Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Revolution Girl Style Now

That girl thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood
She's got the hottest dyke in town
That girl she holds her head up so high
I think I wanna be her best friend, yeah

Rebel girl, Rebel girl
Rebel girl you are the queen of my world
Rebel girl, Rebel girl
I think I wanna take you home
I wanna try on your clothes oh

-"Rebel Girl" Bikini Kill

I have no idea if the above lyrics were written for Joan Jett but they sure as hell could have been. She did, however, produce and play on the track.

I finally saw The Runaways flick the other day after waxing rhapsodic in hysterical anticipation about it all over the internets. I didn't see it right away pretty much because of equal parts fear of a let down and the enjoyment of the anticipation. This month has been about all kinds of delayed pleasures, with my veiled and tiresomely vague mentions of making out on park benches, and maybe after all the disappointments in the past, both romantic and cinematic, for a while pleasurable anticipation seemed the way to go. But anticipation is over and done with and gone on all fronts, and The Runaways was awesome and so is the over the top intensity of a brand new romantic entanglement.

As anyone who is a part of any kind of group that has been marginalized by the larger culture knows - whether you're a girl or queer or black or whatever - there is art that is outside the culture looking in, which isn't necessarily terrible, but doesn't so much speak to the people inside the group as to the people outside of it, and then there is art that is positioned inside, shooting outwards. The Runaways film made by first time feature director Floria Sigismondi (she's directed tons of music videos and done lots of installations and video art) definitely lives inside of girl culture and is filmed from that perspective. There have been some (understandable) complaints that the film should have been more overtly queer, but, like, baby steps. Susie Bright's amazing blog post on the film and about the LA '70s underground punk dyke groupie slut subculture is a total must read. What's kind of interesting and sad to me is that the reaction of some men to the film ("Hot teen girls!") has been pretty much exactly the reaction to the original Runaways back in the '70s ("Hot teen girls!").

So many of the problems with many movies about teen girls stem from the fact that they are made by men who don't understand teen girls at all. There has been gallons of ink spilled on how teen boys view teen girls and about objectification and sex and bros before hos and on and on. Now, in many narratives, teen girls are seen as being much more relationshippy and full of Deep Feelings about the boys in their lives and have all these Important and Meaningful Thoughts about Boys and on and on. Look. I will fully admit I know absolutely nothing about teen boys. I started dating boys when I was a teen, and I think maybe I have a tiny handle on grown up men people after all these decades. But I know girls. Teen girls are Awful. They are solipsistic little monsters who gaze at themselves and each other endlessly and dramatically. And they are just as angered and mystified and often as bored and annoyed by boys as boys are by girls. The most important relationships in most girls' lives are with other girls. Boys are fun and all, but to many, many, many girls, it's other girls who Matter. I don't know why this is such a confusing concept. After all, when you're 15 (and sadly sometimes long after) Boys Are Stupid. Boys: whatever horrible things you think the girls in your class are thinking and saying about you, the reality is likely far, far worse. If they even bother to think about you at all.

You can pretty much judge the quality of a teen girl movie by seeing how important relationships with girls are compared to relationships with boys. Foxes (co-starring Cherie Currie). Clueless. Mean Girls. Ginger Snaps (the greatest Canadian teen girl werewolf movie ever made). All these films Get It. The Runaways is entirely about girls. Boys simply don't figure into it. They were all a bunch of baby dyke rock stars with no romantic attachments except possibly to each other. Does it get any cooler than that? This is one of those movies that reminded me completely viscerally how much fun it was to be really young and hot and bratty and immortal. I had so much fun back in the early '90s when I ran wild in the East Village in my vinyl boots (I had four pairs. FOUR.) and my burgundy suede hot pants and my vast collection of mini-skirts and my silver tights and and my black leather coat that I wore until it fell apart. But of course I was never a rock star as I was handicapped by the lack of even the smallest, rudimentary drop of musical ability. But I totally could have played one on TV. Oh, the arrogance.

