September 24, 2008

‘Women Are Not Strange, Unless You Happen to Be a Man’

By Geoffrey Macnab

Gender scene

Mickey Rourke puts his pecker in the popcorn in Barry Levinson's 'Diner' (1982)

Men are beasts. They want only one thing and they'll lie and cheat to get it. Women are sweet-natured, romantic and fiercely protective of their virtue. This, at least, is the theory of the battle between the sexes advanced in countless US teen movies from the 1950s onward.

Of course, the generalisations don't really add up. The predatory, leather-clad rebel on the motorbike is never quite as confident as he appears. In a few years' time, we know he'll probably be a browbeaten husband in a dead-end job. Nor is the cheerleader the model of Pippi Longstocking-like virtue that she might seem. Teen pregnancy and drudgery may lie ahead for her too. In coming-of-age movies, the survivors are invariably the unlikely ones - the shy boy at the back of the class, the girl in the spectacles. The point of these movies is that neither sex understands the other. The teens' hormones are running wild. Courtship rituals are all about the kids exploring the unknown. The young suitors are driven by a mix of desire, disgust and a craving after status among their peers.

Barry Levinson's Diner had a strong autobiographical undertow; it was set in the 1950s Baltimore that he clearly remembered from his own adolescence. It's obvious, too, that Levinson must have seen and studied Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni (1953), about a group of small-town chancers idling away in cafes, trying to defer the moment when they had to face up to adult responsibility. The male protagonists who hang out at the diner are slowly drifting apart as they are drawn into relationships and marriage. Eddie (Steve Guttenberg) won't get married unless his fiancee proves she knows at least something about sports trivia. Shrevie (Daniel Stern) is tormenting his young wife (Ellen Barkin). Billy (Tim Daly) is watching Bergman movies, growing ever gloomier and wondering if his pregnant girlfriend will ever marry him. "Women are not strange, not threatening, not mysterious ...unless you happen to be a man," wrote Roger Ebert in his review. It's true - the film expresses perfectly the incomprehension these men have for the women in their lives.

The stunt pulled by Boogie (Mickey Rourke) is crude and vulgar - out of keeping with the rest of a very thoughtful and well-made film - but it still makes you chuckle every time you see it. He has bet his friends that a notoriously cold and prudish girl he is taking for a first date will "go for his pecker" as he puts it. They take the bet, thinking that there is no way he can possibly win - or prove validation. That night at the cinema, he plays a dirty trick, making a hole in the bottom of the cardboard popcorn tub. She is munching happily, watching some melodrama on the big screen. Then, she leans over for a new handful of popcorn and grabs hold of something not so savoury. Boogie tries to pass the whole incident off as an accident. "An accident!" Carol shrieks. "Your thing just got into the popcorn." Somehow, he has so much charm he just about gets away with it. Rourke is said to give a career-reviving performance playing a washed-up fighter in his new movie, Darren Aronofsky's much hyped The Wrestler. However, for many of his fans, that popcorn moment will always be the defining point of his career.


Horseman Hinrich Romeike struck a blow for the male sex in Beijing by winning gold in the three-day eventing, the only Olympic event in which men and women compete head-to-head

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.