Media Circus

She's El Tacky Supremo, the one-woman train wreck who has single-handedly brought monstrous vulgarity back to Hollywood. Long live Demi Moore!

By Catherine Seipp

Published August 22, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

Last night I dreamt of Demi Moore again. Waking in a cold sweat, I thought: Has it really been more than a year since "Striptease"? No wonder I've been in such a restless state of Demi deprivation! Yet for these past few weeks I have sensed, like a humming swarm of locusts on the horizon, the imminent approach of the next wonderfully awful Demi Moore event.

Yes, the long-awaited (well, I've been waiting) "G.I. Jane," which like almost every Demi Moore vehicle is less a movie than a signal for another media feeding frenzy, finally opens today. Some have already jumped the gun for the next round of Demiotics. Just three days ago Demi made an appearance in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page: "In a world where what we are offered for entertainment includes the actress Demi Moore gyrating on a bar counter with Madonna's gay brother ..." Perhaps this only meant that the Journal is now keeping close tabs on National Enquirer covers. I saw it as a Sign.

Demi Moore is a throwback to the no-holds-barred, support-staff-devouring lady movie star of yore. She has, practically single-handedly, revived the old-fashioned, enjoyably schlocky woman's picture. Think of her oeuvre, and its many, many iconic contributions to pop culture consciousness: "Ghost" (the "Unchained Melody" potter's wheel scene); "Indecent Proposal" (is it so wrong for a girl to sleep with Robert Redford for a million dollars -- especially when the alternative is Woody Harrelson?); "Disclosure" (a female sexual harasser! Hmm!).

I will always see a new Demi Moore movie (usually, I confess, alone) because I know I will always have a good time. This includes, of course, last year's event, "Striptease," with its multiple amazements: the $12 million salary; the ferocious body-sculpting; the casting of Demi's own small daughter in a film that shows Mommy naked and pawed at by drooling men. Then the taking of two small daughters to view naked Mommy on-screen at the "Striptease" premiere.

And, inevitably, the nonsensical quote regarding the situation. "A non-issue," she told a Tatler reporter at the time. "I'd never do anything I'd be embarrassed for my children to know about."

No wonder Demi Moore is a dedicated Barbie doll collector. Her every utterance has the hypnotic inanity of Talking Barbie's "Math is hard!" Here's a tidbit from the September In Style, the one with Demi and the question "What's Sexy Now?" on the cover. Inside, she opines that "the sexiest thing of all is the truth." Granted that In Style brings this sort of thing out in people, the sheer un-truth of that idea is still rather gemlike.

There are those at Castle Rock, the producers of "Striptease," who consider my Demi appreciation perverse. Of course, they had to work with her, and "Striptease" wasn't the first time. During "A Few Good Men," she first earned her nickname Gimme Moore, refusing to board a Lear jet for the promotional tour because the eight-seater didn't have room for her and her six assistants to occupy two seats each. She was also a trial on "Striptease," insisting on showing up at the press junket with a "G.I. Jane" shaved head instead of long, flowing stripperish locks.

The clever effect, of course (clever from Demi's point of view; annoying from Castle Rock's), was to deflect attention from "Striptease" to herself and her next project -- and to remind everyone that, rumors of her slipping career to the contrary, there would indeed be a next project.

Which brings us to "G.I. Jane." Like every Demi Moore event, the film's theme -- can women serve as well as men in the military? -- is preternaturally in tune with the Zeitgeist. (If only it had come out at the exact same time as the Kelly Flinn affair! Never mind. The post-Kelly release date is close enough.) Also like every Demi Moore event, and pretty much every quote that comes out of her mouth in connection with said event, it is fundamentally dishonest.

To begin with, there's the title: "G.I.," of course, is an Army term, and the movie is about the first female Navy SEAL. But that's a mere marketing trifle compared to the main issue, which is that Demi's character must pass the same extraordinary physical tests the male SEALs do. Not in the real world, she wouldn't. American military standards have been lowered to accommodate women to the point that, for instance, where the old requirement was that two men be able to quickly carry a wounded comrade off a bombed ship in a stretcher, now four people do. Bad news for the guy in the stretcher; irrelevant to Demi Moore.

"I hope that it offers a positive vision for women, especially those women who might say, 'I'd like to do that, but I'd never make the grade,'" she says in the September Harper's Bazaar. Well, they wouldn't make the grade. Which isn't to say that "G.I. Jane" doesn't draw you in.

She's appealing in the same way June Allyson was as the determined, stereotype-shattering, turn-of-the-century female doctor in the 1952 "The Girl In White." But "The Girl In White" was based on a true story. "G.I. Jane" is a fantasy. There are no female Navy SEALs. After a while, the movie makes you feel suckered.

The sweaty, half-naked collage of Demi doing grunting, one-armed push-ups is "G.I. Jane's" version of the money shots from "Striptease." I know how hard it was for me to work my way up from bent-knee "girl" push-ups to the real kind, so I was impressed. Maybe she should be a SEAL! But then I remembered those endless one-armed push-ups, sans all the grunting, Jack Palance did on the Oscars a few years ago when he was, what, 70?

Like all successful salesmen, Demi believes completely in her product -- which is never merely her current movie but always really herself. Perhaps because of this deep, unwavering faith, she is notoriously humorless; her pranks on Letterman seem about as lighthearted and spur-of-the-moment as D-Day. A while ago I heard a story about the casting agent who got Demi her first big feature film role, in "Blame it on Rio." Demi ran into the casting agent a few years later and announced, "Can you believe what a fucking great actress I've become?" The agent at first thought Demi was joking. She wasn't.

Naturally, such self-absorption makes her an irresistible target. Last year, irritated Castle Rockers amused themselves with a series of fantasy "Striptease" ads: "Demi Moore -- like you've never seen it be ... No, wait!" "Demi Moore -- like you've frequently seen her before ..." "Demi Moore -- this time she's moving!" And, finally, when the film was desperately repositioned as a laugh-riot: "'Striptease!' It's rated 'C!' For Comedy!"

And yet, you have to go back to Joan Crawford to find anyone to compare with Demi Moore. Joan had a similar range of incarnations, from Flat-Chested Flapper in "Our Dancing Daughters" to Suffering Sacrificer in "Mildred Pierce" to Butch Babe in "Queen Bee"; Demi's evolution from Flat-Chested Belle of the Brat Pack in "St. Elmo's Fire" to Suffering Sacrificer in "Indecent Proposal" to Butch Babe in "G.I. Jane" loosely follows this previously trod path. She is a Joan Crawford for the '90s: the girl of humble background who through sheer force of will transformed herself into a movie star while retaining her shopgirl soul.

But you've got to hand it to her. Unlike Joan and some of her contemporaries, who adopted because they didn't want to risk losing their figures, Demi's constantly lactating figure only seems to improve with each new child. Like the title character of "Rebecca," she is an idealized brunet no real woman can ever measure up to. A bitch goddess, but a goddess all the same.

Catherine Seipp

Catherine Seipp is a regular contributor to Salon.

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