Sunday 31 January 2010

Congratulations to Kathryn Bigelow!


Bigelow wins Directors top award for "Hurt Locker"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the best director award from the Directors Guild of America on Saturday with her Iraq war thriller "The Hurt Locker," a low-budget film gathering awards steam ahead of the Oscars.

The winner of the Guild's top award has gone on to take the best director Oscar all but six times in the last 61 years.

Oscar nominations will be announced next Tuesday and "The Hurt Locker" is expected to garner several nods, including best film and best director.

Bigelow beat out four other directors, including her former husband James Cameron, who had won the Golden Globe for best director this month for his mega-budget blockbuster "Avatar."

"I am so deeply stunned and honored and proud," Bigelow told the celebrity-heavy crowd of Hollywood directors and actors.

"I think we all felt a really deep responsibility to tell this story with as much honesty as possible, given the courage of the men and women in the field," she added.

Friday 29 January 2010

The Mistress Bookshelf: "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" by Laura Mulvey

Seminal, as in "must-read", text by theorist and writer Laura Mulvey. This text encapsulates the way women have been perceived in the visual arts, and how we have come to perceive ourselves as a consequence of this constructed version of femininnity via the 'male gaze'.

I would recommend this text plus John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" as the two most fundamental texts to assist us on a better understanding of our perception of the visual image, and ultimately of women ourselves.

Filmmakers of the world, please do read this!


III. Woman as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look

A. In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leit-motif of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to striptease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire. Mainstream film neatly combined spectacle and narrative. (Note, however, how the musical song-and-dance numbers break the flow of the diegesis.) The presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, , yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation. This alien presence then has to be integrated into cohesion with the narrative. As Budd Boetticher has put it:

"What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance."

(A recent tendency in narrative film has been to dispense with this problem altogether; hence the development of what Molly Haskell has called the 'buddy movie,' in which the active homosexual eroticism of the central male figures can carry the story without distraction.) Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks on either side of the screen. For instance, the device of the show-girl allows the two looks to be unified technically without any apparent break in the diegesis. A woman performs within the narrative, the gaze of the spectator and that of the male characters in the film are neatly combined without breaking narrative verisimilitude. For a moment the sexual impact of the performing woman takes the film into a no-man's-land outside its own time and space. Thus Marilyn Monroe's first appearance in The River of No Return and Lauren Bacall's songs in To Have or Have Not. Similarly, conventional close-ups of legs (Dietrich, for instance) or a face (Garbo) integrate into the narrative a different mode of eroticism. One part of a fragmented body destroys the Renaissance space, the illusion of depth demanded by the narrative, it gives flatness, the quality of a cut-out or icon rather than verisimilitude to the screen.

B. An active/passive heterosexual division of labor has similarly controlled narrative structure. According to the principles of the ruling ideology and the psychical structures that back it up, the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like. Hence the split between spectacle and narrative supports the man's role as the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen. The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralise the extra-diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle. This is made possible through the processes set in motion by structuring the film around a main controlling figure with whom the spectator can identify. As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look on to that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence. A male movie star's glamorous characteristics are thus not those of the erotic object of the gaze, but those of the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego conceived in the original moment of recognition in front of the mirror. The character in the story can make things happen and control events better than the subject/spectator, just as the image in the mirror was more in control of motor coordination. In contrast to woman as icon, the active male figure (the ego ideal of the identification process) demands a three-dimensional space corresponding to that of the mirror-recognition in which the alienated subject internalised his own representation of this imaginary existence. He is a figure in a landscape. Here the function of film is to reproduce as accurately as possible the so-called natural conditions of human perception. Camera technology (as exemplified by deep focus in particular) and camera movements (determined by the action of the protagonist), combined with invisible editing (demanded by realism) all tend to blur the limits of screen space. The male protagonist is free to command the stage, a stage of spatial illusion in which he articulates the look and creates the action.

C.1 Sections III, A and B have set out a tension between a mode of representation of woman in film and conventions surrounding the diegesis. Each is associated with a look: that of the spectator in direct scopophilic contact with the female form displayed for his enjoyment (connoting male phantasy) and that of the spectator fascinated with the image of his like set in an illusion of natural space, and through him gaining control and possession of the woman within the diegesis. (This tension and the shift from one pole to the other can structure a single text. Thus both in Only Angels Have Wings and in To Have and Have Not, the film opens with the woman as object the combined gaze of spectator and all the male protagonists in the film. She is isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualised. But as the narrative progresses she falls in love with the main male protagonist and becomes his property, losing her outward glamorous characteristics, her generalised sexuality, her show-girl connotations; her eroticism is subjected to the male star alone. By means of identification with him, through participation in his power, the spectator can indirectly possess her too.)

