16-DEC-2011 My interview with pulp writer SEAN H. TAYLOR continues as we dive into the hypnotic lure of the femme fatale in literature, television, and cinema. Don’t forget to go back and read Part 1.
Today’s media faces an uprising of women (and for that matter men who look at women) that feel the body sizes we’re shown are unattainable; they are fantasy fodder being a detriment to anyone who looks at bony size 0 skeletons when the average woman has meat on her. The femme fatale is usually described as “curvy.” She’s seductive, sexy and has a wiggle when she walks. I asked Taylor if this discrepancy makes the literary femme fatale more accessible or relatable. He replied, “I really don’t [see] this as an issue here (unlike in drawn works like comic books), if only because so many of them became standard fair in noir films and thrillers. Is Lauren Bacall attainable? Well, Lauren Bacall sure seemed to attain her. The same goes for Ann Savage, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, Lizabeth Scott, Barbara Stanwyck, Gene Tierney, and numerous others. Some much of the idealized femme fatale is based on actual women that I think it cuts that argument off at the knees (and then locks it in trunk and drives it to the quarry to bury it in cement).”
Thinking back to when we discussed crossing literary subgenres from noir to cozy mysteries, I wondered if there was leeway for comedy in acting roles to be considered. Would someone like Penny from THE BIG BANG THEORY be a bonafide femme fatale given our modern standards since she serves as the seductive distraction to the four nerdy men that live across the hall? “Usually when a femme fatale appears in comedy, it seems to me that she’s there to serve as a joke against the archetype rather than a true femme fatale. A comedic actress, though, can surely play that role. Just look at Barbara Stanwyck. Her femmes brought as much humor to the role as they brought sultry to it. And River Song’s propensity for clever one-liners doesn’t detract from her femme-ness at all. I will say, though, that most often, the humor is added value to a dramatic plot, rather than a comedy-based work to begin with,” Taylor explained.
Taylor answered who he has chosen as his unlikely favorite: “My favorite nowadays would be Christina Hendrick’s Saffron on FIREFLY. She’s the best example of a modern femme fatale based on the old model that I’ve seen. But there are lots of other fine examples, from Catwoman to Dr. Who’s River Song. Each of them embody the Lilith type who tempts men but has a power all her own and doesn’t seek to control but to get what she wants out of life without having society dictate its standards down to her.”
SOME SUGGESTIONS OF THE REDESIGNED FEMME FATALE:
1. UNLIKELY DARK HORSE: I spent some time thinking about women in media that seem to fit the role of femme fatale but are unlikely contenders for the title for one reason or another. The top dame for Unlikely Femme Fatale in my opinion is celebrity chef, NIGELLA LAWSON. The crime she commits are repeated violations of following that stupid government food chart, and boy oh boy, does she do it well.
Case for Nigella: I have seen men blog about Nigella’s passion for food, her knockout body, and her willingness to eat, eat, eat no matter what time it is. On her show, Nigella Bites, she usually ends with a “midnight snack” trip to the fridge where she will partake in anything from dark chocolate cake to bacon. She tempts viewers around the globe. Instead of a smoking cigarette she would have a cherry stem between her lips. Plus, she has a mesmerizing accent. You can stalk to your hearts content on Twitter by following her @Nigella_Lawson.
Runner Up (partially because of the character’s age): SANTANA from GLEE played by Naya Rivera who is safely above legal at age 23 while playing a high school cheerleader. The reason Santana is not evident as a femme fatale is because GLEE is pretty far from a crime drama. It’s a perpetual after-school special with singing and dancing and constant teenage angst. But Santana is a bitchy bisexual that is being written more exclusively as a lesbian this season. She’s rotten to her classmates and steals boyfriends at every turn. The name “Santana” even closely resembles Satan. This can provide the audience with a notable scapegoat or controller who makes female characters corrupt men; see: SATAN’S DAUGHTERS by Jack Leech (1963) or Hester Pryne in THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850).
