In celebration of the long awaited theatrical release of Sex
and the City, RT is turning the spotlight on New York’s 20 most iconic
You’ll note these are mostly single girls, struggling against gender roles and wrestling (not just metaphorically) with relationships.
Each are products of their city, but hopefully, wherever you might hang your
hat, you can empathize with their comedies, dramas, and romantic entanglements. That’s what makes
them iconic after all: They’re relevant, even if they’re dated. And, oh, the demi-fros and eyeliner on some of these girls
are seriously dated.
She’s a glorious mess, a secretly smoking playwright whose
attire/uniform is the fashion equivalent of class warfare: Fur, polo dress and
loafers — I mean, really.
While you’d be hard pressed to consider Margot Tenenbaum a
“woman” in all her self-loathing, self-serious austerity, she’s feminine and
mysterious and renders those around her impotent without really trying. When she
leaves the Green Line bus and approaches Bomber (Luke Wilson) to the cadence of
Nico’s “These Days” time takes on another dimension. Don’t we all wish we
had those powers?
There’s something discourteous about Depression-era
socialites, but it’s hard not to love this party girl. Nora Charles was pretty,
playful and usually drunk, but since her husband shared in her proclivity for
martinis she fit in swimmingly. There are few women who’d follow their
ex-detective husbands around, solving crimes for the fun, but it was the
Depression and she was rich. Audiences so liked the team of Nick and Nora
Charles that MGM ultimately produced five Thin Man detective comedies.
18. Loretta Castorini Appears in: Moonstruck (1987)
Portrayed by: Cher
Bookkeeper and pragmatist Loretta is set to marry a
safe, stable man who’s resigned to “settling down” in the most sedentary way
possible. But when Loretta meets her fiancé’s passionate and over-impulsive
brother (a young and hysterically awkward Nicholas Cage)he triggers in her a transformation long overdue. It’d be
half-wrong to say that she comes into herself again for her new lover,
and only half-right to say she does it because of him, but when she
chooses to change, she’s clearly also choosing to be happy, and few things are
as empowering as taking that into your own hands.
Though barely onscreen, Madonna’s
Susan is a constant topic of discussion and an object of fascination (yes I do mean “object”). The only character in the movie that knows Susan confuses
the missing, muse-like woman for an amnesiac Rosanna Arquette. (Exactly how much does Rosanna Arquette look like Madonna?)This, her big screen debut, Desperately Seeking Susan painted Madonna as a starlet still living on street level and unquestionably scored her some longstanding indie cred.
Ms. Kubelik may
be the most tragic figure on our list. She’s manipulated, handed off, and
ultimately saved by a guy far weaker than she. But in context: She’s the
quintessential stuck woman.
If we’re using movies as our guide through history,
“good-girls” are also virtuous brides, which means a lot of nay saying on the
girl’s part. Not only is this Ms. Kubelik “worldly” (that’s code) but she’s got
an eye on advancement and grasps the reality that, if soul-sucking, the game is
hers to play.
“Is a girl that’s been going around with a fellow for
a reasonable length of time supposed to go to the bed with him or not?”
Strong-willed, Eileen is tireless. She withdraws with shock
when her hot-headed brother defends her, and fights back when he rejects her
pleas for advice. She stands with dignity even after she’s been rejected and
speaks quite directly about the injustice of her position. Moreover, she’s out to relieve herself of
her status as an “amateur” (again, that’s code). And in that pursuit, she’s certainly proactive.
So here’s the first of two math problems: According to
Eileen, boys are asking and presumably not always getting turned down. According
to her brother, the girls you marry say “no.” What’s Q.E.D. on that one?
