Writing is a business. Nothing more than that. It doesn’t matter how great the story is nor what a clever little wordsmith I might be. If I can’t pitch the idea, that’s it. It all boils down to the hook, the copy read by that deep-voiced movie trailer guy: Deirdre Sinclair must come to terms with a moment she cannot remember, a past she cannot forget. I think I did all right in the end, getting the interest of three out of four editors, each of them noting my spin: It’s The Happy Hooker meets Born Free in the style of Cormac McCarthy. I gave them a minute to think about that and then went back into it: “She was orphaned as a baby. She’s into performance sex. And she has an exotic cat! A serval! Do you know what that is?” As my coach pronounced, “Everyone loves a cat. Does he live? Whatever you do, don’t kill the cat!” I couldn’t. I love that crazy cat.
It’s a challenge to think of a heroine who isn’t passive, either loving from afar or loving too hard.
And while these passionate characters are to be admired, they tend to limit us in our view of what it is to be a woman of substance. Where are the heroines to rival Odysseus, Atticus Finch and the Cat in the Hat? I offer you my Top Six.
6. Joy Adamson (Born Free) The co-protagonist of the Born Free series, along with Elsa the Lion, Adamson is more outspoken and independent in the books – to say nothing of real life – than offered on film.
5. Hannah Arendt (Hannah Arendt) The 20th-Century philosopher, as portrayed in Margarethe von Trotta’s 2013 film, is intimidating, uncompromising and could smoke anyone under the table.
4. Gloria (Gloria) Gina Rowlands’ portrayal in John Cassavetes’ 1978 film, a modern-day Fury, is striking in her combination of anger and sentimentality.
3. Chihiro (Spirited Away) Even after her parents are turned into pigs and her name is stolen, Chihiro wants to help everyone, including the evil witch.
2. Clytemnestra (Agamemnon) While it may be true that she has the blood of her husband and Cassandra on her hands, Aeschylus makes it clear that she has her reasons.
1. Doctor’s Wife (Blindness) The only hope offered in Jose Saramago’s post-apocalyptic parable is a woman willing to sacrifice herself for the good of everyone else. Imagine that.
Born Free (James Hill, 1966, UK) **** (Four out of four.) There are so many great things about this film — the terrifying opening scene with the blood and clothes flowing down the river, the sped-up shots of the lions attacking, George Adamson bringing Elsa back from the airport, the rock hyrax Pati-Pati, Elsa chasing the elephants and defending Joy Adamson from the snake. There’s also the scenes of George’s painkiller addiction, which is so intense because it seems impossible for such a loving and reasonable man to be so intense, and then the scene of him killing the man-killer lion in his pajamas. There’s also the fact that Joy and George have separate single cots, and they never seem to kiss. I know it’s all very British, but it’s very unnerving too. Joy was so beautiful. And of course there’s the music. But the biggest thing about this film is Joy and George’s attachment with Elsa. Everything seems so genuine — the scene of Joy feeding the milk to the kittens from her thumb, George pushing Elsa out of his bed, Elsa waiting at the end of the driveway for Joy to come home, Joy walking through the savannah crying, “Elsa! Elsa!” and finding her almost dead and then Elsa gone for so long to suddenly reappear with her own kittens.
It was all a movie, and it yet really did happen. If they go on to make a movie of McPhedran’s My Bad Side, it should be like this. Apollo would play himself, and I would consult.Joy Adamson went on to raise leopards and cheetahs and was killed by a disgruntled employee. George Adamson tried to start his own pride of lions and was killed by poachers. The actors, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers (married in real life), became involved in the protection of lions. And Elsa…she died when she was just five, of a fucking tick bite. Not going to happen to Apollo. I’ll tell you that. (Review by Dee Sinclair.)
*No cartoons, animatronics, etc
- Orca, the Killer Whale (Michael Anderson, USA, 1977) This is pure camp, but I was born the year it came out. I’ll never forget when he bites off the broken leg – cast and all – of Annie (Bo Derek).
- Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner, USA, 1990) It is the cheesiest of films, I concede that, but the wolf, Two Socks, is awesome. It’s one of the saddest moments in film when those bastard soldiers shoot and kill him.
- Tarzan the Apeman (W.S. Van Dyke, USA, 1932) Cheetah is a star, but it’s really all the elephants and crocodiles that make this film amazing. (Not so much the fake hippos.)
- A Boy and his Dog (L.Q. Jones, USA, 1975) This is camp apocalypse – before apocalypse was hip – with Don Johnson and his bitter mongrel, who thinks profoundly and cruelly on humanity but remains loyal to the end.
- The Secret of Roan Inish (John Sayles, USA, 1994) The magic in this film is very real. The seals come out of the dark sea in a wonderful, terrifying way. They know more than you would think.
- Gorillas in the Mist (Michael Apted, USA, 1988) The gorillas are incredible, just incredible. I know this film has animatronics, but it was shot on location and there are incredible shots of the gorillas in their habitat.
- The Edge (Lee Tamahori, USA, 1997) Bart the bear is a force, not only in the way he flings that poor guy around but also in how he lowers his ears and pushes out his lower lip. He also dies the tragic death.
- Babe (James Cromwell, USA, 1995) I admit there are too many visual effects – puppets too – but there really is a border collie and a pig. And it’s a great pig. “That’ll do, pig.”
- Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, USA, 2005) The rogue bear is pretty horrifying – devouring Treadwell and his girlfriend – but that is what bears do. There are so many other great bears in this and Timmy, the fox.