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.This clip I made helps illustrate her point. It has Peirce’s commentary, Brandon’s “passage to manhood,” and Dorothy’s entrance to Oz…
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.”
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.