Many films feature characters that seem to have been inspired by plastic dolls.
Only God Forgives (2013)
FOR years, Kristin Scott Thomas has been trashing her brittle English upper-classness in French films, but anglophone audiences who still think of her as posh Fiona from Four Weddings And A Funeral might get a shock when they see her in Nicolas Winding Refn’s ultra-violent revenge parable.
Thomas’ Crystal is a chain-smoking, bottle-blonde Messalina tottering around in sky-high shoes and too much eye makeup, wielding Virginia Slims as though they were weapons. She’s the Barbie from Hell, as if Paris Hilton had suddenly lived 20 more years and had a personality transplant from Lucy Liu in Kill Bill: Volume 1. Just as the hotel chain heiress apparently modelled her own makeover on Mattel’s fashion doll, so Barbie’s doe eyes, pert nose and pouty lips have somehow become the facial standard to which many women aspire. Some even have themselves surgically altered to this end.
Woman or doll? –
Crystal is all woman. How can you tell? Dolls don’t use super foul language – unless, possibly, they’re the Gwendy dolls in Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers
, which are given an evil punk makeover and say things like: “If you can’t accessorise, pulverise!”
The Tales Of Hoffmann (1951)
The eponymous hero of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s barmy but beguiling The Tales Of Hoffmann, adapted from Jacques Offenbach’s opera, has a girlfriend strike-out rate roughly equivalent to that of Don Johnson in Miami Vice. When the objects of his amorous obsessions are not singing themselves to death or trampling over dead men’s souls with gold-painted toenails, they’re bewitching him with their ballet – and since Olympia is played by Moira Shearer, who already danced herself to death in The Red Shoes, you know her terpsichorean skills are something special.
What Hoffmann doesn’t realise, because he’s wearing magic spectacles (read: beer goggles), is that Olympia is a clockwork doll. Only when his nemesis (played by Robert Helpmann, aka the Child-Catcher) and an irate ophthalmologist start squabbling over unpaid bills and tear her to pieces does Hoffmann discover the truth. He, and we, are left with the disconcerting image of Olympia’s still-blinking severed head, while a wistful lackey strokes her dismembered hand. This is the movie that made George A. Romero want to make movies.
Woman or doll? – Olympia is one heck of a doll. How can you tell? The way she keeps running out of power until someone winds her up again is a dead giveaway.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
“FOLKS, have you ever seen such a lovely doll?” It’s hard to tell whether Mr Hudson is talking about his daughter, precocious vaudeville star Baby Jane Hudson, or the Baby Jane dolls on sale at her gigs for US$3.25. But “the diminutive dancing duse from Duluth” in blonde ringlets certainly embody the living doll-like qualities of Hollywood child stars such as Shirley Temple and, more recently, Honey Boo Boo.
Baby Jane, of course, grows up into Bette Davis in Robert Aldrich’s classic slice of American grotesque, which started a trend for casting ageing actresses in campy gothic horror movies.
Davis and Joan Crawford play reclusive sisters locked in an abusive relationship in their crumbling Hollywood mansion; wheelchair-bound Blanche (Crawford) is tormented by Davis as the increasingly batty Jane, who dreams of making a comeback. No one can play the terrorised victim like Joan, but it was Bette, with her gloriously unhinged rendition of I’ve Written A Letter To Daddy, who got the Oscar nomination.
Woman or doll? – Baby Jane is a woman. But “Woman Jane” wouldn’t have had the same ring, obviously. How can you tell? Because no sane toymaker would design a baby doll that looked like 54-year-old Bette Davis, unless they were actively seeking to traumatise a child. (Or perhaps appeal to a collector’s market – I’d snap up one in an instant.)
Blade Runner (1982)
The Tyrell Corporation (“More human than human is our motto”) prides itself on the manufacture of “replicants” so realistically human-looking they can only be detected by expert application of the Voight-Kampff empathy test.
And Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? raises philosophical and ethical questions about the differences between humans and “skin-jobs”.
Any film that manages to wring world-class performances out of both Daryl Hannah and Sean Young deserves a special niche in cinema history – they and the other actors do a fine job of incarnating creatures “designed to copy human beings in every way except their emotions”, but experiencing the rudimentary stirrings of those emotions all the same.
Pris, played by Hannah, is “a basic pleasure model”, the futuristic equivalent of the inflatable sex-doll. She has rebelled against her preordained role, but later, in the toymaker’s loft, hides in plain sight, in a roomful of dolls.
Woman or doll? –
It’s complicated, like the film. Pris is a replicant posing as a woman posing as a doll. How can you tell? Oh I don’t know, maybe the way she can plunge her arm into a container of boiling water to extract a hard-boiled egg without scalding herself? Or how about throttling a bloke with her thighs?
Kamikaze Girls (2004)
Tetsuya Nakashima’s candy-coloured adaptation of Shimotsuma Story, Novala Takemoto’s cult “light novel” (the Japanese equivalent of young adult fiction), essentially offers an introduction to Japanese girl fashion tribes, which are a lot more fun than the well-worn cliques in American high-school movies.
Momoko (Kyoko Fukada) lives in a deadbeat rural region of Japan with her feisty gran and loser dad, but this doesn’t stop her obsessing over Rococo-era France, grooving to Johann Strauss and dressing like a Marie Antoinette shepherdess in frocks from a Tokyo clothes store called Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. This is a real store which caters to the so-called Lolita tribe, members of which deck themselves out with bonnets, parasols and petticoats in a bid to resemble the sort of crinoline-clad dolls one normally associates with kitsch toilet roll covers.
Woman or doll? – Momoko may look like a doll, but she is most definitely a young woman. How can you tell? Nakashima’s film is boppy live action with outbreaks of anime and cartoon-like violence, but, like its heroine, the story is not nearly as fluffy and mindless as it first appears. Momoko values her status as an aloof loner, but is won over by aggressive but genuine overtures of friendship from a biker chick called Ichiko. In fact, this is an altogether splendid study of female friendship and empowerment. – Guardian News & Media