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Women in Revolt
Though his name is often associated with the underground film movement of the 1960s, Andy Warhol wasn't really much of a filmmaker. Content to merely experiment with the lens, he used celluloid as a medium of artistic adventure and deconstruction. His movies were flights of fancy, attempts to capture the same surreal spirit on the big screen as he created on his canvases. It was his collaborator and cameraman, Paul Morrissey that actually put the Warhol productions on the cinematic map. From 1966's considered classic Chelsea Girls to the infamous and influential trilogy Flesh, Trash and Heat, Morrissey has been the main reason that Andy's name is still associated with modern moviemaking. Recently, Image Entertainment has been reissuing the Morrissey films. Women in Revolt represents the final phase of this writer/director's work with the influential artist. Relying on the famed Factory faces and other icons of the New York scene, Morrissey wants to make a farce about feminism. He almost succeeds.
Hoping to forward the agenda of their new movement, teacher Jackie and model Holly seek out the financial backing of socialite friend (and believed lesbian) Candy. These gals are gonzo for a fresh kind of feminism, one with a far more confrontational philosophy. The group is known as P.I.G. - Politically Active Girls - and their ideology revolves around rejecting the penis and embracing the vagina. Unfortunately, all three ladies are suckers for men. Holly is so horny she will grab onto anything that comes into view. Jackie believes she is gay but wants to experiment with a male escort just to make sure. And Candy's well off family is threatening to disown her if she doesn't 'straighten' up and fly right. As the group continues to raise awareness and take on the paternal nature of society (including giving enemas to leering construction workers) their social aims start to fall apart. Jackie gets pregnant, Holly becomes a drunk and Candy finally realizes her dream of being a major movie star. For a bunch of Women in Revolt, they haven't been very successful from an activist standpoint.
A good way to describe Paul Morrissey's Women in Revolt is that it is too much of a thing. Not a good thing, or a bad thing, just a thing. Using drag queens as his stars (meaning none of his revolting women are actually gals) he wants to blur gender lines and issues just as radically as the about to be lampooned feminist movement was doing in the early 70s. Made in 1971, just prior to the final film in his unofficial Joe Dallesandro trilogy (Heat), this screwball comedy feels the most like Trash, the middle movie of the trio. It is loaded with camp and kitsch, chaotic with adlibbed dialogue and anarchic plotlines, and often falls apart, only to barely bring itself back together again. Considering that this is Candy Darling's last film for Warhol in a career cut short by cancer, it should seem somehow important or momentous. Instead, Women in Revolt is like a skit that forgot where the punchline is, only to go on and on for several irritating minutes until it finally locates the laugh. Sadly, it turns out it wasn't all that funny in the first place. Rife with male nudity, a numbing sequence of simulated oral sex, and enough mincing glamour fits to give the homosexual community mass intolerance nightmares, it is a film that is almost single-handedly saved by its cast - the key word being 'almost'.
At the center are our three drag divas. Candy's onscreen persona is like a mixture of all those classic Tinsel Town soap opera characters she keeps quoting. So highly strung that it sounds like she's singing instead of speaking, her affected voice will take some getting used to. But along with the blousy burlesque of Jackie Curtis, she gets off the majority of the memorable dialogue. Holly Woodlawn, so amazing in Trash, is merely set decoration here. Her first scene is fabulous, as she wrestles with her naked man friend and pitches hissies over his attempted penetration of her. No one can screech like our hag Holly. But if the movie belongs to anyone it's Jackie Curtis. The least convincing of our trio of female impersonators, Ms. C gets by on personality alone. When asked why she's drinking a beer while minding her child, Jackie argues that it is doctor's orders, "to calm (her) nerves". When the bodybuilder prostitute she hires comments on what a big girl she is, Jackie adds "I was captain of the volleyball team". During the moments when our trio talks trampy and tawdry, Women in Revolt is a riot. Candy responds to a ridiculous request in the following manner: "What do you mean come down off the trapeze into the sawdust? That's circus talk!", while Holly uses a couple of four letter words starting with "c" to describe the pros (feminine) and cons (male) of the movement. Indeed, the dialogue is the most delicious aspect of the film.
