September 20, 2011

"Drive"

From my Taki's Magazine column:
To Live and Drive in L.A. 
Whatever happened to the femme fatale? From Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity to Kathleen Turner in Body Heat and Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction, the silky seductress who lures some poor sap into her web of betrayal was the central element of the noir genre of moody urban crime films. But today, female characters tend to be either Butt-Kicking Babes or Passive Victims. 
Noir is still around, though, as vividly demonstrated by Drive, an artsy, retro-1980s thriller fueled by a superlative Ryan Gosling performance as that traditional popcorn-movie favorite, the hard man with a heart of gold.

Read the whole thing there.

42 comments:

agnostic said...

The Butt-Kicking Babe is revolting, but I don't miss the femme fatale type that much. It's just so rare for women to act that way over a long time, cold and calculated.

They can make it work if her motivations are believable and humanizing, like she's backed into a corner. In that case she comes off as more of a heroine from a Gothic novel or Duchess of Malfi type play, who's assisted by the male hero rather than a Machiavellian toying with him.

Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet, just about all the babes in Twin Peaks, maybe a few others (Winona Ryder in Heathers?).

If the point of the femme fatale is to warn us about women's motives, I think the ones just mentioned to a better job of showing the ambiguity of women's motives, and the need to temper suspicion with good faith or forgiveness.

Hunsdon said...

I'm probably going to drop the ducats to see this movie, a rarity for me. For some reason, though, I keep on thinking its related to the old Walter Hill flick "The Driver" more than anyone wants to admit. Maybe it's because Ryan Gosling reminds me of Ryan O'Neal? But talk about a neo-noir about a LA getaway driver, and I think "Hey, Walter Hill made one of those!" (Bruce Dern made a good bad cop.) It was so noir the characters didn't even have names.

Anonymous said...

Wow, another great review. I saw Drive, and I tend to concur with you on most points, especially about Gosling, but I felt Drive fell apart somewhat towards the end. The opening presages a neat, smart movie with a great climatic chase scene, but I felt the movie instead changed lanes at some point to degenerate into a pat heist flick. It also took a gory turn that spoiled the smart glossiness for me.

Also, the music was unsuited. All this heavenly "giving birth" sounds.

Anonymous said...

LAST SEDUCTION didn't really have a femme fatale. she was more like a feminist fatale. Though she turned out to be evil, the SWPL director seems to present it as a form of empowerment.
In the traditional noir, the femme fatale is either morally ambiguous, evil, or hiding some dark secret. But we don't really know the TRUE HER until the end. There is a sense of allure and mystery that surrounds her.
LAST SEDUCTION is more like an x-ray of a noir. The secrets and mechanics are laid bare. From the beginning, we know she's an evil twisted and cunning bitch. She might as well wear a t-shirt saying "I'm a bitch out to do evil and proud of it." That's not how noir works. There's no mystery in LS.

LADY IN SHANGHAI has something like the classic femme fatale. Rita Hayworth plays it troubled and helpless but it turns out she is one greedy crazy bitch.
But another thing about femme fatale: even if they're evil and crazy, there's an element dreaminess about them, a kind of madness that inspires... which is why the guy in LADY FROM SHANGHAI is still in love with her and will be haunted by her even after he discovers the truth. Femme fatales don't only exist in noirs though. There's one in JULES AND JIM.

There's also the fantasy noir and the protean noir. LADY FROM SHANGHAI and GILDA are fantasy tales whereas POSTMAN RINGS TWICE and MAN WHO WASN'T THERE are about ordinary people who get trapped in extraordinary situations due to greed, lust, or passion.

And femme fatales aren't necessary evil. What really counts is their ambiguity, at least until the end. She could be fatal cuz she's out to do harm or because she unwittingly attracts danger. Rita Hayworth in GILDA isn't evil, but she drives men crazy who do crazy things for her, which forces her to do some morally dubious stuff too. Rachel in BLADE RUNNER is a similar kind of fatale. She is magnet for danger. Some fatales are evil women pretending to be good; some are good women pretending to be 'bad' to survive. At any rate, we're not supposed to know until the end. Also, we are not supposed to ROOT for femme fatales in the name of empowerment, as LAST SEDUCTION does. And there was nothing really sexy or special about the woman. She was just an annoying evil ho playing cutesy with local rubes, and we the audience could see it as plain as day.

