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Hi Mick: To write your review of “The Battle of the Sexes,” did you watch interviews with Bobby Riggs? Or did you write about his personality from memory?
Patti Tsai-Steiner, El Cerrito
Hi Patti: I wrote about him mostly from memory, which was easy, having been reminded of his personality by Steve Carell. But I did confirm what I remembered by going on YouTube. I loved that the movie did right by both King and Riggs. I imagine some people might look at an isolated 25-second clip of Riggs saying that women belong only in the kitchen and assume this guy was a villain. What must be remembered — or appreciated — is that people were quite sophisticated in 1973. In fact, in some ways people were more sophisticated back then than they are today. Riggs was a big put-on, and everyone knew it. For sure, he wanted to win. But everybody with any brains at all knew that this was hype, like something a bad-guy wrestler would say. Riggs was relentlessly entertaining, while at this time Billie Jean King was not yet the beloved figure in American life that she would become, but rather a young, serious and rather reserved athlete. That’s why so many people were rooting for Riggs — he was funny. They weren’t anti-feminist or anti-women — sure, some were, but just the usual minority of cretins you find in American life, and there were probably fewer of them in 1973 than there are today. The movie conveys all that, while also making clear that it was absolutely necessary that King win. Riggs was out for himself, and he was putting on a great show, but King was fighting for something bigger, for women’s tennis, women in sports and, in some way, for women in general. In being fair to both King and Riggs, the movie is not being arbitrarily evenhanded. It’s conveying the true complexity of the event and its era.
Dear Mick LaSalle: I am puzzled. How come we don’t see happy rich people in films?
David Prowler, San Francisco
Dear David Prowler: We don’t see it because the truth is too much for people to bear. Not only do rich people have more money, but they really are happier. This is easy to prove: Just save up your frequent flier miles and get yourself a first-class plane ticket. Hang around there with your feet up for a few hours, eating good food and getting half-loaded, and then take a stroll into coach. For a second, you’ll think you’re in Calcutta. That’s how us normal people live compared with the way rich people have it.
Dear Mick LaSalle: I recall you writing that no matter what the role is, you know you’re watching Meryl Streep. Isn’t the greatest compliment one can say of an actor is that he or she doesn’t get caught acting? Were you implying that Meryl Streep is a failure?
Chad Williams, Tracy
Dear Chad Williams: Meryl Streep is a failure? I can’t imagine my ever writing something even suggesting that, except maybe by typing with my nose with both arms in a straitjacket. No, Meryl Streep is one of the greatest actresses of the past 100 years, and like other greats — such as Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando and Karin Viard in France — she has a quality of never completely disappearing, of making audiences enjoy the dual spectacle of watching the character and watching her do the character. With such actors, there is also the spectacle of watching them enjoy their own facility and invention. They love showing off, and for some reason when they do it, it’s usually not just fine but wonderful, and tells a story full of humanity and freshness and illumination. Here’s the thing: Great acting is not impersonation or a vanishing act. Great acting, really, is all kinds of things, done by all kinds of people, with the common denominator being that it seduces and takes you somewhere and, in some weird way, uplifts you. We recognize it, not by its methods, but by its results.
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