"I watched the new Wonder Woman biopic with a room full of polyamorous people"
|Rebecca Hall, Angela Robinson, and Like Evans take questions|
at New York Comic Com (Getty)
Remember that big group of polyfolks in Vancouver who got invited to an advance screening of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women? It happened, and with them was the longtime poly-beat reporter for Canada's queer newspaper Xtra.
I watched the new Wonder Woman biopic with a room full of polyamorous people
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is the first Hollywood film to target the poly market
By Niko Bell
...The film won’t be released to the general public until Oct. 13, but Sony Pictures [the distributor in Canada; in the US it's Annapurna Pictures] arranged this special screening a week early for the Vancouver polyamorous community, with free tickets for all 50 polyamorous people who showed up.
...Polyamorists... aren’t accustomed to special attention from big companies, Trini tells me. Along with many other poly people I speak to tonight, she’s thrilled that Sony went out of its way to target the polyamorous market.
New (sleaze-ish?) movie poster
She shuffles out to collect her boyfriend and popcorn just as an authoritative grey-haired woman wearing a Vancouver Polyamory button takes the stage.
“We are going to see if this movie plays into the stereotypes that we are all so used to, or if it expands on poly as a new form of relationship,” she announces, as a Sony rep stands awkwardly beside her. The audience, most in their 40s or 50s, with a narrow row of young people at the front, chuckle and clap politely.
The lights dim. A title card flashes on the screen informing us that the film is based on a true story. ...
...The rest of the film is pure pornography. Not that it’s sexually explicit; there’s a little bit of spanking, light bondage, and a nipple thrown in here and there. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is emotional porn for poly people. It’s a big, wet, effusive kiss to the ideals of contemporary polyamory, full of stand-up-and-applaud lines like, “I don’t experience sexual jealousy. Who am I to fight nature? I’m your wife, not your jailer.” As she delivers this line, Holloway (played by Rebecca Hall) might as well have turned to the audience and given a big wink.
And like the early Wonder Woman comics, the film is glorious, entertaining, thrilling pornography. During one set-piece threesome sex scene in the costume room of a college theatre, I swear I could hear our audience holding their collective breath.
Inevitably, the glorification of Marston and his unconventional family comes at the expense of the truth.
I won’t go into the many ugly, inconvenient parts of Marston’s life that would have ruined the glowing tribute had they been included — from Marston’s racism or questionable feminist principles to the third woman whom the film omits entirely. You’re better off reading Katha Pollitt and Noah Berlatsky’s treatment at The Atlantic, or diving into Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a lie, but golly is it a beautiful one.
As the credits roll, I turn to Terrence Anderson, a 28-year-old polyamorous man with ginger hair and thick-rimmed glasses.
“I was expecting it to be terrible, and I liked it a lot. I have some gripes, but if you put it in context for the time, it was solid,” he tells me. “It landed really well.”
Anderson says he knows that a lot of the film was fictional, but that it feels good to see a film that validates his polyamorous experience.
“The best thing I’ve seen before this was Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and that movie was terrible,” he laughs.
The whole article (October 6, 2017).
● Here's the movie's final pre-release trailer:
Last night (October 10), star Luke Evans was on The Late Show with Steve Colbert. The 7-minute video (the part about the movie begins at 3:10).
Google News turns up lots of stuff published in these last days pre-release; that link gives items dated October 9-13. Samples:
● Miami New Times, Houston Press, and other alternative weeklies in the New Times chain: The Homey, Polyamorous Pleasures of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Oct. 9):
By April Wolfe
...achingly normal, in a good way.... [Robinson's] choice to play safe with this romance is inspired.... Even your prudish grandparents might find themselves cheering on this crew.
...Robinson takes full advantage of the fact that these characters are psychological pioneers, who quickly process emotions and feelings, leading to rapid-fire exchanges and surprising character responses. Early on, when Elizabeth bluntly tells Olive not to sleep with her husband, it’s relatively easy for Elizabeth to examine her feelings — and then apologize to Olive. Elizabeth goes back on that edict very quickly, of course....
● Out magazine at New York Comic Con: Origin Story Writer & Director Blames Misogyny For Wonder Woman Film Delay (Oct. 9):
...“I do think that there’s something incredibly radical about the storytelling in [the Marston] movie, and it’s certainly what drew me to it,” said Hall. “I think to tell a story about an unconventional love relationship and not make it the central focus of the story or make it the problem of their relationship… it’s not detached or alienated, it takes you along on the ride and says love these people and accept that they are in a real loving relationship.”
Robinson was excited to tell the story of a queer relationship ahead of its time, especially in 2017 when the vocabulary surrounding such a relationship has expanded and it’s better understood. ... “The history of shooting any sort of poly or kink relationship on film is pretty dismal. I made an across the board directorial decision that I didn’t want to ‘otherise’ their experience – nothing like, ‘oh, aren’t they weird,’ – I didn’t want to treat that at all.”...
● The mainstream news site NJ.com: Comics, stripped (Oct. 10):
Although Jill Lepore's 2014 "The Secret History of Wonder Woman" had already explored this material -- and with a definitely more suspicious eye -- Angela Robinson's "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women" takes a more original, and even romantic approach.
Because to her, this is all a love story.
In real life, Marston was a bit of a huckster, but Robinson glides past that to present a gentler tale. Marston -- and his partners, Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne -- are simply, genuinely, in love, one for all and all for one. And as they create a secret life, together, they live an even more fabulous one through fantasy.
...Marston's slightly cracked psychological theories revolved around dominance and submission, and Robinson's smart script shows just how complex those simple ideas can be. Is Marston, the strutting male, ever really in charge? Is his wife, Holloway, quite the fierce force she pretends to be? Or is the simple, cow-eyed Byrne really the boss of both?
