Riot Women of Contemporary Cinema

If you have read my previous posts, it might be obvious that I love three things: riots, unruly women, and great film performances. In an effort to better contextualise such elements in Times Square, I cite, in no particular order, some of the inspiring and riotous women of contemporary cinema.
Björk Guðmundsdóttir, Selma Jezkova, Dancer in the Dark
Unlike almost any other movie I find amazing, I’ve only seen Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000) once. When it finished, I left the cinema, walked, and thought I might walk off the end of St Kilda Pier. I didn’t, but sat, bereft and undone, and knew I could never watch it again. In the New York Times review, A. O. Scott wrote “Björk, in her movie debut, seems to be inventing a new style of film acting, if not an entirely new kind of human being…” This is not an exaggeration.

Helena Bonham Carter, Marla Singer, Fight Club
The film in which Helena Bonham Carter tears off the Merchant-Ivory corset, and tears the lead character a new one… literally! The fanboys might not realise it, but the narrative of Fight Club (1999) focuses on, and its events inspired by, Marla Singer. The narrator explicates: “All of this — the gun, the bombs, the revolution — has got something to do with a girl named Marla Singer.” In fact, we might say that this is a film about the extent to which the male narrator must go in order to emulate a character who truly manages to live within but outside of contemporary capitalism. It is about his desperate need to abject “the feminine,” a riotous feminine which in this case is embodied by Marla Singer.

Charlize Theron, Aileen Wuornos, Monster
If you watch Nick Broomfield’s Aileen Wuornos: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (and I don’t recommend Broomfield’s work, but sadly it is one of the definitive texts on Wuornos’s life), you would know that Wuornos killed seven men, was executed while insane, and had one of the shittiest childhoods on record. So it’s hard to imagine how Patty Jenkins’ Monster (2003) could come off as in any way inspiring. But Theron plays Wuornos with such despairing fury that it makes me want to head to Florida, do some roller disco with my girlie, and stalk I-95 with a gun. The case and cultural representations of Wuornos have long been of interest to feminists and other cultural critics. While some have been critical of Jenkins’ film, I would suggest the “Monster” of the title is a culture that so casually accepts violence against women and sex workers, and is appalled when they fight back.

Angelina Jolie, Gia Carangi, Gia
Supermodel; lesbian; heroin addict; dead from complications related to AIDS at age 26: Gia Carangi certainly led a life that is often read in terms of its status as tragedy. But Jolie’s performance in Gia (1998) is so fierce and passionate that it manages to imbue a celebratory quality: a short life, but one that is fully lived.

Judy Davis, Judy Garland, Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows
Judy Garland’s funeral was held in New York City on 27 June 1969, and the Stonewall riots began that night. While not causally linked, for many, the two events are not unconnected. Garland’s life was so tumultuous, has been so mythologized, and her style so distinctive, that it is difficult to imagine any single depiction doing her justice. Thankfully, in the TV movie Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (2001), Judy Davis is as unfailingly wonderful as ever. Her portrayal of the adult Garland is uncanny; the performance scenes, far from conjuring an impressionist’s act, instead appear to channel Garland. Judy Davis is Australia’s great gift to world cinema. If I’m ever lucky enough to see her on the street… I certainly won’t speak to her. She terrifies me.

Emily Barclay, Katrina Skinner, Suburban Mayhem
Whether she’s snorting speed in the public toilet of a local shopping center, making lurid death threats against her many enemies, or planning the early demise of her nearest and dearest, Katrina Skinner is a joy to behold. While such portrayals — to call Katrina a psychopath as one character does is to significantly underplay her charms — frequently descend into parody, Barclay’s Katrina Skinner is utterly believable, as chilling as she is fabulous. Suburban Mayhem (2006) is not a great film, but Emily Barclay’s stunning portrayal of the amoral, manipulative yet seductive bogan queen is one of the great film performances of recent years. (Sad disclaimer: Suburban Mayhem was largely filmed in the city in which I live, and some scenes in my very own suburb. And Katrina Skinner / Emily Barclay walking in the carpark of my local shopping centre is easily the most exciting thing that has happened here.)

Robin Johnson, Nicky Marotta, Times Square
From the time of its release in 1980 to recent screenings of Times Square, Robin Johnson’s portrayal of Nicky Marotta has astonished audiences. Joyful and despondent, explosive and becalmed, Johnson’s Nicky is a riot of passion and charisma. While representational styles, particularly those pertaining to “realism,” shift constantly — what is viewed as “authentic” in one cultural period may be seen as hammy in another — Johnson’s performance has never veered from one that is read as “genuine” and “real.” This is especially noteworthy in a performance that covers so much emotional terrain. It’s a revolutionary acting performance and a breathtaking achievement, and one I’m grateful I lived to witness.

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This entry was posted in Fandom, film theory / review, Lesbian Representation, Nicole "Nicky" Marotta, Popular Culture, Robin Johnson, Times Square (1980) movie. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Riot Women of Contemporary Cinema

  1. Pirategrrrl says:

    Well done! Monster was the film that made me realize that Charlize Theron really COULD act. Simply amazing. Though that’s one movie I’ll never own on DVD. Yikes.

    • Theron’s is a ferocious performance, and very moving. I’ve watched it a few times, but one part is almost too grim for me to watch, when Aileen tries to “go straight.” I cringe and watch that through parted fingers if at all.

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