Monday, 31 May 2010

Sex and the City, Liz Jones, and Me, Blondie

Well that was fun. I've now been personally attacked by Liz Jones for a little VT I made for the BBC on romantic comedy, linked to Sex and the City 2. (I'm not linking to her piece in the Daily Mail because I don't want to be sullied by it. You can google if you want to find it.)

Here's what Liz has to say about my little film:

The final straw in the whole PC backlash was when a snooty blonde American academic pontificated on BBC2’s Newsnight Review that the romantic comedy is dead, and why on earth do we no longer (yawn) have strong female role models?

Listen, blondie, you obviously didn’t spend enough time as a child in front of the telly. Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday was about to throw in the typewriter and get married, and indeed ends up happily ever after with Cary Grant (a plot followed as closely by SATC the TV series as Bridget Jones mirrored Pride and Prejudice).

Sex And The City 2 deals with the issue of being married to a monosyllabic nightmare who only ever wants to watch TV, with the menopause, with the mundanity of motherhood

Blondie cited The Philadelphia Story, as if this were some homage to women’s lib.

Can I remind you that Kate Hepburn, an unemployed heiress, gets smacked in the mouth by Cary Grant, apologises to her father for being a shrew, promises to behave, and gratefully marries the aforementioned wife beater and recovering alcoholic in the closing credits.

Hi there, I'm the Blondie. *waves*

I'll leave the incoherence of Liz's piece behind, and simply point out a few of the most egregiously stupid of the things she says about me.

First, it is a two-minute VT, produced and edited by the BBC. Liz obviously hasn't made very many films, or she would know that I had very limited control over what was done in that film: only the words I speak are definitely mine.

For the record, I say nothing in the film about The Philadelphia Story. If there were images used from the film (I haven't watched it yet, as I hate watching myself on tv), that was not my idea. In fact, The Philadelphia Story is a Taming of the Shrew tale, as I have written elsewhere, so it is not a feminist exemplum. Actually Katharine (not "Kate," Liz, you never met her, but perhaps you don't know how to spell Katharine?) Hepburn is supposed to have told playwright Philip Barry to make the heroine "like me, but make her go all soft at the end."

I only mention "Katharine Hepburn" in the piece. Liz seems to be under the impression that The Philadelphia Story is the only film she made. There were others, Liz - more than 50, in fact.

Second, in calling me "Blondie," Liz seems to believe that knowledge is correlated with hair color. The idea that my hair-color symbolizes anything about me, or what I know, is just the kind of stupid thinking you'd expect from a brunette. Grow up, Liz, and get off the playground. The same goes for my being "snooty" and - gasp - an academic. Name-calling is a terrific substitute for an actual argument, and prejudice and presumption is much easier than thinking.

Actually, Liz, I know more about screwball comedy (that's what they're called) in one blonde hair follicle than you will ever know. My family would be convulsed with hysterics at the idea that I didn't spend enough teen years in front of the tv: I never left it, and I watched nothing but old black and white films for years. I have written about them, read about them, and watched them, all of them (and I mean all of them) for decades. I own, and love, screwball comedies that I can assure you, Liz, you've never heard of.

As for His Girl Friday, as I wrote in the comment to Liz's column, I made the connection between this film and Sex and the City three years ago, in the Spectator. Perhaps Liz got the idea for the comparison by reading my 2007 column? It's here.

The idea that His Girl Friday is the ur-plot of Sex and the City is, frankly, moronic. His Girl Friday is based on a play (The Front Page) that was about two men, an editor and his star reporter; in 1940 director Howard Hawks had the brilliant idea to make the reporter a woman, and a classic was born. But Walter Burns, the Cary Grant character, is a bastard - he's charming, and gorgeous and fabulous in every way except that he has no morals and treats Hildy (Rosalind Russell) like shit. Deciding that this Cary Grant character - a cheater, liar, thief, manipulator - is infinitely preferable to the Cary Grant character in The Philadelphia Story seems, let's say, rather an arbitrary choice.

I adore His Girl Friday in every way, but let's tell the truth about it. It has no connection to SATC except that Carrie is supposedly a "journalist"--but a tough investigative newspaper reporter she ain't. There are no other parallels whatsoever, beyond the so general as to be meaningless. Those are probably the ones Liz was thinking of.

