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Body and Soul Redux

Arthur Meiselman-Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Arthur Meiselman

The great Swedish playwright, August Strindberg, (among others) adamantly claimed that the only difference between humans is male and female. He was uppsalaisticly right. There are no races, just one: homo sapiens. Racisim is a fraud, a tool, a weapon, a cudgel. Skin color, hair, nose and toes are part of a desultory external costume. Inside the human being, there’s but one identity, and of course, genitals have a tale to tell.

Our latest “grand awakening”, with its lack of over-arching historical perspective, launches the response: So what else is new? For over 10,000 years (or more) the male human being has pummeled 99% of his species, primarily in these four persona: clergyman, military man, politician, capitalist… the latter being self-motivated and providing the motivation for the other three. Profit and power. Think about it, read about it. It has always been that way. We aren’t just discovering it. 10,000 years of clergy, soldiers, kings, and merchants. That’s our history. Still is.

John Garfield was a movie star in the 1940's and 50's, a counterpoint to Humphrey Bogart, a poster-man for the joyous angst, the bewildering urban stew of New York and its steaming boroughs, more actor than movie star. My Mother from the region of the Black Sea loved the movies and particularly John Garfield. His images, his anxious voice resonated within her, touched her. She truly loved him and dreamed about a life the two of them could share. She dreamed good... she had to. She escaped from the pogroms in 1911 at the age of thirteen and then escaped from the New York sweatshops two years later. She came from an educated family…her father was a Rabbi and a scholar, her grandfather was also a scholar and a respected university professor. She breathed-in the freedom of opportunity. She wanted experience and education. She wanted to be... someone. Instead, the "old country" community swallowed her up: she married and became... noone, the voiceless, voteless typical wife of a man who considered her mindless. But her mind and her dreams were all she had, and she dreamed good.

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In 1947, Garfield made Body and Soul, one of the most beautifully blended (script, direction, acting, music, the breath-taking photography of James Wong Howe) and by far the best boxing film (collaged against the wet oils of NY,NY)... ever made... ever!

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Garfield was 34 (dead five years later), and one of his co-stars, Hazel Brooks, was 22. In 1947 there were no teenagers, no tweens, no adolescents, no pre-teens. When you reached a certain age or a certain type and level of activity you were no longer a child... you became a man or a woman, or both.

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Look at Hazel Brooks then, she could be 40 today or 50 or 30 or even 20. Then, in that film, at 22, she was a woman, not a teeny bopper, not a hip-hopper., not a "who am I? girl-gone-wild", not a single girl who can't wait to grow up and yet can't disrobe from her over-the-head hand-clapping teeny-tweeny costume.

In the film, Brooks is a beautiful, desirable woman, ruthlessly ambitious for her age. Yes, it is a film, her first by the way, in which she reflected a woman of her time, reflected by Abraham Polonsky's script, Robert Rossen's direction and the sensibility of John Garfield. She didn't do much after that. Garfield did.

The American Civil War had ended only 82 years prior. 1947 was plagued by Red-scare witchhunts (which contributed to Garfield's early death), and plagued with racism, segregation, the continuing extermination of Native American culture. Women, Black, White, Red, Yellow and Brown, suffered from wide-spread discrimination as they struggled to become at least 2nd-class citizens.  

I cite this to fuel a belief: Equal rights for everyone in everything. Whatever a straight, white man can expect and do, everyone should be able to expect and do the same. Within their conflicted lives and broad hypocrisy, that's what the framers of the American constitution inadvertently envisioned, including the most heavily-conflicted Thomas Jefferson.

Achieving that goal is a slow, agonizing process, probably unachievable before the humanoid species on this planet evolves into a cybernetic state in which none of those concerns will be relevant or… simply implodes with the planet.

I cite Hazel Brooks because there is a price to be paid for the necessary rise of feminism. Define femininity and feminine as you will, the qualities from nature and nurture that are gifted to half of the human species have always been a mystery to the male half of the species. He cannot capture She, even with costumes and surgery and hormones. And as She becomes more transparent, as the mystery of She fades, the price to be paid is the loss of the magic of that mystery. Does that mean we should cultivate a Harem of Feminine Mystique, set aside to preserve that magic? Of course not. It will be a loss, good or bad, based on a mystery that no longer exists.

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Arthur Meiselman is a writer and the founding Editor of Scene4. He is the author of Medea Noir. For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

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January 2019

Volume 19 Issue 8

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