As part of my thesis I’m looking at movies about girls. Yeah, that’s super vague but it leads me on to the point of this post. So, writing about movies about girls means I need to read what others have written about them (which I would do for personal interest anyway but now it’s actually ‘for’ something. Huzzah). I’ve got a list of books to get through and the first one I read was Pictures of Girlhood: Modern Female Adolescence on Film by Sarah Hentges, published in 2006. I figured, seeing as I have an incredibly neglected movie blog, I may as well do some half-arsed mini ‘reviews’ on the books about movies as I read them, if anyone is interested.
It’s an easy read and great as an overview because of the sheer amount of films covered in its 233 pages (the filmography at the back lists 91 films I think, I kept losing count) which meant that some films are glossed over while others are discussed in more detail (which included the author summarising the entire plot in the text and making some comments on the plot details).
The scope is American films (mainly, there are some from other countries) made in the ’90s, again, mainly as films dating back to the ’50s were mentioned. And one of the best aspects of the book is the discussion of the limitations of girlhood as presented in American cinema. There is little surprise that it is largely white, hetero and middle to upper class. It wasn’t just mentioned once, however, and the fact that this limited presentation of girlhood was returned to again and again by Hentges was important to me. I also liked that Hentges was able to discuss problematic aspects of films while still acknowledging their empowering points, too. And, of course, Hentges does discuss films about girls on the margins (girls of colour, poor girls and girls who do not identify as straight) but notes that these films are almost always ‘independent’ or non-mainstream. She also covers the limitations of these films, themselves.
One thing that irked me was that some plot points were inaccurate and it made me wonder what other inaccuracies there were about films I hadn’t seen. They were only small things – that Les in Bring it On didn’t seem to know whether or not he was gay when the film is explicit, in my opinion, about his sexuality, referring to Verena as the only girl in The Hairy Bird who still has her hymen when the quote is actually about how Tinka is the only girl who doesn’t have her hymen and I believe a quote from Mean Girls was attributed to Saved! (Though both films were being discussed at the same time, so it’s easy to see how that could happen.) Maybe I’m just being picky but it was something that bothered me though not enough that it stopped me from enjoying the book. And not enough that I wouldn’t recommend it.
The only other problem was that, because so many films were discussed, I started to lose track of which characters were from what film when they were discussed later in the book, out of context. A little reminder may have helped.
As an aside, I was a bit baffled by her discussion of But I’m a Cheerleader! as she describes it as nearly Hollywood-like in its happy ending – my interpretation of her tone was that this was a bad thing? Surely girls who are not straight need stories with happy endings about them, as well? Of course, I could have read her tone wrong. And it is unlikely to read a book, or even article, and agree with every point or interpretation the author makes.
Aside from those issues, and obviously disagreeing with some points, I felt like this was an important book. There are definitely a lot more texts being written on women in film, feminist film texts and other similar books but (and it could just be my limited reading) I still feel movies about girls are viewed as less important so books like this are important. If that makes sense. It’s also given me a list of even more films that I want to watch! Whether or not I can find them all is another thing, of course.
Has anyone else read this book? Or maybe similar ones? As I said, I’ve got a list to go through but I’m always keen for more.