Book Review: MODERN AMAZONS: Warrior Woman On-Screen

By Heather Clisby
Movie Magazine International
Ah, those luscious brazen she-roes. Who doesn't want to be one? Or at least be saved by one? Co-authors Dominique Mainon and James Ursini have collected cinema's most beloved and celebrated heroines in this 352-page book entitled, "The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women On-Screen" published this year by Limelight Editions.

Illustrated liberally in memorable black-and-white photographs, all the fierce ladies - everyone from Joan of Arc to Xena, Buffy to Powerpuff Girls - are gathered up to be admired, deconstructed and analyzed. This ambitious study of the warrior woman film archetype is a multi-layered attempt at drawing parallels, such as patriarchal influence, whether in absentia, such as "The Quick and the Dead" or surrogate, "Charlie's Angels."

Bad-ass though they are, the fearsome ladies in the book still had to qualify. Early on, a Warrior Woman Checklist was announced, some qualifying points included: aggressive fighter, no sidekicks (especially to men), belongs to a girl posse, loyal to the sisterhood, well-armed, great style, and homosexual, bisexual or asexual. Gals from fantasy, folklore, science fiction, Gothic heroines, comic-book inspired characters - everybody was there.

As female screen characters in the past were often screaming, whining victims, the authors wonder if this surge in heroines can be called a feminist victory. With section titles like "Butt-Kicking Babes or Bad-Ass Bitches?" the book has fun with its topic and artfully avoids taking it all too seriously.

However, in some cases, the authors take this playful attitude to the extreme. The book included some very awkward attempts at humor, such as a list of imaginary Catwoman arsenal - a "Hair-Raising Bomb" that "destroys the hair-do of any women in the area." Also, a description of Sigourney Weaver's character, Ripley, in "Aliens III" as "transformed with a shaved head in a male penile colony." 'Penile' was purposely misspelled (instead of penal) in an unfortunate attempt at a pun; this weakens an otherwise thoughtful collection of observations and consistencies on the cinematic heroine. That aside, "Modern Amazons" only real crime is trying to pack too much into one volume. Perhaps the authors should consider a series on the topic.

A common consistency among these lady warriors is revenge. As the authors puts it, "Probably the most effective motive for society to accept otherwise 'nice' women breaking out of their traditional gender roles and committing very bad deeds is vengeance." Hell hath no fury, is how the warning goes, I believe.

Other fun tidbits revealed in the book: Emma Peel's name was actually a play on words taken from the British film industry's slang expression, 'M-appeal' or 'man appeal.' Men like to blow things up, whereas an affinity for explosives is rare in female characters. Women are often depicted holding guns up near their mouths, maybe even blowing on the tip. Well, I wonder what that could mean?

"Modern Amazons" is an incredibly fun read and I would like to own all of the costumes displayed. In the meantime, I'll have to get by on sheer attitude. Case in point: A quote from "Aliens." When a macho cohort teasingly asks the tough female soldier, Private Vasquez, if she has ever been mistaken for a man, she replies, "No. Have you?"
More Information:
MODERN AMAZONS: Warrior Woman On-Screen
Dominique Mainon and James Ursini - Limelight Editions