Elizabeth Wurtzel, the famously clinically depressed and drug-entrapped author of Prozac Nation and the new Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (Doubleday, $23.95), showed a tidbit of her "difficult woman" persona by keeping me a half-hour in the lobby of her Boston hotel while she, in her room, applied make-up. "Mascara . . . just three minutes . . . I'm a girl," she mumbled via the house phone.
But once we got talking about the movie-informed Bitch, a book that is often, and persuasively, in praise of difficult women on screen, Wurtzel was cooperative, thoughtful, amusing, a splendid person to interview. I genuinely liked her; and, later in the day, as I watched her autographing Prozac and Bitch at the Harvard Coop, I appreciated the way she talked so personally, and with such obvious sensitivity, to each of her readers. She's maybe not that bad a "bad girl" at all.
Wurtzel's determination to be a caring kind of celeb is affected by telling encounters with two of her own cultural heroes. As an adolescent, she sidled up to Lou Reed on a subway, proudly showing him that she'd just purchased one of his hard-to-get LPs. He dissed her completely and walked away. "I see Lou everywhere now in New York, but I just can't talk to him." In contrast, Bruce Springsteen proved "the Boss" by reading Prozac Nation, inviting her backstage after a concert, and writing her a pensive letter about how, as you get older, you learn to deal with your darkness.
By escaping to cinema?
"All I do is go to the movies," says Wurtzel, who sees the newest releases on the day they open. She also frequents esoteric revival series, such as the "Films of Joseph Mankiewicz and Otto Preminger," which played at the Film Forum a block from her Greenwich Village apartment. Her druggy days at Harvard in the 1980s were lightened by trips to the Brattle. She recalls nostalgically the Brattle's "Insane Housewife" series, also a Harvard film course she took with Stanley Cavell, "his great lectures on remarriage movies such as The Awful Truth."
Her favorite film? "Nashville, by a long shot. I just watch it over and over."
Wurtzel and I share a "bad girl" fondness for Drew Barrymore's sexual romp in Poison Ivy and Linda Fiorentino's neo-noir "femme fatale" in The Last Seduction (Wurtzel: "She's just awful! It works, that she doesn't have a heart.") We both deify Double Indemnity's treacherous Barbara Stanwyck, from her paranoid shades down to her dazzling ankle bracelet.
But Wurtzel also finds much to like about Kim Basinger in 9-1/2 Weeks, and she's crazy for Sharon Stone, from Intersection through Basic Instinct. "Sharon is good playing someone really cold, but she's never a caricature of an icy woman. She should have won an Academy Award for Basic Instinct, for making that character someone who is afraid, not mean. I like that about the film, that there are icepicks under people's beds. It's like Samson and Delilah: watch your back, because trouble could be the person you're sleeping with."
She doesn't salivate over every "bad girl" movie. She finds the current Wild Things "too studied, playing on the fact that people like things that are bad, but it's not really 'bad' like Poison Ivy." The Hand That Rocks the Cradle? "Rebecca De Mornay wasn't 'bad,' she was psychotic. People always get those mixed up, though they can go together, more in men than in women."
Wurtzel is galled by traditional responses to Fatal Attraction. "Why do we assume that Glenn Close is so necessarily unreasonable? Or that she should 'know better' in thinking of her affair with a married man that 'We had a great time -- he wants to marry me'? It's maybe crazy, but that's what she thinks. Why shouldn't she think it? What if women's emotional law dictated everything? It's so emblematic that, with Fatal Attraction, nobody considered a whole other way of looking at everything that happened.
"Glenn Close wasn't dignified enough? I feel dignity is a man's invention. 'Lack of dignity' is expressiveness, a female response to life."
As for Glenn Close's being the movie's marriage-wrecking enemy: "Single women are not to blame," Wurtzel, an avowedly single woman, insists. "They have nothing to do with the wife. They aren't the ones who made the vows. I've been in that position myself: I had no feeling about the other person, I'd never met her. And that's my big complaint about current movies: the villainesses, who used to be married women wanting to kill their husbands, are now single women, who damage families, a whole town. In life, single women are the most vulnerable adults. In movies, they are given imaginary power."
Prozac Nation, about herself single and depressed, will become a movie directed by her close friend actress Mare Winningham. But when the book became a bestseller, Wurtzel was besieged by studio producers wanting to have a drink with her in New York, telling her they weren't like other Hollywood people, asking her, in exchange for movie rights, what did she want? Did she desire to write screenplays?
She told them what she really wanted, but nobody took her up on it. And what was that? "I want to be a movie star."
(Boston Phoenix, May 11, 1998)