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The Femme Fatale Image in Cinema

Some early scientists relegated women to a category somewhere above monkeys, yet below men, and the poet Milton observed that women are “a fair defect of nature” real 3d mink strip real 3d mink strip real 3d mink strip real 3d mink strip real 3d mink strip real 3d mink strip real 3d mink strip real 3d mink strip real 3d mink strip real 3d mink strip

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However these were the pseudoscientific notions about female variability and vulnerability, and were used to justify sexism and discrimination in society. Perhaps out of such frustrations rose the concept of a woman who defied her stereotypical image and donned the garb of someone who is just the opposite of the popular concept, which was more or less forced upon her. The phrase femme fatale is French for ‘deadly women’ and was created to project a social democratic revolt against the oppressiveness of the Victorian age, where women were constricted in a corset and pushed into claustrophobic ideologies and a shrunken introverted world. She took an avatar of a female who has been created to break men’s heart and to lead herself into a sunlight world. These femme fatales are allowed to have it all; power, sexuality, femininity and wealth, but they keep hankering for love and would often face a bad end because they defied the conventions. The astonished man, who had earlier created an ideal woman from his own wishful imagination, suddenly meets someone whom he cannot control or understand. He labels her as the ‘bad woman’; the woman who must die or be banished because she is not the representative of his idealistic image.

Women in Hollywood- The femme fatale

Disillusioned with men and frustrated of a circumscribed life, this figure of a deadly femme fatale/ vamp- emerged as a central figure in the nineteenth century and became one of the most persistent personifications of modern female. “Who is she?” was the popular query. And the enigmatic answers would be: “She is the woman who never really is what she seem to be”

She is the black widow spider who eats her mate alive; she is ungovernable, threatening to male psyche, and a woman who challenges the patriarchal culture vehemently.

The femme fatale was a frequent character in 1940s films. Rita Hayworth as The lady from Shanghai (1948) is the most enigmatic example. She embodies the overpoweringly desirable, duplicitous and sexually insatiable femme fatale, who has been represented as a symptom of male anxieties about women. She is a creature who threatens to castrate and devour her male victim. This image of a sexual, dangerous woman is the psychological expression of a man’s own internal fears of sexuality, and his need to control and repress it.

The femme fatale’s appearance is always explicitly sexual with long dark or blonde hair worn loose on her back, long, sensuous legs, heavy make-up, sparkling jewelry and revealing clothes, as portrayed in Sunrise (1927). She is the ‘woman of city’, the urban female depicting the sexual pleasures of modern metropolitan life.

She represents an open challenge to the post war consensus of women feeling fulfilled only by their roles of wife and mothers.

Two of the most powerful screen portrayal, are Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944) and
Lana Turner’s Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) in which both are frustrated wives married to dull and older men.

In Hollywood, the femme fatale’s most characteristic role is a nightclub singer on the fringes of the underworld. She traps her victims through seductive dances and explicit display of sexual threat. Watch Ava Gardener in The Killers (1946) playing Kitty Collins as she is first glimpsed by her victim Swede (Burt Lancaster) singing ” The more I know of Love” and you will see how she comes across as the apotheosis of a mythical femininity. She is sexy and feline, and has that dreamlike sensuality about her with her sloe-shaped eyes, curvaceous cheekbones, cleft chin, and full upturned mouth. All these features exude an open sexual invitation, and she is the ultimate femme fatale here.

The femme fatale often emerges from darkness into harsh light, or dissected by both to indicate certain instability.

The Good -Bad girl

However, Hollywood found a way to bring out the femme fatale from the narrow confines of the stereotype seductress who just doesn’t resort to narcissism and duplicity to have her way. The femme fatale is also the beleaguered hero’s helpmate sometimes. She is often shown as supporting him and believing in his innocence, or his ability to solve the problems. The figure of the good-bad girl combines the sexual stimulation of the femme fatale with the fundamental decency of a wife or a lover. She can appear to be cynical, wayward and obsessed with money, but this stems from disillusionment with men and the frustrations of a constrained life.

Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia (1946) and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep (1946) are perfect example of the type. They are cool, terse, sexually assured and independent women, and yet remain on the hero’s side. To the hero they offer a slightly mocking image and allow him to feel relaxed in their company, just like they would feel with a male companion. The good-bad girls have the masculine and feminine qualities merged together and although they appear two-faced, like the typical femme fatale, they do prove themselves to be loyal. If they cannot help the hero, they can support him and believe in his ability to solve problems. The best and most complex example of this type is Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)

The bad women of cinema went through a noticeable transformation over the next decades and the hideously prominent false eye lashes, hard contact lenses, huge wigs, feather gowns and shimmering two piece dresses are replaced by the more chic and contemporary get-ups. They are no more limited to being the cabaret dancers, or a gangster’s moll. The fun, fearless female is played by the female protagonist now, and she has emerged as the voluptuous, deeply alluring and convincingly sexy woman who knows her mind. She is also subtle, clever, sophisticated and extremely patient, waiting for the right time to strike, just like a predator.

One of the best examples of such a woman is of Famke Janssen as Xenia Ouatappo in Golden Eye (1995).

She is like none other so far. Perceived as a classic representation of femme fatale she is the ‘black widow spider’ woman who devours her mate after sex. She gets her sexual satisfaction by killing unscrupulously. Watch her making love on a yacht, clad in a revealing lingerie and screaming Yes…Yes…YES!!… as she crushes the man’s chest between her thighs during orgasm.

Her sadistic sexual proclivities coupled with an absolute lack of conscience make her, the deadliest femme fatale.

