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"That was never a comedy for me"
July 7, 2013 2:38 AM   Subscribe

"I know I'm an interesting woman when I look at myself on the screen. And I know that if I met myself at a party I would never talk to that character because she doesn't fullfill pyhysically the demands that we're brought up to think women have to have in order for us to ask them out." -- Dustin Hoffman talks about Tootsie and what the movie meant to him personally. Bonus commentary by Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams and Sydney Pollack. Bonus bonus: Siskel and Ebert review Tootsie.
posted by MartinWisse (42 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
This animation beautifully captures the moment.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:33 AM on July 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Tootsie is such a great movie, and Dustin Hoffman was sublime. Jessica Lange, lately of American Horror, set the screen alight, and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:16 AM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hoffman also talked about this on "Fresh Air":
And a crew member came up to me and said I brought a friend of mine. Can I introduce him to you as your character, Dorothy Michaels, see if we can fool him? And I said sure, go ahead. And he brought the guy over and the guy didn't know anything about the movie.

He knew that Jessica Lange was in it. And he looked me up and down in such a blunt, painful way. I felt like I was a Venetian blind.

You know, he just shut the blind and looked and said, you know, where's Jessica Lange? And that happened. Guys started to do that, with crew - crew guys with their friends. And I said to my wife after a few times, I said I cannot believe that men - and I included myself - could be that callous and in a sense erase a human being who didn't fulfill their ideas of what attractive is.

And my wife said to me - I remember in that conversation she says, what do you mean? I said, well, if I met myself at a party, I wouldn't have come up to me. And I think I'm a very interesting woman. And I got emotional at that moment.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:28 AM on July 7, 2013 [40 favorites]


That is one nutty hospital.
posted by zooropa at 5:38 AM on July 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


I saw that post title and immediately flashed back to that AFI special from years ago. I remember there were two emotional moments on that special: This one and one with Burt Reynolds speaking on "To Kill A Mockingbird". He was talking about witnessing racism growing up in the south and how he could never understand how people could act that way.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:40 AM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


"It was not about what it feels like to be a woman. It was about what it feels like to be someone that people don't respect, for the wrong reasons."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:24 AM on July 7, 2013 [25 favorites]


God bless him.
posted by ipsative at 7:36 AM on July 7, 2013


Speaking as one of these plain "invisible women", that hit pretty close to home. Bless him for understanding.
posted by sea at 7:43 AM on July 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


"The Women Men Don't See" (pdf) by the amazing James Tiptree, Jr., for those who don't already know it.
posted by languagehat at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2013 [30 favorites]


I had no idea Hoffman was so involved with the development of this movie. I thought he was just the gun for hire picked to play the part. Good for him, that he recognized early on there was some real depth to be explored and that he worked hard to "get it right". Tootsie has stood the test of time in great ways, and seeing Hoffman's interview about it makes it clear, it was a labor of love. And that shows.

Fascinating post. Thanks very much for making it!
posted by hippybear at 8:36 AM on July 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


What makes this even more interesting is that Dustin Hoffman was a breakout film star for being the anti-hero; I think in The Graduate he was not what was expected, because he was not the classic good-looking male lead, and it was considered quite ground-breaking at the time.
posted by maggiemaggie at 11:37 AM on July 7, 2013


About the casting of The Graduate
posted by maggiemaggie at 11:40 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


In their defense(ish), men also treat other men -- particularly those lower down on the totem pole or from whom they don't need anything -- in a similar way, ignoring each other as much as possible while still getting done whatever needed to get done.
posted by chortly at 11:55 AM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


the way humans ignore humans lower on the social/class/etc ladder is a separate issue than what is being discussed by hoffman - i assume he's aware of that status ignoring as well and yet he still found this remarkable enough to change his perceptions about the way men treat women. that distinction seems important.
posted by nadawi at 11:58 AM on July 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


You know, he just shut the blind and looked and said, you know, where's Jessica Lange? And that happened. Guys started to do that, with crew - crew guys with their friends. And I said to my wife after a few times, I said I cannot believe that men - and I included myself - could be that callous and in a sense erase a human being who didn't fulfill their ideas of what attractive is.

