I have a kind of tragic optimism formulated from watching things I never saw myself in – an Asian Queer girl in Hollywood is set up for failure. So I grew up resorting to recalibrating the images I saw into a narrative that fit me; I pull stories and twist them to fit what I need to see. Jose Muñoz calls this method disidentification. I call it survival. In this edition of Film & Resistance (past episodes here and here), I want to talk about three films with bad reputations and why they’re honestly great. I don’t mess around with irony. I do love these sincerely. Life is too short for faking it.
#1 Showgirls (1995) // La Fille d’O (2014)
I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess nowadays, but damn if I didn’t see the horrific glamour in Cristal Connors and “Goddess” in this film. Rage and pride are two things that kill us and motivate us in equal measure and I think this film is a heavy handed example of that perspective of life and I love it for it. This is by no stretch of the imagination (not even mine) a good film to takes notes from on how to be a Good Person or how to be your own hero. But I do find in it recognizable moments of utter Queer Rage. Does Crystal want to kill Nomi or make Nomi? Do you want to bone her or be her? Is this not an age old question? And Nomi – Nomi has a furious hustle for making her dreams come true. Please do not take this film too seriously, the acting is bad and the writing worse, but please do take note of the impeccable glamour that comes with nipple tassles, really fantastically fitting pants and excellent eyeshadow. Channel that kind of hungry rage into your own look and reap the benefits. Think “MURDER” while you swipe on your lipstick and I promise it will go on just a little bit smoother.
Showgirls style is filtered into all our current recreations of Vegas glamour. I’m not going to talk too much about the idea of Vegas trashy glam because we all know Versace exists. However, I will direct you to this wonderful reformulation of a look Crystal wore and the shoppable version courtesy of La Fille d’O. There’s just something to be said about really good, uber minimal lingerie.
#2 Mommie Dearest (1981) // Collectible Doll Fashion (& also Jay Z)
Okay, yes, the story of Joan Crawford is indisputably messed up. This is also not a film of extraordinary cinematic expertise, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not on the side of the fence of Damn Good Film. It has unavoidably campy moments, granted. But it also has a kind of inexplicable horror in well acted scenes that leave you devastated with a scared laugh in your throat. Faye Dunaway’s Crawford is a needy monster of a woman who knows what she wants and it hurts to watch but it also makes me want to do the same. Of course, I’ll repress most of those impractical desires to scream to destroy things when I’m chasing rent money or looking for clothes hangers (no wire hangers, ever) because the need to be professional. But when it comes to determined, terrifying glamor: Faye Donaway as Joan Crawford in a cutting suit, dragging a table of board members through the dirt with words – that’s iconic. I bought a black fur hat like the one she wears in that scene and when I’m at the crossroads of terrifying and terrifying, I put it on. That, and Jay Z. And I feel invincible.
Fur and particularly fur hats like did make a notable comeback this past Fashion Month but instead of showing you street style photos that I do not actually care about I want to show you this doll you can buy me because it’s awesome and also on sale. I’m the editor and I make the rules.
#3 Wild at Heart (1990) / Heatherette for MAC Cosmetics
This is one of my favorite films because it’s both motivating and alienating — like most of Lynch’s work. I know everyone is forever obsessed with Twin Peaks but this is my favorite movie from Lynch. There is an overarching narrative involving lipstick and terrible wigs and it also deals heavily with fighting for your dreams. Lipstick! Inspirational quotes! This is my territory, 100%. I don’t have to manipulate the film much to put it into a workable perspective because I think the main characters are endearingly sincere. When Nicolas Cage defends his jacket in the bar? I have said basically those same words. And this lipstick scene in particular — it’s totally off the walls. But it’s also how I’d like to act every time I come across the newest Best Lipstick Ever.
This particular moment in film and makeup history reminded me an awful lot of the Heatherette in store video campaign starring Amanda Lepore shot by David LaChappelle. Both just go all out with lipstick from making it a point of controlled desirability, drawing your eyes to the mouth, to a point of overzealous horror in the fetishization of makeup. It’s pretty great.
Anyway — those are my picks for this edition of Film & Resistance. I don’t want to talk too much about the details of each film (spoilers!) but I think they all offer really valuable moments of alternative readings in film and intertwine really well with our pop culture in terms of makeup and fashion and apparently also really dope dolls. You don’t have to like film characters to find them interesting, or inspirational, even. I like that heros and protagonists can be terrible and flawed. It makes it feel more plausible that I am the hero of my own story, you know?