Tuesday, March 18, 2014

VERONICA MARS Attacks: Gender Roles

For years, I have loved this Jonathan Winters quote:  "If your ship doesn't come in, swim out to it."  I returned to the East Coast for a couple of week this month.  I was, in essence, swimming out to my ship in New York City.  It was a most productive and spiritually rejuvenating stay.  I fly out to New York with one day of on-camera TV work to do.  That was a return to be a guest movie critic on Arise TV's weekend show, On Screen.  The show is hosted by film critic and veteran NYC broadcaster, Mike Sargent.  He's also a filmmaker and those skills add a richness to his sensibilities as a film critic.

One of the new releases we reviewed on the March 15th edition of On Screen was Veronica Mars.  This is the big screen adaptation of the hit TV series starring Kristin Bell in the title role.  I was not able to be an avid weekly viewer of the TV series.  But I liked the episodes that I did see very much.  The show was smart, different, well-written and well-acted.  If you didn't follow the series, don't worry.  The screenplay is cleverly written with enough backstory to bring you up to speed.  If you did follow the series, it's very interesting to see how Veronica Mars has matured from teen to intelligent, talented and complicated young woman faced with a major career choice.  She's also faced with a murder mystery.  The work of solving it, the dedication to finding the criminal, will define her life and her needs.  Being a private eye will calm a certain restlessness in her soul.
This works as an well above average made-for-TV movie.  It works as big screen entertainment -- a good weekend matinee or a date movie for a young couple.

Here's what thrilled me the most about Veronica Mars, the movie:  It gives us a movie in a genre Hollywood has pretty much ignored.  Veronica Mars is an adult female private eye.  Adult female private eye movies are rare.  There was the very popular Nancy Drew series in the late 1930s from Warner Brothers starring Bonita Granville.  They were based on the popular mystery books.  But Nancy Drew was a spunky teen sleuth.  Veronica is now a grown-up.  She's questioning suspects.  She's questioning herself.  She's a private eye with a keen mind.

I'd like to see a sequel to this movie.  I feel this is a new genre that needs attention.  Let's face it.  In Hollywood movies -- even before they learned how to talk -- the private eye has always been the man.

In the early 1990s, an adult female private eye made it from books to the big screen.  Kathleen Turner was private detective V.I. Warshawski.  There was never a sequel, probably because Turner's film was not a box office success.  I don't think there was ever another big screen adaptation of one of the V. I. Warshawski mysteries starring another actress.

Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski is a Polish/Italian private investigator in Chicago.  She was created by and tracked down killers in a series of novels from author Sara Paretsky.  

The movie V. I. Warshawski was based on the Sara Paretsky novel entitled Deadlock.  Victoria, called "Vic," is a lean and athletic brunette.  She's the daughter of a Chicago cop.  She has a healthy appetite and loves ethnic meals.

This might be the time to revisit those novels and think about bringing Ms. Warshawski back to the movies.

One of the most fascinating and appealing characters I've seen in a documentary made after 2000 was the lesbian private eye in Kirby Dick's excellent This Film Is Not Yet Rated.  If Hollywood doesn't think female private eyes really exist, its male producers need to see this documentary about the ratings drama that filmmakers and actors have to endure.  The movie ratings board frustrates artists and people who respect films.  A woman in the woods breastfeeds her baby while sitting next to her loving farmer husband.  That exposed breast could bring an "R" rating to a film.  But if a young topless woman is running through the woods screaming for her life while being chased by a crazed farmer with a pitchfork, that could be rated only PG-13.  Here's the trailer for This Film Is Not Yet Rated.  Notice the totally cool lesbian private investigator.
Becky rocks.  Put Kirby Dick's documentary on your must-see list.

Someone else who rocked was actress Anne Francis.  In the 1960s, she played one of the coolest private eyes I've ever seen on network television to this day.  On Friday nights, when a lot of us babyboomers were kids, we loved watching her on ABC as Honey West.  I mentioned this show during my On Screen review of Veronica Mars.
Honey West always got her man.  She could handle a gun.  She drove a sports car.  She could take a big  dude down with a single karate chop.
In between being a luscious outer space babe in MGM's Forbidden Planet in the 1950s and being the Ziegfeld beauty and friend to Barbra Streisand as Funny Girl in the late 1960s, Anne Francis gave us Honey.
She was a sexy, smart, sophisticated, no-nonsense private eye with a warm personality and a pet ocelot. Honey West was a hipster without trying to be hip.  She had a handsome private eye partner named Sam, played by actor John Ericson.  Ericson and Francis co-starred in the MGM classic, Bad Day at Black Rock, starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Ryan.

In the early 1990s, I had dinner in Hollywood with a friend who worked for a major movie company.  We discussed upcoming projects on his company's plate.  He asked if I had any ideas.

I suggested getting the rights to ABC's Honey West and turn it into a film franchise starring Michelle Pfeiffer.  But did Hollywood listen to me?  No!

It was great to be back in New York City and invited on-camera to talk about the Veronica Mars killer of a high school reunion.  It was really great to see this young woman attack a gender role exclusivity in Hollywood films.  Please let there be a sequel.  I'd like to see Kristen Bell as this female private eye solve another mystery and open a new door for women in film.

As for swimming out to my ship -- I went out to New York to do one on-camera spot.  While there, one became four days of on-camera spots.  And I got some good interviews for my podcast.  I'm so glad I took the plunge and swam out.

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