You know, that's great. That moment of empathic understanding. But seeing as there has been decades of conversation/writing/expressions of various kinds from women on this very topic I'm a little cynical about Hoffman getting an ovation for spending a few minutes standing in women's shoes. It's a bit too much Black Like Me; and it betrays the fact that through his previous life he'd been guilty of doling out the treatment he was suddenly experiencing (treatment that brought him to tears, no less). But for him it was temporary; he still got to be a respected male actor once the costume came off. Legions of women don't have the option (it pissed Charlotte Brontë off something fierce). (Anecdata: spending the evening in the very nice Hollywood Hills home of a Relatively Famous Pianist, and despite doing my best to be charming and conversational in the group--there were six of us plus the pianist-- he had to be introduced to me three times, and the third time he got this startled look as if he just realized I was there and couldn't figure out why. [/anecdata])
posted by jokeefe at 12:34 PM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


"The Women Men Don't See" (pdf) by the amazing James Tiptree, Jr., for those who don't already know it.
Thank you, I enjoyed that.
posted by Cocodrillo at 12:45 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, it's a good thing this didn't become part of the Public Conversation when the movie first came out in 1982... the movie would've bombed and Hoffman's career would be pretty much over.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 1:19 PM on July 7, 2013


Yeeah . . . and his character still ended up with Jessica Lange instead of Teri Garr, though -- .
posted by jfwlucy at 1:25 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I said I cannot believe that men - and I included myself - could be that callous and in a sense erase a human being who didn't fulfill their ideas of what attractive is.

Except he doesn't really get it: It erases you as a human being regardless of the conclusion drawn. I have been on both sides of that conclusion, both the hottie/beauty and the plain fatty. When a man looks you up and down like that and in two seconds classifies you as either "fuckable" or "unfuckable" based solely on your looks, he is treating you like nothing but a piece of meat. It isn't any better to be viewed as "fuckable" based solely on your looks instead of "unfuckable" based solely on your looks. It is merely a different form of dehumanizing hostility.

I am short of sleep, so I will leave it at that for now. But I did want to make the point that this hurts all women, not just plain women. It just hurts beautiful women differently, making them the target of harrassment, assault, etc. Being raped and told it is your fault because you were too beautiful to resist (or used and discarded like kleenex) is not some kind of fun times that plain girls are missing out on. I find life generally less miserable now that my looks are less head turning, which is partly happenstance, partly choice.
posted by Michele in California at 1:30 PM on July 7, 2013 [20 favorites]


and his character still ended up with Jessica Lange instead of Teri Garr

I still think it would have been a much better story if he'd realized what Sandy should have meant to him.

Here's part of that for me: I definitely see what Jessica Lange was such a hot property for Hollywood. She's beautiful, and she can act! as they (used to?) say. But the character of Julie, to me, comes across as pretty bland. Michael rooms with funky people like Jeff (Murray) and hangs with funky, earthy actresses like Sandy, so he just doesn't seem the type to fit into Julie's white-bread, picket-fenced, suburban upstate world. At all.

It's partly the screenplay, and I don't want to put the blame on Lange for a thankless role, but she has so little agency and is just not that interesting. Not to the point that the movie stops when she's on screen, but boy, Michael, what do you see in her? Now, if they'd shown a scene where Julie comes and hangs downtown with his scruffy crew of misfits, I might give it a rethink.

Lord, I hope this isn't just rationalization because Lange is out of my league and Garr "isn't" (for various values of ...). But I do think this is a weak spot in the film, that the character should have more to offer than her beauty (and her defenses, however respectable, against what that beauty means). There's just no there there.
posted by dhartung at 2:59 PM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Except he doesn't really get it:

Maybe not in its entirety, but it is so rare that a man acknowledge this at all, that one to experience what it's like to be a woman, to be ignored, to be treated differently, is something amazing. And then to share it, where he could be perceived as unmanly just by acknowledging sympathy for women, that. . . That is magnificent to hear. To many men not only don't see it, but get down right hostile if the subject is put forth. To see it go the other way seems significant. Maybe it's not. Maybe it's only an artsy fartsy actor that the world will ignore. But I like that he not only noticed it, but years later is still so profoundly moved is moving in and of itself.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:42 PM on July 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yes, I am glad he shared it and had that epiphany, but it does not go far enough. I am a fan of Hoffman. It wasn't intended to dis him. I am just short of sleep and not at my smoothest.
posted by Michele in California at 8:10 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


chortly: In their defense(ish), men also treat other men -- particularly those lower down on the totem pole or from whom they don't need anything -- in a similar way, ignoring each other as much as possible while still getting done whatever needed to get done.
Treating someone with a lower-paying job as invisible is a completely different sin from treating a woman as invisible because you don't find her sexually attractive.

In some ways, it's arguably almost necessary sometimes - to pay more attention to your date than the wait staff, to pay more attention to your boss than the janitor when both happen to be in the room. Of course, it commonly goes far beyond that level of utility into ugly classism, but still: women get all of that, PLUS beauty judgments.

