FIVE OF THE BEST: Geek girls

11 Nov

katelibby1. Angelina Jolie – Kate ‘Acid Burn’ Libby in Hackers (1995)

Potently sexual, self-assured and an out-and-proud computer geek who is both respected and desired by her male cohorts. Despite the dreadful pseudo-tech speak littered throughout the film and the unconvincing way it’s delivered by an otherwise charismatic Jolie, Kate Libby is the kind of fantastical heroine geek girls everywhere can celebrate. Although Libby is perhaps not the most accurate representation of girl geekiness, she at least offers an alternative to the a sea of valley girls and bubble headed blondes commonly found on-screen. While Libby is hardly a feminist heroine, at the very least Jolie’s enticing smart-sexiness is a whole lot of fun to watch.

dawnweiner2. Heather Matarazzo – Dawn Wiener in Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

And from the sexy-smart to the painfully, hideously real. Everything about Dawn seems unfortunate. Dawn’s ‘Wiener-dog’ nickname, paegant-perfect little sister and generally unappreciative family all solidly contribute to the despair, frustration and confusion that Matarazzo expertly conveys to the audience. This is teenage isolation at it’s most awkwardly realistic. Dawn is no hipster with a token cool best friend, nor an ugly duckling-turned-princess set to win the heart of the high-school hero, just a clueless young girl with nowhere to go. If this were Disney, by the films end we might see Dawn allowed some kind of hint of happiness. However,  as anybody that’s seen Palindromes might know, director Solondz isn’t really given to happy endings.

123046__election_l3. Reese Witherspoon – Tracy Flick in Election (1999)

“Pick Flick!” Tracy Flick craves success like no other. Witherspoon’s trademark sunniness is here twisted into a scarily determined, over-achieving nightmare that seems a far-cry from her usual ‘feisty damsel looking for love’ fare. An outcast of her own choosing, highly-driven Tracy wants nothing more than to be named student body president. Although originally assuming she would run unopposed, when she finds herself pitted against two potentially formidable opponents, her evilly manipulative nature is pushed to the fore. The bane of teacher Jim McAllister’s (Matthew Broderick) life despite her confirmed success in her adult life, McAllister’s suggestion that she will never be truly happy because she has nobody around her that truly cares for her seems likely to be true.

cherish4. Robin Tunney – Zoe in Cherish (2002)

Although Tunney was in her mid-twenties when she portrayed troubled outcasts Debra in Empire Records (1995) and Sarah in The Craft (1996), her depiction of angst-ridden adolescence was particularly believable in both these films. However, while such characters were certainly on the fringes of society, neither were strictly speaking, ‘geeks’. Enter Zoe. A desperate thirty-something seemingly rejected by the men in her life and her co-workers, peering out into the world through a mess of frizzy-hair, it’s here that Tunney is at her most awkward and most engaging. After being wrongfully convicted of a hit-and-run and lumbered with a dangerous love-song-dedication DJ stalker, Zoe is forced to call upon an inner strength and cunning previously unknown to her. All the while, she also manages to captivate the hapless Daly (Tim Blake Nelson), a police stooge assigned to her case.  Although there is a hint of dodgy ‘take the glasses off, no more ugly duckling’ about Cherish, the transformation that Zoe undergoes is both charming and engrossing.

whip_iblisst_035. Ellen PageBliss ‘Babe Ruthless’ Cavendar in Whip It (2009)

Drew Barrymore’s directional debut has all the makings of an indie-chick-hit; hipster soundtrack, Kooks-esque skinny boy heart-throb, alternative sports, fishnets and larger than life characters. As Bliss Page is a dorky revelation and far more engaging here than in Juno (and less frustratingly too ‘honest-to-blog’ cool). Although the Whip It story is itself fairly ordinary – misfit teen finds happiness and acceptance with new friends, all the while pissing off her parents and dabbling in heart-wrenching first love in the process – a stellar cast lifts what could have otherwise been a somewhat novelty venture. That Page is so noteworthy amongst such an established cast is quite the achievement. After secretly making her way onto the Roller Derby scene, she passionately pleads with her furious parents that she can’t stop because (in her own words), “I love this!” Whilst such standard dialogue might sound trite from a lesser actor, given Page’s full commitment to the role, you don’t doubt her for a second.


