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Ann-Margret Is the…Kitten with a Whip!

Ann-Margaret’s performance is like a rambunctious asterisk to Susan Sontag’s essay published the same year.

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Ann-Margret Is the…Kitten with a Whip!

Kitten with a Whip is one of the creamiest B-movie teensploitation tricks, but, like practically all others of its ilk, deep down in its calculated, studio-affiliated heart, it hates teenagers’ guts. With a vehemence that would make the Cecil B. DeMille who pulled the walls of the Red Sea down on the Pharoah’s army suggest mediation, director Douglas Heyes sets up Ann-Margret (fresh off of bopping to Bye Bye Birdie and frugging to Viva Las Vegas) to tear her claws into the role of Jody, a two-faced blond lynx who busts out of juvie and dens up in a random suburban abode. And tear into the role she does, especially when she finds out the house she’s squatting in belongs to David Stratton (John Forsythe), a spineless Senate hopeful whose sensible, G-O-Pretty wife just happens to be out of town for the weekend. Putting the squeeze on the poor sap (but not before tricking him into sympathizing with her plight), Ann-Margaret’s Jody spits jailbait quips, slips into his wife’s fine washables, bats her bedroom eyelashes, and ferally informs him she has no intentions of being thrown back out into the alley. The more Stratton struggles against his good-times interloper, the deeper he digs himself into a hole. It isn’t two stalled phone calls to the authorities before Jody’s worked out an entire rape scenario to blackmail him into compliance. And then she calls her hepcat crew out to the scene.

Like The Beatniks, Hot Rods to Hell, The Violent Years, The Delinquents, and even later, bloodier incarnations like Class of 1984, Kitten with a Whip is an exercise in reverse-ageist vampirism, wherein the youth and vitality of its cast is drawn and then turned around and used against them. This might be the most spectacularly self-defeating flick in the whole wild bunch, since a still notably green Ann-Margaret is only too willing to degrade herself, lashing out at every juicy moment of tension with eye-rolling, tongue-lashing hysteria. Her contralto is out of control, her hips refuse to be confined to one axis of movement, her hair shifts with her violent temper like a sea anemone.

Ann-Margaret’s performance is like a rambunctious asterisk to Susan Sontag’s essay published the same year, a collection of thesis statements so notorious I needn’t name it in this context. But ultimately Ann-Margaret is betrayed by her writer-director and the genre she thought she could use as her own ill-tempered playground, specifically because both are so baldly antipathetic toward the full bloom of youth. (The movie’s best and most sarcastic line goes to a mod philosophy dropout who, after being slashed with a razor blade, sneers “I’m dying in a rush.”) Robbed of even the cut-rate nobility that the purest, most naïve camp can usually claim, Kitten with a Whip is a sleeper cell, feigning juvenile delinquency when it’s really a sop to the squares who can’t trust anyone who feels “so shiny good about you.”

Kitten with a Whip will play at the Anthology Film Archives on February 4, introduced by John Waters. For more information, click here.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.

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A24
Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Al2nC0vzY

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.

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20th Century Fox
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.

Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: A Star Is Born

Should Win: First Man

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