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Foxfire
Stephanie Leftwich

 

Foxfire (adapted from the novel by Joyce Carol Oates) is a coming of age film that, though at times it plays like a music video, deals seriously with handling abuse - sexual, emotional and physical - and the fine line between rational and irrational behavior. At first glance, the film offers a convincing vision of female empowerment. Into a high school where sexuality is equated with power comes Legs, a kick-ass stranger clad in black leather and denim from who-knows- where. She mysteriously appears, during a rainstorm, just in time for biology class where Rita and Maddy are beginning to dissect live frogs under the direction of Mr. Buttinger, teacher, football coach and molester.

Under the guise of after-school detention, he has been sexually harassing Rita, Violet and numerous other female students telling them that they need to learn to "appreciate their value as women" (i.e. realize that their identity lies in their sexuality). During class, Legs frees one of the frogs. After class, she frees the girls, inciting Rita, Violet and Maddy to beat up Buttinger. Goldie witnesses the event, approves, and the girls are united - a gang of sorts, suspended from school and living together in an abandoned house under the leadership of Legs.

Legs's stay is brief, but she has a profound impact. She is the nurturing mother who holds a wincing, whimpering Rita in her lap while tattooing the infamous flame on her chest. She is the platonic lover who seduces Maddy with her mystical androgyny and her willful mind. She is the liberator who teaches the girls not to "take any shit" - they break into school to get Maddy's art portfolio after she is suspended, they steal Dana's car after he attempts to rape Maddy, they stay out late doing whatever they want. She is the protector who tries to guard Goldie from an abusive father. She is the facilitator of female bonding who initiates the girls into womanhood by tattooing them, marking them with her sign. The girls come to love one another like family. They have been saved from girls who believed they got what they deserved from Buttinger and they greatly value their recently gained independence from "the way things were": they are rebels who think for themselves, they have reclaimed their sexuality, and they are heroines to other girls harassed by Buttinger.

But, all of this becomes problematic. Are the girls really empowered? And at what price? It is disconcerting that their empowerment comes only through the appropriation of masculine qualities. Legs is consistently and blatantly mistaken for a boy - a security guard hails her as "young man;" Goldie's mother calls her a "girl or whatever;" and when asked what she is afraid of, Goldie jokes, "Legs in a dress." No attempt is made to hide the fact that Legs is meant to be seen as a masculine character despite her extremely feminine sexuality (this is especially supported by her potential lesbianism). Maddy, too, is once mistakenly referred to as "he" as she begins to become more "Legs-like." These portrayals lead one to believe that in order to have power, one must be like a man. And, in the end, Legs resorts to a stereotypical male behavior - violence. Seeing no other way for resolving the situation with Goldie's father, she kidnaps him at gunpoint. Maddy and Rita assist her, against their will, and the whole thing starts to unravel. Though Legs has delivered the girls from their oppression, her message of emancipation falls short. The girls relapse into the moral code with which they were raised. Peaceful resolution is favored over violence. The fact that a man is a father carries more weight than the fact that he abuses his daughter. The girls abandon Legs for stability.

All is not lost, though. Maddy emerges from her experience with Legs quite changed. She has recognized her responsibility to other girls - what is done to them is symbolically done to her, to all. She has learned to think for herself and trust in the wisdom of her own decisions. She scales the supports of the bridge, finally conquering her fear of heights. Rising up out of her past, she metaphorically climbs into the sunrise of her new awareness. Struggling for balance for an awkward moment, she spreads her arms, tests her new legs and walks hesitantly, but steadily, into her future.


The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls In Love
By Pamela Green

Coming of age in American films is generally depicted by the adolescent learning from the earlier generation. This learning from the older generations is carried as far as learning about sex, love and life from thirty, forty or even fifty-somethings. Hence, in The Graduate, we have Benjamin learning about sex from twisted seductress Mrs. Robinson. In Hal Hartley's film Trust, we have Adrienne Shelly's character falling in love with a man at least ten years her senior after her high school boyfriend gets her pregnant. We frequently see this type of scenerio in films that are both Hollywood mainstream or independent. The only insight into youth culture these films give us is that the people of the young generations have nothing to offer each other.

The labeling of Generation Xers as slackers and previous generations with similar labels (free-loving hippies, the flappers of the 1920s, etc.) is further depicted in these films. The young generation is not only a slacker generation in regards to school, careers, and political concerns, but also in regards to interpersonal relationships. We have nothing to offer society or even each other. Despite how depressing this depiction is, it becomes even gloomier when we further analyze coming of age films by gender. Although the mentoring relationships between older women and their younger counterparts should not be trivialized, it is damaging to ignore the influences women of the same generation have on each other to create a successful succession of feminist generations. Although young women today must learn about the fights and struggles the women of the Second Wave accomplished for us, we must also acknowledge our own new struggles. Only by bonding with women of our own generation can we accomplish this. This is especially true for queer women -- we must form relationships with each other that teach us where to go from here. Unfortunately, it is still rare to see queer intragenerational relationships presented positively in films. Films such as Personal Best and Lianna show that younger lesbians must first learn about love and life through women who are older and wiser.