Maybe the moron who made LS was trying to right wrongs of noir past. In the classic noir, the fatale either turns out to be an evil bitch pretending to be good or a damsel acting 'bad' to survive. Either way, you have the message that 'women lusting for power are evil' or 'women must be saved by a man'. LS is an anti-noir noir like some westerns are anti-westerns(where Indians are all good and white man is all bad). LS says the woman is good even if she's evil cuz she feministically triumphs over men. What a stupid idea for a noir.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we have femme fatales anymore? Three reasons.

1. Most moviegoers are kids, and they wanna see loud action.

2. It's been done to death. Even so, THE AMERICAN had an effective fatale, though I suppose she was more like a femme metale. She was a killer alright but we knew it, so there wasn't much in the way of mystery. I would say the most effective fatale-ish character was in the 90s French film THE APARTMENT.

3.Finally, the idea of femme fatale is harder to swallow in the 'liberated' era when we see POWER WOMEN everywhere. Femme fatale gains power by acting like a lady but operating like a bitch. Women in the past needed to play the game in a male-dominant society. Also, fatales play on sexuality and allure in a society that is still uptight and censorious.
In today's society, where a woman can shake her ass in public and scream "I'm a Grrrrrrl, so gimme power, power, POOOOOWUH!!!", femme fatale power is passe. Why hide the power when you can demand it outright? Why play on sexual allure when you can act like a porn slut in mainstream culture? Why act like a sly cat when you can bark and run around like a dog?

Same thing with subversive Jew and the sly negro. Subversive Jews used to be common but are less common today since they have the power. There's less need for them to conceal their agenda. In the 50s, commie Jews put on the red, white, and blue patriotic act. Today, guys like Tim Wise openly taunt the white race and laugh about it. Larry David pees on a picture of Christ. Sarah Silverman openly jokes about killing Jesus.
And blacks used to play it clever: the 'negro as credit to his race' since he had to play the game to gain favor. But since the Muhammad Ali 60s, blacks could scream and shout and kick butt and feel da power. Aint gots to be no Negro Hospitale!!
Well, there is Obama, but then he was seeking the highest office in the nation, which means he had to fool a lot of white people who aren't exactly sold on the noble negro myth.

Rainforest Giant said...

Perhaps one of our most insightful movie reviewers ought to remember Ron Perlman's body of work? Is he doing steroids? Maybe. Has he always had a weirdly huge head? Well lets see, he's made a career of it but lets not notice that let's go straight to the steroid deal.

Really, not the way you want to introduce the subject. If you want to make a dig at steroid using athletes fine, but give the big guy a rest.

He played Hellboy and Beast practically without makeup.

Anonymous said...

OT but of interest to Istevians:

The Atlantic Home
October 2011 ATLANTIC MAGAZINE

The Shame of College Sports

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/8643/?single_page=true

Get Off My Lawn! said...

I also thought Drive was a terrific movie, Steve. Two points:

1. I wouldn't mind being down-and-out if I could live in Drive's version of Echo Park - a place where everything is spotlessly clean, the apartments are shabby but stylish and spacious, there are quirky (but clean!) shops and bars, there are no fast-food restaurants but rather shabby, stylish (and clean!) 50s-type diners, and - amazingly - the population appears to be mostly white. Who needs Bel Air or Malibu when you could live in such a retro paradise! Is Echo Park really like this? (I'm not joking; I've never been there, but I gather it's a trendy neighborhood.)

2. Regarding femmes fatales, the immaturity of modern audiences may be part of it, but isn't it another factor that women generally don't like them? I mean really don't like them, as opposed to finding them silly or boring, which seems to be their reaction to butt-kicking babes.