But in psychoanalytic terms, the female figure poses a deeper problem. She also connotes something that the look continually circles around but disavows: her lack of a penis, implying a threat of castration and hence unpleasure. Ultimately, the meaning of woman is sexual difference, the absence of the penis as visually ascertainable, the material evidence on which is based the castration complex essential for the organisation of entrance to the symbolic order and the law of the father. Thus the woman as icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men, the active controllers of the look, always threatens to evoke the anxiety it originally signified. The male unconscious has two avenues of escape from this castration anxiety: preoccupation with the re-enactment of the original trauma (investigating the woman, demystifying her mystery), counterbalanced by the devaluation, punishment or saving of the guilty object (an avenue typified by the concerns of the film noir); or else complete disavowal of castration by the substitution of a fetish object or turning the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous (hence over-valuation, the cult of the female star). This second avenue, fetishistic scopophilia, builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself. The first avenue, voyeurism, on the contrary, has associations with sadism: pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt (immediately associated with castration), asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness. This sadistic side fits in well with narrative. Sadism demands a story, depends on making something happen, forcing a change in another person, a battle of will and strength, victory/defeat, all occurring in a linear time with a beginning and an end. Fetishistic scopophilia, on the other hand, can exist outside linear time as the erotic instinct is focused on the look alone. These contradictions and ambiguities can be illustrated more simply by using works by Hitchcock and Sternberg, both of whom take the look almost as the content or subject matter of many of their films. Hitchcock is the more complex, as he uses both mechanisms. Sternberg's work, on the other hand, provides many pure examples of fetishistic scopophilia.

C.2 It is well known that Sternberg once said he would welcome his films being projected upside down so that story and character involvement would not interfere with the spectator's undiluted appreciation of the screen image. This statement is revealing but ingenuous. Ingenuous in that his films do demand that the figure of the woman (Dietrich, in the cycle of films with her, as the ultimate example) should be identifiable. But revealing in that it emphasises the fact that for him the pictorial space enclosed by the frame is paramount rather than narrative or identification processes. While Hitchcock goes into the investigative side of voyeurism, Sternberg produces the ultimate fetish, taking it to the point where the powerful look of the male protagonist (characteristic of traditional narrative film) is broken in favour of the image in direct erotic rapport with the spectator. The beauty of the woman as object and the screen space coalesce; she is no longer the bearer of guilt but a perfect product, whose body, stylised and fragmented by close-ups, is the content of the film and the direct recipient of the spectator's look. Sternberg plays down the illusion of screen depth; his screen tends to be one-dimensional, as light and shade, lace, steam, foliage, net, streamers, etc, reduce the visual field. There is little or no mediation of the look through the eyes of the main male protagonist. On the contrary, shadowy presences like La Bessiere in Morocco act as surrogates for the director, detached as they are from audience identification. Despite Sternberg's insistence that his stories are irrelevant, it is significant that they are concerned with situation, not suspense, and cyclical rather than linear time, while plot complications revolve around misunderstanding rather than conflict. The most important absence is that of the controlling male gaze within the screen scene. The high point of emotional drama in the most typical Dietrich films, her supreme moments of erotic meaning, take place in the absence of the man she loves in the fiction. There are other witnesses, other spectators watching her on the screen, but their gaze is one with, not standing in for, that of the audience. At the end of Morocco, Tom Brown has already disappeared into the desert when Amy Jolly kicks off her gold sandals and walks after him. At the end of Dishonoured, Kranau is indifferent to the fate of Magda. In both cases, the erotic impact, sanctified by death, is displayed as a spectacle for the audience. The male hero misunderstands and, above all, does not see.

In Hitchcock, by contrast, the male hero does see precisely what the audience sees. However, in the films I shall discuss here, he takes fascination with an image through scopophilic eroticism as the subject of the film. Moreover, in these cases the hero portrays the contradictions and tensions experienced by the spectator. In Vertigo in particular, but also in Marnie and Rear Window, the look is central to the plot, oscillating between voyeurism and fetishistic fascination. As a twist, a further manipulation of the normal viewing process which in some sense reveals it, Hitchcock uses the process of identification normally associated with ideological correctness and the recognition of established morality and shows up its perverted side. Hitchcock has never concealed his interest in voyeurism, cinematic and non-cinematic. His heroes are exemplary of the symbolic order and the law-- a policeman (Vertigo), a dominant male possessing money and power (Marnie)-but their erotic drives lead them into compromised situations. The power to subject another person to the will sadistically or to the gaze voyeuristically is turned on to the woman as the object of both. Power is backed by a certainty of legal right and the established guilt of the woman (evoking castration, psychoanalytically speaking). True perversion is barely concealed under a shallow mask of ideological correctness-the man is on the right side of the law, the woman on the wrong. Hitchcock's skillful use of identification processes and liberal use of subjective camera from the point of view of the male protagonist draw the spectators deeply into his position, making them share his uneasy gaze. The audience is absorbed into a voyeuristic situation within the screen scene and diegesis which parodies his own in the cinema. In his analysis of Rear Window, Douchet takes the film as a metaphor for the cinema. Jeffries is the audience, the events in the apartment block opposite correspond to the screen. As he watches, an erotic dimension is added to his look, a central image to the drama. His girlfriend Lisa had been of little sexual interest to him, more or less a drag, so long as she remained on the spectator side. When she crosses the barrier between his room and the block opposite, their relationship is re-born erotically. He does not merely watch her through his lens, as a distant meaningful image, he also sees her as a guilty intruder exposed by a dangerous man threatening her with punishment, and thus finally saves her. Lisa's exhibitionism has already been established by her obsessive interest in dress and style, in being a passive image of visual perfection; Jeffries' voyeurism and activity have also been established through his work as a photo-journalist, a maker of stories and captor of images. However, his enforced inactivity, binding him to his seat as a spectator, puts him squarely in the phantasy position of the cinema audience.