Unless you are suggesting men judge their bosses on a scale of physical attractiveness - "I can ignore the work he assigned me, because he's paunchy and balding" - it really isn't the same at all.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:27 PM on July 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I clearly wrote my earlier comment too fliply, inasmuch as I certainly did not actually mean it to be in defense of anything (hence the "ish", which perhaps should have been /sarcasm); nor did I mean it to derail a conversation about gender into a conversation about power; nor did I mean to suggest that men's attitude towards lower-status men was morally comparable to their treatment of women.

That said, although the sin or moral wrong is entirely separate from the psychology leading to the moral turpitude, I do think there is something to be gained from understanding the psychology and broader social systems as well. Part of the way the patriarchal system functions is not solely via the attitudes men have towards women and their appearance, but also the attitudes men (qua men, and not qua nadawi's "humans") have about what matters in the world, where women and womenly affairs (as defined by that system) are lower down, and where the way to behave manly is via a strict adherence to these hierarchies of objective-oriented power. I don't think you can fully separate the attitudes men have towards women from the attitudes they have towards power and other men, which is not an uncommon view in feminist studies (see, for instance, the entry on masculinity in the Feminism article on Wikipedia). While it would be a derail to direct a conversation about men's attitudes towards women into a discussion of men's attitude toward other men (or away from gender and towards power more generally), I thought it was worth mentioning as a secondary and potentially illuminating point in the context of a narrative about a powerful and famous man briefly pretending to be a woman. But obviously I should have spelled that out in a bit more detail rather than via a flippant sentence.
posted by chortly at 1:00 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


About five years after "Tootsie" was made, Mr. Hoffman quite blantantly made a sexual pass at a friend of mine, who at the time was 23 years old, and conventionally attractive. She was working as an assistant on one of his projects.

So, I guess his sympathy toward invisible women didn't prevent him from being a stereotypical perv.
posted by nacho fries at 11:29 AM on July 8, 2013


nacho fries: About five years after "Tootsie" was made, Mr. Hoffman quite blantantly made a sexual pass at a friend of mine, who at the time was 23 years old, and conventionally attractive. She was working as an assistant on one of his projects.

So, I guess his sympathy toward invisible women didn't prevent him from being a stereotypical perv.
So, if I'm following you here, he made a pass at a sexually attractive young woman, and is therefore a pervert...?

The "assistant on his project" obviously has power problems inherent in it, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a mental health professional who would call making a pass on a pretty, full-grown woman "perverted".
posted by IAmBroom at 1:03 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was using "perv" in the colloquial sense. Feel free to substitute "creeper" or the preferred term of your choice.

It's interesting that you specified "pretty" in your description. Does her prettiness play into your clinical diagnosis that he's not a perv? (I'm assuming here that you are a mental health professional, since you seem confident in your statement about that line of work.)
posted by nacho fries at 1:16 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


^Hoffman also would have been married at that time.
posted by timsneezed at 8:40 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know someone (foaf) who cosplayed Dorothy Michaels a few years ago, with pretty impressive results.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:45 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


nacho fries: I was using "perv" in the colloquial sense.
I was unaware that the colloquial sense of "pervert" was "attracted to attractive women".
nacho fries: It's interesting that you specified "pretty" in your description. Does her prettiness play into your clinical diagnosis that he's not a perv?
No, but remarkably: her attractiveness plays into the likelihood of his being attracted to her.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:42 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Point taken on the use of perv. It was not the best word choice.

However, just FYI, it is used regularly by women to describe guys who give them unwanted attention. More commonly in verb form than as a noun: "I got perved by Dustin Hoffman while I was blotting his makeup." e.g.
posted by nacho fries at 5:28 PM on July 9, 2013


her attractiveness plays into the likelihood of his being attracted to her.

So it was her fault and Dustin Hoffman couldn't help himself?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:46 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


this thread has taken such a weird turn. i don't really understand why a guy hitting on a woman (even a woman who is his underling, either officially or not) has to do with whether or not he really realized what he's claiming here. maybe in a "hey, he still has some work to do!" way? but otherwise...i dunno. it's just weird.
posted by nadawi at 8:12 AM on July 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, I guess I'm just not super-impressed with Hoffman getting all verklempt over invisible women; it smacks so much of a certain type of psuedo-depth that I ran across a lot with Hollywood bigwigs of a certain age when I ran in those circles. Guys who in one breath would get all breathless over their 4th glass of Chardonnay about their deep insight about minorities in The Industry, or women; and then five minutes later toss off some careless, entitled comment that rendered them crocodile-teared hypocrites.

Really, though, I think the more salient point was made upthread by Michele In California re: the male gaze, and it's effect on women.

