Thursday, April 09, 2015

The lighter side of human trafficking - the GIGI musical

Whee! My family wants me to grow up to be a ho!
I watched the movie Gigi a couple of years ago and blogged about its innate creepiness and the celebration of the delights of the patriarchy in general: a woman's choices in 1900 were a life of trading sex for financial support from one man - that is to say, traditional marriage;  or trade sex for financial support from a bunch of men as a prostitute. Or a life of drudgery and/or living with relatives as an old maid.

I figured that since the movie was made in 1958, they were fine with the patriarchy. So naturally some genius decides to turn this into a Broadway musical in 2015.

  As Charles Isherwood said in his review:

You probably remember the most uncomfortable passage in the froufrou-bedecked 1958 film, which won a hefty nine Oscars including best picture (and which was also more treacly than the Colette story on which it was based). Recall Maurice Chevalier, playing the narrator, the suave silver fox HonorĂ© Lachaille, singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” as he strolls through the Bois de Boulogne, eyeing young girls romping in the park. 
As the French say, eeck. 
The current production, directed by Eric Schaeffer, features a new version of the Lerner book adapted by Heidi Thomas (“Call the Midwife”). No doubt leading the list of Ms. Thomas’s chores was removing this song from the mouth of an elderly gentleman. It has now been cleverly bleached of lechery, reassigned to two female characters, Gigi’s grandmother, Mamita (Victoria Clark), and her Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty), becoming an innocuous elegy for the fleeting nature of young girlhood. 
Other small adjustments have also been made. Gigi is now 18, not 15. Gaston Lachaille (Corey Cott), the sugar millionaire who begins as an avuncular admirer of this pert teenager and gradually falls in love with her as she blooms into womanhood, seems to be just a year or two older than Gigi (and scarcely an inch taller), making their relationship more akin to the romance depicted in, well, “High School Musical,” than the version in the original story or in the movie, where Louis Jourdan fell for Leslie Caron. And when Gaston finally realizes that the honorable thing to do is to marry Gigi, not keep her as a mistress, he proposes himself, instead of asking her grandmother for her hand. 
These and other minor changes smartly align the material with our more enlightened times, when a lighthearted musical comedy about a girl being trained to trade sex for creature comforts would naturally raise eyebrows.
Judith Thurman, writing for the New Yorker, is rather more sympathetic - the problem from her viewpoint seems to be not so much the issue of human trafficking presented as a lighthearted romp, but rather the audience:
But reviving “Gigi” in 2015 is a challenge for another reason: the paradox that Americans are, more than fifty years on, after a revolution in mores, less prudish yet more moralistic than their parents. Lerner and Loewe had to contend with the Motion Picture Production Code (widely known as the Hays Code), which was instituted in 1930. It mandated “special care” in handling provocative subjects, including “the sale of women, or of women selling their virtue,” and “the deliberate seduction of girls.” “Any inference of sexual perversion” was strictly prohibited. When I saw the film as a girl myself, I had no idea that Gigi was being educated to be anything but a fine lady. The “special care” Lerner and Loewe took with their material made her lessons with Aunt Alicia (in choosing a cigar, appraising a jewel, learning to pour coffee, gliding across a room) seem like the kind of finishing school that another fairy-tale heroine who was then in the news—Grace Kelly—had attended. I can recall only one scene in which the sale of virtue is explicit: when Gaston asks Gigi if she understands his lascivious proposal. Yes, she replies, looking demure, but with an unflinching candor more troubling than a blush would be, “I will sleep in your bed.”
The Hays Code expired in 1968, but after showing the musical to focus groups, Thomas had to adjust the book, she told me last week, for an audience sensitive to, if not outraged by, its subtext of “pedophilia.” (The “misconception” of a male theatregoer alarmed her for another reason: “ ‘It’s about a young hooker,’ he told me—with enthusiasm.”)

Ah yes, the moralistic are such party poopers. Why, did you know that there are some who tsk tsk at the idea of a minstrel show, which portrayed African Americans as being all nostalgic for the plantation system? Slavery as a light-hearted romp. Let's make a musical!

But then I suppose that Thurman would tend to be sympathetic to the author of GIGI as a biographer of Colette.  However, Thurman reveals in the New Yorker article that Colette was a gigantic asshole:
Thomas also had “feminist” ambitions for the musical, which would have horrified Colette. (“The suffragists,” she told an interviewer, in 1910, deserve “the whip and the harem.”)
She had a problem with the idea of women voting. It isn't surprising coming from someone who romanticized human trafficking. Now when will they make a musical about female genital mutilation?

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