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October 1999, Week 4


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Wed, 27 Oct 1999 12:32:51 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (88 lines)
Leona Geudens requests:

> With "unlikely couples" I refer to films such as "King Kong", where
> there is a relationship between a monkey and a girl or "pretty woman",
> where you have an affair between a businessman and a prostitute.
> Which films could be the most logic choices to represent this ?
> Could you say that "unlikely couples" can be considered as a "genre" ?
> Why or why not?         Are there other references fdor this not so
> traditional "genre"? Doesn't it work too much which stereotypes ?
> Would you say that there is a link between "unlikely couples" and
> fundamental social, philosophic and political critiques?
> If you watch this type of films, would you feel the viewer tends to
> identify with the characters (as stated in Laura Mulvey's "Narrative
> Cinema and Visual Pleasure") or rather that this type of popular film
> leads to subject subordiantion (as stated by the Frankfurter Schule) ?
> (or are there other possible reactions as stated in other academic
> literature) ?
> Does this genre lead to destabilization in a society where realism is
> more valued than love ? Or does it simply confirm the fact that in a way
> there is always a connection to long-term relationships in which
> everybody is supposed to get involved?

It's an interesting theme, but it's hard to generalize about it
from any one critical perspective.  Surely the origins of such unlikely
couples can be found in folktales of many cultures.  In the "western"
tradition alone, one can look to such stories as "Cinderella," "Beauty
and the Beast," the princess and the frog, and so on.  Some get
enshrined in various literary works, like some of the 1001 NIGHTS or in
Chaucer--Patient Griselda is another variation on the romance between
royalty and commoner (as in the King Cophetua fable cited several times
by Shakespeare).  On the other hand, the Wife of Bath's tale of the
"Loathly Lady" is a cautionary fable about love only for appearance's
sake.  (Pure speculation: one impetus for such stories within a
class-bound society is to create at least a fantasy escape mechanism
for dreams of upward mobility--or to offer a warning against them.)

Given that long history of storytelling, it should be no surprise to
find many of these stories adapted to film in one way or another.  How
the story is handled varies, I think, among times and places of
production (Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is one thing but Disney's is
another, while Disney's CINDERELLA is one thing and EVER AFTER is
another) and how the themes, which often stem from fantasy, get
translated into different genres.  An example is the American Screwball
Comedy, which often pits an upper-class woman against a working-class
or lower-class (or at least apparently so) man (IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT,
described as a "modern Cinderella" story--often without the ironic
acknowledgment that this Cinderella is indeed a prostitute.  And notice
how some TV series have built their entire premise around the tensions
created by such an unlikely pairing (MOONLIGHTING, REMINGTON STEELE,
the short-lived CUPID, etc.)--it's telling that such series often wane
as soon as their protagonists become intimate.

On the other hand, the "unlikely couple" formula can be a prescription
for sorrow in the context of the "woman's film" ("melodrama,"
"tearjerker").  STELLA DALLAS might be prototypical in that respect
(and there's an interesting article about the film, using a Lacanian
framework, in the most recent issue of CINEMA JOURNAL).

The Beauty-Beast motif often seems to deal with the depiction and
interpretation of masculinity.  (When Cocteau's Beast morphed back
into Jean Marais, Greta Garbo is supposed to have stood up and cried,
"Give me back my beast!")  But KING KONG (a fairly explicit
transmogrification of the theme) is one thing and the TV series BEAUTY
AND THE BEAST is another.

In summary, I think that "unlikely couple" is much too large a category
to be described with a single perspective.  The fact that dramatic form
traditionally requires conflict as its impetus dictates than any
romance is likely to start as a "cute meet" between dissimilar
protagonists.   (Even Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers usually start off
their films as an "unlikely" match.)

At any rate, it's a subject worth thinking about!

Don Larsson

Donald Larsson
Minnesota State U, Mankato
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