Directed by Abel Ferrara
Distributed by Drafthouse Films
Oh how I love Ms. 45. That authentic New York flavor, palpable enough to power lesser films completely, a gritty cast of unknown talent, down-and-dirty cinematography and a supremely confident Abel Ferrara behind it all. It’s one of the most unforgettable rape/revenge films of all time, a milestone in the scum-drenched 42nd Street era that has lost little of its power to shock after all these years.
Zoe Lund is mesmerizing, first as a meek dress designer and later as an avenging angel. She stars as Thana, a mute young woman who seems to always be combatting the advances of her lecherous boss. We presume this to symbolize Thana’s world simply drilled down to an enclosed level: men objectify her to the point where it has made her skitteringly unstable.
On her way home from work, she’s mugged and raped but manages to get back to her apartment in a daze. Safety is short-lived as she find an intruder there, and is raped again. This time Thana kills the thief, which proves a cathartic action for the young woman. She’s transformed into a vigilante killer whose grip on reality spirals out of control with each life claimed.
We’re living in hypersensitive times, and just talking about the rape/revenge subgenre is enough for some circles to brand you a misogynist. I understand that this type of content carries a natural discomfort in many, but that’s hardly an excuse to dismiss the material for others. Revenge fantasy is a story convention as old as oration, serving as wish fulfillment for audiences looking to compartmentalize the horrors of day-to-day society. Ms. 45 depicts a world that I have, thankfully, never had to traverse: a place where women are sexualized to a point where it’s their only identity. Does that justify Thana’s increasingly detached actions? I’m not sure the movie is concerned with answering that question, as much as it wants us to walk a mile in her shoes.
Ms. 45 is aggressively over-the-top. Whether Thana is a perpetual victim in a world gone horny, or if her mind was broken forever as a result of her violation, we’ll never know. Ferrara and co-writer Lund have fashioned their film as a punk rock rallying cry for social injustice—all of it wrapped and delivered in a blood-soaked habit. Unlike most rape/revenge films of the period, Ms. 45 makes you think. And while it’s still the stuff of satisfying revenge fantasy (until it isn’t), there’s so much more to savor.
As a longtime lover of Ms. 45, I’ve clung to my old, out-of-print Image DVD for dear life. I was certain that it would never be released again, and I’d be stuck with that ugly, washed out transfer until the end of my days. Thankfully, Drafthouse Films has rescued an all-time favorite from widespread obscurity. The most exciting aspect of this? That a whole new audience gets the opportunity to contemplate this classic.
It looks great on Blu-ray. The low-budget production is finely represented without abandoning the grimy/gritty feel of NYC. Grain structure is intact and the colors/details are fantastic. The audio is a simple-but-effective DTS-HD MA 2.0 that offers nice clarity throughout.
When talking about supplements, I’m thankful we got anything at all, but the assortment is still on the brisk side. An eight-minute interview with director Abel Ferrara touches on shooting the film and working with Lund, but the lack of a commentary fells like a missed opportunity.
A ten-minute talk with composer Joe Delia covers finding the right sound for this film. We also get an interview with creative consultant Jack McIntyre as well, which again covers the appropriately exhaustive topic of shooting in NYC in the late 70s/early 80s.
Sadly, Zoe Lund passed away in 1999, but we are treated to a duo of supplements that are well worth watching. First up is Zoe XO a short piece where Lund’s husband recalls their life and her death. Zoe Rising is an interview with Lund’s mother, and features a host of great information for fans of the wonderful actress.
True to Drafthouse form, we also get a collection of trailers and some truly badass linear notes. I haven’t collected each Drafthouse disc, but I love their attention to packaging. In my estimation it outweighs a (somewhat) disappointing collection of disc-based supplements. I like what they included here, but I wanted a whole lot more. I suppose I can’t fault them too much for my own gluttony.
Ms. 45 is a masterpiece of revenge cinema and Drafthouse has fashioned one of 2014’s essential purchases. This low budget classic has never looked better and the supplements help flesh out a picture that may leave modern eyes wondering what all the fuss is about.
- Interviews with director Abel Ferrara, composer Joe Delia, creative consultant Jack McIntyre
- “Zoë XO” and “Zoë Rising,” two short films on star Zoë Lund by American Hardcore director Paul Rachman
- Theatrical trailer
- 32-page booklet featuring essays by Zoë Lund, Ferrara biographer Brad Stevens and House of Psychotic Women author Kier-la Janisse
- Digital download
4 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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