Download Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema PDF

TitleSpectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema
ISBN 139780203221846
CategoryArts - Film
File Size1.3 MB
Total Pages216
Table of Contents
                            Book Cover
List of plates
INTRODUCTION: Gender and the action cinema
WOMEN WARRIORS: Gender, sexuality and Hollywood's fighting heroines
BLACK BUDDIES AND WHITE HEROES: Racial discourse in the action cinema
TOUGH GUYS AND WISE-GUYS: Masculinities and star images in the action cinema
ACTION HEROINES IN THE 1980s: The limits of 'musculinity'
THE CINEMA AS EXPERIENCE: Kathryn Bigelow and the cinema of spectacle
Document Text Contents
Page 1


Page 108



genre, Clint Eastwood, seem almost garrulous’. Over the last twenty years
Eastwood has become respected enough as an actor and film-maker for
some, though by no means all, to see his minimal style as craft. Eastwood’s
performance can thus be seen as the artful withholding of words, rather
than an artless inability to speak. Inflections of speech and silence are
central to the play of different definitions of masculinity and maleness in
the action cinema.

The hysterical rambling of a character like Leo (Joe Pesci), a witness in
need of protection in Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) mark him out as weak and
unthreatening. This also highlights the rather different hysteria to which
Mel Gibson’s character is subject in the film – the whole premise of his
character is his supposed ‘death wish’ which allows him to perform as a
cop since he is not afraid of potentially deadly situations. The term
‘Rambo’ is often used to denote stupid behaviour, an irrationality which is
closely linked to the inarticulacy of the action hero, of the stress on the
body and cinema as spectacle, rather than the voice.8 In contrast to the more
physical movie stars who have emerged from body culture, Eastwood’s is,
to an extent, an invisible body. Generally fully clothed, the power of his
character is signified through characteristics such as firepower and
marksmanship. The fast draw, for example, is a key icon of the three
‘Dollar’ films, as well as being at times played for laughs. With the advent
of the ‘physical actor’ the male body is made startlingly visible. The action
hero as returning war hero, for example, actually carries the war within
himself. Conflict is literally inscribed in the hysterical (overdetermined/
overdeveloped) male body.


Enlisting Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) as his partner at the end of The Last
Boy Scout, Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) jokes that, this being the nineties, a
hero can’t just take out bad guys. He has also to give them a one-liner. Like
‘I’ll Be Back’ asks Dix, with reference to Schwarzenegger’s trademark line.
At points, this spectacular movie seems an exercise in wordplay, with the
heroes and the villains trading complex insults, challenges and comebacks
as well as commenting on each other’s verbal performance. I’ve already
spoken in Chapter 3 of the uses made of Bruce Willis’s star image in Die
Hard and Die Hard 2. Willis’s wise-cracking persona was initially derived
from his role in the hit TV series Moonlighting. This comedy/ drama/
detective series centred on the Blue Moon detective agency, though little in
the way of detection ever happened, and the action consisted mostly of
verbal confrontations between Willis and Cybill Shepherd in a variety of
guises. Whilst Die Hard gives the audience Willis as action hero pin-up, his

Page 109



persona is very much defined through the voice. He is, in this, much more
wise-guy than tough-guy. The Last Boy Scout brings the two together in
violent scenes which involve a certain black comedy, as in the memorable
scene in which Willis, after being slugged, threatens to kill one of the men
holding him captive if he is hit again. When the bad guy takes no notice,
Hallenbeck kills him, with a single, understated blow, to the outrage of a
second, rather ineffectual, bad guy who looks on. The ‘joke’ here revolves
around the fact that Hallenbeck follows through on a threat – ‘I’ll kill you’
– which is a common part of everyday speech, but one which is rarely
meant literally. Words are very clearly deployed in the film as part of a
battle, a struggle for power, behind which lurks the threat of physical
violence. This verbal sparring, the challenge posed by the uses of words,
echoes the complexities of the uses of language within black American
culture, as well as traditions of stand-up comedy, with which Wayans is
associated, and which Whoopi Goldberg also draws on in her role as a
narcotics cop in Fatal Beauty.9

In mellower mode, Willis scored a huge success as the voice of baby
Mikey in Look Who’s Talking (1989). (Damon Wayans’s voice was also used,
along with those of Willis and Roseanne Barr, in the sequel.) Indeed the
particular style of masculine identity that Willis enacts as John McClane in
the two Die Hard films has something childlike about it, a trait shared with
his role in Moonlighting. A perpetual adolescent, even if a knowing one, there
is a sense in which he seems to be playing games (cops and robbers,
cowboys and Indians). Die Hard has Willis/McClane cracking jokes to
himself, wearing a facial expression which seems to convey his sense of
surprise and confusion that he is at the centre of the explosive narrative
events. McClane styles himself as the dandy cowboy Roy Rogers, keeping
up a running commentary at the same time. If The Last Boy Scout represents
one of the grimmest versions yet seen of the Willis wise-guy character, the
comic aspects of his persona are played out more fully in the more fantastic
Hudson Hawk, in which he sings old show tunes as a way of timing
robberies with his partner Tommy. Further, if there is something childish
about the Willis persona, a good deal of The Last Boy Scout centres precisely
on his nightmare relationship with an unfaithful wife and foul-mouthed
daughter, a focus which emphasises the difficulties of the role of father
though these are ultimately ‘resolved’ in the film’s final scene. Whilst there
is an unquestioning, idealised relationship between father and daughter in
Schwarzenegger’s Commando, Hallenbeck’s daughter in The Last Boy Scout is
hostile and abusive in the extreme. Dix also functions in some senses in the
role of a ‘son’ to Hallenbeck within the film, referred to as a kid, so that
their relationship, which is based on verbal battles, functions as a testing
ground for the ultimate family reunion with which the film concludes. The
complexities of the figure of the ‘father’ in recent action films, including The
Last Boy Scout, are taken up in later chapters.

Similer Documents