men_in_full: (pensive)

Over in "another part of the forest," to quote the Bard, I wrote about my recent viewing of the 1977 movie Equus. One of the major themes in that film (based on Peter Shaffer's play about a troubled youth who mutilates six horses, and the psychiatrist who treats him) is the personal sterility and lovelessness of Dr. Martin Dysart's life, shown in the film by his nondescript, literally all-beige office. Presumably designed that way to soothe troubled patients, it also reflects his colorless and passionless existence.

The recent revival of Equus on the London stage created a bit of hoopla over Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter") being cast as the imprisoned Alan Strang. But something occurred to me about Richard Griffiths being cast as Dr. Dysart.

In the film, Dysart is played by the still-handsome if slightly faded and world-weary Richard Burton. His blankness and timidity are a mystery to us. Why should this slim middle-aged man live such a life of "quiet desperation?" Unveiling the mystery that is Dysart is just as much the challenge of Equus as trying to understand why Alan has committed his dreadful crime.

What I fear is that Richard Griffith's been cast as Dysart as an oversimplistic form of "body characterization." In other words, is Dysart more believable to a modern audience as "sexless," "world-weary," or "passionless" because the actor who plays him is a fat man?

Personally, I'd love to go to London and see Griffiths in the role. He would do it justice, certainly. But I'd hate to see "the doctor's dilemma" reduced to a simplistic, "Well, he's fat, what else do you expect?"
men_in_full: (de vos bacchus)
[livejournal.com profile] jennie_jay has managed to combine my two loves in one, as she introduced me to Bryn Terfel as "that huge hill of flesh" Falstaff in Verdi's eponymous opera. She also passed on a blog entry from The Anchoress (who also shares the Bryn love.) In this production, Terfel wears a fat suit to show Sir John's impressive girth.

I understand that most bass-baritones aren't as massively fat as Verdi's Falstaff is meant to be. This might be one of the few instances where a fat suit really is dramatically "necessary." Also, people come to hear a "superstar" like Terfel, not see an "accurate" portrayal of the character. It's opera, after all - very little is "real" or "accurate." However, opera singers aren't immune from the pressure to be slender either - soprano Deborah Voight was fired from a 2004 Covent Garden performance of Ariadne auf Naxos for being "too fat," and has since had gastric bypass surgery. But Sir John's rubber bulk got me thinking once again about the fat suit in general.

One consequence of an ubiquity of fat suits is that if a fat suit is all people ever see, then they won't be able to tell the difference. It white people who'd never seen African-Americans thought they all looked like the old stereotyped 'blackface' portrayals. At least one person actually got confused. The Anchoress mentions:
The NY Times posted a glowing review of Terfel’s performance in Falstaff and then found itself being accused by one letter-writer of lacking respect and decency toward Bryn by “displaying his deplorable physical condition” or somesuch (I’m paraphrasing). The Times then pointed out that the picture is of Terfel in a wonderfully realistic prosthetic “fat suit.”

To me, Terfel's fat suit isn't all that "wonderfully realistic," especially if it's the same as the one shown this video.

I'd be curious to know what the opera audience's reaction was, when they first saw Terfel in his suit. Did they gasp, laugh, feel shock? Would a genuinely fat body have shocked them more, and perhaps this was a way to "distance" themselves from such a thing? It's possible to imagine that in some parts of the country that outside of doctors, there are people who genuinely have never really looked at someone that fat and that undressed up close - or perhaps have never really "seen" them - in the sense of genuinely looking, or perhaps looked at them only with horror.

We used to have the same idea with regard to black people in the USA. Before the Civil War (1861-1865), black performers almost never appeared before white audiences. Instead, white male troupes dressed up as blacks, usually acting out skits and songs that presented a grossly caricatured, distorted view of slave life. The graphic images that accompanied the advertisements, song books, and joke books (with regrettable names like the "Al-Ma-Nig" book of jokes) formed the basis for what the Wikipedia Blackface article calls "darky iconography," the stereotyped image of African-Americans that persisted into the 1970s.

Like the antics of "Jim Crow" (shown at left) or his eye-rolling, lip-smacking successors, the sudden appearance of a nearly-naked fat-suited body on screen or stage has the same aim: to get a laugh at the sight of someone perceived as ridiculous, grotesque, and thus amusing.