However, Maria Maggenti's 1995 film The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love presents a refreshing look at lesbians coming of age and learning about life together. Randy Dean (Laurel Holloman) and Evie Roy (Nicole Parker) seem to have nothing in common at first glance and especially no chance to experience a relationship that will propel them into adulthood. Maggenti introduces Randy and Evie when they are both lost 17-year-old high school seniors, each in a relationship that is going nowhere fast. We know from the beginning of the film that Randy 's relationship with an older married women is doomed. It is made especially clear that their age difference not only offers nothing beneficial to the relationship but is actually detrimental to the relationship when Wendy says: "Look. it's a hard situation; we're both at different stages in life. . .You're just a young thing flitting around." Randy responds, "That's just fine. I met someone my own age."

Thus we are set up to learn how two women of the same generation can influence each other in their transitional period of life. Randy's relationship with Evie develops sexually while they mature together. Randy reaches a stage of intellectual and emotional maturity through Evie's interest in poetry, classical music, and opera. We see Evie develop in a similar way through her first same sex relationship. We finally have two high school women who enter into a relationship that leads to their mutual coming of age.

The end of the film shows us the ultimate support gained through this intragenerational relationship. Evie and Randy have been criticized and ostracized by every adult figure in their lives. Randy's guardian is outraged by Randy's intense involvement with her girlfriend and fails to understand the emotional angst experienced by a high school senior. Although the guardian is also a lesbian, she does not completely bond with her young niece. Evie's mother explodes when she finds one normal display of teenage mentality exhibited by Evie when she creates a huge mess in the house when she is left alone for the weekend. The two girls flee, at first argue over the "mess" they have created, and then come together to support each other and support the other's weaknesses. They fight against the older generation by refusing to "give themselves up" until the older women agree to actually listen and accept them. The last frame of the film is that of Randy and Evie kissing while the older women are screaming at them from outside the doorway. Evie and Randy are exhibiting their intense bond and rejecting the influences from the older generations.They are keeping the older women's opinions and lack of understanding literally outside.

Therefore, we end with the experience of the two girls from the same generation forming a beneficial, healthy relationship that propels them into adulthood. They do not learn about sex or relationships from an older influence (this is the first time for both of them to have sex) as Benjamin does from Mrs. Robinson.

For once we are shown that the new generation can help themselves and offer each other substantial and meaningful influences. Mangetti's film is one of the first to present us with this positive glimpse into young women's lives and interactions.


Being a Woman Among women......
By Sheila Fram-Kulik

Being a Woman among women is being a color among the many colors of a rainbow that make it a rainbow. In "Technologies of Gender" by Teresa de Lauretis, we read how woman came about not from Women but, from man. I surmised from her book that gender is a sex representation constructed socially even today but, also being deconstructed by the many discourses. Gender has come to categorize language, sex, and entities within the social relations and is designated by the sex-gender systems in context of political and economic factors. Gender functions by placing entities into one side of its constructed binary order of men verses women. Certain ideologies are important to keep the gender distinctions in male dominated structures where sexual and economic are the parts of the dichotomic order. Men have fit easily in the economic side placing Women in the designated position of sexual.

Women in this culture are inside and outside of gender and within and without representation because of the contradictions seen within the phallocentric ideology. But, when placed within the feminist structure woman and Women offer ways to rupture the dominant ideology. "This is, of course, the process described by Althusser with the word interpellation, the process whereby a social representation is accepted and absorbed by an individual as her own representation, and so becomes. . . real, even though it is in fact imaginary. (de Lauretis p. 12)" Interpellation proceeds women, but redefines men when the opposing position is adopted. The female body, as sexualized, has been a concern of feminists especially in cinema where the camera is a technology of gender. We constantly see the female sexualized by projection through the male. The process of experience constructs subjectivity, which is then, produced through language. Psychoanalysis posits the question of how one becomes woman in relation to man in cinema. But feminism has now taken this position and is constantly questioning how one becomes woman in relation to Women in cinema. The rupture is widening every year and lets keep it perpetual.

de Lauretis, Teresa. "Technologies of Gender". Indiana University Press. 1987.


Watermelon Woman
By Pamela Green

Discovering Minority History and Understanding

To understand any minority culture (in this case meaning that which is not the dominant white male culture) one must examine the culture within a historical context. Why is this history so important to discover and understand? One reason that Simone de Beauvior gave in The Second Sex, is that "Science regards any characteristic as a reaction dependent in part upon a situation." Therefore, anything that currently exists must be based on that which existed in the past. Hence, this is not only true for scientific or metaphysical understandings, but also for culture and society. Conditions that exist today are based on what happened in the past. This is one premise so frequently used in the pro affirmative action argument. However, it is as necessary to understand this for purely societal and personal reasons. This is necessary for the dominant culture to understand in order to prevent forced assimilation into an unnatural and undesired way of life. It is also necessary for the minority members themselves to gain this historical information and understanding to provide for self-discovery and acceptance. But just finding the history of minorities is a difficult task. As Beauvior points out, the problem lies in the fact that "[Women] have no past, no history, no religion of their own." The solution, then, is to re-learn history and deconstruct the

past in ways that explain minority situations. In her first feature film, "Watermelon Woman," film maker Cheryl Dunye does an excellent job of deconstructing mainstream history and discovering forgotten stories. Through the film she illustrates that historical context is necessary for understanding, but that it is very difficult to find this history or to find an accurate picture of this history. The history that she is searching for is not only a history of women but also the history of lesbians of color whose stories have been all but obliterated.

