Female Filmmaker Project: Girlhood (Celine Sciamma, 2014)

Girlhood. The very title is more than any movie could handle, and being brandished with such a huge name would speak to the very complexities that girls go through as they reach womanhood, and the difficulties of portraying that in a film. The idea of a universal girlhood is a misnomer as no such thing exists. Girlhood is then chiseled down into something singular. Girlhood is what you make it. Girlhood is a film about one teenage girl growing up, but the connotations of her narrative speak to the type of movie that isn’t as easy to pin down as an exhibition of sisterhood, as Vic’s tale is more important than the relationship she has with her friends along the way. Bande de Filles is then a misleading title as Bande de Filles turns into the story of Vic, but it was always only about her, even with diamonds by her side through much of it.

Celine Sciamma’s film is a portrait of a young girl fumbling through adolescence without a lot of options. Marieme (soon to be redubbed Vic by her friends) is refused the chance to retry the last year of schooling she failed, her home life is constricting to her internal sense of freedom, and she doesn’t appear to have any sort of connection with anyone except her younger sisters, and a rocky relationship with her brother. That all changes when she befriends a group of girls who give her life a spark, and some sort of meaning. She gains confidence through the group’s overall strength and eventually starts to find her footing. It isn’t perfect, but then what life is? The group engages in petty crime and sometimes fighting, but it’s all through the guise of youth. These tools have always been extensions of films about white characters, but in the hands of characters who aren’t white there’s often this sense of concern trolling over where their lives are headed (in Hollywood this often means the inclusion of a white saviour, even though the white saviours kids participate in the same kind of victimless crime, look to Dazied and Confused and Boyhood for similar instances of Adolescent Crime), and it’s refreshing to see Sciamma giver Vic the space to explore her age and her choices.

In one transcendent scene Vic reaches the apex of her teenage years, and finds an identity through her friends and a song. That song is “Diamonds” by Rhianna. Sciamma frames the sequence in close up shots of her friends respectively, and doused in shimmering blue (the films colour palette is extremely strong). They begin lip singing to the track in the dresses they just took from a department store. In this one moment the entire world takes a back seat to a singular emotion and the film itself also becomes secondary to the song that it cuts a hole through everything, movie included. It’s the sort of thing that sounds regular on paper….”And then the girls sing a song together”, but when treated as the single most happy moment of growing up it becomes something else entirely. In a moment of finality Sciamma takes the close up angle away from her friends and onto Vic’s face as she contemplates letting herself go completely and singing along to Rhianna with her friends. She decides to join in, and in doing so closed one chapter of her life and opened another. When the moment ends the film struggles to gain back that momentum, but it speaks to the importance of seemingly small moments being the most memorable in growing up.

Girlhood‘s narrative feels so fresh, and Sciamma’s confident filmmaking are joys to watch, but despite remaining fascinating throughout Girlhood struggles to maintain consistency When the film takes a steep right turn in act three and becomes a narrative of personhood and choice after she sheds her gang of friends to move forward with her life the movie seems to be confused of where to go. This could partially be seen as an unsureness on Vic’s part, but I think it has more to do with Sciamma having 2 parts of 2 separate films. On it’s own the third act, which cycles back into Sciamma’s queering of gender (See chest binding above & which relates to gendered presentation in Tomboy) is strong, but within the context of the first two acts there’s a real struggle to find it’s footing once more. That isn’t to say that the final 20 minutes aren’t worthwhile, because they absolutely are, but there’s an aimlessness that makes the final third feel more plodding than it should. Which is a shame, because Sciamma is entering into  Fassbinder territory by way of her own applications of gender that are really interesting. Vic’s hyperfemininity in her new job, the rejection of said hyper-femininity in favour of masculine presentation in her home life, and the possibly queer relationship between her and another girl are all threads left stranded that could have been made more interesting if she gets to this segment of the film a little quicker.