In Vertigo, subjective camera predominates. Apart from flash-back from Judy's point of view, the narrative is woven around what Scottie sees or fails to see. The audience follows the growth of his erotic obsession and subsequent despair precisely from his point of view. Scottie's voyeurism is blatant: he falls in love with a woman he follows and spies on without speaking to. Its sadistic side is equally blatant: he has chosen (and freely chosen, for he had been a successful lawyer) to be a policeman, with all the attendant possibilities of pursuit and investigation. As a result. he follows, watches and falls in love with a perfect image of female beauty and mystery. Once he actually confronts her, his erotic drive is to break her down and force her to tell by persistent cross-questioning. Then, in the second part of the film, he re-enacts his obsessive involvement with the image he loved to watch secretly. He reconstructs Judy as Madeleine, forces her to conform in every detail to the actual physical appearance of his fetish. Her exhibitionism, her masochism, make her an ideal passive counterpart to Scottie's active sadistic voyeurism. She knows her part is to perform, and only by playing it through and then replaying it can she keep Scottie's erotic interest. But in the repetition he does break her down and succeeds in exposing her guilt. His curiosity wins through and she is punished. In Vertigo, erotic involvement with the look is disorienting: the spectator's fascination is turned against him as the narrative carries him through and entwines him with the processes that he is himself exercising. The Hitchcock hero here is firmly placed within the symbolic order, in narrative terms. He has all the attributes of the patriarchal super-ego. Hence the spectator, lulled into a false sense of security by the apparent legality of his surrogate, sees through his look and finds himself exposed as complicit, caught in the moral ambiguity of looking.

Far from being simply an aside on the perversion of the police, Vertigo focuses on the implications of the active/looking, passive/looked-at split in terms of sexual difference and the power of the male symbolic encapsulated in the hero. Marnie, too, performs for Mark Rutland's gaze and masquerades as the perfect to-be-looked-at image. He, too, is on the side of the law until, drawn in by obsession with her guilt, her secret, he longs to see her in the act of committing a crime, make her confess and thus save her. So he, too, becomes complicit as he acts out the implications of his power. He controls money and words, he can have his cake and eat it.


Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) - Laura Mulvey

Originally Published - Screen 16.3 Autumn 1975 pp. 6-18

Thursday 21 January 2010

The Mistress Bookshelf: Gabriela Mistral (1889 - 1957), Nobel Prize of Literature

For me, Gabriela Mistral is a road in the borough of Penha, where I was born, in Sao Paulo, Brasil. I might have, at some point when I was very young, heard that she was a writer. But I do not remember so.

Today, I am hungry for music, and poetry. And I found by chance this lady's life and work on the internet.

I found it to be, like most Latin American poetry (Mistral was from Chile), of a passion and strength beyond the polished and carefully selected words of European or British poets.

Even if you read this poem in English (as it is here) you shall 'feel' the bright red and hot texture of the language.

Like a punch I would not mind taking it to my face once in awhile.


The Stranger (La Extranjera)

She speaks in her way of her savage seas

With unknown algae and unknown sands;

She prays to a formless, weightless God,

Aged, as if dying.

In our garden now so strange,

She has planted cactus and alien grass.

The desert zephyr fills her with its breath

And she has loved with a fierce, white passion

She never speaks of, for if she were to tell

It would be like the face of unknown stars.

Among us she may live for eighty years,

Yet always as if newly come,

Speaking a tongue that plants and whines

Only by tiny creatures understood.

And she will die here in our midst

One night of utmost suffering,

With only her fate as a pillow,

And death, silent and strange.

poem source:

The first ever bakery in Penha, Gabriela Mistral Avenue, Sao Paulo. (A Primeira Padaria da Penha)

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Virginia Mckenna (b. 1931 in England)

Mckenna rained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and then went to the Dundee Rep. Her career quickly took off and, in 1952, she appearing both in the West End in plays including Charles Morgan’s 'The River Line' at the Strand Theatre and in a film 'The Second Mrs. Tanqueray' (1952). For the next couple of years, she successfully combined theatre, film and television work. In 1954, with short-cropped hair, she starred at the Aldwych as Cassandra in Dodie Smith’s 'I Capture the Castle'. Her performance was highly praised but the production survived for only four weeks. During the 1954/5 season, she was part of the Old Vic Company, playing parts including Rosaline in Love’s Labours Lost.

She really came to filmgoers' attention with her sensitive performance as the wren in ‘The Cruel Sea’ (1952), becoming perhaps the most popular British female star of the 50s. Along with Sylvia Syms she is, for me, one of the most beautiful screen actresses of at least that decade. She continued with two more major successes in physically arduous roles, ‘A Town Like Alice’ (1956) won her the BAFTA of that year as best actress. Two years later she was an Anglo-French spy Violette Szabo in ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’ (1958) - here she was nominated again for a BAFTA as best actress.

Both of these films confirmed her as one of Britain’s key exports. Seeming she could combine a tough resource charter – stretched to the point of breaking, and yet holding together. Somehow through both she continued to smoulder on screen – perhaps unwittening she (even in serious roles) could not help being every school boys dream girl. During this time she was heaped with awards including: the BBC Best Actress Award for Juliet in the TV production of 'Romeo and Juliet' (1955).

She was married to actor Denholm Elliot (whom she met on the filming of 'The Cruel Sea') but this was short lived. Virginia married again in 1957 to Bill Travers, who became her leading man onscreen as well as off in films like ‘The Smallest Show on Earth’ (1958) and ‘Ring of Bright Water’ (1969).

