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From the Wire: Soderbergh's Assault on Heterosexuality

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire July 9, 2012 at 4:56PM

Soderbergh's final films find the director deconstructing traditional masculine roles onscreen.
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"Magic Mike."
"Magic Mike."

At The Talking Pictures blog, Drew Hunt pounces on a quote by Steven Soderbergh to draw an interesting thematic connection between the director's recent movies. In an interview with Film Comment's Amy Taubin, Soderbergh calls his new movie "Magic Mike" "a way to build credibility for the final assault on heterosexuality in movies" -- a reference to his next project, the upcoming Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra." Hunt looks at "Magic Mike" and Soderbergh's previous movie, the female-driven action film "Haywire," and wonders if perhaps the final assault has already begun:

"In both films, it’s the physicality of the human form that defines the character. Gina Carano’s Mallory Kane has a outwardly feminine frame, but as Soderbergh demonstrates both pictorially and thematically -- seen in those jazzily orchestrated fight scenes and Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor’s exchange of 'I’ve never [assassinated] a woman before' and 'Oh, you shouldn’t think of her as being a woman. No, that would be a huge mistake' -- her character is defined by far more than just her physical appearance. So if McGregor is right, and we’re not meant to think of Carano as a woman, her obvious femininity is at odds with her masculine ability to, well, kick people’s asses really well. The space between this conflict is Soderbergh’s chief concern."

This is an great way to bridge two wildly disparate films. Both upend traditional onscreen gender roles. It's not just that Fassbender and McGregor discuss Kane's femininity: they both get their asses kicked by her as well. These are guys who typically play the strong, masculine heroes in action movies; occasionally, they even get a less capable female sidekick to protect or rescue (think Scarlett Johansson as McGregor's second banana in Michael Bay's "The Island"). In "Haywire" they -- along with Channing Tatum, previously seen fighting for freedom in "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" -- all get shown up and beat down by Carano.

Similarly, while there have been numerous movies over the years about female strippers ("Showgirls," "Striptease," "I Know Who Killed Me," etc.) there are relatively few about their male counterparts. Though "Magic Mike" contains a few compensatory glimpses of womanly nudity, it's the men who are on primary sexual display -- and, as Hunt notes, are largely made to look foolish in the process.  They're the ones dressing up in stereotypically butch outfits, enacting outlandish skits, and performing exaggeratedly sexual dance movies, all for the delight of a screaming, squealing female audience -- both onscreen and off. Eat your heart out, Laura Mulvey.

As Soderbergh sees it, this is merely a warmup for his long-in-the-making Liberace film. That may turn out to be his "ultimate" assault on heterosexuality, but it certainly won't be his first. As a director, Soderbergh has covered a lot of ground in his career -- narratively, thematically -- but as he winds down his far-too-short time behind the camera, it seems that the creator of "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" is going out the way he came in.

Read more of "'Magic Mike' and the Dismantling of Heterosexuality."

This article is related to: Magic Mike, From the Wire, Steven Soderbergh


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