Ms. 45

(aka Angel of Vengeance, Abel Ferrara, USA, 1981)


Abel Ferrara developed his filmmaking skills during the '70s via self-financed shorts, a porn movie titled 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976), and The Driller Killer (1979), an edgy exploitation piece which garnered a cult. Ms .45 is, however, the first major Ferrara film, giving full indication of his unique talent and sensibility.

A film in the 'rape revenge' cycle that includes I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Baise-moi (2000), Ms. 45 details the oppression of mute Thana (Zoe Tamerlis) on every social level – sexually, at work, among her acquaintances. The only way for a Ferraran heroine to confront an insane, violent world is on its own terms, as a deranged vigilante.

The result is a feminist film unafraid of courting the difficult contradictions in fantasies of guerrilla empowerment. Ms. 45 sharpens the ambiguity common to rape-revenge tales: Thana doesn't merely 'harden' psychologically in the course of her payback quest (usually a sign of the vigilante's loss of humane judgment), she completely transforms, makes herself over – a spectacle that both distances and compels us as viewers.

Combining such confrontational exploitation content with a form worthy of Bresson (Thana's psycho-acoustic world is eerily communicated), Ferrara builds to a devastating finale, set to an indelible jazz-disco counterpoint by his regular composer, Joe Delia.

Ms. 45 also inaugurated another key collaboration in Ferrara's career: the extraordinary Tamerlis, later Zoe Lund (died 1999), who will later write Bad Lieutenant (1992), and whose documentation of the New York drug scene influenced 'R Xmas (2001).

MORE Ferrara: The Addiction, The Blackout, China Girl, New Rose Hotel, Pasolini, Mary, King of New York

© Adrian Martin June 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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