Saturday, April 17, 2010

If Boys Don’t Cry, Then Why, Oh, Why Can’t I?

Stephen here from Peel Slowly. Nathaniel gave me the go-ahead to post about Hilary Swank. Surprised?


Swank gets a hard rap from the Film Experience, but I’d like to take us all back to when she was just “this beautiful androgynous person” (in the words of Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce).

Prior to seeing that film when it was new in 1999, I had no idea who Hilary was, and since the film begins with her already in Brandon Teena mode, I wondered if the filmmaker got a male actor to act like a girl acting like a boy (think Victor/Victoria, only with us, the audience, as James Garner). That’s how much Hilary’s performance blew me away.


I always looked at the film as interpreting Brandon’s tragedy as a kind of Pinocchio story: someone who wants to be a boy is severely punished for lying. I suppose I thought that because of moments like the one pictured above. Lord knows Peter Sarsgaard and Brendan Sexton III’s characters scared me as much as these guys did in Pinocchio.

But in Peirce’s very incisive audio commentary, she refers much more to the film The Wizard of Oz as point of reference. For example, during Boys Don’t Cry’s opening credits, Teena has just “become” Brandon and goes to meet a date at the skating rink. Peirce explains that Brandon’s entrance to the rink is the final step of his mental transformation
We…set up a shot sequence that made you feel like you were walking inside the landscape of your fantasy.

It was a…structure inspired by The Wizard of Oz: A shot of the character; a shot of the landscape she walks into; the door opening; the character going through; and us going right through that door with them.”
This clip I made helps illustrate her point. It has Peirce’s commentary, Brandon’s “passage to manhood,” and Dorothy’s entrance to Oz…



Peirce’s entire commentary is riddled with these fine examples of how she uses the camera to transform Brandon’s experience—as best as she can imagine it—into a cohesive film. To hear her thoughts on the difference between fantasy and reality; self-loathing as a by-product of an oppressive environment; Brandon’s self-destruction; etc, makes it very clear that the film’s impact was no accident.

There are those who have lost faith in Ms. Swank, but this film and her performance still have teeth.
*

19 comments:

Michael B. said...

I really don't like Swank as an actress but I'll be the first one to say that she deserved to win for Boys Don't Cry. It was a magnificent and beautiful performance.

I'm just not a fan of her other work and that Oscar she won for Million Dollar Baby? Let's not even start.

NATHANIEL R said...

I love hearing Wizard of Oz as reference point. though didn't expect it here. Yet another reminder that I need to watch more DVD commentaries.

Philip said...

Brb, going to watch Boys Don't Cry.

Cluster Funk said...
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Cluster Funk said...

She is aces in BDC, no question. The problem with Swank: She began to talk a good game about her humble background and hard-knock life -- constantly -- but in so doing exposed her *lack* of humility. She has so much going for her that it's now an odd rendition of immodesty, which I think has permeated her performances. (Twin Oscars and myriad accolades certainly have not helped matters.)

Clarence said...

This is off-topic but I just saw In the Mood for Love for the first time and I am confused. Either I watched a bad copy or his style is just weird because I felt it was all jumbled up. By the end of the movie I was so exhausted trying to figure out what the hell is happening!
But I can totally appreciate it the cinematography (loved every single shot), the acting of course (Maggie Cheung is like no other and she's gorgeous in that movie), and especially the costume design (her wardrobe is so colorful!). I guess I need to process that movie still because I get the storyline and such but I just didn't fully appreciate the editing. Plus, that theme music with the violins is so lush that the song is stuck in my head.

Back on topic: Hilary Swank was really great in that movie. I remember seeing it on TV and I instantly asked myself, why do I hate her again? Then I saw The Reaping right after and suddenly I remembered why. But I think I'm one of the few who liked her a little in Million Dollar Baby. Obviously, it wasn't BDC but still, there were parts when I was totally engrossed in her performance, if not her character.

MRRIPLEY said...

