Why do so many people "hate" Kristen Stewart? Note the quotes. They don't really know her so how can they hate a projected fear from their own repressed subconscious? It just means she's doing her job. The only explanation is that these are the same people who were stoning adulteresses and burning hot young naturalists at the stake (and still are in some Islamic backwaters, so the headlines scream), in ye olden tymes, or driving innocent kids to suicide through their malicious scandalizing gossip, ala PEYTON PLACE. But who are these schadenfreude-addicted bitter old gossipy finger-pointers? Do they even exist? Does the Huffington Post and AOL just cater to them as an imaginary reader, a middlebrow projection?
I'll confess: I am the "they" who thinks the other "them" "hate" Kristen Stewart. But I can only go by what I see in the Huffington headlines, and angry feminist blogs, which with all but scream "Burn her!" in their coded subtext, and my paranoiac feminist's desire to protect the maiden faire clouds my judgment. Plus my great/x8 aunt Mary Easty was hung as a witch in Salem, so perhaps I'm her reincarnation, sworn to avenge all the women sacrificed on the altar of mob prudery.
For the hit SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), the mainstream critics did loudly trumpet their ambivalence, as if on cue: too much snow, they wrote, too much pouting, too much CGI. Kristen Stewart's British accent alone generated a blighted orchard's worth of poison pen apples. The evil snow queen played with slow burn elegance by the great Charlize Theron could not hope to match this type of sneering evil. If they were just badmouthing Stewart's acting it would be shameful enough but a new scandal erupted shortly after the film's release that proved a Pavlovian trigger for the press to erupt in a misogynist viciousness so appalling it basically drove boyfriend Robert Pattinson to forgive her (she cheated on him! With the director! Who's married!) Calling Kristen names usually considered the height of bullying or rat-fink treachery in the high school cafeteria, the critics went way too far, way too fast, as packs of fascist bullies are wont to do, and hopefully the bloody tossers have had pause since. I mean, what had she done to deserve such bitchiness? Seriously, Popular Press, what? Answer me! She thought you were her best friend! O Popular Press, didn't her minor--but to you at the time unforgivable--trespasses not provide you with the juicy gossip you so crave?
Well, the release of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN on DVD corresponds to the release of the final chapter of TWILIGHT, and in each lies the answer -- Kristen Stewart plays young, vulnerable, awkwardly beautiful women very well, and that in itself concerns critics. Mainly it's her look. Not her looks, but the way she looks, as in outward. Her gaze like a boundary-dissolving laser beam, Stewart looks outward from the screen and weighs and judges and forgives the hearts of those watching, even the wicked stepmothers, and so those who think themselves impure, beyond saving, recoil from her absolving gaze. These secret wretched watchers-- who pretend in public to be happy and normal but deep down consider themselves odious gollums and troglodytes--blanche from her gaze. Her forgiveness hurts them the way sunlight hearts the C.H.U.D. She is Esmerelda, freshly born anew like a colt onto the barn floor, watering the rows of wracked Quasimodos with her gypsy wineskin gaze. The Frollos up in the rafters, clutching their yellowed press passes like rosaries, seethe with DSB; they never thought her beauty should be shared with creatures more loathsome even than themselves. She shares anyway, and that they do not forgive.
And I would argue that calling Kristen Stewart a terrible actress is like calling Marilyn Monroe a terrible actress. Monroe was more successful at preserving a sense of vulnerability and precognitive absence/presence onscreen than she was as a dramatic thespian of the Eve Harrington variety. Monroe was more method. She legit crazy. She seemed crazier playing sane than vice vera. Critics and audiences were more attuned to their own Freudian repressions in the 1950s, so they knew the difference between an actress able to convey a susceptibility to male attention and a "common slut." Now she's a goddess on a trillion posters and stamps. But if she came around today she'd be ostracized for exuding kitten sex. Maybe in 2050 the old patriarch critics of the day will laud Stewart's vulnerability the way they laud Monroe's now. And the way parents are encouraged now to ransack their kids' rooms and under the bathroom sink for bath salts, they'll be crucifying some new tart. Even the strawberry scented bath crystals grandma sent for Christmas must go, just to be safe
Call this prediction crazy, but Stewart shares with Monroe more than a gift for conveying shyness onscreen, both of them love, or at least 'feel sorry for' the creatures most of us have cast off. MM felt compassion for the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and didn't even mind flirting with the toad-like Tom Ewell if it meant free air conditioning. Hey, princesses have kissed worse frogs for far less incentive. That's what it boils down to, and boiling is the correct word. Stewart is like the first girl you kissed, ever, though she didn't know you, hardly, at all. She was the starlet of your Middle School's Bye-Bye Birdy, who let all the cast members--male and female-- kiss her on the lips open mouthed in the doorway of the ladies' room before the big premiere, for luck, and in your case, transcendental romantic ignition.
To make we Quasimodo-esque viewers remember that kiss, or anticipate it, the fumbling awkward magic of it, Stewart has a make-up bag full of little facial tics and micro-lip quivers, eye dilations, the looking up from her lover's lips to his eyes to the snow below in a series of deep breathing feints and attract-repulsion micro-movements, her eyes going in and out of focus, hand on fire with twitchy, muted minor key exhilaration.
