Remembering . . .

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All our veterans.

Rapture, Blister, Burn

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Written by Gina Gionfriddo, Rapture, Blister, Burn* takes the audience on a hilarious exploration of modern feminism. When my friend, whose husband didn’t want to see a play, explained it too me she said it was about two women, one a stay at home, married mother and the other a single, successful career woman reunite. I felt nothing new would be offered.

I was wrong.

Rapture, Blister, Burn* does tell the story of two friends who haven’t seen each other since grad school. Catherine became a famous feminist professor who’s on the talk show circuit to discuss terrorism, the Internet and porn, and Gwen, who’s married Catherine’s former boyfriend Don, who’s turned out to be an unambitious academic dean. Don’s the guy who counsels the kids who ditch class, drink too much and maybe take drugs. He demands so little of himself or his students.

Catherine moves to Gwen’s town to care for her mother, who’s had a heart attack. This crisis has made Catherine question her life’s choices and women’s progress. Don, Gwen’s husband, was Catherine’s boyfriend and she now thinks perhaps Don was “the one.” What happens between the trio is the main plot of the play, but what I found most interesting was the interaction between Catherine, Gwen, Catherine’s mother and Avery, Gwen’s rebellious babysitter. Catherine needs something to do in the summer so Don’s able to get her a seminar to teach. Only two students register for Catherine’s feminist studies seminar so she holds it in her mother’s living room. Gwen and Avery turn out to be the two students.

Avery’s an outspoken millennial who got a black eye while shooting a reality show with her boyfriend. Avery has some beliefs that I confess I found shocking — yet intriguing. She argues that you can totally outsource homemaking (not just housework, but giving a home its feel). During the seminar and the cocktail hour that invariably follows, the women discuss Phyllis Schafly, Carol Clover, and other feminists. Their discussions were funny and enlightening, which surprised me as I thought the topic one I knew all about. Gionfriddo’s characters have open minds and do wrestle with ideas that you’d expect them to immediately reject. I’d never heard of feminist ideas surrounding horror movies or Clover’s concept of the “final girl.” Catherine, her mother, Gwen and Avery debate and argue without sounding pedantic. The humor reminds me of a modern day, feminist Socratic discussion, one where the participants all have a lot riding on the ideas.

Rapture, Blister, Burn has played in London and L.A. and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. While, like me, you probably won’t walk out of the theater envious or any character or ready to espouse their beliefs, you will play with the ideas discussed and just might find yourself tracking down Phyllis Schafley’s books at the library. I never thought I would, but this play is full of surprises.

(*The title is from some lyrics to a Courtney Love song.)

Osaka Elegy

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Directed by Kenji Mizoguch, Osaka Elegy (1936) opens with Mr. Asai, a middle-aged grouch, insulting his servants and wife. According to Asai-san, everyone in his house is stupid and incompetent. He and his wife argue and he threatens to get a mistress. The wife replies “go ahead.” There’s not even a spark of love or kindness in this man or his wife.

At work Mr. Asai is more temperate. He even smiles and laughs. Ayako,  a young office girl, who answers the phones, catches his eye.  Though she wears a kimono at work, while the men all wear Western suits (it’s always telling when a culture has women in traditional dress and men in the more modern) Ayoko embraces modern mores. She smokes, outside of work she wears the new styles.

Uninterested in middle-aged men, Ayoko  has eyes for Susumu, a dashing young salary man, who likes her but isn’t ready to move beyond friendship. Ayako’s bigger problem is her father, who’s embezzled 300 yen from his company. They’re ready to set the police after him. Ayako has to deal with he father’s colleagues who come to the house to hound the family for money. Her cowardly father eavesdrops outside while they intimidate his daughters.

Ayako tries to get a loan from Susumu Nishimura. She’s run out of people to ask. In the end her only hope is an agreement with Mr. Asai, who’s pestered her with offers of money and apartments for some time. She winds up agreeing to Mr. Asai’s terms since Susumu hasn’t committed to her and can’t lend her the money.

She gives her father, who shows little appreciation or concern for Ayako, the money and disappears. She quits her job and goes off to her new gilded cage. Later she meets Susumu in a department store. He proposes and she thinks her life can change for the better. Yet more demands from her ungrateful family lead her away from the marriage she hoped for.

The Criterion Collection offers two insightful essays on Osaka Elegy. In one it points out that the director was haunted by his parents selling his sister into prostitution so they could pay for his education:

A detail of Kenji Mizoguchi’s life that is seldom left out of any biographical note is the fact that his older sister was sold into prostitution when he was a child. The practice was not uncommon among poverty-stricken Asian families, and while horrifying enough, the boy’s future was linked to her bondage. After the death of their parents she supported him, and her eventual marriage to a wealthy patron made his education possible. According to the tenets of Japan’s institutionalized sexism, the sacrifice of the less-valued girl child for the well-being of a son would have been taken for granted. But the themes and meaning of the director’s entire body of work attest that for him at least, it never was. Over his long career, through more than eighty films, Mizoguchi would constantly champion women wronged and discarded: Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, A Woman of Osaka, A Geisha, and Street of Shame. His portrayal, with merciless depth, of the workings of a society that nurtured male privilege and sanctioned second-class citizenship for women, suggests a sensibility on the cutting edge of giri.

I was struck by how Ayako’s desire for a progressive, modern life, was strangled. While she could smoke and work, neither of these actions kept her secure or gave her power. Also the movie, while not explicit, was open about sexuality and exploitation. It doesn’t dress up the sacrifice and cost Ayoko must pay. There’s a bold realism in the film that captivates.

 

Robert Levinson

I get State Department emails and I thought I’d post this one:

March 9, 2007 marks the sixth anniversary of the disappearance of U.S. citizen Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran on .

A husband and father to seven children, Mr. Levinson has missed birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and other important milestones since his disappearance six years ago from Iran’s Kish Island. He is also the grandfather of two, the second of which was born in his absence.

The United States continues to welcome the assistance of our international partners in this investigation and calls on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to uphold its offer to help find

Mr. Levinson and return him safely to his family.

I met with Mr. Levinson’s wife and son today to reiterate that the U.S. Government remains committed to locating Mr. Levinson and reuniting him safely with his family.

Last year the FBI announced a $1 million reward for information on Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts that could lead to his safe return. Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to contact the FBI.