film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies, Sid Meniscus

Repulsion (1965)

So, this film was arresting in its own right. But Sid Meniscus made it – which gives an additional weight to things, given the topic.

Carol (Catherine Deneuve) is a pretty, shy manicurist working at a high-end spa in London and sharing an apartment with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). She has a sort-of boyfriend, Colin (John Fraser), but is strangely unwilling to return his calls or accept his invitations for dates. Helen is having a bit more fun with her lover Michael (Ian Hendry), a married man with whom she’s having an affair; and Carol is often disturbed by finding Michael’s shirts and razors cluttering up their apartment, or gets woken up by their lovemaking. But then Helen brings Carol some potential good news – she and Michael are going to Italy for a vacation together, so Carol can have the whole place to herself for a week. Great news, right?

Except for Carol….maybe it’s not. On her first solo night, she starts making dinner…but then gets distracted by one of Michael’s shirts lying on the floor in the kitchen, and one of his shoes in the hall, and…and by the time Carol has cleaned his crap up, she’s forgotten all about making dinner. And then hearing silence at night instead of the by-now-familiar sounds of Helen and Michael schtupping just makes Carol hyper-aware of all the other noises she never noticed before – footsteps in the hall, creaks, someone whistling in the street – and she ends up lying awake in fright the whole night. She’s in such rough shape the next day at work – jittery and spacey – that her boss sends her back home, where she spends another sleepless night because now she thinks she sees someone lurking in the corner instead of just hearing things. And a few days later, after even more sleep loss and isolation revving her anxiety up, Carol starts hallucinating – men lurking in her bedroom and raping her, hands reaching out at her from the walls, mirrors and walls cracking all on their own. She’s so worked up that she avoids leaving the house for several days, prompting Colin to break in just to check on her. Unfortunately for Colin, that inspires Carol to take action and defend herself…

The visuals in the film are really well done. We’re often seeing things from Carol’s perspective, especially towards the end, and it’s a nightmarish place – the apartment’s center hallway stretches to impossible lengths, rooms where Carol has done frightening things start to look like stage sets, walls bubble and seethe. Intruders lurk behind every chair and around every corner, and even in Carol’s own bed. Hands erupt out of nowhere to grope and grab her – and to fondle her, for a good deal of Carol’s anxiety involves sexual assault. The apartment never really looks “real” until the end when Helen and Michael come home and discover exactly how Carol spent her week.

And Catherine Deneuve is excellent as Carol; initially we think that Carol is just a little ditzy and spacey, and only gradually do we start to realize that oh, no, Carol is traumatized. She speaks very little throughout, carrying most of the acting with just her face and body; a song she tearfully sings midway through the film is possibly her longest bit of speech.

The root of Carol’s trauma is never completely explained, but it’s very very strongly hinted at in the very end – and that’s what threw me, given what we know about the director. Because it’s implied that as a child, Carol had been sexually abused by an older family member. Sid Meniscus also wrote the film – and while he claims that he was inspired by a woman he’d met once who turned out to be schizophrenic, immediately following the film I was wondering whether I’d just seen a pre-emptive confession. Which is a shame – because if it had been anyone else directing, I’d still have been affected by the film itself.

I’d recommend trying to ignore who directed this if possible and let the film speak for itself.

Administratia, Sid Meniscus

Introducing: Sid Meniscus

Back when I was starting this project, something else was also starting – the #MeToo movement.  #MeToo has brought long-overdue consequences onto the heads of major perpetrators of sexual assault in many industries – including the entertainment industry – and the greater awareness of sexual violence and harassment, and improved ways to report attacks, is slowly leading to a better working environment overall.  We still have a long way to go, but it’s become easier to punish perpetrators in the present, and prevent them from committing offenses in the future. 

