It’s been a real, long time. I launched this blog more than a year ago with the intention of writing regular features on film. I started a series which explored female film characters and, with life getting a little too turbulent – the whole thing went a bit off-track & I had very little time to dedicate myself and write. Anyway, I’ve now found time & fresh motivation…so here we go!
When I started a series, which explored female characters in film, I wanted to ensure that I paid recognition to ten of the strongest and most stirring women in cinema. This proved tricky and although my ‘top ten’ may not be everyone’s cuppa tea, I think I may have managed to cover a lot of ground, in terms of the cinematic texts that I really value.
Fundamentally, I live for the construction of character. The filmmakers I love and admire, are perhaps most notable for their articulate development of people on-screen. I feel like it takes a whole lot of the little details, to build a person, in film, who is enduring and unforgettable – and maybe that’s why my final, female, film character is also, my favorite film character of all time…
In 1987, Quentin Tarantino produced a low-budget film with a bunch of his video store buddies. ‘My Best Friends Birthday’ is an (incomplete) short film, loaded with sharp dialogue and pop-culture references, that cement it as one of the most rudimentary examples of Tarantino’s filmmaking. Not only does this long, lost gem, provide an early insight into Tarantino’s stylistic evolution, it lays-out the foundations for some notable characters, succeeded in the filmmakers more accomplished work. ‘My Best Friends Birthday’ offers audiences an early, off-beat cameo from Tarantino as ‘Mickey’, alongside kooky, loving & lustful characters, Clarence & Misty. Clarence & Misty, just so happen to present a fitting prototype for Clarence Worley and Alabama Whitman, who drive the narrative of star-crossed lovers in Tony Scott’s 1993, directorial ‘True Romance’.
Adapted from Tarantino’s screenplays for ‘My Best Friend’s Birthday’ and ‘Open Road’, True Romance will forever be regarded as my number one film of all time. I hold it in such high-regard for countless reasons but most, importantly – I love Clarence & Alabama. Alabama is a novice call-girl, who’s been on the job for strictly four days, before consciously bumping into, comic book aficionado, Clarence, at a ‘Sonny Chiba’ triple feature screening. The setting is perfection. Low-key lighting and cinema screens. Cigarettes. Popcorn. Lipstick. The scene beautifully encapsulates the essence of contemporary romance. It’s somewhat coarse & kitsch, as the characters crash and fall for each other under the flashing lights of Street Fighter. Return of the Street Fighter. Sister Street Fighter.
Alabama is adorable and vulnerable. Her southern drawl and delicate energy, is pitted by the stark, potent reality of her environment. Her monologues, which book-end the film epitomise her authenticity and warmth. Before she meets Clarence, she’s strong, confident and surviving, her struggle isn’t second-class to any of the other characters, but she approaches her challenges, throughout the film with a kind of cool, calm, sweetness.
In true, Tarantino style, the ‘True Romance’ screenplay does not shy away from treating all characters to their fair share of brutality. In one of cinema’s most barbaric scenes, Alabama meets Virgil. ‘Virgil’ was a breakout role for The Sopranos, James Gandolfini, who approached the part with every ounce of dark, sadistic charm. As Virgil clutches at a shotgun, Alabama fights back the fear, cracking jokes with pressing charisma. What ensues is perhaps one of the most flinching scenes in mainstream cinema. Alabama is tortured and beaten. Virgil dominates her small frame stating, ‘You’ve got a lot of heart, kid.’ Broken and abused, Alabama does all but take the beating – when Virgil asks about Clarence’s whereabouts, Alabama raises a finger and beams ‘Fuck you.’. In this scene, Alabama delivers an overbearing essence of defiance. Emotionally, she doesn’t crack under the violent onslaught. She’d happily take the vicious abuse, over risking her dream to live a happy ‘monogamous’ life with Clarence and fights back in hot-pink leopard print and turquoise lace with primal, malevolence.
True Romance has all the conventions of a love story. Lovers, on the run with an illusion of a better life. But unlike, traditional love stories – Alabama is no damsel in distress. She’s not rescued from sex work, or saved from hardship. She’s self-reliant, certified and strong. It just so happens, she’s sugary sweet and lovely too! As my favorite character of all time, I’ll forever admire Alabama’s honesty and uncompromised grace. You're so cool, you're so cool, you're so cool.