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The Siren of Myron
on January 14, 2014
Fair warning: the majority of viewers will hate this movie. You may be an exception, however, if, as I do, you enjoy watching bad movies. Not any bad movie. Most bad movies are no fun at all. There is a particular sort of bad movie that is fun to watch. The necessary element for viewing pleasure is “camp,” which is notoriously hard to define but unmistakable when you see it. Not everyone experiences pleasure in camp – at least not readily, but for those who do, it is hard to do better than Myra Breckenridge.
Vidal’s novel has something to say, and some of the message crosses over into the movie if you look for it. The gist of the plot: the protagonist, once Myron Breckenridge, thanks to the good surgeons of Copenhagen, becomes Myra. She doesn’t reveal her other-gendered past when she takes a teaching position at an acting school in LA. Myra is a Classic Film aficionado who argues that no insignificant movie was made between 1935 and 1945. She asserts that every culture has a mythology from which it derives an identity, and the movies of 1935-45 form the American mythology; the actors of the era are the gods and goddesses of our myths. They define our sense of ethics, our world view, and our ideals of masculinity and femininity. Therein lies the problem. She believes the sex roles embodied in these films were all very well for building a nation and fighting Nazis, but are inappropriate to a world facing overpopulation and nuclear weaponry. She wants to remold our mythology by means of the movies, creating an America and (to the extent Hollywood movies have global reach) a world that is more bisexual and less dominated by traditional masculine bluster. The birthrate thus will fall and pressure will be eased on the nuclear trigger. A school for actors is as good a place to start on this task as any.
The traditional gender types reflective of ’35-45 are embodied by two students at the film school who plan to marry. Rusty is handsome, swaggering, and a bit of an ass. His wholesomely pretty and air-headed girlfriend Mary-Ann (Farrah Fawcett) wants nothing more than a white picket fence and four children with Rusty. Myra sets out to remold them by sexually humiliating Rusty and seducing Mary-Ann. Myra considers it a great success when the shattered Rusty shouts he is “sick of women.” Rusty in turn becomes so hostile to Mary-Ann that she announces, “I’ll never marry! I hate men!” Both are now better able to bring Myra’s vision to their future screen roles. Bisexuality is a double-edge sword, however, and Myra’s plans are endangered when she finds herself (the part of her still Myron) falling for Mary-Ann. In a related side-plot, casting agent Mae West reverses the casting couch by exploiting aspiring young male actors.
In many ways Myra is far in advance of its time. The film looks good, too, which counts for something. Though some critics complain about them, I like the use of classic film clips inserted into the movie; they help set the tone and make the point. (*SPOILER* follows.) While I’ll in no way argue that this is a misunderstood good movie, my only real personal complaint is the deviation from the ironic ending of the book, in which Mary-Ann marries a surgically re-altered Myron. In the film, treating events as a dream sequence may have simplified bringing the plot to a resolution, but it is altogether too facile to be satisfying.
Despite being fictional, Myra (the literary one anyway) in a sense might have had some success. The marriage and birth rates indeed have fallen since 1970 to all-time lows. Gender roles have lost definition; traditional attitudes sound increasingly quaint when not actually politically incorrect. Come to think of it, maybe omitting the marriage of Myron and Mary-Ann was the correct decision for the movie after all.