But the most amazing part is that Liz assumes I haven't seen this specific film because it wasn't mentioned in a 2-minute tv film. By that logic, I also haven't seen, or heard of anything in this list either, which I just happen to have on file despite my startling ignorance of the genre (the asterisks indicate films I especially recommend):

Test "Title"

  1. It Happened One Night (1934)**
  2. Twentieth Century (1934)
  3. The Thin Man (1934)*
  4. The Gay Divorcee (1934)
  5. The Richest Girl in the World (1934)
  6. Hands Across the Table (1935)
  7. Red Salute (1935)
  8. If You Could Only Cook (1935)
  9. Remember Last Night? (1935)
  10. She Married Her Boss (1935)*
  11. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)*
  12. My Man Godfrey (1936)*
  13. The Awful Truth (1937)**
  14. Nothing Sacred (1937)**
  15. The Bride Walks Out (1936),
  16. The Ex-Mrs Bradford (1936),
  17. The Princess Comes Across (1936),
  18. Love on the Run (1936),
  19. The Moon’s Our Home (1936),
  20. Theodora Goes Wild (1936)*
  21. Wedding Present (1936),
  22. Breakfast for Two (1937),
  23. Double Wedding (1937),
  24. Easy Living (1937)**
  25. History is Made At Night (1937) *
  26. I Met Him In Paris (1937),
  27. It’s Love I’m After (1937),
  28. Libeled Lady (1936)*
  29. Love Before Breakfast (1936)
  30. Love is News (1937),
  31. Second Honeymoon (1937),
  32. Topper (1937),
  33. True Confession (1937)*
  34. Bringing Up Baby (1938)**
  35. Bachelor Mother (1939)**
  36. Holiday (1938)**
  37. Midnight (1939)**
  38. Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938),
  39. The Mad Miss Manton (1938),
  40. Having Wonderful Time (1938),
  41. Joy of Living (1938),
  42. Merrily We Live (1938),
  43. Vivacious Lady (1938),
  44. 5th Ave Girl (1939)*
  45. Café Society (1939),
  46. Eternally Yours (1939),
  47. It’s A Wonderful World (1939),
  48. His Girl Friday (1940)**
  49. Ball of Fire (1941)**
  50. The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)*
  51. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)**
  52. The Lady Eve (1941)*
  53. The Palm Beach Story (1942)**
  54. The Philadelphia Story (1940)*
  55. My Favorite Wife (1940)*
  56. Too Many Husbands (1940),
  57. Turnabout (1940),
  58. Hired Wife (1940),
  59. I Love You Again (1940),
  60. No Time for Comedy (1940),
  61. Public Deb. No 1 (1940),
  62. He Stayed for Breakfast (1940)
  63. Love Crazy (1941),
  64. Mr.and Mrs Smith (1941)
  65. The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
  66. To Be or Not to Be (1942)*
  67. Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)

I end the list there for various reasons I won't enumerate now, and which Liz wouldn't understand anyway. Anyone else reading this, do yourself a favor and if you haven't seen these films, get a hold of them and enjoy. I'll be laughing with you in spirit.

I've also written about screwball and the great women who starred in them here: and here and here

So Liz, there you have it. You were talking out of your ass, as usual. And I'm quite sure that neither Katharine Hepburn, nor Rosalind Russell, would want me to take this crap lying down.


  1. Apologies for focusing on the list of screwballs rather than the Liz Jones retort, but I **love** that you asterixed Theodora Goes Wild. Irene Dunne is a goddess. The comedic potential she can wring out of a raised eyebrow, a clenched grin or a sigh is staggering.

    Congratulations on this new endeavour; I'll definitely be bookmarking!

  2. Ah, anyone can blog, and anyone can publish (and look a pratt in so doing). I see from the above catfight, anyone can use the media to vent and throw her toys from the pram. Get real, Some of us do not spend a third of our lives on front of the television set.

  3. tee hee well done she is really annoying if a slightly sad and hollow character. *gets out amazon wishlist and starts adding films*

  4. I’ve never understood people who say "I'm not going to rise to the bait". Glad you snapped, even if you left out The Whole Town’s Talking (1935).

  5. Hep hep, Sarah! You're so pretty when you're angry! *ducks*
    it is just so low - lower than low - to apply Blondie to anyone. She deserves every blow she gets.

  6. Yes.. High Five!
    In one very eloquent and educated post you manage to "Cut her tits off" with style :)
    Thank you for the long list of wonderful films to view, I have seen some of them and adore them, I love the nostalgia, the wit and of course the fashion.. far more stylish than Sex in the city xx

  7. Excellent post. What an entrance to the world of blogging. Look forward to more, much more.

    Helena xx

  8. Thanks to all for their interest in the list! I did go for my pre-existing list, which hadn't recently been updated. It has been pointed out that I missed some films; others I've realized myself. So here is my Addendum:

    1. Ninotchka (1939) Simple and embarrassing oversight. One of the best, although some argue about Lubitsch and the politics of it. But if we admit some of the ones above, then clearly Ninotchka belongs there.