More cinema like this should exist, because it’s unfair to be burdened with the weight of an entire group of people to deliver something resonant. We don’t often ask that question of films about White, Straight, Cis Men, because they’ve been given the chance to be everything they could possibly be in cinema. Those same opportunities haven’t been granted to other kinds of people. Girlhood isn’t a perfect movie. It’s far too shaky in it’s delivery to be given the highest of accolades, but it’s very good. If cinema is to reach it’s truest heights then Girlhood needs to be bested time and time again. Cinema humanizes in a way that is like none other. It makes the different relatable, and gives life to those without a voice, but those voices must first be heard. Hopefully Girlhood will be the first in a trend instead of an outlier in a sea of adolescent pictures of white boys. Who knows, maybe even one of those hypothetical films about a black girl will have her become a boring photographer heading off to college, and we’ll all call it a universal masterpiece. I hope cinema gets there.

Blood and Ballet: A Top 100 in Horror

I’ve always tried to unpack why horror appeals to me and why I like to tread closely to the edge of some of the most depressing and upsetting violent cinema that there is but I’ve never been able to come up with a clear cut answer. I think part of it has to do with having grown up feeling fractured and broken, and horror is oftentimes about women who are trying to figure out how to put the pieces back together in their lives. I haven’t watched nearly as much horror since I’ve grown happier, which lends weight to that theory I suppose, so I have to assume it’s accurate. Up until last year I lived a pretty miserable life, and horror ended up being the safety net I latched onto oftentimes in all those years prior. Not all of these films fit the bill of being about fractured characters, but a lot of them do. I like horror that lingers and sticks with me. The kind of horror that slips into your bones and can’t be scrubbed out. I suppose I like trauma then, and the effects of dealing with it. Laura Palmer comes to mind when I think of horror, and Laurie Strode, Carrie White and Rei. These are broken characters, and up until last year I considered myself among them. I still slip into those modes, but not nearly as often as I used to. I’m grateful I had women who actually felt like me along the way though, and I still sometimes go back to them and wish I could help fix them. 
Having said all that. Suspiria still sits at number one, because above all else just give me witches. For I’ve been called evil in my life simply for my life choices so why wouldn’t I align myself with those of Satan? I appear to be already if my family is any indication.
Hail Satan…..Hail Horror.

1. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
    2. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)

    3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

    4. End of Evangelion (Hideaki Anno, 1997)

    5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hoober, 1974)

    6. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

    7. The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)

    8. Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)

    9. Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942)

    10. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)

    11. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

    12. Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1995)

    13. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
    14. Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)

    15. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)

    16. Inside (Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury, 2007)
    17. Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires, 1970)

      18. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

      19. The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)

      20. Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
      21. The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)

      22. [SAFE] (Todd Haynes, 1995)

      23. Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)
        24. Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960)
        25. Halloween 2 (Rob Zombie, 2009)

        26. Day of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1985)

        27. In the Mouth of Madness (John Carpenter, 1994)

        28. The Happiness of the Katakuris (Takashi Miike, 2001)
        29. Gremlins 2: The One With Hulk Hogan (Joe Dante, 1990)
        30. Bastards (Claire Denis, 2012)
        31. Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)

          32. Hausu (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

          33. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)

          34. The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)
          35. Ginger Snaps (Jon Fawcett, 2000)

          36. The Thing From Another World (Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks, 1951)

          37. Martyrs (Pascal Laugier)

          38. Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)
          39. Les Diaboliques (Henri-Georges Clouzout, 1959)
          40. Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)
          41. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
            42. Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)

            43. Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)
            44. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

            45. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
            46. I Walked With a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)

            47. Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987)
            48. Gozu (Takashi Miike, 2003)

              49. The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)

              49. After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985)

              50. Alucarda (Juan Lopez Moctezuma, 1976)

              51. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar, 2010)

              52. Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009)
              53. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
              54. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
              56. The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1983)

              57. Evil Dead 2 (Sam Raimi, 1987)
              58. Tenebrae (Dario Argento, 1982)
              59. Rosemarys Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)