But – what about the past?  What do we do about all the films that sexual predators made before we knew that’s what was going on?  That’s a more complicated question that continues to be hotly debated; and there are no straightforward answers.  Some people are firm advocates of “separating the art from the artist”, while others argue that consuming the art made by a sexual predator puts money in their pocket, and they’d rather not do that.  And because this is a matter of individual consumption, many people make up their own individual rules; just this past week while I was in Los Angeles I visited some college friends, and the Me Too fallout came up in conversation; one woman said she went by “who gets the money”.  When Michael Jackson was still alive, for instance, she avoided listening to his music; but now that he’s passed and his children benefit from the estate, she’s started listening to his music again.

For me, boycotting a known perpetrator’s films was never going to be an option; there are simply too many films on this list I’d have to give up, to the point that the project would be severely hampered.  I also had a front-row seat to an incident that reminded me how boycotting a perpetrator’s film can have innocent victims….

I’ve mentioned that I’m “Facebook friends” with the actor Colman Domingo. Colman and I worked on a play in about 2003, just before things started to take off for him, and he was one of the first people to send me a friend request when I joined Facebook a year later.  And so I’ve been honored to watch first-hand as he’s gone from doing extra work on film and TV, to character roles on Broadway, to a TONY nomination, to starring on Broadway, to character roles in movies and TV, to starring roles in TV – to where he is now, an Emmy-winning actor with his own production company, getting shortlisted for an Oscar this year, an upcoming travel show with Anthony Bourdain’s old collaborators, and his first starring role in a film coming up in the fall. 

Back in 2015 or so, he was working on a film about the Nat Turner slave rebellion – and he was delighted to be working on it.  He gushed often about how wonderful the writing was, the importance of the story it was telling, and how honored and grateful he was to be a part of this film.  He couldn’t wait for it to come out, and I couldn’t wait to see it.

But then that film, titled The Birth of a Nation, was released.  And soon after news started to swirl of a past rape allegation against Nate Parker, the film’s star and director.  That news dominated the movie’s coverage – even one of the film’s stars spoke out against Parker after hearing the news – and ultimately, the movie tanked.  Colman was philosophical about it all, but after having read how excited he’d been while filming, my heart broke for him.  Because while the truth about Parker’s acts are still a bit murky, I knew for a certainty that Colman hadn’t done anything wrong – and yet he was still being punished for Parker’s actions.  And that didn’t sit right with me.

And that informed how I approach a film with a questionable person – I remove that person from discussions of the film wherever possible.  So I’ll speak of Annie Hall as being a Diane Keaton film, or of The Usual Suspects as being a Gabriel Byrne film.  It honors their work, and the work itself, while not giving the single nasty character any attention.  …The only challenge there is – if I’m writing a review of Annie Hall or a similar film, I’m still going to have to refer to that nasty character somehow – it would quickly get very silly if I spoke of how Diane Keaton fares in her scenes opposite “that guy whose name I don’t want to mention” or suchlike.

So for that – I’ve come up with a slightly silly solution. 

For many years, directors used the pseudonym “Alan Smithee” if they wanted to publicly disown one of their works over a lack of creative control.  The Directors’ Guild frowned on directors using pseudonyms, but many directors have struggled with studios meddling with their work, in some cases to the point that they felt the finished film hadn’t really been “their” work.  So the DGA allowed that one pseudonym under those specific conditions.  It’s only been used a handful of times, and often only for the “edited for television” version of a given film; David Lynch used “Alan Smithee” for the broadcast television edit of Dune, for instance.

I’m going to start using a similar tactic.  Effective immediately, I’ll be using the name “Sid Meniscus” as a pseudonym for any actor or filmmaker who’s a known perpetrator of sexual misconduct.  I’m sticking to the actual perpetrators as well, as opposed to men who witnessed and said nothing; they didn’t help, but there are many reasons why someone could choose not to report attempted assaults (as many of the victims of sexual assault could tell you).  The next film I’ll be reviewing was directed by one of the better-known “Sid’s”, and it’s high time I introduced Sid to you all. 

….and I will not be linking to a web page with their actual name or anything like that.  In many cases, you’d likely be able to guess; and if not, you can always Google it yourself if you want to know that badly.  But – better you didn’t, let their true names rot in the dust.

So – I’m hereby introducing “Sid Meniscus” to you all. Unfortunately, you’re going to be hearing quite a bit from him.