Archive for January 8th, 2010

Movie Moment: Metonymy and Synecdoche in Legally Blonde

January 8, 2010

I’d like to take a moment of your time to demonstrate the intriguing and in many ways fun fetishistic metonymy in Legally Blonde (Rob Luketic, 2001). The shot list calls for the constant breaking of the women down in to digestible parts when they are focused on Warner. This is important because, to a man like that character, taken as a whole, what are we ladies? Too much to chew on, it seems. That’s my personal theory as to why scenes that involve Warner or preparing oneself for Warner so vigorously metonymize Elle and Vivian (Selma Blair). In cinema, where it functions differently than in literary criticism, this metaphorical use of small parts to symbolize the whole, and the psychological underpinnings of its use, falls beneath the aegis of metonymy but really is a better example of synecdoche.


Synecdoche, sometimes considered as a metaphor, is also a metonymical device enabling an idea or object to be indicated by a term whose meaning includes that of the original term or is included in it. The singular replaces the plural, the type the species, the abstract the concrete — or the other way round. Most of the part takes the place of the whole: a sail for the ship, a palm leaf for the tree.

As Elle becomes self-actualized during her rising success in law school, she ceases to so flagrantly feed this synecdoche, insisting on being seen as a whole person. That’s why in the next-to-final sequence, when she walks away from Warner and disappears in to the sun of the outside world, we see her entire body for only the first time from his perspective: slipping in to the haze because Warner never really knew Elle, he knew only the idea of her that he formed in his mind between her misguided visual clues and his contextualized experience of women.

More properly, if I had to put it in pretentious film school bullshit parlance, the cinematic discourse established by director Rob Luketic employs the consistent rhetorical metonymical device of synecdoche to psychologically reinforce the theme of a woman’s appearance and its attendant little kicky details being only a small part of her fuller self. The arc of the narrative allows for the falling away of this device, which further serves to underline the discursive element of metonymy and its being unnecessary to a fully-fleshed-out, dynamic character who has undergone change throughout the film. (I am so glad I quit film school. I would eat my right hand in a sandwich with razor-blades and broken glass before I put my name to and was proud of the publishing of such empty academese for a goddamned living.)


This trope is familiar in the cinema where metonymical juxtaposition becomes changed in to metaphor without the syntagma (this contiguous form) becoming paradigmatic (integrated as a fixed sign, like a lexeme, folling a substitution of meaning. The connoted meaning is objectified in to an object, which performs the function of a sign; but this objectification depends on the connotation: it does not precede it or present it ready-made.

(Semiotics and the Analysis of Film. Mitry, Jean and King, Christopher. London: Athlone Press, 2000. p. 198)

When they are grooming themselves for Warner and aiming at gaining his attention, the camera’s conversation with us shows that Elle and Vivian subconsciously understand he could never possibly grasp nor appreciate the entirety of the experience of “having” them — what will lure, fetch, and keep him are the pieces he can actually conceive of as they relate to him and fit in to his ideas of feminine symbols. Hair, feet, fingers: they can speak of wealth (Vivan) or sex (Elle) — in both cases, the women feed his vision rather than contradict it, despite it being only one small aspect of their larger identities as people. In cooperating with his metonymical synechdochized view of them, Elle and Vivian allow Warner to make them a woman first and a person second. As both of their understandings of Warner evolves, this cooperation begins to sour, and, able to see one another as people first once they have discounted his view of them as women (which made them rivals), they become friends who appreciate the unique facets of one another’s different personalities.

This is not the case with all men, not even in the film; you never see that shit getting pulled on Emmett, who sees and admires the wholeness of Elle from Day One. Look, ma: whole person!


Look, Legally Blonde is not a perfect film even at all, and I know that. It’s not meant to be psychoanalyzed, most likely, and I am also aware of that. I’m just saying it has slightly more artistic merit than most people give it credit for. That’s right: I am a Legally Blonde apologist. Alert Gloria Steinem.

I like this movie and there ain’t no shame in a name. I’m off for C-town right this red-hot minute to soak up its sunny pink silliness with Miss D. Have a great day and catch you on the flip side!

Daily Batman: Reflections on ladyhood and gal pals

January 8, 2010

Gotham Sirens, which I have mentioned before, is part of the Batman: Reborn series. Art by Dini and March.

It’s all well and good to fly solo now and again. But a little company makes it even more fun!

I have come to believe that no lady ever really stands alone. Even if she does not appreciate it at the time, she is surrounded by a network of friends and family who have been everywhere she has and are there to support her in times of trouble and toast with wine in time of plenty.

Gal pals: they are a Thing!