Dakota Fanning is good as Cherie Currie. I do question the sad pouty face at the end, though. She has a crappy retail job post-Runaways, post-rehab and I guess we're supposed to feel sorry for her, but she got to be a ROCK STAR for a minute and a half. From what we saw of her home life, without the rock star interlude she likely would have been working a similarly shitty job in the Valley. So. Hair aside, she doesn't look much like Currie, but she does a nice job. I thought Kristen Stewart was awesome as Joan Jett. The slouch, the attitude, the reserve, that pretty face - she just nailed it. It was great to see her just killing it without being hampered by some fucking sparkly vampire.

I grew up worshipping at the shrine of Patti Smith, but as I've gotten older I've become slightly ambivalent about her. The thing with Patti is that she's pretty much always the only girl in the room. She's all about exceptionalism in some ways, which bugs me. I mean, has she ever even had a female friend? Joan Jett may be the opposite. She's done endless work on the behalf of other artists, working with The Germs, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, The Gits and others throughout her career. She's still playing, still recording, still touring, and through some kind of deal with the devil she has managed to hardly age a day. And below are the real Runaways being big in Japan.


That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Kristen Stewart was great in Adventureland, too. She seems to be moving out of sparkly-vampire-land fast, which I'm all for.

Patti Smith's first album is better music than nearly anything else recorded that decade, but I know what you mean about her lack of community spirit (though sometimes I think that's exactly what's great about her). But "hot teen girls" seems like an appropriate reaction to a bunch of teen girls dressed in skintight clothes. When it comes to female rock, I always preferred the bands that seemed to be really actively pushing against the hot teen girl image, like Crass, the Slits, the Au Pairs, X-Ray Spex (only half female, but still), and other bands that didn't dress like strippers. Geez, I would love to see a biopic of Crass! There's a doc about them, but it's unfortunately made by them, and so suffers the same humorlessness that marred a lot of their songs.

Caviglia said...

She was good in Into the Woods, too.

Don't get me wrong - Patti is amazing, and changed my life. I didn't want to get too deeply into my very complicated feelings about her here as this post wasn't really about her.

The dressing like a stripper thing vis a vis The Runaways was pretty much all Cherie. The rest didn't at all, and it was happily addressed in the film, and not viewed simply which as a former denizen of Dressing Like A Stripper Land is pretty much all I ask for.

It's funny, there was a draft of this post where I nattered on about all the female punk rock girls, but it just seemed a little too all over the place. A subsequent post, I'm sure. And I would like to say I agree about pushing against the image, but it's such a complicated issue for me (and likely for most girls) and I feel it would be a little disingenuous and kind of a retcon to say I feel that way. But this is something I will likely be thinking about and writing about until I die.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Yeah, it's a tough question. The Slits and the Au Pairs were way more progressive and radical about what they were doing… and consequently had, like, a hundredth of the audience as the Runaways, and therefore could be much less influential. This is the eternal back-and-forth, really---compromise for influences vs. how much is compromised---so I hardly expect one biopic, or band, to solve it. But there's social value and there's bands I love, and man, Crass' "Penis Envy" is still the most twitchy, smart, rockin' feminism ever on vinyl (sorry, Le Tigre! But I love you guys too!).

That Fuzzy Bastard said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
That Fuzzy Bastard said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Caviglia said...

The comments have gone crazy!

Another thing I should have maybe made a bigger point of was the whole manufactured girl band aspects. Very, very similar to the Sex Pistols (who Joan played with in the late 70s). Also, her production job on New Radio/Rebel Girl is GREAT. Bikini Kill never sounded better.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Yick! I think you can delete one of them...

Yeah, the whole manufactured band thing is an interesting issue. A lot of the writing about the Sex Pistols gets into that---they were a fake construct, but one that had a real effect on people, not least because of the tension between the puppetmaster and his the charismatic, opinionated puppets. I would love to see the Todd Haynes of Superstar go all Velvet Goldmine on the Runaways story. Ahem… "Dear Lynne Ramsey..." Or have Mike Leigh shoot the story of Crass.

Caviglia said...

The parallels between the two bands are really marked. The big difference was that either Kim Fowley was much stupider than McLaren, or he underestimated his band grievously, so Joan Jett wound up owning everything.

But, seriously. this movie is good. It would be interesting to see someone take another swipe at it, but I really, REALLY don't think Todd Haines is the right person. Though it would look fabulous.