Sunday, July 04, 2010

A Star-Spangled Salute to America's most Acidemic Cinematic Women

My whole life changed--from nerdy punk to liberated hippy--sophomore year, 1986, when I met Sabrina and Kelly (not their real names), two gorgeous blond, LSD-quaffng, dope smoking, rock star-chasing maniacs who were (me coming from central NJ) the most beautiful and non-stuck-up-about-it girls I'd ever seen. I fell madly in love with both of them, platonically, which was good since they ruined soccer players right and left and a steady stream of hot guys paraded through our lives, looking sad and dejected and sitting in a table across the bar from our long back row at Chuck's (in Syracuse, NY), while I always sat in the center of their universe, never paying for a single pitcher. But I learned so very much from them and had my feminine ideals jacked to the moon.

For instance: watching Kelly wake up in my friend Max's bed in the dorms (for we would congregate in his room for morning/afternoon bong hits), she would stretch and yawn like a cat and, and as the morning sun streamed through the windows, take a massive cannonball (which was our name for when you take a huge gravity bong hit, slam a cold beer funnel, then exhale the hit), smile sweetly, and pick up her acoustic guitar and purr out a gorgeous suite of Joni Mitchell songs, as relaxed and gently focused as if she'd merely had a nibble of honey-covered toast and a sip of herbal tea, not even a single belch...the morning sun shining through her golden locks, her voice sweet and high singing "I want to shampoo you / I want to renew you again and again." Flowers in her hair like the Andalusian girls used. And I'd think yes my mountain flower, yes I will... And I felt, for the first time in my life, connected and accepted by people I actually wanted to be accepted by... The star children Eloi of Connecticut were raising my soul up out of Morlock, New Jersey. 

I love these girls still, though both have since both have married with kids and all that stuff and I see them only once every few years, if ever. But I've found mirrors of these girls in cinema, and for the July 4th holiday, what could be better than to salute cinema's most acidemic American gals, the girls who make me think of Kelly and Sabrina (not their real names)?! If not for them, this blog wouldn't exist, at least not in this form.

The definition of an acidemic woman: she never judges or condemns but seeks a good time with tenacity, rolls with life's punches, lives on the edge of her own forward momentum; never stopping to 'settle down' according to bourgeoisie mandates, these women have limited but undeniable telepathic ability. They've assumed an archetypal resonance that makes them transcend duality. They're afraid of nothing, not even of dying young or winding up in rehab. They may destroy themselves on the altar of decadence or sell-out to the suburban exhaust pipe dream, but who am I to judge? They once burned so very brightly, and sometimes once is enough.

In originally doing this list I noticed more than 3/4 of the most obviously Acidemic women were from Europe--especially Germany and England. Since it's the Fourth of July, I tailored the list back to just being aus der Amerikanische fraulienin und Filmen!  I had to disqualify Anita Pallenberg. I had to disqualify Diana Rigg and Glenda Jackson. Also disqualified: femme fatale types who kill or seduce men into killing mainly for revenge or profit, as this counters the basic benevolence of the true Acidemic lady. A femme fatale schemes to get somewhere at the cost of those around her - an Acidemic woman is already somewhere, and brings us along--if we ask real nice, and bring her a beer ball and some hash.

Here we go,

Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammell in BASIC INSTINCT (1992)
 We all remembered and dug Sharon Stone as Arnold's hot murderous wife in TOTAL RECALL, and our suspicions of her genius were confirmed for Verhoeven's follow-up, this kinky explosion of noir and late night Cinemax trappings into the realms that dwells above camp and below high art. Stone's Trammell is apparently Lecter-level smart thanks to a "Bachelor's in Psychology," so you know this is the liberal arts major's version of Fantasia. Stone even manages a straight face telling the cops lines like "I enjoyed fucking him," and smiles beautifully to herself at all the things she's not saying to Michael Douglas, no doubt bon mots even more cutting than her ice pick, because she likes "jagged edges." What could be more American than a ballsy character like Trammell? If she was French you wouldn't even notice how cool she is but as an American she's "cracked it wide open." She derails the whole film and then snorts the rails. 

Angelina Jolie as Lisa Rowe in GIRL, INTERRUPTED (1999)
That she rides her own strait-jacket insanity like a surfer too cool to admit that being sucked under half the time is slowly choking the soul right out of her is part of what makes Jolie's character not only cool and tragic, but realistic. I dated a chick just like that and though she almost killed me, I still wish her well. In a 2008 entry I compared Jolie's character to Johnny Boy (De Niro) in MEAN STREETS about whom Pauline Kael wrote:
"His madness isn't explained (fortunately, since explaining madness is the most limiting and generally least convincing thing a movie can do). When you're growing up, if you know someone crazy daring and half-admirable (and most of us do), you don't wonder how the beautiful nut got that way; he seems to spring up full-blown and whirling, and you watch the fireworks and feel crummily cautious in your sanity." (more)
Crummily cautious, man. Pauline Kael knew the score... and Jolie, Jolie Jolie, Please don't take yourself away from our pop movie screens just to have kids and Oscars. 

