Variety (1983) - Bette Gordon
Bette Gordon's Variety is a feminist odyssey detailing the awakening of a character in Christine, a young down-on-her-luck woman who, out of desperation, takes a job selling tickets at a porno theater near Times Square. Stepping into this seedy, erotic social environment, Christine's curiosity is peaked by one of the customers of the theater, a mysterious businessman, whose courtship of Christine only reinforces her curiosities. Becoming increasingly obsessed by the erotic nature of this new social environment which she inhabits, Christine slowly gains a sense of empowerment, growing increasingly comfortable with her own sexuality, as she grapples with female agency in Reagan's conservative America, where female sexuality is taboo, at least when compared to the expressive sexuality men are accustomed too. A story of empowerment, liberation, and sexual currency, Bette Gordon's Variety is a clever piece of filmmaking which uses the narrative lynchpins of a film noir to drive its story of Christine's sexual awakening. Much of the story is centered around her detective-like obsession centered around this mysterious businessman, with Christine following him from place-to-place, intent on getting to the bottom of his profession. The film hints, yet never reveals what type of business he runs, and as the film progresses it becomes quite clear his profession simply isn't important, with the journey itself being symbolic of Christine's own journey of self-discovery. Her intrigue about his profession, the whole mystery/noir narrative could be viewed as simply a symbolic representation of Christine's own sexual awakening, with her curiosity towards his profession representing her own sexual curiosities, as the walls of female agency are revealed to her by this new sexual environment which she inhabits. Christine's relationship with her reporter-friend, Mark, is also revealing, a character who exists outside of the erotic nature of this milieu, a man who repeatedly uncomfortable and uninterested in Christine's budding sexuality, completely oblivious to the fact that his own displeasure simply details female agency, where a woman's outspoken sexuality, unlike their male counterparts, is perceived as taboo by the conservative culture of the 1980s. In one memorable scene, Christine recites a erotic-feminist poem out loud to Mark while he quietly plays pinball, unresponsive to the liberating quality the poem represents for Christine. While Bette Gordon's Variety should be praised for its stunning commentary on feminism and sexual liberation in the 1980s, the film should also be remembered for Luis Guzman's performance in his earliest role as a ticket-taker, a hilariously perfect performance which exhibits who Guzman was an intoxicating comedic performance, right from the very beginning.
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