Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Correspondence: A Letter to the Female Film Character I Admire (Even Though She Is a Terrible Role Model)

Dear Claire Colburn,

I’ve often wondered; is it that I see myself in you, or that I see the girl I would like to be? There must be a reason for the way I admire you that is more than just my jealousy of the way you can pull off a red beret, making it seem completely casual and not at all ‘try-hard Francophile’. Yes, although they’re pretty neat, I think there is more to it than your skills with headwear.

Of course, you’re not real, and I don’t kid myself into thinking that you are. You are a creation of a team of filmmakers, primarily Cameron Crowe, but also costume and set designers, cinematographers and editors and, let’s not forget, Kirsten Dunst. But fictionalisation has never stopped admiration before and from the moment I first saw you in an Elizabethtown trailer I marvelled at you.

Firstly and foremost, I think, it’s your comfort in yourself. You acknowledge your tastes, personality, wants and influences and wear them openly and you do this in a way that goes beyond the definitions of quirky, eccentric or cool and lands at just being yourself. You’re an amalgamation that is Claire, you are your own brand of human being and you seem to live it so easily. You don’t sway to be one way or another to the dictations of anybody else and it’s this comfort, this ease within a person that makes them, makes you, irresistible.

And you know what, everybody likes you for this. Yes, everybody. You are exciting, sensitive, witty and fun. You put people at ease with your smile and charm and without worrying about who you are and what you look like, you have infinite time to give to each person. With this you gain a rare insight into the lives of others’; you become an observer, an empathiser and a confidante to all. You make friends quickly, are accepted easily and adapt as necessary to fill gaps in any social situation.  So self assured are you that others immediately feel better about themselves; more relaxed, more positive. You are a star.

This self comfort and assurance, however, do not equal self pride or value. No, the self confidence you demonstrate does not perpetuate into self worth. You openly label yourself a “substitute person”:

“We're the substitute people. I've been the substitute person my whole life. I'm not an Ellen, I never wanted to be an Ellen. And I'm not a Cindy either…I like being alone too much. I mean, I'm with a guy who is married to his academic career. I rarely see him and I'm the substitute person there. I like it that way. It's a lot less pressure.”

and you put the needs of others ardently before your own. With this label you reassure yourself that you aren’t wholly responsible for anybody or anything, you relieve anxiety about getting hurt by maintaining a pretend distance. You are scared, and so you hide from vulnerability by flitting between connections (you are, in fact, an air hostess) and only ever sharing half the truth about yourself.

And so I feel the need to tell you this Claire; being an amazing person counts for nothing if you don’t know and seek what you deserve. For Pete’s sake, you have Orlando Bloom at one point literally spelling out what it IS you deserve. In fact, you have Orlando Bloom basically offering himself to you as what you deserve. Orlando Bloom! And you don’t take him up on it!! If this doesn’t make it clear that you have some serious issues then fine, leave Orlando alone. I’ll have him.  

Claire, this is a difficult letter to write. On one hand, I really kind of want to be you. On the other, your story makes me very sad. I know that you’re flawed for the purposes of dramatic tension, but oh Claire, so much of me wants to shake you until you get it together.

In the meantime, best wishes. Don’t get jealous if you see another girl walking the streets in a little red beret, it’s only me trying but not trying to be you.


Dear Edie Sedgewick (as portrayed by Sienna Miller in the film Factory Girl),

Wow, I’m totally out of my depth here. You are, just, so, way incredibly cool. I don’t know what makes a person cool and another person not, but whatever it is, is what sets us apart. You make everything so glamorous, with your “darlings” and your making statements into questions by putting “don’t you think?” on the end of your sentences as if you’re language patterns come straight from a Marilyn Monroe film or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You’re so stylish, and you own it, and you hang out with people who changed the world.

I’ll be proud if one day I can lay claim to the title “pet owner”.

Not that my friends aren’t cool, don’t get me wrong. They’re very cool, and clever, but they aren’t the kind of glamorous superstars you surround yourself with. I’ve met those types of people but I never seem to get along with them, and they don’t seem to like the fact that I’m not going to change just to please them. I’m proud of myself for this though. They can be as glamorous as they please but if I disagree with them I won’t bend over and take it. I think this is another way we differ.

The first time you went to the Factory and they were filming that horse? And you stepped in when it reared and you calmed it down? Didn’t that make you feel at least a little uncomfortable? Didn’t spending all that money just to keep up while working without getting paid get on your nerves just a little? And when you met Billy Quinn (Bob Dylan, cough) played by Hayden Christensen, and Guy Pierce’s Andy Warhol started getting jealous and weird, why didn’t you speak your mind earlier?

Was being famous and cool that important? ‘Cause if it was really worth it maybe I’ll try harder, kiss a few arses, lose a few kilos, buy a fur coat and give up listening to music that isn’t “good”. ‘Cause it really looks like you’re having fun… until it all falls apart.

I just want to know if the moral of the story is that no matter what good things do fall to pieces eventually, or that if you keep control of your life you have a chance to hold on to them. I want to know if you can be a little reckless and charming and live the perpetual party and still keep some of the things you love, or if you have to stand your ground and keep control and be bored to stop things slipping through your fingers. In order to leave any legacy at all do you have to burn out bright and early? Sure the Tortoise may have won the race, but the Hare had more fun, right? And who’s life would they make a movie out of? The Hare’s.

I’m sorry for getting so emotional (and comparing you to a children’s story so much), but I think that’s the thing about movies. The characters you want to succeed are the ones that make you the most passionate, and you clearly made a great impression in those first few scenes in the mid sixties. You lived through a lot of really hard times but came out with an appreciation of art and a person who likes people (both of which are a rarity in this world). You flaunted your bold fashion style and made the world fall in love with you, all the while wrestling with inner demons most people probably can’t even comprehend. Your look changed the fashion world.

Women looked to you as a leader into new looks and styles, and now, almost fifty years later they still do. And that means more than a lot of people give it credit for.

This letter probably seems a bit harsh since you paid for your mistakes, literally with your life. I’m sorry you couldn’t keep on the straight and narrow, and make your life better and longer. You were a firework, burning out bright for a heartbreakingly short time. Your legacy lives on in every “return to retro” packaging, in every blond pixie haircut, in every set of earrings with feathers that tickle your shoulders when you wear them, and whenever Lady Gaga wears tights with a leotard and no pants. Without you the world would be a fair deal duller. And although you crashed and burned, like a star that might have died millennia ago, the memory of your spark still brightens each new night sky. 


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