O WITHERED is the garland of the
movies. Hollywoodís curtain has fallen. Young boys and girls may not have
heard of her but Fay Wray is dead, and with her, King Kong. The odds is
gone. And there is nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.
adapting Cleopatraís Shakespearean lines on the death of Mark Antony, I
admit over-reacting to the demise, aged 96, of the actress, who, when held
in the hand of the super-sized simian in the 1933 film, delivered
ululating cries of almost-melodious terror that drew millions to cinemas,
especially in Depression-stricken America, happy to see someone in a worse
situation than themselves.
I am unrepentant because the
object of the amorous apeís attention had a face that, at times, had
strong hints of my cub-mistressís features on seeing a badly-tied running
bowline or hearing the pack getting its dib-dib-dobbing ritual out of
Auburn-haired, firm of chin, neat of neckerchief
and with a well-placed woggle, she had the eyes of a suffering saint. I
felt she needed protection and sometimes I followed her spoor to her bus
stop, ready, should the need arise, to run at the rate of knots and shout
in piping treble for help.
Fay Wray appeared eminently
vulnerable and, therefore, protectable and was in the long line of females
in fiction and film, from dragon-distressed damsels awaiting a rescuing
knight to those seeking help from some seedy private detective in a
testosterone-fuelled drama of murder and sexual intrigue where, for
determined viewers, the newsreel would save the day.
Hollywood thrillers, it was womenís perilous place to be rescued by those
with the XY chromosome. Threatened with bisection from crocodiles, menaced
by sexual predators, dangled over a cliff from a broken rope bridge, tied
to railway tracks, enmeshed in the tentacles of octopuses, at the mercy of
mad scientists who attempted to change them into giant lobsters, women
were invariably the ones who would walk into forbidden rooms in the
vampireís castle, throw the wrong switch on the moon-bound rocket that
would send it to the sand seas of Mars, or otherwise hold up the action by
introducing a saccharinal romantic note.
They were also dispensable
victim material. Typical lines spoken by or to females about to be bumped
off included: "Why did you bring me all the way up here?" "Hello operator,
Iíve been cut off. Hello operator," "Oh, itís only you. Come in," "Why are
you looking at me like that?" "Donít worry, youíre safe now," "Of course
Iíll marry you 007."
That type of filmic female whose main
characteristic was a screaming helplessness in the face of shock and
horror has vanished, almost without trace.
In her place has come the
tough, self-reliant heroine with a punch like the back of a shovel, a kick
like a rocket-propelled grenade, eyes like twin gun barrels and a voice
that can sound like echoing corrugated iron. Kong, encountering such
alien-and-monster-fighting, mother-earth figures, would probably have
shinned up the Empire State Building to escape.
archetypal new, indestructible female is Sigourney Weaver in the Alien
films whose efforts to eliminate thuggish, salivating, perpetually-hungry
predators from a coarse planet with a disturbing climatic resemblance to
present meteorological conditions in Scotland, is the equivalent, in
tactical deployment, weapon use and battle motivation, of a batch of US
marines storming a beach at Iwo Jima.
You would never see such women
at the kitchen sink, ironing board, loo-cleaning or shopping at Tesco;
lonely huntress-gatherers seeking to ensnare the whitest-sliciest bread,
combating facial wrinkles and cellulite and struggling to be the scourge
of 99 per cent of all known household germs.
The latest emanation of the
politically-correct fighting woman is Guinevere, played by Keira Knightley
in the recently-released film King Arthur.
A figure of Arthurian high
romance whose name, wrote Francis Brett Young in a poem, "blends the
rapture and the pain linked in the lovely nightingaleís lament", Guinevere
appears - woad you believe it? - face-painted, in skimpy costume,
bow-and-arrow-battling with the boys with all the energy of a
bottle-throwing binge boozer.
We are a long way from Fay
Wray. Cacti have replaced shrinking violets. If there are still wolf cubs
trying to follow their cub scout leaderís spoor, I say, "Forget it."