The New Women
Director: Todd Hughes

Director: George Cukor

Director: Lizzy Borden

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The satiric science fiction film The New Women (2001) posits a world in which all the men fall into a coma & women have to cope without men. Inexplicably almost everything breaks down within two days, though it seems to me the skeleton crews of women only could've kept stuff going for a while & possibly forever.

The script assumes women have no part in keeping civilization going, without men there'd be no one producing food so starvation would be widespread, & whatever handful of women could survive this apocalypse would have to learn from scratch how to get the world to function. So right off the bat the filmmakers require a great leap of improbability even in a science fiction context; require that fundamentally misogynist assumptions be held in order to see what would happen if men's low opinion of women's ability were indeed true.

It's a faggotty script to tell the truth, & so campy it comes off as a badly written stage play originally intended to be performed exclusively by drag queens. But on some level it almost works as a queer-boy version of an old black & white sci-fi shlock film from the 1950s, underscored by being itself in black & white & cheapo.

The WomenIt alleges to be a not-so-updated retread of George Cukor's comical-crap-classic The Women (1939). But The Women is not satiric fantasy or science fiction, & only the first ten minutes or so of The New Women follows anything resembling the plot of the Cukor film, which gave a chance for Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, & some other fag-favorite divas of the 1930s to act like bitches. The Women has a historical place in gay men's history in that Cukor was himself gay & this film was to remain a key film for inspiring female impersonators up to the 1960s, & I can only imagine that the queer screenwriter for The New Women was feeling awfully nostalgic for his own youth.

Bad though the script for The New Women is, it has only a few pretentions of being much better, & does manage now & then to be intentionally funny. A group of women get out of their manless town before it goes all Dame of the Flies on them, & set off in search of Elysium, which a certain radio band promises is a woman-founded utopian colony where all women can be safe.

They have too few & trivial adventures while on the road together, the main adventure being their encounter with a 1970s style lesbian separatist bad-Olivia-Records-folk-music commune that is too close to the real thing to be successful as parody, & which makes the film seem like it must have been scripted twenty-five or thirty years ago when making fun of such women might have had a contemporary satirical bite but just seems like gynophobic sour grapes at this late date. Since I'm old I at least recognized what it was supposed to be. I can't imagine a younger audience having a clue what that horseshit sequence was about.

One of the best performances is by Roma Maffia as the town whore, who has slept with everyone's husband & as soon as the men go permanently to sleep, angry wives railroad her out of town, luckily not tarred & feathered. She has elected to play this role with a faggoty lisp & a sissy walk. This is actually kind of sexy when she does it.

And though Roma's a very beautiful woman in reality, she tricks herself out half streetwalker half drag queen to be just a little appalling. She seems to be one of the few performers who completely understood that these characters really are written closer to the edge of drag queeniness than womanhood, & she lends a definite horny sissy sweetness to the vulnerable outcast she plays. She's definitely much more the highschool sissy than the town whore, though both would've been giving blowjobs to guys pretending to be straight.

When we encounter her later on as the partner of a half-psycho butch dyke, well heck, at least that makes sense. I'd've liked this film a lot more if it had been about those two women.

Any viewer will suspect right away the utopia they're looking for ain't gonna be such a great place, just like in A Boy & His Dog (1975) when our hero soon comes to regret finding the women's underground utopia which seemed so hot at first glimpse. If New Women follows the usual sci-fi pattern of hope followed by rude awakening, Elysium will look like a good idea at first, but turn out to be hell.

And sure nuff, the script goes through the expected maneuvers without a moment of originality. Even so, escaping from the feminist scientific dystopia provides much the best part of the film, the one time it begins to look like a Z sci-fi film instead of a faggoty stage play.

The men in comas get erections every 45 minutes & women at Elysium have tried to reproduce by screwing the comatose guys who're hooked up to machines so they won't dehydrate & starve like most of the men of the world have done by then. But whatever put the men to sleep also keeps women from reproducing, except for one, our alcoholic turned heroine (Mary Woronov of Eating Raoul fame), who at long last got to have sex with her unfaithful husband after he fell into a coma, & in consequence is developing a child at an unnaturally rapid pace.

The film is never really a lesbian film despite making fun of lesbians & positing an all-women's world. It retains a faggoty underpinning despite that all the sex is played sort of hetero.

I'd happily give this one a Golden Turkey Award as an example of the "so bad it's fun" sort of bad camp amateur crapola with an earnest cast who seem to be having a great deal of fun playing their faggotized female characters. With its amateurville indy verve, it is at least as much fun as a transvestite lip-sync contest at the Trojan Shield Tavern circa 1975, & I found myself hugely enjoying the damned thing even while noticing what a piece of shit it is.

Born in FlamesIt reminded me of a film that might make a good doublebill with The New Women & which would wipe the floor with The New Women. Self-avowed "bi" director Lizzy Borden's Born in Flames (1983) was released much closer to a time when it was apropos, but it is even today less dated than New Women was when brand new from the photoshop. Many of the issues Borden's film raises have yet to be adequately addressed.

Borden's satiric film takes place in a future dystopia that thinks of itself as a utopia but it sure as hell ain't. In essence, all the dufus American socialists & Worker Party nurds of the 1970s have managed to orchestrate a bloodless revolution & America now alleges itself to be a workers' paradise, but the reality does not come close to matching the rhetoric. Government provided "workfare" jobs are dead-end meaningless & the class system prevails.

Inequalities give rise to a women's army that advocates violent overthrow of the ill-serving government. Many viewers are bound to find it too polemical, as it's chalk full of polemics, but to me the politics seemed mere background noise out of which some real science fictional expostulation was done, reminiscent of Joanna Russ's novel The Female Man (1975).

It feels like it takes place inside an actual & urgent revolution instead of being made up from hooey by some queer dudes. It has the same no-budget glory as The New Women but it does so much more, & an energetic cast includes the actual revolutionary humorist Flo Kennedy, & Kathryn Bigelow whose own films include Near Dark (1982) & Strange Days (2000) are vastly better known than anything of Lizzy Borden's.

In the spirit of doth protest too much, Borden was attacked by some feminists when this film was released for seeming to assume that the women's movement could lead to extreme violence. I didn't take its science fiction worldview quite that seriously -- I didn't agree with the rhetoric of some of the sincere revolutionary characters, nor did I at any time assume the director was advocating violence.

But perhaps I was unoffended because I know perfectly well that violence is not the strict province of men. Or perhaps I was impressed rather than offended because in spite of the fact that I may prefer the political approach of a Martin Luther King Jr., I nevertheless understood the approach of a Malcolmn X. So I was pleased to see Lizzy Borden presuming at least some women revolutionaries could aspire to the latter.

Even just judged as an entertainment, Born in Flames is an offbeat political science fiction action film, & damned shame it's not better known, bigger shame that Borden has made only a small handful of films.
copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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