2. NON-CRIME FEMME FATALE: Storming through ABC’s twisted fairy tales in ONCE UPON A TIME, is LANA PARILLA in the dual role of Evil Queen and Mayor Mills of Storybrooke. She’s so heartless that as the Evil Queen, she actually has a collection of hearts magically removed from the bodies of people who owe her; she uses a spell to keep them alive when necessary but their hearts are housed in a mausoleum. She also plays into the role of wicked step-mother while actually being Henry’s adoptive mother. This is supposed to show that somewhere inside her there’s a nurturing side that is capable of love if the right person came along to convince her that being evil isn’t everything. She believed that her romantic claws were firmly dug into the flesh of the Sheriff/Huntsman only to see him fall for the hero dame, Emma. She also revels in the sheer unhappiness of Snow White/Mary Margaret and does whatever she can to influence Prince Charming away from her former former step-daughter.
Runner Up: BELLATRIX LESTRANGE from the HARRY POTTER series. We don’t know why we’re attracted to this powerful psychopathic sorceress but we just are. We long for the chapters where she shows up and we revel in the girl fight between Bellatrix and Mrs. Weasley.
3. DESPERATELY NEEDS A FEMME FATALE: One of my favorite shows is RIZZOLI & ISLES. I know they are based on Tess Gerritsen novels which I do plan to explore at some point in my “To Read” tasks. There are two powerful female leads here: Detective Jane Rizzoli (ANGIE HARMON) who fits the tom-boy next door type and her best friend Medical Examiner for Boston Dr. Maura Isles (SASHA ALEXANDER) who was adopted into a wealthy family that provided her with education and class but not much warm cozy familial love. What I haven’t seen in this modern noir is a femme fatale. These best friends are comfortable with certain levels of physical comfort and affection like falling asleep next to each other and sharing clothes. The lesbian overtones are off the charts and even played up when Maura tries to lose the attention of a greasy mechanic; but TNT is keeping them hetero in B stories about finding the Mr. Right. Because of their jobs, they are always involved in dangerous situations.
4. GOTHAM CITY LITMUS TEST: Raise your hand if you’re a woman from Gotham? You’re most likely a femme fatale. In the vast history of comics, DC has created the finest gallery of femmes fatales all within one city, Gotham from the BATMAN universe. Readers (and gamers) can pretty much take their pick from Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Thalia and Kate Kane. At some point in their histories, these ladies have played for the good guys. Marvel has done the same, but there isn’t a city not even New York or Chicago that is screwed up as Gotham.
Runner Up: The Fallen Angel, Liandra of Bete Noir from Peter David’s FALLEN ANGEL comic series. He purposely created a bad girl that plays the role of hero. She shares many of the same traits as other “good girl” detectives that happen to be badass and still bad for you while following the law like Gotham City’s Renee Montoya.
5. REIGNING QUEEN OF CRIME: Can Detective Kate Beckett (STANA KATIC) of ABC’s CASTLE be considered a femme fatale? She is somewhat damaged, fearless until Season 5 shows her with PTSD, smokin’ hot, and possesses the mind of Batman or The Spirit (incidentally she was a femme fatale in that movie adaptation). However, she operates within the law. The character of Beckett is also quite a fan of literature and crime novels which is how she is familiar with Castle’s work in the pilot. Her character has a background balanced with tragedy, rebellious behavior, plus things she’d like to forget such as being a figure model for art students. She drives a motorcycle and wears tight leather jackets not to mention, she has a vicious coffee addiction.
The Beckett character can be anything from Bond girl secret agent in a hot swimsuit to girl next door to action star badass. Though she has technically been a victim of crimes, she isn’t victimized per se. Her apartment is blown up by a crazed serial killer; she’s been kidnapped; and she’s been shot by a sniper. She keeps getting up and going back for more.
Due to CASTLE’s television success, it has been turned into a popular series of “Richard Castle” penned novels that Castle has supposedly written before partnering with Beckett and during his time with the NYPD; and Marvel Comics issued a graphic novel of a Derek Storm story (the character Castle kills off before creating his new one based on Beckett).