"A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman", Agency, Annie Hall, Butch, cisgender men, Drag Kings, Ellen Page, Feminism, Film, film review, Gay Movie Night, Heterosexuality, Homosexuality, James Garner, Julie Andrews, Julie Andrews in Drag, Machismo, masculinity, Masculinity Studies, Milk, music, Musical, Physical Catharsis, Proving Masculinity, Queen, Queer, Queer Theory, Robert Preston, Straight Guys like to be tough and manly and get into fights, Straight Men, The "Fairy", Toddy, Victor/Victoria, Women in Suits
Julie Andrews in drag. I mean after that I don’t really need any other reason to watch a movie. I mean if you said Julie Andrews singing though I’d take that too.
I’ve recently acquired the title of “Queer Fairy Godmother” from a group of friends and this title comes with a bit of a conflict because it seems to be a multifaceted upon closer examination. There’s the obvious “Queer” which is just another way of saying person who likes dick, vagina, and everything else in between, but then the use of the word “Fairy” is a conflict. I usually classify myself as “Queer as a $3 bill” because, while I am do not project the world’s most masculine persona, I don’t believe I’m a fairy in way form or fashion. I prefer working class men, and men who wear leather, and my attire is usually jeans and a Slipknot shirt. I might very well be a “Fairy,” but your perception is your reality, so I can’t say that I am a “fairy.” There’s also the troublesome use of the word “Godmother” because this might suggest some sort of gender ambiguity when there really isn’t any. Granted I like to wear the fingerless lace gloves that my wife originally bought for a costume from time to time, but even then I never question my gender perception. I suspect then that this final word was meant more to be an indication of my tendency to point my friends in the directions of great queer resources in the form of books, films, and online resources.
I have yet to say “Bippety-Boppity-Boo” and then hand my friends a copy of Sex Between Men, but then again that’s only because I don’t have the magic wand.
Gay Movie Night has quickly become one of my favorite new activities largely because I am apparently this “Queer Fairy Godmother,” and last week I bestowed upon my friends yet another gift from above, the movie Victor/Victoria. I realized about halfway through that I had succeeded because my three friends, all of them queer and all of them women, spent most of the film shouting “Yas queen!” And applauding.
It was rather difficult to disagree with so much enthusiasm when Toddy, played by the perfect Robert Preston, has such incredible timing and wit throughout the film offering one of my favorite lines of the entire movie:
Toddy: Oh, god… there’s nothing more inconvenient than an old queen with a head cold.
If the reader is unfamiliar with the film, then you’re most certainly heterosexual, or else you’re still in “that phase.” Don’t worry sweetheart we all were. I know you say you just go to the bookstore for the coffee and books, but we all know it’s because Ryan got a full time gig as the barista and you’ve gotten nowhere in that “screenplay” that you’re writing that’s going to be great. Whenever you’re ready we’re here for you.
As for my more seasoned readers who haven’t seen the film because they have lives and jobs and awesome Wild West Table Top games to play (Deadlands, check it out) Victor/Victoria is a film about a young woman named Victoria Grant who is trying to make a living in Paris as a singer. The story actually begins however with a middle aged gay man named Carol “Toddy” Todd who is having relationship trouble. The pair meet after Victoria is almost taken advantage of by her landlord, and Toddy has lost his job after he starts a fight with his lover in the nightclub where he works. The pair have an instant connection, and when Victoria wears one of Toddy’s lover’s suits the pair hatch a plan. Victoria will become a female impersonator, or, as she so brilliantly puts it, “A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.” The plan works and “Victor” becomes the smash of Paris until a nightclub owner from Chicago arrives with his body-guard and mistress to see her act. King Marchand falls for her and Victoria falls back, and from that point on the film is a positively gay affair.
