“You Write Dialogue For A Guy And Then Change The Name.”S

The lengthy profile of James Cameron in the latest New Yorker confirms a long-held and heretofore unjustified suspicion that James Cameron is, in fact, a complete and total ass.

Yes, Cameron is something of a force of Hollywood. The famously extravagant blockbuster-makin' special effects pioneer has made his name on innovation and bold choices and from the piece it's clear he approaches his work with total dedication, is powered by real intellectual curiosity, and has a childlike enthusiasm for what he does. He's also, apparently, a bombastic narcissist with a predictable love of rich-boy toys, a penchant for nautical terminology, a store of boastful stories about facing down forest fires while his neighbors flee, and a tendency to, on occasion, deliver Tinseltown charmers like, "Tell your friend he's getting fucked in the ass, and if he would stop squirming it wouldn't hurt so much." He also says stuff like this:

I try to live with honor, even if it costs me millions of dollars and takes a long time...It's very unusual in Hollywood. Few people are trustworthy-a handshake means nothing to them. They feel they're required to keep an agreement with you only if you're successful, or they need you. I've tried not to get sucked into the Hollywood hierarchy system. Personally, I don't like it when people are deferential to me because I'm an established filmmaker. It's a blue-collar sensibility.

Lately, this integrity has led him to spend four years and upwards of two hundred and thirty million dollars on Avatar, his long-awaited next fantasia. It's an elaborate sci-fi effects-fest, because, you see, Cameron's over doing the kind of sensitive work we've allegedly come to expect from him.

With Avatar, I thought, Forget all these chick flicks and do a classic guys' adventure movie...Of course, the whole movie ends up being about women, how guys relate to their lovers, mothers-there's a large female presence. I try to do my testosterone movie and it's a chick flick. That's how it is for me.

Cameron, you see, is a champion of women in film. Building on the example of Alien, he decided to give Terminator a female lead (Linda Hamilton, who'd go on to become Cameron's fourth wife.)

Hollywood metonymy for female characters is "handbags," also known as "girlfriend parts"-in other words, incidental sidekicks. Gale Anne Hurd, Cameron's second wife, and the producer of his first three films, says that Cameron always found women more interesting than men as protagonists. "He felt that they were underutilized in sci-fi, action, and fantasy," she said. "And that just about everything you could explore in a male action hero could be explored better with a woman."

One of his old friends says, of "strong women," "He likes to write about 'em and he likes to marry 'em. If there's one or two themes that run through his life and work, that's at the top of the list." And how does he get in touch with the female psyche? Easy: "You write dialogue for a guy and then change the name." And this transference goes both ways: at Comic-Con, "when someone in the audience asked about his next movie, he replied, 'You know, it's not a great time to ask a woman if she wants to have other kids when she's crowning.'" In his new film, feminine power is represented by back-in-space Zoë Saldana, who plays an ass-kicking princess named Neytiri, and whose sketches the author describes as "hipless, lean, with proportions to make Barbie look like a Cabbage Patch Kid."

It would be absurd to accuse Cameron of writing one-note women, because it would imply that his men are fully-realized. And say what one will, Sarah Connor is a heroine for the ages and an arm-fitness trendsetter. We can argue the value of the Terminator franchise all day, but at least it's equal-opp! It is depressing though that this is what passes both for a great, landmark part and for a pro-woman director. All Cameron's talk of strong women is kind of like his talk of the "authenticity" of Titanic - who cares if the light fixture's an exact copy when you have your characters talking and acting like late-20th-century Californians? But it's obvious that he really believes everything he says - and who am I to argue with the King of the World?

Man Of Extremes [New Yorker]