Well! News! OMG! “Films of High Adventure” has been picked up by Fantasy Magazine! Now, on the last Wednesday of each month, Jesse and I will run roughshod over the childhoods of many a film-watcher for the Fantasy audience. Our first go-round for FM will be Legend, so fear not, we will indeed deal with the devil soon enough. We’ll still be running the column weekly on our blogs, but our more fantasy-movie fodder will be over there, and our fantasy/sci-fi/adventure/whatever movies will be right here where you’re used to, save we’ll be doing this nonsense on Wednesdays to match up with the Fantasy slot. Anyways: ONWARD!

The Film: Tank Girl (1995)

Also Known AsLori Petty, Lori Petty, Oh Lori Petty (2010)

Also AKA as: The Film that Ended Multiple Hollywood Careers (1995)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Original comic book by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, screenplay by Tedi Sarafian (the Christopher Lambert/David Arquette picture The Road Killers). Direction by Rachel Talalay, who has done nothing but television since—a waste of cinematic talent, as her previous two films, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Ghost in the Machine, were nothing short of. . . well, two films that got made in the early 90s. Tank Girl also marked the last real starring cinematic role for Lori Petty—surely it must be a coincidence that the director, screenwriter, and star didn’t work in pictures much after this. Awesome soundtrack by a mid-90s teenager’s compact disc collection—L7, Veruca Salt, Hole, Bush, Bjork, Belly (Molly still owns both albums to this day), Portishead, Stomp (!). Oh, and also Ice-T, Devo, Joan Jett, Iggy Pop, Isaac Hayes, and on and on and on—definitely from an era where the runtime of the soundtrack was roughly the same length as the movie itself. Not-at-all-hammy acting from Lori Petty (A League of Their Own), Malcolm McDowell (more of a Star Trek: Generations performance than A Clockwork Orange here), Ice-T (uh, Johnny Mnemonic, Law and Order: SVU), Iggy Pop as a pedophile listed in the credits as “Rat Face,” and an adorably earnest Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive, I <3 Huckabees).

Quote: “Lock up your sons!”

Alternate quote: “What the hell is that?!” “I think it’s Cole Porter, sir.”

First viewing by Molly: Gawd. I saw a spot with Lori Petty on some crap morning news-lite program wherein she recounted how she got the part: she was, allegedly, sent the script but instead of calling to say she’d take the role she shaved her head and burst into the office of the casting director and screeched “I am Tank Girl!” I fell promptly in love. My parents, however, refused to take me to a rated-R movie in the theater, but the moment it came out on VHS I rented it, so, what? 1995? 1996? Better question: why do I remember this chain of events so vividly? Oh, because Tank Girl is, in all seriousness, probably the most influential film I saw as a teenager. Feel free to take from that what you will.

First viewing by Jesse: I missed it in theatres but ordered it on pay-per-view.

Most recent viewing by both: Two weeks ago.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Severe. As I said, this was probably number one for Teenage Molly. (Number one for Small Times Molly will be our first spot over at Fantasy Magazine, incidentally.) But anyways: this film—nay, to young Molly, this was no mere film, but a cinematic masterpiece. I was enchanted from the very first moments, when the credits open with stills from the comic book; the first lines where Lori Petty is riding a weird post-apocalyptic ox or something, omg. Rapture! Her punky, homemade style; her shaved head (which it took me until college to imitate, but I was not a bold teenager); her attitude! Her filthy mouth! Her willingness (and ability) to use her sexuality to defeat opponents! Her remorseless inclination to just straight-up murder bad dudes; her really bizarre relationship with Booga the kangaroo-man! I loved Jet Girl, too (in subsequent viewings Jet became not the dark horse in the running but the Star of the Show for me, incidentally); actually, I loved everything. To be perhaps too serious about this, it was a model of femininity I had not encountered previously, and it fucked my mind in the tender, loving way a sheltered 14-15 year old girl should have her mind fucked [Jesse says: . . . Jesse doesn’t really have anything to say to that, actually]. I actually watched it the first time in two separate viewings as I started it with my parents when I rented it; they turned it off with the quickness, but I finished it the next day and there was no turning back. Thus I became the lone champion of this film in high school (or perhaps the one person who’d seen it) and showed it to all my bestest friends (one friend and I had a Malcolm McDowell double-feature as she’d never seen A Clockwork Orange, either; another loved it so much that we both went dressed as Tank Girl for Halloween one year). I also, and I just now remembered this, used Tank Girl for an art project I had in like, maybe 8th grade, wherein I had to design a movie poster for an existing film. So, yeah.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderate. It got me into Bjork and L7, and I was deeply in love with both Tank and Jet for some time afterward. I remember thinking there could have been more animation (I was that kind of youth).