As if they understand the physical unreality of most fat suits, movie directors have taken them high-tech, as in Click. Adam Sandler (with the aid of a magical remote) fast-forwards himself into the future, and "wakes up" to find himself extremely large - goes to the mirror, screams in horror, etc. In this film, his face is "morphed" onto the genuinely fat body of a body double. In a sense that's even more insulting, because the fat actor is robbed of his own face, his own identity, to serve as a "living fat suit" for the star.

I haven't seen Norbit, where Eddie Murphy dons a female "fat-face" made of a latex suit enhanced with computer special effects. Even with the most realistic computerized rendition, though, the principle is still the same. Fat suits keep us from "seeing" fat bodies, by implying that the real thing is too horrific to really see. And if the "real thing" is too awful to even look at, then don't even think about an embrace. Or living in one.
men_in_full: (daniel lambert)
I've been catching up with Lost on DVD, and one reason I wanted to watch was to see how the show treated Jorge Garcia's heavy-set main character Hugo "Hurley" Reyes. (Earlier I wrote about Garcia here as a perfect actor for Ignatius J. Reilly in "A Confederacy of Dunces.")

Halfway through the first season, at least, Hurley's shown compassionately. His windjammers and surfer-boy slang ("Duuuude!") place him from Los Angeles. He's kind and considerate. Immediately after everyone wakes up from the crash, he's the first person to notice and help the nine-month pregnant Claire. Physical work is initially hard for him, but he does it.

He's always alert to the "tone" of a situation. Often he acts on his own as an intermediary between two characters at odds with each other. In short, he has a high level of "emotional intelligence."

One would think that would make him a leader, and sought out. But no - because Hurley is also fat, with the pillowy, mattressy body of someone who's been big since childhood. As he remarks at one point, "I survived grade school and high school; I can survive this." Anyone who was a fat chilod knows exactly what he means.

Everyone in this story, though, has a gruesomely tormented past, and Hurley's no exception. At this point in the show we don't know of his multi-million dollar lottery win, his his burdensome guilt, the eating disorder that leads him to squirrel away food, his so-called "bad luck" and the extensive associated numerology sub-plot.

Nor have we yet seen his brief relationship with fellow mental patient Libby (who gets killed off.) I haven't seen the 'shipping scenes yet, but they sound sweet despite their brevity. Actor Jorge Garcia told the men's magazine Maxim, "I liked the relationship a lot, the romantic side of it. That's not usually a thing they let the fat guy on the show do."

Fan reactions to Hurley as a fat leading character vary. Some embrace him enthusiastically - and literally. As Garcia says, "A lot of women I don't know want to hug me. I haven't totally gotten used to that." Others are either tasteless or misguided in their actions, as Garcia remarks in an earlier article, "One lady sent me a coupon for Slim Fast along with a bunch of religious pamphlets. On another occasion, the same lady sent me dieters’ tea—but she didn’t send me the box, just a couple of bags in an envelope."

Maxim went on to ask: Have you found that chicks dig the belly?
I have this thing with my girlfriend, who lives next door to me, where we’re lying in the bed, and I just kind of collapse on her. And I’m like, “Go ahead, see if you can get yourself free. You know, just in case something happens. You’ve got to go to safety. Three, two, one.” She’s like, “Get off me!” I have to make her struggle out. That’s our little drill.


Whew. Now *that* is an interesting image.

I guess I should reserve opinion about the other plot points of Hurley's character, in particular his "secret stash," until I see them. On the surface, though, it looks like the writers wrote in Hurley squirreling away food as a response to the incessant fan question, "Why doesn't Hurley lose weight?" while stranded on the island.

Just the asking itself is telling. In the first season, Garcia apparently lost about 30 lbs. - which on his sizeable frame probably wasn't that noticeable. But it also shows a common misconception, that Hurley (and others) fat since childhood are fat because they eat a lot.