Film in Focus: Citizen Kane, Mise-en-scene & Themes of ‘Loss’

26 Oct


The term ‘mise-en-scene’ is used to “signify the director’s control over what appears in the film frame” (1) and covers such elements as setting, lighting, costume and the movement and actions of figures appearing within the film.

The iconic Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941), a biopic that traces the life of fictional newspaper magnate Charles Kane, uses the elements of mise-en-scene to reinforce ‘loss’ as a recurring theme throughout the film. As a faceless reporter goes about collecting personal recounts of Kane, the stories told suggest that throughout the majority of his life, Kane was “moving inevitably toward [an inner state of] bitterness, disappointment and loss” (2).


The first flashback scene shown (set at Kane’s childhood home) begins Kane on this aforementioned negative emotional journey. Kane is shown in the background of the scene, while in the foreground, his parents and Mr. Thatcher discuss his future. Kane appears visually trapped within the frames of a window, echoing the way in which he is being ‘trapped’ into Mr. Thatcher’s guardianship. During this scene, a close up of Kane’s indignant expression fades out slowly to reveal the sleigh he happily played with moments before. Having unwillingly left his simplistic home for the riches and supposedly assured success Thatcher can offer him, the sleigh is all that remains, shown abandoned in the foreground, covered in snow. Snow in itself bears “connotations both of burying [the past] and freezing [this idealised memory in Kane’s mind]” (3). Kane is never again shown against a pure white background, suggesting that his childhood (and implicitly his innocence) was wrested from his in this instant, left behind him with his sleigh, all for the sake of trying to guarantee that Kane’s future is a ‘successful’ one. Although Thatcher later gives Kane another sleigh, it is too late; Kane’s defiant rejection of the sleigh demonstrates the way in which it is not so much the sleigh, but his previous childhood happiness that he longs for.

Kane forever onwards appears to harbour a longing for the ‘frozen’ memory of his lost, though most likely idealised childhood. This is suggested by his gasping of “Rosebud” (referring to his much loved sleigh, and essentially, his much missed childhood) at the films beginning.

The theme of loss within Citizen Kane is also shown through his loss of personal relationships, in exchange for what he is taught to perceive as success. His lonely death shows the sad turn that his life has clearly taken, however, the loss of other personal relationships are traced throughout Kane.

Although Kane and his first wife Emily’s relationship is initially depicted as being quite loving and tender, the scenes that follow their blissful courtship demonstrate the loss of such feelings. Their emotional separation is made apparent by the increasingly terse and stilted dialogue the once happy couple share. The tone of their voices become hardened towards each other, and the amount of words they exchange on a daily basis dwindles. The unsettling, almost unnatural stillness of the final scene they appear in together, set amongst an elegant dining setting, appears more as a staged theatre scene than a cozy domestic meal. This suggests to the viewer the way in which Kane and Emily, in their later years, merely played roles in a marriage that no longer satisfied either party.

After Kane’s eventual loss of his newspaper, the loss of his close friendship with Leland, the loss of the election for the Governor of New York and the demise of both of his marital relationships Kane is left utterly alone. Footage from the ‘News on the March’ montage showing a wheelchair bound Kane affirms the loneliness felt in his later years. This feeling of loneliness is perfectly captured by the deliberate poor quality of the footage; that and the unsteady way in which it is shot suggests that he is no longer a man important enough to deserve the solid focus he previously enjoyed.


(1) Bordwell, David & Thompson, Kristin, 2004, Film Art: An introduction, 7th ed., McGraw-Hill, New York, p 175

(2) Pipolo, Tony, 1993, ‘Screen memories in Citizen Kane’, Persistence of Vision, Number 10, p 55

(3) Mulvey, Laura, 1993, Citizen Kane, BFI, London, p 54

Additional Resources

Cowie, Peter, 1973,’The Study of a colossus: Citizen Kane,’ A ribbon of dreams: The Cinema of Orson Welles, A.S Barnes and Company, Cranbury, 32.

Gianetti, Louis, 1990, ‘Chapter 2: Mise en scene’, Understanding movies, 5th ed., Prentice Hall, New Jersey.

Lebo, Harlan, 1990, Citizen Kane: the fiftieth-anniversary album, Doubleday, New York.