As Bond says in the end – “She always enjoyed a good squeeze.”

Women in Indian Cinema- the image and the body

Around two decades ago Indian cinema had these stereotypical heavily made up vamps that always had a bullet shot in their heaving bosom in the end, to justify the popular notion that only ‘good and pure’ women deserve to get the hero. Thus the climax of a film always saw our ‘demure and coy’ heroine snuggling in the arms of the macho hero, while the vamp lay on the ground in a bloody pool, staring up at the hero’s face with life receding out from her blue (contact lenses) eyes.

However, over the years the concept went through many changes and now we don’t find these blue eyed, heavily made up and inadequately clad vamps anymore. These days the female protagonists (our heroines) have taken over from those vamps of yesteryears and have gone much ahead in wearing lesser clothes and heavier makeup; leaving the customary vamps out of work forever.

Pick up the DVD of yesteryear films and you will surprisingly find the bold and daring dance numbers that appear timeless even now. The women who played the femme fatale roles had a certain body type (read hour glass) and they were always dressed more glamorously and fashionably than the heroine. They were also the best dancers of that era.

The soft focus on the nurturer/ homebuilder women

The position of women in the Indian film industry was earlier fraught with ambivalence: in those early years of cinema very few women were ready to let their photographed images appear on screen and allow thousands of unknown men’s eyes gaze at their pictures. Most of the women carried cultural baggage of strict religious taboos, which did not allow them to display their bodies to the public. While such taboos have broken down gradually and now girls are queuing up in hoards to take their chance in films, one cannot overlook the fact that the concept of bad girl, provocatively dressed, dangerous vamps came out of such beliefs that an ideal woman has to appear bashful, modest and should be covered from head to toe. She must appear as the virginal daughter who is protected all her life and then given ‘all intact’ to her husband to become a chaste wife, whose raison d’etre is to worship her husband. The Indian heroines played such parts to perfection and it somewhat justified their entry into the big bad world of cinema, in which they portrayed the ‘Ideal Indian Woman’ image to perfection, and thus affirmed that they cannot be faulted by being in films. The ideal woman was conventionally recognised as the picture of ‘oppressed womanhood’ and was reinstated by many female actors of the Indian cinema. The yesteryear Indian heroines played such parts to hilt, and projected the perfect antithesis to those femme fatales who tried to steal their husbands and lovers.

Here is a list of some of the bad girls having all the fun:

Demi Moore played an impressive role of a sexually frustrated boss in Disclosure (1994) who turns implacably revengeful when Michael Douglas spurns her advances.

In Fatal Attraction (1987) the script follows the tale of a one night stand turned sour and Glenn Close comes across as every married man’s worst nightmare, playing the role of an obsessed lover turned psychopath. She managed the role with considerable élan. Though her role cannot be termed as the typical femme fatale, it did throw light on the stormy, mutinous side of a woman who would not compromise on anything if it comes to what she wants.

Glenn Close also played the femme fatale in Dangerous Liaison (1988), where her character Marquise De Mertenti is the deadly jealous woman plotting a heartless revenge to get even with her detractors.

In Basic Instinct (1992) Sharon Stone was the ultimate femme fatale. As Catherine Tramell, the successful novelist, she eats men for breakfast, and cuts their hearts and balls to pieces, with one leg scissoring over the other.

In Body Heat (1981) Kathleen Turner is the infamous Matty Walker, the voracious, crafty and greedy femme fatale, who is a married socialite plotting to kill her husband. Watch her in the iniquitous sex scenes with William Hurt.

In Last Seduction (1994) Linda Florentino, as Bridget Gregory is the beautiful and bright femme fatale who has everything going for her except a treacherous mind that would not stop at anything to get what she wants.

In 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) when Kim Bassinger arches her back and spreads her legs in the rain in a dark stairwell, her pouty lips and smoldering eyes are the femme fatale tools polished to perfection.

Ultraviolet (2006) was a relatively bad film, but watch Milla Jovovich as the ultimate sci-fi femme fatale. With her incredible face, hair, make-up, costume, attitude and a killer body, she is absolutely a drool worthy femme fatale in the film.

In Resident Evil (2004) she was the absolute femme fatale, and handles her weapons with deadly authority. Her menacing glare and excellent sword work are something to watch out for in this film.

Uma Thurman bristled with untamed rage, in Kill Bill (2003). Consumed with revenge she moved about like a force of nature in action scenes, and despite a subtle lack of physical grace, she handled the fights with much flair.

Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft was smart, sexy, sassy and sophisticated in Tomb Raider (2001). She was near perfect in that aggressive and physically demanding role, and despite the laughably fake breasts, she came up topper in the ultimate femme fatale role.

Pamela Lee Anderson as/in Barb Wire (1996) prevails over the baddies and gets more naked in the film than she had perhaps been in her entire life taking showers. But she managed to pull off the femme fatale role impressively.

In Blade Trinity (2004) Jessica Biel with gun is a captivating sight, and she carries off the femme fatale role with talent and matching physicality. Despite the lackluster action and some atrocious dialogues in the film, she was an enchanting sight throughout.

In Underworld (2003) Kate Beckinsale is dressed in black leather, heavy boots, and carries a no nonsense attitude and a gun, with unflinching authority. She projects an ample intensity and cold hatred with a perpetual scowl on her face, and her cold dark eyes, framed with deadly arched eyebrows give her the most effective femme fatale look.

Nazia Mallick

Writer, editor, thinker, dreamer

Article Source: hphair

 

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