It's only natural with such silent ancestry that Stewart speaks with words halting and unsure. She fumbles for eloquence and grace rather than babbling like a bourgeois Woody Allen character. For HUNTSMAN she even surprises with a rousing Joan of Arc-esque speech toward the climax, after her true love kiss awakening, rallying her seven dwarfs and coterie of knights to a climactic attack. Starting out soft and wafting, a little wan and undernourished, she slowly coils her Kundalini in a serpentine ascent that cute, clipped adequate British accent rises in pitch and deepening in timbre, conveying an urgency and sense of exhilaration fused to courage in the face of terror that we seldom get outside of novels or Henry V.
What we have in this instead one are some psychedelic bad trip-haunted swamp visuals; poison gas belched out by some rotten spores abounding in the swamp makes Snow White hallucinate black snake branches; "the swamp feeds on your weakness!" The evil duke looks like Max Von Sydow in THE SEVENTH SEAL or THE VIRGIN SPRING. I like the weird fairy forest with its beautiful hart, and the tender effect Snow White has on all life around her, including a big ugly troll that in a movie for boys would be slain with thunderous 3-D sword swings before it has a chance to even declare a side. Instead it's all elegantly done and if some of it is overdone, as in the dwarf's Brit character actor business, I forgive them, as the spirit of Snow White forgives me, even as I write this, and forgives you, even as you read this.
If SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN never strays from its archetypal Jungian template resonance then all the better to entrain its frequency to the experience of teenage maturation, the dangers, pains, triumphs, heartaches, and treacherous currents all of us face, or have faced, on the road to the fullest bloom of our adulthood, my precious.
So back to the Stewart gaze: I know some of my regular readers can't stand Kristen Stewart and maybe I'm blinded by my affection, but I think her appeal is deeper than just hipster hotness. She's never really been marketed as a sex symbol, wisely, and in SNOW she looks pretty bedraggled throughout. First she's a prisoner, then a half-drowned swamp rat tripping balls, then she's dead, then reborn. It takes its toll on her make-up. I don't think she gets more than one bath or shower in the whole damned film, erotic or otherwise. But like most of her fans I don't go to sleep fantasizing about dating her anymore than I think oh man Lillian Gish was hot. Rather, I identify with her. I admire her pluck, and feel protective --I love her through her own eyes. To open up to a blue screen and trust a monster or giant hart will be inserted later so she doesn't look like a homeless mime, that takes courage. Anyone can be removed and aloof to a blue screen (Angelina Jolie for example). But it takes true courage to be open-hearted and vulnerable even when you know the closed-hearted are going to send slings and arrows at you to validate their own fears about opening. We've seen coltish young starlets gambol around enchanted countrysides before (STEALING BEAUTY), but aside from her occasional moments as a side player (as in INTO THE WILD) Stewart's seldom cast as a LOLITA sex object. She is the caster.
|Into the Wild|
A classicist may prefer to follow along as a woman like Janet Leigh is gradually driven mad or sliced up by our male gaze desire and think he's understanding the male gaze's destructive drive even as he indulges it, hey, we all do that too, but it's Kristen's gaze that has the power and it actually reverses that devouring destructive Norman's mother gaze like she's flashing an S.O.S. mirror at Medusa. Her gaze may devour and objectify the male, but in a feminine, open, compassionate way. She stops the pendulum swings from phoenix to ash and back again and focuses in on some genuine romantic gazing, back and forth slowly, gently, like calming a spooked horse. And that's such a shock for some viewers they can't get over it; no matter how patiently she whispers to them they just won't gentle. They've got burrs under their leather shoulder-patched tweed suit jacket saddles. How dare Kristen Stewart, in a sense, look back at them as they stamp and snort and kick the back of their stalls in outrage, unable to shake that burr no matter how vitriolic their reviews.
Hey hoss, you can fight it all you want, but the young, vulnerable feminine awkward bravery Kristen Stewart conveys onscreen is here to stay because it never left, just dormant, ready to be awakened at the close of the century-long witch's spell. Still semi-sleepy but ready to fully flower any moment, Stewart is our Lillian Gish on the ice floe in WAY DOWN EAST. She's Mary Pickford leading her fellow orphans through the gator-filled swamps in SPARROWS. She's Judy Garland about to throw that bucket of water in WIZARD OF OZ. She's ANNA CHRISTIE, slouching and mumbling towards Brooklyn to be born again, not as some twisted version of a farm girl or milk-drinking lady but an abused and still triumphant, whiskey-drinking woman. You may moan and kvetch and sign up on the next tramp steamer out of town but it's far too late to change the tide--your gaze has lost its power. Her gaze reigns and is neither as good or as bad as you think it is, it's just a harbinger of your own spectatorial dissolution. Don't blame the messenger if she points out you're meltingggg.... oh what a world. Be kind to it, Kristen, it's only our cheap tin 'testimonial', and now its breaking.