seems to be what the writers are going for as the woman becomes drawn into the pornography around her (at one point she even projects herself onto the screen, in a scene with the man she keeps following). I don't know. Intriguing elements, but not super successful throughout.

I'm not quite finished Le Guin's Powers and really enjoying it. The book is basically a sequence of the protagonist narrator learning about different societies in his world. He is a slave for a wealthy family who is educated to be a teacher to the children. We see him learning from his childhood, the classroom, then the society of the male slaves when he is old enough to move into their barracks. When war comes, he is sent to do hard labor where he deals with a different situation, then he ends up working with a bunch of other educated slaves. He runs away and lives in the woods with two different bandit/freed slave groups. He leaves them and goes into the marsh and lives with the people he was stolen from a child, his original family who have a very different society. He appears to be headed next to a different city. Each group and place is for him learning about different power structures and relations. He sees how the master/slave dynamic gets replicated in different forms, at different levels, between different types of people, even when in some cases the people are explicitly saying they are against slavery (and are mostle escaped slaves).