Edie Sedgwick as herself in CIAO, MANHATTAN! (1972)

You could argue she's kind of tragic here, but just look at Edie, slamming vodka with her cute rabbit headphones on, living in the bottom of an empty pool in the back of her family mansion, now gone largely gardens grey. Why should she bother to be coherent when she's already 'made it' to the other side? The film itself is kind of a mishmash between this new footage--great when she's there, wretched when she's not--and earlier black and white Warhol reels of Sedgwick and her friend waking up in some strange guy's apartment, stealing his stash ("Look at all these drugs!") and hitting the streets, heading to the factory for random footage of Brigit Polk babbling about how her fat thighs are just right for popping speed. Sure, Edie's a tragic, cautionary tale --but what should she have done instead, get old and have kids like a workaday punter?

Lori Williams in FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL! (1967)

Of the three strip club motorists in Russ Meyer's ingenious (strangely nudity-free) sexploitation "car club" film, Lori Williams is the one you most want to bring home to mom. The other two --Tura Satana and Haji--are kind of creepy Goth butch (and I mean that as a high compliment, as you know), you step between those two coded lesbians and you get a tire chain across your back, so for fantasies of driving off into the sunset to the Bostweeds, Lori is your girl. The other two girls are bad, "like a velvet glove cast in iron, and like the gas chamber." Lori on the other hand is just out looking for kicks. She rolls with Varla (Satana) and Rosie (Haji) because they're the most dangerous company in town but she's not really evil. Once she finds a big muscly moron and his Cutty Sark-swilling pappy "sitting on piles of loot," she promptly begins seducing the one ("I don't know what you're trainin' for, but as far as I'm concerned... you're ready.") and guzzling the liquor of the other ("Let's drink to trains!"), concluding her one-girl party with the immortal lines, addressed to her terrified kidnap victim: "You know what Tiny Tim? When I have too much of this stuff, it's been known to be passin' out time. And it's just about passin' out time!" Come on son, let's take her in the house.

Natasha Henstridge as Lt. Melanie Ballard in GHOSTS OF MARS (2000)

In pre-modern cultures, the approximate age of motherhood would be the age of the babysitter today, and just as (SPOILER ALERT) Michael Meyers is revealed to be Jamie Lee Curtis' brother in the TV extended version of Carpenter's Halloween, just as Norman Bates turns out to be his own mother in Psycho, or Ripley gives birth to herself in the Alien series, surely if there was time in a theatrical-release Carpenter film for big psychological twists, Melanie would realize she is the mother of the Martian spores she rejects, probably via another flashback. As it is, we must hunt for clues, such as when Big Daddy Mars is able to sense Melanie watching him from beyond a hill with binoculars. He stops, turns to look in her direction with a sudden sneaking recognition, and then leads his gang towards her with all the ferocity of a rejected child can muster.

Another clue is when she actually does become possessed by a Martian spore and is left outside to turn into a ghost of Mars by Desolation and Jericho (note that they can't kill her outright, instead this becomes their non-dwarf version of putting Snow White in a glass case.) Jericho doses her with a hit of clear (a psychedelic drug on Mars) from her stash to "fuck with anything that's in there," i.e. the rock and roll Aldous Huxleyan last rite. With the help of this "spirit guide," rather than become possessed by the Martian intelligences, she has a vision of ancient Martian civilization, where Big Daddy Mars is conducting a massive rally of his army, generating cheers and hooplah. The drugged Melanie witnessing all this from outside their time, becomes their holy virgin "Big Other" for whom such ceremonies and rallies are conducted (perhaps Big Daddy Mars 'remembers' the feeling of this Big [m]Other's gaze from the aeons ago when he held that rally, which is why he can sense her looking at him?). ( Acidemic 2003 )

