Mapping the Music and Style of 'Tank Girl'
Gwen Stefani based her look off 'Tank Girl,' plus there are cameos from Iggy Pop and Ice-T, as well as a soundtrack curated by Courtney Love—this post-apocalyptic flick is due for some dissection.
Hey, you remember Tank Girl, right? Course you do, it's a tale as old as time, Fievel with bleached blonde hair and arm warmers. No? Well it's 2033 and a comet has crash landed on earth and in doing so it’s screwed up the weather system meaning no more rain, so no more water. Everyone is fighting over each drop of H2O, and a tyrant called Kesslee (played by Malcolm McDowell) has taken control of the water supply with his evil Water & Power Corporation. Catchy name. Tank Girl a.k.a. Rebecca Buck is an outlaw who fights back against the system after they swoop in and murder her boyfriend. There are also Kangaroo/Men hybrids called Rippers. It is unclear how these mutated men came to be, but just go with it.
Honestly, it wasn't really the plot that grabbed me, rather, when I watched Tank Girl for the first time, my immediate thought was “Wow, I really do love Lori Petty.” She was great in Point Break, beautiful in League Of Their Own, and I'm so excited that she's returning in the next season of Orange Is The New Black. Her voice is so sweet but also dry and smoky, and she's delicate but can also completely own those tricky, badass characters. TL;DR—Lori Petty is a hero.
The second thought I had was “HOLY SHIT GWEN STEFANI!” People must have made this connection before? Surely? Who came first? The lead character from Tank Girl—Rebecca Buck—or Gwen? For the record this is what Stefani looked like in 1992, courtesy of No Doubt's first music video for their single Trapped In A Box.
I love how all American she looks, with her backwards cap and plaid dress, like a perfect cheerleader headed down a bad alley.
Then in 1995 (the same year Tank Girl came out and the year of No Doubt's breakthrough single Just A Girl) Gwen's style took a swerve from girly to this...
Which reminds me a lot of the stylez of Rebecca Buck.
I love the idea that Gwen would have been influenced by Tank Girl and the character of Rebecca Buck. She’s an amazing person. She laughs in the face of adversity. She’s brave beyond belief and uses blue paint to do her nails while she's keeping watch in the middle of the night.
An artist being influenced or appropriating something in pop culture doesn't bug me at all—if anything it's great to have that insight into who they are and what they appreciate. Although I should say that I don't think Gwen has ever talked publicly about Tank Girl so it could just all be a major coincidence. I think Björk's was also dressing pretty similarly in 1993.
Interestingly, “Army Of Me” features on the TG soundtrack. Trivia fans take note: Alongside Graeme Revell, Courtney Love pulled together the soundtrack. I keep trying to picture Courtney Love listening to Björk's as she chose the music for the film, and I'm really enjoying that image in my head. (In my mind, she's wearing dungarees and a scrunchie).
Although it is interesting that one of the first songs we hear while watching this film is Devo's “Girl U Want,” the lyrics to which feature the line “She's just a girl / She's just a girl,” while the opening lyrics to No Doubt's huge 1995 hit were, you guessed it, “I'm just a girl.” Look, all I'm saying is that it makes me really happy to think of Gwen Stefani watching a VHS of Tank Girl over and over in her teen bedroom in Anaheim and being totally inspired by it, to the point where she did pretty much became the living embodiment of that Rebecca Buck. especially to suburban girls like me who wanted to mosh at punk shows and wear crop tops and the baggiest jeans possible and maybe try out a bindi… before we realized it really wasn't cool to re-appropriate someone else's culture in order to try and make out with a boy in a band.
Every time I go on stage I think about Gwen Stefani. I still can't walk past plaid pants without thinking, “Maybe I should just try them on…” So Tank Girl is essential research.
The film was based on the comic by Jamie “Gorillaz” Hewlett and features several animated sequences which he created.
But rather than these being a creative choice, these scenes were included for more functional reasons, to cover up the huge holes in the script left when about ten major scenes where just, err, not filmed. As movies go it's tremendously flawed. It makes little sense, it's kind of boring, it's not that funny, or scary, or emotional—it's just sort of bonkers—but I loved it, and I’m not alone. A lot of this hinges on the appeal of Buck, who, as it goes, wears over 18 different outfits and hairstyles in the film, and was called “stridently feminist” by writer Dominique Mainon. She's comfortable with her own sexuality, and is completely able to hold her own when facing the weird water-obsessed scumbag who killed her boyfriend, played brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell. I also think present day David Lynch totally stole his style from McDowell's Kesslee.
