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January 15, 2015

Screaming Mimi

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Gerd Oswald - 1958
Sony Pictures Choice Collection DVD

In most of her screen appearances, Anita Ekberg would be a character, sometimes of herself. To paraphrase Andrew Sarris on the similarly endowed Jayne Mansfield, if she hadn't already existed, she would have had to have been invented. More than any of the European "bombshells" of the Fifties and early Sixties that simultaneously exploited their sexuality and were exploited themselves, Ekberg always seemed a bit bigger than life. Her face was broader, her breasts appeared bigger, her thighs, meatier. How it came to pass that her two films that gave her roles of substance were both directed by Gerd Oswald is unknown to me, but Ekberg's recent death was motivation for me to see Screaming Mimi again.

There is some resemblance to Fredric Brown's novel, but much of it is tossed aside. In the novel, Yolanda is first seen in a state of undress. The series of murders is reduced to one unsolved case. Most significantly eliminated is the question of what was witnessed, who was the murderer, and who was the victim? One might argue that in relation to the themes presented by Brown, Dario Argento's unofficial remake, The Bird with Crystal Plumage is the more faithful filmic recreation.

Oswald plays with the idea of Anita Ekberg as a mostly unattainable sex object. In the first shot, Ekberg emerges from the ocean, maybe not Venus in the shell, but close enough. Her one piece bathing suit seems a size too small, revealing a little extra flesh both front and rear. Nudity could only be suggested, but for its time, imagining Anita Ekberg nude in the outdoor shower was probably good enough for male audience members.

The fantasy of sex, more specifically with Anita Ekberg as an object of fantasy, is played with when she performs her nightclub act. Ekberg's body is recognizable even in shadow, and there are several shots where she is only seen in shadow. The nightclub performance has Yolanda dancing with chains that she eventually breaks, suggesting that she is neither to be thought of as a slave or someone who could be kept. The film ends with the recognition that Yolanda is schizophrenic, and unaware of her own reality. One might interpret Screaming Mimi as being something of a parable about Hollywood, about a woman who invokes interest due to her strong sexual presence, of men fighting over her, confusing what they think is best for her with their own respective self-interest, and the confusion these men have between the image of Yolanda, whether it's the image they create, or the image Yolanda chooses to project.

Can a film be both a critique of the "male gaze" as C. Jerry Kutner has written, and at the same time an act of self knowledge? That first low angle shot of Anita Ekberg's posterior suggests that the film plays it both ways, which is OK with me.

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Posted by peter at January 15, 2015 08:53 AM