Can Mila Kunis have a truly interesting career in 21st century Hollywood?

Although this is a history-oriented blog that spans as many of the centuries as I can wrap my mind around, my absorption and interest in movie actresses is a continuing theme. In fact, I sometimes wonder why I’m not just writing a blog about movies. Maybe because there are more than enough movie blogs already. Or perhaps I just don’t want to limit my drooling to females from only the last hundred years or so. For example, how could I have written one of my most popular posts, about Onorata Rodiana, the beautiful crossdressing mercenary and fresco painter of the Italian Renaissance, if I had to be stuck in the 20th and 21st centuries? I get restless to wander…and boy, if I really had a time machine, would I ever use it!

In any case, a history perspective is useful in contemplating what chance a talented young actress has today for making a truly memorable and varied career such as the stars of the Golden Age enjoyed. Can such a thing be done?

Last night I saw a somewhat feeble comedy (?) called Forgetting Sarah Marshall, about a young guy’s attempt to bring closure to his broken heart after his girlfriend dumps him. In the course of taking a vacation to “get away from it all,” our hapless hero Peter (played by Jason Segel, who actually shows his “peter” in a full-frontal scene) decides to go to the same Hawaiian resort that his ex is at with her current rock-star stud-muffin. But as the mechanics of fantasy-fulfillment screenwriting would have it, the annoyingly whiny Peter gets to meet and mate with the absolutely gorgeous hotel desk clerk (Mila Kunis). He finds in her not only the beauty, but all the better personal qualities, that were missing in his ex—things he did not realize during all the time he was living with her.

The movie wasn’t very good, but I sat there for two hours watching it because I wanted to look at Mila, and hear Mila talk. And watch her laugh, and move, and do double-takes and scrunch her brow in disbelief at the antics of Peter.

Immediately after watching the movie I looked her up on the Web. I don’t watch much tv or many current movies, so her oeuvre was a mystery to me. Of course, after observing her deft timing and vivacious eyes and smile in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I was eager to see what else I could check out. Looks like she’s going to be in something called Zombieland, has appeared with Ben Affleck in a flick called Extract (compelling title, no?), and is now shooting The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington. That last one sounds like a barrel of laffs.

Zombieland.

Extract. (I think it already came out, but I’m not sure.)

The Book of Eli.

See what I mean by the title of this post?

If this were 1946 she would be cranking out one interesting film after another, melodramas, crime films, comedies, tearjerkers, westerns, Arabian Nights potboilers. She’d probably be under the yoke of a studio but she would rapidly have a body of films on which her fans could feast until they were gorged. Instead…

Zombieland.

Extract.

The Book of Eli.

No, no, no…Miss Kunis is a movie goddess in the making! She deserves so much more!

Ye gods! Put her in a remake of Demetrius and the Gladiators as the cunning Empress Messalina! Put her in a remake of the old Ann Sheridan noir classic Nora Prentiss, playing a nightclub singer for whom a stuffy doctor ruins his life! Put her in a remake of Topper, playing a sprightly ghost! Put her in a remake of The Lady Eve, in the Barbara Stanwyck role of the con woman falling in love with her mark! I say Mila’s got the chops for it.

Don’t give me Zombieland, Extract, or The Book of Eli. Or at least, give me more than that!

I’m not actually asking for remakes of those classic films, but rather flicks with similar types of meaty stories to satisfy our appetites for variety, spice, and zest! It’s called entertainment.

Hey, put Mila in a movie about Onorata Rodiana! She’d be great at stabbing a lecherous aristocrat who interrupts her fresco-painting!

But why should Hollywood listen to me? It’s making more money than it ever has, so it must be doing something right, right?

WRONG.

Put Mila in a swashbuckler as a scheming countess! Put her in a jungle movie as a daring adventuress! Let her soar, and audiences will soar with her into that paradise of cinema that her beauty and talent deserve!

And by all means, let her play a beautiful nun sometime!!!

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Onorata Rodiana, crossdressing female mercenary of the Italian Renaissance

As I’ve said here before, if you look at enough pictures of a distant time, you start to feel as if you’re actually there…

The year is approximately 1430 A.D., and I find myself in an encampment of mercenaries in Lombardy, in Northern Italy. In this era, the city-states of this nation hire paid soldiers to protect their powerful commercial interests, the riches brought back from trade in places like the Orient; it is cheaper (and safer to life and limb) to hire warriors than to have a standing army of citizens.

This is Paolo Uccello's 1456 "The Battle of San Romano."

This is Paolo Uccello's 1456 "The Battle of San Romano."

The men who hire and organize the bands of soldiers are known as condottieri, which means “contractors.” But one of the condottieri is a remarkable gal named Onorata Rodiana. If you think the 1950s kept women at home, multiply their plight by a hundred when it comes to the Renaissance years. It was hard enough to get out of the house and learn to read, much less become a sword-wielding Amazon on horseback. And I can think of only one actress could have played Onorata with the appropriate feistiness and femininity: the Cuban-Mexican star of 1960s Italian spectacles, Chelo Alonso:

This is Chelo as a gypsy in Terror of the Red Mask.

This is Chelo as a gypsy in Terror of the Red Mask.

