Saturday, January 27, 2007

Notes on "Notes on a Scandal" and "The History Boys"

The other night I finally saw the movie people have been buzzing about for a couple of weeks now, Notes on a Scandal. It's beautifully acted and expertly told with an absolutely stunning Phillip Glass score by the way. But I couldn't help but be bothered by the perpetuation of the predatory evil lesbian stereotype in the the character of Barbara Covett, played by Judi Dench. Don't get me wrong, Dame Judi gives a stellar performance deserving of all the accolades she has received lately including her Oscar nomination. But I thought this kind of stereotypic role was a no-no these days. Has GLAAD had anything to say about this I wonder?

About six months ago I was similarly bothered by the depiction of a lonely, old, predatory gay pedophile in last year's Tony Award Winning Best Play, The History Boys. That had not one but THREE generations of pathetic homosexuals in it. Even the youngest of them, a gay teenager coming of age in the 1980s, a boy completely at home with his own sexuality and somehow accepted by all his straight school mates for it, falls into the same kind of sad, reclusive existence as his history teacher. We are led to believe that this boy's only eventual sexual contacts are unrequited affairs on the internet in which he poses as a teenage girl. Not a far cry from his history teacher, a man more than fifty years his senior, whose only sexual gratification comes from giving boys rides home on the back of his motor cycle while he takes the opportunity to fondle them. The third in the trio is another teacher, about 30 years old, who allows himself to be seduced by the most attractive of the underage boys in exchange for academic rewards.

I do not dispute that these kinds of men exist today, but when THREE gay men are represented in such a light in the same piece, one has to believe the playwright is trying to make a point--even if he himself happens to be a gay man.

Coincidentally, both Notes on a Scandal and The History Boys are British pieces. Could that, I wonder, have something to do with it? Just asking.

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At 11:48 PM, Blogger Spider said...

Maybe people write about what they know and what is confortable... who knows...

At 11:50 PM, Blogger Donnie said...

I don't really have the urge to see Notes On A Scandal, but I really want to see The History Boys.

It's amazing that considering how far we've come, we're still seeing gay characters like those depicted in movies from the 50's and 60's.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Spider, you make a good point. Stifling art in the name of political correctness can be a precarious situation. Still, these types of depictions of gay men and women enforce dangerous stereotypes at a time when we're working so hard for equal civil rights.

At 9:35 PM, Blogger LSL said...

Just returned from Notes on a Scandal and - yikes! Very, very well acted and a beautiful score (isn't Philip Glass amazing?), and I really appreciate your comment about being cautious of stifling art in the name of being p.c., but . . . it's disturbing. Maybe if there were other, equally as visible but not totally crazy, GLBT roles out there with A-list celebs I wouldn't feel so conflicted about it. Sometimes I think it's a step forward just to have gay main characters, and maybe having gay characters that aren't so eccentric comes next. I don't know, but I was bothered by the story.

At 3:10 AM, Blogger kevin said...

I will have to see it sometime.

I hope the weather is'nt too cold in New York at the moment. You had any snow yet?

Kev in NZ

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Red7Eric said...

As you know, I saw "Notes" this weekend as well, and wanted to be offended, but couldn't quite muster the requisite rage. Barbara (Judi) was a manipulative stalker, but Dench let you see her humanity at the same time. And at least we seem to have past the days when all gay characters must be completely virtuous (and BORING).


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