Two actresses who gained their initial fame in the 1990s have stepped behind the camera to make their own short films, each focusing on a young girl facing a life-altering change, but in very different ways.
Criterion fans will recognize Chloë Sevigny from Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco [review] and also had a featured role on the HBO series Big Love [review]. Kitty is her 2017 adaptation of a Paul Bowles (The Sheltering Sky) story. It stars Edie Yvonne as young Katherine, a.k.a. Kitty, a child who dreams of being a cat to such an impassioned degree, she eventually transforms into one.
Sevigny’s short is about the power of imagination, positive and negative. Childhood has both a light and a dark side, and while the girl Kitty finds happiness in her flights of fancy, the adults around her don’t share her whimsical vision. Even as the girl starts to slowly adopt the physical attributes of her namesake, her parents and neighbors fail to see what she sees, they have grown past such things--and to illustrate this divide Sevigny constructs her shots so that we can’t see their faces. It’s a bit like the Peanuts cartoons, all grown-ups are just out of frame, or shielded by something. It’s almost as if they consider Kitty too insignificant to bother.
This only changes when the metamorphosis is complete, but then only because Kitty is exiled for real, having embraced her imagined form in total. There is a bit of Roald Dahl here: by leaning into the magic, the child forever separates herself from the life she once had and can never fully return to the real world. Her choices have made her “different.”
Rose McGowan’s 2014 effort, Dawn, has a far more serious setting and a far darker outcome than Kitty. Known for her performances in both segments of Grindhouse [review] and the original Scream, McGowan has shifted her personal spotlight from acting to activism in recent years. Dawn illustrates some of the issues she has raised with Hollywood and our sexualized culture, but in a way that intrigues through storytelling rather than explicitly laying it out.
Set in the 1960s, Tara Lynne Barr (Hulu’s Casual) plays Dawn, a teenager experiencing her sexual awakening. Though warned against the hunky gas station attendant (Reily McClendon) who has caught her eye, when there’s no one around to chase him away, he and some friends come calling. Dawn decides to go with them into the woods, opening herself up to a violent fate, the doomed heroine of a true-crime fairy tale. (See also Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk.)
McGowan, working from a script by Joshua John Miller and M.A. Fortin, co-creators of Queen of the South, uses juxtaposition of two different worlds and points of view in much the same way as Sevigny--though here it’s the balance between the idyllic vision many have of 1960s rural America, and the modern sadism that lurks just underneath. In both cases, the shorts end with the titular characters being lead away by someone else, but only one finds happiness, the other finds tragedy.
I wouldn’t dare suggest that either outcome in any way suggests a difference between the filmmakers any more than these are just the stories they wanted to tell; rather, I think it’s more interesting to highlight the similar impulse that drives them. As actresses themselves, it makes sense that both Chloë Sevigny and Rose McGowan would choose tales that put their stars front and center, that highlight female characters driven by their particular desires and the center of their own narrative. Not relegated to the sideline as girlfriends or fetish objects, but true main characters.
On a side note, Rose McGowan was herself featured in an artful short film recently. The video for Luna’s cover the Cure’s “Fire in Cairo” is a tribute to her. Watch it for yourself below.