Robinson's small, fine cast gives those ideas life. Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall perfectly embody the smart bohemian couple, brilliant about everything but, perhaps, their own motivations; Hall, a terrific actress, completely captures the impatience and outrage of a superior woman kept constantly in a second-class position, all raw nerves and sharp edges.
And Bella Heathcote gives a tremulous warmth to Olive, an innocent student soon doing graduate studies in the human heart. She has enormous eyes, and for much of her career, in the sort of parts she's gotten, that's all she's needed. But here she uses them -- daring about in fear, looking up in devotion, looking down in cool control.
The unconventional love story at the heart of this -- and the three actors who act it out -- help paper over some of the other problems. (Chief among them is the gimmick of having Marston interviewed by a humorless censor, played by Connie Britton; the situation seems fake, and the back-and-forth cutting is more of a distraction than anything else.)
Of course, there are some other things that feel slightly false here, too (the trio have bad habit of forgetting to lock the doors before they get frisky). And, true to Hollywood conventions, everyone is at least three times better-looking than the real people. ...
...And, in the end, it's a nice tribute not only to one of the comics' greatest characters (and this year's favorite movie hero) but the sort of truly unhindered, uncensored imagination that makes all fiction possible -- and all love real.
Rated R. The film contains nudity, sexual situations, strong language and brief violence.
● Vulture.com quizzes Robinson about the movie's historical accuracy, and Robinson cops to artistic interpretation: Angela Robinson Defends Her Interpretation of Lead Characters’ Sexuality (Oct. 8):
By Abraham Riesman
The atmosphere got a little tense during an otherwise cheery Sunday afternoon New York Comic Con panel about the upcoming biopic Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. ... The first question at the panel came from pop-culture scholar Travis Langley, who recently co-edited a book about Wonder Woman’s history and psychological significance. He took issue with the fact that the movie depicts Holloway and Byrne as being lovers, when there’s no public record of that being the case — it’s only known that Marston was sexually involved with both of them individually. How, he asked, did Robinson come to that conclusion? [Langley blogs further here. Then again, Jill Lepore reports that the real Elizabeth Holloway, later in life, said that among the three there was "lovemaking for all." – Ed.]
“That’s a difficult question, because I did talk to a source who said that that was her interpretation,” Robinson replied. “I think that there’s a lot of facts that are indisputable about the Marstons, and I feel like there’s a lot of room for interpretation.” Later, another questioner brought the topic back up and pointed out that Jill Lepore’s 2014 history of the Marston triad — unrelated to Robinson’s film, which the auteur began years prior to the book’s release — didn’t come to the same conclusion. “I think you can kind of go back and forth, debating some of the finer points, but for me, as a filmmaker, that was what I wanted to do,” Robinson replied. "...There’s certain facts that are indisputable about the Marstons’ lives, which everybody agrees on, and there are certain ones that are open to interpretation. You know what I mean? It’s how you choose to interpret those facts. So that’s how I chose to interpret them. That, I don’t know how else to say except that it’s open to interpretation.
Were you nervous about portraying those kinds of speculative interpretations, given that they were about real people with surviving family?
[Long pause.] In a way. I felt like I kind of went on my own journey, discovering, trying to do detective work, and what I came to was that the Marstons were these wonderful people with a lot of love in their life. I was especially struck by the fact that Elizabeth and Olive lived together for 38 years after Marston died. So, to me, I wanted to tell a story about that love and what I thought was happening.
What interactions have you had with Warner Bros., given that they own the character of Wonder Woman?
I recently showed the movie to [Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice writer/director] Zack Snyder and [producer] Deborah Snyder, and they loved it. Zack is gonna endorse it. You’re actually hearing this first!
My knowledge of the Marstons mainly came from Jill Lepore’s book about them, and one thing that struck me about how she interpreted William was that she seemed to think he was a bit of a grifter and exaggerator. That doesn’t seem to be your view. Do you feel that Lepore’s interpretation was unfair?
I think there’s a lot of different ways to tell the Marston story. I really do. I feel like they lived an expansive life. He’s a polarizing person. I think, for me, it’s which choices, which version of the story do you tell. ... I chose to tell the story of what I felt like was the core, which is this love story, and his theories, and how he created Wonder Woman to be, really specifically, a vehicle for his ideas. They thought their ideas could save the world in a very literal way: They thought they could change hearts and minds through psychology, through this pop-culture phenomenon, to help end war and bring about peace on the planet. ... I do feel like I give his ideas a rigorous airing. I surround him with strong female characters who are constantly taking him to task and challenging him about how problematic a lot of what he … Which I feel, myself, as a person, in how contradictory his ideas are. I tried to talk in the movie about his own misogyny and how it’s embedded within his feminism. Also, men and women: that Elizabeth and Marston aren’t playing on a level playing field, and talking about entitlement. There’s a lot of ideas within it, but ultimately, what I took from spending that much time thinking about the Marstons is that they were good people who loved their kids, who were free thinkers. ...
To what extent did you want to tell a story that was a positive depiction of polyamory?
I’m really happy that it’s being embraced by the poly community and that some people are telling me it’s the only positive depiction they’ve seen. I didn’t realize that when we were making it. We have all this contemporary language to describe what the Marstons were doing, like poly and kink and BDSM. But they didn’t have that language then. Lesbian was barely an identity at the time. The word had just been created in that usage. So, to me, they were just doing what they were doing. They didn’t have any of this. It was just that they fell in love and they had to figure out how to be together, quite literally, in the world.
In other words: “Now that we’ve found love, what are we gonna do with it?”
Where the movie is showing in your area.
Labels: Professor Marston movie