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Magazine With a Cause : Femme Fatales says there’s more to B-movie actresses than, well, their photographs

To the casual observer, Femme Fatales magazine might just be another cleavage report from the Hollywood fringe, a girlie rag for males too young to buy Playboy or Penthouse. True, FF, a quarterly devoted to B-movie queens, is plump with pictures of scantily clad women staring open-mouthed into the camera.

But read the articles in the nearly 2-year-old sister publication to science fiction’s Cinefantastique and a reader will discover babes of substance who seek escape from low-budget land as they rally against sexual exploitation and casting-couch abuses and voice dreams of true artistic satisfaction.

Here straight-to-video vixens and stars of such films as “Jason Goes to Hell” and “Beach Babes From Beyond” bare their minds as well as their bodies, boldly stating such goals as, in the case of Shelley Michelle, “to be the next Bond girl.”

Recent cover girl Monique Gabrielle, the busty blonde from “Amazon Women on the Moon” and “Emmanuelle V,” declares, “I’ve learned to stand up for myself. It’s tough being a woman in the entertainment business.” Eyebrows of feminists might be raised at the placement of that quote opposite a photo of a nude Gabrielle sitting in water, hands coyly covering her breasts.

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Femme Fatales’ territory is the B-girl ghetto its editors claim was once inhabited by the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Ellen Barkin, Teri Garr and Ann-Margret, and currently includes such descending A-actresses as Karen Allen, Rosanna Arquette and Dee Wallace Stone.

“Work is work,” editor Bill George says. “A good B is better than a bad A-film.” Still, one doubts that Michelle Pfeiffer, regardless of how tawdry her first film efforts, ever solicited video “dates” as Gabrielle and others do in Femme Fatales.

Yet the magazine has its loopily endearing side, such as when it takes the trouble to track down teen-age stripper turned ‘70s drive-in diva Candice Rialson, or to exhume the career of “pioneering B queen” of the ‘50s Beverly Garland. And what other publication would stroke B junkies by calling Roger Corman “a consummate filmmaker”?

George, a film school grad himself, sees FF as a forum for young women--albeit well-endowed ones--to “talk about social issues. They’re political in what they discuss. They say, ‘I don’t want (B-movies) to define me.’ I think it’s demonstrative of women who know they have to do this for a living but want to move on. Their dialogue contradicts those pictures.”

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The results fall somewhere between exploitative camp and feminist commentary. “From the outset we wanted to bait readers with those photos,” George admits. “Certainly the photos are an incentive for people thumbing through it to say, ‘This looks hot, I’ve got to buy it.’ But when they get it home and read it, they learn something about (the actresses’) personalities. If you put them in a prom dress, nobody’s going to look at it.”

It’s not known how many of the 50,000 mostly young male adults who purchase Femme Fatales actually read it. Staff writer Gary Garfinkel says that featured actresses benefit either way. “Industry people won’t read all of Femmes Fatales. They’ll look at the pictures, read the pull quotes. It’s a nice way of bringing a resume and headshot to life.”

Lydie (pronounced liddy) Denier, star of Showtime’s “Red Shoe Diaries,” was concerned about appearing on Femme Fatales’ winter cover. She had found Monique Gabrielle’s cover, with the actress bursting through loose mummy wrappings, “ugly” and “disgusting.” But Denier was happy with her shoot, a parody of Rolling Stone’s recent Janet Jackson cover, this time with a pair of large monster claws covering her breasts. Denier considers a spread in FF good publicity. “It cannot hurt,” the French actress says from her Sherman Oaks townhouse. “It’s not like Playboy. Even if it is a very sexy photo, you cannot see anything. It didn’t hurt Sharon Stone to do Playboy.”

While they may not be readily apparent in the face of so many female appendages, Femme Fatales has its standards. “Our iron-clad rule is: No pictures of women in jeopardy,” says associate editor and B-actress Debbie Rochon. “No one being threatened with guns or knives. No pictures of women with any blood on them, no women being in a victim situation, even though the movies they appear in may be contradictory to how we’re presenting them.”

Even iron-clad rules are bent, however, as with the photo of a trussed up Catherine Oxenberg in “Lair of the White Worm.” “It was so campy,” Rochon insists, “it didn’t count.”

Rochon, 25, is described by her colleagues as the “feminist voice of Femme Fatales.” But can the Vancouver native reconcile the often lascivious art with the allegedly enlightened editorial content?

“I don’t want to be involved with T&A; fest, but that’s a likely way to describe it at this point,” says Rochon, who just finished acting in “Abducted II.” Like the B-actresses who aspire to be more, so Femme Fatales’ creators claim that they wish to take the magazine to a higher plane. Rochon, who will be featured in an upcoming spread, would like to model the magazine on her favorite European publications.

“They’re very sexy--they show women in a glamorous way, regardless of their age or breast size; they treat women like goddesses. They show women in control, so they don’t look like they’re expressing sexuality for a man--they’re doing it for themselves.

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“My frustration is that I don’t personally want to celebrate women running around half nude,” Rochon says. “Probably a lot of our readers don’t want to hear that. That’s what they enjoy. I want to move away from that.”

Garfinkel says he too would like more for Femme Fatales than a steady parade of temptresses. “I’ve been saying let’s go to a better level of talent and more classy pictures, something other than women squeezing their arms together. That does nothing for me.” After a brief pause, he admits, “Well, it does. But it’s not the magazine I want to be writing for.”


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