By the way, the costume designer Arianne Phillips said this (to thefilmexperience.net) about working with Mr. McDowell:
“He came to the fitting and he was really appreciative. He said 'I haven't had time to do my research. I've been on another film and this has really helped me tremendously to figure out my character and have an angle on my character.' That made a huge impression on me along with many cues about an actor's relationship to costumes”
I like that a black suit with a white waistcoat and white shirt with no tie really helped him get into character.
“Yes I know who I am now!”
But let’s turn our attention to the soundtrack, which was somewhat more successful than any sense of plot. One genius moment of sound and vision is Joan Jett and Paul Westerberg singing a cover of “Let's Do It.” In fact the film features several versions of the same song which are used when Rebecca distracts some creepy guys with a high kicking dance routine. See? totally batshit.
Another batshit moment is when Tank Girl has sex with her stoner kangaroo boyfriend Booga (he's a mutant) while wearing this bra. Apparently MGM, who produced the film, insisted on cutting a more NSFW version of this scene, despite having spent $5000 on a prosthetic penis for Booga. As you do.
Oh and yes, in case you were wondering, that is Naomi Watts playing Jet Girl. On IMDB it says she isashamed of this movie which makes me feel sad. She had to audition for the part nine times.
She has a gradual makeover during the film as she gains confidence and independence thanks to her friendship with Tank Girl. Who doesn’t love a makeover?
This mirrored helmet, satin jacket and yellow bralette is such a strong look. She's also wearing these pants in this scene. Saran Wrap pants—wipe clean, sexy, and sweaty which will make you lose weight. So many benefits!
Tank Girl has it down when it comes to insane, cool hair: colors, accessories, loads of braids, shaved sections, whatever. But Jet Girl is the hat queen.
In general her headwear is excellent and practical. I also really want her glasses. Polka dot scarf for the win. But it’s this final shot of her as a back-combed beauty, smiling as she points a gun at the guy who used to sexually harass her at work that really screams pure joy to me.
Guys, I think she's wearing chaps.
There are a lot of British bands featured on the soundtrack—which is unsurprising considering Hewlett hails from that bit of the world—bands like Portishead, oh and um BUSH. Yes, BUSH, Gavin Rossdale’s, who just happens to be married to GWEN STEFANI. Jeez. Am I uncovering some insane grunge/pop punk early 2000s/late 90s conspiracy here?! If Gwen did love Tank Girl did she ever talk to Gavin about it? Have they even made this connection themselves? They must have, right?! Sounds like pillow talk to me!
My world is unraveling RN.
But in general the soundtrack is very female heavy, for example the L7 women growling on “Shove,” sample lyric: “Get out of my way / Or I'm gonna Shove.” Do you remember L7? Another Californian export, they were an all female band who sang about how annoying it is when strange guys pinch your ass, which, to be fair, is really fucking annoying. They're big supporters of the Pro-choice movement, and between 1991 and 2001 helped organize festivals to raise awareness and money for the cause. They're awesome. Suzi Gardner from the band was the first woman to have her breasts plaster-cast by Cynthia Plaster Caster, while fellow member Donita Sparks once threw her used tampon into the crowd at Reading Festival as a response to them slinging mud at the stage. I feel like Rebecca Buck would have wholeheartedly approved of this behavior. In much the same way I approve of this behavior below.
Now THAT is some sweet rain gear.
I am a big fan of this look too, Iggy Pop's (!) weird creepy werewolf get-up as he plays the part of Rat Face.
Next Halloween outfit sorted am I right?
Because the filming was a bit of a mess there are lots of continuity muck-ups, which might be deliberate, but I feel like they weren't. For example in the scene below when Rebecca and Jet Girl are kidnapped by the kangaroos, Rebecca's hair does some insane self styling.
Rebecca is also a maven when it comes to customisation and re-working of found items. For example the way she re-designs her standard blue prison overalls after escaping.
Or the way she creates looks from random shit she's found on her travels around post-apocalyptic earth.
I LOVE Jet Girl's look here. Oh and by the way, the Kangaroo in the middle is played by Ice-T. Of course it is. The film ends with Tank Girl saving the day, while wearing a furry helmet. And Kesslee's body being drained of water so his face goes weird and does this:
It's so odd and doesn't make any sense, but that's so not the point. This is a film you watch for laughs and inspiration, an example of how big money can ruin stories, but also marvel in how wonderful it is something as nuts as this was actually made and released.
I'm going to leave you with this screengrab of Rebecca kissing Jet Girl, as to me they're the real love story of the film.
And Gwen, if you're reading this, can I be your Jet Girl?