Spike Lee: Girl 6 (1996) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
19Oct/140

Spike Lee: Girl 6 (1996)

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An out-of-luck actress responds to a lucrative ad for phone sex and soon is the most popular operator in her profession.  But as the phone calls pile up and she starts taking her work home, the line between her identity and what she creates for the customers is increasingly blurred.  Girl 6 is directed by Spike Lee from a screenplay written by Suzan-Lori Parks.

Over my shoulderKyle Commentary BannerGirl 6 has already, at the time of writing this, faded significantly from my memory. I was happy to find that I jotted down some notes while watching the movie, because without them I may not remember anything. Here's an example of Spike Lee trying to fight his (earned) reputation as a storyteller with troubling gender politics and representations of women, and for a while you can see his thought process up on the screen. “I'll have Quentin Tarantino as an asshole director exploiting my main character by asking her to take her shirt off during the audition,” he thinks, “To show how misogynistic and dude-run the film industry is.” Then he makes sure to include a shot of Theresa Randle topless.

That scene pretty much says everything you need to know about the movie—Spike is unwittingly displaying his own cluelessness by embedding it in a misguided and out-of-touch story superficially about empowering its women characters. That the movie jumps illogically from one point to the next—Randle's acting ambitions to phone sex, phone sex to Madonna-led more dangerous at-home phone sex, and all that other stuff to a sunny what-the-shit-hell ending involving an otherwise fairly minor character—makes it poorly constructed in addition to being misguided, so it's not even very interesting in its badness.

There are some elements I liked early on—like the insane, enraged acting coach that just screams at Randle incoherently, and the way a lot of her callers are portrayed as upper-class white businessmen using sex as a way to enact fantasies that reaffirm their own vitality and control—but overall I don't feel like there's a whole lot here we haven't already talked about before. Aside from some of the elements involving the callers—which reminded me of a 2000-times better film, The Girlfriend Experience, in which sex is also acting as a confirmation of men's economic/social power—this isn't spectacularly bad enough to get me outraged, or interesting enough to make me try harder to remember much of the rest.On the caseAndrewCommentaryBannerA few weeks ago I said that Jungle Fever reminded me a lot of Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers.  I regret making that comparison so soon, because the high energy and themes about representation in media, both public and private, make a better fit here.  But Jungle Fever and Natural Born Killers both had a larger unity in purpose with each scene fueling into racially charged representations of sexuality and the dulling effect of media saturation.

I just felt lost throughout most of Girl 6, despite gleaming some of the messages Spike's technique was trying to accomplish here.  The overall gist is that the increased media saturation and continuing the dangerous thinking of women-as-property leads to a fractured vision of the self.  I love that as a premise, and in scenes like when Girl 6 is having a total breakdown while being abused on the phone and she doesn't know which persona to talk out of, they work like gangbusters.  Spike's double-dolly, combined with Theresa Randles zoned-out mumbling and her caller's pointed insults, made me nauseous as she tried to figure out the pleasing words to return to herself - whatever that is.

That scene also shows where I feel Girl 6 went a bit astray.  There's no unifying tone, like the anger of Do the Right Thing or sexual and business tensions of Jungle Fever, to link all the different scenes together.  So you'll have bits where Girl 6 escapes into a relatively harmless fantasy and then gets slammed back into the real world when she has to get her sexy persona back into the conversation.  Both sequences go whole-hog into their respective tones and, while I wouldn't trade the image of Spike dancing around dressed as George Jefferson for anything, they still feel like Spike working through an idea of what he wanted to do instead of building toward Girl 6's identity trauma.All stretched outTiny Kyle CommentaryThat's part of the reason the ending is such a misstep—it's like Lee didn't know where to go so he threw in a bizarre fairy tale ending, which ends up highlighting a lot of the lack of characterization we get throughout the movie. One of the interesting parts of the set-up is how acting leads Randle so easily into her job as a phone sex operator—both roles involve playing a part, and she feels in control of the exploitation as opposed to being subjected to it. But her acting aspirations don't extend much past this—they're used as a cursory gesture toward giving her some dimensions and motivation, and then they're put on the back-burner again until Lee needs a plot device to wrap up the movie. So she goes off to pursue her “dream” of acting with that guy from Grey's Anatomy. Hurray.

 

Newer Andrew cutout commentary Some of the comedy is great, like the man who fervently argues that his love for his wife is compatible with a threesome.  A bit of the drama works, like her complete breakdown at the end.  But the pieces don't connect in getting there and since the movie begins and ends with the lead with men telling the lead to take her top off, I can't help but feel like we ended up exactly where we started.

It's unlikely any of this is going to stay with me for long except as a reference point to when we finally get to She Hate Me.  John Turturro's barely there role as Girl 6's casting agent, who looks like he took fashion advice from Wall Street and grooming practices from Kenny G, shows that there's a bit of weirdness inside Spike's films that's ripe for exploration.  I admire the ides behind Girl 6, but the gender issues and tone experiments neutralize the bit of chemistry it had going on.God bless that hairTiny Kyle CommentaryI had completely forgotten about Turturro, but now that you mention it, the best parts of Girl 6 seem like they snuck in secretly from a different movie, probably a comedy. The guy who calls in and asks her to narrate while he plays baseball in his underwear in what appears to be a batting cage he's set up in his own house is also a hilarious moment. As unremarkable as the final product is, there is a sense here that Lee could make a pretty decent comedy, which we're going to see shortly I think.

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Next time, Get on the Bus.Spike Film Selection

Posted by Andrew

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