John Cope wrote:
As luck would have it I only just this week got the chance to finally see the extended cut which was very satisfying and improved a film I already thought was superb. The additions are a mix of seeming odds and ends that do add up: they enhance certain aspects, making them more comprehensive, while others are distilled to their essence. Certainly the added Jon Hamm scene seems crucial now. At the same time it's all too clear why it was excised to begin with as it makes the film's whole point undeniably unbearable and utterly devastating.
I totally agree, the John Hamm 'high roller' scene feels essential to the film, and in being a lengthy dialogue scene works as a really nice contrast against the highly stylised visualisations in the earlier scenes, though I can probably guess the reasons for cutting it (if the character has just sacrificed themselves then this long scene feels like it is prolonging the agony of the inevitable. But then the whole film is about a world created in the moment of the lobotomy hammer's blow, a final creative act before nothingness).
It also complicates Baby Doll in a fascinating way. Whereas in the theatrical version it feels as if she purely makes a sacrifice in the extended one, when combined with those scenes which flesh out Sweet Pea and Rocket's sisterly relationship more, it has a feeling that Baby Doll and Sweet Pea have exchanged roles in some way. Baby Doll submits herself to the routine of the club, accepting the loss of her virginity and the extended seduction scene is both a scene of loss but also of her becoming just another one of the girls in the club, in a way taking Sweet Pea's place as the head attraction.
Whereas Sweet Pea takes on Baby Doll's mantle of escapee with a dead sister, but in the transferrence of roles Sweet Pea has at least been left with a way to move along with that burden - compared to Baby Doll having no mother (having died in the prologue) and having the weight on her conscience of having accidentally killed her sister, Sweet Pea can accept her sister's murder by another and, in not having the sister to care for anymore, can return to her mother both to give the bad news but also to carry on with a 'normal' life, which Baby Doll could never have returned to even if she had escaped. (This doubling has been prefigured in Rocket talking about the way that Sweet Pea never really had a problem with her parents, but follwed Rocket to the club to watch over her. In a way Baby Doll's predicament was caused by trying and failing to protect her sister, whilst Rocket's sacrifice becomes her older sister's liberation back to normalcy - along with another, less tragic, chance to 'forget')
John Cope wrote:
But my favorite image, and the iconic one I think, is the much circulated one in which we see the women moving with power and authority through the quasi-WWI trench. This is so great for so many reasons. First, because, of course, it fetishizes them while they are presumed to be at their most autonomously strong and independent; a tension the film is always aware of, relentlessly addresses and never diminishes in its ironic import. Beyond that though, what makes this image truly extraordinary is the all around milieu. Take a look at the way the soldiers positioned flanking them on either side react to their presence as they move past, or rather fail to react. Is this the ultimate feminist fantasy? The male gaze rendered not only incapacitated but disinterested, a purging of lust and an establishment of disaffect as "respect"? Is it a pure image of total strength and hierarchical accomplishment, humbling these men? If the men are conscious agents at all and not just set dressing what does this image imply about their reaction to women positioned as having acquired such total and absolute power? Are they assumed to have been made docile to that? Soldiers? Or have they, on their own terms, lost interest (they seem indifferent not deferential)? Is this no longer what "men" want and is that okay? Is it an assumption of that or model for it? And, finally, what of their larger role as soldiers in a war unacknowledged except as fodder it seems for someone's fantasy of power. A whole world event reduced to solipsist background. Does that not make clear enough the point of how fanciful and limited in vision it really is? Maybe that is it and the women are just a ghost image passing through, impossible and unacknowledgable.
I think this may have been one of the additions for the extended cut but did you notice John that Sweet Pea has a moment during the 'iconic' walk through the trenches that you excellently describe where a young child soldier briefly looks at her. She stops and touches his face before moving on.
This young man comes back in the final scene standing just in front of Sweet Pea to get on the bus. In that scene he turns back briefly to look at her just before she is stopped by the policemen. It's another male gaze but feels less lustful and more acknowledging of Sweet Pea's difference, a separateness due to her experiences somehow.