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I was super-excited, as I always am when I dig this movie out of my closet or wherever it lives (yes, I own it on DVD). I had mentioned a few of my favorite parts to Jesse and his baffled “that happens?!” reaction made me happy because it was clear he’d be experiencing the wonder all over again for the first time.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Molly’s played the soundtrack on roadtrips before, so I knew that would be going on—“Army of Me” is still one of my favorite Bjork songs, so I knew it would have that going for it, at least. And hey, I remembered enjoying it, and between Malcolm McDowell gobbling scenery and Ice-T dressed up as a kangaroo monster I assumed it would be good for a dopey dose of camp shenanigans. I was also, truth be told, curious to see the objects of my teenage double-crush again.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I vowed to be as critical as any other film we’ve done else with this movie, and I will, even though it is a rather bittersweet experience for me. I had very mixed feelings this time. I really can’t watch Tank Girl without part of me reverting to the utterly enchanted, socially-awkward, bespectacled, acne-riddled, shy, Pern-obsessed kid I was, and experiencing that sort of regression makes it difficult to be truly objective. But here it is: this movie is terrible. I understand more now why my parents turned it off, honestly. To young Molly, Tank Girl herself had a transgressive attitude and a bad-ass personality; as an adult, I am increasingly able to tear away the veil of childhood and realize that Tank’s personality is essentially a collection of one-liners and mid-90s outfits. Not that I don’t love one-liners and mid-90s outfits, but watching this movie these days leaves me wanting more—wanting to see what I saw as a kid. I type this, listening to the soundtrack (which has bridged the gap from CD to iTunes; in fact, it was one of the first I transferred over back in the day), getting, truth be told, a little sentimental. But as an adult, I see more of this movie’s flaws, I guess. Primary offense: the amount of attention the film pays to Tank’s physical body as an object of sexual desire works to strip her agency in certain ways; she is both subject and object, and while I believe that is OK for films to do, this film handles it badly most of the time. Counter-argument: I still harbor an unalloyed love of the scene (not on YouTube, unfortunately), where Tank is in the dressing room of Liquid Silver, the whorehouse, and a hologram is telling her how best to dress to be alluring to men. Tank, of course, ignores the advice to stroll out of the experience with a ton of earrings in her cartilage, wearing filthy combat boots and a slinky black negligee as a dress, holding a giant gun and smoking a cigarette whereupon she intones, “lock up your sons!” OMG. Secondary offences include, just to name a few, the sorta-kinda rape-revenge plot hovering around Jet (snooze), having Jet’s kangaroo love interest (an interesting statement in and of itself) make many sexually-inappropriate remarks and then actually hump her [Jesse says: seconded. I fucking hated that d-bag ‘roo, and not just cause he was macking on Jet], giving Tank a name (she doesn’t have one in the comic book, which I read so often it pretty much fell apart), other things.

But you know what? FUCK THAT NOISE. This film is awesome! I retract my earlier statement. Jesus! The scene where the adorable moppet uses her “danger ball” to send a host of spikes through Iggy Pop’s pedophile hands! The scene where Malcolm McDowell makes an unsatisfactory general walk across a floor filled with broken glass particles and then it is revealed HE HIMSELF IS BAREFOOT OMG HE IS SUCH A VILLIAN! The montage where Jet and Tank re-paint their vehicles to fit the mid-90s aesthetic of the film! The scene where Tank Girl tells the aforementioned moppet not to call people “butt smear” because “it’s not becoming; say asshole, or dickwad, instead”! The celebration sequence where the head kangaroo-dude (who is, incomprehensibly, a reincarnation of Jack Kerouac) plays the saxophone and recites the following poem:

Laugh, you butterfly

That dances in the mud

Laugh, you piece of dental floss

You burn, me toast.

Laugh, you pig that flies in the sky

With rainbow twinky fluid

And three litres of high-octane petrol.


Jesse’s  thoughts post-viewing: Welllll, this was one that didn’t hold up as much as I had hoped, and I doubt I’ll be able to match Molly’s enthusiastic response, but here goes. The plot, when it periodically pokes its head out of the sand, is terminally stupid—why does Malcolm McDowell do what he does? Why does anyone do what they do? Baffling. Perhaps it’s a good thing, then, that the plot spends most of the film hibernating and we are instead treated to a kaleidoscopic series of random episodes and inappropriate sexual humor (sample dialogue: “You gotta think about it like the first time you got laid. You gotta go: ‘Daddy, are you sure this is right?’”) As a kid I wanted more animation but upon re-watching it I think a good balance was struck between stills from the comic, live action footage, and the animated bits:

Director Talalay apparently did not get final cut—word on the desert is that the original cut didn’t have quite so much Tankgirl-as-sexual-object stuff, but the footage that’s there speaks for itself. There’s also no getting around the fact that the movie stars Lori Petty in full-on Lori Petty mode, and while I’m down with that some people will most certainly not be. Then there’s Ice-T in kangaroo makeup, which seems suitable punishment for his tricking me into watching the execrable Alyssa Milano vehicle Body Count—it had the same name as his metal band and starred the bastard, so I had every right to expect something more than a dull Alyssa Milano vehicle…right? Hey, say what you will about the ice man, he did good in New Jack City, though he was no Pookie.

Although I didn’t remember much of Tank Girl I at least knew what I was getting into—I cannot begin to imagine the effect it might have on someone who had made it to the year 2010 without being exposed. Incredulity would be a word that might come to mind. Perhaps the most damning element of the film is how good it could have been. I’m not really familiar with the source comic but given what’s on display here stylistically something could have been cobbled together plot-wise beyond the brain-dead chain of events that propels the action and offensive jokes. And this is coming from a fan of the Cannonball Run. Still, it has some amazing scenes and a fun atmosphere, and the exact dopey campiness I was anticipating. Plus it has Naomi Watts and Lori Petty changing outfits every two minutes, which is good news if you’re into crazy fashion or post-apocalyptic bombshells.

High Points: The costumes. The soundtrack. The willingness of the cast to participate in the silliest scenes imaginable. Case in point:

Final Verdict: 15-year old Molly votes this Best Film of the Millennium. 28-year old Jesse shakes his head and laments what could have been.

Next Week (Wednesday): Not sure yet. Feel free to make suggestions!