Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Riot in Girls Town: Remaking, Revising, and Redressing the Teenpic

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Riot in Girls Town: Remaking, Revising, and Redressing the Teenpic

Article excerpt

AT THE EMOTIONAL CLIMAX of Jim McKay's polemical teen film Girls Town (1996), a group of close female friends avenge the rape of another friend by beating the alleged attacker on the streets of New York. To punctuate the message of female empowerment and resistance to victimhood, a soundbridge of Queen Latifah's feminist anthem "U.N.I.T.Y." leads into the next scene, which depicts the girls in a slow-motion strut down a city sidewalk, mimicking a Scorsese-esque gangster set up. At the first close-up of one pair of the girls' feet, Latifah's vocal bursts onto the soundtrack as she demands, "Who you callin' a bitch?"As the song continues (with Latifah insisting "you gotta let him know, you ain't a bitch or a ho"), the camera moves down a door in the girls' bathroom at school, where one of the friends, Emma, has written "Subvert the Patriarchy" and started a list of names of guys who "will fuck with you." (The list alludes to a real-life incident at Brown University.)

In this scene, as throughout the film, the filmmakers both declare an overt political message and respond to a tradition of representing female teens in popular culture. One might even say that the film is a remake of several teen films. Critic Eleanor Ringel makes a connection between Girls Town and an obvious precursor, Boys Town (1938), with a definite preference for the original. "Where is Father Flanagan when you need him?" she asks, and goes on to assert that the film is "no Boys Town," with no "warm'n'fuzzy father figure (or mother figure) to tell this film's roughnecks how to get their lives together," an absence that is, for her, unfortunate (19). Criticizing the lack of "spit and polish" in Jim McKay's independent, low-budget response to teen films such as Boys Town, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), and American Graffiti (1973). Ringel overlooks the aim of this revisionary "remake," which offers central roles to strong female adolescents by any means necessary.

In his comprehensive taxonomy of the hundreds of Hollywood remakes, Make It Again, Sam: A Survey of Movie Remakes, Michael Druxman defines remakes as "those theatrical films that were based on a common literary source (i.e. story, novel, play, poem, screenplay), but were not a sequel to that material" (9). The ambiguity in the phrase "based on" means that a remake may not necessarily be constrained by source material.1 While money is the reason most often cited for remaking a film, the desire for revision must also be considered.2 In his article "Twice-Told Tales," Leitch defines the remake-in his terms, the "update"-as a film with a "revisionary stance," one that revises its source material by "transposing it to a new setting, inverting its system of values, or adopting standards of realism that implicitly criticize the original as dated, outmoded, or irrelevant" (143). Moreover, several other critics have refashioned this revisionary model into a generational conflict, often figured in terms of what Mazdon calls a "quasi-Oedipal relationship" (4).' As Leo Braudy argues, this conclusion almost feels inevitable: "When we imagine a combat of generations that reflects the tides of history, it seems invariably male/male, in a kind of masculine cultural parthenogenesis. No wonder then that so many remakes are concerned with generational (often father/son) contests of meaning, and conflicts over the proper uses of authority and power" (332). Nevertheless, while "masculine cultural parthenogenesis" seems natural in a patriarchal society, Braudy argues for other types of combat, such as "female/female" or "male/female," and he calls for "genealogies of female remakes to compare with the male versions."4 To proceed from Braudy's appeal for female-centered revisions, I would like to consider the 1959 Girls Town, which responded in its own way to seminal films of the teen film genre such as Boys Town and paved the way for films like its 1996 namesake.5

I believe such a study will complicate and unsettle the self-perpetuating father-son closure central to critical work on the teen genre. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.