Disclaimer: No, I never saw the Halle Berry one. We do not speak of it.
Batman Returns. And She-Devil.
Although both had different aims, they both succeeded at some of the most subversive ideas brought to the screen in a mainstream 80’s movie.
They were delightfully underplayed attempts at bringing feminism with subtly anarchic overtones to the screen . Both, in their ways, were like the girls’ version of Fight Club before there WAS a Fight Club.
When Batman Returns came out, it was the summer between my 6th and 7th grade years. I remember the trailers for it–it looked like the exact thing my little heart had been waiting for. Even though I’ve seen it umpty-billion times sense, I remember the excitement during the opening credits sequence; Cobblepot’s tortuous pram is floating through the sewers, and just as the music swells, a cloud of bats flutters from the dark to form the film’s title. I STILL love that moment.
And of course–there was Catwoman.
Sultry, slinky, strong and dangerous, she was doing the stuff I pretended to do in my backyard–climbing walls, doing cartwheels, and making it look awesome. My diet of Ninja Turtles had fed in me a desire to practice backyard ninjitsu, and my Barbies had engendered a fascination with makeup. Catwoman was the perfect storm.
Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is obviously not a direct interpretation of the comic–the comic Catwoman was a jewel thief, a criminal with a more formalized modus operandi; she and Batman both break the rules, and both do it for personal reasons, but his reasons are (ostensibly) selfless while hers are selfish.
BR’s Catwoman is breaking the rules because she wants to, because the same rules are the ones that broke her. Her aim is less focused and results in chaos. She focuses her efforts on property destruction at first, and her first crime is to destroy a department store, one of those wretched bastions of ‘femininity’ that pretty much exist to convince women they are somehow inadequate in order to sell them shit they don’t need. Sound familiar?
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
Women (and more recently, men–welcome to the objectification club, boys!) have been sold an idea of what they are supposed to be by the media. And it doesn’t stop at gender; minorities, gays, religious groups–everyone is shown by advertising and media what they are expected to be, and how they are expected to behave, by telling them what to buy. This is not news. Or it shouldn’t be.
The 80’s were a great time for onscreen anarchy, in both overt and covert forms. I’m not too interested in covering the overt forms, because for the purposes of this post, subversion is the name of the game. Bringing it down from the inside. . .oh yeah.
It’s interesting also because this is in line with another oddly anarchic women’s film of around the same time, Roseanne Barr’s She-Devil.
One of her character Rose’s great moments of revolution is to destroy her family home and all her family’s possessions; she does this by basically breaking all the ‘good housewife’ rules: she puts aerosol cans in the microwave, overloads electrical sockets, overfills the washing machine, throws a bunch of metal shit in the dryer (including the overhanging lightbulb) fills an ashtray on top of a magazine pile with still-lit cigarettes, and leaves the blender on high with a knife jammed in the beaters.
After destroying the house, she takes the kids in a taxi to the abode of her nemesis, Mary Fisher, a romance novelist who has seduced Rose’s husband (played by a way too convincing Ed Begley, Jr. as a whining, entitled douche) away from her. Bob has been living in the lap of luxury, and now that Rose has dumped the kids on him, Mary Fisher’s fairytale life begins to crumble.
The anarchic thread in She-Devil is the preposition that there are more than beautiful, statuesque women in the world; indeed, the entire film is about those women marginalized and ignored by society; the same ones whose desire to be beautiful, and to be the center of everyone’s attention fuels the romance novel and romantic comedy industries. Society thrives on these women, who have been made to feel unattractive and undesirable to the point that escape from reality, through daytime soaps, romance novels, melodrama, and even video games has become necessary to their daily life. These women who–in the film–are instrumental to Rose’s vengeance plot through their intelligence and talents rather than their beauty (although one does get exploited for her beauty; Olivia, the bouncy, somewhat brainless secretary is manipulated by Rose to get to Bob, but since Rose herself was a victim of Bob’s duplicity the audience is not too unforgiving of Rose).
Granted, putting glasses and beige on Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t exactly put her in the same league as Roseanne Barr, but Tim Burton’s effort to represent those forgotten women at least pays lip service to the fact that they exist. Because Selina Kyle’s apartment is TOTALLY that kind of woman’s abode: stuffed animals, pink, nightshirts with kittens on them, an old dollhouse. . . everything unthreatening, soft and pink and friendly, and it exists as her own escape from the cruelties of her real life.
Which is why it’s so brilliant–every woman who’s been downtrodden or marginalized had, at some point, something fierce and ferocious in her that had to be beaten out by society. It’s nice to imagine that just Selina’s fire was never really beaten out, ours hasn’t been either. It’s in there, waiting for something to come along to stoke it and prod it back to the surface. . . or maybe, sometimes it just happens all by itself.