Sunday, May 17, 2009
James Toback's filmography is dotted with sensitive male intellectuals and artists revealing hyper-masculine and violent components of their psyche. In Fingers (1978), a film that captured the energy (and a measure of the misogyny) of a certain strand of brat-pack New Hollywood Cinema towards its tail end, Harvey Keitel plays a pianist in a pulp plot that focuses on the split between his love of art and his desire to murder his deceased father's lingering enemies (seedy material that, in good post-French New Wave fashion, is treated with the utmost art-cinema seriousness by Toback). In Two Girls and a Guy (1997) an artist played by Robert Downey, Jr. is compelled into two destructive (and dangerously intertwined) love affairs, the two girls of the title serving less as a challenge to his idea of himself and more as a simple reflection of the contradictory aspects of his own psychology. Of what I've seen of his work, those are probably Toback's two most successful films, largely because they abandon any serious interest in a female perspective - not one of Toback's strengths - almost immediately, instead choosing to trod the hyper-masculine territory that Toback can investigate with some authority. When Toback deigns to tell the woman's side of the story, it results in a film like When Will I Be Loved (2004), wherein the woman (Neve Campbell) is ultimately just a projection of masculinist fantasies of what "female sexuality" (these films paint with very generalizing brushes) must be like.