              60. Don;t Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973)
              61. Christine (John Carpenter, 1983)
              62. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919)
              63. The Masque of the Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964)
              64. Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)
              65. Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)
              66. May (Lucky McKee, 2004)
              67. The Hitcher (Robert Harmon, 1986)
              68. Martin (George A. Romero, 1977)
              69. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
              70. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2009)
              71. Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
              72. The House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009)
              73. The Stepfrod Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975)
              74. 3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)

              75. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)
              76. The Ghost of Yotsuya (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1959)
              77. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
              79. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
              79. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)
              80. Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter, 2001)
              81. The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne, 2009)

              82. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
              83. The Curse of Frankenstein (Terrence Fisher, 1957)
              84. The Addiction (Abel Ferrara, 1995)
              85. Cigarette Burns (John Carpenter, 2005)

              86. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
              87. Village of the Damned (John Carpenter, 1995)
              88. Trick ‘R Treat (Michael Dougherty, 2007)
              89. The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960)
              90. Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922)

              91. The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979)

              92. Witches Hammer (Otakar Vavra, 1970)
              93. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
              94. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
              95. Girly (Freddie Francis, 1970)
              96. Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012)
              97. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest, 1971)
              98. Dracula’s Daughter (Lambert Hillyer, 1936)

              99. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)

              100. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)

              Female Filmmaker Project: Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, 1991)

              Abstract Images, Dual imagery and a focus on bodies through intimate gestures in Point Break are used to represent the paralell arc of both Bodhi and Johnny Utah. Once they crossed paths they were destined to both be the love of each others lives, destroy each other and ultimately unleash a chasm of similarities between both men that made them starcrossed romantic figures at the center of this action movie. Kathryn Bigelow’s camera is lithe and graceful through the eyes of Utah as he watches on in idol worship towards Bodhi, a man who is unshackled by the boundaries of rules or society, or so he says at least. Bigelow puts these magnificent images through the surf, finding a way to track the sun and the body into one fluid motion capturing the beauty of Bodhi as a figure, and through a personification of his personality while he cuts through the earth on a board. Like Icarus he is framed through the sun as he soars ever higher, moving in a way that seems both sexual, alien and god like.

              In a moment of bonding Bodhi teaches Utah his way of life. Point Break’s spirituality comes through it’s closeness towards the water, and how we use it to our benefit. When Bodhi takes Johnny on a rendezvous surf lesson in the dark of night Utah reaches something akin to nirvana, and Bodhi could not be happier for his friend who he grows ever closer to by the day. Swayze’s face ellicits an emotion of happiness, and radical joy. Bigelow slows the camera down to lock into Swayze pumping his fist, because Utah gets it, and afterward his girlfriend says Utah finally seemed like he dropped his pretenses and let himself flow with Bodhi, her, and surfing. Bigelow’s imagery never becomes more abstract in these moments as the surfers and waves roll in and out of one another often jumbling their movements with waves that are inching closer towards a camera to crush the image and the surfers.

              Bigelow frames surfing as a spiritual act, but doesn’t shy away from it’s sexual connotations as well. After Utah’s transcendence into Bodhi’s religion Bigelow cuts to the morning after where Tyler (Lori Petty) and Utah lie on a beach caressing one another. Their bodies are shot in a loving, warm way and the afterglow of sex is apparent through the imagery of having all of this taking place directly after surfing, but instead of sex it was this ritual which in turn had become an equal to sex, but Bigelow never shows sex in Point Break. Instead, surfing replaces the act, but the following bedside manner follows it up.

              But the romance of Point Break is not exclusive towards Utah and Tyler, because Bodhi exists at the center of this narrative. Bodhi and Utah are on opposites side of the law, but share personhood. Utah understands Bodhi on an intrisic level, and from their first encounter on the beach playing football, until their last encounter on the beach as he whisks Bodhi off to fly too close to God they share a romance. Bigelow uses body language and mirrored imagery to explain Bodhi and Utah’s closeness. In one sequence Bodhi and Utah both lose grasp of their respective plans, with Utah being the cop and Bodhi being the robber, and lose someone close to them. They share an identical reaction.

