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February 1996, Week 4


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Molly Olsen <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 21 Feb 1996 16:50:53 ES
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (42 lines)
>Mark Pizzato asks:
>"Unfortunately, we didn't quite get to a discussion of how two female
>"save" Cole in both time periods: the psychiatrist and the "insurance"
>scientist.  I just saw Dead Man Walking and find an intriguing parallel with
>Sister Prejean.  Both films (though one radically fictional, the other
>disturbingly factual) show men trapped by perverse/ethical systems, who need
>women, as romantic, maternal figures, to help them find sanity, ethical
>responsibility, and spiritual hope (if not physical freedom).
>Is this a trend in current film?  Would anyone like to trace precedents?  Does
>this popular depiction of a cinematic pieta show a stale archetype, an
>oppressive stereotype, or a new power for women in mainstream film?"
I think there are lots of precedents -- this male/female dynamic is almost a
cliche in older films, especially Westerns, where the woman comes into the
lawless, perverse, amoral town and shows the hero how to be civilized and
responsible (but not *too* civilized).  In HIGH NOON, for instance, Grace
Kelly's character even has a religious influence on Gary Cooper -- she's a
Puritan, as they make a point of mentioning, and is about the only character
wearing white in that dusty outlaw town.
Is it a stale archetype, an oppressive stereotype?  I think it's seen a little
too often -- it's much more interesting to see women like the Linda Hamilton
character in the TERMINATOR films, doing much of the action herself and
participating in the struggle rather than trying to ameliorate it.  And it was
a little annoying in 12 MONKEYS that Madeleine Stowe turned out to be just a
Bruce Willis sidekick in the end, the little helpmate.  What if she'd been the
lead?  But I wouldn't fault a film like DEAD MAN WALKING for that same thing --
there's really only one way the Sister Prejean character could behave, and it
makes sense in the movie.  She, like the Western women, has her own kind of
gentle, civilizing power against -- and for -- the amoral antihero (this is the
dynamic played to the extreme).  We've seen it over and over, but it's still
powerful in Robbins' context.
Molly Olsen
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