Tag Archives: lesbian

Carol

You thought I’d forgotten? It took a while to read the book and to view it a couple of times. As the Oscars have just happened and it’s doing the rounds in 35mm at the moment in Britain’s cinemas, I thought I would post my long-planned article.

 

BEWARE OF PLOT SPOILERS

 

This other Cate is also important to me. I was intrigued to read in Empire that Rooney Mara saw Elizabeth in 1998 and wanted to be an actress because of Cate Blanchett. I even think the article said that Rooney fell in love – perhaps not romantically but in one of those fascinating other ways. Elizabeth was a hugely important film to me and remains my favourite of all time. It began career related aspirations for me too, though it wasn’t the first time I’d seen Cate Blanchett – that was earlier that year in Oscar and Lucinda.

 

Carol was keenly anticipated, but not the film nor book I hoped for. I saw the film on its opening night – but was one of 3 people! Elsewhere, it sold out. So I went looking for the experience I expected for the first time – a packed room, the buzz that Star Wars was about to enjoy. Carol was arthouse Star Wars – its trailer started months before the release date; she was on backs of buses and on covers of even the most blockbuster of film magazines.

 

I saw Carol again in a provincial indepedent during the day, which was far better attended. I discovered that much of the audience had been before – the usher had seen it almost every day, and Cate was special for her too.

 

Carol is very cinematic, and also that quite wordless sort of film that critics enjoy but that I rarely do. It changes much from the novel but both oscillate in their quality. The moments when Carol and Therese meet and become lovers are brilliantly written, and I was excited on the last page as I realised that Patricia Highsmith could end her story quite differently from the film – would she? But there seemed much bagginess in both media: asides that didn’t really go anywhere, and once again, too much exaggerated drama for the film adaptations. In the book, Carol doesn’t shoot at the detective, there’s no row in the solicitor’s office (though I loved her speech about not being ugly people), no irritant minor characters pushing in on Carol and Therese’s drinks.

 

Abby is underdeveloped in the film so her role when Carol leaves Therese is too much. Therese is often annoyingly weak and Carol is not nice to her. And the age gap is larger in life – instead of a decade, it’s 25 years.

 

One should want the couple to work – despite the men in their lives, the social and age difference, and the lesbian taboo of the 1950s – but I often wanted better for Therese and both women often gnarked me. I was fixated by Therese’s fringe and Alice band – odd ways of trying to make her look longer and not yet arrived – but I kept thinking, if you were trying to pull Cate Blanchett, wouldn’t you doff the schoolgirl look?

 

I wanted Carol to be one of those powerful, memorable films. It took up much of my time, seeing it thrice and reading the screenplay as well as the novel, but it wasn’t the story I hoped for. It seemed to set up the far too common lesbian story formula: at least one of you has a nice man who you’re not quite married to him who’s not quite right, but then you meet this wonderful woman… This is a bit more complicated with a child custody case and a best friend/former lover, but perhaps its classic status comes from being one of the earliest love between women stories rather than the best. And in the film, I didn’t believe that there was love, hence I struggled to rally for the leads and was busy getting needled by dreadful bit parts which detracted and made me squirm.

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Are gay groups the voice of the gay population?

In a word, no. I’ve never liked the word lesbian or queer but I do include bi women. I can’t speak for trans or men but I suspect some of them will agree.

Much of the talking is done by community leaders, and it’s not the voice of many of us. Note I don’t call rainbow people a community – I think we are diverse and it’s like calling women a community. There are communities about being LGBT etc but not all of us answering to those letters are in them, or feel part of them. We feel in general that a few are speaking for the whole and that those who attend Pride and similar meetings are not reflective of the non-straight population, and so are not the best place to find out what our needs and views are.

