Friday, January 06, 2012

Back in the 1990s/early 2000s, before I had a blog, I used to have a website where I posted up reviews of some of my favourite tv programs and films - the trashier and campier the better. The website is long gone, but I still have those reviews on my computer. Here's a review of my favourite Andy Warhol film, Women in Revolt.

Women in Revolt

"This incest has gone on long enough! We've been living in sin darling. And I'm sick of it. Sick and fed up. Of you. And ALL MEN! How do you like THEM apples?"

In 1967 damaged, disenfranchised, groovy, Valerie Solanis wrote the SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, and for, her next trick went on to shoot Andy Warhol, thereby earning a lot more than those cliched 15 minutes of fame. The central thesis of the book was that the male is a "biological incomplete female...a walking abortion". And with the invention of sperm banks, there is no longer any need for men. Valerie gave a copy of her Manifesto (and her play Up Your Ass) to Warhol's crowd of vampires, who had a good laugh and then made sure that she was firmly, irrevocably socially excluded. People have been shot for a lot less.

Three years later, we have "Andy Warhol presents a film by Paul Morrissey", entitled "Women In Revolt". The titular women are actually Warhol's "super-stars" who started life as men: Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn. In the film, the three women are pivotal players in a women's movement, who decide to give up men, become lesbians and abandon their careers. Their group is called PIG (Politically Involved Girls). I have a feeling that this film owes a LOT to the SCUM Manifesto and poor Valerie.

Like all the other Warhol/Morrissey films, it's badly put together, badly acted, with poor sound and film quality. Actually, "acting" is probably an unfair word to use as many of these films seem to have improvised dialogue - which isn't neccesarily a bad thing, when done properly (it isn't here though). In many ways this film is almost unwatchable, especially the first time you view it. But give it a chance, make judicious use of "fast-forward" and you'll be rewarded.

What is it about plotlines that feature three camp women (and my tendency to review them)? First it was Valley of the Dolls, then Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I even based my own soap opera, Doll Soup around three females. So it seems only fitting that Candy, Jackie and Holly should be featured here. Candy is my favourite. She plays a classy, jaded Long Island socialite who wears a sleek black turban-hat in many of her scenes, and seems to be the only one who is actually acting. (At least she has good diction, meaning that most of her words are easy to understand.) Candy has a strong jawline and perfect poise. She's beautiful. Her tired, laid-back style is perfect, and apart from the scene where she is sexually compromised by a film agent, her scenes are the most fun to watch. Whether it's berating her incestuous brother, lording it over the other members of PIG, or modelling as a "blonde on a bum trip" (or even a bum on a blonde trip as one cast member succinctly puts it), she's the ultimate scene stealer. I love her.

Jackie plays a "frigid, middle-class" woman, with frizzy unattractive hair (long before the invention of conditioner), a habit of talking out of the corner of her mouth, and an earnest, confused way of speaking. She's the lynch-pin of PIG, and eventually the one who will betray them all (by using PIG money to have sex with male prositutes). My favourite Jackie scene is near the beginning of the film where she disgustedly sprays air-freshener onto the arm-pits, crotch and bottom areas of her naked male "slave".

I'm afraid I wasn't too impressed with the trashy character played by Holly Woodlawn, who actually scared me several times. However, her contribution to the film is severely marred by the fact that she is playing a nymphomaniac who often disrupts scenes by attempting to have sex with other characters. Her delivery seems to be full of screamed lines which are hard to understand and apt to induce a headache. When she ended up as a drunken street-person, urinating in doorways and falling over in the snow, I was applauding.

The idea of getting men to play the revolting (in both senses of the word) women is interesting. Like so many of these "art-house" films, the "message", if indeed there is one, is never very clear. Was Warhol having a little joke at the expense of the Women's Movement (the same could even be argued of Solanis)? Or was he subverting the concept of "women" or "the oppressed" by having transvestites (traditionally one of the most oppressed identities in our lovely western society) play the lead roles? There's a scene early on where Jackie tries (unsuccessfully) to explain the "movement" to one of the many anonymous, passive men who litter the film. The camera goes for a close-up and it's a big mistake as everything goes out of focus. Was this merely a case of bad camera work and lazy editing, or it the temporary poor focus supposed to be a commentary on Jackie's ability to make sense of the women's movement? Am I trying to read too much into these things again? I think the answer to all these questions is "yes".

Not a lot actually seems to happen in the film, apart from the women sitting around, complaining about men and exchanging horror stories along the lines of "I was raped when I was two!", "A policeman invaded my house and sucked my toes!" etc. Their most direct protest occurs when two of their group take to the streets and attempt to administer an unwanted enema to a man who's digging up the road. The inevitable comparisons to John Waters always ensue...

I particularly liked Jackie's scene with "Mr America", a muscle-bound young man. When, in the middle of a painful, humiliating sexual encounter Mr America asks if she is coming, Jackie comes back with "I think I'm going". Also amusing is the final sequence with Jackie screaming abuse at her baby, Holly as a falling-down drunk, and Candy, finally having made it all the way to Hollywood, where she gets a grilling from a newspaper reporter which ends in them both scuffling on the floor.

Great Lines
Jackie pulls Candy's hair
Candy: Ow! That is not a wig!

Holly: But women will be FREE!

Candy: So don't tell me where I go and what I do. I'll go to each and every meeting I want to. You've made me old before my time!

Holly: They're gonna think we're lesbians!
Jackie: No! They're not gonna think we're lesbians Holly! A school-teacher and a model? Those are lesbians?

The girls are trying to get a reluctant Candy to join the cause.
Betty: Do you know what happened to me?
Candy: Well, how would I know?

Jackie: Well women's lib says that we should have our say too!
Mr America: Fuck you. That's the whole trouble with you broads. You don't stop talking.

Jackie: Women's Liberation has shown me just WHO I AM and just what I can be!

Holly: Mother-fucker! I hate you! I'm tired of looking at you. Tired! Arsehole! Men! I hate men! You! I hate you!

Candy: I'm young. I want to live. We're rich. We're famous. We're beautiful....and miserable!

1 comment:

Stuart said...

I'm not sure Warhol/Paul Morrissey films ever really 'mean anything', but I remember Andy W talking about Women in Revolt in his 'Philosophy of Andy Warhol' book.

As I recall he said they used the drag queens (as they would have been known then) because they were interested in them, and also because they wanted to show how much work it is to be a stereotypical female. Drag queens show show all the work you have to put in: the posture, the voice, the mannerisms - drag queens work at it 24/7.