Friday, July 2, 2010

Mary Harron and American Psycho

Mary Harron has directed three feature films in the past fifteen years or so: two were overtly feminist biopics of culturally relevant outsiders, the third was an adaptation of a novel about a (possibly) serial killing, rich, misogynistic (and fictional) investment banker. The adaptation of the novel was the only really successful film of the three, I think.

More on the feminist biopics later, but first I want to talk about American Psycho, the one about the investment banker who either likes to, or pretends he likes to, cut other people up into little pieces. Truth be told, I haven't read Bret Easton Ellis's novel. I did read Less Than Zero around the time it came out, and I can say with pretty great authority that he writes with emotional accuracy about a particularly creepy rich kid milieu. I think I actually may have written a paper in high school that posited that the Beverly Hills Ellis skewered in his first novel was essentially the same as the world we lived in at home in West Egg. Not everyone was pleased. Back to the movie. I think it's kind of great. I've seen it twice, but the first time I watched it I was a little distracted as a crazy drunk tried to break into my apartment in the middle of my viewing of the film and I had to call 911 and deal with the cops, etc. (and, no, I am not making this up). The responding beat cops thought it was hilarious that I was watching American Psycho during all this. I saw it a second time a couple of months ago, and it just nails a certain type so well. The kind of rich business man whose performance of his own gender is so aggressive it almost always strikes me as a kind of deeply closeted homosexuality. It's all about competition with all the other M&A guys, women don't even figure into the picture except as another acquisition.

Her movie is so good, and so very disturbing. I read a couple of interviews with Harron before writing this, and she is very, very smart. She started off as a journalist. She was a founder of the legendary 'zine Punk, and was the first journalist in the US to interview the Sex Pistols. She was The Observer's theatre critic for a while (and she dated Tony Blair!). I found her two biopics, I Shot Andy Warhol and The Notorious Bettie Page fun to watch, but mostly because of my fascination with the subject matter of each. Bettie Page was by far the stronger of the two, and Gretchen Mol is really lovely in it. I think what I like about Harron is that I believe she is actually trying to work things out about gender and class and about how people fit or don't fit into the various slots they wind up in. Her feminism isn't static, and she has a wicked and black sense of humor. She is currently working on an adaptation of The Moth Diaries, a girl's boarding school gothic horror novel. I'm practically salivating in anticipation.

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