The other night as I slipped into the deep end of the first weekend of summer break I flipped through the movie options offered by my cable
monopolizer provider, I came across this old gem.
When I told the Cowboy I had picked a movie he responded with the appropriate enthusiasm. And then I pushed play. He looked at me. I grinned. He kept looking. “What?” “Desperately Seeking Susan? Really?”
And we settled in to watch.
My immediate thoughts on the film had much to do with Madge herself. Bearing in mind that, as a legit child of the 80s who remembers the first time I hear Holiday and was surrounded through highschool by girls (braver than me) who fully embodied the Madonna-wanna-be stylings with great success, her first album is firmly imprinted somewhere deep within me. As I sat watching I was struck how on trend 1985 Madonna remains. And I was as dramatically impressed by my initial reaction to Madonna’s physique… which was somewhere along the lines of “Wow, Madonna looks big…” As the movie progressed and I got used to looking at the old version of Madonna (in my opinion far more attractive than the modern version that has varied between exercise fanatical and positively underfed) I realized how lucky I was to grow up in a time where I felt good about a normal body. Madonna is tiny – IRL and in the film – but our standards have shifted to such extremes, at first glance she looks… pudgy. Well, that is overstating it, but at the very least she has a softness and fleshiness that is frowned upon these days. Even Rosanna Arquette, a tiny human by all accounts – looked, *normal* in the movie. I guess normal isn’t what we want to look at as a model anymore, but it was certainly refreshing.
The film held up pretty well, I thought, likely because it was (I think?) purposefully kitsch in ’85. Of course, the fact that the clothes donned by all the characters set the tone for hipster trends also give it that oddly contemporary feel. Apparently Madonna is the muse of every one of the customers in my favorite store. Further, I found that the lack of technology contributed to character development in a way that is also lost. Remember when we used to wonder about things? ‘Who wrote that?’ ‘What is so-and-so doing tonight?’ ‘Where is such-and-such?’ I realize that I am as guilty as anyone for noting – on the regular – that we no longer have to wonder about anything anymore… just whip out the smart(er) phone and look it up… But I also miss that thin veil of not knowing; and it was the unknown that really drove the entire story in Desperately Seeking Susan after all. I mean, with an internet search, or even online newspapers, that whole debacle of a search would not have made a 30-minute sitcom (which is really only 21.5 minutes of program time…)
Product placement in the movie was also delightfully antiquated. There were very few actual commercial products in place – the most notable, the regularly visible Miller beer bottles. Remember these squat little things?
The style and aesthetic of the film were also really vivid. These days it seems like movies work so hard to be devoid of texture, you know, so slick and stylized. Not so here. It makes you look. And when you look you see all these other cool details, not the least of which includes the cast (beyond the two female leads) of this movie: John Turturro (and his mom!); Will Patton; Steven Wright; Aidan Quinn; Laurie Metcalf; and remember the garage attendant from Ferris Bueller – What country do you think this is?? Yeah, Richard Edson is in there too. So that is all pretty cool.
Ultimately, one of the things that really got me thinking a lot about this movie was an article that a friend of mine posted somewhere in the world of social media. The article, How Hollywood’s Disinterest In Women Could Waste A Generation Of Outrageously Talented Actresses, talks about how there just aren’t movies built around women anymore.
Last week, NPR’s Linda Holmes did the math on movies that were screening in the Washington, DC-area on Friday, and calculated that of the 617 movie showings on the calendar, 90 percent of them were for movies about men, and only one of the movies in theaters was directed by a woman. And this is in a major metropolitan area.
“I want to stress this again: In many, many parts of the country right now, if you want to go to see a movie in the theater and see a current movie about a woman — any story about any woman that isn’t a documentary or a cartoon — you can’t. You cannot,” Holmes wrote. “There are not any. You cannot take yourself to one, take your friend to one, take your daughter to one. There are not any.”
The irony of coming up in the 80s when it was becoming cool to never be too rich or too thin (remember that Omega Watches ad campaign?) was that somehow, we were still allowed to be girls and we were audacious and healthy and got to see movies about cool chicks – without the pressure to be them, just the choice.
Of course, as absence makes the heart fonder, years soften the actualities of experience and I am aware much of the 80s blew – hard. And that we are still suffering from much of it. I mean, am I right?
But, today, and many other days, I am grateful for Madonna. Say what you want about her weird British accent phase, the Kabbala nonsense, the obsessive midlife body issues, and plastic surgery (all of which I would like to blame on a mainstream media that would never have let her be herself for long.) Madonna got real, when little else was, by being audaciously ridiculous – and she was definitely in on the joke.
And that is bitchin’.