A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Valerie Solanas tries to kill Andy Warhol, 1968
On this day in the 1968, the feminist writer Valerie Solanas went to the Factory, artist Andy Warhol’s studio in New York, and fired three shots at him from a gun she had just bought. Two missed and one wounded him. She also shot the art critic Mario Amaya and attempted to shoot Warhol’s manager, Fred Hughes, but the gun jammed. She then turned herself in to the police. Solanas had in fact set out to shoot Maurice Girodias, owner of the Olympia Press – who had offered to publish her work – but hadn’t been able to find him, and so had altered course for Warhol, who had taken a film script of hers, Up Your Ass, and promptly lost it. She was convinced both men were out to destroy her. Solanas had been supporting herself through prostitution while embarking on a career as an avant garde writer. Her most famous work is the SCUM Manifesto (which stands for The Society for Cutting Up Men), an extremist form of feminism which describes the average male as “obsessed with screwing; he’ll swim through a river of snot, wade nostril-deep through a mile of vomit, if he thinks there’ll be a friendly pussy awaiting him.” The Manifesto continues: “there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.” For her crimes Solanas was sentenced to three years in prison, and spent a year of it in a mental hospital, where she received treatment for paranoid schizophrenia.
Teeth (2007, dir: Mitchell Lichtenstein)
Teeth is a film about a girl whose vulva bites – the vagina dentata of legend – made by Mitchell Lichtenstein, the son of the New York pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. Mitchell is just about the right age (born 1956) to have experienced that first shock wave of feminism in the late 1960s, against which Pussy Riot and the like look like warm-up artists. But I’m not telling you the plot – our girl, a sweet blonde called Dawn (Jess Weixler), a chastity advocate at her high school, finds herself drawn to Tobey (Hale Appleman), also a booster for virginity, an attraction which is going to lead to serious squirms later in the movie. Meanwhile, at home, Dawn has a stepbrother who lost the tip of his finger as a toddler. How he lost that tip can be guessed at, and whether he’s going to go back to where he lost it is another one of the small joys of this mad film. The movie neatly divides into two parts – part one is a John Waters-inspired satire of modern suburban manners, and Weixler is all you could hope for as the dewy and lovely young woman simply trying to negotiate the murky waters of sex, inadequately armed with the “Just Say No” gang’s standard-issue weapon – ignorance. In part two Lichtenstein goes for a kind of zombie bake-off excess, ladling on shocks, gore, OMG laughs and even the odd sputtering guffaw. It’s not perfect – there’s the distinct impression that Lichtenstein is letting us know that he’s slumming it – but he’s clearly picked up a thing or two about striking visuals from his dad (or maybe his mother – who knows?) and Lichtenstein understands the value of dropping a severed penis into the mix when things start to flag, which they rarely do. And how accommodating that the most jockish of genres – we were pretty much at the height of the torture porn thing when Teeth debuted – should find room for a film that guys really, really won’t enjoy watching half as much as their girlfriends.
- A good fun, bloody shocker
- Jess Weixler’s perfect performance
- A trenchant satire on the purity ring culture
- A vagina with teeth
© Steve Morrissey 2014