It’s like this, Anna
My past is nothing if not littered with embarrassing stories of how I’ve made a fool of myself trying to emulate various artists and fictional personas. There was the time my teenage hopes of becoming an all singing, all dancing Bohemian, á la Jonathan Larson’s Rent, were dashed after discovering there were seemingly more Starbucks than destitute artists in the East Village; the time I shellacked my eyelids with Elmer’s glitter glue to look more like David Bowie and gave myself a stye; or the night I tried to convince myself I liked gimlets after reading Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, only to end the evening staring down at a lime green-tinged bowl of toilet water. But despite all these transformative failures, I still find myself completely unable (or perhaps, unwilling) to relinquish the not-so-sporadic desire to make myself up into one specific cultural icon:
I mean Anna Karina, the French-Danish actress, singer, and novelist, primarily known for her leading performances in many films of the French New Wave genre, and also for her rocky romance with director Jean-Luc Godard. Now, I realize that French films of the ‘60s are not everybody’s cup of tea (or black coffee mixed with ennui and stale smoke, as the case may be), but I’m still always a bit shocked at how overlooked Anna is as a popular style icon and screen presence. More often than not, the mention of her name draws either blank stares or Tolstoy-induced confusion. Nevermind that Zooey Deschanel as we know her would be a mere pile of twee fabric scraps and false eyelashes without Anna’s influence.
Celebrity chef Gizzi Erskine once referred to Anna Karina as “a dirty version Audrey Hepburn,” a description I consider to be delightfully apt. After all, both Anna and Audrey were cinema stars of the doe-eyed, gamine variety, but while most of Audrey’s characters at least aspired to be society girl-types with slim cigarette holders and lovely, couture frocks, the majority of Anna’s characters were nearly always slumming it — making ends meet by working as striptease artists, or living their lives on the run from strange Algerian gunman. And yet, somehow, even with the tousled hair and the cheap cigarettes, Anna always managed to look every bit as dazzling as Audrey, if not more so, simply by virtue of the fact that she knew how to match a gun with a pleated skirt, and would probably recite Marx with superb accuracy if you asked nicely and offered her a light.
I suspect the nature of these roles Anna played in her heydey are a large part of the reason why her status as an international screen symbol is less cemented than I feel it ought to be. True, much of it can also be attributed to the imbalance between Hollywood cinema and foreign arthouse fare, but even if that weren’t a contributing factor, it still remains likely that most young female spectators would prefer to mentally align themselves with a moped-riding princesses than with a tragic political dissident — something which is a shame, not only because it works against Anna getting the recognition she deserves, but also because revolutionism is just so much sexier than aristocratism.
Thankfully, the call for Anna to get more recognition outside of French film-loving circles isn’t limited to my rantings and dress-up habits alone. Just last month, Seattle-based hip-hop duo Blue Scholars released the video for their song “Anna Karina”, a musical homily declaring Anna’s rightful place in the pantheon of cinematic icons. The lyrics proclaim:
Now whatever way she talks
heads turn away in a shade of dark
In a way, many say she was made for art
If the world is a stage then she played her part
Nobody knows it yet, but no disrespect
’cause you deserve much more than this
And all through it all, f*ck them all
it’s your life to live, ‘cause you’re a star
It’s a very fitting tribute for an actress whose image gets used to showcase the accomplishments of those behind the camera far more often than it’s ever used to honor her own iconic significance.
So, despite all of my comically ill-fated attempts to embody the art and artists I love, I plan to keep my fingers crossed and hold fast to my collection of all things Anna Karina-inspired. I’m keenly aware that, to most people, my cache of vintage dresses, plaid skirts, and oversized wool sweaters probably looks more like a horrible mashup of life-sized Blythe Doll outfits and second-hand Catholic school uniforms, but to me, it’s a very small way of celebrating Anna. Because it’s my life to live, and in it, Anna’s a star.