Monday, April 19, 2010

Bette Gordon & Nick Proferes: Masculinity in Film ("Handsome Harry")

Two professors from the Columbia School of the Arts take a look at masculinity, specifically as it relates to Vietnam veterans, in the new film, Handsome Harry.

SoA prof. examines masculinity in film

"Handsome Harry," from School of the Arts professors Bette Gordon and Nick Proferes, looks at the experiences of Vietnam veterans.

By Rosie DuPont

Published April 14, 2010

Though “Handsome Harry” tells the story of of Vietnam veterans coming to terms with the past, the story resonates now.

Courtesy of Bette Gordon

“Sometimes,” director and Columbia School of the Arts professor of professional practice Bette Gordon says, “it takes a woman to discover new perspectives on masculinity.”

In “Handsome Harry,” her most recent feature, Gordon does just that: She examines the lives of six Vietnam veterans as they struggle to define their masculinity in a world where military values—like conquest and dominance—no longer define what it means to be a man.

“Handsome Harry” tells the story of Harry, a 52-year-old Vietnam veteran (Jamey Sheridan) who is, as Gordon puts it, “living a lie.” An electrician with a passion for singing, Harry lives a quiet, small-town life, until his old Navy buddy, Tom Kelly (Steve Buscemi) calls him from his deathbed, desperate to clear his conscience about a terrible moment from their past. Tom’s guilt resurrects Harry’s own torment, and sets him off on a quest to visit his other friends from the war, in pursuit of the truth.

“Handsome Harry” is a collaboration between two Columbia University School of the Arts professors–director Bette Gordon, best known for her features Variety (1984) and Luminous Motion (2000)–and writer Nick Proferes, directing professor at Columbia School of the Arts and experienced editor, cameraman, documentary director, producer and screenwriter. The collaboration proved successful.“Handsome Harry” delivers a potent, character-driven story, which raises both emotional and social issues subtly.

Gordon’s use of enclosed spaces and tight dialogue create a palpably affecting psychological space, magnifying Harry’s physical and emotional entrapment. Throughout his journey, we find him cornered: in a bedroom with another man’s wife, on a golf course with a friend unwilling to get in the car and drive, and finally, alone, in a restaurant, unable to forgive himself for the pain in his past.

Sheridan’s sincerity and “every-man” appeal make his portrayal of Harry’s guilt that much more gut wrenching. He is a sweet person, incapable of delivering himself from his own purgatory. As Gordon put it, “Harry can’t forgive himself.” Even if the audience wants to help, his fate lies in his own hands. Is there hope for a man like Harry?

Though “Handsome Harry” features an older generation of men, it also raises pertinent questions about contemporary codes of masculinity­—especially about what it means to be a homosexual in the military. The struggles of characters in the film are undoubtedly relevant for homosexuals in the military today. Though definitions of masculinity have changed since the ‘70s, the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy still exists. “Handsome Harry,” however indirectly, addresses what these individuals have to deal with.

The cast, including Sheridan, Buscemi, Campbell Scott, John Savage, and Aidan Quinn, among others, delivers the cocktail of fragility and machismo Gordon and Proferes were aiming for. “Handsome Harry” is handsomely done.

In “Handsome Harry,” a woman did discover new perspectives on masculinity. Gordon delivers again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just watched this film. It is an excellent, real movie about believable people in believable situations. Fine acting by all. Great work by Gordon and Prosperos. Plus the jazz is terrific.