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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


In keeping with my remarks in Part 1, in this essay I'll deal strictly with some of the problematic aspects of Brittney-Jade Colangelo's essay on "damsels in distress."

First up is a minor glitch in this sentence: 'Film theorist, Budd Boetticher, stated “what counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.”'

I don't doubt that Budd Boetticher made this statement, but he was never a film theorist, but rather a writer and director of films, one best known for a series of westerns starring Randolph Scott. He probably did make ample use of the "damsel in distress" archetype, as the archetype was almost de rigeur in the western. However, Boetticher is not the best example of this tendency, for a fair number of his projects include the type of gutsy females I have termed "femmes formidables." Admittedly, in such films as 1953's WINGS OF THE HAWK and 1959's RIDE LONESOME, these female characters are narratively subordinate to a male hero, but one may argue that such figures anticipate the sort of "badass women" Colangelo sees as a conscious renunciation of the "damsel" archetype.

My second niggle has more to do with opinion than fact, as I take issue with this statement near the essay's end:
The slasher film has arguably the biggest fanbase and brought more iconic characters to the horror world than any other subgenre. Although a bit formulaic at times, they all contain the all mighty Final Girl. 
Unlike many online critics, I do respect many slasher films for birthing "iconic characters" such as Jason Voorhees, whose first eight films I reviewed on my film-review blog, beginning here.  But I certainly wouldn't say that there are more iconic characters in this horror-subgenre than in its most prominent competitor: the Gothic horror subgenre that dominates the horror films of the Classic Hollywood period.  I would allow that most of the Gothic horrors are based on literary predecessors, so that many of the early cinema-icons are not original creations, though this is not a condition of Colangelo's statement. Nevertheless, I would have to say that the early cinematic versions of Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, Mister Hyde, and Doctor Moreau far outstrip Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, while original creations like Imhotep/Kharis and the Wolf Man are easily the equals or superiors of Leatherface and Freddy Krueger.

And though I agree that the evolution of the Final Girl is highly significant in terms of "reading gender" in cinema, they certainly don't appear in *all* slasher films.  Just to cite the most prominent counter-examples, both FRIDAY THE 13TH:THE FINAL CHAPTER and FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING use a male character as the narrative focus.

Finally, I disagree that the archetype of the "badass female," or "femme formidable" as I term it, is *purely* generated as a reaction against the offensiveness of the "damsel in distress" archetype, as Colangelo describes here:

Without the “damsel in distress,” we wouldn’t have a character to be offended and angry towards. That may sound silly, but it’s true. If we weren’t so intensely offended by this archetype, we wouldn’t have rebelled and tried so hard to disprove it.

I don't doubt that certain individual creators have sought to redress the offensiveness of "the helpless female" by evoking the opposite.  But I believe that the appeal of the femme formidable archetype does not depend upon such a reaction; the archetype has its own innate appeal, which I explored in the series WHAT WOMEN WILL, beginning here. I'll touch further on this appeal in the third part of this series, where I will deal with the historical aspects of Colangelo's assertions.

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