Sunday, April 3, 2011

This One Time I Decided To Blog About Going to See a Movie

I've been feeling kind of lackluster about this blogging thing lately. I've also been feeling a little bit lackluster about cleaning my side of the bed and cooking meals involving vegetables and returning things to the DVD store on time, so blogging, don't take it personally okay. I still love you. I PROMISE I'LL NEVER LEAVE YOU BLOGGING. MARRY ME BLOGGING? I'm not sure if the lackluster is kind of natural disaster related or maybe that lately I've been a bit distracted by writing some stuff to deadline for Salient or (to co-opt a phrase I saw used by the lovely Lesley Kinzel) I just have a case of "activism fatigue" and it's natural for these things to come in ebbs and flows. I just had to look up ebb in the dictionary (my dictionary of choice being Google, and therefore, not actually a dictionary) to see if it is a real word, and you know what, it is! Great. It means something to do with the sea in case you wanted to know. This is as technical as I'm getting. Remember, I'm feeling lackluster. I don't plan to write my my first blog in weeks on the inner workings of wave mechanics.

When I first began writing this post my sister was up here in Wellington going to a different school, while she waited for hers to reopen, after the earthquake. The extent of my blogging procrastination sees that my sister is now firmly back in the South Island and having to learn things in tents, which all sounds fairly traumatic to me as the closest I have come to camping is putting up a marquee last weekend. A very small marquee. To sell lolly cake out of. That I only really helped to put up. And I probably only really helped if you consider making jokes about 'pegging' to be helpful. I went to the school that my sister now goes to and I can tell you that the only good thing to come out of the earthquake was the sheer unadulterated joy that I felt when I saw this photo of the St. Margaret's College gym mid-demolition:

If I could have actually shown this to my chubby, awkward eleven year old self OR my eyeliner-ed, anti-social thirteen year old self OR my broken-legged-after-an-obstacle-course fifteen year old self all would have been alright with the world. I could have smugly sailed through those pointless gymnastics/trampolining/cricket lessons knowing that those barbarous PE teachers would get their comeuppance. DON'T WORRY ALLY, I would say, ONE DAY THERE WILL ACTUALLY BE A BULLDOZER IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS GYM. AND NOT JUST SITTING THERE EITHER, IT WILL BE DOING ACTUAL BULLDOZING WORK. THEY CAN CHAIN YOUR BODY ALLY, BUT THEY CAN'T CHAIN YOUR MIND. Fuck I hated PE. I've always been a vehement opposer of those who spout the saying that 'those who can't do, teach' but my GAWD I love saying that 'those who can't teach, teach PE'. How did I end up talking about PE? Deep seated psychological problems? I don't really know but while we're here any sanctimonious PE defenders in the house should probably go and read this by the Fat Nutritionist. The beginning of this blog post however was supposed to be about my sister, who I assume is legitimately sad about the demolition of the gym because of her love of 'working out'.

When my sister was here and she wasn't working out we decided to go to the movies on a Sunday afternoon. We ended up in that dismal movie no man's land where none of the movies you actually want to see start for at least 2 two hours so you have to go and see either Gnomeo and Juliet or 127 Hours or Conviction. I vetoed 127 Hours because I couldn't deal with 'that whole arm thing' and Gnomeo and Juliet was never really up for consideration, I just wanted you to really understand the MOVIE TIME DESERT in which we found ourselves. My sister and I decided to see Conviction due to my unwillingness to watch anything about amputation but also due to our mutual love of low brow, Jodi Picoult-esque suspense rubbish. Conviction is based on the Incredible True Story of Betty Anne Waters, a single mother who went to law school for ages and ages so she could become a lawyer and then try to get her convicted-of-murder brother Kenny Waters out of jail. The trailer is right here and you should probably watch it because I am going to talk about the movie for a little bit now. (IMDB here for those who are more text inclined.)

When I was watching the movie I had quite a nice mindless time, just the kind you want when you're watching some low brow, Jodi Picoult-esque suspense rubbish. Once, I caught myself wondering if the conversations between Minnie Driver and Hillary Swank meant the film passed the Bechdel Test but mostly I found myself thinking about things like:

'Hrm, Hillary Swank's character has quite nice leather gloves clothes for a single parent lady putting herself through law school by working in an Irish bar at night.'

'Hrm, my lips are a bit dry, I wonder where my lip balm is?'

'Oh look, that guy from the OC still has those great eyebrows!'

'What should I eat for dinner?'

'Man, I love Juliet Lewis.'

And then the movie finished and I was pleased it ended the way I knew it would and I was totally ready to go and get my kumara fries but THEN my friends, and I'm really trying to build to a point here, THEN there was the epilogue and THEN there was the kicker, because during the epilogue I saw this picture of the real Betty Anne and Kenny:

And THEN I realised that I had been been watching a movie about a fat person without even knowing it. Surprise! This seemed really weird to me, especially because I thought that I was watching an Incredible True Story.

