Thursday, April 09, 2009

"Foxfire" and "Firefox" -- very different films


Well, there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem with movies having the same or similar (even with a palindrome) names.

There have been at least three major films called “Foxfire” but the most recent (1996) and controversial comes from director Annette Haywood-Carter and was released theatrically by Samuel Goldwyn Films, produced by Rysher Entertainment, and based on a novel by Joyce Carol Oates “Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang”. The topic is rather serious today, for schools and communities, and this was an important early film for Angelina Jolie as Legs Sadovsky.

The movie combines several dicey themes, and shows a lot of flesh and female intimacy. It was supposed to be shown on the Lifetime Channel, but the film was taken off suddenly, probably because of its explicit content. And the way it is filmed, 2.35:1 with very lush scenery in the Portland, OR area with spread among the many characters, could make more effective television presentation difficult.

In the opening scene, some of the high school girls have a confrontation with their male biology teacher Mr. Buttinger (John Diehl) when they have to dissect a frog. The laboratory environment is quite realistically done (I recall this from college zoology), but the behavior of the girls seems extreme, and the teacher seems challenged to stay in control. (One girl climbs out of the window, into the rain; when I was subbing, a student did that, although it was sunny.) The teacher snaps and orders detention (it’s not that easy) and then, at detention seems to make an inappropriate advance. Altercation ensues, and the girls go on the run, and get suspended, but not until a curious incident on a cantilever bridge where Legs climbs around the trestle like spiderwoman to retrieve an art portfolio. Later there is a school fire stemming from the girls, and they wind up on the lam. The relationships build, and finally they kidnap the father (Chris Mulkey) of Goldie (Jenny Shimizu).

There’s a lot more that can be done with the kernel of a potentially abusive teacher and a volatile student – a most sensitive topic, but the Lionsgate/Lifetime film “Student Seduction” (2003) takes this down a different path and makes a powerful statement about how easily a teacher can get into trouble, and how quickly law enforcement can act (a big topic in the media the last few years, partly because of NBC Dateline). This ("Foxfire") film tries to make a lot of the girls themselves, and make them into sympathetic characters – because, I guess, the novelist did. The subject matter (of this kind of teacher or other adult misconduct) is particularly sensitive for "amateur" writers to approach without the risk of accidentally incriminating themselves or others (because of social perceptions), and can be a difficult topic for screenplay submission or online discussion.

Take the title and permute it into "Firefox", and you get a 1982 Cold War thriller directed by Clint Eastwood, based on a spy novel by Craig Thomas, where Eastwood is supposed to steal a jet fighter controlled by telepathy. This was a big movie at the time, and the theater that showed it in Dallas (when I saw it) did not have stereo.

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