This friction is amplified by a quirk in the film and otherness in the characters, a sidestepping of traditional and heteronormative values and an instinctive trust in socially dominant ideas of production and reproduction, or sex and the continuation of family lines: Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), just like the other women of the “Cell Block Tango”, get rid of their husbands and partners, resolved to personal fulfillment no longer based on marriage or creation. from a family. And the two, not so much different sides of the same coin as pairs, or dyads, in visual and aesthetic approaches to the same goal (fame, spectacle, performance), become instantly recognizable in the film world. Their image and personality become what we buy and sell, in our places and in the world. It sounds especially interesting in a queer cinematic story in that their character, the language of why they’re famous in the first place, eschews the heterosexual dynamics created by pressure and social expectations. But as compelling as Roxie’s blonde kewpie pie looks are (certainly director Rob Marshall’s own adaptation of blonde starlet looks, not so far from Fay Wray), turning to Zeta-Jones’ Velma finds fertile ground. for queer identification. No, de-identification.
And what are we looking at when we just look at these silhouettes? Not the person, certainly; an idea, such a natural construction, a shadow that somehow sparkles with substance. You can achieve a silhouette and only grab what is most basic, like a trick of light that continues to seduce. When queerness is introduced into the shadows, a space in which queer people themselves have found a home, they find power in what José Esteban Muñoz calls “disidentification,” which means “to read themselves and read the story of one’s own life in a moment, an object or a subject that is not culturally coded to “connect”. We dare to question them, but the shadows are unanswered, and queer people will fill those spaces to find parts of themselves. With some performers, like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Marlene Dietrich, and Liza Minnelli, their shadows blend into something more illusory and complex; they become a triad of duplicity that has become its own visual grammar in gay and queer culture.
Velma’s stern bob, as precise and sharp as her dance, nods to the shattering villainy of Louise Brooks – a siren sounding the alarm bells for timeless sexual power, transcending the era of film in which she left a searing burn – and Zeta-Jones’ kissing the costume creates her own self-aware wink. At the start of “And All That Jazz,” the platform lifts her up, the blue light and white flame from the projector casting shadows around her body, not only highlighting Velma the performer (now alone, her sister is gone) , but Velma at the disco act in dialogue with Brooks. She wears a flapper dress to establish her own theatrical and performative presence (as well as her independence), and this murder becomes an additional part of Velma Kelly’s personality as a public figure, as do the parallels between her figure as a extension of itself. persona and her relationship to Brooks in a film like “Pandora’s Box”, another story (with sapphic flavors) of a woman subverting and transgressing her role, the bob adding androgyny and ambiguity which is particularly accentuated when reduced to its most basic features and flattened in silhouette. In short, the silhouette bob makes Velma’s (and Louise’s) gender walk a fine line between what we understand to be masculine and feminine, aesthetically. And yet, following the original release of “Chicago,” Zeta-Jones as Velma has become iconic, on her own terms and paying homage to an older performance herself. (And that’s clear, too, given that “Chicago” is both an adaptation and a remix of Fosse.)