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The International Writers Magazine
: Film and Society

James Skinner

Few films in the history of the Oscar Academy awards overwhelmingly thrash its opponents to a pulp and take most of the little puny statuettes ranging from best film to best costume design, specially those of days gone by. Today’s mammoth productions include supercilious extras such as sound and visual effects as well as cybernetic design techniques overtaking yesterday’s reasons for the prize-winning based on how the representation of the script on screen touched the hearts of the audience. Gone are the days of ‘Captain’s Courageous’ and ‘To kill a mockingbird’ that left a warm feeling within the soul as you left the theatre, and not a deaf ear due to the outrageous sounds of bombarding warplanes or invented monsters screeching down mountainsides.

The film in question, which is the basis of this essay, is none other the one that swept away most of the prizes in 1958. It was the musical ‘Gigi’ staring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jordan.
It is a simple tale of the emancipation of a young French girl named ‘Gigi’ as she blossoms into womanhood during the frolicking period at the turn of the XX century enjoyed by Parisian high society. Virtue and promiscuity go hand in hand as a young and innocent Leslie Caron, who plays the leading role, transforms before the very eyes of a seductive yet bored and rich ‘mentor’, Gaston (Louis Jordan) who is unknowingly falling in love with her. The film is enhanced by the very charming and never ageing Maurice Chevalier, as Louis’ eternal bachelor uncle and continually spiced with Lerner and Loewe’s brilliant lyrics and musical score. Lisa Minelli’s father, Vincente directed this musical masterpiece.

But there is a dark side to the film. In today’s male versus female society it would probably be condemned. The opening scene depicts a ‘dirty old man’ (Chevalier) introducing us to the story as he sings a ditty about ‘little girls’ and how they grow up ‘in the most delightful way’. In the scene he is smiling lecherously at a group of them playing in the park. The character would be deemed a paedophile and taken to court in two seconds flat. On the other hand, Gaston is a typical male chauvinist pig. He is rich and has no regard for women other than as bedroom playmates to be taken in one at a time as mistresses and given the life of super luxury. That is, until the women grow old and ugly and is replaced like any other worn out machinery. Even the Madame’s left on the scrap heap accept the eventual renunciation by their male lovers and ‘retire’ gracefully to become instructors for future young female playmates. Gigi’s grandmother and aunt have been through the mill and as experts in the art of male pleasure prepare her for Gaston’s bedroom. Her mother, another has-been, is too far-gone and spends her time singing in the bath. Thank goodness, feminist societies were non-existent at the time. The film would never have been released.

Take the present day situation regarding children. You have the Michael Jackson case whereby the singer has been accused of sexual assault on a thirteen-year-old who was a guest at his ‘Dream City’. He is meant to have tucked the kid into bed with him and given him a few goodnight kisses. For all we know that is all he did and all he meant to do. Fifty years ago, nothing would have happened. Today, it is a major crime. Then we have a whole series of Roman Catholic priests that have been up to no good in the past, again with young children of both sexes. Unfortunately this is and was a common practice for centuries. Almodovar’s recent movie, ‘Bad Education’ highlights the subject in sordid detail. It is the story involving sexual abuse in a Jesuit school back in the sixties.

But what about ordinary decent and grown up human beings that have always cuddled and hugged young children as part of their nature? Forget it! Ask any schoolteacher what the rules are and she or he will answer without any hesitation: ‘Hands off!’ even if the little creature has just fallen down and broken its nose. So much for the evolution of child abuse and the resultant present day legislation.

On the other hand, is male chauvinism a thing of the past? Let’s see, a XXI century Gaston would not survive no matter how much money he had at his disposal. Or would he? Actually the roles have changed. Because of the move for equality of the sexes, woman are just as prone to act as Gaston as their masculine counterparts. Despite the Suffragette movement at the turn of the XX century that kicked off the ‘war of the sexes’ in the Western world it was Simone de Beauvoir, the famous French writer who opened the doors to proper scientific debate on the difference between men and women. Her thesis ‘The Second Sex’, written in 1949, explored the injustice and oppression of women exerted by a male dominated society. Although certain of her theories were later disputed, women the world over was on the march to fight for equal rights based on sound reasoning and common sense. Although the struggle goes on, huge differences still exist. They range from politics to business, education to household responsibilities; for this reason women still feel the need to assert their equality in today’s modern world. The question remains, will they eventually make it and if so, will it really change our society for the better? One thing will never alter. Men spawn babies and women produce them! (Test tubes asides- Ed)
I am not a fan of statistical information but it is a known fact that males still dominate the Western world’s society. The majority still prefer to leave the washing up to ‘mummy’ while they are watching the latest World Series or European football matches. Women still have to put up with sly sexist remarks from the ‘boss’ as they enter the boardroom to discuss the latest financial results. They continue to be beaten to death by their male partners, despite severe protective legislation. Rape is rampant throughout the world and is on the increase. A male philanderer is a hero; a female one is still considered a whore, even by her own sex. I dare not even mention the Muslim world with their religiously biased gender philosophy. So what is the solution? Perhaps there isn’t one! Boys will be boys and girls will be girls. Reverting back to Gigi, there is one caveat in the film. It hits back with old fashion morality as Gaston eventually marries Gigi whilst Maurice Chevalier sings away the happy ending of my favourite musical. ‘Thank heaven for little girls’.
© James Skinner. 2004. Nov 2nd 2004
jamesskinner at

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