Film in Focus: Suburban Noir & Pulp Fiction

11 Oct


The term ‘film noir’ (literally ‘black film’ in French) describes an enduring filmic genre that emerged in the early 1940s, drawing inspiration from both the visual aesthetic and dominant themes of German Expressionism and the stories found in American hard-boiled detective novels. The classical film noir period encompassed “several hundred motion pictures produced… between roughly 1940 and [early] 1960” (1).

 The striking stylistic conventions of classical film noir have made it one of the most easily recognisable filmic genres to date. Directors such as John Huston, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock worked with varying degrees of darkness (2), chiaroscuro lighting, rain-slicked city streets, world-weary protagonists and scheming dames that effortlessly exuded sexuality to tell twisted tales of criminal deeds.

As a genre or stylistic tradition, ‘film noir’ has undergone many reinventions and intensifications since this classical noir period. The ‘suburban noir’ (sometimes referred to somewhat paradoxically as ‘sunshine noir’) emerged during the early to mid 1990s. This sub-genre marked a clear shift from a dark, gangster-obsessed and city-based classical conception of film noir into a noir based in the suburban space.

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) is a prime example of the suburban noir, violently clashing a sun-drenched suburban setting (specifically, that of Los Angeles) with a dark criminal underworld. Within Pulp Fiction and the suburban noir, the safety and security of the everyday, domesticated suburban lifestyle is infected by the dangerous kind of criminal activity of classic noir. Staple suburban locales such as the family home, local restaurants or even a high school (see Brick) become potential drug dens, murder sites or gang controlled areas. Although there is very little actual violence shown during Pulp Fiction – approximately 2 ½ minutes from a 153 minute running time (3) – the violent acts that occur burst into typically non-violent spaces; for example, Honey Bunny and Pumpkin hold up a diner, an area that is generally frequented by families rather than armed criminals.

As well as meshing criminal and domestic spaces, suburban noir also displaces classical noir figures into the suburban setting. Mobsters such as Marsellus Wallace, hit-man Vincent Vega and his partner Jules Winnfield co-exist with home-based drug dealer Lance, polo-shirted informant Marvin and Vincent’s indignant wife-fearing friend Jimmy.

The displacement of classical noir characters into the suburban realms can often yield arresting results. Although Mia, with her slick red lips, vampy features and seemingly powerful sexuality (4) , appears as a femme fatale character, her largely unspectacular demise suggests that there is no space for fatales in the suburbs. Her failure as an actress and her later overdose leaves her weak, powerless and deathly pale, a far cry from the sexually potent and glamorous fatales of the classical noir period.

Other themes commonly found within the suburban noir also include the demise of the family unit (5) (note the absence of stable, functional familial relations within Pulp Fiction), the destruction of the ‘American dream’ (Mia’s failure as an actress) and the idea that the ‘safe’ suburbs mask hidden danger and perversity (consider what lurks in the basement of Maynard’s store).

Under Tarantino’s gaze, suburban Los Angeles is a potentially dangerous land of failed dreams and alienation. Within Pulp Fiction, as with many suburban noirs, the suburb is constructed as a site of unexpected danger, and criminality.

Taking noir out of the shadows, despite the supposed safety of good clean family living, suburban noir shows that it takes more than mere daylight to expose the hidden dangers of the contemporary world. This perhaps marks the most striking commonality between classical noir and suburban noir; things are not always as they seem.


(1) Silver, Alan, 1996, ‘Son of Noir: Neo-Film Noir and the Neo-B Picture’, Film Noir Reader, Limelight, New York, p 331

(2) Place, Janey, 1998, ‘Women in Film Noir’ in Women in Film Noir, ed E. Ann Kaplan, London, BFI Publishing, p 51

(3) Yaquinto, Marilyn, 1998, ‘The Prince of Pulp and Royal Hoods’, Pump ‘em Full of Lead: A Look at Gangsters on Film, Twayne, New York, p 228

(4) Hayward, Susan, 1996, Key Concepts in Cinema, Routledge, London, New York, p 118

(5) Klein, Norman M., 1997, “Suburban Noir and Cyberspace”, The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the erasure of memory, Verso, London, p 296

FILM NEWS: “Tomorrow: When the War Began”

17 Sep

Before boy wizards and sparkly vampires dominated the best-seller list, in Australia there was a little series about a group of teenagers waging a guerilla war from ‘Hell’ that captivated  teens everywhere. Considering the unprecedented success of the film adaptations of the Potter series and the first Twlight film,  it seems fair to wonder; will Tomorrow: When the War Began be Australia’s first book-to-screen-series success story?

