A look at Cultographies: Ms. 45 by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2017)

I “met” Alexandra through her writing a couple of year back when I read one of her previous books, Rape Revenge Films: A Critical Study. To me, just that title alone is a home run but when I was about half way through I knew I was reading words from my “new” favorite film writer. While the book has that scholarly air about it, Alexandra shows she is a down to earth film fan first and writes so that dumb shulbs like me can understand. I found out about a couple of films she wrote about in a positive fashion and picked them up.

I later learned from her at the time, that she was working on two future books, both single film specific. One was about Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and the next, the one I was most interested in, Abel Ferrara’s 1981 Classic Ms. 45. Little that I knew it was going to be a bit for it to be released. The countdown began at that moment…

20170303_055613

^ Contents page…

Last week, the book arrived in my mailbox and I fast tracked it to the top of the pile. I was first surprised at the small size of the book and then realized it was perfect. Sized like a classic paperback you would find on the racks of seedy magazine shops (like Seven Star News in the city of Linden, New Jersey where I grew up), the subject material fits it like a glove. In a historical fashion, Alexandra breaks down the making/creation of the film, from it’s beginnings to the finished product hitting the screens.

She is a researcher who likes details and doesn’t skimp on them. While Alexandra doesn’t have a direct interview with any of the particulars, there are many referenced quotes from all who were involved with the proceedings. There is a big focus on Zoe Lund, from the acting in Ms. 45, her writings & collaborations with Abel on other productions, such as Bad Lieutenant (1992). Small details do not get unnoticed, it seems for one big scene in the film, Ferrara hired for day work, people hanging out in the Revolutionary Communist Party Bookstore on 18th Street/NYC, as his studios were upstairs. Weird, I was at that place a few times in the 80’s, who knew such greatness was up above! There is also words written about the recent “uncut” DVD release by Drafthouse Films. While I knew there were many versions of Ms. 45, I wasn’t aware that it was never released in full until 2013. Crazy.

Overall, as with much of her previous work, Alexandra writes for the “common folk” when it comes to film critique. I would say about 15% of the book would be considered psycho babble but the rest is hardcore film criticism and looking into the film’s production, the screenings and reactions afterward. Ms. 45, when you look at it at face value, is not an easy film to fully understand and everybody comes away from it differently. Even though I have seen the film a few times over the years, this book illuminated somethings I missed (again, I’m a dumb shulb, don’t sue me…). If you are like me and enjoy reading about movies, Cultographies: Ms. 45 is a sure pick-up.

20170303_055647

Find the book and Alexandra on the Web here:

https://www.amazon.com/Ms-45-Cultographies-Alexandra-Heller-Nicholas/dp/0231179855

http://www.thebluelenses.com/

https://twitter.com/suspirialex