              Body language is even more important to Bigelow’s framing of their bond. A lot has been said about the relationship between characters who exist as a found family in the Fast and Furious pictures, but they are merely disciples of Bigelow’s cinema, and even going back further than that to movies from John Carpenter and even Howard Hawks. She uses Bodhi and Utah romantically, and they grasp each other often. This is how they show their love. They won’t let go of one another no matter what. In dual sky diving sequences placed in the 2nd and 3rd acts Bigelow showed Bodhi and Utah holding each other’s hands as they fell towards earth. She calls back to this in the 3rd act freefall when Utah doesn’t have a chute, but Bodhi still clutches at his drawstring to save them both, even after he feels betrayed by Utah working for the FBI. Utah pulls the chute to save them both, but Bodhi’s hand is right there.

               Neither of these sequences is the greatest example of their love towards one another. That scene would be the on foot chase after the failed bank robbery of Bodhi’s crew is interrupted by Utah and his FBI partner played by Gary Busey. Utah has Bodhi dead to rights. He is pointing a gun dirctly at his face. Bigelow cuts back and forth between the two zooming in on their facial reactions and the gun. Will Johnny Utah murder his best friend? It’s the most anguished moment of the movie, because he is torn between his job and someone he has grown to love. Bodhi is just as hurt. You can see it in his eyes. His best friend trapped by a duty to uphold a badge. It’s not radical. But Utah does not kill his best friend. He lets him go, but he’s hurt. He knows he’ll be forced to make this same decision again later, because it’s the nature of these things. They’re cursed to fight each other, because of the lines they’ve drawn in life.

              and he is faced with the same decision in the closing moments of the movie, but putting a bullet in his greatest friend’s head isn’t nearly as bad as sentencing a bird to a cage. Bodhi remarks back to Johnny “I can’t live behind those walls man”, and Johnny knows this. Earlier in the film Bodhi talks about wanting to ride the greatest wave that only comes around once every fifty years due to nature’s cyclical habits, and they are both staring right at this opportunity. He has a moment to let his friend go and release him once more to the world, and because he loves him he does. Bodhi surfs into the void, being swallowed up by what he loves and dying as he lived. Johnny Utah tosses his badge into the ocean and says goodbye to his past life and his very best friend. The rain falls all around them. It’s appropriate that it would rain at a funeral.

              Best for Busines: WWE in 2004

              Best for Business will be a recurring series at Curtsies and Hand Grenades discussing one year of pay per views currently available on the WWE Network through general overiews, a ranked list of matches, shows, a most valuable player, worst wrestler and final thoughts. 

              I came upon the idea to feature a column called Best for Business when I attained access to the WWE Network, and considering my wrestling fandom was spinning out of control into full blown obsession I thought it’d be interesting to navigate an entire calender year of wrestling through the special events that were held. Now, I don’t have the capabilities to research or go through every great match on Raw so those matches will be absent from any discussion, even if I so badly want to talk about the revolutionary status of the Monday Night Raw headlining match featuring Lita and Trish. I do however, want to get into why 2004 would be my first year. I long since got into wrestling and recounted that story in various places on tumblr, here and my creaky “I swear we’ll get back to it” blog over at Push-Cesaro, but for something less serious and more fun I wanted to diagnose a year, and my boyfriend was the main factor for choosing 2004, because that was the year he became a fan. His favourite wrestlers were Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. You can already see why he’d quit watching in 2007, because when discussing 2004 there is a giant elephant in the room. Chris Benoit is one of the greatest workers to have ever stepped into the ring, but I can’t dismiss his personal life when bringing him up. I’m going to talk about his matches here and some of his biggest moments, but it should be noted that I do not in any way condone, dismiss or sweep aside his actions that are entirely reprehensible. His matches are hard to watch, because his in ring style seemed to contribute to his brain condition. Wrestling isn’t a pretty medium, and tragedy seems to follow it around constantly, and even when matches are beautiful (and Chris Benoit has a lot of matches that are) it’s often trailed by something far sinister, and in Benoit’s case I hope never happens again.

