KLAATU YOU (27)
July 1, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
THE STEPFORD WIVES | d. BRYAN FORBES | 1975
It’s incredibly hard to write about The Stepford Wives in 2020, because what is there left to say? One could talk production details — the costume design, casting decisions, script rewrites; one could talk about Ira Levin’s genius — first Rosemary’s Baby, and now this! One could talk about body-swapping and/or supermarket tropes in ’70s horror, or the execrable remake, which so badly missed the point. Or Jordan Peele’s virtuosic homage in Get Out. But that all seems pedantic next to the larger thematic issues — gaslighting! Structural misogyny! Robotics! — and yet… we’re living in those. Tell me something I don’t know!
But it can’t. Just like Death of a Salesman feels obsolete now that that guy is actually our president: Tell me something I don’t know! What was once nightmarish ends up flatly descriptive. And yet I love this movie. So here’s three of the last things one can say about it:
- Paula Prentiss and Katherine Ross have terrible chemistry. Even though they’re both doing great work (Prentiss especially), they never seem like they’re speaking to each other. This might be related to:
- The director, Bryan Forbes, is bewildered by female comradeship. He can’t depict honest relationships between women as anything but sexual. Why do Joanna and Bobbie first encounter each other in a wheat-field, Bobbie approaching, in slow motion, in a sunlit haze? Why is Joanna’s therapist treated like a rapacious dyke with ulterior motives until the very last moment, when she advises Joanna to run?
- The movie either has, or lacks, a class analysis (can’t tell!) Those supermarket scenes are interesting because you’re like, “Do the townies notice?” Checkout clerks, parking-lot attendants, people servicing these petit bourgeois chumps every day — are they like, “Hah! Serves those motherfuckers right”? Do they flatter themselves that they, too, might someday be replaced (or do the replacing)? Do they worry about job security? And what of the 4th estate? That little old lady with the newsletter: has she been co-opted by the powers that be? Cowed into silence? Or is she too ancien régime to even notice the change in Stepford’s wives?
And yet the film also, very carefully/casually, introduces “the first black family in Stepford” in that last, nightmarish scene. Amid an ocean of buxom, perambulating robots, these new arrivals argue in the soft-drinks aisle. The implication is clear: this young striver is as ready as anyone to sacrifice his wife, because misogyny is no respecter of race; given the opportunity, anyone joining the upper-middle class would replace their wife with a robot. Assuming the Men’s Association is progressive enough to offer him a spot.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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