Charlie’s Angels (US-Germany, 2000)

Recycling everything

Recycling everything

Director: McG
Screenplay: Ryan Rowe, Ed Solomon & John August
Editors: Wayne Wahrman & Peter Teschner
Music: Edward Shearmur
Producers: Leonard Goldberg, Drew Barrymore & Nancy Juvonen
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray, Sam Rockwell.

The essence of the High Concept, or potential blockbuster, movies is that it should be easy to sell to audiences (and, initially, the financial backers). Remakes are, by their nature, pre-sold. Hollywood has always cannibalised literature – novels and plays – however it was not until the 1990s that television came to be seen as a rich source of material.

Hollywood relationship with television, during the ‘box’s’ early years was riven by suspicion. The major studios failed to realise that television was in the same business as they were:

Although Hollywood started producing programmes for television as early as 1949, Columbia’s Screen Gems, it was not until after RKO, in 1955, sold its film library to a TV syndicate that it realised the value that could be given to their back catalogue and:

by 1958 an estimated 3,7000 features, mostly of pre-1949 vintage, had been sold or leased to TV for an estimated $220 million. (Balio, 1976a, p. 322)

In 1991 The Addams Family earned $113.5m at the North American box office and this led to a slew of adaptations of old TV programmes. While most of today’s core cinema-going audience (16-25s) wouldn’t remember these programmes they had cultural resonance and a proven appeal. Essentially, though, they needed to be adapted to the contemporary mode of making movies (with a reliance on computer generated special effects, CGI) and changing modes of representation:

The original TV Charlie’s Angels executive producer, Leonard Goldberg, is quoted on the film’s DVD notes:

“The feature version would include the most recent recruits, women who are representative of Angels in the year 2000.”

Contemporary blockbusters are invariably ‘action’ movies, facilitating scenarios for CGI pyrotechnics, with a male hero saving the world (and the girl). Apart from notable exceptions such as Ripley in the Alien series (plus Buffy and Xena on television) women in action movies have had subsidiary roles focusing on their looks: they’re feisty but ultimately need the bloke to save them. Angels self-consciously attempts to adapt the macho action hero in a feminine way; Cameron Diaz is quoted on DVD notes:

‘Drew said, ‘It’s going to be a chick action movie. We get to be beautiful and tough, and we wear bad-ass clothes. We won’t have guns, and we get to do kung fu. In this movie, it’s the girls that are going to kick ass.”

The ‘tongue-in-cheek’ mode of address is a crucial component of contemporary action movies. Audiences are not expected to suspend their disbelief but join in the fun of the absurd game being played out on the screen.

Drew Barrymore produced the film (with Goldberg and Nancy Juvonen her partner in Flower Pictures); amongst the executive producers is Betty Thomas, one of the few women entrusted to direct big budget movies (The Flintstones, 1994). The presence of a number of female ‘players’ highlights the gender politics being played out in the film.

The director, as in 90% of Hollywood movies, is male (as are the scriptwriters). Typically of High Concept film, McG’s background is in music video and advertising. The visual sheen, and postmodern playfulness, nurtured by MTV is seen as a prerequisite for entertaining today’s mass audience. However, the musical sequences in Charlie’s Angels have more in common with the MGM musical than MTV video.

As noted above, action films usually have male protagonists. The narrative hero resolves the problem created by the villain and in doing so often save the ‘princess’. Although the ‘angels’ are, literally, ‘kick ass’ characters they ultimately defer to Charlie. Indeed they relate to the patriarchal figure in a ‘girlish’ fashion. In addition, they take their orders from Bosley. This may suggest that the ‘angels’ are only apparently the film’s protagonists because they defer to men.

However in Charlie’s Angels the ‘princess’ figure is Charlie as it is he that needs saving from the villain.

Hollywood action movies often cast British actors in the role of the villain (a sign of cultural insecurity or stars’ reluctance to tarnish their persona by playing the ‘baddy’?). Gary Oldman, in The Fifth Element (1997) satirised this tendency with his deep southern drawl. The casting of Tim Curry in Charlie’s Angels is part playful, part narrative misdirection.

Although it is often assumed that High Concept films are politically conservative, the ‘efficiency scene’ suggests that Karl Marx was correct.

The biggest star in the film is Cameron Diaz who, like a number of other contemporary stars, is equally at home in ‘art’ cinema as she is in ‘commercial’ movies.

Bibliography
Tino Balio (1976a) ‘Retrenchment, reappraisal, and reorganization: 1948 to…’ in Tino Balio (ed.) The American Film Industry, Madison & London: University of Wisconsin Press

Nick Lacey & Roy Stafford Film as Product in Contemporary Hollywood, London: British Film Institute Education

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