I suppose the first real meat of the matter that I need to write about is the constant gender dynamic that takes place in the film. To be honest dear reader, I really didn’t want to write an essay about the movie. I’ve actually just wanted to writer about women wearing suits for the last two months. You see my “Unattainable Crush” happens to be Ellen Page (she’s unattainable because she’s married now and she and her partner are just too fucking adorable, the fact that she’s a lesbian may also have something to do with it). Apart from just being an incredibly awesome human being, Page is also one of these incredible women who happen to look fucking amazing in suits. And ever since I fell in love with Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (there was something about her vest and tie) the image of a woman in a man’s suit has always left me sexually absorbed, and intellectually intrigued. Better writers than I have tackled the butch quality of this effect, and I’m sure to write about it at some point, but looking at the film there are constant moments of Andrews rocking a white tie tuxedo better than most men.
Blade Edwards the director (who also just happened to be Julie Andrews husband) plays on this dynamic in the film, and when King Marchand confronts Victoria after her first show the reader is able to hear the doctoral theses write themselves:
King Marchand: I just find it hard to believe that you’re a man.
Victoria: Because you found me attractive as a woman?
King Marchand: Yes, as a matter of fact.
Victoria: That happens frequently.
King Marchand: Not to me.
Victoria: Just proves the old adage: “There’s a first time for everything.”
King Marchand: I don’t think so.
Victoria: But you’re not a hundred per cent sure?
King Marchand: Practically.
Victoria: Ah, but to a man like you, someone who believes he could never, under any circumstances find another man attractive, the margin between “practically” and “for sure” must be as wide as the Grand Canyon.
This brilliant exchange is followed by this beautiful gem:
Victoria: Your problem, Mr. Marchand, is that you’re preoccupied with stereotypes. I think it’s as simple as you’re one kind of man, I’m another.
King Marchand: And what kind are you?
Victoria: One that doesn’t have to prove it. To myself, or anyone.
Having a library of Queer Theory and queer history and queer literary books that reach up to my eyes, and being surrounded by a small coven of queer women at the time, this line was greeted in the typical fashion, a series of applause followed by yet another round of “yas queen!” There is some merit to the question though I suppose: is this scene somewhat predictable, or does it lack a certain teeth in this contemporary atmosphere? A conversation between a queer and straight man (though in this case it’s a woman pretending to be a queer man) in which the former questions the latter’s sexual rigidity is a scene I’ve scene played before sometimes to great effect but often it’s a downright bore. To be completely honest it’s not that the scene in Victor/Victoria isn’t performed well, it’s that often such scenes are accomplished by actors who are really just acting as parrots for the writers attempting to impart some didactic moral lesson about sexuality and it’s fluidity.
I might be being a bit harsh here, and the reaction of my friends might also offer me an alternative argument that whether it’s a trope or a cliche, the scene still feels relevant after 36 years.
And as much fun as I had being delightfully gay with my friends, and loving every quip Toddy offers, something rather unusual happened while I was watching the film: I was actually having fun watching King Marchand.
James Garner was an actor that I’ve recently come to appreciate more than I did while he was alive. It’s a disturbing trend in my life, and my recent fascination with David Bowie doesn’t help that pattern. Playing a straight man, and, let’s be more accurate, playing the working model of heterosexuality King is a character that has unfortunately fallen on hard times. If Victor/Victoria has any sort of gay victory it’s ultimately in the fact that Marchand is able to grow intellectually to the notion of gender and sexuality. While at the start he appears to be the typical straight homophobe who projects masculinity to compensate for any personal shortcomings, the character eventually becomes something more.
I suppose the most obvious instance is when he finds himself alone with Victoria after fleeing from the police following a bar fight, and in an embrace he acts.
King Marchand: I don’t care if you are a man.
Victoria: I’m… not a man.
King Marchand: I still don’t care.
This scene is probably lessened somewhat by Andrews admission, but the first line seems to be everything. King is a man who has grown comfortable or at least familiar enough with his heterosexuality that before he acts he has to announce it as some kind of confirmation. There was an awkward period shortly after I was officially out as bisexual that when I had conversations about men and women I would often begin them by saying, “As a straight man…” and of course the ellipsis should hopefully demonstrate what would happen. I realized I no longer had that particular ethos, and after a while I stopped announcing it as such. But this behavior hit my after a while because I realized how fragile my straight masculinity and sexuality had been. This is not to say that King is secretly homosexual, or bisexual, or pansexual, but it should hopefully reveal something about heterosexuality in cisgender men.
