I went to the movies on the advice of the critics and the weather bureau. It was, of course, raining. It has rained for 12 out of the last 13 weekends in New England. The only people happy about this are those who work in mushrooms and movies.
In any case, I chose to buy my particular popcorn at "Breathless" and "Flashdance" because they were discussed in the press as movies with a non-traditional twist.
Newsweek magazine had recently hyperventilated over "Breathless" and chosen Richard Gere as cover boy in a story hyping men as the new sex symbols. Others had praised "Flashdance" as female "Saturday the first "girl welder" in modern movie memory.
Well, $8 dollars and five hours later, I think I should tell you the best thing about these films: they kept me dry. I would, however, like to wave my umbrella at those who believe these movies offer a new image of men or, certainly, women. They made "Tootsie" look like the winner of a feminist film festival.
In "Breathless," Richard Gere plays a jinxed punk who learns about the meaning of life from Silver Surfer comics, and is functionally unable to think about the future. He is a dumb-but-energetic brunette who bares his chest and every other part of his anatomy as frequently as possible.
But did they forsake female sex objects for Gere? Not exactly. His co-star, Valerie Kaprisky, who plays a brilliant French architecture student, clambers through the film along with him, struggling mightily to keep her shoulder straps from falling off. The cameraman can't keep his lens off either body. At best, we have here equality of sleaze.
As for Jennifer Beals--She Welds by Day! She Dances by Night!--it is safe to say that the moviemakers devote considerably more attention to her teeny-weeny dancing costume than her welding outfit.
The women are still being cast for their voyeur-ability. The basic modern veneer of these movies is in their changing job titles. As far as women go, Hollywood has superimposed new occupations on old preoccupations.
We've seen this happen on television recently. Every other woman on the tube these days is a sexy-looking lawyer. Now in the movies we have a sexy-looking architect in the upscale market and a sexy-looking welder in the blue-collar ranks.
The problem is that Hollywood's characters have become even more unformed, and inconsistent. You can almost feel the moviemakers' confusion as they struggle to maintain updated versions of their favorite female fantasies.
Consider, for example, the odds on finding a brilliant young architecture student who will go on the run with a cop killer. Richard Gere may be cute, but not that cute.
What about the odds on finding a young woman like Jennifer Beals who welds all day (where she is easily accepted by her male peers), flashdances all night in an R-rated bar (where she is unhassled by the audience), lifts weights in her spare time (where sweat becomes her), and aspires to be a ballet dancer. In Pittsburgh.
If that doesn't make you tired, try to hold together her psyche. The same Jennifer Beals who tearfully confesses to her priest in one scene that she thinks about sex is eagerly engaged in it during the next, and soon foreplaying under a restaurant table with her footsy. The seven faces of Jenny.
Movies are, of course, the stuff of fantasy, and these two are not intended to be documentaries. Their success comes from their appeal to the youth market, especially through their music. At its best, "Flashdance" evokes the giant, amorphous energetic "I want" of adolescent longings.
But they both indicate how Hollywood distorts the images of a changing world. Men can be men now and be sexploited too. Women can have their cute little jobs as long as they also keep their cute little . . . you get the idea.
If this is a sign of changing patterns, it isn't showing up that way on my movie satellite photo. I think I'll keep my umbrella handy.