If you were an Aussie teen growing up in the 90s, you had to have encountered John Marsden’s iconic Tomorrow: When the War Began series. An engrossing story that spanned seven main novels (and a sequel series some years later), the Tomorrow books followed the exploits of a small group of rural-based teenagers, who attempt to fight back after an unspecified nation invades Australia.

These books were essential reading to teens everywhere, whether you waited until it finally became available at your school library, or hit up your nearest and dearest come birthday or Christmas time. And now, for better or worse – though, this cynic can’t help but feel it will be worse – the first Tomorrow book is set to become a feature picture. Beginning filming in late 2009, Ambience Entertainment and Screen Australia have pumped 20 million dollars into this ambitious venture, handing over both directional and screenwriting duties to Stuart Beattie.

The ‘creative mind’ (and I use that term exceedingly loosely) behind the cringe-inducing script for recent ham-fest G.I. Joe, it seems a shame that the screen adaptation of such a definitive novel is being left in the hands of Beattie. Also responsible for the ‘story’ (again, IMDB’s words, not mine) behind Pirates of the Caribbean and the screenplay for Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the creative vision that Beattie will bring to the film. Heading up a a cast that will most likely be populated by unknowns is former Neighbours star Caitlin Stasey (as heroine Ellie).

Whether Beattie’s Tomorrow is a horribly misguided mess of a book-to-screen adaptation or a surprising triumph,  perhaps some of the real and unavoidable disappointment arises from the very notion of an adaptation.

While film is a wonderful medium, and easily my favorite means of creative production (stay with me on this one) there is something to be said about reading a text that is so fantastically vivid you’re able to paint your own imagery in your mind. When the words make you imagine something so engaging that it will always outshine whatever you’re physically shown on screen.

Perhaps then, the better the book, the harder it is for the filmmaker? This would certainly seem the case on some of the worse ‘re-imaginings’ of past novels, for example, Nick Earls excellent novel ’48 Shades of Brown should have produced a film far better than the exceedingly shallow 48 Shades.

If this is indeed the case, come next year, it will be with fear and trepidation that I will edge into Beattie’s Tomorrow. And if it is as I expect (read: bad), I will perhaps have to make a note to only watch film adaptations of terrible books.

YOUR GUIDE TO: Bound (1996, dir. Wachowski Brothers)

15 Sep

Bound movie poster

“I had this image of you inside me.”

For those that loved:

Gilda, The Last Seduction, Prey for Rock and Roll, Sin City,

For those that are writing on:

Representation of femininity/sexuality, positions of spectatorship, film noir, neo-noir, femme fatale, images of women in the cinema, masculinity in crisis, crime cinema, violence in the cinema, symbols of femininity, lesbian identity, queer cinema

In a nutshell
Before they brought The Matrix to the masses (and then undid their good work with ‘those’ sequels), the Wachowski’s produced this slick neo-noir crime caper. Corky and Violet show Thelma and Louise how rebelling against the constraints of an oppressive patriarchal rule really works. Knowingly vampy Tilly and charismatic Gershon  also have twice as much fun and provide twice as much entertainment while they do it.


Sick of being trapped in an oppressive relationship with made man Ceaser (Joe Pantaliano), deceptively plucky mob moll Violet (Jennifer Tilly) hatches an escape plan with ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon). A daring scheme, involving the theft of 2 million dollars of mob money, inevitably things don’t quite go to plan.

Why should I watch?

Although much is made of the lesbian relationship between Corky and Violet, there is far more to Bound than two pretty neo-fatales kissing. While Bound achieves a genuine eroticism (no doubt aided by the enlisting of a ‘sex therapist’ to choreograph sex scenes between the leading ladies, and the sexually-charged chemistry between Gershon and Tilly), it is also a visually enticing and well crafted entry into the world of neo-noir.

While the male supports deliver capable caricatures of mob masculinity, it is Gershon and Tilly who shine here, both existing in the kind of grey space that makes characters worth watching. Both are somehow resourceful and resilient, yet fractured and vulnerable. The journey each characters undertakes throughout Bound serves to make the film’s conclusion both satisfying and believable.

