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The Incredible Shrinking Woman

Movies, according to conventional wisdom, reflect society. And so they do. Politically, movies often reflect the perspective of Hollywood artistes who think they possess a gift for reflecting society. Commercially, movies reflect not only audience taste but what some director or studio executive assumes is audience taste; they reflect not only what we're willing to buy but what someone else believes—hopes—is marketable. This odd combination of marketing guesswork and artistic pretension is more evident in movies than in any other form of popular entertainment, and it results in, among other things, film "realism" that has nothing to do with reality. This is especially so in current movies about women.

In an adolescence that spanned the late 50's and early 60's, I had movie interests rooted in the late 30's and early 40's, the reason being that everything about the women in those movies was better. Carole Lombard was funnier than Doris Day; Irene Dunne was warmer in her femininity than Crace Kelly; Barbara Stanwyck was a better actress than Natalie Wood. There was nothing premeditated about Katharine Hepburn's quirkiness, nothing self-conscious in Myrna Loy's valor. Rosiland Russell was faster on her feet than anybody before or since, and Bette Davis could handle anything. Collectively, those actresses, and the roles they played, resonated wit, confidence, courage, independence, and—not...

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