I actually learned a lot more about Roger Ebert from his review of Madonna's 2008 directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom, than I learned about his opinion on the movie. "Oh, there was that time we were in Bangkok and saw the show with the Ping-Pong balls. Who could think of sex during such a skillful display?" Having also seen a girl shooting ping-pong balls from her vagina, albeit only on video, I have to agree. The vagina kind of stops being a vagina somewhere in the process.
I watched Filth and Wisdom last night. It's a movie with several charming aspects, mainly in the male lead, Eugene Hutz, but on the whole a movie that falls flat from its unfulfilled, ambitious thesis and a curious lack of daring. Madonna may have been the last person I would have expected to be squeamish about sexual content. Well, maybe Madonna of twenty or so years ago. I'm reminded of a Tori Amos lyric; ". . . is it true that devils end up like you? . . . something safe for the picture frame." One can argue that this is what happened to Tori Amos, too. Certainly I think only someone who's been financially comfortable for decades can see being poor as free and fun as the three principal characters have it in Filth and Wisdom.
The reason this is a problem is that Eugene Hutz's character, the Gypsy lead singer of a rock band very similar to the man in real life, lays out at the beginning a philosophy the film is then evidently supposed to show--that filth and wisdom are two sides of the same coin, that we can't have one without the other. The trouble mainly comes in the film's definition of filth. As Ebert says, the choice of one character, a ballerina named Holly, to become a stripper isn't particularly shocking, and more to the point, it doesn't seem especially filthy. Particularly in the way it's portrayed in this movie.
Ebert says stripping is for men who like to see women being humiliated. I think that's only true if a woman is ashamed of her body and a guy responds positively to that shame, two things I don't think are necessarily always true. But maybe Madonna agrees because despite professional stripping being a crucial aspect of the story, there's actually no nudity in this movie. Which suggests the filmmaker and/or actresses see something wrong with appearing naked on film. Which marks a change in Madonna, certainly, who's appeared naked on film more than once in her youth. Holly's stripper mentor in the movie says that what men really want is mystery, which is rather an intriguing thought for a professional stripper to express and really warranted elaboration, which it doesn't get. Personally, I like mystery in a Sherlock Holmes story. I can tolerate it and respect it if a woman feels it's necessary, but it's not something that turns me on. I've always preferred all the cards to be on the table. It saves a lot of headache in the long run.
In any case, the film eventually seems to portray stripping, or almost stripping, stopping just before the jump cut, as empowering to women. A bit of a tangled message there. Likewise, the actress playing Holly (Holly Weston) delivers a very bland performance and has no chemistry with Eugene Hutz, her supposed love interest. We're supposed to be seeing people giving into impulses they personally feel are wrong and how this leads to wisdom but we never get the impression the characters are particularly disturbed by what they do and neither do we see how this leads to wisdom.
I thought a subplot about Richard E. Grant as a blind author, though tritely resolved, was more effective than a lot of critics say. Him crushing books to his face to smell them and reconnect in some way to something he can never experience again really hit me. But overall this is a movie that plays things much too safe.
Twitter Sonnet #312
Cold tofu squashes beneath the gymnast.
Flattering fluorescent greys the g-string.
Shocked maple trees decry every cellist.
Only groggy guys with cold arms use Bing.
Suspicious blank walls manifest at home.
Bedtime brings prim Mercedes seats inside.
Harding upset milk in his tea pot dome.
Very dry bread came along for the ride.
Prosperous glands happ'ly neglect the balds.
Raucous freedom bares Maury's scalp by cord.
The perfect micro-miniskirts are faulds.
Wintergreen nose hairs snap across the board.
Blushing warning signs contract an exit.
Why talk to dinner when you can text it?