For 'Born Free' (1966) she won the Variety Club Best Actress Award . Making Born Free in 1964 which told the true story of George and Joy Adamson, as they returned Elsa the lioness to the wild ,profoundly affected Bill and Virginia and it was a key influence in their lives. They realised that wild animals belong in the wild and should be protected there, not imprisoned in captivity.

But it took the premature death in London Zoo of Pole Pole a young elephant who had featured in their film An Elephant Called Slowly which led to the founding of Zoo Check in 1984. The Trust was dedicated to preventing the abuse of captive wild animals and strove to protect and conserve them in the wild. Zoo Check grew to become a major force in the animal welfare movement and was renamed The Born Free Foundation in 1991.

She was awarded the OBE in the New Year's Honours List in 2004 for services to wildlife and the arts.

source: and

The Mistress Bookshelf: Femininity in the Frame (2009) by Melanie bell

This morning, on BBC Radio 4 "Woman's Hour", there was an interview with the film lecturer, critic and theorist Melanie Bell.

In her new book "Femininity in the Frame", Bell argues that during the 1950s, British Cinema portrayed women in much more varied and complex roles than in contemporary cinema. By arguing this, Bell is contesting a lot of inherited and unilateral media stereotypes of women in the 50s as dutiful housewives, whose chores was making sure the house is clean and that dinner is promptly served as their husbands come back home exhausted from a day's work.

Bell also traces cinematic analogies of the 1950s with the 1950s and the insurgence of feminism in the 1970s ( a very interesting parallel, and the subsequent (and unattended) demand of women for more accurate representation in the industry.

The issue with the representation of women in Cinema is a complex one. Not only aren't women represented on screen, there are not enough women working behind the lenses, nor in film criticism and literature.

Jane Campion is a tireless spokesperson for the equal representation for women in Cinema. To paraphrase her, women make 51% of the world's population, so why aren't there at least 50% women in the Film Industry?

Back to Bell's book, it serves us as an important reminder that we might be now living in times as conservative if not even more conservative that the days of our grandmothers.

Especially if we consider flicks like "Sex and the City" as an expression of our hard earned freedom (sigh), and this so-called 'freedom' comes at the literal expense of how much, or how many dresses and bags and shoes, you can afford.

Bell explains how in the 50s veteran and pioneer actresses like Virginia Mckenna (who has also founded the Born Free Foundation!) had consistently demanded the versatile portrait of women in careers as police officers, for instance.

It seems like a great read, and I am looking forward to getting myself a copy.

Ladies, don't forget that by removing our historical pink glasses we might also end up getting rid of our social leashes!

Sunday 10 January 2010

From the Women and Hollywood Blog

by Melissa Silverstein

Yesterday, Kathryn Bigelow earned her first DGA nomination for directing The Hurt Locker. She’s not the one who made history yesterday. Seven women — Lina Wertmuller (“Seven Beauties”), Randa Haines (“Children of a Lesser God”), Barbra Streisand (“The Prince of Tides”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) and Valerie Faris (who was nominated with Jonathan Dayton for “Little Miss Sunshine” — came before her but keep in mind NONE have won. Lee Daniels was the surprise nominee for Precious making him the first black person to be nominated for a DGA honor. (Only John Singleton has been nominated for an Oscar.)

Now we all know that everyone has written ad nauseum about how Kathryn Bigelow has made a career of directing so-called “non-female” films. Films with action, and stuff blowing up. There are other women in her camp most notably Karyn Kusama. I for one am fucking sick of this conversation. We need to move on. There are men who direct movies that have more of a female sensibility like Ken Kwapis (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, He’s Just Not That Into You) and Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, My Sister’s Keeper) and NOBODY ask if they are a male director.

Why is it when a woman ventures out of the safety of girlworld does her gender get talked about over and over but the same conversation never happens to the guys?

IndieWIRE’s new piece Is Kathryn Bigelow a Female Director? also lays out the contradictions. And the thing about this conversation is that it is rife with contradictions. I have them myself all the time. I’m as conflicted as Caryn James who said recently on this site when talking about the Golden Globe nominations (and picked up in the IndieWIRE piece) “real progress will come when we stop looking at poetic films as if they exist in some lesser, female category.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that we are going to have the 4th potential best directing nod for a woman and maybe the first win and I’m really glad that lots of critics and bloggers have woken up to the fact that Hollywood doesn’t really respect women in the same way as men. I think that just having these conversations will help improve things for women directors because FINALLY this issue is being discussed in more places that just the feminist world.

The bottom line to me is that we have made progress in people feeling comfortable with a woman director through Bigelow’s work, but we have minimal progress in how we look at films with a female sensibility. Granted we have Precious and An Education which are in the year end hunt, but remember they are both about young women coming of age. Hollywood is much more comfortable with young women’s lives and experiences than older women.

But let’s be real, Hollywood is not any different from the rest of the culture. We still have a hard time seeing women and women’s experiences as universal. We are “other” and the male experience is the “norm”.

I think it was naive to hope that the first woman to win the best directing Oscar would be a director of a more “female” type movie. We’re just not ready for that. This could be one of the big reasons why Kathryn Bigelow will be the breakthrough female director. She’s a woman who doesn’t threaten the universal vision of the world — that boys rule.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Andrea Arnold (b. 1961 in England)

Andrea Arnold has won an Academy Award for her short fim WASP, which we have the opportunity to watch during our first class at the Film Directing 4 Women course.