Consider/Further study etc

  • Within film noir, the femme fatale is often shown to rely on her sexual prowess and manipulation of the men around her to achieve her goals. Do Corky and Violet reinforce or challenge this claim?
  • Do Corky and Violet reinforce or challenge the classical femme fatale archetype? Do they reinforce or challenge traditional understanding’s of femininity?
  • Considering the patriarchal structure of the Mafia, Corky and Violet’s transgression against Ceaser and his associates could be seen as a challenge to an oppressive patriarchal social order. In what other ways do Corky and Violet challenge traditional patriarchal expectations?
  • Does Bound reflect a continuation of or break from traditional film noir?
  • How does Ceaser (and the other Mafia men) initially view Violet? How does this differ to the way Corky sees Violet, or the way that Violet sees herself? Consider in particular the difference between Violet at the beginning of the film, to the way she appears at end.
  • Within Bound the hand is eroticised as a sexual organ. In a sense, sexual potency is reassigned from (implicitly masculine) phallic symbols to the hand. How does this affect the representation of both feminine and masculine sexuality within Bound?

Further Reading

  • Oliver, Kelly and Trigo, Benigo, 2003, Noir Anxiety, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press
  • Place, Janey, 1998, Women in Film Noir, ed E Ann Kaplan, London, BFI Publishing

JUST FOR FUN: “George Lucas in Love”

7 Sep


Star Wars via Shakespeare In Love. Not the most likely of pairings, however, the end result, ‘George Lucas in Love’, acts as both a loving homage and a knowing parody of the Star Wars universe.

Although GLIL is often mistakenly identified as a student film, director Joe Nussbaum and those associated with the 8 minute production were a few years out of The University of Southern California when they produced the impressive short. Released via the internet in October 1999, GLIL sketches over a young George Lucas’ days at USC in 1967, as he struggles to find inspiration for the script he is writing. Young Lucas encounters many characters that will be instantly recogniseable to anyone even vaguely familiar with Star Wars, as he tries to move beyond his initial premise, of a space farmer stuck with a bad crop of ‘space wheat’.

Beautifully shot and considerably well acted, GLIL is both genuinely humours and expertly crafted. Received well by critics, fans and Lucas himself (who responded personally and positively to the filmmakers after he was sent a copy), this short is an excellent and entertaining watch for even those uninterested in Lucas and Star Wars.

View George Lucas In Love

Related Links:

An interview with the creators

EVENTS AND PLACES: Melbourne’s best rental stores

1 Sep

As any film student that’s ‘accidentally missed’ a cinema screening or finds themselves inadvertently time-poor when penning a film assignment knows, for many art house and cinema studies films, the local Blockbuster simply won’t cut it. Or, alternatively, for those that are sick of being forced to choose between the latest blow-things-up epic, opposites-attract romcom or yet another Ron Howard-directed paint-by-numbers pap piece, here is a guide to the some of the best art house and alternative cinema rental stores in Melbourne.

If anybody has any other submissions please let me know!

The Movie Reel

Address: 69 – 71 High St, Northcote

Website: The Movie Reel

Containing a wide variety of art house, foreign, cult and other hard to find films, the Movie Reel also offers an impressive range of TV series. The sprawl of film paraphernalia that decorates the walls and benches confirms that this is a store for films lovers, and the use of directors to divide the films on offer into sections is a novel (and helpful) touch.

Small Screen

Address: 420 Rathdowne St, Carlton

Website: Official Small Screen Facebook Page

Don’t be deceived by Small Screen’s small size; a ’boutique’ collection of over 3000 DVDs can be found inside this Carlton store. Specialising in foreign cinema and TV series, Small Screen offers DVDs (and more recently Blu-Ray discs) for both rent and sale.

Video Dogs

Address: 178 Farraday St, Carlton

Website: Video Dogs

Video Dogs promises customers 365-days-a-year access to not only the newest releases (which are somewhat snobbishly dubbed as generally mediocre) but a large collection of the greatest films ever made. The most impressive feature of Video Dogs is their comprehensive website, which offers both a full list of all films (and TV series) available instore, and an option to rent via a post-out service.

Picture Search Video

Address: 139 Swan St, Richmond

Phone: 03 94295639

Although Picture Search Video’s initial join up fee seems somewhat pricey in comparison to many other rental stores, this Richmond store offer thousands of hard-to-find films. If you can’t find it on DVD, chances are that there will be a VHS (remember those) copy ready for rental.