So I’ll tell you what I want what I really, really want. It’s a simple request, rooted in an appreciation of the arts, a desire to question the boundaries of reality, and a love of sparkly things. I want more movies like Spice World.
You may ask: What is Spice World but a bad 90s rip-off of A Hard Day’s Night, except with British female stereotypes prancing around on platforms? I would answer that Spice World is the pinnacle of art house cinema, the key to the future of story-telling, and a ponderous foray into the limits of control each of us have over our own lives.
Think about it. There are so many layers in Spice World, and every one of them plays with the concept of reality. It’s on par with Memento or Pulp Fiction or 21 Grams… you know, without the bloodshed and plus five sassy ladies singing their hearts out for a chance at international stardom. A-zig-a-zig-ah.
The Spice Girls are uniquely capable of creating a truly mind-bending movie. After all, they are the masters of twisting reality. The Spice Girls’ success was partly based on their ability to sell their impossible personas as truth, embracing their stereotypes with less irony than you would think and never once stepping outside the boundaries of their 24/7/365 characters–-Baby Spice was never arrested for crack possession, Sporty never got fat, and Posh Spice became Victoria Beckham, a fashion icon.
It even makes sense, within the confines of the Spice Girl narrative, that Geri would be the one to leave the band. With all her professions of girl power and her role as “the smart one,” of course she would be the one to first become exhausted by constantly keeping up with a stereotype and wearing hot pants. Years after the Spice Girls broke up, the story of Spice remains the same, an impenetrable tale of pop’s favorite living caricatures.
The almost impossible-to-find boundary between fact and fiction in the Spice Girls is celebrated in Spice World, one of the most meta movies ever made. As the girls gear up for a televised concert at the end of the movie, they’re followed by documentary filmmakers, negotiating a film contract for a fictional movie, and encountering aliens. The Girls meet Elton John playing himself, but their bus is driven by Meatloaf playing a bus driver, who finally reveals that plumbing is the one thing he won’t do for love.
Aside from the highly enjoyable cameos, fantasy sequences, flashbacks and flash-forwards, Spice World’s most meta moments reside in the relationships of the various filmmakers within and outside of the movie. In Spice World, Alan Cumming leads the team of documentary filmmakers trying to capture the “real” Spice Girls–an impossible task, of course, especially considering that the documentary filmmakers themselves aren’t real. There are a great number of scenes where Spice World’s actual cameramen are capturing Cumming’s cameramen capturing the Spice Girls, who’ve all been handed scripts by the Spice World staff and are fully in character. Phew!
Beyond that, the Spice Girl’s fictional manager Clifford, played perfectly by Richard E. Grant, spends the movie brainstorming with filmmakers trying to pitch a non-documentary film about the Spice Girls. This storyline reaches its apex at the end of the movie, when the film writer scraps his previous ideas (my favorite: Spice Force Five) in favor of a plot line that more closely resembles “reality”… until it begins to define it. As the writer talks, his words begin to dictate the Spice Girls’ experience in the movie, effectively transforming himself into the actual Spice World writer. Talk about two becoming one. When the Spice Girls don’t enter on the film writers cue, we momentarily echo Clifford’s anger as he screams, “YOU LIED TO ME!” The ending we’ve been anticipating has been delayed as the actual Spice World writer takes back control of the plot.
In the credit scenes, the cast mills about a parking lot, and the camera catches the various actors “as themselves,” discussing their parts and interacting with the Spice Girls. But the Girls are still in character, and everyone’s still reading a script, though their roles have changed. Fourth level of mind-fuck: engaged. Finally, the Girls turn towards the camera and start talking directly to the audience, acting as though they can see us too. With this closing scene, all the rules of filmmaking have been broken, and the thread of what’s “real” has been completely lost. The Spice Girls are effectively cloaked behind at least six layers of fantasy.
Most movies create one un-reality and stick with it, but Spice World moves effortlessly through hundreds of small fictions. Ultimately, this makes for one of the most enjoyable movie experiences of all time, perpetuating the fun and fantasy that was the ethos of the Spice Girls in the 90s. The Girls were incredibly packaged and thoroughly sealed, exerting control over their identities even as they lost themselves in caricatures. I only wish someone had thought to install hidden cameras on the set of Spice World. One can always hope for another layer… Although, maybe in this case, it’s best to let Spice World live on as its own planet, an alternate reality so expertly composed we may never see anything like it again.