2. Michelle Pfeiffer in WHITE OLEANDER Hot mom kills a (Ezterhas stand-in) boyfriend and later drives her daughter’s step mom to suicide with just a few well placed words, all from the cozy confines of her prison, a bit like a female Hannibal Lecter. In one of her giddy pieces of praise for this pic, Kim Morgan writes:
“We’re not like that. We’re the Vikings,” says sociopathic blonde mother Michelle Pfeiffer to her crying teenage daughter Alison Lohman in White Oleander. One of cinema’s great blonde-semble pieces, this melodrama is supposed to be, in part, about the foster-care system, but Oleander really shows the varied, sometimes insane incarnations of blonde womanhood. (read full article here.)
Fay Adler as Miss "Pygmy" Allen - MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940)
My buddy Max and I did a lot of drinking to WC Fields movies in the early 90s. CHICKADEE isn't the best by a long shot of Fields' oeuvre (or co-star Mae West's for that matter --they don't play very well together) but it has its moments, such as a barroom scene wherein Fields runs into a pint-sized drunk billed in the credits as Miss "Pygmy" Allen. She only has one scene with Fields--who is tending bar--wherein she asks, slurring, if her husband had been in. Fields replies he doesn't know who he is and she cuts him off, slurring out: "Ah, I don't care..." then launches into a drunken speech about how the worst woman is too good for the best of men, knocking over some drinks in the process. Fields orders her to a table (an old rule from the days when free-roaming prostitutes would try and steal johns from the bar's in-house girls) and she finally says "okay, you big tomboy!" Then Fields' perma-frowned old man co-bartender walks up during all this and asks, "Where's the funnel?" Max and I loved that --- so random -- a question we asked ourselves all the time in college, when funneling was the only way to drink enough cheap beer (all we could afford) to get a proper buzz (remember when Kelly did those gravity-funnel-exhale-Joni Mitchell songs?). Somehow or other this amazing chick Fay Adler was only in one other film, Fields' next picture, The BANK DICK. But Fields should have married her instead of Mae West in CHICKADEE and they would be like a lot the happily dysfunctionally drunken parents of people I know!

Pamela Sue Martin in THE LADY IN RED (1979)
I love you, Pamela Sue Martin! I discovered this Roger Corman's New World gem randomly on late night cable and never stopped loving it. Martin plays the girl who was with Dillinger the night of the Biograph assassination, but who didn't rat him out, goddamnit --it was her madame, facing deportation unless she played ball. Thanks to a witty, Feminist-Communist-Anarchist script by John Sayles, Martin makes all the Corman/Depression-era gangland stops--from exploited farm girl to sweatshop rioter to prison inmate to prostitute to vengeance-minded bankrobber, and rolls with the punches every step of the way. And man, is she cute, and tough.

Myrna Loy as Nora Charles in THE THIN MAN (1933)
Seventeen words: "All right, will you please bring me five more martinis, Leo? and line them up right here." Yeah, throughout the marriage-embattled Hollywood years of 1929-2009, there was one woman any man would knock off a bank to wed: Myrna Loy in THE THIN MAN. As the series progressed, the code frilled her out a bit, but in this first film she's a sexy, indulgent, compassionate, witty, never jealous or judgmental heiress, with a brilliant dog, Asta and the willingness to match her alcoholic husband drink for drink, until the ends of time. Yes, they wake up in the middle of the night to have drinks; yes they drink in the morning and yes they drink in between but you're only immortal once, so make it count, and they did.

Catherine Keener as Maxine Lund in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)

 Much as I love the ingenious scripts of Hollywood's misanthrope "it"-boy, Charle Kaufman, I wish he'd make his lead characters just a hair less despicable. A rare example of how great his characters could be when such less a hair is found in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. As the foxy new employee at hairy puppeteer-slacker John Cusak's new half-floor office, Keener blazes through the dimness in a shockingly cool white dress, calls Cusak "Craiggy" and treats him like a cat treats a drunken, amorous mouse. Keener manages to get everyone in the cast in love with her while never committing to anyone or anything, just coasting on a groove, wittily presuming everyone wants to sleep with her (and they do)... and drinking at the Stuck Pig with a sense of comfort in her own merriment that's seldom been seen since.

Clara Bow as Nasa Springer in CALL HER SAVAGE (1933)

The weird trippy energy of Bow is ahead of even our time today -- she moves from emotion to emotion in the same “totally there” way as someone would on psychedelics, but she’s like that all the time. She’s one of those in-the-moment bad influence trouble girls who you meet and within five minutes are broke but ready follow her penniless and barefoot into the desert, and come weeks back later, even broker, drug addicted, insane from syphilis and announce: “I regret nothing!” Don’t you regret either, pilgrim!  She goes around acting like John Belushi–she can smash a good guitar–in Animal House and just seeing her wrestle with a big dog or whip a half-breed (above) is enough to change your life forever, but when she tussles with Thelma Todd? You will want to gouge out your eyes and keep them on the mantle, cuz you know it will never be that good again. (BLAD/09)

So that's the list. Happy Fourth! xoxoxo


  1. Phenomenal post, Erich. Setting it up, I expected French New Wave or bohemian chicks that seemed to approximate your experiences in college. Ghost of Mars seems pretty far out there for that, but this is a crazy straw list.

    I've always had a thing for Pamela Sue Martin. She played Dennis Quaid's wife in The Right Stuff and seemed to disappear from screens shortly after. Between her and John Sayles, I can't believe I haven't seen The Lady In Red yet. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Thanks Joe! Yeah there's a shortage of American chicks who are cool enough to bohemian out next to the likes of Anna Karina or Anita Pallenberg. But they're there. I forgot Martin was in the Right Stuff. I first fell in love with her when she was Nancy Drew. I loved the Sunday night Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew mysteries back in the 70s. She was also on Dynasty or Falcon Crest or something like that.


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