Margot’s greatest mistake was being sympathetic. If
she’d just kicked Eve (Anne Baxter) to the curb, instead of buying her hopeless
fan sob story, she’d have been better off. Unlike others on this list, Margot’s
struggle isn’t with a man. Women in this movie do the fighting while men lick
their wounds and occasionally act as supportive partners (right before getting
dumped). When it becomes obvious to Margot that Eve is poisoning the well, the
men defend the new girl. Surely in her excess Margot must be confused, (Oh, that
Margot, you know how she gets.), but therein lies the complication: Margot’s a
success story due largely to her determination, and she’s earned her power, but
still her entourage finds said power suspect. Ponderous. Of course, Margot wins,
but does the plight of the powerful woman always rests on her ability to defy
the words of her peers? If so, that sorta sucks.
Even as a
secondary character Lois’ is a major force in Superman. She’s the
journalist in the center of the biggest story ever to hit New York facsimile
Metropolis, she’s in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place if
you’re into self-preservation), and really good at what she does. She’s the lone
gunwoman among an army of male editors and peers, and never once is cornered to
do menial tasks. In ways she’s a perfect compliment to Superman; a sort of real
world Woman of Steel.
While it might
look like Tess McGill’s allure comes from her determination, it’s worth
remembering how much she gets away with just on the grounds of her demure (if rough edged) social
skills. Tess finds routes to forgiveness, and in a way, proves that life skills
and business skills reside in the same wheelhouse. And I know it was hot back
then, but she also gets away with some pretty bad hair: Any girl who can do that
With a girlfriend
like Lisa Fremont, how could any man complain? Well, Jimmy Stewart finds a way.
As field photographer L.B., he grows impotent in Lisa’s glamour glow and for
reasons hard to grasp, he requires her to be more adaptable to the world outside
her couture clique. Lisa complies by doing her own fieldwork and sneaking into
the apartment of alleged murderer Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr). Ms. Kelly climbs
fences and performs her B&E stunt in a dress with a rather extraordinary
crinoline, and escapes more or less unscathed after getting a little “caught.”
Even without the cast and wheelchair, L.B. couldn’t have done better.
Posey’s Mary is
saddled with the laborious task of finding employment. She’s run illegal parties
out of her warehouse apartment for years and one arrest too many sends her to
the arms of her Godmother, the head librarian at a downtown branch. It’s a
glorious 180. It seems implausible that the film could sell this raver as a
would-be librarian but Harry Birckmayer’s script is so boisterous, and full of
hit-you-over-the-head gag references (like a filing job consisting of a massive
stack of Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus for example) that absurdity is just par
for the course. Posey was still only marginally known when she appeared as Mary,
but talk about selling it. Parker Posey is Party Girl. This, among other
factors, made Party Girl fit with the products of the post-Sundance indie-verse,
which was full of films that, like Party Girl’s titular character, were
newly bookish and pretty excited about it.
“Its just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one
time or other have done it so you do the math.”
This is the line that immediately precedes Sally’s (in)famous
performance at Katz’s Deli. Sure the scene is memorable but boiling Sally down
to that one eruption over coleslaw might just be forsaking the (real) mounting
relationship for a(fake) conclusion.
Like the other women discussed here, Sally is a character
based on real, if anonymous others. If we presume that the “modern” (for 1989)
woman is confused about her options (family versus career), then Sally is the
counterpoint to the confused woman. She didn’t just know what she wanted; she
was specific to a fault and relatively uncompromising. Well, uncompromising
about her lunch order at least.
No one played
in love” like Natalie Wood. It’s of course all the more exciting that this
(faux) Puerto Rican Juliet has to struggle against the confines that keep her
from her white Romeo. An immigrant who seems more comfortable in her
surroundings than all of the gang bangers battling it out in Manhattan, Maria is
vaguely world weary but still hopeful and exuberant. This is perhaps why the
film’s conclusion is so tragic. We leave Maria believing that her spark can’t
burn bright much longer against such harsh weather.
packaged in one woman, Gloria is our answer to the hard-nosed criminal, the
super-hero, and the adoptive mother. Far more complicated than traditional
“Virgin, Mother, Whore” archetypes, Gloria is a dispassionate woman, hardened in
many ways, but fully aware of the value of life. She’s fiercely determined to
protect her accidental ward Phil (John Adames), the orphan of the mob’s
accountant. Gloria is at her best when she’s playing it soft because for the
first few times her tiger-like protective instincts take hold, she just seems a
little rough around the edges, but when the claws come out she seldom loses.
