“Be nice to your wife. My husband was not nice to me and look how I turned.
– Thelma (Geena Davis) in “Thelma & Louise”
In a world more to my liking, I would be in Bentonville this week to attend the Bentonville Film Festival in person. But I have a job and responsibilities that keep me here. So I plan to go through this week virtually (if I can manage to negotiate the festival website, which so far has proven difficult).
One event I managed to register for was Wednesday morning’s conversation on the 30th anniversary of the release of “Thelma & Louise”, between Geena Davis, who starred in the film, and Callie Khouri, who wrote it.
Davis was an established star when she made the film; she had won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Accidental Tourist” three years earlier. Khouri was a beginning screenwriter; she had worked in the production of music videos and considered her screenplay to be an act of atonement.
“In order to clarify my karma about women, I had to write this script,” she told Village Voice. “When you are known in the business for producing videos in which more often than not nude women squirm in front of the camera for no reason and to not that interesting music, you eventually have to watch what you’re doing.”
I’ve heard that “Thelma & Louise” was Khouri’s first attempt to write a screenplay which, if true, makes it even more remarkable. The story of two abused women from Arkansas (Davis and Susan Sarandon) who roar in a 1966 jade-green Thunderbird to become outlaws has acquired – if it did not come with it – the inexperienced vitality of the American myth.
I reviewed the film for Alternative Spectrum Weekly when it opened in 1991. It was not universally praised. US News and World Report said it was a “hymn to transformative violence … an explicit fascist theme tied to the darker form of feminism.” Rush Limbaugh called Khouri a “feminazi”. Lots of men complained.
Although it is dangerous to go back on work done on time, I am not ashamed of the way I treated “Thelma & Louise”. I called it “a funky and powerful pop myth filled with crushing shootouts, campy chase scenes, and found comedy of desperate souls.
“As a (high) concept, there’s nothing very original about ‘Thelma & Louise’. It’s a boyfriend movie, a very nervous crime drama, a western – director Ridley Scott didn’t shot all of these footage in Monument Valley so we wouldn’t notice.
“While her much-discussed feminist aspect is somewhat undermined by a Nathan Hale final setting (Give me freedom blah blah blah …), Sarandon and Davis pack their utterly believable characters with straightforward detail and generosity.”
I would have liked to write that while “Thelma & Louise” raises questions about male privilege and is considered quite a feminist film, the main characters are not feminists but friends who are forced by circumstances to live outside limits of the social contract for as long as they can.
In my review, I point out that when Louise kills the man who tries to rape a sick and drunk Thelma in the parking lot of a huge honky-tonk located somewhere in darkest Arkansas, it can be argued that his actions are not fully justifiable. She’s committing a crime. She walks through a Rubicon, and it was unsettling to hear the theater audience clapping – the theater exploded with applause – her fatal mistake.
Likewise, when the women blow up an unfortunate trucker’s platform near the end of the movie, it’s not really commensurate with the offense committed by the rude pig. It’s Beavis & Butt-Head nihilism. But it does happen.
The point is not that women should have the same license as men to misbehave when their honor is offended; it is that these specific women made these politically incorrect and rude choices.
If someone had been nicer to them, they wouldn’t have turned out like this. Roughly the story of the universal outlaw.
I end my review as follows:
“There are few things about ‘Thelma & Louise’ that aren’t breathtaking. From crisp visuals to chilly, spooky colors to wonderfully interactive performances by its main characters to its insinuating soundtrack (Marianne Faithfull, BB King , Tammy Wynette), Scott has composed a tight, buzzing road epic that evokes dozens of backgrounds – from “They Drive By Night” to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to “Wild at Heart” – as he lights up for its own new territory and ends at the edge of the world. “
What seems ironic now is that I attributed the film to Scott without mentioning the woman who created the characters. I should have given Callie Khouri credit. (In my defense, I wasn’t working from press notes provided by studio publicists; we didn’t have access to a press kit.)
The practical and conventional fiction is that the director is the main creative engine behind the film; the truth is that cinema is a highly collaborative art and screenwriters are systematically overlooked.
“Thelma & Louise” began as Khouri was writing in her off-peak hours about a project she envisioned would become a low-budget independent film directed by a friend of her own. In 2014, she told Creative Screenwriting’s David Konow that she originally intended to do it herself.
“At the time, I thought I could probably do it for $ 3 million,” she said. “I had no reason not to try it… I moved to LA in 1982… Got a lot more money for doing nothing!” It happens. I was convinced that I could make a poor jerk pay the money! And I really believed in it too. I really thought it was worth doing. “
The films are alive; they evolve and take on new resonances over the years. Or they die and are forgotten. “Thelma & Louise” lives, and keeps its power of provocation. Callie Khouri tapped into something raw, American, and problematic.
Now go into the world and be gentle with everyone.
Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at [email protected] and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.