This preview poster for Pixar’s Brave, released today, makes me want to squeal with joy.
Pixar has made so many wonderful movies since 1995 but I can count on one hand how many of them have featured a strong female main protagonist: none. It looks like Brave, the story of a Scottish princess who would prefer to be an archer, will finally break the mold. It is also Pixar’s first fairy tale fantasy film and judging by the synopsis, Brave will be a bit dark:
The impetuous, tangle-haired Merida, though a daughter of royalty, would prefer to make her mark as a great archer. A clash of wills with her mother compels Merida to make a reckless choice, which unleashes unintended peril on her father’s kingdom and her mother’s life. Merida struggles with the unpredictable forces of nature, magic and a dark, ancient curse to set things right.
The poster and synopsis are essentially just code for Merida is a total badass. Thoughts on Brave? I know I will checking this out in June 2012.
Update: The teaser trailer confirms it. Brave will be totally awesome. Ginger power! Who’s with me?
Something remarkable happens within the first minutes of Stage Door (1937). Ginger Rogers rips the stockings off of Gail Patrick’s legs as a group of women gather and watch the spectacle unfold before them. The other women heckle as Rogers and Patrick exchange insult after insult. Who are these women and what has gotten into them?
They are, as we soon learn, aspiring Broadway actresses living in the Footlights Club, a New York City boarding house. These women are all fighting for their one shot at stardom. Most of them have been out of work for over year; it is the Depression after all and work is hard to come by. There is Kay (Andrea Leeds) who is clinging to the hope that her past success will land her the next big role. Linda (Patrick) believes her cushy relationship with a producer will get her somewhere fast. Then there is newcomer Terry Randall, played magnificently by Katharine Hepburn, whose pompous attitude quickly gets under the snarky Jean’s (Rogers) skin.
With Stage Door, Hepburn shows her tremendous range. In one scene her performance is absolutely horrendous and she is nearly unbearable to watch as she argues with a frustrated producer, playwright and director. Minutes later, Hepburn performs the same scene (“The calla lilies are in full bloom.”) and she morphs into something else. Her performance is profound and iconic. Ginger Rogers, whose screen persona is so heavily intertwined with Fred Astaire, even the most astute lover of classic cinema can forget her enormous talent. The sharp dialogue rolls off her tongue faster than she can tap dance. And Kay’s depression, thanks to some heightened lighting and camera angles, borders on extreme melodrama but it is given tremendous depth and poignancy in Andrea Leeds’ hands.
It is how Stage Door presents and embraces female solidarity on the screen that bolsters its lasting impression. From the outset, it is clear that Stage Door is just a women’s film. It is almost 20 minutes before a male is given a speaking role in the film and after that, only Adolphe Menjou exchanges heated words with a fiery Hepburn.
Female relationships in this film are not belittled to petty bickering (stockings aside) or melodramatic antics. The dialogue is smart and blisteringly funny. The insults tossed around by Rogers, Hepburn and company feels like banter among friends. It is through that feeling of connectivity that the women in Stage Door are given a leg up on any male in this fill. Their endlessly witty and intelligent conversations tower above anything Menjou gets to say.
The female relationships in Stage Door most often revolve around the women’s common passion for the theater and their desire for a career. Their lives are not solely centered on settling into marriage. Yes, Lucille Ball’s Judy winds up married and Menjou’s powerful producer Andrew Powell is very much a puppeteer. But at the film’s conclusion, it is not Judy’s marriage or Powell’s authoritative hand that matters. It is the relationship between these women that towers above. The Footlights Club is a family. That point is made time and time again.
The closing sequence, set approximately six months after Terry Randall first enters the Footlights Club, is a near-mirror image of the opening. Hattie is seen sweeping the floor before the camera pans up to reveal the other women sitting in the living room. They laugh, they celebrate one girl finally getting a bit part, and they move wildly about the room with the same rapid dialogue we have grown accustomed to. Judy struggles to leave the living room and to the taxi where her bridegroom waits. Symbolically Terry and Jean sing “Here Comes the Bride” as they carry her over the threshold and out the door. They are moving her from the safety and comfort of the boarding house, where there is boundless female solidarity, to the reality of marriage, family, and a male-dominated, patriarchal world.
Judith is leaving for that world yet there is comfort taken in when the next fresh-faced, starry-eyed aspiring actress arrives at the Footlights Club. She is ushered and welcomed in just as Terry was at the film’s start. The world of the boarding house will continue even if the women who live there cannot always escape what society demands for them.
Long after Liza Minelli’s cameo appearance in Sex and the City 2, I picked up my cell phone and began to text. A sign? Definitely. The text message about Cristiano Ronaldo’s Vanity Fair cover was more entertaining than the adventures of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte in Abu Dhabi.
There was a time when Carrie Bradshaw was flat-chested. That was 12 years ago when Sex and the City first aired on HBO and introduced us to four refreshingly realistic female characters – Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte. As someone who wasn’t “allowed” to watch Sex and the City (but did anyway), this series played a small but critical role in my understanding of how women are represented on television. These four women were successful and flawed. They struggled to balance careers and family. Their marriages and relationships failed. But no matter what they always stuck together.
With the second Sex and the City movie set to premiere on May 27, I’ve started contemplating the development of these four characters. How have they changed since we first met them?
For starters, the production costs between the series and the movie franchise are definitely higher. Just compare the first season DVD cover to the poster for Sex and the City 2. Carrie suddenly has cleavage (and opera glasses? Maybe to see that Big is terrible for once and for all).
Of course characters, especially those who have existed as part of our cultural dialogue for as long as Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, have evolved over time. This happens to real women too.
What is perhaps most apparent from this picture is how Sex and the City has developed into a franchise and a star vehicle for Sarah Jessica Parker. Carrie Bradshaw is Sex and the City.
The first season of the series emphasized the friendship of these four women. In its current installment places Carrie and her relationship with Big at the center. The other women have fallen into the background, relegated to being Carrie’s sideshows and lesser narratives. Most strikingly with Miranda.
As a young woman coming to terms with societies traditional expectations for women (children, family) is never simple. Miranda’s struggles were always most relatable to me. I could see my future in Miranda’s story. She was one character with an impressive career built from her academic and professional accomplishments, who then becomes a working mother. Her presence was always an anomaly and a gift to this franchise. With the Sex and the City films though, Miranda’s marriage and status as a working mother are simply background noise while we’re told that Carrie’s venture into the wedding industrial complex and her search for true love is what matters.
I am no longer a starry-eyed teenager dreaming of my future. While I love that Sex and the City is female-driven star vehicle (and earnestly support it for that reason), I accept that this franchise does not reflect the story of all women. SATC always has and always will be a fantasy of the American female experience.