From Girlhood to Sublimity: Watching “The Fits” Again

From Girlhood to Sublimity: Watching “The Fits” Again March 21, 2017

It is the last dream of children: to be forever untouched.

–Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

The AFI Silver theater in Silver Spring is doing this terrific series where they feature movies from the past year that you might have missed. I believe The Witch is later this week and yes, go see The Vvitch, it’s vvonderful. (It’s vvreally sad!) But what I saw in this series was The Fits, Anna Rose Holmer’s extraordinary feature debut. It was the best movie I saw last year and now that I’ve watched it twice I think it might be in my all-time top five movies, definitely top ten.

You can read my original review here. The Fits is a story of girlhood; its world is seen through the eyes of a “little tomboy,” an eleven-year-old girl training to be a boxer. She becomes utterly enraptured by the older girls in a fierce dance troupe. The movie is intensely both homosocial and heterosexual, both totally queer-friendly and recognizable to a queer girl audience and quite blunt in its association of femininity with adulthood, surrender, vulnerability, and sublimity. The Fits uses careful social observation (Holmer, who is white and hadn’t initially intended this to be a story about black girls, worked with her actors to create their world) to tell a story as weird and richly symbolic as a fairy tale.

Some of my notes from the rewatch:

# We open with the ecstasy of physical exertion: the slight ringing in the ears as Toni counts out her sit-ups.

# I love any movie that shows us this much physical work. Holmer has a Dardennes-like eye for the grueling work of the muscles, rolling water cooler bottles and carrying heavy loads.

# Our first sight of the dance troupe shows them silhouetted against sunlight: pure mystery, the blank for a young girl’s yearning arrows. And the first time Toni watches the dancers it’s just electric. The dance is ferocious, aggressive, all the beauty and conflict of women’s culture.

# Even when we see Toni plodding along as the girls race by her, she never seems sorry for herself. Royalty Hightower is just such a gem here as Toni. All the actors’ faces and bodies are so expressive–Toni hanging around all askew, twisting her eloquent child’s body. When they’re saying their lines the actors sometimes get a bit actressy, but as with Less Than Zero, that stagey quality totally worked for me here. It’s not natural, but it’s a compelling representation of people at an age where they’re still learning how to play the roles they’re given.

# Children spend so much time alone: playing, imagining. In their own minds. This movie really captures that. Childhood, here, is solitary; adulthood is social.

# Lol these boxing dudes doing fashion design.

# There are definite horror echoes here, especially in the rhythm of the film’s scenes: the languor and suspense, the attention given to stillness, punctuated by violent action.

# This ear-piercing scene! Everything about the ear-piercing is so resonant. I was twelve again, playing with my own earlobes, feeling them heat and swell and learn to accommodate the intrusion.

# Black girls: “We’re not going to be interrogated on the television.”

“They won’t believe us.”

“Let them think what they want.”

# The ecstasy of competition: “It’s like time stops.”

# The moment when I knew I was in love with this movie was about halfway in, when I remembered what the last scene is and a thrill went through me as I remembered I’d get to see that again.

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