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As the 80th Miss America contest (no longer a “pageant” incidentally) built to a climax in Atlantic City, dedicated to the improvement of women’s role in society, a big new Robert Altman movie opened based on what could be considered a ringing negative stereotype
“Dr. T and the Women” with Richard Gere and a carload of women opened with its own answer to “what women want.” Dr. T is a gynecologist, you see, and his days are spent in his office listening hour after hour to women’s complaints, and it seems a good half of the movie is spent between women’s legs. There they are on a table with their legs spread wide apart, waiting not only for Dr. T’s inspection, but also for various instruments that Dr. T sees fit to introduce into their orifices. But how about poor Dr. T, condemned to spend half his life in this uniquely female prison?
In the intermissions he gets back to the masculine point of view by going hunting with his buddies. But these interruptions are brief and inconsequential, and before you know it, Dr. T is at it again, down there with his head between women’s legs. But what kind of a life is this? And what do women want anyway? (The screenplay, incidentally, is not by Altman himself, but by a real, live woman, who, one must assume, has real life familiarity with the subject matter.)
When Dr. T does not have his head buried between the “stirrups,” a mass of these same women is deep in “feminine” conversation in his waiting room. What do they find to talk about? They talk about clothes, hair, marriage, cosmetic surgery and one wicked pair talks about a lesbian affair they are having. The ladies chat about absolutely nothing outside the realm of the “feminine.” Perhaps the single largest topic of conversation is Dr. T himself, who, in possesion of these women’s most intimate secrets, represents a kind of godhead.
Judging by my own experience (influenced perhaps by many years in Paris) women’s closest confidants in their adulterous love affairs are their (usually homosexual) hairdressers. But the movie consists largely of female chatter, female chatter and female chatter. To my surprise, the television audience for the Atlantic City beauty contest — according to statistical research — is largely feminine, to see what the opposition has to offer, I suppose. In any event, depending on one’s personal taste, “Dr. T and the Women” can make you pretty sick of women.
Mr. Altman’s yearning for a dynamite ending is provided by the lesbian element. Dee Dee (Kate Hudson, daughter of Goldie Hawn) has been carrying on a passionate love affair with a girl from Houston, Marilyn (Liv Tyler, daughter of Steve Tyler). It all comes to a head at the wedding of Dee Dee with a nerdy looking little character, which wedding in all its wealth and splendor is interrupted by a rainstorm. But during the rainstorm, at the outset of the wedding ceremony, Dee Dee runs off with Marilyn. You’ve heard of a girl being left waiting at the altar? Well a male nerd is left waiting at the altar because the bride runs off with the maid of honor. Interesting variation, eh?
Will female movie audiences thrill to this all-female ending as much as the female television audience is expected to thrill to the beauty contest, which serves as the beginning and end of “Miss America”? If so, it will be a bit odd, as “Dr. T” might be the most systematically anti-feminine movie Hollywood has ever produced. We’ve come a long way in the 60 years since “Gone With The Wind,” which — as the love story of Scarlett and Rhett — looked as if it might be the most successful woman’s movie of all time. At school in Paris in those years, I was stunned by the number of well-to-do Frenchwomen who took the train to Brussels to see the film, which had just opened in Belgium.
There aren’t many Frenchwomen who will take the train to Brussels to see “Dr. T.” But of course it’s not the movie business which has changed, it’s the women.