I LIKE HILARY AND LOVED HER IN AMELIA TOO.

The Z said...
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The Z said...

"...still have teeth."

That's funny.

Ángel Ramos said...

Hilary Swank is great in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby....and that -sandly- is all...

Joseph said...

Clarence, you're not the only one.
I prefer Swank in Million Dollar Baby as well. I guess it helps that I also like that film much more than Boys Don't Cry...

cal roth said...

That old Million Dollar Baby discussion... Let's go, again. Maybe she was not the best of the year, but still it was a great performance. People don't like the way her character is supposedly underwritten (I don't agree), but it's still a very brave and Oscar-worthy performance. My winner that year would be Julie Delpy.

OtherRobert said...

Ok. That's awesome. I've always viewed Boys Don't Cry as a performance showcase above all else (Sevigny and Swank killing it onscreen), but now I'll have to revisit the film for these subtle touches of really sharp direction.

FWIW, I prefer Swank's work in Million Dollar Baby. The performance relies even more on her ability to convey so much emotion through her physicality and she really rises above a rather treacly and manipulative screenplay from Haggis (surprise).

I'll show myself outside.

Yavor said...

ok ok, I like her in Million Dollar Baby! I do! she was good, she was conservative when she was playing the character, and this was great; it was a very good performance, she deserved her nomination, but hey! she plays a MAN again, and she got an oscar again! better than Kidman in Birth, Imelda in Vera Drake, Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind??? PLEASE.....

adam k. said...

I remember watching this commentary a decade ago, but I don't remember the specific Wizard of Oz bit. Interesting.

What's become ever more clear in the years since is not so much that Swank deserved her win (that was always clear), but rather that Pierce's direction REALLY deserved a nom of its own. That film was incredibly powerful. Sometimes a low budget can obscure just how masterfully a director is using the resources she has. I think this one should have run the table with nominations, with Peter Sarsgaard deserving one, too. He was so hateable yet sexy.

To me, this film is just so head-and-shoulders above similar indies like, say, Monster... I wish it'd gotten more attention.

Thunder said...

This movie was undervalued at its release with only Hillary getting any awards traction (and Chloe a little, too). Prior to this Chloe was known for Kids, no one knew Hillary or Sarsgaard or Pierce...if these same actors and directors did this movie again everyone would be fawning.
It's sad there's so much hate for Swank here. I think the Academy just loves itself too much. Everyone always praises the academy for the one time they got it right by giving an unknown Swank the trophy...I think with MDB while definitely nomination worthy, they wante to award her again because they were trying to focus back on how much they got it right the first time.

Ian said...

Whenever I get down on Hilary Swank, I always think about "Boys Don't Cry" and reassess her overall acting worth. I don't think she's ever going to top this, and really, why should she? "Million Dollar Baby" doesn't come anywhere near this performance. I do wish she chose better projects though. But something like "Amelia" had to at least look good on paper. Then you actually get there and start working and realize it's not, but it's too late at that point. But yeah, interesting post, and it makes me want to revisit the film sometime (no time soon though -- the film's too tragic to watch just casually).

rtm said...

That photo at the top of this post reminds me of this scene in P.S. I Love You when Hilary's character sang "The Man That Got Away" as she impersonated Judy Garland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsAMjW1EzXg They kinda look alike I think, did she do a biopic of Judy already??

Anonymous said...

My name is Rachel and I haven't really ever posted to a blog but I am a lesbian and started out more feminine in life until I found the courage to be myself, just like this movie. I have never seen anyone suit a role better than Swank did and the portrayal was so honest and true to what it can really feel like. I just wanted to say I am grateful for the fact society in general is more accepting of gays..And.though it isn't where it could be...the world is a "better" place for us. I came out 3 years ago this December and my family still doesn't want anything to do with me. Have only been with one partner and we have been together 5 years. I hope one day they will come around. People don't choose to be gay... But people do choose to be hateful. God bless us all.