I can honestly say that WASP is nothing short of exceptional - regardless of the award.

Arnold manages to portray her characters without any pity or judgement. The hand held camera moments (nothing like Dogma, if not better done) keep the action, and the characters feelings up front. And the harshness and grittiness of contemporary society and its entrapments are exposed in a style of filming that makes documentaries look partial and outdated.

This is a fine example of the potency of fiction as an medium to express life in greater veracity than documentaries.

The following article is an interview with Arnold by Danny Leigh from The Guardian newspaper (Oct 2006), during the release of her first feature Red Road (made two years after WASP). Her second feature "Fish Tank" was released last year to great acclaim.

'I like darkness'

Andrea Arnold is aware she will for ever be the woman who said "bollocks" at the Oscars. The glorious moment came at last year's ceremony, where her film Wasp was nominated as best live action short. She was, she recalls, sick with nerves at the thought of having to make a speech. When she was announced as the winner, clutching her statuette, she declared to the assembled beautiful people and a billion live TV viewers that the victory was, in short, the dog's aforementioned.

Dartford-born Arnold - affably upfront, quick to grin, red-blonde hair down her back - winces at the memory. "I've thought a lot about how that got out of my mouth," she says, "and the truth is, it was just the most honest expression I could find for how it felt. The whole scenario was so bizarre, so removed from real life, that it was a way of making the moment mine. No one else was going to say it, were they?"

This is true. Yet, not for long is she likely to remain best known for her profanity (or, for those who spent the 1980s watching kids TV, as a former presenter of various Saturday morning programmes). At 45, her film-making is now getting attention, with her debut, Red Road, cementing her status as one of British cinema's brightest new lights, particularly after winning the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes.

A startling Glasgow-set drama of obsession and revenge, Red Road centres on an operator of the city's myriad CCTV cameras - emotionally disconnected until a face from the past appears on her screens. Thereafter, her life spirals into a welter of illicit surveillance that finally leads her to Red Road, the grimly iconic clump of tower blocks on Glasgow's northern frontier, scheduled for demolition but still, for now, a brutalist monster on the skyline.

With its jittery images and free-floating paranoia, the film could have simply been a techno retread of Rear Window. But, among the eerie freeze-frames and grainy knee-tremblers, something far more original emerges - infused with the tension of a thriller, but also depth and complexity.

Animated on almost any other subject, Arnold becomes sober when she talks about her film. Mindful of how the press "muddle things", her words come carefully. "I try and be truthful. With endings, beginnings, the million choices in between. To me, that's the point of it all, making those choices honestly. Black coat or brown? Naked or dressed? Films are all about decisions, and that's what I love." She hesitates. "I mean, I hate watching mine afterwards, because they're full of moments that didn't come off, but I love the trying."

Indeed, one of Red Road's most impressive qualities is its sense of identity - although her career is still in its early stages, the film instantly seems like an Andrea Arnold movie - her signature being keeping the story vice-tight while conjuring a succession of haunting images from the most unlikely sources (a beery party in a barren flat, a lava lamp accompanying a fearsomely raw sex scene).

This is all the more remarkable since it wasn't entirely hers to begin with. Red Road is the first of three films made at the behest of The Advance Party, a Danish project inspired by the mercurial Lars von Trier, who challenged Arnold and two other new directors to create films with the same group of characters. Flattered by the approach and intrigued by the concept, Arnold says she relished developing her characters from the outlines provided by The Advance Party, then folding them into her own story. It was, she says, "invigorating".

When she agreed to take part, Arnold was simply the maker of three shorts little seen outside the festival circuit, although Wasp - the striking tale of a single mother on a Kent estate attempting to woo back an ex - attracted serious acclaim. Now, post-Oscar, Red Road has stirred expectations, with the world as interested in her as her movie. After leaving school in the late 1970s, Arnold worked as a dancer on TV shows including Top of the Pops. Soon she was presenting children's knockabouts Number 73 and Motormouth. None of this appears in the publicity accompanying Red Road. There's no embarrassment about her former career; it's just that, fatalistic about the public's response to her films, she's almost phobic about their gaze falling on her. As soon as the subject is raised, she looks as if a large, pointed stick has been brought into the room: "I'm uncomfortable with it. Yes. I am. Obviously, I want people to know about the film - I just don't get why anyone would want to know about me." She laughs and hugs her knees to her chest.

Dutifully, she details her activities after quitting TV in the early 1990s - "I went to film school, I had my daughter, I wrote" - before making the short films that would eventually lead to one of cinema's slower, weirder overnight success stories. She is, however, not having much fun recounting this. I tell her it's strange that someone with her background should be leery of the spotlight. She looks at me like I've picked up the pointed stick and jabbed her in the ribs.

"It was a long time ago," she says. "I was very young. I was 18 when I got my first TV job. I'd just moved to London, and I was never comfortable with it. I loved drama and dance at school, so I thought I'd love TV - but it just made me horribly self-conscious." Dancing, she says, should be "pure escape" - dancing on TV was not. Presenting was worse. "Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful I did it, because essentially I was paid good money to have a laugh. But the older I got, the more uneasy I became. The whole time I'd been writing, just putting down ideas, until eventually I thought, maybe I shouldn't do this any more - maybe I should do that."

