Back when the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie debuted in 2003, the obligatory Karen Allen action chick role in the franchise was of course played by Keira Knightley. David Frum asked, “Is there some in-house equal-opportunity enforcer who reads scripts to ensure that women are always shown rescuing themselves? Is it spontaneous conformity on the part of writers and directors? Is it market research? Or what?”
An anonymous Hollywood screenwriter replied:
“There’s no thought police. Yes, Hollywood execs are routinely left-liberal, all the media is. But they have to make whatever sells. The scene in which the heroine unexpectedly kicks bad-guy butt is erotic to men (those boots are made for walking!) and flattering to feminist women. It has no downside.
Well perhaps it does now, or at least enough for Denver Post film critic Lisa Kennedy to ask, “Are tough screen heroines empowering, or do they send a dangerous message?”
Reading the zeitgeist and sussing real shifts versus marketing-nudged cycles is an increasingly tricky endeavor.
“It’s a challenging time to look at this,” says [critic Jennifer Merin, president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists]. It feels at times like “a chicken- egg question about marketing and our social psyche.”
Should we celebrate, or be suspicious of, these daughters of Diana Rigg’s peerless martial artist and fencer Emma Peel, Pam Grier’s blaxploitation mama Foxy Brown, and, yes, Jodie Foster’s driven FBI agent, Clarice Starling?
What are the lessons?
Should we worry for young women thinking they can cold-cock a creep? Or should we cheer images that encourage them to imagine fighting back? (And shouldn’t we wonder what lessons young men are taking away from those same images? For a multiplex tutorial on not hitting women, consult Sylvester Stallone’s old-school action flick “The Expendables.”)
Is watching U.S. Marshal Annie Frost — of the startling blue eyes and set jaw — take down a fugitive after a helluva battle empowering or delusional, dangerous or inspiring?
Meanwhile, Kathy Shaidle notes a very different group of would-be film and television heroines, and ponders the message they’re sending to women. Rather than my quoting the entire post, click over to read the whole thing, beginning with a male blog commenter confused by the message his distaff co-workers are sending by adopting the persona of the Sex in the City gals. Having worked with similar women in a similar city office, Kathy replied:
All very smart. Got your jokes. Didn’t think “somebody shot Ted Kennedy!”
In Toronto, these are the single girls who book (half) their vacation time around the TIFF, and know what the “cool” artisanal cheese and designer wedding dress and martini flavor is now, or at least, was about a month or two ago.
In many ways, from the thank-you notes and knowledge of “finer things” arcana to their impeccable manicures, these women could be living in the 1950s.
Yet they literally, deliberately, meticulously set out to imitate characters on a TV show.
If you “joked” about it to see their reaction (and remember: no one is ever “just kidding”) they acknowledged that that’s what they were doing.
That’s not at all surprising; as a byproduct of their plots, films and TV series are giant identikits with prefab personalities for sale to any audience member in need of one. I think I noted earlier this summer when every weekend when my wife and I stopped by our favorite local restaurant, we would see gaggles of women lined up at the movie theater down the street (and by “street” I mean this in a postmodern self-contained suburban “Lifestyle Center” setting of course). They were either about to go into or leaving Sex and the City 2, the summer’s most financially successful bomb. They looked like the female equivalent of Trekkies, all dressing up in the same costumes and acting like the characters they just saw on the big screen. As the Film Chat blog noted in a round-up of links back in 2008 when the HBO series’ first spin-off movie was released, that’s pretty much what they are:
Filmmaker Roger Nygard knows a thing or two about nerds. He directed 1997’s Trekkies and its 2004 sequel, documentaries about Star Trek fan culture. He sees many similarities between the two groups.
“Having studied Star Trek fans first-hand,” he says, “I could say that I have seen the same fervor, the same symptoms if you will, in the [Sex and the City] fans. My girlfriend bases her daily wardrobe on ‘What would Carrie wear?’ “
Kyle Smith of the New York Post got a similar vibe from the SATC crowd, but picked a rival sci-fi series (which spends a fair amount of time in interstellar cantinas) to describe them:
Unlike the “Star Wars” nerds, who are under no illusions that they will ever actually take the Millennium Falcon out for a chance to complete the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, the “Sex and the City” fangirls think that they can live the life they see on TV. . . .
Even 33-year-old women are not living in reality in this town. The multiplexes and networks and bookstores can barely accommodate all the movies and TV series and books (almost all written by men; one, I recall vaguely, written by me) about comical manboys coming to terms with the need to grow up. There is no equivalent message getting through to women. For them, it’s all “27 Dresses” and “Made of Honor” and novels from “Pride and Prejudice” on that sling the same fantasy: There are two handsome, successful men chasing me. Whichever one will I choose? Then they walk into the bar at Pastis and discover: 150 single women, 50 gay men, 50 straight married men and 25 single straight men, but it’s so loud that it’s impossible to talk to anyone anyway.
(For what it’s worth, a waitress in the aforementioned restaurant my wife and I frequent told us once that the SATC women were invariably an obnoxious and demanding hell on heels bunch whenever she waited on them.)
Sarah Jessica Parker would obviously have to revise the punchline at the end of this clip (perhaps in more ways than one!), but at what point in her career does she say something like this to her fans?
Star Trek TOS – William Shatner SNL – Get A Life – MyVideo
But what do you do if you actually work in the movie business, and you wish to retreat into a fantasy life?
Everyone these days must apparently take a hit at one point or another off “the Screw Dad pipe,” as James Lileks would say. But what happens when your father produced such risque films as Lolita, A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut? How do you shock dad when he’s Stanley Kubrick?
Christiane Kubrick, the German-born widow of the great man and a onetime actress whom Stanley Kubrick cast as a cabaret singer in “Paths of Glory” opens up about a few horrible family secrets. One: her uncle was a filmmaker who made anti-Semitic propaganda films for Joseph Goebbels. Two: her daughter Anya died horribly of Hodgkins disease at age 50. Three, Vivian, her other daughter with Kubrick (she also had a daughter in a previous relationship) is someone she also considers completely lost to the family — because Vivian became a Scientologist around the “Eyes Wide Shut” era. Kubrick died right after he finished editing the 1999 picture. Christiane avers that Tom Cruise had “absolutely nothing” to do with Vivian’s decision but that Stanley and Vivian had some sort of falling out during the editing of the picture and Stanley sent the girl a 40-page letter pleading with her “to win her back.” Hmm.
Vivian was once a promising filmmaker (as shown in her little-seen, not-particularly-flattering-to-Dad documentary on the making of “The Shining,” in which Kubrick is shown berating Shelley Duvall to a nearly-abusive level). She also composed the score for “Full Metal Jacket” — at 24. Her mother says Vivian arrived at Stanley’s funeral with some sort of Scientology coach or minder and from then on she was not the same person.
But of course. What else could she do to shock dad?