Expert film discussion from completely unqualified people


November 1, 2014


Cutting It Close

Rob lists his favorite short-haired ladies of celluloid.

So I don’t watch a whole lot of TV. During my hunt for something new, however, I’ve made my way through a few episodes of HBO’s Veep. It’s funny enough (kind of a cruel and cynical Parks and Recreation), but I decided to relieve it of my attention after watching an episode in which the titular Veep (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gets a short haircut. The entire male cast then makes about ten thousand jokes about it. She looks like a lesbian. She looks like a masculine lesbian. She looks like a masculine lesbian gym teacher. It’s an easy, lazy joke, and its repetition completely undermines the episode. It's not that I'm arguing for political correctness, I just hate the implication that I'm supposed to agree. What bothers me more, however, is what is says about the show’s viewership. 

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the creators of the art we consume are making assumptions about their audience’s value systems. They assume that, given the place and time the art is created, the audience will go along with them when they present an idea. Think of it like this: The Hays Production Code of the 30’s and 40’s prevented any and all references to childbirth in film. No birth scenes, no pregnant women, not even a conversation about someone being pregnant. The censors feared that talking about babies would lead to questions from kids about where they come from. Today, entire film plots revolve around childbirth and the road we take to get there, and no one bats an eye. Scholars call this cultural invisibility. In other words, the assumption that the audience conforms to the social value system of the creators, which in turn usually reflects the value system of society at large. 

Well, Veep sorely miscalculated its cultural invisibility because I think Ms. Louis-Dreyfus looks just fine. I do. I don’t get the joke at all. I never do. I happen to like ladies with short hair. And I don’t mean cute bobs that hug the neck. I mean short. I don’t see enough of it in film and it’s starting to bother me. What backwards-ass value judgement are we making here? No one asked me. I took part in no focus groups. This is ridiculous. Why should actresses be afraid to cut their hair? By all means, lose it. It’s time to take a stand. 

So if you’ll allow, I now present six badass and beautiful short-haired ladies in film: 

1. Rooney Mara and Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Let’s just get this one out of the way. Salander is formidable, smart, and resourceful. Fans of the Millennium series know that she’s the embodiment of a moment in author Stieg Larsson’s youth when he witnessed a woman being sexually assaulted and failed to stop it. Lisbeth then sprang from his consciousness as a giant “fuck you” to men who hate women (the original Swedish title of his novel). And sure she’s broken, standoffish, and, well, sort of sociopathic. But hers is respect you earn. She fights for her agency and will not hesitate to destroy those who try to take it from her (remember that scene?). It’s not to say she’s some kind of cold, vengeful monster, either. She falls for Blomqvist (spoilers) but isn’t at all deterred when she sees him with another woman. She picks up and keeps moving. Call her "edgy" or "disturbed" if you like. I call her a badass. 

2. Jean Seberg as Patricia in Breathless

"New York Herald Tribune!" 

Jean-Luc Godard’s ambivalent and free-wheeling Patricia was a poster-child for French New Wave itself: She did whatever she liked whenever she felt like it. She’s the original Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, strutting aimlessly through Paris long before Zooey Deschanel picked up an acoustic guitar. Sell newspapers in the streets? Sure. Hide your convict boyfriend from the police? Why not? Lie to him about being pregnant? Okay, maybe not the classiest approach, but he had it coming. Patricia’s sole concern is her independence. She and Michel have great chemistry, but he’s always the whimpering dog in the relationship begging for scraps. She tolerates his faux-Bogart affectation without ever buying it. She represents the incurable optimism (and occasional naivety) of the American, and she will not compromise for anyone. 

3. Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone in Gravity

What’s that? A female actress over forty in a Hollywood movie? How dare they! Say what you will about Ms. Bullock’s career, but Gravity should herald her renaissance. Dr. Stone is focused and self-reliant. How committed to your job must you be when you consider George Clooney nothing more than a charming distraction? Sure, Gravity may be less than scientific at times, but Alfonso Cuaron’s choice to play the entire film as an uninterrupted string of chaotic disasters only emphasizes Stone’s creativity and energy. Most people would give up entirely after losing a child. Dr. Stone went to space. Hell if she’s going to give up now. 

4. Faye Wong as Faye in Chungking Express

This section is best enjoyed while listening to this

She just wants to enjoy life "anywhere, maybe California." I love the dreamy romance in Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express, and Ms. Wong is by far the best thing about it. She's not afraid to go after Tony Leung (who wouldn't?) but she also carries some of Patricia's ambivalence. She'll break into and clean your apartment when she wants to, not because you told her to. Far from being trapped by her unfulfilling job, she uses the idle time to jam to the Cranberries and dream of something more. She'll make her move when she's good and ready, thank you very much. Faye's actually got life pretty well figured out. She's just waiting for the rest of us to catch up. 

5. Shirley MacLaine as Fran Kubelik in The Apartment

"You hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you."
"Shut up and deal."

I like a woman who will sass your pants off and make you stand there in your boxers until she gives you permission to leave. In the case of Miss Kubelik the elevator girl, I mean that literally. Though she spends much of the film unconscious, hungover, or lovesick over a married man, she and Baxter still have ridiculous chemistry. He seems to be the only one who can keep up with her wit. And sure, her third act decision to leave her jerkass lover reeks of easy cliche, but she earns a place in our hearts because she earns a place in his. Baxter's at his best when he's catering to Ms. Kubelik, and by the end of The Apartment, she's finally learned enough to deserve it, "love-wise." 

6. Dame Judi Dench as M in Skyfall

Go ahead, judge me. But take a second to think about what that says about you. M runs an entire army of James Bonds with the kind of cunning and ruthlessness for which very few men would have the stomach. She's absolutely the Bond Girl in Skyfall, an entry in the franchise so far-and-away superior to its peers that they might as well call it quits. She accepts judgment with grace, refuses to surrender, and (spoilers) goes down swinging. The mother/son dynamic she shares with Daniel Craig has unquestionably defined his tenure as Bond. We see now how integral a strong female influence was to his development into the fierce and unforgiving super-spy he eventually became. Truly a remarkable performance. 


Post a Comment