Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Cinematic Creatures

This post is a contribution to the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series at The Film Experience.

"I don't care what you do. Paul and I are going to Hollywood. They're desperately keen to sign us up. We're going to be film stars."

The girls of Heavenly Creatures lose themselves in fantasies of murder, of emigration, and of magical castles, but, particularly because this series focuses on cinematography, it's the cinematic inflection to it all that really sparked my interest.

"Absolutely not! Ugh, Orson Welles! The most hideous man alive!"

Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline's (Melanie Lynskey) deification of various male filmstars is fascinating on various levels, not least in how it plays with the film's navigation of the girls' sexual desires and fantasies. What particularly struck me about this moment, though, was the position of power within their friendship - Pauline is constantly looking with worshipping eyes at Juliet, evidently deifying her friend more than any of the stars in the photos. When Pauline finally suggests her own heterosexual desire, Juliet - seemingly unaware, and certainly uninterested, in Pauline's feelings towards her at this point - isn't just disapproving, she's horrified.

Orson is easily thrown away and quickly consumed by the waterfall. Crucially, the ease and cruelty of this action by Juliet suggests to Pauline that people who are not approved of, or who disrupt their lives, can be simply, cleanly disposed of.

Naturally, it turns out Orson isn't that easy to get rid of.

"I never have never in my life seen anything in the same category of hideousness... 
but I adore him!"

Actor Jean Guérin, as Orson Welles, is inserted into scenes from The Third Man, alongside Joseph Cotten and Trevor Howard, so that when he haunts the girls on their trip home from the theatre, the connection is easy to make. In a perverse way, folding into the domination of the girls' fantasy worlds, Welles acts as a foreshadowing of Pauline's mother - showing the girls how killing someone does not mean you can so easily escape them.

Picking up where he fell off the waterfall, Orson continues interjecting into the power Juliet holds over Pauline. Pauline's voiceover, taken directly from her real diaries, demonstrates her heterosexual desire peeking through the repression she has undertaken at Juliet's distaste, and further, assuming the cinematic realisation of fantasies are attributed to Pauline, this subordination to Juliet bleeds over here. Exhausted, delirious from the fright and thrill that Orson's chase gave them, Pauline kisses Juliet - but then she changes into Orson, and creates my favourite image of the film.

So many of the film's themes seem to come together in this one peculiar image. Juliet's immersion in worlds of imagination. The increasingly present blue chill of the image, making Juliet seem the more unreal of the pair. Sexuality as distorted by cinema's presentation of movie stars. The erotic element of death. The scene, like the film, treads a careful line between hilarity and morbidity, encapsulating both the pleasures and dangers of losing yourself inside invented worlds.

Two runner-up shots, presented without comment:



great writeup. I have always loved the cinema-on-cinema nature of this movie and this time the Orson Welles stuff was even better. I nearly picked the shot where Orson's shadow gives way to Melanie Lynskey in the frame. This movie is so beautifully choreographed and it puts so many expensively mounted movies to shame it's so imaginative with just these small touches.

Anonymous said...

Loved how you noticed the blue evening lighting. It came off turquoise in my "copy." It adds another layer of fantasy to the film.

Also, part of me was jealous that these girls have seen "The Third Man" and I have always passed up on the chance to do so. One day. Orson Welles rules!