Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Wine, Women and Don Juan: Serial Seducers No Longer Seem Seductive

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Wine, Women and Don Juan: Serial Seducers No Longer Seem Seductive

Article excerpt

Wine, Women and Don Juan:

Serial seducers no longer seem seductive

BY FRANK PITTMAN

Back in the Middle Ages, long before the concept of sex addiction came along, Don Juan, the recklessly priapic seducer who never gets his fill of women, was considered satanic. But more recently, he's been seen as a source of both moral horror and intense fascination, with writers as great as the profligate Lord Byron, the comic Molie´re, and the cynical George Bernard Shaw taking the time and the trouble to dissect his character and appeal. Is he imbued with more zest for life than those of us who cling safely to chastity or monogamy? If we didn't fear Hell, divorce, disease, or loss of love, would all of us be profligate rakes like Don Juan?

Perhaps the defining image of the charming and cruel Don Juan, adept at seduction but incapable of love, comes from Mozart's 1787 opera, Don Giovanni. In the opera's first few scenes, the profligate charmer rapes a noblewoman, kills her father, encounters and escapes his latest fiance´e, and lures a peasant girl from her wedding to his bed. In all these adventures he's abetted by his Sancho Panza-like manservant, Leporello, who's chronicled Giovanni's conquests and announces proudly that there have been 2,165. "Amongst them there are peasant girls, chambermaids, townswomen; there are countesses, baronesses, princesses, and women of every degree, every shape, and every age. He doesn't care a fig if she's rich, ugly, or pretty, so long as she wears a skirt . . . ."

Although Leporello disapproves of Giovanni, he also reveres him, falling, as everyone does, under the sway of his incontestable charisma. In fact, the encounters between Giovanni and his prey may be less interesting than his relationship with Leporello, his Boswell. Without a Leporello to ooh and aah at his exploits, there could be no Don Giovanni. The audience for Giovanni's acts of bravado isn't the disposable women, but Leporello himself, the timid, awkward searcher for heroic models of manhood.

The movies have given us many memorable Don Juan figures to envy and reject through the years. There was Warren Beatty's hairdresser in Shampoo, who passed for gay and propositioned women with a big phallic blow-dryer. Zorba the Greek

sanctified his philandering by insisting that God has a very big heart, but there's one sin he won't forgive: "If a woman calls a man to her bed and he'll not go."In Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, philandering physician Daniel Day Lewis gives up his profession for love of Juliet Binoche, then breaks her heart through compulsive betrayals. Kundera describes the Epic Philanderer, who seeks variety--a woman of every sort, shape, and condition. He must have woman in all her infinite types. Only then will he feel like man. He also describes the Lyric Philanderer, who seeks perfection and falls in love with each woman, until he realizes she has some flaw. No woman can be perfect enough to make him feel completely satisfied and totally man enough.

We now have a 21st-century retelling of the Don Juan story in Sideways, the most acclaimed film of the fall movie crop. This time, Leporello is the hero and the Don Juan character provides comic relief. Based on the hilarious novel about California oenophiles by Rex Pickett, it was directed by Alexander Payne, who gave us Election and About Schmidt. In his films, Payne peers deeply into the tortured souls of life's losers--the J. Alfred Prufrocks of life--who'll never be heroes, and know it. Yet in each of his unlikely heroes, Payne finds much to love.

In Sideways, Thomas Haden Church plays Jack, a big, rugged, overripe glamour boy and low-tier actor in soap operas and commercials. Jack is spending a premarital week with his recently divorced best buddy, Miles, played by soulful nebbish Paul (American Splendor ) Giamatti. Lonely and depressed since his wife left him because of an affair, Giamatti has a writing career that's failing and a dreary, oversized novel that's being universally rejected. …

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