In the lap of controversy

Allan Fotheringham September 26 1994

In the lap of controversy

Allan Fotheringham September 26 1994

In the lap of controversy



There is nothing worse than a movie about wits that has no wit. Toronto, which has been billing itself as the Athens of the North, goes into high hype with its Toronto International Film Festival where, as a result, you have to wait until near 10 p.m. to view a flick that seems promising.

The art object in question was something called Mrs. Parker & Her Vicious Circle. This turned out to be quite the dumbest thing ever viewed in decades. It would seem difficult to make a humorless movie about Dorothy Parker, the famed 1930s wit and aphorist, but someone has succeeded.

Dorothy and her gang at the Algonquin Round Table—Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott and the rest—supposedly were the sharpest and most cutting minds in Manhattan; writers and critics and drinkers who could skewer an icon at forty paces, if the flagon of martinis lasted that long.

When someone rushed into a cocktail party with the news that president Calvin Coolidge, celebrated as Silent Cal, was dead, She said, “How can they tell?”

Or: “If all the girls at Vassar were laid end to end I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”

Or: “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

Or: “One more drink and I’ll be under the host.”

It is one of the more amazing feats of filmdom that a movie about Dorothy Parker and her witty friends doesn’t have a single laugh in it. Along about the time she started to slash her wrists in her bathroom, logic took over and several of us—though not the first—decided to walk out, something I cannot recall ever doing before, especially at a film festival in the Vienna-by-the-Humber.

As fate would have it, we are on Yonge Street, ugliest thoroughfare in the universe, and spied across the street is The Brass Rail Tavern, advertising “lap dancing.” Desperate for a laugh, after the cruelty just inflicted on us, we struggle past the surly innkeepers at the door and enter.

Lap dancing, for those who have just come in from Mars, is the newest invention of sophisticated Canadian cities to entertain members of the male sex who apparently have never seen a single member of the female sex naked. For a fee, ladies who chew gum will sit on your lap and—whoops!—the libel lawyer approaches.

Recently, an Ontario high judge ruled that such conduct was within acceptable community standards and threw out a prosecution. I would like to take that particular judge to a lap dancing episode. In fact I would pay his entrance fee and not even put it on the expense account.

The vast tavern is filled with bored young men, none of whom seemed much interested in the gynecological displays that were being displayed on stage, but were deep into debates about the baseball strike and the Maple Leafs.

Being somewhat stunned by this lack of passion, we asked the waiter what was going on upstairs, where there seemed to be some traffic. Male strippers, was the reply. This required further research.

Encountered, in a long giggling lineup, were a dozen or so females, clean of hair, clean of skin, spotless faded jeans, all looking like well-bred graduates of some exclusive girls school. Some confessed to being on a “stagette”—taking the future bride to a crazy night out. Others said it was their one and only exposure to such a joint.

Inside, amid the wild shouts and screams, the pattern was consistent. What looked like young university girls, fashionably dressed, ogling muscular men of varied colors who seemed to start on the steroids level where Ben Johnson left off, stripping down and waggling their thingees in the faces and drinks of the screaming femmes.

Now there is something wrong here. This is, we will remind any Faithful Reader who has got this far, past midnight on Saturday night, where all the hormones in the land are supposed to be inflamed.

In the richest and largest city in Canada, downstairs are hundreds of bored working-class lads, discussing hockey while slimhipped vixens are taking off their knickers. Upstairs, just a staircase away, guys built like sculpted hunks are displaying their weapons to several hundred girls who look as if they are on the way next week to sorority meetings and their classes on medieval poetry. (Girls make passes at men with

0 bare asses.)

1 In 1980, author Gay g Tálese published Thy Neigh“ bor’s Wife, the result of eight

years research on America’s sexual revolution. Tálese, married to a respected New York editor, visited the then-new phenomenon of massage parlors across the land, sampled hookers and bar girls and did all the necessary research a dutiful reporter must do.

His conclusion, at the top of the best-seller lists, was that on any given night there were hundreds of thousands of American men, mostly adult and mostly married, who were out paying for something that an ordinary mortal might think they could get at home.

The Brass Rail Tavern, at midnight on a Saturday night in Toronto, indicates there’s not much, if any, progress since his arduous research. As one feminist has pointed out, the only thing sexual liberation has produced is Dutch treat.

Was there really a “revolution?” Answers must include a stamped envelope.