With Samuel Fuller taking post as Film Society’s retrospective resident this year, and Paris Hilton set for hard time in a Los Angeles jail, it seemed only appropriate that I revisit Girls in Prison: a flaccid, if mildly competent pastiche of female prison movies and that shady underworld Fuller maintained. Co-written with wife Christa Lang, it was to be Sam’s last screen treatment before his death, pulped by John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) into something sporadically evoking the B-movie imperfection. Through awkwardly tilted angles, silhouetted lighting, and a staid direct-to-video aesthetic, McNaugton has a Shock Corridor template in mind, but it’s really the late iconoclast’s scripted throwbacks to McCarthyism and red fear that authenticates the Fuller signature (that, and a brief glimpse at Ione Skye brandishing her high heel as a melee weapon).

By genre standards, this cable movie places an innocent party (Missy Crider) behind bars – an aspiring country singer framed for the murder of a record producer. Women in prison clichés are subsequently checked off: communal showers, bixsexual make-outs, shiv stabbings, cat fighting, hair pulling, mass rioting, hose-downs, lock-downs, and the inevitable showdown between Crider and her nemesis, a right bitchy Anne Heche, channeling Constance Towers in a no-nonsense kind of way. Essentially, Girls in Prison is tame (like its 1954 namesake), but has a strange way of making you pine for the Fuller oeuvre. Hilton on the other hand would do well to score a correctional facility of similar ilk; show her a Jess Franco or Meiko Kaji movie, and chances are she’d end up on suicide watch. Without the wet towel beatings and lesbian rapes, she just might make it out alive – a dose of reality bound invariably for the tasseled screenplay of a made-for-TV movie.

Not that this creature of narcissism deserves one, but the closest we’ve probably come to a Paris Hilton biopic is Marie Antoinette, a film the heiress surely revelled in, all the while oblivious to its allegorical overtones. Its director, Sophia Coppola, may be implicated in her own film’s decadence according to some, having lived the lifestyle under daddy Francis’ Tinseltown fame, but for a woman whose only real misdemeanor to date has been the ill-fated Godfather 3, someone of Hilton’s culpability is a far more obvious target in lieu of actual Hollywood royalty like Grace Kelly. J. Hoberman describes Marie Antoinette rather aptly as a prison movie, and Paris fits right into that frame of thinking as a prisoner of her own stupidity – even if playing it dumb is/was the new cool. The film indulges in this flippancy through assorted confections – the camera regularly drools over jewellery, haute couture, Shih Tzu puppies and designer footwear – while its monarchy of supporting players, from Asia Argento to Marianne Faithful, adorn as little more than throw-on accessories.

For all its alarming airheadedness though – a timely doomsday pamphlet for living under clueless rule – Coppola’s film manages to emulate something Hilton is incapable of: the faux hipster. With her finely combed soundtrack of irritating indie-cred, Coppola is art school confidential through and through, yet cheapens it by casting Razorlight clinger Kirsten Dunst as her valley girl highness. Neither here nor there, this Antoinette would be emo if not for all the pastel hues; would be straight out of Laguna Beach if not for The Cure or Gang of Four. With a shot of a ransacked boudoir, Coppola ends the film in an equally middling state: a room that may have been trashed by revolutionaries, or just as easily by Marie and her riot girl entourage the night before. The latter will only encourage Hilton, on the eve of facing her own ‘guillotine’, to party like the spoilt child-of-our-time that she is.—Tim Wong

» John McNaugton | USA | 1994
» Sophia Coppola | USA | 2006