Relief colours her face when the conversation returns to Red Road. It's funny, she says, but when foreign journalists talk to her about the film, they assume she's invented the massed cameras above Glasgow, that this must be some sci-fi concoction rather than everyday Britain. Yet, for all the Orwellian overtones, her film stresses that the people monitoring us aren't fascist snitches - they're underpaid drudges calling ambulances for stabbing victims.

"When I started my research, I was very worried, and I've certainly heard a lot of unsettling stories about CCTV. But the people I met watching the screens were the kind of people you see in the film. That was the truth of it, so it was important to reflect that. Nothing's ever simple, is it?"

Nothing's ever simple - it could be a subtitle for the whole film. Broad strokes aren't Arnold's bag. Moreover, for all the creeping alienation that has seen Red Road compared to Von Trier and Michael Haneke, maker of the acclaimed Hidden, it shares little of their cynicism. A misanthrope she is not. To her, people screw up, but judgment is a mug's game. "That's just how I feel," she says. "Dramatically, I like darkness, I like conflict - but I don't see the world as defined by them. And why would I pretend to? That's not who I am."

She starts talking about shooting in Glasgow, unfamiliar to her beforehand. Filming around the deprived Red Road, she was all too aware this was someone else's home. "It's something that's dear to my heart, trying not to descend on an area and take it over. Film crews are incredibly invasive. I mean, a car went past us one day, and the guy shouted out, "You bunch of fannies!" And all I could think was, 'He's right. Look at us. We are a bunch of fannies.'"

She shakes her head: "Again, nothing's simple. The thing about Red Road is, everyone who sees the film says it looks terrible. Nightmarish. But to a lot of the people there, it's not so straightforward - they grew up there, raised their families there. It's hard sometimes to put anything that complex across, but you've got to try. You've got to try and present the truth, haven't you?"

There's a pause. Then she smiles: "Whatever that is."

Monday 4 January 2010


Look what I have found!
Please enjoy this amazingly enlightening website on all those issues we constantly think about but never seem to discuss openly!

Highly informative, concise and necessary.


About Women Make Movies

Established in 1972 to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry, Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. The organization provides services to both users and makers of film and video programs, with a special emphasis on supporting work by women of color. Women Make Movies facilitates the development of feminist media through an internationally recognized Distribution Service and a Production Assistance Program.

Ann Hui On-Wah (b. 1947 in China)

trailer: Night and Fog, 2009

Filmography as Director

The Secret (1979)
The Spooky Bunch (1980)
The Story of Woo Viet (1981)
Boat People (1982)
Love in a Fallen City (1984)
Princess Fragrance (1987)
The Romance of Book and Sword (1987)
Starry Is the Night (1988)
Song of the Exile (1990)
Swordsman (1990)
My American Grandson (1991)
Zodiac Killers (1991)
Boy and His Hero (1994)
Summer Snow (1995)
Ah Kam (1996)
As Time Goes By (1997)
Eighteen Springs (1997)
Ordinary Heroes (1999)
Visible Secret (2001)
July Rhapsody (2002)
Goddess of Mercy (2003)
The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (2006)
The Way We Are (2008)
Night and Fog (2009)
Seung Seung Ha Ha (2010)

extract from Song of Exhile, 1990

Lana Gogoberidze (b. 1928 in Georgia)

Lana Gogoberidze is a prolific director whose films primarily focus on the realistic, nonsentimental, portrayal of women's lives. Before enrolling in the State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow, she attended the University of Tbilisi where she had originally planned on becoming a literary scholar. She wrote her doctoral thesis on American poet Walt Whitman. Upon graduating from VGIK, she made her first feature film, Pod odnim nebom (1961). Her first film to gain international recognition was Neskolko interviu po lichnym voprosam (1979). In 1984, her film Den Dlinnee nochi was entered into the Cannes Film Festival by her government. In 1986 her film Krugovorot won the director's award at the Tokyo Film Festival.

still from: Some Interviews on Personal Questions, 1978

Gogoberidze's Filmography:

Valsi Pecoraze (1992)- Screenplay, Director

Krugovorot (Full Circle)(1986) - Screenplay, Director

Den' Dlinneje Notchi (Day Longer Than the Night)(1984)- Screenplay, Director

Neskolko Interwju Po Litschnym Soprosam (Some Interviews on Personal Questions)(1978) - Screenplay, Director

still from: Full Circle (1986)

source: The New York Times ( - by Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide)

Judit Helek (b. 1937 in Hungary)

Judit Elek is no stranger to connoisseurs of Hungarian cinema. She is largely known for her historical epics of the 1980s, such as Tutajosok (Memories of a River, 1989), which examined Hungary's Jewish past. Today, Elek continues to explore Jewish identity in Hungary through the medium of documentary, as evidenced by her latest film Egy szabad ember - Fisch Erno elete (A Free Man - The Life of Erno Fisch, 1998).

Elek, who was a contemporary of future Oscar-winner Istvan Szabo at the Academy of Theatre and Cinematography, has been making films since the 1960s. Following a long tradition of Hungarian directors who owe a debt to documentary film, Elek developed her own method called Direct Cinema. Under the influence of Truffaut, Elek used improvisation and non-professional actors to create films such as Istenmezejen (A Hungarian Village, 1974) and Egy tortenet (A Commonplace Story, 1975), two intense and powerfully involved works which were sufficiently deep to keep the audiences well away from them.