Katie is an
activist, wholly dedicated to tackling the injustice of the world and unafraid
of the “powers that be.” She’s a fighter. She’s hardworking and and unstoppable
— until, of course, she marries Robert Redford. Then, like some others on
this list, she’s confronted with a need to choose between her relationship and
her convictions. At first, this makes her look so very strong, even somewhat
victorious, but the story’s more complicated than “Boy Tames Girl,” and so the “happy” ending is that much more bittersweet.
Though her role
in this film was more catalyst than character, The Seven-Year Itch
features Monroe’s single most iconic moment. Her ability to skate the line
between virgin and vixen, defamer and dilettante was the magic of Monroe. Most
of the time, you couldn’t tell which side she played for. Ironically, it’s in
this film that so famously showed her “bearing all” that we look back and talk
about how she remains mysterious. Perhaps it’s proof that sex isn’t the
only weapon in the arsenal. Or it’s proof that marital stability isn’t so
permanent, for just after the studios erected the neon version of up-skirted
Monroe her then husband Joe DiMaggio famously filed for divorce.
Marisa Tomei plays
such an entrenched Brooklynite that she actually brings the boroughs to Alabama.
Mona Lisa Vito is a pitch perfect parody of working class New York, brazen
girlfriends and guileless wives all delivered via a few well-placed vowel
sounds. She’s a pain but she’s a diligent mate. She supports her otherwise inept
“attorney” of a fiancé on the trial to acquit his cousins, even though the
situation’s preposterous and her fiancé is in no way equipped for the job.
Still, she’s a steady, if braying bride-to-be. And, if I may add, she’s a lot funnier
than Pesci. It’s not for nothing she has an Oscar to show for this gig.
I couldn’t leave
you without including at least one bitch, and here you have her: The conniving,
backstabbing, editor of Runway Fashion Magazine, Miranda Priestly. As usual,
Meryl Streep never falters. Her Miranda never plays the broken woman even when
she deserves our sympathies; she leaves the apologizing to her assistants. And
all the while, her hardened demeanor is like well-worn armor, earned from years
of exposure to the elements. She’s not unsupportive (she does write her
assistant that glowing, if pointed, letter of recommendation) but she’d do no
one favors to coddle. Knowing that, exactly how much can you hate her?
She’s a woman of
wistful allure and casual glamour. Her boho cool is at once traveled and unique
to Manhattan. But Holly Golightly’s greatest aspiration is to escape. She wants
to be free enough to leave the confines of New York, the bonds of matrimony, or
the grip of any related institution at will. Love is tantamount to ownership in
this world and because of that, Holly’s plight grows only more twisted. She
could stay in New York and “belong” to someone or she could go to Brazil and
float in presumed freedom, again financed by guileless but wealthy men. It’s on
a complicated note that we leave the movie’s principals in the rain in the
nameless New York alleyway. In the end, are the labels worth much anyway?
1. Annie Hall Appears in: Annie Hall (1977)
Portrayed by: Diane Keaton
Golightly, she floats, sometimes unmoored. Like Katie Morosky she’s strong
willed. Annie Hall is the unattainable fantasy. Part of what her boyfriend, Alvy
Singer (Woody Allen), loves about her is that she’s never totally given to him,
and we don’t really gain complete access to her either. She trumps the
intellectually vainglorious Alvy(and he can be a pill) but outside of that
skill set she’s just a girl trying to figure herself out in a city big enough to
swallow you if you’re not careful. She’s hard to pin down, harder to figure out,
and like our other enigmatic New Yorkers, easy to see yourself in.