Talking Pictures

Sex and Lies

View from Above: Cartoonist John Grimes has a different perspective.

Cartoonist John Grimes gets ‘Harry’

By David Templeton

Writer David Templeton, in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation, accompanies unpredictable cartoonist John Grimes to see Woody Allen’s little-seen masterpiece Deconstructing Harry.

T HE THING I LIKE ABOUT Woody Allen movies,” mutters cartoonist John Grimes, rising from his movie-house seat to walk up the aisle, “is that I always leave thinking I’m more balanced and normal than I thought I was going in.” He waves back at the screen as the credits roll in Allen’s latest (possibly greatest) film, Deconstructing Harry. “It asks all the big questions,” he further observes. “Questions like, ‘Exactly how vacuous am I?'”

In Harry (starring Allen, Demi Moore, Elizabeth Shue, Billy Crystal, and a parade of others), Allen plays the most unsympathetic and loathsome loser of his career: a foul-mouthed, pill-popping novelist attempting to deconstruct his life and work in order to understand why he is so miserable and alone. He crosses paths with former wives, former girlfriends, former friends–even his own fictional characters come to life to berate him–without ever fully realizing that his disordered life is the result of his own piggish, egotistical nature. As funny and truly brilliant as the film is, it is so uncomfortably critical of Harry that we pray for him to find some catharsis so the film can end and we can get away from him.

“This film seems almost like unauthorized autobiography or something, doesn’t it?” Grimes observes later. Having stopped to pick up burritos, we’ve now arrived at his cozily crammed apartment overlooking the San Francisco shoreline. It is here that Grimes dreams up the insightfully off-kilter cartoons that appear regularly in publications around the country, including The Utne Reader and Ms. magazine. His first collection, the very funny Reality Check (Tenspeed, 1993) gained him notoriety as a leading male feminist; his loopy illustrations were part of what gave Peach Pit Press’ popular The Mac Bible its considerable charm. In person, Grimes is articulate, quick-witted, and, happily–a little bizarre.

Offering me a fork, Grimes sits down at the dining room table and immediately notices a trio of ants meandering along the tablecloth. “Look!” he says brightly, then smashes them one by one with his thumb. “Sorry,” he apologizes. “Whenever I kill an ant I always wonder if it wasn’t, you know, Jesus Christ coming back to Earth,” he explains. “So I always apologize, just in case.”

“What if Jesus has been trying to return for years,” I reply, “but you keep squishing him?”

Glancing upward , he scolds the heavens. “Learn from your mistakes! Never, never, never disguise Jesus as an insect!” he shouts.

Earlier, Grimes had mentioned that Woody Allen, whom he describes as “a slimy genius,” would be in the top 50 on his “desert island list.” I ask who’d be No.1.

“Madeleine Albright,” he answers instantly. “She’s fantastic. It’s a shame that she’s been reduced to playing stand-up secretary of state for Bill Clinton.” He laughs, gesturing to the open newspaper on the table, displaying more news on the White House sex accusations. “The real world is even weirder than a Woody Allen movie,” he notes. “This whole Monica Lewinsky thing. I think it offends our middle-class consciousness that this guy could have worked so hard to get where he is, and then just let it be blown away.”

“So to speak,” I mumble.

“And speaking of blow jobs,” Grimes goes on, “Did you see Ted Koppel the other night? He led off his show with the statement, ‘The president doesn’t define oral sex as being infidelity.’ We sat there, saying ‘What? What? Ted Koppel just said “oral sex!”‘ More remarkable than what the president said or did was that it’s led to Ted Koppel saying ‘oral sex’ on TV. For the first time in the history of the country, half of the nation is thinking about blow jobs at the same exact moment.

“I guess in some ways that’s a step forward,” he grins.

“Do you think this scandal–if it ever is proven to be more than a Republican conspiracy–will hurt Clinton’s claim of being the first feminist president?” I ask.

“You can’t say you’re a feminist if you’re a feminist only part-time,” he answers.If Clinton cheats on his wife, it disallows him from being called a feminist. He can be a part-time feminist, a lower-case feminist, let’s say, with a small ‘f.’ But you cannot be an upper-case Feminist if you treat the women you love that way. So he’s a lower-case feminist. A fair-weather feminist.”

“A social feminist,” I expand on the theme, “but not a personal feminist.”

“He’s a duplicitous, lying, son-of-a-bitch feminist,” Grimes expands even further. “There’s a Clintonesque angle to the whole Soon Yi issue, too,” he says, referring to Allen’s new wife, the 21-year-old adopted daughter of ex-lover Mia Farrow. “She’s young, she’s vulnerable. She’s full of hero worship, she’s rebellious, and one could argue that he took advantage of that. I hold these people to the same standard that I would hold myself to. There’s something wrong when a guy’s brain is as disconnected from his dick as Clinton’s is.

“We all have the devil in us, metaphorically,” he goes on, “but the challenge of life is to be aware of that, and to watch out for the devil.”

Waving at the newspaper again, he says, “To me, this is one of those little jokes of the cosmos. We can’t have a nice, planned-out end of the millennium. There will be all these weird things like Clinton. And just like in the Woody Allen movie, we’re all sitting here going, ‘Ah. When am I going to get out of this?’

“Oh look, another Jesus,” he concludes, with a swift squish of his thumb. “I tell you, when will they learn?”

From the February 5-11, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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