After this, Elek returned to fiction and started employing a more engaging style which brought her a larger following. However, she still remained rooted in the documentary tradition and her fiction films have a documentarist's eye for historical accuracy. It is now increasingly less feasible to convince backers to finance the kind of lavish visually appealing films that Elek made in the 1980s and she has since gone back to the more economical medium of documentary, making Mondani a mondhatatlant - Elie Wiesel uzenete (To Speak about the Unspeakable - The Message of Elie Wiesel) between 1993 and 1995.

Egy szabad ember... sees Elek sticking to her documentary phase but also continuing her exploration of Hungary's, and indirectly her own, Jewish roots.

Erno Fisch has one of those lives that documentarists dream about. Born in a small Transylvanian town in 1903, Fisch grew up in an era in which the Austro- Hungarian Empire was still surviving, if not exactly in full swing. He went to a Catholic school for the delightfully pragmatic reason that it was closer than the Jewish one and Fisch's mother did not want her son to have too far to walk in the winter. There was little or no discrimination in those days, and the Fisch family considered themselves Hungarian first and foremost: they spoke Hungarian at home and young Erno knew little Yiddish. Like all Hungarians at the time, Fisch looked to the West. He travelled to Vienna to study and was flung into two worlds, mixing with both with Viennese low-life and the aristocracy, the latter of which he met through his landlady, Schubert's niece.

Historical vantage point

From the joint perspective of rural Transylvania and cosmopolitan Vienna, Fisch was able to witness the full drama of the unfolding century: Bela Kun's early experiment with Communism in Hungary in 1919, the right-wing back lash, the depression, the rise of fascism, Anschluss, the Beldevere award which gave Transylvania back to Hungary, and the lowest point - World War II. Fisch was the only Jew in his village to survive, having cannily fled to the hills just before the deportations began and played an instrumental role in helping to return life to some semblance of normality in the hectic post-war days.

Fisch is an amiable and friendly character and his story quite remarkable. Elek makes it very easy for us to sit back in our chairs and take in Fisch's tale. This is precisely the film's problem. For all the astonishing perspectives Fisch has had on this century, Elek has been unable to form them into anything which actively engages the audience. The effect is not unlike that of a great-grandfather reading a bedtime story to his great-grandchildren.

This in turn has repercussions for what Elek has to say about freedom. Fisch is, of course, a free man in the sense that he is still alive: he has had brushes with danger many times and at several points in his life could have had the freedom to live removed from him. Elek also paints him as a free thinker, a secular cosmopolitan Jew who has a brain between his ears but is not afraid of hard honest work or getting his hands dirty.

However, Elek seems to have a rather lower opinion of her audience. Throughout her film the medium works in only one direction, pouring facts from the screen into the audiences mind. Some of these facts do challenge - for example, the description of the Hungarian army entering Transylvania, causing revulsion as they go by, burgling and looting. The overall thrust of Elek's presentation of Fisch's life, however, gives the audience little freedom to think about and challenge our own view of the twentieth century.

Egy szabad ember... is a charming and fascinating film which fills in some interesting details in our picture of modern Hungarian history. It does not, though, attempt to redraw the boundaries of what we already know.

article by Andrew J. Horton (1999) on Central Europe Review (

Doris Dorrie (b. 1955)

Doris Dörrie was born in 1955 in Hanover. She attended drama, acting, and film at University of the Pacific in Stockton, and the School for Social Research in New York (1973-75) after graduating from high school.

Like Wenders, she was a student at the Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film in Munich. Her first feature Straight through the Heart in 1983 was followed by Im Innern des Wals 1984. Her biggest success and the kickstart of her career was Männer.../ Men..., released in 1985 - a national and international successs.
Some said that Rainer Werner Fassbinder's death in 1982 was the end of the New German Cinema, others say it was the release of Doris Dörrie's comedy.

In any case, the mid-80s marked a clear shift from the aims and goals of the New German Cinema towards a more entertaining and commercially succesful form of filmmaking. Men.. was filmed on tight budget of $400,000. The twenty initial prints were soon expanded to 230 and Men... became the first major box office success for a female director from Germany since the 60s. It actually became the most successful German film of 1986 with five million admissions in Germany and six million worldwide.

Margarethe von Trotta's Rosa Luxemburg, released in the same year, received the Best Film award in Cannes. It had a total audience of 519,000. Men... opened in New York and made $ 10 million.

Following her success with Men..., she released Paradies/Paradise in 1986 and Me and Him in 1989 (which went straight to video). Happy Birthday, Türke opened in 1992. It is based on a novel by Jakob Arjouni who since then has released a trilogy of novels focusing on a Turkish private eye working in Frankfurt/Main, encountering daily racism and xenophobia. The wonderful Nobody Loves Me (1994) won the Film Strip in Gold at the German Film Awards for Maria Schrader (who became more famous with Aimee and Jaguar) and was followed by the episodic Bin ich schön? / Am I Beautiful in 1998.

Doris Dörrie has filmed all her feature films with the same crew. Her husband and cameraman, Helge Weindler, died of cancer in 1996 while shooting Bin ich schön?.

Her latest North American release is Enlightenment Guaranteed, somewhat of a sequel to her biggest success, a Men II.... Uwe Ochsenknecht, Heiner Lauterbach, and Ulrike Kriener are back to face their (mid-life) crises in the new millenium.

