Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thanks for Everything, Michelle Pfeiffer

Last night Patrick and I attended a special post-Pride showing of Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy at the Met. The exhibit showcases comic book inspired fashions as well as original costumes from movies like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Spider-man 3. My personal favorite, of course, was Catwoman's leather outfit from Batman Returns (1992). (The astoundingly tiny costume can be seen below next to an example of Catwoman-ish couture.) When I was growing up Batman Returns was one of my favorite films; it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I've probably seen it close to 100 times. While writing my recent post on Jurassic Park, I realized that these two films' butt-kicking female heroines were very inspiring to me in ways that take on added significance from my current perspective. I'm not sure what, exactly, makes female superheroines so appealing to gay men, but they come up again and again in many of our childhood experiences; openly gay writer Phil Jimenez, for example, had a lifelong fascination with Wonder Woman when he took on scripting duties for her comic a few years back. Maybe it's because they, like us, are feminine individuals who defy expectations by being every bit as empowered and aggressive as their more masculine counterparts. And with their provocative outfits and lithe bodies, they express their sexuality in ways that challenge conventional mores. Catwoman certainly does the latter; always a fetching character, she explodes onto the screen in Returns with a skintight leather bodysuit and punishing whip that would make Betty Page proud. Michelle Pfeiffer's utterly brilliant performance (the kind that so often gets ignored by the stodgy Academy) depicts a woman who jarringly transforms from meek and mousy secretary Selina Kyle to mischievous dominatrix Catwoman. Surviving a murder attempt by her boss Max, Selina is revived by a horde of alley cats and returns home in a post-traumatic haze. In one of the most bizarre and astonishing sequences I've ever seen, Selina proceeds to trash her apartment, eliminate anything cutesy (up to jamming stuffed animals down the garbage disposal), and manufacture a stunning ensemble equipped with cat ears and razor sharp talons. "I don't know about you, Miss Kitty, but I feel so much yummier," Pfeiffer purrs in a voice miles away from the flustered Selina's. The next day she shocks Max-- and an intrigued Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton)-- by showing up at work, alive and well, with a claim that the night before is a "complete blur." She's also got a new, frizzy hairstyle and dark eye makeup. "Well, I remember the day I forgot to wear my underwear to school and the name of the boy who noticed was Ricky Freeberg," Selina offers. "He's dead now." Catwoman's next appearance cements her status as a postmodern feminist icon. "Be gentle, it's my first time," she tells an unruly mugger before kicking his ass. "Thanks," his would-be victim starts to say, before Catwoman cuts her off with a restraining paw. "Always waiting for some Batman to save you," she says mockingly. "I am Catwoman. Hear me roar." She then back-flips away in a jaw-dropping stunt. To say that I loved this character would be a gross understatement. She was one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen-- powerful, funny, and with an uncompromising sexuality that seemed alluringly adult and exotic to my nine-year-old self. Like many of the women who saw the film, I think I wanted to be her. (My straight male peers were just as in love, in a whole other way; in a chat I had earlier today, my friend Lucas wrote, "Dude, but every straight guy loves Catwoman, too.") I remember my dogged pursuit of the inexplicably rare Catwoman action figure as well as doing an impression of her grand entrance; standing before Batman and the Penguin, she says simply, "Meow." (File that as Sign # 2,576 that Should Have Given My Mother a Clue.) I know I wasn't the only one who was inspired; one of my dad's coworkers took his little girl the same day we saw the film, and when Catwoman made her final, triumphant appearance at the end, she stood up in the theater and shouted, "Yay, Catwoman!" Last night, as I looked at the stitched together outfit on display, I told Patrick simply, "That's a part of my childhood, right there." I'll always be grateful to this character (and those who created her) for showing all of us just how powerful we could really be.

1 comment:

simonagoldin said...

yeah, looking at that costume i can see that she was probably tinyroni! My favorite part of the movie is when she starts making her costume, what amazing seamstress skills she has for a secretary? Is that also one of catwoman's secret powers?