This 'Incredible True Story' thing is kind of important. When you're watching an Incredible True Story the stakes seem higher. The fact that Betty Anne Waters the character decides to become a lawyer for her brother is so much more powerful because Betty Anne Waters the person actually became a lawyer for her brother. So it makes sense that this 'Incredible True Story' thing was amplified for the movie. Hillary Swank was cast, who looks kinda similar to the real Betty Anne Waters. She spoke with an accent. She wore a wig. The movie was filmed in Michigan in an attempt to recreate locations in Masachusetts, where Waters was initially convicted of the murder of Katharina Brow . And while Conviction has been criticised for legal inaccuracies, the movie claims to tell the story of the real Betty Anne and the real Kenny. The film uses this realness, this Incredible True Story-ness, to its advantage. Tickets sell because everyone loves a biopic. Tears flow, because this shit really happened. So, you could say that it surprised me that Sam Rockwell was cast to play Kenny Waters. It surprised me because after all of these attempts at authenticity somebody must have made a concious choice not to cast an actor that looked like the real Kenny Waters. Sam Rockwell gave a really solid performance (and my friend Jean says he is a really great actor) but he looks like this:

And not like this.

I kind of want to know why this decision was made. I can speculate of course. Is it because Kenny in the film is kind of roguish and sexy and charming and we all know that fat people can't be any of these things? Is it because at one point, when Kenny is being sexy and roguish and charming, he does a little strip tease and we all know that nobody wants to see a fat person in any state of undress? Maybe Sam Rockwell was cast because the plot requires two of Kenny's girlfriends to give evidence in court, and obviously fat people are so undesirable they are never in relationships, ever. Or is it because during the film Kenny is seen as being physically violent? Everybody knows that obviously a person's size must directly correlate to a person's strength, so therefore a fat Kenny would have been more threatening. Is it because a fat person would be less sympathetic? After all, the success of the movie really does depend on the viewer wanting Kenny to be released from jail and nobody likes a fatty. Is this enough though? Are the stigma and the stereotypes enough to justify casting Sam Rockwell and not a fat actor in a movie that claims to be authentic? A movie that claims to be an Incredible True Story?

I've written before about the total and complete lack of positive or actually even NEUTRAL representations of fat bodies in the creative media. I've read a lot about how the people that are presented in the movies and on the telly are the people that have the most power. So it makes sense that the people who I see the most of on screen are white, able-bodied, cis-men. But also,when I watch the movies and the telly I see mostly thin people getting the good story lines and thin people getting to play characters with agency and with flaws and with interesting lives. I see fat people playing a whole deck of miserable stereotypes: fat people who can't stop eating candy, fat people who hate their lives, fat people who can't stop eating donuts. Of course, fat people should be able to eat whatever the fuck they want, including candy and donuts, but when two out of three fat girls on televvision at the moment have a humorous eating crutch... it's time to cry stereotype. Usually I attribute the lack of fat people in the media to the fact that writers and producers and advertisers and those with the mega producer bucks assume that people don't want to see movies or television programs about fat people. Therefore movies and television programs about fat people don't usually get made, and if they do fat characters are usually cast as the best friend or the villain or a main character who happens to provide donut munching comic relief. And I get that movies are sometimes supposed to be escapist and glossy and glamorous. People go to the movies and they want to sit in the dark and switch off and be somebody else for awhile. I do it. That's why we went to see the uplifting lawyer movie and not the uplifting chopping-through-your-tendons-with-your-pocket-knife movie.

James Franco was cast in the pocket knife movie, and maybe I should be angry about this too. James Franco is a little bit more conventionally attractive than Aron Ralston and this Hollywood-ising of people's stories is also about the glossy and the escapist and the eye candy. I am angry, a little bit, and I could write about my anger that so many movies give people unrealistic expectations of how they should look. I could write about my anger that being attractive is usually part and parcel of being a successful actor. But right now I'm too busy feeling furious at Conviction. Conviction was supposed to be about Kenny Waters, a fat man with a life story interesting enough to be made into a block buster film. But the stereotypes about the unsexy and the scary and the donuts are so pervasive that even REAL LIFE STORIES about REAL LIFE FAT PEOPLE are being told by thin actors. Stereotypes about fat people are leading to the erasure of fat stories. I don't think it's good enough. I'm sick of people assuming that I won't want to go to the movies and see people that look like me. I'm sick of people saying "it's just a movie" and ignoring how media representations prop up systemic oppression. I'm sick of it and I think that whoever made the decision not to cast a fat actor is a coward, because as the late, great Heather MacAllister said:

"Any time there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it’s political. Add physical movement, then dance, then sexuality and you have a revolutionary act."

I'm writing about Conviction because seeing that picture of Kenny and Betty Anne smiling at each other weirded me out. I was weirded out by the fact that just when I was trying to take it easy for an afternoon and just go see a movie about lawyers because SURPRISE THIS MOVIE IS ACTUALLY ABOUT A FAT PERSON. I can't escape the fat stigma and the body surveillance culture just for an afternoon. And no matter how lackluster I might feel at the moment about blogging, I can't escape from the political. Life is political. My body is political.

[All images sourced from Google Images or screen capped from the YouTube Conviction trailer.]


