Dear Vera Chytilová,
I just saw Daisies (Sedmikrásky) and wow, that movie is totally bonkers!
“You know what?” says one bikini-clad girl to the other. “If everything in the world is going bad, then we’re going bad, too!”
The story of two sisters, both named Marie, who eat from a tree of shiny apples and set off on a determined spree of messy mischief, Daisies resists any easy moral message. “Going bad” seems to consist of lounging in bed in slinky nylon pyjamas, cutting everything you can find to pieces (even, in one homage to the DaDaist art of collage, your own head and arms) and conning sad old dudes into buying you dinner before you shove them onto the evening train and giggle off on your high heels. It looks like a lot of fun, but I had to ask myself in a few places, does this mean anything at all, or did you get a little carried away with the joys of cut and paste? That final scene, whose operatically wasteful food fight earned the opprobrium of the communist Czech government, doesn’t leave us with any clearer answer. Are the two Maries simply the victims of their own bratty hubris, who would have been better off channeling their disaffection into hard work? Or is something more tragic playing out, the inability of these young, crafty women to carve out any meaningful place for themselves in society?
Well, all those hilarious shots of slicing pickles with scissors and setting sausages on fire make me lean toward the latter interpretation, no matter what you might have said to get the state-sponsored film bureau to let you release the film. But no matter what ambiguous ethical questions may be at work in Daisies, I loved the no-holds-barred portrayal of fierce, female hunger. These chicks eat everything in sight, even when the only thing they can find to put in their mouths are cut-out photos of steaks from a glossy magazine.
Daisies (Sedmikrásky) 1966:
Dear Lady Professor,
I am totally into your fashion choices – those jaunty scarves and your mid-calf straight skirts with the suggestive yet restrained slit to the knee! Those heeled leather boots and wow, you can still pull off nude fishnets! You are a woman of a certain age who proves that maturity, intellect and the career path get sexier with time. Not only do you take your discipline off the shelf and infuse it with life blood, you show us that literature and feminism still speak to our daily lives in a conversation across the centuries.
In addition, I’d like to thank you for showing me (and anyone else who’s paying attention) that in order to be a woman in academia one doesn’t have to be a rollicking bitch. You’ve successfully avoided being pigeonholed as a sexy fraud or a frigid bluestocking. You’ve managed to make a place for yourself as a serious scholar while maintaining your humanity and genuine care for others. I can only imagine what this has cost you in time, tears and effort along the way.
I’m sorry you haven’t managed yet to escape the last trap of nice women, that is, being relegated to the role of departmental mom. I know that because no one else is willing to act like a real person, you end up pouring out way too much of yourself to needy undergraduate anxieties. I’ll bet you have to be the peacekeeper at many a faculty meeting as well. But in a world, not to mention a profession, that still struggles to take women seriously, you are way ahead of the game.
Bette Davis as a French teacher with a past:
It’s seriously wonderous to watch you swim: the grace of your flip turns, the fluidity of your backstrokes, your spontaneous dips to the bottom of the deep end, all of which I suspect you slyly spent a lifetime practicing, quietly hamming it up underwater. But what makes it is the calm, coy look you all wear, half Esther Williams smile to cover an obvious corporeal glee.
I read the The Female Complaint. What a hoot! I am now compelled to “live a better cliche”, and have learned that “falling in love isn’t a very good way of getting to know someone”. I am amused and enthralled by your sharp readings of Showboat (people can never goof enough on Edna Ferber, in my opinion), your indulgence of Imitation of Life, your ability to mock Dorothy Parker, and your ability to use archival material without making a tribute to its object. I am also compelled to watch She-Devil.
But even more than your awesome Duke monograph (which at least has the removing paratexts of the form), I am intimidated by your hilarious and engaged blog. Your review of Sex and the City,
Dear Kate Bush,
Your shrill vibrato. Your off-the-wall lyrics. Your heavy-handed recordings, not shrinking from the synthesizers or the baby-sweet voice, rife with shrieking seagulls and fatherly whispers, all seemingly laid down in some moldy Scottish castle where the rafters reverberate with the sad moanings of 500-year-old ghosts. And oh Kate, the videos. Your willowy frame swathed in a clinging gown (with matching tights and a flower in your long, long hair), your wacky interpretive dance moves and your big, haunted eyes.
I love you.
I love you for embracing the 12-year-old girl in you and running with it, for playing on your tinkery old toy piano, for writing about your dad, dying back garden animals and your favorite Victorian novel, and for taking those expressive movement classes cause it just felt so good.
Kate, you took the myth of female hysteria and threw it back in our faces, made it into something bizarre, singable and great. When they said women’s lives couldn’t be the stuff of art, you weren’t afraid to look or sound like a girl or write a song like an entry in your diary. When women had been pigeonholed by centuries of Freuds and Gerard de Nervals, ceaselessly represented as wishy-washy, repressed and addicted to love, you gave us back the eternal wounded teenage girl, the one with a radio, a burning desire to dress up in complicated costumes and a direct line to the poetic visions of the girl saints. And you made her fierce and steadfast, clad in a skimpy leotard but victim of no man’s objectification. You may be a kook, Kate, but I wouldn’t fuck with you. You’d claw my eyes out with those long red nails. And then you’d dance off into the woods like some misplaced and self-satisfied banshee, hands framing your face in a perfectly cultivated gesture.
I’ve been working through Barbara Stanwyck’s movies ever since Anthony Lane’s essay in the NYer last spring. Conceptually, Ball of Fire might be a bit of a stretch: 12 bachelor learned men living in a house together while they perfect their encyclopedia, only to have their erudite bliss disrupted by a slang-mouthed stripper. But whatever, I thought it was fun.
Also, some brave soul has united dear Stanwyck with T-Pain’s breakout hit. Loves it!