Suddenly the night air is thundering with the hooves of horses, and through the brush comes Onorata and her men. She is dressed in the armor and uniform of a male. But those are the eyes of a magnificent female that flash in the torchlight as she dismounts and takes off her helmet, then goes into her tent for food and wine. She started as one of the soldiers, but rose in the ranks to have her own band of warriors.

If only I could give her a foot massage after her long day of plunder and pillage, as these mercenaries are wont to do! I would be satisfied with that…

Crouching in the dark behind a tree, I munch on some bread and drink a jug of wine I pilfered from a sleepy soldier, and think back to what I’ve heard about how Onorata found herself in this line of work…

Even more remarkable than her soldiering is that she was an accomplished artist first, a painter of murals, in these days when the rigors of artistic apprenticeship and training are so great that few males can ever achieve the skill and renown to get commissions. It’s not like 2009, where you can put a few blotches on a canvas and call yourself an artist.

Miss Rodiana is from the small Northern Italian town of Castelleone in the province of Cremona. The facts of her apprenticeship are not recorded, but in 1423 she was hired by the “Tyrant of Cremona,” Gabrino Fondulo (think Basil Rathbone if you like classic Hollywood, Christopher Walken if you like modern films), to do a fresco in his palace. But in the middle of the work, as she toiled on the wall painting, a sleazy courtier attempted to take liberties with the beauteous, vivacious Onorata, and she stabbed him to death when it became clear there was no other way to protect her virtue. Disguising herself in male attire, she fled to the mountains, where she found refuge with a band of mercenaries. “It is better to live honored outside my homeland, than dishonored within it!” she is recorded as having said (according to the 1590 book Storia di Castelleone, quoted in Germaine Greer’s The Obstacle Race, a book about female artists). The fellowship of the soldiers, and this new profession, appealed to her adventurous spirit.

This medieval painting shows horsewomen on a serious rampage!

This medieval painting shows horsewomen on a serious rampage!

The tyrant tried Onorata in her absence and condemned her, vowing to flush her out no matter where she hid. This was rather difficult, since she apparently was quite a canny crossdresser, and her soldier pals were quite loyal in hiding her. And remember, your style of headwear can make identification difficult.

Imagine Onorata's—or Chelo Alonso's—eyes peering out at you from this helmet!

Imagine Onorata's—or Chelo Alonso's—eyes peering out at you from this helmet!

But then the tyrant realized Onorata was the only one he wanted to complete that fresco (unless that was his rationalization for giving up the hunt), so he eventually put out the word that she was pardoned and she could come back and finish the painting.

Which she did.

And thus began a career that now encompasses two disciplines: artistic and military. She paints a fresco for some patron, then goes back to the boys for some pillage and plunder. The condotierri, who were businessmen as much (if not more than) warriors, frequently switched allegiances since they fought for money rather than patriotism, so Onorata probably has the opportunity to wear a number of different male outfits. However, I couldn’t find it recorded for how long she kept up the crossdressing; once she became a commander herself, she may have dressed with more of a feminine flourish. At least, I’d like to think so…

Maybe this is what Onorata looked like in those rare, stolen moments between palette and pike.

Maybe this is what Onorata looked like in those rare, stolen moments between palette and pike.

I look over at Onorata’s tent. Against the torchlight, I see her shadow as she undresses. What is her love life like? I haven’t found anything about it. Would she be up for a foot massage? Although the wine has gone to my head, I have the feeling that, alas, I might end up on the wrong end of a sword if I dare to sneak over and say hello…

So I return, however reluctantly, to 2009…

Back at my computer, I learn that in 1452, after a thirty year career of art and soldiering, Onorata and her band helped defend her hometown, Castelleone, against the Venetians. The invaders were successfully repelled, but Onorata was mortally wounded. It is recorded that she died within sight of the house where she was born. “Honored I lived, and honored I shall die.”

I guess the only reason this was never made into a movie (as far as I know) is that it would be hard to make a mercenary sympathetic, no matter how dramatic her story. The condotierri and their troops messed with their minds of the people who hired them, played one group against the other, switched sides, prolonged regional wars, all for profit and pleasure. True, it was a rather tough time to be alive, and you had to protect yourself, but these guys were no saints, and Onorata Rodiana chose to become one of them. Also, no examples of her work, or pictures of her, seem to have survived from that era, and she has been largely forgotten.

Except by travelers like yours truly, propelled by horniness and curiosity about the Eternal Feminine!

The queen of the Amazons leading her ladies into battle...

The queen of the Amazons leading her ladies into battle...

And, of course, as a cigar-chomping international film producer (in my mind), I’m always looking for vehicles perfect for Miss Chelo Alonso, even though at 75 she’s been long retired from film!

Chelo smolders in Morgan the Pirate. You can find her on DVD in Goliath and the Barbarians, also with Reeves.

Chelo smolders in Morgan the Pirate. You can find her on DVD in Goliath and the Barbarians, also with Reeves.

Yes, this is a gal who never made enough movies! (And well worthy of a foot massage or two!!)

Punishment can be sweet when the punisher is perfection!

Punishment can be sweet when the punisher is perfection!

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I got the images and info for this entry from various sources, but one essential place for all lovers of tempestuous female cinema talent is WOmWAm. This vast and entertaining site has great pix of Chelo Alonso, but that’s only the beginning. I’m adding WOmWAm (which stands for Women Doing Things to Men) to my blogroll.