Michelle Pfeiffer’s Cat Woman from Tim Burton's Batman Returns
I must have watched this film five times in the theater. I watched it countless times after that on VHS and later on DVD. I simply loved her transformation. I recognized and connected with it on an emotional level that I felt but couldn't fully embrace. After all, it's a character who turns into a superhero.
Selena Kyle is timid at work. She does what she’s told. She's a cat lady, which is something I had, at my young age of twenty, resigned myself to becoming and kind of have become, except without the cats and I'm not single. It's a joke to me, but it's probably the kind of joke that's more of a defense mechanism.
I could completely relate to the way Selena called herself a "corn dog" after making a suggestion to her boss, Max Shreck; the way she reacted to her phone messages before and after she died and was subsequently resurrected; the pleasure and rage she revealed as she packed her stuffed animals into her active garbage disposal; the way she transformed, not just into Catwoman but into a new version of Selena Kyle.
The main point is that after she transforms, she has a mission greater than her day-to-day life and certainly greater than her job, even though her role at work changes due to her cat-induced increase in chutzpah. Being a secretary, er, I mean, executive assistant, no longer holds meaning, because it never did.
Mostly though, it was the line at the end, when she rejects Bruce Wayne that I held onto. Everything about them seemed to be aligned, but she states that although she’d love to live with him, if she did, she couldn't live with herself. That resonated because she had a purpose greater than being happy in love. It seemed impossible to even think about myself making a choice like that with my overwhelming feeling of loneliness that arrived with hormones that were fed on the fairy tales I was raised on; in the examples of housewives and marriage that surrounded me in life and on television as a child born at the start of the 1970’s. I really loved that she could not bare to accept this kind of life but I also wanted her to give in and be in love forever. I think I responded to that character because I desperately needed time and space to be alone, to sort out my identity as a human being the way that Selena Kyle did. It took me years to find and own Selena’s style of courage and confidence, but I did. I eventually did.
Parker Posey's Mary from Party Girl
She was perfect. I was in my early twenties. In one scene she even wore a top I had found on the clearance rack at Contempo Casuals. Just like me she didn’t know who she was supposed to be but in the meantime she dressed up and she went out.
I thrived within the early days of rave culture, but I did so in my own way, from a bit of a distance, dipping in from time-to-time, mostly at small but really great events that took place in and around Monterey and Santa Cruz. Today I try and tell the EDM and EDC-loving teens I teach about what the music and fashion was like then and how the club kids influenced it all. Mary, Parker Posey’s character in Party Girl, looked the way I looked. I had copied young women I saw at local events and in nightclubs in San Francisco and in magazines from around the world. She carried herself, through her fashion sense, with an air of strength and confidence that I admired and that I somehow recognized within me.
It was Parker Posey's performance that did it for me, not simply the character. Fox tried to make a TV show out of Party Girl a year later starring Christine Taylor as Mary (Marsha from the Brady Bunch movies), and it was just terrible. She was presented as a big blonde dummy making kissy faces at the camera and Parker Posey was not that at all.
There was a “fierce” way of being that I was learning from those early days of party culture. Most of the kids on the dance floor were high on ecstasy and they were exhibiting a posture that was new to me. Posing for themselves while looking at themselves in reflective surfaces while twirling all over the room, spreading cosmic messages of our being aligned with everything at that very moment -as one. Mary did this in her day-to-day while working at the library, while selling clothes to the local vintage store, while fucking everything up, while walking toward the falafel man she would eventually fall for. She seemed to constantly be walking down a fashion show runway, because why can’t life be like that? Why can't life be a big freaky show that I'm the star of?
I responded to this way of being in the moment, the world, and of being fully in her own skin while being existentially unsure and young and scared and thrift-store fancy.
Catherine Keener as Maxine Lund from Being John Malkovich
It was her indifference, her I "don’t give a shit-ness" that drew me in and just as with Parker Posey, I feel as though Catherine Keener, as an actress, had a lot more to do with this than Michelle Pfeiffer, as an actress, did for my connection to her Catwoman. Catwoman is a mess and although she made a decision I admired, I don't feel as thought she will ever truly "get it together." I might ask Maxine or Mary to take care of my plants while I went on vacation, but I wouldn't even think of trusting Catwoman.
She’s such an odd character, Maxine. She seems to, at first, put everyone on the same level, which is lower than where she stands. Even when she’s crouching around the 7 ½ floor.
Maxine obviously doesn't have everything together, but she gets down to business. She let greed get the best of her, sure, but in the end she had to follow her heart. I also liked her monochromatic outfits. When I first watched the movie I was nearly thirty and looking toward a more mature way of being. I wanted to look the part, not that I did, but I wanted to.
After I turned thirty everything changed and I think I stopped deriving such direct inspiration from characters, fictional or otherwise, although I definitely went through a time of being terribly inspired by how well Björk sticks to exactly who she is. She reminds me of my constant inspiration as a woman and as a person, which is the toddler female.
If you observe a four to five to six year-old girl, you will often see a tiny creature who puts on her favorite dress or boots or hat or crown, etc... Sometimes what she wears is frilly, sometimes not. Most of the time that sort of thing is taken care of by someone else anyway. What matters most is that she wants to play. She wants to do what she wants to do and does it no matter what. That’s probably always been the essence of my inspiration; what I've responded to in all of these characters.
By the time I reached my late thirties I became slightly and briefly interested in the way Sharon Stone’s Ginger McKenna in Martin Scorcese's film, Casino, worked the room (before she went nuts for her drugs and James Woods and her jewels), but really, she doesn’t impress me that much. I’m no longer impressed by people who are able to handle social situations well because I’ve learned to do that, I suppose, and just like Ginger, many people who are able to do that are just awful, terrible people who don't have much else going on. Still, I mentioned her to my friend Stacy, who suggested I write about these characters that have inspired me, so I feel as though I had explain why she doesn’t make the official list.
Now that I've (just slightly) passed the age of forty, I wonder if I’m finally comfortable in my skin? I wonder if I’m writing this because I'm noticing phases of being (in regard to being a relatively privileged human who has time to think of such things) that everyone goes through? I’d like to think that at some point I’ve absorbed all that I needed from all that has inspired me and that I’ve been living for a while now as an embodiment of all that I want to be, combined with all that I have always been.
My name is Linda Lay and I'm an artist, a writer and a teacher.
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