Archive for May 5th, 2011


An overlooked classic – The Legend of Billie Jean.

An unsung screen heroine.

If like me, you were first exposed to Hollywood, during the early and mid-eighties then you will know who Helen Slater is.  She starred in movies such as “The Secret of my Success.” and in 1984 played Supergirl.  Later she was seen alongside Billy Crystal and Jack Palance in “City Slickers”.   But back in 1985 she starred in a much underrated movie, as the young rebel with a cause, Billie Jean Binx.

The plot of this movie is pretty simple.  Her brothers scooter is destroyed by a group of teens led by one teen in particular.  When she goes to the teens fathers shop to  ask that he cover the cost of repairs, $608, the teens father takes her upstairs and attempts to force her to have sex with him in return for 50 dollars at a time.  Telling her that it’s “Pay as you go, earn as you learn.”  Meanwhile her brother has opened the till, thinking to get the money that way, he finds a gun and in a misadventure the bullies father, who turns out is even worse, is shot in the shoulder.  Now on the run and still determined to get both the $608 along with an apology from her attempted abuser she makes a video explaining what has happened.  Increasing media coverage along with Billie Jean’s own innate charisma lead her to being hailed by teens as an iconic person, representing youth empowerment and  someone who will to stand up to the repression of young people by their elders.

This movie is an early memory for me.  Ireland in the 80’s was still very much a place where young people did what they were told.  So a movie about a girl, who didn’t seem so much older than myself, standing up and not surrendering made a significant impact on the woman I went on to  become.  More over the fact that at the time when I first saw this on television, I was enduring severe sexual abuse only made the concept of fighting back resonate all the more.  This is a power piece of film with one particular image which has stayed with me for most of my life.

Any woman knows how powerful hair is.  It is in many ways the core of your femininity.  The thought of losing it is horrific and if we’re honest a bad enough “bad hair day” can ruin that day, or even that week.  So imagine a young transgirl, pre-transition, watching a beautiful young Helen Slater.  Miss Slater has incredibly long, beautifully conditioned blonde hair.  Then as a sign of her rebellion she cuts it all off, leaving herself with a crew cut.  Now try to imagine that transgirls shock, when she realised for the first time that a crew cut, could be every bit as beautiful, and feminine as the longest most lustrous hair… I have never been able to get the image of Billie Jean, cutting her gorgeous hair off out of my minds eye.  And I’ve never lost my sense of wonder at how feminine she still was, with what I had ’til then always been told was a boys cut.

The (for the time) fast paced editing, and stellar performances by Helen Slater and  a very young Christian Slater make this movie all the better.  But add in an amazing 80’s soundtrack featuring The Divinyls, Billy Idol, Wendy O. Williams and of course Pat Benetars “Invincible” only lends “The Legend of Billie Jeanan even harder hitting edge.

Unfortunately it flopped at the box-office.  Probably in no small part due to massive over saturation during the marketing campaign.  But despite this I feel that this movie is one of the great unsung gems of 80’s teen movies.  Like Iron Eagle, Red Dawn, Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire and even Fame it is a part of a very special genre, where youth doesn’t mean powerlessness and the message to young people is to take control of your own life, to make it what you want it to be.  So Billie Jean Binxs will always be one of my screen heroines.  For saying it’s alright to fight back and being responsible, to no small degree, for my favoring good-looking women with short, short hair.

As a parting note please enjoy the wonderful Pat Benetar and the theme tune of “The Legend of Billie Jean”, “Invincible”.

P.s. For added awesome try listening to this while playing some high paced first person shooter.

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