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Fried Green Tomatoes starts when Flagg received a shoebox full of items, which once belonged to her Aunt Bess who, like Idgie, also owned a cafe near the railroad tracks. Flagg developed the story through countless hours of interviews with old-timers. The story of the town, composed of news clippings, narration, and Mrs. Threadgoode's reminiscences, is narrated to Evelyn Couch, a woman having a mid-life identity crisis and awakening to a sense of feminism. Evelyn finds cathartic help in the stories of Mrs.
Threadgoode about life in Whistle Stop during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.
The first and most basic form of love is found in the family. From the time a child is born, in usual circumstances, that child is loved unconditionally. A person grows up with his family and is able to identify and express who he really is. Because of this, ties within the family are usually quite strong. Examples of these relationships are portrayed in Fried Green Tomatoes and one is between Idgie and Buddy: Idgie, a dare-devilish tomboy, and her older brother Buddy are quite close until Buddy's untimely death.
Idgie takes his passing with difficulty: One never sees anybody hurt so much.
It seems she would die right along with him. Sipsey does her share of watching over her family too; in fact, she may be the true heroine of this film. She risks her life to save Ruth's baby from the wicked ex-husband, Frank Bennett, when he comes to kidnap the child. Then, despite of being injured, she manages to kill him.
But for all her heroism, the next time the viewers see her in the restaurant, she is shuffling across the floor in loose shoes, a grin on her face, obviously happy to be at the service of these white folks. In the movie, blacks are deferential to whites, but the reasons why are never found.
The two main African American characters, Big George and Sipsey, are clearly devoted to Idgie, their boss — Big George to doglike proportions. As Ninny says, "He watched over Idgie night and day. " At first it seems as though he is mute; in several scenes, he stands passively waiting for Idgie. It's not until she's grown and running the Cafe that he finally speaks. When Idgie is challenged by a Klan member for serving Blacks outside her restaurant, Big George utters his first words, "You gonna get yourself in a whole heap of trouble.
" The viewers never learn how this threat affects him; we never learn how he feels about barbecuing all those ribs his friends and family can't even go inside to eat; his only concern is what will happen to Idgie. Sipsey's response to this same incident is to smile and say, "Grady won't sit next to a colored child, but he eats eggs that shoot out of a chicken's ass. " As with Big George, we never know how Sipsey feels about frying all those eggs for someone she knows is racist. The film would have the audience believe she thinks it's funny.
Later, when the Klan captures Big George and beats him brutally with a whip, he gets his second line in the movie. Idgie runs to his aid and Big George mumbles, "Don't, Miss Idgie. You gonna get yourself in a whole heap of trouble. " One gets the feeling that either Big George suffers from echolalia, or he exists, as Ninny said, purely to watch over Idgie. Though Fried Green Tomatoes was directed by a male, the subjectivity is complicated by the film's narrative within a narrative framework. The film's storyline consists of an older woman (Mrs.
Threadgoode) telling a story to a visitor (Evelyn Couch) about the lives of two "best friends" and traces the effect that this story has on the younger woman. However, the narrative is not the present day story involving Evelyn Couch, but the 1930s relationship of Ruth and Idgie, which is relayed through flashbacks in Mrs. Threadgoode's perspective. Here the subjectivity is defined as female. In the case of a film like Fried Green Tomatoes, it is not enough to say that the narrative is not about lesbianism as a tactic to attract a larger heterosexual audience.
An empowering, if not more pleasurable, response is to reclaim it as a lesbian text through a reading of the film's subtext. This involves reading beyond the surface level of the narrative and pointing out ironies within the text that may elicit a counter reading or a lesbian reading of the characters. Subtextual analysis is integral to gay and lesbian film criticism due to the lack of gay and lesbian characters offered in the dominant cinema. These are images which have been deleted from cinematic history.
Subtextual analysis is a means to re-appropriate popular texts by reading them from a “queer” perspective and inserting gay meanings that the conventional narrative tries to either repress or negate. Fried Green Tomatoes reveals a lesbian subtext through its combination of the female bond between Ruth and Idgie and the absence an overt heterosexual subplot. The vagueness surrounding the women's emotionally, even physically, close relationship is not compensated for by the conventional heterosexual plot that traditionally grounds heterosexual identities.
Such vagueness leaves considerable room for the lesbian interpretation of the characters that the original novel by Fanny Flagg intended. However, I argue that a lesbian interpretation of this film comes less from the ambiguity of the previous knowledge of the novel's lesbian relationship, but more from the film's structure of the erotic gaze and from its creation of a female, rather than a male spectator. Such a structure or viewpoint of the position of the female spectator raises many questions regarding traditional feminist film theory's inability to address and include lesbian issues.
Fried Green Tomatoes disrupts these theories of sexual representation and female spectatorship by presenting nonverbal communications such as erotic looks between female characters. As a subtextual analysis of the narrative reveals, in conjunction with a close analysis of the act of gazing within the film's construction, the movie creates a female look that in turn constructs a female viewer. The film presents many visual exchanges between Ruth and Idgie that are non-sexual, but also offers several key view shots that produce a lingering gaze.
