Much as I love grindhouse cinema, I'll confess some of the themes--the rape-revenge and WIP sub-genres in particular--often leave me feeling soiled and soured on humanity, walking the streets adrift like a Tennessee Williams heroine, pining for dead ideals and sensing only brusque, licentious hostility all around. As an English major at Syracuse during the mid-to-late 1980s, I was caught up in a time of great liberal backlash/sexual hysteria--Satanic panic and the dawn of PC thuggery--wherein sensitive new age guys like me were conditioned to feel guilty for every impure thought. My freshman year at least half the girls I knew were date-raped at frat parties, before there was such a term, and by senior year there were 'take back the night'-style marches, and a whole new awareness, thank god. My hatred of frats has never wavered in all the years since, and I've since been protective of women to the point where I forget to be aggressive; moves go un-busted for years and years. And when girls who get tired of waiting go home with frat guys they know (from me) are said rapists, it leaves me in a very twisted spot indeed.
That's why, perhaps, I've always long been in love with dangerous women, the type who kick ass, smoke, drink, dose, carry guns, laugh at the cosmic joke and beat a frat boy to death with a champagne bottle all at the same time. Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted is my guru. Yes, I know that's a pretty bad choice for a guru.
And yet, look at America! It's got some bad taste in gurus. I'm right with the times; the poster girl for the era is Sarah Palin, with her tan and form-fitted bright red raincoat and MILF glasses, standing on a podium surrounded by crisp Alaskan snow; her hot breath steaming the microphone, spouting enough fear-inducing fascist rhetoric to make Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate wince. I would never vote for her, but I dig when girls rise up and use their sexual super powers for evil instead of good, and if they can't have their revenge on Seattle like Francis Farmer, let them destroy all the side-burned swingers, angry lawyers, priests, parents, and homeless they can get their claws on! Hence my deep love for: Spider Baby, Don't Deliver Us From Evil, Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, Vampyres, Mesa of Lost Women, Daughter of Darkness, and so on (if you know any others, do let me know).
Thank heaven, then, for little Girly. The film's treacly decor (lots of dolls and paneling) could have been too much to handle but director Freddie Francis does the impossible and makes the whole dreary Brit tackiness thing seem actually cozy-- the real thing--instead of soap opera imitation. And within it all, Girly possesses a sense of giddy feral freedom. There's a remote broken down mansion in the Shire, some delusional family members and a hot young maniac--so what's not to love, even as the axe comes roaring down? The insanity of the depicted matriarchy resembles Grey Gardens at times, but it comes by it naturally: dolls, pre-empathic (latent) sadism, games like 'grocery store' and 'cowboys and Indians' are all part of a devolution brought on by incest and trust funds. They have no father to initiate the children into the social order, so it all comes down to lots of finger sucking, macabre nursery rhymes and chants, strange "rules" of the house, and the way, even here in this macabre paradise, sex destroys everything.
A knock-out of the Sue Lyon in Night of the Iguana /Jill Banner as Virginia (aka Spider Baby) / Carroll Baker as Baby Doll variety, Vanessa Howard captures the spirit of wicked evil as only young pre-empathetic girlies can. Her eyes are alight with unholy mischief, and then -- later -- the guilty pangs of blossoming womanhood--and all the drag that implies. And she's got lovely legs. They're always on display in mod skirts, including a beech-skin cowboy costume. Her straight blonde hair demarcates a princesses and her simmering red schoolgirl uniform is like a pomegranate-squeezed hallucination against the perennial grey and mud green garden fog of the English countryside. She bites into her character with such a cunning glee that you want to lick the juice off her chin.
The cast as a whole is marvelous, too. We especially adored the droll restraint of Ursula Howells as Mumsy (the British title of the film is Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly) and the slow burn of Pat Heywood as the sexually frustrated Nanny. The interloper who wisely seduces the lot is Michael Bryant, who kind of looks like James Coburn and does a good job in a difficult role; Imogen Hassall is his fur and white-dress clad girlfriend, excellent at being bored and unaware of immanent danger. Francis's camerawork is imaginative and rich, replete with some good crane shots, though some of the interiors seem flatly lit and the palette is very mushy even if there are plenty of dark greens and maroons. Bernard Ebbinghouse's score is a nicely subversive mix of bouncy elevator and nursery school maniacal, but in a good way. It's a favorite film of its director, who won the Oscars for his cinematography in The Elephant Man and Glory.
Man, this film's got my number. I'm trying to less subjective here but if I love a film I take it very personally. Love kills everything it touches, including objectivity. As Burt Lancaster said in Visconti's The Leopard: "Marriage is six months of fire and forty years of ashes." If you ever were a swinger, you might use that line to justify a lifestyle that includes occasionally waking up from a two-day benders on a stranger's couch, snuggled against a snoring pit bull. To this day, you still don't know what happened that night, or whose couch that was, but you've chosen the swinging path over that of the spouse and ungrey garden and that's your life, and you'll probably do it again. Such is our antihero's lot as the male version of Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
Man, I'm off topic! Let me pull in some help from one of 60s-70s-era British cinema's best friends, Cinebeat's amazing Kimberly Lindbergs:
Before Freddie Francis started directing horror films he worked as a cinematographer on celebrated British dramas such as Room at the Top (1959) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960). His unique talents helped give birth to the British New Wave and he was partially responsible for ushering in a new era of British cinema. Francis considered Girly to be one of his best films and I think it’s fascinating to view the movie as an extension of his previous work as a cinematographer. In some ways Girly could be seen as a seamless blend of Francis’ early beginnings as a member of the British New Wave combined with his bleak sense of humor and macabre sensibilities.Speaking of stingers, I dedicate this blog entry to my favorite new show: Investigative Discovery Channel's TV crime doc series, DEADLY WOMEN! And on that note, free Brenda Wiley!
And strange coincidence, almost all my own films have the same Venus Flytrap / Vagina Dentata theme, particularly QUEEN OF DIC/SKS. In case you can't tell, I been this guy!