              2004 is characterized by two opposing ideologies that split up the year rather neatly. The idea of rewarding the hardcore wrestling fans who care about workrate, match consistency, underdog mentality and formal brilliance is the first of these narratives, and it culminated at Wrestlemania 20 with the crowning of Chris Benoit (and one month prior Eddie Guerrero for the SmackDown brand) as champion of the Raw brand. Benoit and Guerrero toiled away for years and years in different companies, most notably WCW and ECW, before making the trek to WWE and finally capturing the biggest titles, and in Benoit’s case on the grandest of all possible stages. They did this by beating men who seemed more company approved in Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Brock Lesnar. In Benoit’s case he would beat both Triple H and Shawn Michaels clean in consecutive months at the Wrestlemania and Backlash pay per views. You cannot put someone over more strongly than they did here, and for the most part Benoit’s reign as champion was strong and only ran into issues when matches became overbooked (a common trend after mid-year’s SummerSlam). His title defense against Triple H at Vengeance is especially great until Eugene’s narrative of friendship or betrayal overshadows a near 5 star match that would have easily been a notch in the belt of both men and quite possibly the greatest pay per view match of 2004. Benoit would drop the belt to Randy Orton, but I’ll get to that shortly. The other champion, Eddie Guerrero defeated Kurt Angle at Mania. Both men shared in celebration to close out the ceremony at Wrestlemania 20 in tears in what would be one of the most purely joyous Mania moments of all time if not for the Benoit Murder-Suicide Tragedy. On this pay per view is my personal favourite match of the year in that title defense against Kurt Angle. Both men are technical wizards in the ring and in 2004 both were in their prime. Guerrero’s Lie-Cheat-Steal mantra proves to be true as he finds a way to get around Angle’s signature Submission finisher and eventually takes the victory. Guerrero’s matches do not suffer the consequences of overbooking like Benoit’s occasionally did, but he did run straight into the oncoming storm of JBL’s Texas Fetishist heel which disrupted an otherwise beautiful run with the belt that featured incredible matches with Lesnar (where he won the belt), Angle, and JBL twice. His rematch with Angle at SummerSlam also happened to be one of the best matches of the year. However, he’d drop the belt to JBL around the same time Benoit dropped his to Orton and the time of form over all else champions came to a close.

              The other narrative of 2004’s booking is one of rewarding more typically ideal wrestlers for the WWE mold. This included HHH, Randy Orton and JBL. Evolution was one of the biggest factions of all time, and their presence clouds over every ppv, just waiting for the proper time to overwhelm a match in favour of the heel faction. Wrestling fans at the time had to have known that Benoit would be a short term champion with the strong push from Randy Orton in his legend killer days. It was all but over when he took out Cactus Jack in a tremendous hardcore match following Mania. He’d be the champion at some point this year, and while his reign was short (the belt went to Triple H almost immediately) he was set for life as he became one of the stars WWE counted on for the next ten years. HHH, oh HHH, the bane of the hardcore fan’s existence. Would it be strange of me to say that I’m a fan of his? Dropping all pretenses of context and future booking out of the way HHH is a solid ring general whose Hemingway with Muscles style of Wrestling is either perfect for the given situation or so hilariously overwrought that one can’t help but find him ludicrous in the most overdramatic ways. That was never more apparent than in his near year long feud with Shawn Michaels where both men would bleed at a stiff breeze, and lie exhausted, nearly beaten to death and telling stories with their bodies that were EPIC in all capital letters 100 percent of the time even if they never quite reached the heights they were so obviously going for. The two didn’t always deliver classics, but it’s hard for me to ever fault Shawn Michaels who has a way of pulling a decent match out of even the most average of wrestlers and Haitch is far above average. JBL is the only curiosity here, as he isn’t as typical as the men of Evolution. He has the size one would expect from a stereotypical WWE title holder, but I guess sometimes that’s all you need. It’d be dismissive of me to say that’s all he had though as his heel character was actively cowardly, detestable, and toxic to the entire SmackDown roster in a way that made me actively hate him. It’s just too bad he didn’t have much more than a Lariat as far as in ring talent goes, and his limited ability inside the ring really showed when he was asked to carry matches with Taker (who was still too reliant upon striking and spooky booking at this point) and Booker T (spinning kicks for days that never make any sort of impact). For my personal tastes I prefer the earlier title runs of the year, and find something of great merit in Eddie Guerrero especially whose in ring ability has always been second to none. He even made a cowbell on a rope match bearable and if that’s not enough to be considered the MVP of the year then I’m not sure what is…..