Speaking of which, someday I hope you'll write a column about the ubiquity of BKBs in modern movies. I don't mean strong female characters, which have always been around, I mean female characters who are physically strong enough to beat up male bad guys (or good guys, as the case may be). Their fan base seems to be young men, and I find that a bit disturbing. Why do younger guys today lust for women who can kick their asses? What's sexy about that?

Anonymous said...

I'm sure your well acquinted with your own hate site, but I stumbled upon http://sailerfraud.blogspot.com/
via google.

I read through the first page, as well as clicking on two links. I've yet to encounter an arguement based on facts. So far its either:

1) I hate white people an/or white people are racists.

2) Here are a few white people who did some bad things.

3) Misused statistics (there was only one article that even used statistics).

not a hacker said...

... too adult of a concept for today’s boyish moviegoers.

Nice review Steve, but in the future could you please eliminate the "of" in constructions like this? Much more sophisticated to just fly over it.

Shawn said...

Interesting review.

P.S. Surprised you haven't written yet about the Madison racial discrimination scandal.

alonzo portfolio said...

In the late '90's I gave one of Chandler's books to a smart guy in his late '20's. His reaction was, "people don't talk like that."

Whiskey said...

Steve, it is female audiences who do not like Femme Fatales. They do however like the Butt Kicking Babe.

Look at the CW, its lineup is entirely estrogen-oriented, and they have a whole line-up of butt kicking babes, and then various put-upon good girls ... battling the bad girls for the hunky guy.

A movie like Drive, it has to appeal to both men and women, the art crowd. Its not a male oriented action flick (which would have had a guy with some actual testosterone, rather than Gosling's Y-chromosone free performances).

A good example of this dynamic is the movie version of Kick-Ass. In the comic the hero reveals to the girl of his dreams that he is not gay as she suspected. She reacts ... with fury and has her boyfriend beat the crap out of him, later sending the guy on his phone a picture of her performing a sex act upon said boyfriend. The hero was a beta male and got treated as such. The female screenwriter assigned to work with Mark Millar (who btw said he got paid MORE for Kick-Ass's comic book run alone of 6 issues than all the decade's work on Marvel and DC he did) who wrote/created the comic made him rework the female character.

riches said...

Jane Greer's 'ff' role (or as IMDB calls them 'dd' - duplicitous dsmes) in Robert Mitchum's Out Of The Past shouldn't be missed.

Udolpho.com said...

Agreed that part of it is the neoteny of modern audiences, but also the femme fatale came from an era with much more sharply defined sex roles. Perhaps also the life of a screenwriter or novelist is different today--he's more likely to run afoul of a bellicose feminist or tranny activist than a woman with a heart of gunmetal.

But as recently as the 90s we had a few crack femmes fatale. Consider The Grifters (which actually has two). Also the Rebecca Pidgeon character in Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner fits. There have been other minor examples.

Nowadays Hollywood churns out children's entertainment with swear words and violence. No room for authentically dangerous woman.

David said...

The femme fatale stereotype comes from a specific viewpoint, a cynical heterosexual woman's. Most great writers of noir were such women (including Hammett-Hellman). Today's feminism-apprised homosexual-male sensibility can't grasp it. That sensibility says female characters must be "empowered" in the same form as men (that's the feminism) and females are basically ridiculous (that's the male homosexuality); ergo, Butt-Kicking Babe. The genesis of Passive Victim is simpler. It's the default mode and has always existed.

Anonymous said...

"Butt-Kicking Babe"

More like butt-shaking-and-tit-bouncing-while-butt-kicking babe.

Anonymous said...

"Agreed that part of it is the neoteny of modern audiences, but also the femme fatale came from an era with much more sharply defined sex roles."

There seems to be some crazy bitches in Korean cinema, especially the films of Park Chan Wook. But then, Asian societies are probably more repressive than ours. But it's so unpleasant that it's more like femme dementale or femme kimcheele than femme fatale. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance was sickening.