Plus, also, this really isn't a women-only issue. Many people are rendered invisible due to physical happenstance; and many people suffer worse fates than being invisible -- they are seen as freakish, and stared at, for having unusual physical conditions.
posted by nacho fries at 9:00 AM on July 10, 2013


I haven't seen this movie in 30 years and was wondering if it still holds up. I'm glad that it sounds like it does.

My favorite Dustin Hoffman interview clip.
posted by dfan at 10:01 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tootsie came out in 1982. Hoffman was born in 1937. Five years after Tootsie would be 1987. He would have been 50 (and married, plus his wife may have been pregnant at the time as he has a child born October 1987). I am personally okay with classifying a (married) 50 year old hitting on a 23 year old they barely know based probably mostly on her appearance as "pervy" or creep behavior. That strikes me as predatory and creepy, not because of the age difference per se but because 23 is so young. If she had been 30 and he had been 57, I would be more okay with saying "Hey, they are both adults."

While I understand why this was brought up, I think it is unfortunate that this has become such a focus of this discussion. First, Mr. Hoffman's lack of personal perfection has zero bearing on the value of his insight. He stated up front that he "included himself." So testimony that he still was guilty a mere five years later of what he admitted up front to doing is not some big shocking thing in my book. Plus, internet testimony that a "friend of a friend said...." is pretty darn weak evidence and would probably be thrown out of a court of law. So I think arguing whether or not he is a "perv" based on some definition of "perv" is the wrong argument. This is a) very weak evidence and b) only proves he has not changed any, not that he is guilty of something after claiming he was some paragon of virtue.

I am still a hair short on sleep and my personal views on topics like this often get wildly strong negative reactions, so I am reluctant to try to step up and try to put together substantial commentary on the actual meat of this topic. But I would like to cast my vote for "Can we get back on topic and stop with the character assassination of Mr. Hoffman, pretty please. It really isn't relevant whether or not he hit on this young lady."

On preview: Thank you dfan for doing just that.
posted by Michele in California at 10:30 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


we've already discussed upthread that the issue that isn't woman specific is a different issue and it'd be sad if the thread derailed into a general conversation because so often when women's concerns are discussed we have to make room for "it happens to guys too!" which, while sort of true, isn't actually the point here.

as to the other stuff - that seems like baggage you're bringing with you and not really related to dustin hoffman directly at all.
posted by nadawi at 10:32 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fair enough. I thought it was an interesting counterpoint, but I do agree that celebrity gossip is poor form, and adds little to the discussion.

Having said that, nadawi, I would prefer if you keep the armchair psychoanalysis to yourself. It adds nothing to the discussion, and veers toward personalizing my comments overly much. You're certainly welcome to try and steer the conversation in a direction that you feel is more apt, but I think that's best done by adding substantive commentary, rather than cattle-dogging errant commenters with personal digs.
posted by nacho fries at 10:49 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


that wasn't psychoanalyzing - i was just pointing out that your paragraph about people in the industry and crocodile tears isn't related to the thread. maybe you took "baggage" overly seriously? i was using it colloquially. also, that note would have been far more appropriate in memail if you're looking to reduce personal attacks in thread.
posted by nadawi at 10:57 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Everybody cool it please. Do not make it personal, and if it's getting personal please do your part to de-escalate. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:55 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Getting back on topic:

Mae West is a woman who used to do this to men, this look them up and down like a piece of meat. She was extremely controversial for her time, was arrrested for her show, etc. I have seen a video clip of her doing this to a guy. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to find such a thing online.

You would think we have come a long way since Mae West was shocking the shit out the world by daring to look at men like mere sex objects, but I don't think we have. My experience is that talking about men like they are sex objects is a far stronger rebuttal of such behavior than having a hissy about men treating women like sex objects. It gets pretty negative reactions, like "You can't DO that!" type reactions. Not that people actually say that but it just gets that "Oh. My. God. That just isn't Done!!!" gut feel from people.

Generally speaking, men do not like to be on the receiving end of this anymore than women do. They find it incredibly threatening, like a woman who looks upon them that way is a rapist. It is a huge and dangerous power play for a woman to dare to look instead of being either invisible or seen but not heard. Again: It just is Not Done!
posted by Michele in California at 10:30 AM on July 11, 2013


EmpressCallipygos: her attractiveness plays into the likelihood of his being attracted to her.

So it was her fault and Dustin Hoffman couldn't help himself?
No, the only thing I'm addressing is whether or not his pass at her was "perverted" - which is a ridiculous label to attach to his behavior, IMO. Not everything that people do sexually that we object to is perverted.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:08 PM on July 11, 2013


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