              So that takes me to the MVP of 2004. Based purely on statistical analysis of all main eventers Eddie Guerrero comes out on top with a baseline 3.8/5 for his matches on the year. Chris Benoit and Randy Orton come in at 2nd and 3rd with Shawn Michaels and Triple H following closely behind. In my gut and in my heart Eddie is also my MVP. His strengths as a character come through, and his ability to use loveable heel tactics combined with lightning precision created something wholly unique and in his matches with Angle specifically he was given the chance to showcase the very best of his abilities as a wrestler and as a narrative force with slight alterations on his cheating mantra while still creating matches that were textbook choreography built around either technical or physical wrestling depending on the opponent.

              The Worst wrestler of the year is an easy one and it will feel like I’m going after a predictable target, but it’s John Cena. The most remarkable thing in exploring Cena in 2004 to Cena in 2015 is seeing just how much he’s improved over the years, because as he stands now he is one of the most reliable in ring hands the company has. This isn’t the case in 2004 where his gimmick was in overdrive, and the doctor of thuganomics sloppily bungled his way through matches. His presence and the seeds of the wrestler who’d become one of the most popular in the history of the medium are here, but one would be hard pressed to present a significant example of wrestling ability at this point in his career. It doesn’t help that he was saddled with Booker T and Big Show throughout 2004 and in the dungeon of SmackDown, the very obvious B-show, where everyone but Guerrero suffered. This didn’t stop Cena from getting over though, and the difference between the crowd’s reaction to his fun mid-card, hokey gimmick into main event level pops by the end of the year is interesting to chart, because by the time Survivor Series rolled around in November he was a member of Team Guerrero, but easily the most over member of that squad so I cannot fault them for booking him the way they would following his earliest years. Luckily he proved to be an ace hand with years of improvement later on.

              My final thoughts are those of both exhausting and appreciation. I wouldn’t have watched wrestling in 2004 in WWE consistently for one specific reason I haven’t brought up yet. The rampant sexism of both Raw and SmackDown is extremely offputting. It would take me far too long to list all the examples of shitty actions towards women, but a few that easily stand out are playboy evening gown matches, Lita’s lack of choice in the Kane/Matt Hardy feud that leans towards rape narratives, and Tyson Tomko versus Steve Richards at Unforgiven echoes queerphobia and transphobia as one wrestler beats another in drag for what feels like half an hour as the crowd laughs. These things don’t make the otherwise solid wrestling year passable. I wouldn’t necessarily wish I had my time back, because almost every show delivered a match that was commendable, but WWE in 2004 was not for me, and I guess wrestling still isn’t because these problems still persist, but I love the fake punch sport and I’m willing to step on these land mines if it means I get things like Kurt Angle versus Eddie Guerrero, even if I question if it’s worth it almost constantly.

