I Saw a Film!
This Blake Edwards (Pink Panther, 10) piloted romantic comedy is a kind of song of hetero male libido. A fantasy of a singular man being able to indulge himself whimsically with any ladies who strike his fancy, in a modernized Henry Miller (Miller’d only been dead a few years in 83) style tale of pleasure. At least, that’s the premise, what we actually get however, is lots of punishment and endless apologizing about harmless sexuality. But of course, it’s Blake Edwards so we need a comic romp heaped on top of the most normal thing in the world, a man turned on by beautiful women. The problem is, they don’t quite do either.
The film boldly opens with our protagonist’s funeral being attended by oodles of women in mourning. Once we’ve swallowed that joke, and we hear that he truly loved all of them (why not? What’s so hard to imagine about that?) we’re dropped into his typical day. Burt Reynolds as a successful artist (a sculptor) who exercises his inspiration with womanly beauty (each of Picasso’s major artistic movements was instigated by a new love). A pair of pretty legs in skirt flit by his basement studio windows and he’s off on a merry chase to meet her. It’s post-Taxi Marilu Henner, and she takes well Burt’s pursuit (of course, it’s freaking Burt), promises she will remember his number (Henner actually does have remarkable memory abilities that she’s showcased numerous times, so this is a fun in-joke) and keeps her promise. In bed, Burt, in love with her legs, initially, does nothing with her legs. There’s no fetishization and worship of her calves, he doesn’t even plant a kiss on or squeeze her thigh (no Claire’s Knee). So what the hell?
Marilu’s not free to pursue the relationship with our sculptor, and this is probably the truest of the truths about relations and life, good people are in relationships. You aren’t going to find a tremendous resource that isn’t already well attended to. By resource I mean anything from beauty to brains to finances, there will already be organisms filling the niche. To get your access you’ll have to displace others. I know this sort of ecological outlook isn’t very romantic, and it undermines our Catholicism about “cheating” but it’s nature. And as soon as you start looking at things from the point of view of ecology and nature, much of the film ends up seeming rather silly, though so do much of our lives. We are all babies only interested in the items charismatically occupying our rivals.
The only thing our sculptor Burt is guilty of is being an honest, somewhat greedy, indulger of his impulses. This sort of fantasy, according to Chris Rock, is all of us hetero men. We all want to basically indulge ourselves in beautiful ladies. Ladies, according to Rock, all want the same Olympic god. Both jokes are about unattainability. But by the time Burt is going to therapy with Julie Andrews, we’re not being let in on any clinical realities (Ester Perel style–highly recommended, good Podcast). Instead we get a shoddy tale about his mother being a prostitute and therefor, sexual liberation creating his “problem”. It’s about as good as the Nabokov “reason” for Humbert Humbert’s love of Lolita, that being an unrequited childhood affair. It’s doubtful we can have these sorts of clear causality, but certainly, a moral fascism would love to say so. Andrews does not offer Burt anything useful in terms of enjoying his life, understanding sexual libido, or in developing whatever it is he wants in life and getting it in healthy ways. Instead they just play the therapy for laughs, and drive the two toward each other sexually.
Why is this film made? One imagines because Edwards wants to explore his impulses, show us beautiful ladies, and tease our libidos. Easy! But, then, he also wants to train his eye on the slapstick of being the back-door guy for Kim Basinger (turned on by the danger of being caught by her husband) and this is sadly the weakest bit of the film, and it’s a bit painful to see Burt, arguably one of the finest, and possibly the last of the real sex stars (1 part Brando, 1 part action hero) scampering about in closets and accidentally gluing himself to a small dog. I would never have done sequences like this. Burt should own his many loves and be comfortable with what he offers the ladies who accept what he gives. After all, they are not inanimate lumps of meat on platters. They too must make decisions and weigh consequences (unless they’re completely crazy and irresponsible, as some folks are), and participate in our pursuit of happiness (fantasy, dream, goal) as best we can (as we can afford). After all, ultimately, each of us faces our existential annihilation (unless one of the world’s religions is right and we get an after life, though this seems vanishingly unlikely), and must make the best of the time we have. If all of us just accept and devote to the same sets of homes and amenities and reproduction it seems the best chance at happiness. If you can pop open the same can of Vienna Sausages every day and treat them as if they are your favorite meal, you’ll likely be happier as the availability of such is rather easy. Raising your tastes as well as your expectation bar (as proper Buddhists will warn you) is preparation for disappointment. But I’m no Buddhist, most of us could not imagine being such.
So my complaint about The Man Who Loved Women is that it’s immature and loaded with a response to overweening judgement. This is unfortunate, Fantasy (capital F) should be treated as such, and allowed to go its course. We can always have criticism of said fantasy, but it’s only a movie. Anyone can make a film (if they can afford to, though it’s becoming an increasingly in-hand capacity) and such can give us the fantasies of endless folks. As long as we adhere to doing no harm, this sort of democratization of art voice should be a wonderful boon to all the disenfranchised, malcontents and parapheliacs the world over.
Sadly this film isn’t ground-breaking or particularly interesting. Why no sequence of a family member arguing that Burt should settle down? Why no frustrated past lovers with armloads of crying babies suddenly realizing they should have thought more about their choices (not saying having children is necessarily bad it’s just not for everyone). People should understand what they are rushing toward). In a film about choice, and the indulgence of as many of the choices as possible, why not emphasize the harmlessness of sexuality and freedoms love naturally embodies. This could be contrasted with the religious taxation on our psyches that society pressures anything truly free with. What we’re meant to believe is that in loving too many, no love becomes deep and meaningful. Says who? Why are we constantly having this opinion foisted on us? Authoritarians trying to whip us into conformity. But instead of exploring this argument, we’re just meant to accept it.
This film, disappointing as it is, will cost you 3.99 plus tax on prime (usa). But if you’re looking for Henry Miller, or even Viv Albertine (her remembrances of her boy obsessions are beautiful and fun) – forget it. You’re getting a joke. It looks like I’ll need to seek out the Truffaux version, but I’m told it’s even more on the “disease victim” style and doesn’t provide our libidos a delicious outlet.