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Physical condition

How to rate hotness in the TLS

In the TLS, ((Issue of January 22, p7. Not online, as far as I can tell.)) Leo Robson reviews the film Nine:

Marshall has made a strenuous effort to assemble an international cast, only one of whom — Loren — is Italian. So we have Marion Cotillard, the only decent singer given the only decent song (“My Husband Makes Movies”), playing Guido’s exhausted wife; Judi Dench as his seen-it-all costume designer, dispensing weary wisdom between puffs on her cigarette; and Penélope Cruz as his mistress. This last actress is exquisitely embarrassing in an early number (“A Call from the Vatican”) where she slides around a stage in lingerie. Kate Hudson, playing a reporter for American Vogue, is similarly coarse, and pained-looking. It would be unnecessary to pass judgement on the physical condition of the film’s actresses if the costumes and choreography weren’t so intent on titillation. Sexy glamour is the quality to which the film aspires most keenly, and which it fails most flagrantly to meet.

I don’t know about you, but the plea here that it is necessary for the reviewer to pass judgement on the physical condition of the film’s actresses does not strike me as wholly persuasive? Personally, I might be hesitant in print to announce that I am capable of passing judgement on the physical condition of women in this way — firstly, I am not actually a doctor; and secondly, even if I were a doctor, I would probably need to examine them in person in order to arrive at a reliable evaluation. But then, I suppose the loftily quasi-legal, quasi-medical tone of Robson’s self-justification is meant to render somehow more respectable and objective the implicit announcement that he himself did not feel “titillation”. In other words, the physical condition of the film’s actresses is self-importantly fastidious unspeak for the reviewer’s opinion of their “sexy”-ness, or lack thereof.

Oddly, there is no mention in the review of Fergie, whose “Be Italian” is (in my opinion, pace Robson), the film’s “only decent song”. How long will TLS readers have to wait for that august organ’s definitive pronouncement on her physical condition?

  1. 1  sw  January 29, 2010, 2:36 pm 

    I thought would be a Fergie-free zone. I thought I was safe. But no, you have to mention Fergie – and the next thing I know, I’m watching Boom Boom Pow on youtube over and over again. She’s like crack to me.

  2. 2  richard  January 29, 2010, 4:08 pm 

    Is he saying he doesn’t think they’re fit?
    Does the piece go on for another paragraph about how, despite his own willingness to engage in boisterous behaviour under appropriate circumstances and his having boxed on one memorable occasion for Oxford, he’d be disinclined to hit that?

  3. 3  Hey Zeus  January 29, 2010, 4:48 pm 

    Oh come along now- you don’t need a qualification to see that Catherine Zeta-Jones has all the grace of a sack of potatoes in CHICAGO and to be dismayed that she won an oscar for it.

    When in a musical, you can tell a lot about someone’s physical condition, and if they don’t enjoy judgement being passed on it (sink or swim, generally) then they should get off the bloody stage, darling.

  4. 4  organic cheeseboard  January 29, 2010, 6:54 pm 

    it’s unfortunate phrasing, but this point does ring true:

    Sexy glamour is the quality to which the film aspires most keenly, and which it fails most flagrantly to meet.

    equally I’m not sure how much judgment he’s actually passing on their ‘physical condition’ – Penny is wearing lingerie… that’s it. Kate Hudson looks pained – that’s as much to do with the direction as anything else…

  5. 5  Robert Hanks  January 29, 2010, 8:15 pm 

    @3: Hold on there – Catherine Zeta-Jones’s willingness to look hefty and encroaching-on-middle-aged was about the only evidence of an artistic impulse in the whole of Chicago: not Oscar-worthy, I grant you, but let’s not rip her to shreds for it. Or do you think that what Hollywood is short of is actresses prepared to be all slender and doe-eyed in front of the camera?

  6. 6  Surge  January 29, 2010, 8:29 pm 

    When I read this review a few days ago I was made to stop and gawp at the very same thing. So it’s come to this, it appears to say, I have no recourse but to defer to my widgy in order to pass final (and you’d better believe it’s final) judgment on this otherwise inapprehensible piece of work.

    I’m very fond of “so intent on titillation”; I mean, is he really (really really) trying to sound like a very particular kind of High Court Judge?

    And I am alone in smelling a lick of misogyny in “where she slides around a stage in (one, two, three – wait for it) lingerie”? The pile up of “embarrassing”, “Vatican”, “slides” and then that funny French stuff that we all know the real purpose of, don’t we now?, tricks my mind into thinking so. Either misogyny or pronounced sexual immaturity.

    The chap who wrote it also writes reviews of the most important literary releases for the NS. His “loftily quasi-legal, quasi-medical tone” here is not a one-off. I think it’s loftiness that buoys him along. It’s the machine that allows him to turn off his mind and get things said. How else to account for, in a recent piece about Frank Kermode on EM Forster:

    “I suspect that, for all his self-effacement and self-reproof, Kermode realises the value that his work has had for readers without his facility and energy who nevertheless desire a rich understanding of literature. And if he doesn’t, he should.”

    I suspect that Sir Frank has finally arrived, then?

  7. 7  Steven  January 30, 2010, 1:35 am 

    sw @1:

    She’s like crack to me.

    Yes, but what is your expert opinion of her physical condition?

    Me, I feel that if you’re going to go this way at all in reviewing Nine, you have to go all the way, like this. (I don’t agree with all or even much of that review, but it has the requisite brio all right.)

  8. 8  aboulien  February 3, 2010, 5:29 am 

    Mr Poole, this is an excellent blog. I appreciate especially the attention you seem to have paid to its design: in fact I’m envious.

    As a critic, though? Let me diagnose you. You are a Ricksian literalist. I will have to read more of your work to decide whether I think this a good thing.

  9. 9  Chris Nicholson  February 4, 2010, 11:08 am 

    This may be a weird lapse of tact and judgement, but Robson is a very astute young critic, who wrote well about Almodovar for the same publication and writes intelligent book reviews.

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