              Finally the 20 best ppv matches of 2004
              1. Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero (WMXX, *****)
              2. Cactus Jack vs. Randy Orton (Backlash *****)
              3. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (WMXX *****)
              4. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (Backlash **** 3/4)
              5. The Royal Rumble Match (Royal Rumble **** 1/2)
              6. Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero (SummerSlam **** 1/4)
              7. Billy Kidman vs. Paul London (No Mercy ****)
              8. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (Royal Rumble ****)
              9. Eddie Guerrero vs. Brock Lesnar (No Way Out ****)
              10. Eddie Guerrero vs. JBL (Judgment Day ****)
              11. Chris Jericho vs. Christian (Unforgiven ****)
              12. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (Bad Blood ****)
              13. Rock N’ Sock Connection vs. Evolution (WMXX ****)
              14. Billy Kidman vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Chavo Guerrero vs. Spike Dudley (Survivor Series ****)
              15. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H (Vengeance *** 3/4)
              16. Shelton Benjamin vs. Christian (Survivor Series *** 3/4)
              17. Eddie Guerrero vs. Chavo Guerrero (Royal Rumble *** 3/4)
              18. Victoria vs. Lita (Backlash *** 3/4)
              19. Chris Benoit vs. Randy Orton (SummerSlam *** 3/4)
              20. Chris Jericho vs. Christian (WMXX *** 3/4)

              Grades for Each Show
              1. Royal Rumble- B+
              2. No Way Out- D
              3. Wrestlemania 20- B+
              4. Backlash- A
              5. Judgment Day- C-
              6. Bad Blood- B
              7. Great American Bash- D
              8. Vengeance-B-
              9. SummerSlam- B
              10. Unforgiven- C-
              11. No Mercy- C
              12. Taboo Tuesday- D
              13. Survivor Series- C
              14. Armageddon- D-

              Overall Grade for the Year: B-

              Female Filmmaker Project: Fashion in Susan Seidelman’s SMITHEREENS & DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN

              I stood, staring in the mirror at a Target in Philadelphia after I slid on a pair of ripped skin tight jeans and a simple blue and white stripped top with an open neck and it felt right. I had been wearing clothing cut for girls since I was a child, but I always did it in secrecy and it was never something that I had actually picked out. It was always clothes belonging to my mother, exaggerated Halloween costumes or dress-up with the few friends I had who I could trust with my being a transgender girl. The instances of trying to find an appearance that lined up with how I felt internally when it came to gender was never something resonant in the clothing I tried on until I bought some myself with my own money. I dove into fashion very slowly, but it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I loved the idea of clothes mirroring my personality or my mood. I didn’t jump in head first and buy dress after dress or layer up with earrings, necklaces and other accessories, because I’m still a very jeans a tee shirt kind of girl, but the power within finding yourself and your identity through clothing and finally reconciling a part of your gender identity that had long been denied was powerful. Those jeans don’t fit anymore, and I hardly ever wear that top for the same reason, but I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of those clothes, because they were “me” in a time when I was first finding myself, and when I was figuring out what kind of a woman I wanted to be. Fashion has been a huge part of that. Now, whether I’m wearing skirts or jeans, black or white, flats or heels I’m always myself, and that freedom was resonant in the first year of my coming out. Now clothing is just a normal everyday part of my life, but I still get a thrill out of finding something that is so resolutely me that I must own it, or at least try it on, and I’m still obsessed with gazing at clothing.

              What I find most interesting about these two Susan Seidelman films is their insistence upon fashion being a defining characteristic for these women and for her lens.

              When Seidelman shoots her characters often times it is from the feet up, but it’s not about a sexual gaze or the leering of bodies, but instead it’s to get a full look at an outfit. Her lens becomes a mirror that moves from heels to hose to dress to necklace to make-up to hair, and it’s almost always shot through the eyes of a character who happens to be a woman. There’s a lovingness in gesture towards this camera movement that screams “Look at this outfit!”, that personifies a covetous feeling that is most present in Desperately Seeking Susan‘s role model as New Wave Goddess imagery through Madonna, and it’s entirely about the ensemble instead of the body which makes Seidelman’s lens feel intrinsically linked to clothing. In turn this makes the way she shoots women to feel both a celebration of women and femininity.

