Every week Nicotina brings us an unforgettable female character from the movies. A girl you just can’t miss. This week, Nicotina suggests you meet Frances from the 1982 film of the same name, directed by Graeme Clifford.
I first watched Frances (1982) on a late night Doordarshan slot sometime in the early 90s. Jessica Lange plays ‘golden age’ Hollywood studio star Frances Farmer in this unrelentingly tragic biopic that records the ordeals of an intelligent and sensitive Farmer caught in a deeply misogynist world.
I was 13 or 14 when I saw it first and 17 when I saw it again on VHS; now, at 36, I remember only two scenes vividly. In the first, Lange as Farmer is angry after getting arrested by a cop, and when he asks her to name her occupation, she says “cocksucker”; in the second, she is screaming louder than she did in King Kong as she’s arrested and institutionalised in a psychiatric asylum. Between the two viewings, two ideas fuzzily took shape: to call myself a cocksucker before anyone else does, and to never trust psychiatric pathologisation.
These two valuable and powerful pedagogic phantasms that my memory still conjures have protected me quite a bit. At an age when I sometimes stupidly maintain an ironic distance from the pitch of what is a template Oscar nomination performance (Lange was nominated but lost to Streep in Sophie’s Choice), I’d still earnestly recommend Lange’s channeling of the collective spirit of feminist outrage. And given the power of this scream to endure, I know that the film’s tragic denouement of a lobotomised unfeeling Frances is but a masculinist fantasy.