Kidlet is spending the day with her godmother going to that atrocious eye-rape Alvin and the Chipmunks 2, which I would rather drink bleach than watch. I think I’m stupider just from seeing the trailers. Let’s be sure not to leave a single memory of the 1980s with its dignity intact, okay Hollywood? Thanks, you guys are the best. Then they’re going out for lunch to the Wendy’s, which every time I enter I fantasize about burning down (I just feel like it is begging me to do it, and I genuinely believe its employees, despite losing their jobs, would wet themselves with gratitude when they arrived at that hellmouth to find it a heap of ash and rubble), so I gave them my blessing and made alternate plans. Hmm. I feel like all the sentences I just wrote make me sound very angry and solitary. Totally not the case, I’m just sick of wasting my time on materialistic bullshit and fast food poison. (Carl’s Jr. is exempt, don’t challenge me as to why!)

I am totally looking forward to an overdue girl day with Miss D in C-town. I am scootching down soon, armed with Legally Blonde and its sequel, two of my favorite feel-good popcorn flicks. We can just sit on the couch, chat when needed, and basically take a pink space rocket to Planet Veg. Will it once again be retro to be passed out on the couch when Paolo gets home from work? Only time can tell!

Audrey Hepburn and the War, featuring her childhood drawings

January 8, 2010

All of the artwork in this post was done by Audrey Hepburn during World War II.


Audrey at the beach in 1937, 8 years old, before the war.

Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering — because you can’t take it all in at once.

In 1939, Audrey Hepburn’s mother Ella moved Audrey and her two half-brothers from Belgium to their grandfather’s home in Arnhem, in the Netherlands. She believed they would be safe there. On May 10, 1940, six days after Audrey’s eleventh birthday, the Wehrmacht invaded the Netherlands, having already come through Luxembourg and Belgium. The Germans called their campaign of invasion of the Low Countries “Fall Gelb;” in Dutch, the Nederlanders refer to it as “Slag om Nederland,” or, “Battle for the Netherlands.”


Audrey passed much of her time outside of school during the occupation drawing.

Completely hemmed in and outmanned by the German army, the Dutch main force in the Netherlands nonetheless held out for five days in mid-May, 1940 — a small contingent near Zealand held off the Wehrmacht through the 17th, but finally surrendered after grave loss of life. Almost exactly five years later, the final Dutch province was liberated.

During the five-year occupation of Arnhem, besides spending her time drawing and performing openly in plays with her mother and friends, Audrey attended school under the name “Edda van Heemstra,” a pseudonym invented by her mother Ella that she hoped would not betray Audrey’s English roots.


Audrey in costume for one of the plays in which she and Ella performed to raise spirits in the town during the occupation.

Audrey trained in ballet and secretly performed for small, sympathetic groups to raise money for the Dutch Resistance.

“The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances.”


1939 — age 10.

I was exactly the same age as Anne Frank. We were both 10 when war broke out and 15 when the war finished. I was given the book in Dutch, in galley form, in 1946 by a friend. I read it and it destroyed me. It does this to many people when they first read it, but I was not reading it as a book, as printed pages. This was my life. I didn’t know what I was going to read. I’ve never been the same again, it affected me so deeply.

During the Dutch famine over the winter of 1944, the Germans confiscated the Dutch people’s limited food and fuel supply for themselves. Without heat in their homes or food to eat, people in the Netherlands starved and froze to death in the streets. Hepburn and many other Dutch people had to resort to using flour made from tulip bulbs to bake cakes and cookies.

Arnhem was devastated during allied bombing raids that were part of Operation Market Garden. Audrey’s older brother Ian was sent to a labor camp, and her uncle and cousin were shot in front of her for being part of the Resistance.


Audrey and her brothers Anthony and Ian playing in 1938.

We saw reprisals. We saw young men put against the wall and shot and they’d close the street and then open it and you could pass by again. If you read the diary [of Anne Frank], I’ve marked one place where she says, ‘Five hostages shot today’. That was the day my uncle was shot. And in this child’s words I was reading about what was inside me and is still there. It was a catharsis for me. This child who was locked up in four walls had written a full report of everything I’d experienced and felt.


In Belgium in 1934, five years before the war broke out.

I have memories. More than once I was at the station seeing trainloads of Jews being transported, seeing all these faces over the top of the wagon. I remember, very sharply, one little boy standing with his parents on the platform, very pale, very blond, wearing a coat that was much too big for him, and he stepped on to the train. I was a child observing a child.

When the tanks came in and the country was liberated, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration trucks followed. Hepburn said in an interview that she ate an entire can of condensed milk and then got sick from one of her first relief meals because she put too much sugar in her oatmeal. This experience is what led her to become involved in UNICEF late in life. (source)


My own life has been much more than a fairy tale. I’ve had my share of difficult moments, but whatever difficulties I’ve gone through, I’ve always gotten a prize at the end.

Donate to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, online via PayPal, by phone at 310.393.5331, or through the mail to The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, 710 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 600, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

Update 1/27/2012: Contact info for the AHCF update:

Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund
65 S. Grand Avenue – First Floor – Pasadena – CA 91105
phone 1.626.304.1380
fax. 1.626.304.1386
email ahcf@audreyhepburn.com