Sunday, June 10, 2012

On expressionless action heroines

Ever watch movies touted for their great female heroines and find you end up liking the movie pretty much for the guns, knives, action and (if you're an appreciator of the female form) the costumes but little else when you were expecting to love it for the female heroine herself?

I have, multiple times but with little appreciation of the costumes or poses to heighten that minimal connection with the heroine. Firstly, the female form just isn't interesting to me - sorry, just isn't because I'm not wired that way. Second, I'm only vaguely interested in clothes. On the average day you'll see me reasonably dressed if I'm going out but I tend to re-wear the same thing over and over and get dressed in five minutes flat. Oh, and the last time I went clothes shopping was a good 4-5 years ago... Not interested in clothes. As to posing and all that, actors just look ridiculous pausing mid anything to strike a pose often see in comic books. They're two different formats for stories and what's loved in one can make the other really cheesy. If the pose appears mid-motion without a pause then it is part of what makes that character but with the pose set as a distinct action unrelated to the previous and next its like some one's expression twitching mid grin. It leaves you wondering just what the f*ck is going on. That's my take on all that anyway. I'm sure there's many of you out there who glean more from the clothes, poses and female form.

So really, what am I, the average straight-forward, pragmatic and fiction loving female to connect with in a film where the heroine doesn't show any emotional reactions in the most extreme moments?

Guns, knives, explosions, gore, death, slapstick humour... Basically, I'm after the plot and the action and little else. If those don't get boosted to unbelievable heights then I'm not going to bother because there's nothing else to watch it for. All they're done is reduce the boob size from a Tomb Raider movie in order to appeal to the females. Nothing else changes really, unless there's more gore for the heroine to expressionlessly make and face.

Now, this little post is really going off on a tangent from what I wanted to say originally. That's likely because I'm writing this first thing on a freezing morning while the husband snoozes away all because I'm getting ready for a day trip down the coast. Oh, I'm desperately considering clothing today - that heavy jacket is around somewhere and where are my gloves? So back on track.

The reason why I wanted to write on expressionless heroines was because I had gone and watched a few of these in a row. Well, two definitely expressionless and one said to be so by some but definitely isn't. It left me internally debating (well, mostly) the pros and cons of such acting and the reasons why actresses should and shouldn't act like that. Mind you, there's likely little choice in acting style once the script for such movies comes in and the director has a say.

Here's the major problem. Expressionless acting in heroines, and often in heros too, during the most crucial moments of the film, such as during battle in an action film, is meant to show how tough the character is but really just cuts us off from knowing anything about the character's internal emotions and motivations at all. Same goes for the toneless or whispery voice that spits out stock standard hard-arse replies. There's nothing for any of us average women to delve into. And by delve I mean, deconstruct the character completely with an eye to figuring out if we could possibly be just as hard-arsed given the same situation. You know, the basic connection needed in any fiction for identification and fanatic fandom to occur.

With nothing provided there is nothing for us to work with. So no connection is drawn. With no connection drawn they're largely lost. For the life of me, after watching the complete Resident Evil series, Alien series and starting in on the Underworld series (background while I draw illustrations for my book) I can only remember the name of the true hard-arse character out of the lot of them. Lt Ellen Ripley. And she only mentions her first name about once in four movies.

Now why is that? Because the other two are pretty much the same character so it doesn't matter who they are. While Ripley, sometimes said to be expressionless because she didn't go squealing and screaming in terror as some of her male ship/prison mates did, goes through a complete set of emotions and does in fact scream in the first one early on. She reacts not just physically but emotionally and mentally to every situation. She thinks around the emotions to gain logic and pushes for reason despite fear. That's what makes her identifiable and likable and a character to want to be like. Bravery is the overcoming of fear, especially when it comes to expressing fictional motivations and depth of character. Bravery isn't automatically placing oneself in the line of fire. That's suicidal tendencies instead.

In making a movie heroine a true heroine and not just one bandied about by movie makers as such they have to openly overcome a set of obstacles not only outside themselves, such as a horde of zombies, but within. Only by showing us all the conflicting emotions and motivations do we get any idea of just how brave a character is being and so just how heroic and admirable they are. With emotions shown we can see possibilities of being like that person.

Also, and this is an interesting aspect I think may be forgotten in the rush for a tough-arsed and emotionally unmovable heroine, by removing emotion during a battle you have absolutely no idea of just how fearful what's being battled is? Out of werewolves, vampires, zombies or aliens which one did you think was the scariest? Personally, having seen them all multiple times aliens are the only ones still capable of making me jump in my seat. Zombies I had an initial problem with due to the effectiveness of the Dawn of the Dead series - there being one particular scene that really horrified me and stuck with me for ages so good job there - but the zombies in Resident Evil are just interesting and nothing more. Until the last lot when it all got a bit too freaking ridiculous and I came away thinking "I can't take much more of this" and not in the good sugar rush way. The werewolves in Underworld are just fodder for the guns and knives and nothing else. There's barely a connection with any of them expect Michael and Lucian. There's one you like the voice of because it's so odd but otherwise... Vampires are about the same except you don't really even like the main ones and so there's little cheer or sorrow when they go. You just think, "Oooh, nice sword-play" or "That's not very believable, all the other concrete pilars crumbled so why not that one?" and "He hit that so softly they must have pulled the strings too soon on that take. Why'd they keep it?".

A sad thing really considering Bill Nighy (playing Viktor) was acting as he's very talented and good at bringing any character to life if given the chance. He really was the saving grace of the first movie as even Michael wasn't interesting enough a character on the male side of things despite the decent acting and range of expressions while he was still human-esque. And the reasons for this all stemmed from the expressionless acting of the heroine during action scenes. If the female isn't reacting with fear then why is the male? Not to say females should react with fear and be saved by males - equally annoying as terrified males being rescued by expressionless females - but to say that having it either way around just degrades them both. Without proper emotions in any action hero or heroine their actions mean nothing and place all those who do react on a lower level of competence and thus likability. To escape the maze of negative interactions just put emotions back into the action heroine or hero. Easy done and you gain a greater following to boot.

Or is this all just me? Do other people find such heroines and their enemies more frightening and fierce? Maybe. But line up the heroines like I lined up the beasties and what do you get? Who would you hope to save you? You'd probably vote Ripley like me but the funny thing about that is, with Ripley you're probably going to die. Not that the Resident Evil heroine will do much better. As to the Underworld heroine, I'm sure I might survive but I probably wouldn't actually know who she was to vote for her. I'd just see guns, knives, black leather and a pose and wonder what that's all about. No fear, no resolution, no logic, no reason, no understanding of dangers all mean no action and no reaction to me.

Expressionless action heroines. Feh...

Now, I must run and get ready for that day trip so please excuse the lack of editing for this long rant on expressionless acting. Back to higher quality ranting next time.

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