Watermelon Woman leads the viewer through a quest for a lost history. The film focuses on Cheryl (played by Dunye) who is a young black lesbian eager to begin a career as a film maker. After watching numerous movies from the pre-1950s era, Cheryl decides to make a film about Fae Richards (a.k.a. the Watermelon Woman), who was a black actress pigeon-holed into mamie roles. She begins her quest for information about Richards that richly illustrates how difficult it is to trace the histories of people outside the dominant societal groups.

Since she can not rely on typical research materials available for information about white men, ie: books, documented research, etc., she must try to find her own primary resources. Thus begins the quest for Richards and, therefore, the analogy about the quest for minority history. Cheryl heads to the streets and video stores to do candid interviews with anyone she can find. She then examines her own family, including an interview with her own mother and one of her mother's old friends who turns out to be a stone butch who reached her prime during Richard's reign and frequently watched Richards perform. Her search for information therefore becomes a celebration of women and family, which we must hold as valuable, especially when all other forms of historical references are impossible to find.

Cheryl becomes mildly obsessed with Richards, illustrating the desire for historical information, and the desire to find others who are like us. In a world where the minority is the complete Other (in this case not only white and male, but also heterosexual, we must see the complete invisibility Cheryl experiences. The expression of duality, of the Other, is found in all societies. However, the construction of the Other and the social enforcement of the Other is obviously damaging. This truth gives meaning and insight into Cheryl’s quest for those like her and a history of her own.

Woven into the story is the story of Cheryl's own reality as a young black dyke. She begins a relationship with a white woman, played by Guinevere Turner (of Go Fish), and starts to receive flack from her best friend about the interracial relationship. Cheryl ultimately discovers that Richards was in fact a true sister-- a lesbian--who was in a relationship with a well-respected white female film maker. Cheryl tries to interview the filmmaker's sister who denies that she was in the sisterly way. But then she locates Richards’ last lover before her death. This discovery provides a completion to the quest for the story, for history, for role models, and for similarities. Dunye creates a character who becomes time-less. Richards lived in a homophobic, sexist and racist world where she had to fight for every little accomplishment. She lived a life that was not accepted by the majority of society, but she lived it without fear or scandal. This is a woman like Cheryl or any other woman today or yesterday who is seen as the Other, and who’s story is sure to disappear unless we--women, lesbians, or minorities-- help remember them.

Through the Watermelon Woman, Cheryl finally finds the family she has been searching for, both for her own self-discovery and acceptance and for historical understanding. Note: The one interesting twist to the film is that the character of Richards is actually fictionalized. The Richards character is not a real person, although the character is believable and is surely based on a composite of 1920-1940s performers. The re-creation of old footage and photographs is done remarkably well, and helps give a feel of authenticity.


I Shot Andy Warhol
By Stephanie Leftwich

"I Shot Andy Warhol," based upon Warhol's attempted assassin - radical feminist Valerie Solanas, is captivating and complex. The film chronicles Solanas's obsession with Warhol (which eventually turns paranoiac and violent) and her determination to gain notoriety for her organization (of which she is the sole member) S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men). Touting and quoting her S.C.U.M. Manifesto, Solanas makes her position known - she is a man-hater who believes in the natural superiority of women over men. She states from her manifesto: "Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex. It is now technically possible to reproduce without the aid of males (or, for that matter, females) and to produce only females. We must begin immediately to do so. The male is a biological accident: the y (male) gene is an incomplete x (female) gene, that is, has an incomplete set of chromosomes. In other words, the male is an incomplete female." Valerie Solanas is an intricate character (Lili Taylor's portrayal is reason enough to watch this film - she is wonderful). She can be obnoxiously crass - she is notorious for her vulgarity and is hard-heatedly determined to get what she wants. Yet, she can be delightfully naive - she struggles to walk in heels in an attempt to be a "pretty good-looking girl." And, she can be painfully paranoid - she begs a friend throwing her out of the apartment, "I don't want to go out there. Please, Stevie. I can't go out there." She has valid arguments regarding men's oppression of women (though one of her adversaries points out that her rantings are nothing new). And, she has the foresight to realize that feminism can not always be wrapped up in trying to gain equality with men: "S.C.U.M. is against the entire system. S.C.U.M. is out to destroy the system, not attain rights within it." (Though she tries desperately to gain followers - her determination really is admirable, there is the occasional sense that Solanas's "movement" is motivated by self-gratification and a desire for fame. She is self-centered, dedicating her play "Up Your Ass" to "me, myself and I.")

 

 

 

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