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Even Cowgirls get the Blues:

 

Even Cowgirls get the Blues is a road movie by Gus Van Sant based on Tom Robbinīs novel (1976).

It came out in 1994 and is a mystical, magical hallucinogen-touched road picture that follows the life of a female protagonist. The story is set in the 70s (when the novel is written) and is the story of Sissy Hankshaw (Uma Thurman).

 

The Plot:

Sissy Hankshaw has been born with thumbs twice the size of those usually found on an otherwise normal person. Her childhood is full of parental consternation over her deformity. One day her mother (Grace Zabriskie) takes her to a fortune-teller (Roseanne Arnold) to ask about her future and if there will be men in her life. The fortune-teller answers: “I see men in your life. … I also see women…lots and lots and lots of women.”

However Sissy starts using her thumbs to her advantage and becomes the best hitch-hiker the world has ever known. She travels constantly because she feels that it is her destiny. She also works as a model for feminine hygiene products produced by her friend the Countess (John Hurt), a drag queen. The Countess, who begins as a Mississippi Queen, but ends up in New York faux-Russian drag, arranges a meeting between Sissy and a young native American artist (Keanu Reeves). During this evening Sissy discovers that her sexuality is not non-existent, but rather it has been suppressed due to her lifestyle.

As part of her awakening Sissy is sent to the Rubber Rose Ranch in Oregon, a health and beauty spa owned by the Countess. She is supposed to model for a commercial for a deodorant  in which she imitates the actions of a peyote-pecking whooping crane. Sissy begins travelling cross-country with a special destination for the first time in her life. The Rubber Rose Ranch is the home of the last nesting ground of the whooping crane. At the ranch, which is a home to a herd of cows, Sissy meets the cowgirls who work there. These cowgirls are a band of radical lesbian feminists, who are more than a shade less refined than the ranch’s normal clientele.

In turn the Countess would like nothing more than to have the lot of them removed. However the cowgirls start to revolt against the Countess and his money-grubbing exploitation of women. As a result they stage an attack on the lodge using their weapons, the things which the Countess despises most. (This scene is the most spectacular in the movie.) Finally the cowgirls take over the ranch.

Meanwhile Sissy becomes romantically and sexually involved with the leader of the cowgirls, Bonanza Jellybean (Rain Phoenix). Bonanza Jellybean lectures Sissy on cowgirl lore, which is heavily influenced by would-be pioneering feminist insight.

However, with the cowgirl revolution Sissy escapes from the ranch and meets a prophetic mountain fellow (Noriyuki Pat Morita), called ‘the Chink’, who answers all questions with either laughter or strange idioms. After one passionate night with him, Sissy hits the road again.

Sissy Hankshaw travels back to New York to see the Countess, but instead starts a fight with him/her and injures him heavily by hitting him with her enormous thumbs. Sissy feels bad about what she has done and for the first time she is embarrassed about her thumbs because she used them – without purpose – as a weapon. She travels back to her hometown to see the doctor (Buck Henry) whom she has known since her childhood. Sissy asks him to remove her thumbs.

In the hospital, while listening to the radio, Sissy hears that the FBI has become involved in the Rubber Rose Ranch affair. She leaves the hospital with only one thumb removed, and travels back to Oregon to see Bonanza.

The situation for the cowgirls has grown quite hopeless at this time. As the cowgirls fight for the rights of the whooping crane the become disillusioned in their struggle. Bonanza Jellybean wants to tell the FBI that their protest is over and as she begins to ride towards them, the misunderstand her intentions and begin to shoot. In this shootout, Bonanza is killed.

The movie ends in a sad scene, with a voice-over of Tom Robbins, where Sissy Hankshaw burns her letters from Bonanza Jellybean.

 

Although Even Cowgirls get the Blues received bad criticism, in general there is a subculture which loves this movie, namely the lesbians. The movie portrays lesbian women in a very stereotypical way. The cowgirls are masculine, strong, armed and hate men. Likewise, it is very common that in Hollywood movies lesbian women have to die at the end (Other examples include: The Childrenīs Hour, Rebecca, ...). As a result Bonanza Jellybean, the most active lesbian in the movie, also meets her end.

 

  see also
the cowgirls’ reading of
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

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