Sec­ond among equals

The lazy Hol­ly­wood cliché that is the fe­male jour­nal­ist has been a sta­ple of cin­ema for many decades, and is back again in the form of a sim­per­ing Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal in Sinead Glee­son re­ports

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

SCOTT COOPER’S lat­est film Crazy Heart is big on the kind of stock char­ac­ter that Hol­ly­wood has al­ways found use­ful. Not the washed-up hack whose life teeters on the brink, but the jour­nal­ist who greases the wheels of ex­po­si­tion and saves scriptwrit­ers valu­able di­a­logue time. Who else can go where they please, nosily ask­ing ran­dom ques­tions of whomever they like? But when it comes to fe­male jour­nal­ists, the clichés are as te­dious as tran­scrip­tion.

In Crazy Heart, it’s the turn of Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal – looking a lit­tle too young for a griz­zly Jeff Bridges – as Jean, a sin­gle mother and fledg­ing mu­sic jour­nal­ist. Jean also hap­pens to have a size­able home for a new­bie writer and will­ing co­terie of on-de­mand babysit­ters. All of which prove handy when she meets Bridges’s fad­ing coun­try singer Bad Blake. Barely has the tape recorder been switched on be­fore Jean is sim­per­ing in Blake’s di­rec­tion and jump­ing into his bed.

But then, why be sur­prised when so many news­pa­per­women are por­trayed this way? Take Lois Lane in Su­per­man. One minute, she’s a wise-crack­ing new­shound; the next she ditches her yel­low power suit for a floaty, chif­fon num­ber to be­guile Su­per­man on her rooftop. The last flicker of Lane’s ballsi­ness is ex­tin­guished by her “Can you read my mind?” in­te­rior mono­logue as she heads off night­fly­ing with her caped beau.

Lane’s per­son­al­ity in the orig­i­nal DC comics was based on Torchy Blane, a fe­male re­porter who ap­peared in a se­ries of 1930s films. There’s a cer­tain irony that at a time when women jour­nal­ists were rare, there was no short­age of films about them. Pre­dictably, th­ese women were pre­sented as fire­crack­ers and pushy, have-it-all types – ex­cept that in or­der to get ahead, they were ex­pected to act like a man without los­ing the sense of be­ing a woman.

In Woman of the Year, Katharine Hep­burn played a po­lit­i­cal colum­nist mar­ried to Spencer Tracy, a sports­writer in the same pa­per. Con­flict arises when Hep­burn tries to have it all and is chal­lenged for, well, for­get­ting to act like a woman. In His Girl Fri­day, Cary Grant tells soon-to-be-re­tired re­porter Ros­alind Rus­sell: “You can’t quit. You’re a news­pa­per­man.” Rus­sell replies,

And where are all the fe­male re­porters in Ci­ti­zen Kane? Women – be they hacks or not – could count on be­ing ide­alised in film roles of that era, but 70 years on and the hack­neyed im­age of fe­male jour­nal­ists as so-called “sob sis­ters” hasn’t dis­ap­peared. For­get good copy and Pulitzer prize-winning ar­ti­cles, th­ese women are ei­ther: val­ued for their at­trac­tive­ness (Gwyneth Pal­trow in Sky Cap­tain of the World and To­mor­row); ditzy (Re­nee Zell­weger in Brid­get Jones); rel­e­gated be­low male col­leagues (He­len Mir­ren and Rachel McA­dams in State of Play); or pre­pared to use sex to get a story (Katie Holmes in Thank You For Smok­ing).

With such in­aus­pi­cious cre­den­tials, it’s not a shock to dis­cover there are no films about fe­male for­eign cor­re­spon­dents. Tight skirts, fall­ing for your sub­ject and no fe­male equiv­a­lent of All the Pres­i­dent’s Men make for a dreary canon. There are a cou­ple of ex­cep­tions – Glenn Close as the fe­ro­cious Ali­cia in The Pa­per and Meryl Streep in Lions for Lambs, who has opin­ions and – gasp! – prin­ci­ples in the face of un­ob­jec­tive po­lit­i­cal re­port­ing (al­though Streep also played an icy mag­a­zine ed­i­tor in The Devil Wears Prada, who only rose to her po­si­tion of power by ab­di­cat­ing hav­ing “feel­ings”).

Lest girl journos ever for­get their cook­iecut­ter place in film, think on Champ Kind’s words to Brian Fan­tana in An­chor­man: The Leg­end of Ron Bur­gundy: “It’s An­chor­MAN not An­chor­LADY!”

The press gang: (from top to bot­tom) His Girl Fri­day, Crazy Heart, Lions For Lambs and Meet John Doe

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