And then there's that Japanese pervert Takeshi Miiki whose movies are also peppered with nutjob bitches. Not sure they would count as femme fatale. They are often too methodical in their bloodletting to be butt-kicking babes but too singlemindedly brutal to be femme fatales.

Kylie said...

"LAST SEDUCTION didn't really have a femme fatale. she was more like a feminist fatale. Though she turned out to be evil, the SWPL director seems to present it as a form of empowerment.
In the traditional noir, the femme fatale is either morally ambiguous, evil, or hiding some dark secret. But we don't really know the TRUE HER until the end. There is a sense of allure and mystery that surrounds her."


Agreed. In The Last Seduction, Bridget Gregory's direct "Let's f**k" approach was more combative than seductive.

"Jane Greer's 'ff' role (or as IMDB calls them 'dd' - duplicitous dsmes) in Robert Mitchum's Out Of The Past shouldn't be missed."

Yes, she's the epitome of a femme fatale. What some might call "ambiguous", I call "oblique". It's not so much that the femme fatale vacillates as that the noir protagonist and we, the audience, aren't quite sure how to interpret her signals because all she allows us to see is her seductive exterior. What lies behind it is unseen and unknowable.

Kylie said...

"Steve, it is female audiences who do not like Femme Fatales. They do however like the Butt Kicking Babe."

I love femme fatales and loathe butt-kicking babes. I think more traditional women tend to feel this way.

Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Lilly Dillon and Kathy Moffat are some of my favorite film characters.

White butt-kicking babes are just silly. Most white women simply aren't that tough and as for black women, like black men, they tend to attack in packs.

"...90s French film THE APARTMENT"

It looks good and is available on Netflix streaming so I'll watch it tonight. Thanks.

Steve Sailer said...

I watched ten minutes of the Korean movie Oldboy, but couldn't take the carnage anymore. However, that was enough for me to rightly guess on my blog that the Korean immigrant mass murderer at Virginia Tech was into recent Korean movies.

Anonymous said...

"The hero was a beta male and got treated as such."

Oh? So he had many kids with her and settled down?

Or did the definition of "beta male" change once again?

Steve Sailer said...

Good points about the lack of ambiguity in "The Last Seduction." Might explain why Linda Fiorentino was so good in that versus everything else, while, say, Barbara Stanwyck was pretty good in everything, not just "Double Indemnity."

Ray Sawhill said...

Agree with everyone's analysis of the babe in "Last Seduction" but disagree about whether the movie's a lot of fun or not. I certainly enjoyed it. I took it both as 1) a quasi-film noir in its own right, and 2) a spoof on film noir, based on the general idea many of us here seem to share, which is that in today's you-go-girl world, the femme fatale isn't just a rarity but a joke. "Let's crack the traditional film noir femme fatale wide open and put it all out there on the surface," is what the writer and director seem to have been saying. Then they sort of sat back deadpan and chortled about the havoc she caused.

All that said, I've known some femme fatale types in real life. They're out there still.

not a hacker said...

... which means he had to fool a lot of white people who aren't exactly sold on the noble negro myth.

A trenchant post except for this last bit. Kerry got 41% of the overall white vote, Obama 43%. Apparently his win is explained by some factor other than finessing doubts about race.

dufu said...

Steve,

So true. That picture he took of himself with the hammer was a direct reference to that movie.

smead jolley said...

In 1982 I was in law school with a woman who was a dead ringer for Jane Greer, who at that time I'd never heard of. Beautiful woman- just too bad the BH chestcrafters hadn't perfected their art yet.

hbd chick said...

way ot - all the possible spelling of gaddafi, so they claim. (^_^)

Kylie said...

"And femme fatales aren't necessary evil. What really counts is their ambiguity, at least until the end. She could be fatal cuz she's out to do harm or because she unwittingly attracts danger."

Evelyn Mulwray in Chinatown exemplifies this type of femme fatale.

Anonymous said...

