Amy’s December Viewing Roundup

December 13th, 2023

The holiday season is upon us and that means a couple of things. Firstly, we are all going to overindulge in food and drink so enjoy. We are going to spend too much time-and money-traveling in crowded airports to visit parents who complain that we don’t make enough of an effort to see them. BUT it also means that there are lots of interesting films in the local theater. Enjoy and have a very happy holiday season.

PRISCILLA (in Select Theaters): Fame corrupts. Absolute fame corrupts absolutely and will consume everyone in its path. This is-in part-the message of the film PRISCILLA which tells the story of a vulnerable fourteen year old girl whose life changes forever when she meets, falls in love with and eventually marries the most celebrated entertainer of the twentieth century. So much has been written and documented about Elvis Presley that the story of his young wife has largely been ignored or forgotten. Sofia Coppola, who specializes in films that portray the isolation of privileged women, challenges the mythology of Elvis Presley by recounting the true story of his marriage, a relationship that would now be considered shocking given the age difference and imbalance of power that bordered on predatory. But such was the power of Elvis Presley’s fame that his pursuit of a fourteen year old was never scrutinized by the media or the public. And a young Priscilla suffered as a result when even her conservative Catholic parents allow their daughter to leave home and live with Elvis. She soon finds herself alone and trapped within the walls of Graceland. Elvis has all but abandoned her as he leaves the confines of Graceland to conquer the world with tours and film shoots. Even in his absence he still manages to exert great control over her existence by carefully selecting her clothes, makeup, hair color and style while refusing to allow her to take a job because he wants her available at his beck and call. His domineering behavior inevitably takes an even darker turn and when she finally finds the courage to leave him and strike out on her own all one can feel is relief. This movie is unsparing in its depiction of an American icon but its never vindictive or meanspirited-Elvis too is portrayed as a victim of his stardom. It sheds light on an era in which women were limited to stereotypical feminine roles and makes us ponder the uniquely American obsession with fame.

GILDED AGE (streaming HBO): Season 2 is just as much soapy fun as the first season with intersecting storylines during the late 19th century, a period marked by economic and social upheaval in New York City history. And smart female characters dominate the narrative which includes a plot that covers everything from the infighting of high society women to the struggles of a Black female journalist trying to make a career for herself despite the prevalent racism in the post-Civil War years.  The female characters are constrained by the rigid rules of that era, but they still maintain their ambitions and independence. The wealthy white women are engaged in a battle of the opera houses that might make the viewer wish that these privileged types would spend more time engaging in charity work, but it does reflect the brutal competition that often accompanies the establishment of major cultural institutions. This is contrasted with the depictions of women of more modest means who are slightly more relatable-and strikingly modern-as they bravely pursue careers despite the limitations. The show doesn’t shy away from portraying the harassment that Blacks experienced during a period not far removed from slavery. It’s quite a statement of racial inequality that while the privileged class gets to deal with superficial matters regarding who gets to sit next to a duke at a dinner party, other women are contending with issues such as being threatened with violence from white supremacists.

MAY DECEMBER (Playing in select theaters and streaming on Netflix): Loosely based on the true story of a grown woman’s grossly inappropriate sexual relationship with her thirteen year old student. This illicit relationship became an international scandal when it came to light and was splashed on the cover of the tabloids. Todd Haynes has taken this shocking story and fashioned a fictional story about what happened to the lives of the people involved. The plot follows a well-known television actress who is spending time with the scandalous couple now married with children, seemingly to prepare for her role in a film based on their affair. The manipulative and narcissistic nature of both female protagonists are soon revealed as the family dynamics are explored. This film is notable for portraying the former student-the teenager in the relationship now thirty-six years old-as the victim of predatory women. He is not viewed as a victim of a sexually abusive relationship despite his young age when the relationship started. The pending movie will portray their relationship as a tawdry affair rather than as a criminal act. And on the surface his life seems so normal-beautiful home, a job, marriage and kids, but he’s struggling with feelings of regret and self-doubt. His marriage is not an indication of normalcy but  rather a symbol of the failure of society to protect him from his abuser. And his wife, a brilliant Julianne Moore, all these years later refuses to acknowledge the depravity of her behavior. Despite his conflicting feelings with these past events, he now finds himself drawn to an actress who has her own deceitful agenda. Both female lead characters are egotistical and shameless, but always fascinating in their utter disregard for boundaries and the humanity of those around them. This film does something different by portraying a man as the victim of the women in his life.

Happy Holidays!




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