Monday, April 28, 2008

A Word on Bad-Ass

In Film there is nothing hotter than a woman in tight, sexy clothes, a set of killer boots with a weapon kicking some serious ass. Even women rush to see a woman kicking ass, and usually with a lot more enthusiasm than men. Why? Because we want to see our sisters represent! Do not mistake my heroine fandom as a one-sided lust, however. I am just as eager to see a true bad-ass on film, male or female. Alas, they are far more rare than you might think.

While struggling through my recent review of Doomsday (to be published in Trajan Magazine), a sudden spark of realization opened the floodgates as to part of why this film angered me so damn much. The utterly forced attempt at Bad-Ass and the lack of Elemental Cool. I can assure you, it wasn't Rhona Mitra, the British -born actress to portray Eden Sinclair in Doomsday. With the script she was given by Neil Marshall and his giddy, heavy-handed directing, I'd say she faired about as well as any mediocre actress could. It must have been a serious work-out for her beneath the over-laden campiness which builds at an exponential rate over the course of the film.

So perhaps to make my self understood, it is best to begin with a definition or two. One cannot come to understand the essence of Bad-ass until one truly grasps the concept of Cool-- And not just Cool, but Elemental Cool. There is a fundamental difference between them. Cool changes and shifts. What was Cool in the 1950s is mock-able now, and the Cool of now will in turn be stale in a month and dead in a year. Cool is mercurial, affected by the cultural tide and the ever present Gravitational draw of the Marketing Moon. An Element, however, is fundamental. It does not change. It is what it is and there is no mistaking it for anything else. The periodic Table is filled with Elements that are indisputable. Even the Elements of our ancestors are still hailed as such: Fire, water, earth, air. They are unmistakable and fundamental to that which is our world. So then the Element of Cool is that Cool which just IS. It doesn't change. It's a Cool that transcends culture and time. It is what makes Cool cool and not just Trendy. Elemental Cool just IS.

Bad-Ass is like Air. It is breathed in and expelled, but cannot be Bad-Ass if it does not have the Element of Cool. Bad-Ass without Cool is just gas...and therefore, only bad ass. The Element of Cool bonds in any number of combinations to create Bad-Ass, because there is undeniably Kick-Ass Bad-Ass, Wickedly Bad-Ass and Sexy Bad-Ass, to name a few.

Like many things in life, its easiest to learn by example. Throughout film history there have been individuals that are Elementally Cool wrapped in a package of Bad-Ass. The image of James Dean in his bomber jacket, cigarette drooping from his lip is an excellent representation of Elemental Cool. I say the Image of him because most people who say "James Dean is Cool" can not name the ONLY three major film roles he ever had, let alone have even seen them. But they know that photo. We all know that photo and even today with our "Truth" commercial campaigns and anti-smoking gums, people in the US and abroad see this image of James Dean and say "Goddamn he was cool."

Consider the sight of Blondie, the 'Man with no name', played by Clint Eastwood as he steps onto the screen with the front of his sarape tossed over one shoulder, his wide-brim black porkpie hat shading his face from the harsh Mexican sun. He is gnawing on a cigarillo with a gun belt slung low. Most of you already know who I'm talking about and the trilling whistle of the theme song is not necessary. This is an Italian film set in Mexico so cool that Americans claim it as their own. Just the title instills an idea of Cool: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Ripley. When she wasn't slicked in sweat, she was dripping with Alien ooze. With a curl-laden hair-cut sexy in the way a librarian wearing thigh highs strikes us, because Ellen Ripley isn't a sex-pot, she's a dock worker and she's there to work, not to get laid, and for once the film director isn't confusing us. Ripley prevails out of instinct. She's a survivor. She takes charge and attempts to protect symbolically representing the ultimate mother. And in the end she wears her bikini panties and bra-less tank top reminding us that getting her hands dirty doesn't remove her from her sexuality.

Strength. Irreverence. The Bad Boy who is in fact the Good Guy. The survivors. That is Elemental Cool. It transcends time and culture.

