Mirrors #3: Travolta in Saturday Night Fever

Forever and always. Just looking at this is satisfying to me.

In a sad note (but it’s really my own fault, so don’t feel too sorry for me): when my hard drive crashed in November, or whenever it was, I lost everything on my computer. Now I have a hard drive and all is well, but then I did not. Now, I actually don’t keep that much on my hard drive – all my writing is saved on another server, and etc. – but in terms of other things, like iTunes and all my photos – I was, frankly, fucked. Oh well. Time to rebuild. I have done so. I’m back to normal.

BUT one of the things that was lost forever is my huge archive – of probably hundreds of screenshots from no less than 20 different movies – of men staring at themselves in the mirror. This is for that piece that I’ll someday write, that I keep mentioning – my “man in the mirror” piece, about the sea change present in the depictions of men during the late 60s and 1970s in cinema and how suddenly every other movie had a man staring at himself in the mirror for a protracted amount of time. Some of the most indelible scenes in our cinematic history! And now we see such moments all the time. They are in vogue. But prior to 1970, men staring at themselves in the mirror was a rare occurrence in movies – and believe me, I searched and searched for the equivalent of a Taxi Driver moment in movies from the 30s, 40s, 50s … I found some, SORT of, but not quite. (Not surprisingly, most of the best examples of mirror-moments I found involving men were from Orson Welles’ movies – that famous shot in Citizen Kane and then of course he based the entire final climax of Lady From Shanghai in a “mirror maze”. Of course Orson Welles would focus on self, and on its representation – either magnified or distorted. This is not quite on the level of Rocky staring at himself in the mirror of his cold-water flat for a long long long silent scene – but it’s close.) Men looking at themselves in the mirror was a prosaic affair back in earlier movies, straighten the tie, quick glance, out the door. We expect women to look in the mirror, and when she glances at herself, we know exactly what she is doing. (I’m talking about movie language here, I’m talking about symbols). It may be frightened and anxious (Marlene Dietrich looking in the mirror in Witness for the Prosecution) but we still know that she is analyzing her mask, touching up her mask. But a man looking at himself in the mirror in a searching and direct way is not as easy to find … and is, obviously, a more unsettling image, if just because we aren’t sure what he’s doing. It up-ends our expectations. It’s not comfortable. It is unbearably private. Women can look in the mirror in public, in private, it doesn’t matter … (again, I’m not saying women DON’T look in the mirror with a searching glance the way men did in movies in the 70s – I’m only talking now about what is shown on screen, the symbols and images used to create movies. And since the 1970s, I can think of plenty of examples where women, too, stare at themselves in the mirror in a different way, as though trying to see their own hearts, or trying to understand themselves – Jennifer Jason Leigh has a big mirror-scene in Georgia which is similar to the one Sylvester Stallone has in Rocky – a silent tragic searching for the self) … But in general, symbolically speaking, in the movies, women glance at themselves in the mirror in public, checking on lipstick, hat, hair … nobody judges them for it or finds it odd. We know exactly what they are doing and why. It is expected. But a man doing that (as Gere does in Gigolo) is an interesting and startling image. Now, we see such things all the time in movies (there’s a couple of moments in The Wrestler – as a matter of fact, Mickey Rourke, in his career, has MANY “mirror moments” – I can think of three or four offhand – makes sense, he is the most self-regarding of actors, the one most in the pit with himself). The movie 8 Mile opens with a “man in the mirror” moment. We come to expect such things, in movies that are about men, men dealing with themselves, their lives, their struggles. It’s par for the course, and something that can be quite effective if used well: a man staring at himself (not necessarily preening, like Travolta is here) … but considering himself. Maybe trying to see inside, a private moment. Or confused … like: “who am I?” Or maybe, too, in a dreamspace – like Travolta is here, or Gere is in American Gigolo or DeNiro is in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

Anyway, I’m giving away all my ideas, but basically what I’m saying is, now I need to rebuild that archive. There were probably 200 images there, all told. The only ones that remain are the ones I already posted on my blog in various posts.

I miss them!


I learned my lesson, but good.

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