Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tank Girl - 1995

"Tank Girl" - 1995
Dir. by Rachel Talaley - 1 hr. 44 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I can't help but think that if "Tank Girl" had been the exact same film that is, but with a credit that read "directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky," it might have been received rapturously, and praised as a surrealist masterpiece.  The reason I say this is that, having seen "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain," some of the content of "Tank Girl" isn't that far off.  The only real misstep here is that there's a little too much traditional story, and not quite enough insistence that the experience of taking in this film is going to have to be enough narrative for the audience to live with.  For a film that's regarded as a disaster and a bomb, re-watching "Tank Girl" for the first time in at least a decade was somewhat of a revelation.

"Tank Girl" is based on a comic book by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett (probably better known for providing all of the visuals for the "Gorillaz" project, with Blur's Damon Albarn).  In the film, we're in the year 2033, and the world's in the middle of a decade-long drought.  Water & Power, controlled by Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell), runs everything.  Rebecca, A.K.A. Tank Girl (Lori Petty), is part of a band of squatters who have been diverting water, and are raided by W&P's troops.  Pretty much everyone is killed, including Rebecca's boyfriend, with the exception of her, who is captured, and a young girl named Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower), who is auctioned off.  Rebecca refuses a job with W&P, and instead vows to break out and save Sam from whatever trouble she's ended up in.

"Tank Girl" is a very weird film.  I don't have any doubt as to why people responded to it in the manner that they did.  1995 was definitely before Hollywood knew what to do with comic book material.  One could argue that they still have difficulty with idiosyncratic material (of which the comic definitely is), but this didn't stand a chance.  But what resulted is so unbelievably 1995, kind of in the way that "Repo Man" or "Heathers" are like the 1980's, or the aforementioned Jodorowsky films couldn't have come from any time except the 1970's.  "Tank Girl" is 200 proof, triple distilled 1995 on a DVD.  At the time, people might have shrugged and moved on; removed from it's context, this film is insanity.  Part of that has to do with the soundtrack, which is a rock solid representation of what that period in time sounded like.  But when factors like popularity or trendiness are removed, things get really weird.

Imagine, if you will, a strip-tease scene set to a Bush song.  You don't remember Bush?  They were that British band that everyone hated because they sounded like Nirvana, but then everyone secretly bought the album anyways.  That's a pretty weird soundtrack to a seduction that includes safety scissors.  Maybe you'd prefer to imagine a world where people have to work in a coal mine (or whatever), but they have to do it while listening to Hole.  You know, Courtney Love?  But not the cleaned up, smoothed out, radio-friendly Hole that had hits like "Malibu," the weird baby-doll dress-wearing, screaming, bereaved widow Hole.  Can you imagine if you had to work in a place like that?  It's Hell.  Literally Hell.  Demoralizing, soul-devouring Hell.  Never mind that there are tons of scenes here that also look like an underpopulated Burning Man (and one is soundtracked by a Sky Cries Mary song).  I'm old enough to remember the context that these songs existed in originally, but enough time has passed that I know how weird this world sounds out of that context.

There's also an entire, separate essay that could be written on how "Tank Girl" portrays the messed-up sexuality of the early 90's.  I won't get that deeply into it, but it's how you get things like a "shower scene" with Rebecca (where she's fully clothed, and is doused with de-lousing powder instead of water), or a scene where you have an entire brothel doing a Busby Berkeley song-and-dance number to a Cole Porter song.  "Tank Girl" isn't a de-sexed film, but nearly all sexuality portrayed is either a threat or is undercut by Rebecca's girlishness (there is a reason they are called riot grrrls, not riot women).  While "Tank Girl" is rated R, it's strangely dicey in this department.

One word that you could use to describe "Tank Girl" is "frenetic," which is both its charm and its failing.  Lead actress Lori Petty is probably doing the female equivalent of a Pauly Shore character here, which works for this movie, but is also unlikely to endear "Tank Girl" to like eighty-five percent of movie-goers.  Director Rachel Talalay also throws pretty much everything at the wall, including a hallucination scene and animated transitions between segments.  It's a visually-rich approach, but can be overwhelming if you're not prepared for it.  And the entire film is built on shaky legs; the story is pretty stock (TM Lars Ulrich).  It falls into a no-man's land; not rich enough to be interesting on that merit, and not non-linear enough to really build on the strengths of this film (which, to be clear, are Petty's energetic performance, a surrealist streak, and being so 1995 that it's at one hundred twenty percent of capacity).  "Tank Girl" is not a great movie.  It is a weird movie, an interesting one, a crazy one, and that's more than enough if you're not going to make a big deal out of it's flaws.

3.5 / 5 - TV

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