There is a need to prove oneself in the face of what is perceived. Julie Andrews herself more-or-less says it outright in one brief exchange.
King Marchand: If you were a man, I’d knock your block off.
Victoria: And prove that “you’re” a man?
King Marchand: That’s a woman’s argument.
And of course the best example of King’s need to prove his masculinity is one in which he finds himself dressed up in a tuxedo walking into a dive bar
King Marchand: [Looking to start a bar fight; to the bartender:] Milk.
Bartender: [Sarcastically] Would that be cow’s milk, monsieur, or mother’s milk?
King Marchand: How about your sister’s?
This is the stuff of cheesy machismo in action movies, but while I was watching the film I became aware of the fact that I was a queer man, watching a straight man, surrounded by queer women, who couldn’t understand his need to prove himself which left me in the awkward position because how was I supposed to explain that need? My “straight ethos” is long since gone so it feels pointless to try and explain out the straight mentality, but at the same time I am still a man who suffers from lack of confidence in the self, and being cisgender I understood King’s need for a fight, for some kind of physical catharsis.
Victor/Victoria manages to be an incredible film in the way it understand and demonstrates the way men and women act and behave, both in sex and in managing personal failings. And it also manages to touch on the idea of how importance proving yourself as something can be.
There is one brief exchange between King and Victoria which, unfortunately, IMDB has failed to chronicle and so my reader will have to watch a little video. The scene in question occurs just after King’s bodyguard “Squash” Bernstein stumbles upon him and Victoria having sex to which Squash responds by coming out to his boss. King is left completely frazzled and the following exchange takes place:
I hate posting links to videos and not having the words. It feels somehow less than honest about what I’m trying to do in these essays, still, I blame my own laziness and refusal to transcribe the scene which, if the reader was actually paying attention, could practically be it’s own college level course in feminism and queer theory in a nutshell.
There is a real powerful feminist message to be had in watching and absorbing
Victor/Victoria, not simply because it’s a film that reasserts the difficulty women face simply to be recognized for the talents they actually have. I would argue in fact that it’s in the regular emphasis on “proof” that the real feminism takes place.
The entire film is ultimately one long examination of the idea of proof. Whether it’s Victoria having to prove that she’s good enough to sing in the dive bar, proofing there was a roach in her salad, proving that she’s really a male impersonator, proofing to King that she’s a man, proving to King later on that she has her own agency, and ultimately proving to the world that her gender has nothing to do with her own abilities. Victor/Victoria is a chance to observe in the gender argument that people are constantly having to prove themselves as smoothing and to prove their presentations, desires, ambitions, and selves are legitimate.
I think this idea of proof is really what hit me, because as I’ve noted in many essays previously, I’ve always felt like I’ve had to prove something about myself and my masculinity. As I’ve dug more and more into queerness, queer history, queer theory, and queer literature, there is always this recurring theme, and as long as queer people exist it seems we’ll always have to remind me people, “we were here and here’s the proof.”
Victor/Victoria is a gay film that leaves the reader feeling fantastically gay at heart. It’s a gay time that leaves one feeling gayer and gayer at each viewing, and while there are a significant number of straight actors playing incredibly gay roles, there is still a beautiful message at the heart of Victor/Victoria: one’s personality and merit should never be based on proving to other people who and what you are. Real strength of character comes from acting as being and living without worrying about proving anything.
It’s also a reminder that if you find yourself in a dive bar never ask for milk unless you’re ready for a fight.
All quotes from Victor/Victoria were taken from IMDb.
I’ve included a few official reviews of the film Victor/Victoria if the reader would like a few other voices about the film. Enjoy.
It might be indulgent to end all of this with a photo of Julie Andrews one more time in a suit, so I decided to post a picture of Ellen Page as well. Seriously don’t hate, I’m just amazed that both of these women look better in a suit than I do, though I suppose that’s not really saying much.