As Chris Straayer notes, “since the heterosexual structure of the gaze is already established as sexual, viewers can build on it to accomplish an erotic, homosexual look. ” The exchanges of erotic looks in Fried Green Tomatoes typically appear during emotionally charged and sexually suggestive scenes. The strategies begin early in the movie. Right away, Ruth is introduced as girlfriend to Idgie's adolescent brother, Buddy, before he is killed by a train. One scene has the three walking across a clam, Ruth holding the child Idgie's hand.
Given this scene alone, it's easy to imagine why audiences walk away feeling they've just watched a movie about best friends. Then, to further distance audiences from any thoughts of women loving women for romantically, years after Buddy's death, his mother invites Ruth back to help her deal with a still sullen Idgie. The movie wants us to believe that the women's relationship revolves around their mutual love of Buddy, and that given his loss, they may as well settle for each other.
One example occurs at the beginning of Ruth and Idgie's relationship, during a scene in which Idgie disturbs a beehive in order to retrieve the honeycomb for Ruth. After an exchange of flirtatious looks between the two, Idgie treads towards the beehive and through a swarm of angry bees. The scene is constructed through an initial shot of Ruth watching ldgie, followed by a long take on Idgie's walk into the swarm. The shot appears to be in slow motion, filmed at a slightly faster rate, expanding the shot's screen time as well as its dramatic / emotional impact.
A reverse shot back to Ruth defines this gaze as hers; her expression reveals a mixture of incredulity and admiration. The gaze lingers on Idgie as she returns from the beehive with the honeycomb in hand. "You are a bee charmer, Idgie Threadgoode," Ruth remarks with a smile, casting a flirtatious glance at Idgie, who returns the gesture. That night the two attend a party at which Idgie is dressed in male drag (a tie, pants, vest, and suspenders). Drunk for the first time, the proper and feminine Ruth takes Idgie to a secluded part of the lake where they swim in their underwear and splash water at each other.
The butch-femme aesthetic that this film presents is a fairly obvious invitation for a lesbian interpretation. However, the juxtaposition of this scene and one within the present day narrative of Evelyn Couch is equally successful in encouraging a sexual analysis of Idgie and Ruth's relationship. The nonverbal communications between Idgie and Ruth, plus their indirect channels of communication such as flirtatious lines push lesbian analysis. The shot of the two flirting in the water is matched by a scene from Evelyn's women's group meeting.
The instructor suggests that the women get in touch with their femininity, their "source of power and separateness. " In order to do so, the women straddle mirrors in an effort to look at their vaginas. The instructor turns to a panic-stricken Evelyn and asks bluntly: "Do you have a problem with your sexuality? " Feminine sexuality is explored and questioned in this scene, when read along side the emotionally charged scenes of Idgie and Ruth at the lake.
This suggests an erotic reading of the women's looks as well as their relationship. A similar reading can be drawn from the intertwining narratives of two later scenes, the first of which recounts the newly married and pregnant Ruth. Idgie finds that Ruth is the victim of physical abuse and decides to rescue her by taking her away from her abusive husband. Ruth and Idgie exchange a longing, emotional set of looks through a shot pattern before Ruth's husband kicks her down a flight of stairs. This time the view shot is Idgie's.
Through her subjectivity, the pain and sympathy of the scene is heightened by the love Idgie feels for Ruth. Idgie brings Ruth off to the car and the two ride off together to live without male intrusion. To emphasize the scene, Ruth tosses her wedding ring out of the car as they pull out of the driveway. This scene proceeds to Evelyn at the supermarket. Her women's group friend asks her if she will be attending the next meeting. She encourages Evelyn to go because the topic will be the "art of masturbation.
" The previous scene of Idgie and Ruth's departure from the heterosexual matrix of married life and their ensuing commitment to each other is matched with another scene denoting sexuality, in this instance, a specific sexual practice that involves the absence of the male. The sexual nature of Ruth and Idgie's relationship now becomes less subtextual and more apparent, lending a deeper meaning to the later courthouse scene in which Ruth and Idgie exchange stares into each other's eyes while Ruth caresses Idgie's face and declares her her "best friend.
" The presence of the exchange of looks in the courthouse is not matched by a sexual connotation in the present day narrative, but at this point it is hardly necessary. Ruth and Idgie meet after Buddy's death and when they meet it's clear that they're in love with each other, not a ghost. As Ninny tells it, "Everywhere that Ruth was, that's where Idgie would be. It was a mutual thing. They just took to each other, and you could hear them sitting on the swing on the porch, giggling all night. Even Sipsey razzed her.
She'd ‘see Idgie by herself and say, ‘That ol’ love bug done hit Idgie. ” After Idgie performs her honey-gathering magic and hands the comb to Ruth, Ruth bursts into tears and Idgie starts begging for forgiveness. "'I'm sorry Ruth, please don't be mad at me,' 'Mad? ' Ruth put her arms around Idgie and said, 'Oh Idgie, I'm not mad at you. It's just that I don't know what I'd ever do if anything ever happened to you. I really don't'. ” The conclusion of this film suggests that the narrator is the aged Idgie Threadgoode relaying a potentially lesbian story to a straight woman (Evelyn).
This not only gives the narrative perspective and subjectivity, but also serves to mirror the selective and covert manner in which the possibility of a lesbian relationship in a mainstream film is presented to a predominantly heterosexual audience. The exchange of looks and implied sexuality invite a lesbian interpretation without demanding it by explicit definition. This film poses a challenge to the theoretical frameworks of feminist film theory and addresses the lesbian viewer who is largely ignored by feminism and society.
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