Thursday, February 16, 2006

Noni's Back

The Winona Ryder fan world is a-rock with "OMG"s this week, as the M.I.A. actress is the feature interview in the current issue of Another Magazine, and glowingly photographed in nine of the all-time heart-attackiest portraits of a human person. The WR Yahoo! Group is clogged up with exploded brains, and the ground shook from so many coffee shop habitués changing their desktop picture simultaneously. Classy, oversexed and vaguely unwholesome, let us hope the creamy cheesecake of these Mario Sorrenti photos starts dismantling Ryder's troubled image in the eyes of the public at large. In the fairly candid interview, Ryder says her legal trouble actually gave her pause to inspect her life and career. Which is kind of what I'd been hoping for.

Not only is this Ryder's return to cover-girl status since a 2002 W (which wasn't even to promote a specific project besides PR rehabilitation), but the head-rush inducing pictures have immediately joined the legendary ranks of the Esquire shoot and '95 Premiere photos in the gallery of Great Winona Ryder Photo-Shoots.

Below I am reproducing an "I told you so!" column I wrote almost a full year ago, on February 21, 2005. Amazingly, while the press seems to be agreeing that indeed Ryder is getting back in touch with the reason she became Winona Ryder, the world still hasn't seen the films that I predicted would turn the tide! Apologies to those who have read it before; I'll be back later today with an unruly Kill Bill essay that's taking a week longer than I thought it would.

Cut it out! I'm a child, for God's sake.

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Noni Ryder, Noni Ryder...

Winona Ryder's career took an unintentional plunge into disappointment in 1994. Such is the way I see it.

The critical establishment and average cineplex-goer, I am aware, does not see it the same way. Instead, were Ryder to make a "comeback," they would think she was recovering from a bruised public image, the fist being her arrest at Saks of Beverly Hills and subsequent prosecution. Ryder has not had a lead role in a major motion picture since, so frankly, the supposed damage has not been tested in terms of box office bankability.

After an 11 year string of increasingly dull roles, Ryder seems to be back on the train that locomoted her to cult stardom. It is part of the curse of a commercial film industry: as you make more money, you have to work in more widely appealing, less idiosyncratic productions. This is different from "selling out." Because it sometimes happens, as it did to Ryder, without your consent.

The 1-2 punch of Reality Bites and Little Women successfully sealed Ryder's fate, even as they bolstered her household name. Both make perfect transition points between Ryder's early and recent phases. The second half of her career thus far, is attempt after thwarted attempt to return to the Eden of her work preceding '94. Over and over, Ryder chose projects that seem to have the danger or genre-inverting quality that made her Rolling Stone's "HOT Actress" two times, that made her the pin-up of every misfit future English major... only to have those projects ameliorated into perfectly conventional junk. Little Women and Reality Bites may have ended up saccharine kiddie Merchant-Ivory and pioneering Gen-Xploitation respectively, but between the early-draft of Reality's generational malaise, and Louisa May Alcott's nearly counter-cultural free thinking, it's plain to see why Ryder chose them.

Dorky fandom likewise motivated Alien: Resurrection and could admiration for Joan Chen's dark feminist tract Xiu Xiu the Sent-Down Girl have prompted the abysmal Autumn in New York? Boys was notoriously re-written after Ryder signed on. We haven't even seen the film she thought it was, but vestiges of anti-authoritarianism remain... likewise for the botched and pedestrian Girl, Interrupted. You can see the cool, interesting and personal reasons behind Ryder's choices, even through the stained moss-green veil of wretched mediocrity: Desire to work with Scorsese is understandable. Age of Innocence is a bit dull.

Every generation is handed a few actors, pioneering, powerfully weird, revolutionary, and who embody that batch of brainy hipsters. And Ryder was among ours, our Brando, our Theda Bara, our DeNiro: she was on her way to being our Female Johnny Depp. But Depp found a way to infect mainstream movies with his weirdness when he felt like it and otherwise not participate. Ryder tries to shoot the same, but her guns are mis-calibrated.

Dropping out of Godfather Part III, Eulogy, Lily and the Secret Planting, but finding energy to stay in Mr. Deeds. Turning down Sleepy Hollow (bad move), nearly taking Conspiracy Theory (close call!), and willingly approaching Lost Souls (even worse move). Her best attempt at fixing this was auditioning for Fight Club. Time was, that choice wouldn't have seemed startling.

The Saks Incident, which prompts the world to suddenly pretend there is something wrong with our heroine? I see it as a beginning of Return to Form and reaffirmation of her counterculture roots. Raised on a commune, (etc. Timothy Leary blah blah, Ginsberg), she used to regale Premiere with tales of youthful lying, stealing, (vitamin C) addiction and early hints of insomnia, and prank the world by pretending to be engaged to Christian Slater. This is a reclamation of her older/ fresher/ more amazing public persona.

Whether one sees every film from Bram Stoker's Dracula on as a bad choice, an increasingly mainstream choice, or an attempt to return to form thwarted by circumstance, I tell you this:

Blow by blow, Winona Ryder is kickboxing her way back to the championship belt. With '04's Asia Argento freakout-project The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, she lands the first blow. With Richard Linklatter's Phillip Dick adaptation Through a Scanner Darkly, another. By reuniting with Michael Lehmann, who directed her very finest work in Heathers, for the drugged-out Mary Warner, wham, wham. Ryder is working with the coolest of the cool again. Where she belongs. She's earning back her turtleneck and black halo.

And a salesgirl told me she still shoplifts all the time.

Today's photoscans courtesy of the esteemed AGCN


Anonymous said...

"Today's photoscans courtesy of the esteemed AGCN"

Did they claim they own those pics?

Chris Stangl said...

The Ryder fansite And God Created Noni (why not just check the provided link?) clearly states in all image galleries that they make no claim to ownership of any published photographs. I simply wanted to give traffic to a site I enjoy, and credit for exactly where I pulled the photos.

What's more, the Webmaster of AGCN has a standing policy of not branding or watermarking any scanned or borrowed images. His reasoning is that since they're owned by their publishers or photographers, it's foolish for scanners to stake a claim.