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July 2, 2011

How PJ Soles (Totally) Changed The Mike's Life

When you're young, it's not always easy to foresee how the people you cross paths with will effect you in the long run.  As a teenager, one often focuses on the easy answer, lets that unwritten high school class system take over, and doesn't give much thought to the people that aren't like them.  I know those of you that know The Mike believe he is a wise and enlightened man, but I was once caught in that rut too and I didn't always realize that experiencing people who weren't "like me" wasn't always a bad thing.

But since teenage The Mike was a nerd who just sat around watching movies whenever he could - and one who lived in rural Iowa - his interactions with people who weren't like him happened really only happened through the safety of a protruding glass screen. And when I say "people who weren't like me"...I basically mean popular people.  Or cool people.  Or the people who were interesting enough to be featured in a movie.

(Anyone else remember back when television screens protruded?  Man, THOSE WERE THE DAYS!)
There were a lot of popular and cool people who taught The Mike life lessons from that box, and one of the key people that he met through that screen was a young woman by the name of PJ.  He first came across her in a decidedly un-horror manner, as she portrayed one of two military policewomen/love interests in the Bill Murray comedy Stripes.  That film was always a favorite to watch with my father, but Soles honestly was only a small part of the film's charm.  I will give her credit in one regard, however, because I always found her more likeable than her on-screen cohort, Blade Runner femme fatale Sean Young (SPOILER ALERT: Finkle is Einhorn.)
But Stripes was not the film that made PJ Soles a permanent fixture in my life.  That distinction, of course,  belongs to John Carpenter's Halloween, which needed less than 100 minutes to become permanently entrenched in my mind as my favorite horror film.  While I was certain about the film's killer and the hero and the heroine all being folks that I was quite interested in, I couldn't quite figure out what was up with that one loud mouthed cheerleader.  Now I realize: I was a bit foolish to dismiss her so easily.

Looking back, I realize that Soles' Lynda was, in a way, as much a part of the film's success with me as anything else.  It was the outlier.  While everything else, from the direction to Donald Pleasence's performance to Jamie Lee Curtis' squeaky clean image, was clearly defined and neatly placed.  At the time I thought that the film, in total, was carefully structured, adhering to a strict set of rules about the people in it.  And I see now that Lynda was the wild card.  She was not only a victim, she was the representation of chaos at work in the film.  I know what you're thinking - "Wait...isn't the escaped mental patient/mass murderer the chaos at work in the film?"  Well, yes, he is.  But to the viewer, he's a known quantity.  Heck, I'd already seen Scream by the time I saw Halloween, I knew what Michael was.  Lynda - she was something completely new to me.
None of that would be possible without Soles' natural charisma.  Though it's been said that Jamie Lee was more like Lynda in real life, you'd never expect that Soles was actually the girl on set who was opposed to smoking cigarettes on screen.  And while the character was designed to be annoying, there was something about Lynda that was surprisingly human.  Being a teenager at the time, I couldn't help thinking that this girl - who totally bugged me with her repetitive use of certain words and wasn't really a sympathetic character - was one of the most realistic characters I'd ever come across in horror.  Soles didn't take Lynda over the top, she just made her a teenager.  Even 20 years after the film and in the middle of Iowa, I could instantly picture Lynda as a character in my school - and all Soles needed to do was act naturally.

I didn't get it at the time.  I was too young, too goofy, and too oblivious to the real world around me.  I knew that Lynda was something different, but it didn't click for me for a while.  Over time, I realized that most of Halloween - and later (to me) Carrie and Rock 'N Roll High School - existed in a world that was foreign to me, but PJ Soles' turn as Lynda was a rare turn that created an imperfect character who had a place in my world.  She was an extravagant character sure, the likes of which you wouldn't expect in your everyday life.  I wasn't sure about her then, but I soon realized that her flaws made her feasible.
 Now, as I look back, it's easy to realize that Soles' work in the last half of the 1970s created some of the most interesting teenage characters put on film.  They were not the kind of people I'd expect to like in real life, but they were the kind of people who make life a bit more interesting.  Meeting Ms. Soles through that TV screen got me thinking about the people I may dismiss or shy away from in life.  And it got me thinking about the good that could be found in them too.  Maybe it's not a total victory for Mike-kind, but PJ Soles shook the pillars of my cinematic experience.  Because of that, she lives on today as one of FMWL's favorite people.

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