I have heard it said publicly that gay people don’t like the gay section of the libraries, bookshops etc. I’d like to counteract that by saying – thank you to those who have one for making books about gay issues easily findable. However, the books and films are of a particularly ilk – often small press/indie film studios which are low quality and the women are quite often depicted as butch and in the gay scene. I’d like to see the much broader range of books about gay people double shelved so that they’re in the main section so everyone can discover and enjoy them, and they are displayed somewhere so gay people can browse easily (same with films). By putting gay books in a gay corner, it means they get a small circulation and so are not very viable. And isn’t (or shouldn’t) the point of many gay media materials be to integrate and be better understood with/by wider society?

I’d like to illustrate with an example from two film festivals, both in the same city over the same summer. The Lesbian and Gay one showed in a 30 seater screen in the arts cinema as one off showings at obscure times, all to ‘visible’ lesbians, and you’d probably feel uncomfortable trying to go to a movie if you didn’t match the sexuality/gender. Then I went to two films at the International festival, also about gay women. The multiplex large auditoria were packed with all kinds of people. As the female filmmakers said in their Q and A, it is a story about love for everyone – but they just happen to love each other. People had come to see a good story, not a ghetto special interest film. Things like Brokeback Mountain and Tipping the Velvet prove how well a gay storyline can do if shown to a wide audience.

I’ve also heard it said that the angst ridden storylines are not reflective of us. Again, I’d like to contradict by saying that sadly for many, it is real and this is ongoing due to the community itself as much as the (happily improving) outside world. I don’t think that all the storylines should be about suffering, but generally – stories are about conflict and tension – it’s what makes them. (I say this as a writer working on publishing a book soon on this kind of subject). First love, coming of age, personal epiphanies are the stuff of stories for everyone. It’s something we can all relate to, but like a religion, it’s true that the content needs to go beyond the initial stage and reflect the rest of lives (ie sermons about conversion don’t help you move forward spiritually once you have come to faith). But for many, it is a vital and ongoing stage that happens not just to teens but people at all ages (also to friends and families).

I don’t have a problem with being gay being classed in the issue section of books; it is one, sadly, for many. And even if all society accepted it, it’s still confusing and it is helpful to know you are not alone and where to go for support should things be hard for you. And that as sexuality is fluid, it’s not a case of come out and that’s it – I say it’s pin not nail the tail on the donkey, and it’s nice to have books and films which reflect those changes too.

What has been hardest for me (and others I know) is the sense of otherness from the rainbow community. Instead of coming home, it feels like another group to have to conform to or be other there too. Despite the talk of diversity, I’ve found the gay communities I’ve met to tacitly expect conformity and to be as didactic as any religious group I’ve been part of. And many have also had prejudices, eg “real lesbians not bis”!!

I feel strongly that being gay (or trans etc) is not an identity, it is not who we are, but just one aspect of our personalities. I have found so many of the rainbow gang want it to be the distinguishing defining factor, the thing we most put forward about ourselves.

And I sense a lot of anger and prickliness from LGB etc people during this transition to greater societal acceptance, and I think that is counterproductive.

It’s also more complex than being simply an existential statement – sexuality and friendship and their changing boundaries are fascinating and not always compatible with the definition of “fact”.

I too would like to see positive resolution to any stressful story, but I also think expecting to be embraced in the short timespace of a teen novel is unlikely, sadly, for some. I know people who’ve been waiting decades for their families to come round, and I’d rather equip people to handle that not everyone is supportive from the start than to expect it and be surprised when it doesn’t happen; but to obviously encourage wider society to offer that support from the outset.

I think we are in a transitional time and there’s often clunkiness and imbalance while things change, just as equal opportunities and political correctness goes too far, they are trying to address important matters. I think some gay people are expecting too much of a change too soon, and if they came out long ago, or benefitted from more supportive modern attitudes, it might be that they cannot understand the need for some of these story lines. I’d ask them to be patient as society continues its vast shift towards acceptance.
I’d also like to ask that communities don’t dish out otherness and judgement to their own. Rainbow colours really are about the whole spectrum, so we should move on from simply shades of pink to embracing and listening to all the shades, instead of creating a double bind that causes marginalisation and confusion to continue, even in countries where diversity is openly celebrated and protected.

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