Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hysteria - One Power Tool Up!

There was a time when women were discouraged from speaking in public...

Wait, that's 2012.

But it was worse in 1880s, when women's votes didn't matter and when they were deemed "hysterical."

Hmmm...maybe times haven't changed so much.

Set at the height of Victorian London in 1880, Hysteria is about Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a young doctor who keeps getting fired for advocating that doctors study science and wash their hands.  Luckily, he lives with a rich foster brother, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), a tinkerer and a bit of an inventor.   Edmund's parents had taken Mortimer in after he'd been orphaned. After pounding the pavement looking for a medical job, he's hired by Dr. Robert Dairymple (Jonathan Pryce) who's so busy he needs an assistant.  He treats rich women for "hysteria."

There was a belief among some doctors, at least among those who treated upper class women (those women who could afford to pay for odd treatments), that their over-emotionalism and depression could be treated by manual genital stimulation.  By doctors, of course.  It had to be by a professional.

What's incredible to me about this belief was that some number of men and women understood how to sexually satisfy one another.  It's not like sex was universally misunderstood. Some people got it.  And for those who didn't get it, women would pay to get sexual from their doctors, while men would pay to get sexual satisfaction from their mistresses.  But, for many generations, there was a complete disconnect between married couples having sex and sexual pleasure for millions of people.

Anyway, Robert is a widower with two daughters, the firebrand Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the quiet but studious Emily (Felicity Jones).  Charlotte runs a settlement house that always needs money (her father is stingy with his charity) and Emily plays piano and practices phrenology. Robert trains Mortimer to manually stimulate the female patients, who, eventually, have paroxysms (orgasms) and feel much better.  But, the problem for Mortimer, is it takes work to satisfy all these women all day long.  Luckily, Edmund has been trying to invent an electric duster, which shakes and makes Mortimer's hand feel much better.  Which gives him an idea.  He tests out his idea on a young woman of easy virtue, and then on the more typical clientel.

They are hooked.

In some ways the plot doesn't matter so much, as the movie does a fine job showing class/gender struggles in England in 1880. While that part of the movie felt right, I was sad to learn that Mortimer, while based on a real person,
was quite different in real life than in the movie.  While Granville invented the first vibrator, he meant it to be for men and didn't feel it should be used on women.  He also seems to have written one book, Modern Mind Troubles.  In the movie, Granville is played by the dishy Hugh Dancy and he stumbled over the vibrator quite accidentally.  It looks like none of the other characters in the movie are based on anyone real.

The actors are all lovely in their roles, the movie looks right, and things work out in the end.  The editing is maybe a little off, and it might have been interesting to make the Mortimer character more like Granville in real life.  But if you're tired of over-the-top action/adventure flicks, this comic look at the Victorian age is a more pleasant diversion.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Two Current Flicks with Pittsburgh Ties (Hysteria and Rock of Ages)

Hysteria is about a controversial subject, and, these days might be banned in Michigan since it deals with the female orgasm during the Victorian age.  Yes, while the film might not use the word vagina in the movie, there will certainly be many allusions to it, which will probably make some people uncomfortable.  Tough.  Hysteria was partially inspired by the research of former Pittsburgher Dr. Rachel Maines.  I met Rachel once or twice in the late '70s when she lived in town. Hysteria also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal who shot Won't Back Down in Pittsburgh in late spring 2011 (and will be out in September 2012).

Rock of Ages, that ode to late '80s rock and big hair, was first produced on Broadway by former Pittsburgher Mike Wittlin