A few months ago, “Movies and the Battle of the Sexes” showed up in my mailbox – a fellow-classic movie lover requested that I review her self-published book, especially the chapter about Katharine Hepburn, as its subject was my special field.
Now, here we have a dilemma. Exhibit A: a free book about gender in the movies – score! Exhibit B: a brutally honest, opinionated, self-published-book-hater (me). What to do? Alas. The code my profession as a film/book critic requires that I be open and honest, even if it means insulting the undoubtedly very kind, sweet, sensitive author of this cute little paperback.
That being said, this book does have some value (and not only to prop up wobbly Starbucks tables). “Movies and the Battle of the Sexes” is a collection of lists, broken down into various sub-categories, of films about gender issues.
“These are the kind of movies where men and women always get into some nice, juicy little scrap somewhere along the way. Sometimes it’s just a difference of opinion before falling into each other’s arms, and sometimes it’s a fight to the death; but, by gum, it’s a stronger brew than the usual swill.”
The chapters are peppered with quotes from the films or from the actresses themselves. Several cocktails from various films are also features alongside the lists. The lists are comprised of titles, dates, and stars of the movies, followed by a brief synopsis. A few selected films are given a lengthier summary and are accompanied by “Buzz” trivia and “Viz” visual and musical facts. The chapter titles/movie lists are broken down into the following categories:
It’s a Man’s World
Sex, Drugs &Red Hot Jazz
The Kate Hepburn Model
Love is a Battlefield
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
The Great Conquering Hero
Sexual Warfare in the 21st Century
Unfortunately, beyond the summaries, we are not told why or how any of the films qualify for each subcategory, or for the overarching theme of gender conflict. The short paragraph quoted above is the only indication of criteria provided for the reader. This lack of analysis is what prevents this book from being a truly valuable resource for anybody seriously interested in examining the complex factors of the “battle of the sexes” theme.
On the plus side, knowing what I do about the movies listed here, they have been fairly accurately distributed among the subcategories. Having seen most of these films myself, I can vouch for their positions in this book. But the book doesn’t actually say anything to me about these movies, beyond “this is a movie about a guy and a girl who come to blows on the bases of gender differences.”
The overall tone of the book is conversational rather than academic. The writing is solid, if not stellar. It’s the sort of writing I do here on the blog – friendly, sometimes comical, somewhat informative. The selected quotations are interesting, though their relevance to the material is sometimes questionable. Ditto the cocktails, but then I’m not a heavy drinker really.
The Chapter entitled “The Kate Hepburn Model” is introduced with a fairly controversial statement Hepburn made during her 1973 interview with Dick Cavett:
“Women and men, unfortunately, are just not the same. They’re not the same.”
A quote like this, coming from who it did, required a great deal of contextual analysis, none of which is provided in this book. We’re just left hanging. However, the films listed in this chapter are the very best examples of Katharine Hepburn’s feminist performances, including a lengthy description of ADAM’S RIB (1949), one of the most obviously feminist films from movie history.
(P.S. My biggest pet peeve ever in the whole entire wide world is people referring to Miss Hepburn as “Kate.” Unless they knew her personally, nobody should be writing about a famous person with the informal nickname. Or if they do, they had better have a damn good literary reason for doing so. It just makes me cringe.)
Despite it’s flaws, this book has value as a compilation of movies based on a central theme. I might not purchase this book off the shelf, but I would consider downloading these lists digitally. The book is of a higher calibre of content than you would find online, but it falls short of a legitimate source of knowledge on this subject. “Movies and the Battle of the Sexes” begins a conversation that it does not finish. This paperback would be ideal for movie clubs getting together to compare, discuss, and analyse movies about gender. I would be very interested in seeing this book revised to include more in-depth analysis. The book needs a thesis and a purpose, then it could contribute an argument on the subject.
ZetMec, I am sorry if I was not able to deliver the review of the book you would have liked. I honestly think your work is valuable. I would be interested in working with you at some point on a project based on this theme. I have thoroughly enjoyed going through the lists and having a good chuckle at the quotes. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to review your book!