Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lizzie Borden Took An Ax

Today I watched Lizzie Borden Took An Ax which I recorded last night when it premiered on Lifetime. I'm sure they'll be re-airing it soon. By the way, welcome to this blog. I'm not sure how you found it but now that you're here, I might as well tell you what I thought about this movie. There will absolutely be spoilers about the movie. That's your warning. Stop reading if you do not want to read spoilers about Lizzie Borden Took An Axe.

Still here? Good.

So I've heard some complaints about the anachronistic music used in the film but I had no problem with it. If I had been watching a BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre or even something like Lost in Austen, then yes, the anachronistic music might have bothered me. But Lizzie Borden Took An Ax didn't feel like a period drama. It felt like a Lifetime movie. And I don't mean that in a disparaging way. Aside from a little of the craziness, I thought it was a movie that should have felt familiar to anyone who has seen a lot of Lifetime original movies, particularly the ones of the troubled teen or family drama variety... not the romance novel adaptations or romantic comedies. Though the romantic comedies are more of a Hallmark and ABC Family kind of thing. What were we talking about again? Oh, right, Lizzie Borden. I felt like the film was hitting all the same beats of those troubled teen movies in the way it depicted her relationship with her family, the stealing and shoplifting, and the party she attended so the anachronistic music did not bother me. And I'd much rather hear something that sounded a bit like the Black Keys instead of plinky plinky instrumental music or that awful screechy soundtrack they occasionally played during the film. Though I did find the music awfully loud in comparison to the dialogue in this film. The sound levels were off.

I thought Christina Ricci did a fantastic job carrying the film. Why isn't she in more movies? The last thing I saw her in was Penelope which was really a waste of her abilities. She had the perfect blend of subtlety and camp for this movie. The way they portrayed Lizzie Borden, which left no doubts about her guilt, was smart because it allowed her to play the movie as an actress. It's Christina Ricci. She's recognizable. Of course she's not going to completely disappear into the role. But because we as the audience know that Lizzie is guilty (it's even there in the choice of a title) we're watching her "act" to avoid suspicion and later conviction. I thought she played all those little moments beautifully from the moment when she discovers the body and screams for the benefit of the maid to the interrogation scenes.

Also, props to Marilyn Vance for the costumes. I wish there was some way Victorian fashions and tailoring could come back into style. I loved so many of the outfits she designed, particularly for Lizzie but also for the other characters. Someone put together a slideshow, please.

I liked the way they mashed the film up with a police procedural/legal drama. Of course, I may be biased because I watch a ton of police procedurals and legal dramas but I enjoyed that element of the movie. I do think both the investigation and the courtroom proceedings seemed a little advanced for the time but that isn't part of my background so it's possible that it was completely historically accurate.

Like Flowers in the Attic, I think the movie shied away from the "weirdness" a little too much but because it at least wasn't as big of a part of the story as it was in FITA it worked better in this film. There were a lot of implied plot elements in this film that were never fully explored. The film implied some kind of dysfunctional relationship with her father, kleptomania, insanity, narcissism and a fascination with celebrity (in a Roxie Hart/Chicago fashion), and lesbianism without ever really exploring those topics or fully embracing them.

Gender was also handled in any interesting way in the film. I don't know if I was hyper-aware of it because it's one of the lenses I use to analyze works of art or because it was a movie airing on Lifetime whose former motto/tagline "Television for Women" still sticks with me. Regardless, I was aware of it. I wish it had been a braver film that really explored the topics it only touched on. To some extent I'm grateful they didn't go too camp on the manipulative/insane woman thing. The restraint exercised there was one of the films strengths. It was a nice dynamic to have the prosecutor who was convinced she could have committed the crime in spite of just being a woman in contrast with almost everyone else in the film who was convinced that she was innocent because of her gender and perceived respectability. And of course Lizzie and the defense attorney played into that to help her case. The lies her sister told on the stand seemed to not only be the standard attempt by the defense to paint the defendant as a "good person" but lies that specifically played into a story about female identity at that time; moral, religious, uncomplicated, unemotional, obedient, etc. I was also very aware of the fact that Lizzie interacted with a lot of women (her sister, the maid, her friends) but all of the authority figures were men. Now, it isn't rare in today's media to have a skewed gender ratio but it was striking to have an all white male jury, male judges, a male prosecutor, a male defense attorney, male detectives and investigators, a male coroner, and even a male pharmacist who was questioned about the poison. I felt like the film had more to say about gender in the way it talked about her ambitions and her desire to reach her full potential but it never really went there, stopping at her simply being mercenary and wanting to enjoy life and throw parties.

Well, those are my thoughts on the film.

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