Friday, March 17, 2017

FFB: POPCORN AND SEXUAL POLITICS: MOVIE REVIEWS by Kathi Maio (Crossing Press 1991); Maio in F&SF

I briefly reviewed Kathi Maio's first collection of film reviews, from the feminist magazine Sojourner (as distinct from the leftist Christian magazine of almost the same title, pluralized), Feminist in the Dark, in a survey of collections from the various film and other a/v critics who've published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction over the years (a cohort which has since been expanded to include David Skal and Tim Pratt). Having unboxed and reread some of her second collection of Sojourner essays, and (sadly) her last book so far (Crossing Press hit some bumpy road not long after the publication of this one, and no one else has picked up the slack in this regard), I thought I'd give this one at least a brief review as well, and cite (again) her online archive of contributions to F&SF (though incomplete, as it starts with her 1999 columns, when she began contributing to F&SF on previous primary columnist Harlan Ellison's recommendation in 1991).

What I learned after that initial review on the blog was that Maio had been a fellow member, with several regular and past contributors to the weekly Friday Books roundelay, of the amateur press association D[orothy Sayers-]APA-Em, thus an old correspondent and friend...and as also a librarian, her grounding in the literature of crime as well as her feminist sensibilities, wit, and lack of allegiance to any sort of overarching theory of film are all on display as thoroughly in this second collection as they were in the first.  Popcorn is organized slightly differently than Feminist in the Dark was, with thematic groupings of her reviews ("A Fine Romance", "The Lost Race of Hollywood", "The New 'Women's Film'", "Losing Out and Getting Even", "Motherhood in Patriarchy", "With Friends Like These..." [fake feminists] and "A Real Class Act") demonstrate some of the breadth of her concerns with both the esthetics and the conscious and unconscious (and usually too conscious) messages underlying the films under review, in terms (obviously) of race and class considerations as well as gender, and of the uncertainty of large commercial entities and would-be as well as actually profound artists in attempting to portray women's (and everyone's) lives, and reach women (and other) audiences. More of the films in this volume than the first are large-studio/distributor releases, but that doesn't limit how much Maio has to say about them, by any means, and she's not one to dismiss the demotic appeal of a blockbuster, nor to champion obscurity for its own sake. She touches on all sorts of films in the books, as opposed to the more limited focus of her F&SF column to solely films of a fantasticated nature, and the slight tentativeness that could sometimes come particularly with her early columns in the fiction magazine, a result I think of her not being a lifelong primary reader of fantastic fiction the way (I assume) she had been of crime fiction, is not in evidence, even when dealing with such work as Ghost or She-Devil (which of course have artistic roots further away from the core of fantastic drama than those of Arrival or even The Lobster, to cite the two most recently archived reviews). That she is the only columnist to hold the drama desk at the magazine without being in one way or another a central figure in speculative-fiction writing (even Baird Searles, the one non-prose-fiction writer to serve in this wise at F&SF, was a playwright and dabbled in prose fiction and poetry in the fields). 

Maio is plainspoken without being simplistic nor dogmatic, loves to connect her reactions to the item under discussion with its place in the traditions of earlier film and related art (as any good critic should do, of course). And she does find the sometimes incomplete virtues of the work before her, when possible, and is sure to mention them, while never willing to overlook their flaws...nor the disagreements she has with other critics, including such feminist peers as Molly Haskell.  You should check out her work online for F&SF or the one (1998) piece posted from The New Internationalist, and if encouraged, you can do much worse than to seek out both of her books (she has a sort of preliminary crowd-funding account up, for unspecified purposes, and we can certainly hope for more collected critiques).


Her LinkedIn freelancing citation:
Film, Book and Cultural Criticism, including a regular film column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Former regular columns at Sojourner: The Women's Forum, On the Issues Magazine, Visions Magazine and Wilson Library Bulletin. Other writings appeared in Ms., New Internationalist, Washington Post Book World, New York Newsday, Second Wave and other periodicals, anthologies and reference books. Author of the books: Feminist in the Dark and Popcorn & Sexual Politics.

For more of today's books, please see 
Patti Abbott's blog.


6 comments:

Bill Crider said...

She did some excellent book reviews in DAPA-Em. I miss the old days.

Todd Mason said...

They should be collected, as well!

Elgin Bleecker said...

Thanks for the post and the link to her work on F&SF. Like Bill, I too miss the old days when Sarris, Kael, Ebert and others were writing about films.

Todd Mason said...

Happily, we still have Ellison (who, alas, isn't in a position to write that much), John Simon, and Maio...along with the likes of Pat Aufderheide and Cynthia Fuchs...among others...

George said...

I agree with Bill Crider. Kathi Maio wrote some fine reviews and commentary in DAPA-EM. They should be collected, too.

Mathew Paust said...

Odd man out here, but now that I've heard of Maio, I shall have to check her out. Thanks, Todd