Camp David

CAMP DAVID JUNE 2009: THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT

By • Jun 4th, 2009 •

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“THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT”

Gianna Maria Canale from THE DEVIL'S COMMANDMENT, 1956

“She’s got a lot of what they call the most

She can’t help it…The Girl can’t help it

The girl can’t help it: she was born to please”

Whenever I hear Little Richard’s contagious 50’s’classic “The Girl Can’t Help It” I always flash to that iconic image of Divine walking down that street in Baltimore with a piece of steak she shoplifted safely placed between she ample thighs. I am sure that Divine is thinking of Jayne Mansfield at that moment as she seemed to channel movie stars with her drag. In one of Divine’s last interviews he referred to his alter ego as “A cross between Bette Davis and Joan Collins…the woman you love to hate” This image from PINK FLAMINGOS is also my motivation to curate yet another Pop Culture photo exhibit of images from THE DEL VALLE ARCHIVE.

This exhibition of photography has been organized to challenge the traditional representation of the feminine in films from the 50’s and 60’s. Among the 30 images on display are Sue Lyon sucking on a lollipop in LOLITA….British nymphet Linda Hayden at 16 in her groundbreaking BABY LOVE…Patty Duke in the role that nearly ended her career in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, Charlotte Rampling bare-breasted in suspenders hot to trot in Nazi Germany for THE NIGHT PORTER…Candice Bergen as Diana the goddess of the hunt in THE MAGUS, and Maryanne Faithfull in full leather gear as THE GIRL ON THE MOTORCYCLE. The beat does go on.

Sue Lyon in LOLITA

The subjects of this exhibit are actresses, most in some type of fetish gear, representing transgressive creations that men covet, since they are at once complex personalities with unrestrained sexuality. The defination of “transgressive” for my purpose being to go beyond…to rebel. These films were all made in a male-dominated society that attempts to define, limit and more importantly contain women. Some feminists put forth the concept that women in Cinema are really just projections of male fantasy and desire. The real power of these transgressive films is to lift women out of the shadows. to disrupt and challenge the patriarchal values of society. Since the feminist movement took hold in the mid-sixties, this transgressive feminine presence in films is seen as a response to the Atomic age, with all it’s paranoia from the revolt in the 50’s of domesticity.

The fifties output of Joan Crawford is particularly fascinating material for this exhibit since all her films beginning with her surprise hit SUDDEN FEAR function as an alternate universe for her ageless sex appeal and star power . I chose two images of Joan Crawford for this exhibit. The first from JOHNNY GUITAR, the Technicolor fever dream of Nicholas Ray, with duelling tour de force performances from both Mercedes McCambridge and Joan Crawford. The other is from FEMALE ON THE BEACH – the image of Joan standing in the middle of her bedroom drunk, clutching a fifth of bourbon, says it all. In this film Joan is well over 50 and yet the script refers to her at all times as a girl. She rejects and then falls for a male hustler (Jeff Chandler) who is part of an escort service run by Natalie Schafer and her hubby Cecil Kellaway, filling in for her later TV hubby Jim Backus. Reality is blurred here, since Joan was having an affair with Chandler on and off the set.

Linda Hayden from BABY LOVE

The Image from VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is one of my personal favorites as it defines Patty Duke’s character just as well as any of her over the top moments in the film itself. As Neely O’Hara our Patty is supposed to be playing an uber-talented triple threat of Diva, superstar, and pill-head alcoholic. Resplendent in an ensemble that can only be described as Hooker chic, Patty sports big hair and a micro mini skirt. Patty poses by a larger than life photo advertising her latest star turn in a musical headed for Broadway, still, shall we say, high on believing…moments after this photo she does her mega break-down in the alley in the scene we all remember forever darkening the image of a younger Patty Duke for whom a “hotdog could make her lose control.”

I wanted to include the amazing Charlotte Rampling in the exhibit and the image I could never forget is her cabaret turn, bare breasted of course, in THE NIGHT PORTER. This is an interesting failure from the decadent 70’s since both Rampling and Dirk Bogade had done Visconti’s film THE DAMMED prior to this and both were disappointed by the press’s lack of response when the film came out. I think placing Bogade in a sexual role like this is always risky since he tended to bring a subtext of homosexuality in nearly everything he did during this last period of his life. There is simply no frisson between them in this film; it is however beautifully photographed and the first half is filled with promise that ultimately collapses by the final reel. The flashbacks however are priceless, with our Charlotte recalling her time with the Nazi’s as “My blue Heaven.” It does not get more transgressive than this.

Patty Duke by a poster from VALLEY OF THE DOLLS

The Flaming image of Maria Montez, while not part of the era I was aiming for in this exhibit, still qualifies as transgressive Cinema because Montez epitomizes the woman who cannot help herself in transgressing the socially accepted behavior in any society she inhabits. The five films she made at Universal in the forties are iconic for her physical domination of the Technicolor process, ultimately becoming its official Queen. Of the five films, it is COBRA WOMAN which shines the brightest and is, of course, the most transgressive of the lot. In this film we have two Marias, one good, the other totally not. As the high priestess to King Cobra, Maria Montez set the standard for camp in the cinema. It would take an author like Gore Vidal to immortalize her in COBRA WOMAN by setting his character of Myra Breckinridge and its sequel in the very film itself. Film Historian both gay and straight have long been aware of this film and it’s many charms.

One aspect that all these women have in common in the narratives of nearly all of these transgressive films is their rejection of the law, which then leads to their punishment for behavior society finds disturbing. The empowered female was brought down for the good of the community. The order must be preserved. I included the epic Tura Satana from Russ Meyer’s FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL since she is now an icon of the transgressive power of the female to dominate and win, if only for a moment, before facing her doom. The haunting specter of Jess Franco’s VENUS IN FURS is also included as one of the more fascinating images in world cinema, observing her torture and death at the hands of decadent playboys, only to witness her return from the dead to avenge the guilty in kind.

Arlene Dahl from SLIGHTLY SCARLET

LOLITA simply gets better with each viewing. I never tire of watching James Mason twitch and stutter as Sue Lyon forces him to eat his breakfast piecemeal, suspending his egg until he takes it whole into his mouth. I also feel we are seeing Shelly Winters at her very best as the devoted Charlotte Haze, going on that long train ride to nowhere. Peter Sellers is of course flawless as Quilty, forever taunting as the desk clerk at the hotel, or using a dazzling array of impersonations to achieve his desires. Sue Lyon was perhaps too old to be faithful to the source and yet I can think of no one else in the part but her… she will forever be Lo in the morning, iconic with her lollipop and hula hoop.

This exhibit might be the tip of the iceberg if it is well received, since we went through over 200 images to finally settle on the 30 represented in the current show. Perhaps we can look forward to “THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT” PART TWO.

This exhibit will be running throughout the month of June at THE BRICKHOUSE GALLERY 2837 36th St. on Broadway Sacramento Calif.

REMEMBER

SHE’S GOT A LOT OF WHAT WE CALL THE MOST.

THE GIRL CANT HELP IT…..

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