  1. LOL at the gym being demolished. Really it's sort of kind of sad but I totally get why you were delighted by the sight of the bulldozer! :P Although apparently now the gym is also in a tent!? Great.

    If I end up going to this OGA thing on Tuesday afternoon I just may have to take my camera to take a photo of The Empty Space Where The Gym Used To Be. Then I will Tweet said photo at you for your entertainment. :P

  2. Holly! Ha, if you go you should most definitely take a picture of where the gym used to be! And if Mrs. Kennedy is there (although I suppose she isn't really an Old Girl, or do teachers count?) you should give her a big hug from me!

  3. The doesn't read like a post by a lackluster blogger, this post is LUSTROUS and so are you and so is your hair.

  4. I love this post for so many reasons and oh my god if I saw my school's sports centre with a bulldozer inside it, for a few minutes, all would be right with the world because PE sucks.

  5. Hello, this totally makes me more excited to meet you because this is an awesome post from an awesome lady. And also: "if you consider making jokes about 'pegging' to be helpful". I do, and they are, so there you go.

    Guess those in casting just lost all the number to fat actors. Oops! Lost my phone contacts and can only remember thin people! What a shock!
    Personally I think they should have cast Big Show, but that might just be me. Or Kevin James.

  6. Hi, I really enjoy reading your blog, and especially this post. Mrs Kennedy is my aunt! Glad to see a shout-out to her on here :)

  7. Love that you're blogging again! Can't wait to see if you blog about the hooha over The Satorialist calling a blogger 'sturdy' etc. Love to know your thoughts about it!

  8. I enjoyed reading this post (and I’m so glad you’re blogging again Ally!) but I can’t say that I whole-heartedly agree with you. Not about P.E., I’m totally with you on that one. I’m still somewhat traumatised by the mint green polo shirt I had to wear. But on the topic of casting, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate a bit so bear with me….

    Now I must state upfront I haven’t seen Conviction and more importantly I love Sam Rockwell (and James Franco for that matter). Not because he’s ‘hot’ (though that’s subjective), but because he’s damn good at what he does.

    So why cast Sam Rockwell as Kenny Waters? Well, he’s a really good actor. I love that he makes interesting choices, he’s not afraid to play repulsive, foolish or vile characters, he’s not classically handsome in the Hollywood sense or tall or ‘built’, and he seems really humble to boot. I’ve always been a real sucker for actors like him (and Chris Cooper, John Malkovich and his ilk) because they appear to care more about the craft than themselves. They’re actors not movie stars. On the flipside of this, it would be na├»ve of me to think there wasn’t a marketing basis for the decision too. Sam Rockwell is not super-famous, but if you’re trying to get a serious drama-watching audience he’s a relatively well-known name with good credits, though hardly a ‘star’ that’s going to draw the multiplex crowds (a yawn-inducing theory that is responsible for Jennifer Aniston and Katherine Heigel constantly clogging our screens).

    Now I know you’re not disputing his talent, but rather saying that for accurate representation they ought to have cast a fat person. Now, as previously admitted I’m arguing a bit for the sake of it here, but it is plausible that they shopped around, that they saw screen tests from Kevin James and Abe Benrubi (who could easily pass for Kenny if you whacked a goatee on him), and decided that at the end of the day Sam was best for the part. I’ve always believed that producers of film, television and theatre when casting work that is ‘based’ on true stories should never choose an actor for their physical resemblance to an actual person over their authenticity.

    For example James Franco in Howl (Note: I’m quite stoked that I was able to work him in). Now James doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to Allen Ginsberg (though if you stick a pair of thick-framed glasses on him and dye his hair black and it’s not too bad) but he captured something of him that too me is far more important than a physical likeness. He never felt like ‘James Franco’ in that film. There was something about him that just felt ‘right’, that you could sense even when he wasn’t saying or doing anything as well as the way he moved and spoke (AG had a very distinctive way of reading his work and James had it nailed). Perhaps the same is true of Sam Rockwell and Kenny Waters? That there was something about him that was true to the core of him rather than what he looked like. All I’m saying is we don’t know why the decision was made, and perhaps it’s reductive to assume it’s because of his size.

    Of course, it must be said I’m an actor and as actors go I’m in the average-looking pack. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating merely stating a fact that there are far more conventionally beautiful ladies out there in my age range. And that’s ok; I’m not complaining. But that’s my agenda, actors being cast because they are good at what they do, not because they look a certain way. And while I empathise with your frustration regarding the lack of representation of fat people in the creative media, I think that if actors were cast for the opposite reason, because of how they look and not because of their skills or talent then that would also be a terrible shame; and seems to me to reinforce one of the things I hate about Hollywood in the first place, that what you look like is more important than anything else.

    So that’s my own biased two cents. As always, love your work. X

  9. An example of the movie fat stereotype I hate occurs in Grease. Putzie says to Jan "I knew there was more to you than just fat"... even though she is exactly the same size as all the other girls. WTF? So apparently in Hollywood, if somebody calls you fat, that makes you fat. Even as a pre-teen, this comment really creeped me out.

  10. I miss this blog and your Salient articles!! You are amazing xx