               In Desperately Seeking Susan Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) is a housewife stuck in a boring marriage reading books about unlocking her sexuality and trying to figure out how to love herself. She gets swept up in the romanticism of following a woman who seems to live the life she wants in the classified ads containing the oft repeated phrase “Desperately Seeking Susan”. Who is Susan? What does she have that I don’t? When she finally runs into Susan she’s the embodiment of everything Roberta is not. She’s carefree, cool, in complete control of her life, and rebellious in a way that that Roberta seems to want. So she follows her constantly and begins to adopt her look to get a taste of what these clothes feel like, because if she couldn’t be Susan she could at least feel like her through clothing. She even goes as far as buying a jacket that once belonged to this chic-woman of the street, and begins to feel like herself after she adopts Susan’s wardrobe. This isn’t that different from finding yourself through pop culture or your look through women in television which is something I’ve often tried to repeat myself with the likes of Lorelai Gilmore from Gilmore Girls, because I too was looking for myself through the fashion of another woman. I wasn’t happy until I finally started being myself, and that wasn’t until I started to try and adopt the characteristics of fashion from someone whom I admired. It took a long time, but I found my own voice, and the accessories that ended up becoming Willow Maclay, but there still remains hints of Gilmore throughout my look. The pink coat below being one such example. Roberta does the same thing with Susan.

              Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan also share women who break out of the screen through effortless cool with Wren & Susan respectively. Both of these women become models of affection towards everyone around them, because both the characters in the movie, and audiences are drawn to how comfortable they are within themselves & the “boom” of their look. Wren and Susan stand apart within crowds due to their fashion, but also how they carry their fashion. Notice the differences in how Roberta and Susan wear the same clothes, but the clothes do not have the same power for Roberta, because she’s unsure of herself until the very end of the movie, but with Susan she controls every pair of eyes in the room with her sparkling boots, and dissonant black/pink ensembles. Wren is less put together than Susan, but that’s also a part of who she is, and just as effective. Her look seems to be haphazard which is perfect for the dying NYC punk rock scene she inhabits, and those oversized t-shirts, dresses, Blondie sunglasses and ripped hose aren’t anything different from what everyone else is wearing in the movie, but she carries it like she’s the greatest rockstar in the world. So does Susan, even when she’s drying her pits in the ladies room.

              To put it very simply Wren and Susan completely control how they’re presented, and even if their looks seem very devil may care they are always precisely on point, and that is what draws audiences and people alike to them.

              Susan Seidelman’s first two movies are also ahead of the game in terms of Selfie culture, and once again Wren and Susan are the focal points of this activity. Wren plasters her face all over punk clubs in an act of self promotion, but in the comfort of her own living space, and even others, she is not shy to take out a polaroid camera and take a picture of herself. This isn’t an act of vanity as much as an act of self confidence. Susan similarly carries around a polaroid camera and takes snapshots of her appearance whenever there’s blank spaces in time. The Selfie as a revolutionary act of self love for women specifically who are constantly told by society that their appearance isn’t good enough, is something I adhere to so it’s interesting how this is captured in a movie as early as the 80s, and being done by women as cool as Wren and Susan. The Godmothers of the Selfie if you will.

              Susan Seidelman’s first two films are an argument for her auteurism through fashion and her muses are these bohemian new wave 80s icons. Madonna has never been presented more lovingly, and in the first phases of her career it was no surprise that her look captivated a nation of millions of teen girls looking for an idol just as strongly as they did with a frustrated New Jersey Housewife (Roberta). Wren did not carry with her the cultural cache of Madonna’s Susan, but her look is altogether just as impressive in a grunge-y gutter punk vibe that would echo the coming fashions of people like Pat Benatar. As time capsules of the fashion of the 80s these pictures are remarkable, but evenmoreso these are great women’s pictures emphasizing something often seen as unimportant in the cinematic world, but Seidelman treats fashion as power, and the Women who create these outfits as figures of importance.