Hysteria: at the movies and in Emilie Autumn’s Fight Like a Girl
THERE is a moment in the newly released movie Hysteria, which traces the invention of the vibrator in the late 1800s, where the humour to be extracted from doctors masturbating women to release their ‘hysteria’ runs into the horror wall: the feisty heroine, played brilliantly by Maggie Gyllenhaal opposite the rom com’s leading man Hugh Dancy, faces institutionalisation and forced hysterectomy. The engine of her dire straits is her father.
While the movie has its laughs, its social commentary, both of class and sex, is telling. The medical condition of ‘hysteria’ was only dismissed in the 1950s, the movie’s afterword tells us. It takes a lot of Rupert Everett’s hijinks as electrical experimenter and comic moments with mating ducks to relieve that uneasiness.
SURGICAL maltreatment of women as a way of dealing with perceived hysteria, or lunacy, is very much to the fore in Emilie Autumn‘s new album, Fight Like a Girl, which landed this week. It offers a narrative, musical arc set in an asylum for women — some of the music is from a planned Broadway show — but this is not the home for wayward girls so endearingly and sexily brought to the stage in her previous live show. Rather, this is the surgery where those ‘wayward’ girls are locked away to keep their brash sense of self and identity from unbalancing the patriarchy. Women as objects to be used, as threats to be neutralised, is the theme.
The ranging styles of the songs, from the upbeat defiance of the titular single to the violin ballad of ‘What Will I Remember?’, the vaudeville of ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ to the funereal ‘Goodnight, Sweet Ladies’, is clearly rooted in the dramatic production. And what a dark show it promises to be, with drug therapy and incarceration, and threats of sterilisation, rape, mutilation and murder among the offerings.
Tellingly, the album opens with the strongest, most strident songs, giving the impression of a revolution being quashed as the songs then travel into the asylum. A number of shorter tunes, some instrumental, suggest bridges between scenes, before the album draws to a close with the military beat of ‘One Foot in Front of the Other’, a hint of recovery and the promise of round two.
Along the way, there are treats in the minimalist electro of quite terrifying ‘Take the Pill’, harpsichord-driven ‘If I Burn’ and the seven-minute menace of ‘Scavenger’.
She’s quite the multi-talented artist, Ms Autumn, and this album, a different beast with some familiar stripes to her breakout Opheliac, suggests, even after just a couple of listens, further rewards in store.