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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Death Becomes Her (1992)

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

I vividly remember the first time I saw this film. It was my friend Janice's sleepover birthday party. I was in third grade. This was the last movie we watched (on LASERDISK which blew my little 1993 mind) and everyone else fell asleep pretty early on during it but I was riveted. I understood virtually none of this movie but it felt intrinsically part of me. Like a subversive singing bowl ringing out suddenly in the middle of my very conservative upbringing. I loved it. It's always been a mark of immediate friendship in other people, when they've seen and loved this film. (Dearest Andy, you were in my brain saying all our old favorite lines together the whole time. "Point four-oh? SHE HAD IT COMING."

I love that this film came on the heels of All That Jazz. One about the finality of death and clinging to one's self image, the other about the hilarious inevitability of death and the tedium of vanity.

I love dark comedy. Love it. A lot of my favorite movies fall under the "horror comedy" header but truly, it has to be black. I don't enjoy the Scary Movie franchise, for example. Too wacky. I love laughing at death but it needs to feel true, which feels strange to divulge. Ah well.

Robert Zemeckis (right up until Forrest Gump) is one of my very favorite directors. He understands that realism and absurdism aren't mutually exclusive. He's also, like me, a clear student of his own art. It was so fun for so long to watch him experiment with tools in storytelling. How could new technology improve his storytelling? I think he went off the rails eventually, switching those priorities so that storytelling serves technology, and I don't enjoy really any of his films from the last twenty years. But THIS ONE. This one is a gem and it's just the first Zemeckis on this journey.

I frequently talk about how I love "game" actors. Actors who are willing to get silly and dirty to serve the role and the story. Meryl Streep is the queen of the game actors. She's talented, sure, but she has perfect pitch when it comes to matching the energy and tone of the movie. Bruce Willis turns in a brilliant performance that I can only describe as conventionally-sexy-Rick-Moranis. Goldie Hawn is a brilliant comedienne and I'm ashamed that I'm always surprised by that. She's proven herself over and over and over(board) again. But as I watched for the first time in maybe a decade, I only had eyes for Isabella Rossellini. She's mindblowingly good. I've grown to love her even more in the last year through her delightfully eccentric instagram (chickens!!) but what fun she is in Death Becomes Her. "I'm loving you" is such a bonkers line but she says it with all the character study she might have given a Strindberg. Love it. Even if she was 3 years older than I am when she filmed it and she looks like this like she does. Ben asked me afterwards if I would take the potion. I said no, but between him saying he'd take it and how fricking good Isabella Rossellini looks at 39... I could be convinced.

Random thoughts:

-I still know all the choreography to the opening number and I wish Songbird! was a real musical.

-I never noticed the use of mirrors and shadows throughout before and it's fucking clever storytelling and problem solving.

-It was more difficult to laugh at Helen's descent into frosting consumption this time around. That's not far off from where I was at my most depressed in my twenties.

-If you asked me to list my favorite film composers, I don't think Alan Silvestri would be in my top five and yet whenever I watch a movie he's done, I'm delighted. Masterful use of strings.

-The costumes are so so perfect. From Ernest's crazy quilt tweed jacket to Liesel's turban, perfection.

-Robert Zemeckis, if you're reading this, the effects that hold up the best are the ones that are the simplest.

Cut paper.


-I was inspired to try this technique after seeing an instagram story (that I can no longer remember the account for! Sorry!!!) of a fashion historian doing papercut historical fashion plates. Obsessed.

-I loved doing this. It was fussy. I talked myself out of it for awhile this week because I'm stressed and overwhelmed with [name a thing] but I'm glad I did it.

-I originally wanted to do a triptych with papercut Helen and Madeline, too, but time was against me. I might revisit this in the future.

-I really really need to invest some time in figuring out scanning and photographing my work. It took me a very long time to get a digital image that felt close to what it looks like in person but it's still a little off. Sigh.

-Of course it was going to be Liesl. Just after I started cutting paper, Isabella Rossellini posted a terrific video on her instagram (do yourself a favor and follow her) in which she narrated her sheep having zoomies. Amazing. That's what I want in life. Mystical, ageless witch vibes, quirky quiet farm life.

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