February 16, 2013

“I Guess this is My Own War:" The Rise and Fall of Alice Johnson as Champion in A Nightmare on Elm St. 4 and 5 by Scott Fynboe

Author’s note: This essay contains a number of hyperlinks. I recommend opening them in a new tab/browser window, whenever possible.

By 1988, the basic tropes of the slasher film were firmly in place. Two movies in particular, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980), had, early on, established the premise of a silent, masked maniac systematically killing off teenagers and young adults.

February 15, 2013

"This Used to be My Playground: A Memory-Meditation on A League of Their Own and the Poetics of the Ugly Girl" by Jessica Rae Bergamino

I’m not sure I can talk about this film without talking about my mother.  My mother who was always afraid that I would grow up to be the fat girl.  My mother who is still disappointed I did.  Elementary school summers would bring diets and the school year would start with a new sport or activity – ballet, acrobats, eventually softball – in an attempt to fit my body in to affordable clothes and good social graces. The things I loved were expected to fade with the possibility of a different body.

February 14, 2013

"Tipping the Core: the Ambiguous Celluloid of Gena Rowlands in the films of John Cassavetes" by Amanda Deutch

You are being pushed forth through a doorway, cigarette dangling from your mouth. Are you a queen with ladies in waiting or a mental patient held together by those who prop you up…? It is always the way the cigarette hangs from your lips in each movie that makes you look a little bit tough and compels me to keep watching you move. You hold it just so, smoking with no hands. You search your pockets and purse for something, always searching, walking as you smoke. How do you smoke with no hands?  You never ash your cigarette. Finally, your assistant takes the lit cigarette from your mouth, pulls a drag himself, hands you a pint of whiskey. You down a swig, gracefully somehow, and enter stage left. Later in the film, you ask, “Am I beginning to look like Humphrey Bogart?” It is just that feeling I get as you enter with cigarette, barely speaking, taking that swig, emoting pathos, sensitivity and utter coolness as you walk. swagger or stumble? You are the first real tough lady I have seen in a long time, if ever, on a movie screen. So yeah, maybe you do look a little like Humphrey Bogart in that sense.

February 13, 2013

"On the Island of Midnight Margaritas" by Lea Graham

I come for midnight margaritas.  I come to dance. This is what I softly repeat to myself each time I watch Denise Di Novi’s 1989 Practical Magic in which a pivotal scene captures a family of beautiful witches dancing around their kitchen island to “Put the Lime in the Coconut.” They shoot tequila in their pj’s, sing and lean into each other.  They comically insult and tell truths about one other.  To me, it’s a pop cultural version of the Eleusinian mysteries, sans buried pig. The women are joyous, sensual, candid and there’s something spiritual in the whimsy of this tiny episodic arc in which we learn a haunting, possessive man is about to create chaos in their lives. But before this knowledge is revealed, Sally, played by Sandra Bullock, playfully swivels her hips as she descends the stairs to join the dance; Nicole Kidman’s character, Gillian, purses her lips in simulated seduction.  Diane Wiest’s Aunt Jet raises her arms in a sexy hallelujah, and she and Aunt Frances, played by Stockard Channing, recite the margarita recipe like a spell with gusto, sending the blender whirring.  The spirits imbibed are commensurate to the rapturous spirit of multi-generational female intimacy and play. 

February 12, 2013

"Watching Steel Magnolias with Susan Sontag" by LB Thompson

In 1985, graphic storyteller Alison Bechdel devised a test for sniffing out gender bias in fiction and film. The test is simple: to pass, the narrative must include two named female characters who speak to each other about something other than a man. With its all-star female cast, Steel Magnolias aces the Bechdel test. It also qualifies as a “chick flick.” One measure for determining what constitutes a chick flick is an affirmative answer to the question: Does the movie provoke weeping in women in a similar way that porn incites orgasm in men? 

February 11, 2013

"3 Women" by Laura Theobald

I felt both sweaty and annoyed to discover not too long ago that two of my favorite female champions of horror Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall had collaborated on any single film. The union of Duvall’s cartoonish proportions and Spacek’s unnerving ginger stare is maybe the most aesthetically pleasing casting move I’ve witnessed since…I don’t know, Natasha Lyonne in Slums of Beverly Hills? I had no uncertain expectations, even without knowing anything of Robert Altman or his films.

February 10, 2013

"A Heroine for the Common Woman: Sixteen Candles" by Dava Krause

A mere look at the Sixteen Candles DVD cover, which I had bought five years ago from some discount bin and then put on the shelf, made me laugh. It was a Pavlovian response to my all time favorite movie from my adolescence.  Sure, I loved The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink and Heathers. But to me, for some reason, Sixteen Candles ranked far above any the others.