At Flavorwire, we often pay attention to the new, but we make sure to do so not at the expense of what’s come before it. In “Seminal,” a bi-weekly column, we examine earlier, under-acknowledged exemplars of dramatic mastery from revered actors’ careers — moments that should be described as, dare I say, seminal. This week, we’re focusing on Kristen Stewart’s provocatively ahead-of-her-time role as Back-of-the-Head-of-a-Ring-Toss-Girl in Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas, a film that polarized critics but inspired total awe among the world’s most renowned directors. Michael Haneke, who loosely based Amour off the film, famously said, upon leaving the theatre, “K-Stew was def on fleek.” Here’s why.
When Kristen Stewart first appeared as the Back-of-the-Head-of-a-Ring-Toss-Girl in the Oscar-snubbed Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas, she shook the critical world, creating fissures so immense that nearly half of inter-critic friendships were torn asunder, and nobody could even hear their own internal monologues through the printed screams of “This is brilliant!”, “She’s a fraud!”, “She unfortunately displays early signs of lesbianism or at least bisexuality!”, “Important: finally a Hollywood star displays early signs of lesbianism or at least bisexuality!”, and “Early signs of lesbianism or at least bisexuality shouldn’t be the public’s concern.” The hot takes went like hot cakes, amplifying Stewart’s heroism or villainy to the point where one critic alleged that she’d founded ISIS while another called her today’s Marsha P. Johnson, to which Roland Emmerich retweeted, “Who?”
Her performance was so divisive that it’s said that that was one of the key reasons the film (which, before the Stewart controversy broke, was hailed as the grittiest and most brutally honest film about dating in the Stone Age) never made it onto awards ballots; it was said that it was critics’ sheer uncertainty about Stewart — and, worse, their gnawing inability to predict how she’d identify sexually a decade and a half down the line — that overshadowed what could have been the role of Stephen Baldwin’s lifetime. Olivier Assayas, on team K-Stew from day one, noted how Stewart somehow seemed to amplify the complexities of the interplay between celebrity selfhood, character, and audience, and it was ultimately Viva Rock Vegas that he turned to while casting The Clouds of Sils Maria.
But it’s inarguable that beyond the critical hubbub, what we have on our hands here with Stone Age K-Stew is a seminal performance. It just is. Behold as the camera turns away from the normative, burgeoning relationship of the origin story of Fred and Wilma Flinstone to the socially defiant Back-of-the-Head-of-a-Ring-Toss-Girl, who, even as an ageless back-of-the-head, will clearly live a brave and fulfilling nonconformist life, wherein sometimes she’ll date a man, sometimes tabloids will spy on her canoodling with another man, sometimes she’ll stay with that first man nonetheless, and sometimes she’ll date a woman, and wherein these facts will cause speculation and, ultimately, strife — so much lost productivity due to vast amounts of man-hours spent speculating! — among the masses.
Perhaps the obvious needn’t be stated, but in Flinstones: Viva Rock Vegas, both of the main protagonist couples — Fred and Wilma, Barney and Betty — enter into marriage plots that’ll at some point lead them to be memorialized as disgusting chewable vitamins by societal lemmings who think gnawing the same Betty-shaped amount of calcium daily will keep them healthy, and likely have similar thoughts about engaging in stale old love/dating dynamics. Back-of-the-Head-of-a-Ring-Toss-Girl works, I’d say, as a foil to all that.
Note that Stewart keeps the back of her head out of sight of the camera, with total disregard for the norms on which it chooses to focus its myopic lens. And then, of course, she literally tosses a ring away from her: has there ever been a clearer symbol of the rejection of institutionalized love?
Moreover, while most contemporary ring toss games take aim at a pole, the game featured in the film employs a caveman as its target, clearly symbolizing the lassoing of the primitive patriarchy. At 10, Stewart was already making bold statements. Years later, Breitbart.com would — in the listicle 20 Semi-Automatics to Show Your Children Instead of These Films — see the fact that the carnival worker caveman who’s overseeing the game applauds Stewart as a tacit suggestion of the film’s overall queer agenda. (They suggested showing a Bushmaster® QRC Quick Response Carbine Semiautomatic Tactical Rifle to children instead of this particular film.)
Naturally, even less conservative critics at the time, still deeply entrenched in a culture of heteronormativity and conditioned by teleologically wedding-oriented love stories, couldn’t stomach the sheer casual revolutionariness of Viva Rock Vegas. The film was released in 2000, but it may as well have been the Stone Age: “The fact that Back-of-the-Head-of-a-Ring-Toss-Girl’s head is turned away from the boy she’s attending the carnival foreshadows a general indifference towards men, or at the very least an ambivalence,” speculated one critic, his stomach churning audibly.
“I wonder what this scene would have looked like at the beach. Shame there aren’t any photos,” said another.
And when Stewart was ultimately caught cheating at the ring toss game… well, that set the media completely over the edge. The press’s feeding frenzy again overshadowed the sheer genius behind Back-of-the-Head-of-a-Ring-Toss-Girl, not to mention Stephen Baldwin’s masterful performance, which was one of his last before becoming a born again Christian and, seemingly unrelatedly, getting a Hannah Montana tattoo [NOTE: this post may or may not be nonsense, but that particular factoid is very, very real].
After US Weekly released paparazzi photos of Stewart’s strategic ring-toss angling, claiming that the director had given her tips, the precocious actor had had to release a public apology, spell-checked by her teacher. Shamed and stunned by the media’s treatment of her, she wrote sadly that she’d caused “hurt and embarrassment” and had “jeopardized the most important thing in my life: really great, fun carnival games.”
But it’s 2016 now. It’s time to re-evaluate and honor everything Back-of-the-Head-of-a-Ring-Toss-Girl did to change the ways we see identity and celebrity — and, most importantly, the way we see acting.