The elevation of something to Bad-Ass is not so simple as a quippy one-liner or toting a huge fucking gun, or a chick in stilettos putting a hurt on big baddies. Bad-Ass is merely an extension of what is already Elementally Cool. Its an exercise of Strength, Irreverence, Independence, Unassuming sexuality. See the thing about Coolness is that it doesn't ACT Cool. There is no curtain that goes up, no pretense. Remember, Cool just IS. So Bad-Ass is the same only amplified.


The Matrix. When Neo walked into the lobby of the building on his way to save Morpheus and whipped open his coat loaded up with more guns than most people have ever seen collected in one place - It wasn't Bad-Ass because he was making a flourish for some audience's benefit. He was asked if he could "please remove any metallic items you may be carrying, keys, loose change..." He opened his coat. BAM-shit load of guns. "Holy Shit," was the only logical response to something like that because true Bad-Ass leaves you stunned.

When Ellen Ripley appeared in the Loader and yelled at the Queen, "get away from her you bitch!" The use of the Loader was, of course, very dramatic in effect but fitting for her character, which is a dock worker. The exclamation made isn't some witty little line with an almost comedic quality such as Terminator 2's "Hasta La Vista, Baby." It is something that you, me, any Joe-Friday would probably say in that situation. The line coupled with the brilliant use of the Mech is an extension of her Survival and Maternal instincts and equates to simply being Bad-Ass.

Having mentioned the Terminator films, recall in the first one when the Machine states in his mono-tone Austrian accent, "I'll be back." Ironically this line wasn't really written to be the iconic phrase that it has become. It is, if you watch, merely a statement. The Machine doesn't say it to be funny, or to be witty, or to get the last word (something I despise in films). The words are parroted from his observations of normal human interaction and spoken when the Machine's brain finds they are appropriate. Once again, there is no attempt to BE Cool, his irreverence just makes it so. Over-layed upon the situation of the completely destroyed Police Station, it is Bad-Ass.

Since it's inception, film has focused on its Bad-Ass men. The very first genre was the Western which prevails as an under-dog favorite to this day and gave birth to the Cinematic Bad-Ass. Hidden in the cracks and often overlooked, however, is the Female Bad-Ass. And film has over the decades provided several truly Bad-Ass women: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), as mentioned; Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in Terminator 2 (first one too,but not as Bad-ass); The Bride (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill 1 & 2; Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) and Jen (Zhang Ziyi) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Miho (Devon Aoki) in Sin City; Selena (Naomie Harris) in 28 Days Later; Domino (Keira Knightley) in..uh...Domino. Jordan O'Neill (Demi Moore) in GI Jane; Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) in The Cell; Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) in The Fifth Element; Matilda (Natalie Portman) in Leon, The Professional; Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in The Matrix; River (Summer Glau) in Serenity; and Pearl (Lucy Liu) in Payback, which is thus far the only exception to the stilettos rule.

Bad-Ass isn't always about violence, however, so please don't only go looking in action and adventure films. Sometimes Bad-Ass can come down to the simple ability to prevail; to never let them see you coming. It is the whisper of a love-lorn Princess in a dying tyrants ear that his successor will be the child of his enemy. It is the incredible awe inspired by a bestial man rising from his self-imagined throne, a God, if only in his mind. It is a hard-as-nails whore in a Texan border town that puffs on her cigarillo then ends the film and ends the conversation with:



Anonymous said...

Another win! I know I'm biased because we've talked about these things more than a few times while you were writing this article but I must say you never cease to amaze me with your excellent incorporation of additional content (pictures, quotes, etc). Really throws the whole piece into perspective without unnecessary verbiage and reminds me of movie scenes I've long forgotten. Great work again... Adios.

Kahl said...

Well thank you Anon. And thanks for dropping a comment...I receive so few lately. Its nice to know someone's still reading. ;)

Katerina said...

I never tire of reading your words. What I find highly enjoyable is just how much I learn from your words. I think I have just as much fun reading your reviews as I do clicking on all the links to find what wonderful places they lead me to...