Friday August 4, 2017.
By MICHAEL WALSH
It’s not a new idea. Female anger has been noted by (mostly male) literary scholars since Biblical times. Science, represented by modern psychology, tells us that women experience anger at rates higher, more intense and persistent than do men.
Saturday (July 29), in my review of the new Lady Macbeth feature film, I offered the opinion that “female anger is emerging as the major movie theme of the 21st century.” Seeing that picture reinforced an idea that I’d been thinking about as a result of several evenings spent viewing films that had been taking up space on our PVR.
It was a random sample of recent features broadcast on Canada’s Showcase TV, a cable channel that offers movies and TV shows. From time to time, my editor and life partner checks out its coming attractions, selects stuff that looks interesting and sets up the machine to record them.
It may have had something to do with the fact that 2017 is the year of director Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman movie, and that we were seeing lots of ads for Charlize (Aeon Flux) Theron’s new picture Atomic Blonde. Suddenly, and with surprising consistency, angry women were key players in every film we screened.
It started with the 2014 family film Paddington, a live-action cartoon based on Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear children’s stories. Nicole Kidman is absolutely unstoppable as the film’s villainess, Millicent Clyde (a character created for the movie) whose anger is the result of an injustice done to her father.
We then looked at 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, in which the title character (played by Kristen Stewart) and her nemesis Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) are fairy tale archetypes who vent their considerable anger on one another.
About this time, I began to wonder about the recent enthusiasm for “kick-ass heroines.” The term, used to describe a woman who does not suffer (male) fools gladly, suggests that violence-prone females have become a fixture in the pop culture.
It’s a point made with relative circumspection in 2013’s Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second feature in the future-fantasy franchise based on the young adult sci-fi novels by Suzanne Collins. The story focuses on the growing feelings of frustration and anger felt by games champion Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). We saw it expressed even more directly in Adrianne Palicki’s performance as Perkins, the professional assassin who stalks Keanu Reeves’s anti-hero in the 2014 kill-fest John Wick.
Finally, we got a full-strength, no-holds-barred example of ass kicking from Eva Green’s character Artemisia, the erupting volcano of female anger at the heart of 2014’s 300: Rise of an Empire. An ultra-violent adaptation of a Frank Miller graphic novel, it concludes with the sword-wielding warrior princess goading gormless Greek hero Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) with the cruel taunt: “You fight much harder than you fuck.”
Not only is each of the women I’ve mentioned at the centre of her respective film’s action, she is also the most interesting and complex human being on screen. The thing they all share is a palpable, entirely justified rage. A few days later, the psychological horror film Lady Macbeth arrived in Vancouver theatres, and it confirmed what I’d been thinking.
In my review last Saturday, I expressed the hope that somebody out there was working on a book about female anger in the popular culture. Clearly, that someone has to be a woman because, well, anything else would be uncomfortably close to “man-splaining.” It’s a job suited to the analytical genius of a Laura Kipnis, to the powerhouse research skills of a Jill Lepore or perhaps to an emerging new star in the field of cultural criticism such as Hope Nicholson, author of the recently published The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen.
While I’m waiting for that book to appear, I’ll continue adding items to the Reeling Back archive. Since my last blog entry, there’ve been 12 new postings, including:
GUNG HO — Director Ron Howard’s 1988 rustbelt comedy chronicles a Reagan-era attempt to make America great again. Michael Keaton stars as a hustling autoworker determined to sell a Japanese corporation on the idea of making its cars in Pennsylvania. (Posted July 31)
LADY MACBETH — Based on an 1865 Russian novella, director William Oldroyd’s 2016 feature relocates the action to the north of England. The story of a woman who turns murderous in the face of abuse and betrayal, it stars Florence Pugh in a career-making performance as the remorseless Katherine. (Posted July 29)
H — Intense and uncompromising, Canadian writer-director Darrell Wasyk’s low-budget 1990 drama examines one inner-city couple’s fight to escape the imprisonment of heroin addiction. (Posted July 28)
THE PLAYERS — Author Peter Chapman’s 1994 book, subtitled Actors in Movies on Television and Videocassette, is a guidebook to the careers of 1,000 supporting players. It was designed to answer the casual movie fan’s frequently asked question: Who was that? (Posted July 26)
AN IMAGINARY TALE (Une Histoire inventée) — Little known in English Canada, writer-director André Forcier was already a force to be reckoned with in Québec cinema when he made this 1990 comic fantasy. A tale of love and generational tensions on society’s margins, it stars Louise Marleau and Charlotte Laurier as a mother and daughter set on seducing the same man. (Posted July 19)
OPENING SHOTS — Author Damien Bona’s 1994 book, subtitled The Unusual, Unexpected, Potentially Career-Threatening First Roles that Launched the Careers of 70 Hollywood Stars, is the work of an enthusiastic, dedicated collector of movie trivia. (Posted July 17)
MOHAMMAD, MESSENGER OF GOD — Syrian-American director Moustapha Akkad wanted only to promote understanding of Islam in the non-Muslim world. His vehicle was this unexpectedly controversial 1977 biographical drama, an historical epic filmed on Middle-Eastern locations that stars Anthony Quinn. (Posted July 16)
DEAR INSPECTOR (Tendre poulet) — This 1977 addition to the oeuvre of French New Wave director Philippe De Broca was among the last of his comic delights to make it into North American distribution. Annie Giradot and Philippe Noiret star as a middle-aged couple who discover the joys of love at second sight. (Posted July 14)
JOHN AND THE MISSUS — In the best tradition of Canadian chamber filmmaking, this 1987 tale of change and resistance in rural Newfoundland marked the directorial debut of its writer and star, Genie Award-winning actor Gordon Pinsent. (Posted July 12)
HEARTS OF DARKNESS — Based on Eleanor Coppola’s memoir of the making of her husband Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now, this documentary feature took more than 20 years to reach the screen. Completed in 1991 by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, it uses footage shot by Mrs. Coppola. (Posted July 10)
THE NAKED GUN: FROM THE FILES OF POLICE SQUAD! — Back in the news following a successful July 20, 2017 parole hearing, footballer-turned-celebrity defendant O.J. Simpson was a part of the comedy franchise that began with this 1998 feature. Leslie Nielsen starred as his crime-fighting partner. (Posted July 9)
THE WOMEN OF AL JAZEERA — In this Editorial/Blog (reprinted July 7 on the CounterPunch website), I weigh in on the subject of the current Gulf crisis that has Qatar being blockaded by four of its neighbouring states. I argue that it all comes down to the Saudi Crown Prince feeling threatened by the extraordinary women who gather, report and present the news on television's Al Jazeera English. (Posted July 3)