Dan from Public Transportation Snob has handed me a list. The list… is life. No, wait. Sorry. The list is “The Ten Most Iconic Female Movie Characters”. It was started by Dell on Movies and has passed through the hands of five other bloggers before falling in my lap. The rules for handling this list are as follows:
A list of 10 iconic female movie characters has been made. That list will be assigned to another blogger who can then change it by removing one character (describing why they think she should not be on the list) and replacing it with another one (also with motivation) and hand over the baton to another blogger. Once assigned, that blogger will have to put his/her post up within a week. If this is not the case the blogger who assigned it has to reassign it to another blogger.
Seems simple enough, right? But how does one determine “iconic”? I can’t just put my favorite performance (Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, thanks for asking). It has to be iconic. A character who endures the passage of time and lives on in our pop culture consciousness. A character that others are measured against. A character whose name instantly evokes an image, a persona. We’re not messing around here. This is the big leagues of movie characters. Female ones, specifically.
These are the participants so far:
And these are the iconic ladies, as the list currently stands:
So the first order of business is to remove one of these women from the list. My first instinct was to take out Scarlett or Holly, since I’m not a big fan of either of those films. But those are certainly iconic characters, more so than others on the list. I’m not sure Lisbeth meets the definition of “iconic” but since I’m very fond of her — and think she should be iconic — I’ll leave her alone too. I’ve gotta go with The Bride. I really like Kill Bill and I really like Uma Thurman’s performance, but she doesn’t strike me as an icon. She’s strong, but she doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi… and she’s largely borrowed from The Bride Wore Black and Lady Snowblood anyway. Besides, two Tarantino characters on the list is at least one too many.
Now. I’ve gotta add one. I thought removing was hard, but hoo boy, this is a nightmare. The thing that first struck me is the sad lack of women of color in iconic roles. Pam Grier was taken out (Foxy Brown) and added back in again (as Jackie Brown)… but who else fits the bill? I absolutely adore Ruby Dee, but none of her roles could be called iconic (Mother Sister in Do the Right Thing comes closest). Juanita Moore’s performance in Imitation of Life is another huge favorite, but again… I can’t justify it as iconic. Research tells me that Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones might be a good choice, but I haven’t seen it (note to self: see Carmen Jones). And where are the iconic Asian, Latina or Native American roles? There are so few to choose from. There are prominent non-Caucasian female characters in the films of other countries, but not many have infiltrated pop culture to the degree that they could be called iconic. No matter how much I adore Madhabi Mukherjee in her work with Satyajit Ray or Setsuko Hara in her work with Yasujiro Ozu, it would be disingenuous of me to add any of their characters to this list. Which is a shame. In a perfect world, Charulata would be an icon.
But she isn’t, so who do I add? It seems odd that Marilyn Monroe isn’t on this list… certainly an iconic actress, but which of her characters would one pick? I’m not a big enough fan to make that choice (but come on, it’s gotta be Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, right?). One of my favorites is Guilietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria, perhaps iconic as the “hooker with a heart of gold” trope. How about Marlene Dietrich as “Shanghai Lily” in Shanghai Express? Definitely worthy of consideration. My fiancée had the brilliant idea of nominating a Divine role, for a gender-bending twist. Dawn Davenport demanding her cha-cha heels in Female Trouble is pretty damn iconic, to me at least. As a noir fanatic, I think of all the great femmes fatales, from Ann Savage’s venomous Vera in Detour to Rita Hayworth’s wild, sultry Gilda. Norma friggin’ Desmond, anyone? So many I want to name. The list goes on and on and on.
Finally I managed to get my shortlist boiled down to three candidates. For the title character in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Bette Davis conjured up a bizarre, hilarious, twisted, demented, tragic human being. Talk about unforgettable characters. Jeanne Moreau as Catherine in Jules et Jim is the ultimate “obscure object of desire”. She makes no bones about who she is or what she wants, and you can’t take your eyes off of her. And then there is the most iconic femme fatale in noir, Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity. Phyllis took us all for a ride, straight down the line. We’re all rotten… only she’s a little more rotten. How do I choose one of these three? HOW?
The one I kept coming back to was Catherine from Jules et Jim. She’s open to the world yet enigmatic. Mysterious and complex. Irresistible. Unpredictable. “She’s a real woman. It’s that woman you and I love, that all men desire.” She’s a siren, promising freedom and fun and passion but discarding men on a whim, only to suck them back into her whirlpool again. Her tourbillon….
I now hand the baton over to Anna at Film Grimoire, who I hope doesn’t agonize over this as much as I did.