Sunday, April 23, 2006

You're going straight to Hell, Frances Farmer!

Watching Frances, I was surprised to see so many connections to Tootsie (especially in one scene, when Frances is called "tootsie"). Based on the life of 1930's actress Frances Farmer, the movie deals with the status of women in the acting profession.
From the very beginning of the movie, we see Frances as a bit of a hellion of a woman, doing her own thing and going against the norms of society. The movie opens with Frances delivering a speech about the death of God for a high school contest, and shortly after she travels to Russia during the hight of the war, just to follow her acting dream. Right there, we already begin to see accusations of being an atheist and a communist, some very hefty titles to have in the '30's.
Once she makes it to Hollywood (though her real dream is Broadway), Frances strives to be more than just a pretty face, though it's clear that that is all her directors intend for her to be. Many times, like Michael in Tootsie, Frances tries to suggest things to add to the realism and believability of her scenes and is ignored and told to stop thinking and just do what she is told. Things take a turn for the worse when she takes up work with a acting troup, and tries to get out of her Hollywood contract. Her manager isn't willing to let her go, and her free-spirited and independent behavior is used against her as her reputation is ruined. The constant stress of reporters houding her becomes too much, and her aggression towards them makes her appear emotionally disturbed. Frances then enters a downward spiral as everyone makes her out to be mentally ill, and she is institutionalized several times (keep in mind this is the 1930's, when they still thought insulin- and electro-shock therapy was the way to go). All of the hospitalizations take a toll on her, and she never seems to be able to escape. In the end (though most likely not accurate to the real-life Farmer - details are a bit spotty), Frances undergoes a transorbital lobotomy, which finally succeeds where all of the nay-sayers have failed - it finally breaks her spirit and turns her into a "cured" citizen.
Frances was a tough woman who held no pretences, and for that, she suffered - as is normal for outcasts in a society that fears the unfamiliar. It was heartrending to see how thoroughly Frances was destroyed. The last line, by a lobotomized Frances, almost broke my heart: "Things are going to be slow now."

Favorite Quote:
Judge Hillier's wife: On behalf of the Seattle Ladies Club, as a token of our vast admiration --
Frances: Excuse me.
Judge Hillier's wife: (startled) Yes...?
Frances: Don't I know you?
Judge Hillier's wife: I don't believe so.
Frances: Sure. You were the one who damned me to Hell.
Judge Hillier's wife: No, my dear. You must be mistaken.
Frances: (barely audible) Oh bullshit.
Judge Hillier: I beg your pardon?
Frances: (to the dignitaries) Listen, I'm still the same girl that wrote that essay, the same girl who went to Russia, and you people aren't proud to meet me at all.

France's Essay:

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