"Why do younger guys today lust for women who can kick their asses? What's sexy about that?"

skinny/fat nerds? less testosterone?
men who have been so inundated with feminist messages that they think any agency over women is misogyny.
And they hate other men(natural male competition), but not being capable of beating them themselves, and to uphold their own moral of "non-violence" would rather see women do it. And women have a just reason: 10,000 years of patriarchal rule to avenge for!!

Women as protector is used in many mangas, with the hero usually a weak and small beta male whose biggest act in a battle is usually taking a kick that was intended for the butt kicking babe.

anyway, the things that are common,
1)women are hot,
2)women make more noise.

Anonymous said...

"Why do younger guys today lust for women who can kick their asses? What's sexy about that?"

It goes way back to ancient times. Athena was the most powerful god after Zeus and Apollo. In combat, the most skilled god(dess), even kicking Ares's butt in THE ILIAD.
And Artemis was the hunter goddess.

Men have fought for land and women, wealth and beauty. So, within the mythic psyche a kind of fusion takes place where beauty becomes one with power. Thus, Athena, though a goddess, has male warrior qualities. She's like Priss in Bubblegum Crisis.

Germanic mythology has the Valkyries.

Anonymous said...

ultimate battle babes

anthropologia said...

"Why do younger guys today lust for women who can kick their asses? What's sexy about that?"

No mystery. Mating often involves quite a bit of wrestling in various species. Sometimes they even bite each other. Gets the nerves stimulated. In fact, there are tribes (in places where they have tribes) in which the bride had better try and fight off her husband on the wedding night, or she's a no good easy woman even if he is married to him. Some of these feisty brides keep the grooms at bay for weeks, I've heard. Helps to enliven things I suppose.

Anonymous said...

"Men have fought for land and women, wealth and beauty. So, within the mythic psyche a kind of fusion takes place where beauty becomes one with power."

I wonder if the Jewish conception of God was the first time power and morality was fused into one. If Hellenic paganism created the ideal fusion of power = beauty, Judaism may created the fusion power = morality.
The two ideals seem never to go away.
In the 20th century, the war between Nazism and Soviet Communism was, ideologically anyway, between an ultra view of 'beauty is power' vs 'equality is power'.

Anonymous said...

Do you suppose the impetus behind the butt-kicking babes went from patriarchalism(ancient pagan cultures)to toyriachalism(guys who wanna play with toys for the rest of their lives)?

Consider Athena was born of Zeus alone, and she is his favorite child. She is a virgin goddess. She serves him and belongs to him only. She is beautiful and powerful. And loyal. Every father, traditionally at least, had anxiety about 'my little girl' growing up and going with another man, the hubby. The movie FATHER OF THE BRIDE addresses this anxiety. A father may want his son to go out and fetch some girl, but he's not so eager to see his girl go off to another guy.
In Germanic mythology, there's a special relationship between Odin and his daughter Brunnhilde, the leader of the Valkyries. She is too beautiful and too powerful for any man, and so she belongs to Odin alone as his dutiful daughter. And Odin wants it that way too... except she disobeys him, and the punishment is she must lose her special powers and belong to some man. This saddens both of them. Odin's gotta do what he's gotta do, but it's a real bummer. Even so, he makes it so that only the bravest and noblest man will win her love.

We've come a long way since the reign of patriarchy. Now, most guys don't wanna toil and pay to be patriarchs but wanna be boys with toys. Many of them don't have kids and don't even want families. So, their fixation on the butt-kicking babe is a kind of toy fantasy than a patriachal clinging to the virgin daughter. Or maybe it feeds into a kind of Siegfriedian fantasy. Remember Brunnhilde could only belong to the bestest man in the world.
This may apply to butt-kicking babes in movies; they are so badass that they would never go with guys in real life. So, every dorkboy can imagine himself to be the Siegfried who might win her love, especially through videogames where even--or especially geeks--can design and play superhero characters who might win the affection of a super butt-kicking babe.

Anonymous said...