    2. I Married A Witch (1942) The basis for Bewitched, the tv series, but much, much funnier.

    3. Princess O'Rourke (1943): screenplay by Norman Krasna, the most socialist of all classic Hollywood screenwriters. His screwballs are always about showing up the rich and the poor winning. Very interesting. Also Olivia deHavilland attempting to be funny-which doesn't work, but is of historical interest.

    4. The Whole Town's Talking (1935), as suggested by Tim Footman above. Now this is a controversial choice- actually most screwball critics agree with TF and include it. I disagree primarily because of Edward G Robinson- I define screwball basically (my definition is more complex, but this is the start) as the battle of the sexes during the Depression in which class is at issue and usually sex is sublimated with physical comedy and or verbal fireworks (not always cross class, but class always an issue, except for films whose origins are pre-Depression, such as His Girl Friday and The Awful Truth). The Whole Town's Talking is a comedy but it isn't a screwball because it has nothing "screwball" about it (which I can define more comprehensively but not here). It's a contemporary comedy but not, to me, a screwball.

    There are many other wonderful films from the 30s and 40s that have elements of romance, comedy and class-consciousness (for example The Talk of the Town, The Major and the Minor- which probably is screwball, broadly construed) or films such as Mannequin, which have strong screwball elements but ultimately skew toward melodrama (and by that definition others would also be excluded, but this all starts to get very technical and fanatical).

    This list is really meant as a way to start, and the only one that is a travesty to have left off is Ninotchka.

    Happy viewing!

  9. PS "Midnight" is the greatest screwball that has also been lost to history, in my opinion. (Ie of those that have been lost, it's the greatest.) Desperately deserves rediscovery: John Barrymore in his last great role, delivering a line about a baby with alcohol poisoning that never fails to make me weep with laughter (you have to watch it). Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, directed by the underrated Mitchell Leisen. One of the unsung greats, and a gem. Find it, and watch it.

  10. Oh Lord if I were better at this technical stuff I'd know how to edit. Apologies for proliferating addenda, but the Mannequin to which I refer above is 1937 with Joan Crawford and Spencer Tracy, not the Kim Cattrall and Andrew McCarthy from the 1980s (although the KC connection to SATC is a nice, accidental historical coincidence) ... done now, bye. x

  11. Adore Bringing Up Baby, quite possibly my favourite of all the Cary Grants....*sigh*

  12. I haven't seen your VT because I was out on Friday and then away over the weekend but I will as I like to catch up on review!

    I don't think you need to have seen the VT to know that this woman is clearly horrible and small in outlook. For a start she shouldn't be using offensive or belittling language to describe a colleague of any kind- manners don't cost anything. Secondly you are clearly an extremely well qualified academic but even if you weren't your piece was an opinion, you weren't saying it was gospel, she can think what she likes.

    Thank- you for the lovely recommendations, I have seen some of the obvious ones but not nearly enough- and I too love a black and white oldie. I watched the Prince and the showgirl the other Sunday in fact and although it isn't terribly good I kind of loved it- and I'm sure it's because they are both really sparky winning actors and you indulge the pitfalls. Oh for their kind today!

  13. Sarah once again thank you for going the extra mile .. I hope to have the time to watch these movies soon, certainly planning on a few for the holidays xx

  14. I see your point. Edward G Robinson isn’t Cary Grant on the sexual chemistry front. But some of us have a soft spot for him (especially those who’ve had to go through life looking rather more like Eddie than Cary).

  15. Fair enough, Tim! To me the point isn't to be dogmatic or exclusive, but rather to have a conversation about what they actually are, since most people refer to them as if they're a closed set but actually it's a bit up for grabs ... Lord knows other definitions are equally valid.

    Although, naturally, mine is the only one that's *right*. : - )

  16. Don't you find it hilarious (and sad) that a woman in 2010 can refer to another woman as
    "Blondie." So many levels of demeaning, that it's hard to know where to start.

    Great response to an idiotic piece.

    *Cheering from Los Angeles*

    Bumble x

  17. Hi Sarah

    Thank you for the list of screwball comedies. I’m sure they’ll provide with hours of laughter.

    Now to the content of your post, it’s funny how perfectly harmless adjectives (‘snooty’, ‘blonde’, ‘American’, ‘academic’… Well, perhaps not ‘snooty’) can become so demeaning in the mouths of certain people. In fairness, I don’t think the short VT on The Review Show made justice to your obvious knowledge on the subject but, like you’ve explained, you’re only responsible for the words you said on camera; the editing and the images included on it are not. Also, it was just a two minute piece!

    The Daily Mail columnist only showed her own ignorance on the subject and stupid prejudice about blondes, Americans and academics or, perhaps about blonde American academics; who knows! Her writing is so poor that it is hard to make much sense out of it