Thursday, 7 June 2012

Cinemaniacal: Men On Film

Today we're talking about men in the movies. Chiefly the classic archetypes of manhood found in starring roles in the movies since the dawn of cinema and how they work together and how they've changed over time.


This archetype is the two fisted, hard-charging, guy who will do whatever it takes to save the day and has the skills, the courage, and the strength to do it, regardless of the odds. They are usually hard characters, who feel they don't need anyone else in their lives because they are dedicated to their heroic cause of punching bad guys in the face. However they can have the flint chipped off their hearts by the love of a good woman, or the camaraderie of his squad-mates.

The Heroic Lead is the guy men want to be.


Now this part is the guy that women (and some men) want to be with. At best they have the good looks, the chiseled physique, to be on the cover of a romance novel.

But they have to be more than just physically attractive. They have to be willing to fulfill the mental and emotional facets of female fantasy. That requires charisma, and sensitivity to female needs. Now they don't have to start off that way in the film, the story may center on their transformation, but if the actor cast in the role can't project those qualities then you're out of luck.


When they weren't starring in films directed at the youth market the Juvenile Lead's traditionally has filled two roles...

1. Protege - The classic structure of war/action adventure pictures usually featured the Heroic Lead as the experienced veteran and the Juvenile Lead as the young newbie. As the story goes along the newbie goes from being the rebel, the virgin, or the comic relief to become a veteran in their own right and ready to take over the position of leadership in the righteous cause if or when the the Heroic Lead falls.

2. Love Interest - In films where the lead character is too old or too unlikable to be romantic, the tradition has been to add a romantic subplot usually involving the Juvenile Lead and a young lady, usually related to the old/unlikable lead. 

Now these definitions and who played them were not carved in stone. While some actors were pigeonholed as either Heroic or Romantic leads, many more could alternate between or combine the roles if the script called for it. It was also common in the Golden Age for budding male stars to start out as Juvenile Leads, and graduate to become Romantic and/or Heroic Leads.

But things have changed over time.

Hollywood's obsession with youth, which I call "juvenile dementia" has pretty much eliminated the process of graduating from a juvenile lead to the more mature heroic and romantic leads. Even though movies starring more rugged looking actors perform well at the box office with smaller initial investments, the studios continue to push boyish actors onto the audience as action heroes. Who really wants an action movie starring someone who would scream "not the face" and run away in a fist fight.

And it's not just heroic roles. In romantic roles characters that were once charming, and often sophisticated, now come across as oafish who look like they use the word "dude" like it's punctuation. All that matters to Hollywood are the physical attributes like having 6 pack abs.

Do I see an end to this confusion?

Probably not.

1 comment:

  1. Rainforest Giant here,

    I think what we're looking for is a little gravitas. Jimmy Stewart was more slender than either Depp or Bloom but you knew you could depend on him when the chips were down.

    John Wayne was an 'old fat man' but you would have trusted him to have your back.

    Perhaps those with clout really do believe that New Age crap they pay lip service too. Maybe they believe if they hang out with the young and feckless they can keep some of their own youth. Something like the laws of magical contagion.