Medusa is a strange figure in Greek mythology. She's supposed to be so ugly that looking at her turns men into stone. Yet, she is very powerful. So, you have the formula of ugly = power. And indeed power is often violent, which produces ugliness: broken bones, torn flesh, bust lips, knocked out teeth, gore.

In THE ILIAD, the most beautiful goddess Aphrodite isn't very powerful when it comes to fighting. She even gets her hand cut by a mortal's spear.
This causes a moral anxiety for we want the ideal formula to be
beauty = power.

This is where it becomes interesting with the Aegis, a chunk of torn-off flesh of the dead Medusa. I believe it was given to Zeus by Perseus, and Zeus put Athena in charge of it. Medusa was ugly as hell, so her torn off flesh must be even uglier and more gross. Yet, it is used by the beautiful Athena as a mighty weapon. Shaking it releases thunder and other crazy stuff.
So, what you have a synthesis in Athena of the ideal of beauty harnessing the forces of ugliness to control the power.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet most guys think... 'better butt-kicking babe than castrating bitch'. I mean what guy likes Nurse Ratched?

Anonymous said...

Where have the femmes fatales gone? Well, I suspect that there are still many in the more desperate parts of the world where women can't do much without a male protector at their side.

If you look at the women in old noirs, what they had in common, aside from sexiness and moral ambiguity (were they good or bad?), is desperation. They were nearly always stuck in some impossible situation: rich girls with incestuous fathers (Chinatown); penniless beauties with jealous husbands (Gilda, I think); penniless orphans; trapped penniless in a foreign country (To Have and Have Not); penniless crime victims; wives who would be penniless if their husbands dumped them (Body Heat; Double Indemnity). Even the rich lady in Vertigo is in fact a poor shopgirl. Notice a theme? Even the rich women are rich only through their men and often (though not always, I know!) these are men who behave badly to them; while the poor ones are semi-desperate.

I expect this explanation may sound too feminist for some tastes: so be it. All I'm trying to say is that the world in which we operate has now changed, so that we are less likely to need to confuse/bewitch/exploit men in the manner of a femme fatale. Nowadays many of us in the First World still behave badly, but in less glamorous and less exciting ways, alas.

Clio

Simon in London said...

"Why do younger guys today lust for women who can kick their asses? What's sexy about that?"

I've always found butt-kicking babes attractive - more IRL than movie actresses though, unless the actress is actually credible in the role. Accompanying a very attractive, very fit female police officer on foot patrol was... nice. >:)

I'm not sure it's due to a lack of testosterone though, although when I was in the army reserve I was certainly considered pretty nerdy by my 'EAT. DRINK. FUCK. KILL.' comrades-in-arms with their double-digit IQs; so I'd guess maybe nerdiness and the dominance of nerd culture may be a factor. The 1950s style hyper-masculine man certainly was supposed to want a hyper-feminine woman. But the Western/cowboy culture for one seems to have traditionally favoured "Strong Man + Strong Woman" pairings, from what I can tell.

Anonymous said...

Rockcritic bloggers complain about having to approve all the comments. Hilarious.

Derogatis edited KILL YOUR IDOLS, which is pretty funny.

swingslow said...

Someone please explain how this can be called a "retro-'80's" film. Would have been easy to make it the '80's if the cell phone could be written out, but the most retro aspect, unmentioned by Steve, has to be Mulligan's demure, respectful attitude toward men, a softness that you never see anymore, having been killed off by the demands of other women. Two other things: you don't actually see much of Echo Park or get any neighborhood feel, and Perlman's character is clearly more Guinea than Jewish. I enjoyed Gosling, and the upscale suburbanites around me were certainly rapt - no glow from a single smartphone screen. And one final thing: the motionless naked chicks. What was that all about?

Steve Sailer said...

Because Nino (Ron Perlman) and Albert Brooks' character discuss how the Italian mobsters don't give them no respect because they are Jewish, and because Perlman said in an interview promoting the movie that he came up with the conception for his part: a Jewish tough guy who had always aspired toward Italianess.