The plot, on the other hand, is nearly non-existent. It is obvious that this is a send-up of the radical feminism that was sweeping metropolitan America in the dying days of the 1960s, and Morrissey means to express his displeasure with the notion of male/female gender equality in the most obvious way possible. By passing off drag queens as real women, he is doing what the activists want, literally. But then, by making them into whores and half-wits, whining bitches that bellyache over every little issue in their lives, he hopes to drive home the point that some sentiments inherent in sexuality are hard to shake. Unfortunately, that message is mired in messy sequences of improvised dramatics that hardly move the narrative along. Jackie has an extended scene with her "houseboy" where she ridicules his hygiene and sprays him with deodorant - all over (including the ass). While it's very funny, it doesn't go anywhere, nor does it firmly establish the relationship between the two. Candy comments on how she wants to leave her man for another woman (and hints that we will soon learn who this gal pal is). But nothing ever comes of that revelation. It's as if Morrissey thought that so much of this material was comedic gold that he couldn't or wouldn't cut it into something making sense. Unlike the rambling but reasonable plots in the trilogy, Women in Revolt feels aimless and scattered.
Besides, it really is too long. At nearly an hour and forty minutes it plays like two films mashed together. We could do without the meeting with Mrs. Fitzpatrick (another guy dressed up like an old biddy) or the bedroom romp between Holly, Jackie and that odiferous manservant. Morrissey could have clipped most of the casting couch scene between Candy and a would-be agent, and the final few minutes where the now famous Darling is dressed down by a gossip columnist goes from humorous to horrible as it overstays its welcome. Timing is tantamount to successful comedy, yet Morrissey consistently lets his actors go on long after the joke is well worn out. Still, this is one catty, campy quip-fest, full of the kind of homo-hilarity that would color the works of filmmakers like John Waters for decades to come. If you are only familiar with Paul Morrissey from his work on Warhol's Frankenstein/Dracula epics, here is a chance to learn where his true cinematic roots lie. His work with the pop art pioneer would always be gauged by the drag/Dallesandro oeuvre. While not the best example of the guys as gals arena, Women in Revolt is still a cheap, cheesy curiosity. It definitely deserves a look.
From a technical standpoint, Image does a bang-up job with this no-budget title. Morrissey movies were more or less homemade, but you would never know it by the look of the presentation offered. Women in Revolt is presented in a full-frame 1.33:1 image that looks relatively brand-new. Certainly the original stock elements were problematic; Morrissey was shooting on outdated equipment with minimal lighting under the most extreme of circumstances, but the transfer treats this title very well. The print here contains wonderfully bright colors, excellent detail, and nice contrasts.
The Dolby Digital Mono is clean and bright, lacking the distortion and overmodulation one comes to expect from non-professional productions. The dialogue is usually easy to decipher (unless some ancillary element, like a door knock or a crying baby interferes with the scene) and the conversations are clean and crisp.
Though he doesn't step right up and offer a full length audio commentary for this title, Morrissey does do what he did for Flesh, Trash and Heat. Unearthing rare outtakes and deleted scenes from the film, as well as a wealth of production stills, the writer/director then offers up these materials with alternate narrative tracks, explaining much of his motive and mannerism in the making of his films. For Women in Revolt, Morrissey makes it clear that he believes everything Darling, Curtis and Woodlawn do is "fab-u-lous" and he feels that he did some of his best work within this narrative framework. While a conversation with surviving cast member Woodlawn would have been nice (it would be interesting to hear what he/she has to say about her performance now) this is still a decent digital presentation.
Had it been more controlled, more careful in how it measured out its amusements, Women in Revolt would have been a certified cult classic. It is filled with memorable dialogue, devastatingly deranged performances, and a rather irreverent view of sexual and social politics. Yet this may be the first movie where Morrissey's shoot-from-the-hip histrionics do his designs a disservice. Overall, this film is far too scattered to be sharp, not insightful enough to be satiric. Instead, it is a gay old romp with a lot of fun to be found inside the floundering. It easily earns a rating of Recommended, and fans of underground cinema and movie mavericks like John Waters should definitely check it out. Unlike his derelict dramas or high camp horror, Morrissey muffs this one, allowing excess to get the better of him. Women in Revolt should be a sensation. As it stands, it is a tainted time capsule treat.
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