Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

I am contemplating an extended entry on the less than entirely truthful picture of Revolutionary Feminism contained in 'Lefties' on BBC4 last night. It let Sheila Jeffries get away with far too much in her analysis of What Went Wrong and contained several actual untruths. The argument that Leeds Radical Feminism only reached its more extreme form as a result of the Yorkshire Ripper's murders is pretty much a lie, for example; the claim that Angry Women never used violence is contradicted by the breaking of a woman's arm during the raid on the Chain Reaction Lesbian SM Disco in the mid80s.(Which, given the widespread revulsion it caused amont other feminists who heard about it, was itself part of the story of What Went Wrong...)

But perhaps this would be to dwell too much on long ago unhappy far off things...

In the mean time, and as an example of how things change, I got to publish my trans-representation piece in the TLS, though I had to change the last sentence or so as too personal for the house style.

Breakfast on Pluto (Pathe)
TransAmerica (Pathe)

It has been suggested that there is a class of narrative that can be called the Eskimo tale - because irrespective of the story's other merits, you come away with a detailed sense of what it is to be an Eskimo. This is nonetheless true if that sense includes an awareness of the debate as to whether Eskimo is, or is not, a useful and correct term for the various First Peoples of the Far North. To have a minority accurately, or even adequately, represented is some sort of advance in that common understanding which is part of urbane civility. This applies with particular piquancy to communities like the transexual or the somewhat broader coalition of the transgendered, whose legal status has been so radically altered by recent Act of Parliament, but whom it is still fashionable to traduce in the Guardian Weekend Magazine.

The question of what, precisely, Neil Jordan is showing us in 'Breakfast on Pluto' is complex, perhaps best solved by considering the film's surprisingly profound differences from the Patrick McCabe novel from which it appears to take its central character and many of the incidents. In McCabe's novel, Patrick or Kitten is a fey moderately disturbed young Irishman with a taste for men and drag, who is giving an account of his life to various psychiatrists in an unhappy and no longer beautiful premature middle age. The feyness is still there in Jordan's film, almost to the point of irritation, but, crucially, there is a point in Jordan's narrative chronology at which Kitten stops calling himself Patrick and starts calling herself Patricia.

Similarly, there is a point in Cillian Murphy's remarkable performance when Kitten stops being an androgynous youth and becomes womanly - interestingly, it is precisely at the point when Kitten ceases to pay much attention to what men think of her, and finds community among the workers in a co-operative Soho peep-show. Murphy's Kitten is never less than pretty, but becomes gawkily beautiful in these later scenes.

McCabe's version is all about isolation - the later Patrick who narrates is almost a recluse - whereas Jordan's film is all about the healing of wounds. Kitten was abandoned with unpleasant foster-parents by a priest and his housekeeper. In the film, Liam Neeson as Father McIvor does everything in his power to make amends and is burned out by a community prepared to tolerate his earlier hypocritical exploitation, but not actual Christian charity. McCabe's Kitten never finds the lost mother; Jordan's finds her and builds some sort of acquaintance while unselfishly choosing not to reveal an identity which would disrupt her comfortable suburban life. In both versions, Kitten abandons everything achieved in London to return to a small Irish town and care for Charlie, a childhood friend pregnant and widowed by IRA executioners - those reviewers who commented at length on the character's self-involvement might usefully have reflected that we should all have friends so selfish.

Like his earlier McCabe adaptation, 'The Butcher Boy', 'Breakfast on Pluto' is one of Jordan's films about Ireland, offering in Kitten a camply angelic counterpoint to the psychotic demon of the earlier film. In 'The Crying Game', Jordan similarly opposed Jay Davidson's transwoman Dil to the equally beautiful, and deadly, Jude (Miranda Richardson), but she remained the Other, a figure in Fergus' life; where in Kitten Jordan explores a similar figure's subjectivity, who confronts both sides in the Irish conflict with a refusal to be forced to take them seriously,. If 'Breakfast on Pluto' is Jordan revisiting old themes, it is to make poetry of them by refusing, like Kitten, to take part any more in bloody arguments.

It is only as an inquisitive teenager that Kitten ever discusses medical intervention as a way of resolving her identity. Bree, the central figure of 'TransAmerica' has got herself to a point where she considers hardly anything else. Duncan Tucker's rather too well-made script forces her to other conclusions, but allows her to have her cake and eat it. Of such balancing acts is the serious modern American film made - 'TransAmerica' is all about advocacy and tolerance, even to the point of incoherence..

Years ago, as a confused young man, Bree unknowingly fathered a son, who comes back into her life a mere week before her gender reassignment surgery. Playing God in a way not uncommon among transexual surgery's psychiatric gatekeepers, her therapist insists that Bree cross the US in order to bail young Toby out of jail and generally to become a figure in his life. Inevitably, because this is that sort of film, none of Bree's blunders is irreparable and she is, as might not have been predicted, someone who can help the disturbed and sexually abused young man. 'Breakfast on Pluto' similarly deals in improbably successful reconciliations, but it is overtly a piece of magic realism, as opposed to the mundane other kind.

What 'TransAmerica' does have to offer is a barnstormingly touching and involving performance from Felicity Huffman as Bree, an award-winning performance that involves a barrowload of technical tricks, but comes from the heart. Both she and Murphy pass the ultimate test of such performances; even someone who has done their time in psychiatrists' waiting rooms and the back streets of Soho can feel the reality and poignancy of Bree and Kitten, can say 'O my god, I used to know, or be, that woman.'


I have been thinking about doing a piece on Feminists Against Censorship for Wikipedia. Were anyone to want to write a piece on Me if only to draw some of the links between my various cross references and other things I ought to be linked to, I would not be at all upset.
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