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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Why wouldn't I use the full title?


This was a movie that I was deeply skeptical of. I haaaaaated (The?) Suicide Squad. (The fact that they expect me to tell them apart based on a definite article? Really? Fucking nerd gatekeeping nonsense.) I have deep fondness for Harley Quinn because of my deep fondness for Batman The Animated Series (the best Batman), which is where the character of Harley originated. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm created an insanely (ha) complex female character who developed and grew just in the span of that series and then exploded onto the pages of proper comic books. Naturally, she was usually depicted as Sexy and Wild, even though her blueprints make her intelligent and traumatized. The/Suicide Squad chose to firmly fix Harley in the lens of the Male Gaze, though Margot Robbie did what she could with it. But I didn't want to see anything else. (Regrettably the second The/Suicide Squad movie follows suit, though it's a teensy bit better, not where Harley is concerned.)


Because this movie came out in 2020, I know I watched it on a whim of boredom and fragile mental health when it came to streaming. It surpassed my expectations but I didn't love it. "It should have been more." "It wasn't perfect." (A phrase that now fills me with unspeakable rage.) The second time I fell head over heels. The third time, I became a disciple. The fourth time (this time), I stopped being able to entertain dissenting opinions about this film. Especially when it feels like an attempt to temper my enthusiasm for it.


I don't know that I can type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts on this movie. But I'm going to try. Bullet points so I don't come across as entirely loony.

-Margot Robbie is going to save us from patriarchy. I firmly believe that and I cannot wait.

-Harley being invested in a breakfast sandwich the way most movies would have a woman be invested in a man, a child, or Being a Woman is genius. FULL STOP.

-I honestly don't care if the confetti is a euphemism for blood and Harley is murdering everyone in that scene. It's one of the most dynamic action sequences ever and it was directed by a woman and pulled off by a woman and I'm going to write my doctoral thesis on it.

-DINAH LANCE. Black Canary in particular I was not sold on initially but holy god is she doing some heavy lifting in her scenes without saying anything.

-Rosie "I Shaved My Balls for This?" Perez.

-Mary Elizabeth Winstead has my heart forever as Ramona Flowers but her socially awkward chaos agent Huntress? WHAT? That brief montage of her posing in the mirror lives rent free in my head.

-Bruce the Hyena.

-"That's a beaver."

-The absolute Ralph Wiggum-esque heartbreak when Harley is betrayed by her landlord.

-EWAN MCGREGOR. I backed him way back when and these are the movies that he's so good I'm proud of myself for recognizing that while watching ...The Phantom Menace. Only a good human could play such garbage so perfectly. The scene of him showing off his exotic treasures is a master class in acting choices. "Ew!" He is charming and terrifying and the worst of men and that role could just be so icky in the hands of a Leto or a Phoenix (side eye), he made it real but fun. I'm not explaining that well. If a Serious Actor played Black Mask, they would be terrifying and sickening and I wouldn't be able to watch it. But with Ewan, it's terrifying and sickening and I cannot look away.

-Harley offering Dinah a hair tie mid-fight?? Dinah wondering when Harley had time to put on roller skates??? THE ROLLER SKATE SEQUENCE????

-In a lot of ways, this is a break-up film. It's about Harley getting over her relationship with The Joker and she's a mess. And while a lot of background characters juge Harley for it, Robbie never does as her actress. She plays her as human. Not pathetic or stupid. Human. Her instant regret at rage cutting her own hair plucks my heartstrings each time.

-The soundtrack. Every track a banger.

-Honestly, Harley made me a better feminist. She makes me rethink every nasty elitist thought I've had about another woman.

-Andy accurately describes Birds of Prey... and Barbie as the first two films of Margot Robbie's patriarchy ending trilogy and when the third arrives. Well I'll be flying to New Jersey again.


Linocut block print with multicolor leafing




Takeaways:

-I originally thought "screaming pink & yellow!" but while I was carving my brain kept saying "that part's blue" so I did both. I like yellow more but they're both great.

-This was one I had so clearly in my brain. I immediately thought of my favorite piece of Tim Sale art (an alt cover for Catwoman When in Rome, seen below) but knew I wanted it to be more Harley. Brighter and more chaotic. Lino seemed like the answer. A little off register would be fine. It needed glitter. But I just could not get the initial drawing out. I went through so many drafts and nothing was right. Nothing was good enough. Finally I had the good horse sense to do it on the iPad, creating a composite image until I had the pose I wanted, then drawing that, printing it, transfering it, etc.


-Because I had such a clear image in my brain of this piece, I really wanted to get it right. My first attempt at printing it went soooo poorly. Even though the register block (the black lines) printed beautifully on my test print, when I went to print it over the background colors, it was smudgy and horrible. It lost all the detail. I'm not thrilled with the detail I got in the end and I'm frustrated at how long it took, BUT! I'm very glad I went back and reprinted on different paper and giving the background ink longer to dry.

-Most of the prints are a little off register (the black lines aren't perfectly framing the white), but I love it. It feels like street art and it feels like Harley.

-The foil is one of the worst supplies I've ever tried and it is everywhere in our home (Ben I am so sorry). Glitter is terrible, but glitter doesn't float through the air. It can linger, sure, but these itty bitty teeny tiny pieces of leafing foil wafted around the house for a full hour after I was done using it and even after I vacuumed and scrubbed and I'm Very Concerned about how much got into my lungs. (Not as bad as other things I've inhaled in a brief career in costume work but still.) And honestly, the effect isn't great. My favorite part (one day I will learn how to photograph my work), is the wee tiny pieces that accumulated on the "floor" of the piece, heightening the sense of reflection. Happy accidents are still happy.

-Subject matter-wise, I am very very aware that one of the strongest, most pervasive themes in my work is the notion of strong, traumatized women at rest or at play. (Hello Ripley x3, Selina, Furiosa, Jobu...) It is no secret that I struggle with both rest and play. Silliness & recreation are the ultimate form of vulnerability and intimacy for me. Very few people see that side of me because it's so hard to let down the constant performance of polish/perfection. And rest? Wooo boy. I force myself to relax a lot these days but it still comes with so much guilt and honestly shame that I could be using that time productively.

-Ultimately, I'm thrilled with how this one turned out. It is very, very close to how I imagined and that's incredibly cheering.

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