Shut the Fuck Up: How Travis Bickle Ruined Film For the Rest of Us
I finally saw Goodfellas in its entirety yesterday. It was extremely well-made and enjoyable but I didn't think it was outstanding or particularly moving. It's certainly not the greatest film of the decade, like some polls make it out to be.
Seeing the film helped crystallize for me a theory I'd been churning around in my head for some time. You see, I have identified a breed of film fan that I like call the Bickles. As you can tell from their name, their favourite era of film is the period described in Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, when the new breed of directors (Coppola, Scorsese, Altman, etc.) briefly took over Hollywood. Their favourite actors are DeNiro, Pacino, Pesci and possibly Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe. Their favourite films are any DeNiro/Scorcese film, the Godfather series and The Deer Hunter. More recent films they consider classics include Fight Club and Pulp Fiction. (The sadly-demised Your Movie Database was crawling with Bickles. Just look at the list of top-rated films.)
Bickles consider themselves lovers of "film" (as opposed to the plebian movie fan) and are usually fixated with films depicting the struggles of life in the mafia or sad angry loners. Secondary characteristics of the Bickles may include an appreciation of Spielberg for his ability for straddling both popcorn blockbusters (Indiana Jones, Jaws) and Oscar-baiting serious pictures (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List). A Bickle probably grew up loving the original Star Wars series.
Having identified my target I can now make my statement on the matter -- I hate these films and I hate the Bickles.
It's not that I don’t find them excellent pictures. The first Godfather film in particular surprised me by how well it lived up to its incredible reputation (overrated performance from Brando aside). But I find many similar works from the time (Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Godfather II) to be underwhelming or at times unbearable (as I recently described with M*A*S*H).
They're fatally flawed in certain elements that would, for me, push them into the realm of "great films". So it angers me that every time there's a poll on the "greatest movies of all time" the traditional Bickleite canon pops up.
What is it that these films are missing? Simple -- a realistic portrayal of women. In most of these films the depiction of women is overly-simplistic or non-existent. Look at The Godfather -- Mama Corleone is a non-entity. She's always off in her room or hidden away. What kind of a depiction of mob life can the film claim to be when it ignores the Italian mother? Diane Keaton's character and Michael's Italian wife are also similarly facile.
Even worse, the pervading Bickle mentality hurts the film industry because it discourages women from entering the field. When a girl growing up is told that the films of the Bickle genre are the best American films of all time what is she to think? The majority of the films involve men who are forced to do brutal and violent things because they have no other choice.
Of course, as any Bickle will tell you, those films are about much more than just the violence. And they're absolutely right. The films are about the loneliness of the human condition and notions of duty, family and honour. Clearly, these are critical themes for young men in our society. But while these films may be outwardly about duty and honour the subtext is that Women Don't Understand. In the films women are usually only good for fucking and even then it's not worth the effort since they'll only nag the hero or cause friction between him and his buddies.
I'm not saying we should stop watching Bickle films or that some of them are not excellent works of art. What I'm trying to say is that the themes contained in them are not the only ones in the world worthy of cinematic exploration and celebration. And by loading the front-end of most "best of" lists with Bickleite films, and piling awards on such films, it's the equivalent of the sign on boys' clubhouse -- "NO GIRLS ALLOWED".
The worst thing I would want to do is install some sort of affirmative action to "balance" out the machismo of the reigning Bickle Canon. But I think it's worth exploring just why the Bickles have such a stranglehold over the Hollywood canon these days.
It's also worth noting that many of the Bickle Generation have grown up. For all his hyper-violence, Quentin Tarantino's women characters are extremely well-written. The Sopranos is another good example, especially with the recent developments concerning Tony and Carmela's marriage.