Fans ask why Hurley doesn't lose weight - but apparently don't think to ask why the other, thinner characters don't begin to look gaunt and hollow because of their initial lean rations (at least until Locke and Boone begin hunting, and the others begin foraging and fishing.) Is it only the fat man who's supposed to lose weight under privation? Actually, physiologically it's probably the other way around. It perhaps didn't occur to the writers that Hurley is most likely very well suited to the kind of extreme situation in which the survivors find themselves. He has the shape and size of a Polynesian islander - and that physique developed for a good reason. On an island with scarce and intermittent food, the "thrifty" genotype which uses relatively fewer calories proportionate to body mass, and stores any newfound calories with high efficiency would probably be far better suited to survival.

I can see why the character has appeal, and not simply to those of us who like fat men. Overlooked, the butt of jokes, simple, not perfect, Hurley is an archetypal "Hans," from the common German name for the Jedermann in the Grimms' fairy tales who goes out into the world and finds his fortune. He's the boy who would share his last crust of bread with the strange old woman in the forest, and thus win the fortune and the princess. Whether the writers of Lost recognize his archetypal attributes, use them in further stories, (or give him another girlfriend!) remains to be seen.
men_in_full: (ali baba)
... with the announcement of a possible film version of John Kennedy Toole's novel A Confederacy of Dunces.

This romp through New Orleans stars the irrepressible Ignatius J. Reilly (pictured left), a gargantuan lover of medievalism, masturbation, and Stoic philosophy, whose perpetually indignant heart is matched only in size and enthusiasm by his permanently spasmodic gastric valve. Ignatius harasses the New Orleans "po-leece," shows us a remarkably efficient business model in his office job (don't file the papers, just toss them), and tries to launch liberation movements for the oppressed, such as the Crusade for Moorish Dignity and a similar effort among the screaming queens of the French Quarter. (It was written in the early sixties, after all.)

I tip Ignatius's green earflapped hat to Rod Dreher of the Crunchy Con blog, who linked to this Slate Magazine article about how attempts to bring this novel to the screen have been as spastic as Ignatius's valve. But mine almost closed shut permanently when I read that they plan to star Will Ferrell as Ignatius.

Will Ferrell. In a fat suit.

This is one of my favorite books, ever. (I only didn't put Ignatius J. Reilly down on the list of "fictional characters I'd do" meme because he's so resolutely anti-sexual. It just wouldn't be fun ...) I don't expect the film to be anything like the book. But this is so wrong, I don't know where to begin.


First, there's the fat suit. I admit that in a film like Shallow Hal it was necessary, given the story line. But Ignatius doesn't magically switch between thin and fat. Ignatius is always fat. So there is no dramatic need for one.

Fat suits are a caricature of fat people, just like black-painted faces and exaggerated cornrows on white actors at the turn of the century grotesquely caricatured African-Americans. Portraying black people as ugly just reinforced the rampant racial prejudice of the time. Showing thin fat-suited actors is not the same as casting a real fat person, because the ugly and artificial fat suits don't look anything like a fat body.

They also send the message that just as black actors needed to be segregated from whites (even in separate entertainment districts, like New York's Harlem), fat people are somehow so "tainted" that they can't be given a starring movie role, even for a fat character.

Nor does a fat suit do justice to this character. Ignatius needs to be played by someone fat. Really fat, someone with the walk, the moves, the voice. He can't just lumber around like Fat Albert, under 100 lbs. of latex foam.

You know who would make a great Ignatius? Jorge Garcia from the TV show "Lost" (pictured right.) In that case, I might add Ignatius to my "fictional characters I'd do" list anyway...
men_in_full: (Default)
It occurred to me that I'm writing a lot about actors - it's not that I'm particularly star-obsessed, it's just that they're convenient "public figures" with which to illustrate points. Also, because they're public figures, there's a little less guilt for an amusing pleasure like this LJ community [livejournal.com profile] billy_belly, devoted to the veneration of William Shatner's tummy.
men_in_full: (pensive)
From a 2/1/94 New York Times article called "The Glamour of Girth" by Amy Spindler (registration required):

The 90's seem destined to be defined as the era of the backlash. The latest manifestation is an embrace of fat men by the fashion community. Both Esquire Gentleman and L'Uomo Vogue are planning feature stories about attractive corpulence. And at the shows of Comme des Garcons and So, there were more bulging stomachs than chiseled cheekbones.

