Thursday, June 26, 2008

Olde Review: Diary of a Mad Housewife

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the naive, snotty kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

This is a companion piece to "Olde Review: The Nights of Cabiria"

"Diary of a Mad Housewife" (Frank Perry, 1970) As for "Diary of a Mad Housewife," it was the first time I had seen it in an unbutchered form, and I hate to make snap-judgements on a film,* but all the time I was watching it, I was painfully aware that it was made in 1969, released in 1970, at the heighth of the "youth-movie" craze, when, in order to make a point (and a buck!) subtlety was thrown out the window and you were beat over the head with "THE MESSAGE." I felt it was a shame that to see Frank and Eleanor Perry, who collaborated on the sensitive "David and Lisa," consciously changing their style to fit what was profitable at the time, so that the whole movie was written and directed like the opening cocktail party of "The Graduate." It's fine for ten minutes of the film, but the whole film? After awhile, I began to think I was in a cage, no matter how honorable the film's theme is. Anyway, Ithought I'd tell you where I stood at the beginning.

"Diary..." tells the story of Tina Balser,** (Carrie Snodgress) who is married to an overly-ambitious, ego-centric, heartless,and just plain insensitive husband (played by Richard Benjamin, just the way you'd expect him to play it-hissing is allowed). She has two obnoxious little girls who take after their dad, and she's somewhat dazed (and just a little miffed) by the whole situation, especially after a hectic day (capsulized in a fantastic title sequence) when her husband heaps new work on her, complains she does no work, and then he wants to go out. In desperation, she has an affair with a writer (who is just as chauvinistic as her husband--but at least, she can talk to him).

Like Cabiria, Tina caroms off disaster into disaster, because in the worlds of her two males, she is always wrong, in their views. Her lover (Frank Langella) who is her only means of escape from her home-life, is no solution to her problem. He is just another problem. Finally, she goes into analysis, where she tells her story, and here, too, is no solution, for her "group" is too obsessed with each of their own personal problems to help work out hers. Our last sight of Tina is of her face, not really listening to the arguments of her group, her eyes slowly look around the room, carefully avoiding the people. Then, finally, she looks at us, like Cabiria. She stares at us, then smiles, not the half-sad smile of Fellini's heroine, but the smile of someone in an absurd situation and realizes it, and realizes also that she can't get out. Just before we fade out on her, her eyes widen. Maybe onto another means of help; maybe on out of a realization that she's trapped and has withdrawn back into herself.

Broadcast KCMU-FM October 7th and 8th, 1976

Again, not much to add. I'm far less enamored with "Diary of a Mad Housewife" because the cartoonish stylization employed by the Perry's to exaggerate Tina's plight--the hellish counter-argument to the domestic bliss of the Mrs. Cleaver/Mrs. Brady/Donna Reed's that had been foisted on television audiences--is as much a lie as the tv versions. The "madness" of the American housewife of the 60's was a very real side-effect of the help-mate/second-class citizen role that was typical in the pre-exploded nuclear family. Now, economic conditions have blasted the stay-at-home Mom to a luxury of the upper-class. Now, mom's work...and do the rest of the "mad" duties, as well.

This is progress?!

* There's a lie if ever I've read one. Snap and summary judgements are a critic's bread and butter (not to mention terribly efficient!). The trick is being able to justify it. And there, some re-adjustment sometimes has to be put in play.

** Uh, get it?

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