Doris Dörrie is also well-known as a writer of short stories and novels. Some of her movies are based on her fiction.

source: Dept of Germanic and Russian Studies, University of Victoria, Canada

Trinh T. Minh-ha (b. 1953 in Vietnam)

still from The Fourth Dimension, 2001

Trinh T. Minh-ha, the Vietnamese-American filmmaker and feminist theorist, is currently living in Tokyo, teaching as Visiting Professor at the Institute for Gender Studies at Ochanomizu University, Tokyo. Trinh T. Minh-ha's personal history as a filmmaker, writer and composer includes, films as Surname Viet Given Name Nam /1989/ and A Tale of Love /1995/, and books as Framer Framed /1992/ and When the Moon Waxes Red /1991/. She was born in Hanoi in 1953 and brought up in Saigon. At the age of 17 she went to the USA for her university education and majored in Music Composition and Comparative Literature. Trinh T. Minh-ha is Professor of Women's Studies and Film at the University of California, Berkeley.
I talked with her about an hour on June, 2, 1998 at her temporal office at Ochanomizu University, and I realised I could keep asking her questions and exchange thoughts and doubts for hours. Her precise process of selecting terms, expressions, of defining theoretical tools and clarifying words, statements, thoughts proves, again and again, her enormous intellectual, artistical and leftist background and working directions.
from the interview: Inappropriate/d Artificiality with Marina Grzinic, available on Minh-ha official website

Agnes Varda (b. 1928 in Belgium)

quote source:

a taste of Varda's masterpiece 'Cleo de 5 a 7'

(Interview with Varda from the British Film Institute can be accessed by the link that is this post's title.)

Le Pointe Courte, 1954

Kira Muratova (b. 1934 in Romenia, now Moldova. Currently living in the USA)

Kira Muratova (b. 1934) graduated from the All-Union State Filmmaking Institute (Sergei Gerasimov's workshop) in 1962. Despite a career repeatedly stifled by censorship, Muratova has amassed a number of prestigious awards. Long Farewells (made in 1971 and shelved until 1987) received a FIPRESCI award at the Film Festival in Locarno. The Aesthenic Syndrom (1991) which is considered Muratova's masterpiece, received a Nika (Russian Film Academy) award and "The Silver Bear" Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. In 2000 Muratova was chosen as the first recipient of the Andzei Wajda/Philip Morris Freedom Prize.

Muratova's Brief Encounters (1967)

Kira Muratova's film, Brief Encounters, is structured as two interspliced narrative lines. Together, they tell the story of how two women-the urban, city council official Valentina and the rural cafe waitress Nadia-love the itinerant and restless geologist Maksim, played by the chansonier cult figure Vladimir Vysotsky, for many years an actor at Moscow's Taganka Theatre.
The lives of these two women intersect when Nadia comes to the city to find Maksim, whose address she had been given on a slip of paper. There she encounters Valentina, who assumes Nadia has come to be interviewed for a housekeeper position and hires her immediately. The subtly comic pairing of the two women and their unintentional love triangle with the missing man are infused with a lyric sensitivity, as the film's episodic flashbacks narrate each woman's emotional dependency on the absent Maksim.

Director Kira Muratova, who also plays the role of Valentina, the city bureaucrat, provides a psychological depth and complex richness to her character that contrasts starkly with the more traditional femininity of her foil, played by actress Nina Ruslanova, for whom this was the first film role. The relationship of the two female characters contrasts city and country, as well as differing class expectations, and normative gender roles.

The film's nontraditional structure, avoiding linear narration and a single, unambiguous perspective, proved ideologically problematic upon its completion in 1967.

The film was shelved until 1987, when it was released during the perestroika period, together with such delayed films as Aleksei German's Trial By Road and Aleksandr Askol'dov's Commissar.

Muratova's work, from her early Brief Encounters to the more recent Three Stories and Second-Class People, has challenged viewer expectations that Russian culture, and cinema in particular, has an ethical responsibility to present an unambiguous moral message. Unlike a number of her prominent colleagues, notably Aleksandr Sokurov and Nikita Mikhalkov, Muratova has resisted both spiritual and patriotic aspirations in her work, opting instead for a dark and brutal humor that does not readily lend itself to a redemptive reading. Although her work retains few traces of the "provincial melodramas" from the earlier period to which Brief Encounters belongs, she continues to prefer disrupting and disturbing the genteel norms of her audiences, rather than satisfying their love of a predictable, well-wrought story.

source: Russian Film Symposium (

Muratova's Filmography:

On the Steep Cliff (1963) codirected with Aleksandr Muratov

Our Honest Bread (1964)

Brief Encounters (1967)

Long Goodbyes (1971, released in 1987)

Getting to Know Whole Wide World (1979)

Among Grey Stones (1983) as Ivan Sidorov

Change of Destiny (1987)

Asthenic Syndrome (1989)

Sentimental Policeman (1992)

Passions (1994)

Three Stories (1997)

Letter to America (1999) short

Second Class Citizens (2001)

Chekhov's Motives (2002)

The Tuner (2004)

Two In One (2007)

source: Russian Film Symposium (


In this blog I intend to do some historical justice to the many, many women who have contributed with their genius, creativity, adventurous spirit, nurturing - amongst other qualities - to the apparent linear and male dominated prescribed notion of History. This is just the beggining.