The Big Issue : Edition 438
As Any writer knows, it takes great effort to deliver readers in-depth, thought-provoking and accurate articles. seriously. we’ll do anything. that’s why i’m sitting here in my tracksuit on a Monday afternoon, armed only with a tub of salted caramel ice-cream and a spoon, playing youtube videos of romance movies. Yes, floppy-fringed Hugh Grant. Stand in the middle of the press conference in a pink shirt and tell Julia roberts you’ve been a “daft prick” so she’ll stay in the UK “indefinitely”. Go on, young skinny Billy Crystal. run and catch Meg ryan at the New Year’s Eve party to the theme of ‘It Had to Be You’. Adam sandler serenades a beaming Drew Barrymore in a plane, Colin Firth jumps in a lake, Tom Hanks goes back for the teddy bear, Dustin Hoffman barricades the church door with the cross. And voila. thanks to the wonders of the internet, two- and-a-half hours have passed before i know it and all i have to show for my afternoon is an ice-cream headache. Okay. tom Cruise telling renée Zellweger “you complete me” still makes me nauseous, but creepy co-dependency issues aside, i’m a card-carrying hopeless romantic. And i’m not alone. ever since The May Irwin Kiss (1896), one of the first movies ever shown commercially, romantic love has been an enduring plot line. so, clearly, audiences love them. right? “selling the idea of romance has always been big in popular culture,” Melbourne’s 3RRR radio film critic Thomas Caldwell says after a thoughtful pause. “it’s selling a dream or a myth – an ideal of what romance is. so that you can try to convince yourself that it’s real.” Caldwell is chatty and friendly, with an encyclopedic knowledge of film. But the way he stresses “selling” and “try to convince yourself” makes me think he’s not all that keen on following Katherine Heigl into the sunset. “My biggest frustration with the depiction of romance is that it often feels so false and sugar-coated and removed from any real experience,” Caldwell says. “they’re churned out and repeated without any diversity. i’m increasingly at the point where i feel short-changed.” But Caldwell doesn’t think it’s all humbug. He quickly lists films he finds genuinely romantic, including Secretary (2002), in which a sexually dominant James spader (as the resonantly named E Edward Grey) finds his perfect partner in the submissive Maggie Gyllenhaal; Amour (2012), winner of the Oscar for best foreign-language film, showing the heartbreaking finale to a lifetime romance; and The Apartment (1960), Billy wilder’s masterpiece, in which youngsters Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine find love based on decency rather than power. Films like these, Caldwell argues, explore different dynamics than most romances that are driven by “the cultural anxiety, which has been around since day one around masculinity and femininity. A lot of it is packaged to buy in to gender stereotypes.” i can see his point. the high points of my youtube afternoon were Hugh, Billy, Adam, Colin and Dustin doing something, proving something or solving something to win their pretty prize. Perhaps this is less an overarching philosophy, though, and more about giving audiences what they want. Caldwell argues that it’s “clearly the product of the people who control a lot of the popular culture. in terms of Hollywood, that’s a fairly bland, straight male perspective. I am a straight white male and I find it tedious as well.” cover story 14 THebigissue 2–15Aug2013 illustrationbyCsaimages On the screen and On the page, rOmance is big business. as authOr toni Jordan reveals, it’s a genre destined tO live happily ever after.