Tank Girl - the Grrrl U Want

A few weeks ago, when we were talking about end-of-the-world scenarios, I brought up a little cult-classic gem called Tank Girl. I adore the movie. I have a small version of this poster hanging in my office. (A gift from a friend who used to work at Sci-Fi City in Orlando.) I’ve kept it for years because something about the movie, despite its over-the-top delightful badness, inspires (and tickles) me.

Directed by Rachael Talalay (who produced several John Waters' movies), the 1995 film stars Lori Petty, Malcom McDowell, Naomi Watts, and Ice-T. (How can you resist a cast like that?) The movie is what you might call Dystopian Punk, if there were such a thing. The year is 2033. A comet struck the Earth 11 years before, and it hasn’t rained since. The land is parched beyond recognition, and those that control the water have all the power. (And those folks are aptly called Water and Power, which is run by the delightfully evil Malcolm McDowell.) Tank Girl (aka Rebecca) and her friends are surviving in the wasteland in a little communal house where they grow their own plants and steal water from Water and Power. That is, until Water and Power raids the house, killing everyone except Rebecca and a young girl, Sam, who gets sold into slavery. Rebecca goes to work camp / prison, where she acquires her tank and her sidekick, Jet Girl.

Here’s the trailer for those of you who missed it before:

The movie is loosely based on a British cult comic of the same name that appeared in Deadline magazine. Racheal Talalay fell in love with the comic and set out to make the “ultimate grrrl movie.” However, the studio interfered quite a lot in the production of Tank Girl. (The comic book creators, Allen Martin and Jamie Hewlett, reportedly hated the movie when it was done.) The unofficial Tank Girl site lists a few of the changes the director was forced to make—as related by Talalay herself. Those changes included the opening and closing sequences as well as the deletion of a whole character, Sub Girl. Many of the animations in the released version were done to cover plot holes or scenes deleted after shooting ending. Here’s the released and original versions of the introductions:

True confession time. I haven’t read the comics. And the movie ain’t a great one. It’s not even a good one. (Neither is Rocky Horror Picture Show or the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai or Flash Gordon—the one with the Queen score. They are all fun, so-bad-that-they’re-good, over-the-top cult-classic movies.) I could do without the Cole Porter number in the brothel (even though the idea itself is hilarious), and sometimes it seems Lori Petty is trying way too hard to make the movie work, but how can you not like Ice-T as a mutant kangaroo super-soldier who use to be a cop in another life? Or Malcolm McDowell getting his head snipped off and replaced with a holographic one? Or Tank Girl’s unbending, punk rock spirit?

In that end, that’s what I love best about the movie. Underneath it all, you have Tank Girl refusing to be broken by the shattered world around her, the death of her friends and lover, the kidnapping of Sam, and the tortures McDowell’s Kesslee devises for her. Her defiance goads Kesslee on. Jet Girl cautions her that “the better you behave, the more they leave you alone.” Tank Girl answers, “What’s the fun in that?” She’s not self-destructive, though. She knows deep down that to give in is to lose, and when standing up to the Man (literally), that’s worse than dying. When she’s being tortured by Kesslee, all he wants is for her to admit that he has won, that he has broken her:
Kessler: Just say I won.
TG: I won.
Of course, this pisses off Kesslee, and he does something worse to Tank Girl. But he didn’t win. And ultimately, that’s what defeats him.

So, that’s what I think of when I look the poster hanging on my wall. Sometimes you don’t want your characters to change. Their journey is about enduring—attitude intact--through that dystopian landscape. But, it doesn’t hurt if they have their own tank.

What cult-classic (or not) character and/or film inspires (and tickles) you? Discuss.

btw, the song during the opening credits is Girl U Want by Devo.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I don't know about inspiring, but Monty Python and the Holy Grail tickles me!

Jessie Harrell said...

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Angie said...

Thanks, Jessie! We're honored!

And Diane, anything Monty Python tickles me. It's just a flesh wound.

Unknown said...

For me, Repo Man is a kitchy B classic up there as well. Painful to watch at times with certain scenes haunting me. I've never been able to look at a "Pine Scent Air Freshener" in the right context to this day.

The TG books are actually pretty fun, even if pretty dated now.

Chris N.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Good post. I'll have to check this out. There are so many inspiring cult movies out there. I love Buckaroo Banzai without the slightest trace of irony. I think it was totally ahead of it's time. I could also watch Big Trouble in Little China endlessly. Oh! And Freaks! And I Walked with a Zombies. Anything by John Waters!

Mandy P.S. said...

I have a few B movies I love that make my friends think I'm crazy. I really love Equilibrium. It totally helps that Christian Bale is the leading man - I'll pretty much watch anything with him it. But I love the Fahrenheit 451 meets 1984 meets Brave New World aspects.

I also love The Postman (it's a post apocalypse film staring Kevin Costner). Say what you will about the movie, I love the idea of mail saving our nation. That's the power of communication and the written word!

Unknown said...

Okay, you know about Tank Girl. You just blew my mind. No one I know knows about Tank Girl. I love it! :)

She's very inspiring in her refusal to give up. She never quits fighting.

Great post!

Tere Kirkland said...

Can't help but like this movie, either, despite the Birds Do It scene. ;)

You're right that it's the spirit of the mc that keeps it going. Becca stays true to herself through all the trials she's put through (and the ones she puts herself through).

Good post!

Angie said...

Thanks, Amanda and Tere. Very few people I know know about Tank Girl either. Like most cult classics, it tanked (bad pun intended) at the box office.

Bittersweet, I'm gonna have to check out Equilibrium.

amrose said...

Six String Samurai is up there, but Tank Girl remains my favorite. I think the fashion and the DIY borderline deco aesthetic are a big part of the love.

Jemi Fraser said...

This looks hysterically bad! I'll have to check it out.

I love Rocky Horro - haven't seen it in forever, but it always cracks me up!