While Esquire is taking a historical look, L'Uomo Vogue has induced its beefy subjects to pose for photographs. Among those who have accepted are Fabien Baron and Gianfranco Ferre. "I think that a fat man has two incredible appeals," said Aldo Pramoli, editor in chief of L'Uomo Vogue, after issuing the disclaimer "I'm not fat."

He ticked off the virtues: "A fat man has, at the same time, a touch of humor and power. In Indian and Arabic movies the gods and goddesses are fat. In that culture and economy, fat is beautiful and powerful. The shape of the person communicates that this person lives well and is comfortable with himself."

Mr. Promoli said that the February issue of L'Uomo Vogue has a story about Julian Schnabel, with photos by Michel Comte. "The idea is his strength," Mr. Promoli said. "He is fat and his painting is strong because he's fat." Alexandre van Slobbe said that he wanted to show all forms of masculinity. Contrasting drugs and drink with "an attraction to food," he said, "I always found it funny that some habits were seen as glamorous, exciting and masculine, while others defined a man as a sissy."


The NY Times had it archived under "Health-->Diseases-->Obesity," not fashion.

(pic: artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel at Venice Film Festival, 2000, accepting the Grand Jury award for Before Night Falls.)
men_in_full: (Default)

Lasse Hallström's film Casanova is a patchwork of plot twists, humorous deceptions, and mistaken identities as Casanova (Heath Ledger) weasels his way through Venice in pursuit of the lovely but skittish Francesca (Sienna Miller.) This brilliant girl, who writes philosophy and proto-feminist texts under an assumed male name, rejects him because she fears he cannot commit himself to just one woman - even though Casanova is determined to convince her otherwise.

But there's a secondary story in this movie too, one in some ways almost more romantically warming than the sometimes literal back-and-forth sparring between Casanova and Francesca. For Francesca has been betrothed to her late father's friend, the ample-bodied lard merchant Paprizzio (Oliver Platt enhanced with a fat suit) whom neither Francesca's mother Andrea (Lena Olin) nor her daughter have ever seen.

Paprizzio has come to Venice to claim his bride, docking in a ship festooned with Bacchanalian carvings of big-bellied men. Shrewd and aggressive in business but shy and insecure when it comes to women, Paprizzio feels abashed and inadequate because he knows he's not "handsome," and he begs Casanova for "help."

Hallström pulls a "bait and switch" with this character. At first we see Paprizzio as a clown, and his nadir comes when Inquisitor Pucci (Jeremy Irons) finds him undergoing a humiliating "treatment" in Casanova's apartment, where he's stretched out, rack-like, on a table and slathered with noxious goo. Pucci thinks he's Casanova, and before arresting him, sneers at his mostly-naked form, "Somehow I find it difficult to believe that ... this ... is what women want." We take the bait - obviously Paprizzio is simply a "fat fool."

The switch comes during the Masked Ball scene, the apex of the story where all hidden is revealed. Ironically, a window for happiness opens up for Paprizzio because of the very attribute which initially made him ashamed - because Francesca's mother likes big men. (As she tells Casanova while he's pretending to be Paprizzio, "I don't like thin men - Francesca's father was enormous.")

An angry Paprizzio stalks into the Ball with the cold controlled fury of the phlegmatic man. He walks slowly, ponderously, towering over many of the revellers. Whatever happens, we know it isn't going to be good for anyone who gets in his way. Then Andrea sees him, and it's wonderfully filmed. She stares unabashedly. He stops, hesitant. He can sense someone's watching him, but whom? Then he sees her, and she instinctively puts her fan in front of her mouth, that "veiling" expression to hide the well of overflowing emotion. Suddenly we see him as she does - he moves from fat and awkward to strong, powerful - and desirable.

In sweet confusion, Paprizzio thinks that Andrea is really Francesca, his fiancee. "I never imagined you would be so beautiful," he breathes. Andrea tells him that Francesca is in love with someone else, and the change in tone is palpable. You can almost see Paprizzio's heart swell with hope. When Pucci interrupts them, Paprizzio casually lifts him by the neck and in an almost-whisper says, "Why don't you stop interfering, thank you?" and so Pucci scurries off, ratlike.

For Paprizzio has escaped both racks - the rack of the Inquisition, and the rack of the desire to appear as he is not, according to some ideal of beauty which does not fit him, and which (confirmed by Andrea's love) he does not need.

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