Frances, Gilda, Mildred, and Me My first assignment for my writing workshop is to write (loosely) about some film that's had some impact on my life. I thought I would have an easy time of it, having purchased several James M. Cain novels for a dollar at the last St-Laurent street festival. The hardcover collection includes "The Postman Always Rings Twice", "Mildred Pierce", and "Double Indemnity", all of which I've seen in their celluloid incarnation. As an aside, no postman appears in "The Postman Always Rings Twice". Initially, I decided to write about "Mildred Pierce", mostly because in the novel, Mildred has a very active sex life--unlike the film--and has a very sado-maso-erotic relationship with her oldest daughter. There was enough fodder for twenty pages easily. I wrote about three pages when I realized that it was sounding very much like an academic paper, comparing and contrasting the book to the film, "buttressed" (a word favoured by my western civ. profs) by examples. Around the time I was thinking about the two Mildreds and my workshop assignment, the CBC presented a panel discussion on the 30th anniversary of the Joy of Sex. One of the older panelists lauded the Joy of Sex as having contributed to the liberation of female sexuality. I've always been suspicious of these types of pronouncements, mostly because books by Cain and characters like Mildred prove that women were having lots of recreational sex well before the 1970s. The idea that women weren't enjoying sex until 1970 is a weird middle class construct. I thought I'd take Mildred, introduce her to middle-class notions of emerging/subjugated female sexuality and see what happens. But, then I realized I'd be writing some kind of university essay and be missing the point. So, my mind wandered back to memories of other films that left an impression on me. The first memory was from about 20 years ago, when I saw the film "Frances". I was between relationships and seeing my friend Charlie on a very platonic level. We were "dating", but never kissed or held hands. We would occasionally put our arms around one another. Every Saturday we would go dancing, and sometimes we would see a movie. I had left Michel about a year earlier, and had yet to meet Bill. So, between relationships and dating someone who I didn't really desire, I saw a film that viscerally portrayed a very tortured and misunderstood actress from the 1940s, Frances Farmer. Beautiful, gifted, alcoholic, and addicted to amphetamines, after one too many sessions in a mental institution, Frances was left literally with very little brain--a doctor finally performing a lobotomy on her to control her "willfulness". Frances, now dead, does have her own tarot card. I remember walking out of the movie--Charlie and I saw it the old Monkland Theatre--and my mind replaying scenes in which a very rebellious actress becomes a very powerless woman. I think Charlie tried to engage me in a conversation about feminism, but all I could think about was my own rebellious acts and whether one day I'd pay for my independence. I don't know exactly when I stopped seeing Charlie and when I started seeing Bill, but it wasn't very long after that. Bill and I stayed together for a few years. It was a pretty stormy and passionate time, especially when he went away for a semester to Trinity College, Dublin. I held onto the relationship voraciously, at one point racking up an $800.00 phone bill because of one-too-many tearful and pleading phone calls to Ireland. My father had to pay the bill to have my phone service reinstated. Despite the investment, we broke up in the Cracovie restaurant on Stanley street, a restaurant I've not been to since and which I'm not even sure exists any more. A very short while later, I met Rob. Eventually, he went away to school. We broke up, too. After Rob, Tony became the new Charlie. An artist who never washed his hair and who made a living by selling drugs to his friends, Tony was an odd choice for me as a between-relationship companion. He lived in a loft in Old Montreal when it wasn't trendy to do so. He never had any money. He was moody and eccentric and the hairiest man I've ever seen. His favourite word was "hirsute". We didn't love each other. We were kind of cruel to each other. We were convenient for one another. Around this time, I saw the film "Gilda", the story of a woman so inexplicably mistreated that it stands as a stellar example of sado-masochism. I discovered the film in the local video store in their very tiny "Classics" section. I remember sitting down in front of the television on the floor of my living room, completely engaged by every scene, which invariably involved someone being very nasty and calculating to someone else. I even tried to write short story that attempted to intertwine the film's plot with an anecdote that a girlfriend told me about a particularly bad date, but I never finished it. I stopped seeing Tony and started seeing Paul. Paul and I were together for a decade until we broke up a couple of years ago. Since then, there's been no Charlies or Tonys to fill the gap. No Frances' or Gildas to iconize feminine fragility. Only Mildred and the academic sway she holds over me.

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