Monday 8 March 2010

Still celebrating Bigelow's victory...

Kathryn Bigelow makes history as first woman to win best director Oscar

Iraq war film The Hurt Locker wins six awards including best picture and best original screenplay

Kathryn Bigelow (left) celebrates her best director Oscar with Barbra Streisand. Photograph: Matt Sayles/AP

Article by Matthew Weaver

Kathryn Bigelow today became the first woman in history to win the best director award at the Oscars.

Her low-budget Iraq war film, The Hurt Locker, about a bomb disposal team, was the big winner at the ceremony. It took six academy awards, including those for best picture and best original screenplay.

The Hurt Locker triumphed the over the 3D blockbuster Avatar, directed by Bigelow's former husband, James Cameron.

Cameron, who sat behind Bigelow at the ceremony in the Kodak theatre in Hollywood, was one of the first to offer congratulations when he reached over to tap her on the shoulder.

Bigelow described the award as a "moment of a lifetime" and dedicated her Oscar to the servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. "May they come home safe," she said.

The Hurt Locker is an apolitical film focusing on the heroism of bomb disposal experts. It was critically acclaimed but not a box office success and was attacked as unrealistic by bomb experts.

Bigelow was only the fourth woman to be nominated for best director in the 82-year history of the Oscars.

The previous female nominees were Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2003, Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993, and Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties in 1975.

Barbra Streisand, the director of films including Yentl and The Prince of Tides, presented the award.

In interviews after the ceremony, Bigelow resisted reporters' attempts to encourage her to gloat about her victory over Cameron. "I think he is an extraordinary film-maker," she said.

Much of the build-up to the Oscars had focused on the rivalry between the former couple, who married in 1989 and divorced two years later.

It was the subject of jokes from the hosts of the ceremony, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

"She was so pleased to be nominated with him she sent him a beautiful gift basket – with a timer," Baldwin said.

Bigelow has for decades been a female pioneer in the male-dominated world of action movies.

Her previous films include Point Break, Strange Days and K-19: The Widowmaker. "I'm drawn to provocative characters," she told the Guardian in video interview last year.

At the Directors Guild of America Awards, where she also won the top honour, Bigelow said: "I suppose I like to think of myself as a film-maker", rather than as a female film-maker.

source: The Guardian

And The Winner Is...

Mo'Nique won an Academy Award for her outsdanding portrayal of an abusive mother in "Precious".

source: The Independent (Getty Images)

And The Winner Is...

Kathryn Bigelow and her historic Academy Award for Best Director for the film "The Hurt Locker", one of the six she won in Los Angeles last night.

source: The Independent (Getty Images)

Monday 1 March 2010

Lea Pool (b.1950)

source: Agence Goodwin.

Born on September 8, 1950 in Geneva, Switzerland, Léa Pool emigrated to Québec in 1975.

In 1978, she completed a bachelor’s degree in Communications at Université du Québec à Montréal. Since then, she has directed numerous videos, shorts films, films and television programs.
Léa Pool has pursued a unique cinematographic path. In 1978, she co- directed and edited Laurent Lamerre, portier and in 1979, she wrote, shot, produced and directed a one-hour fiction film, Strass Café, which won awards in four festivals, including Sceaux, in France, in 1981.

From 1980 to 1983, she directed ten programs on cultural minorities for Radio-Québec, and the following year, Eva en transit, a program on the French singer, Éva.
From 1978 to 1983, she gave cinema and video classes at Université du Québec à Montréal.

In 1984, she wrote and directed her first feature film, La Femme de l'hôtel, which was enthusiastically acclaimed by the critics and the public. It won seven awards, including the International Press Award at the World Film Festival, the award for best actress, Louise Marleau, at the Genie in Toronto, and the Public's Award for fiction at the Women's Film Festival in Créteil, France. She then wrote and directed Anne Trister, in 1986, the last volume in a trilogy on the complex issue of feminine identity. This film was invited to fifteen
international festivals, including the Berlin Festival (official competition) and won, amongst others, the People's Choice Award at the Women's Film Festival in Créteil (France), the Critic's Award at the Troia Festival in Portugal, and the Genie Award for best cinematography in Toronto.

À corps perdu, shot in 1988, an adaptation of Yves Navarre's novel Kurwenal, confirmed the importance of Léa Pool on the Canadian film scene. It garnered First Prize from Première magazine at the Festival of Namur and the Award of Excellence at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax; it was also chosen for official competition at the Venice Festival, the World Film Festival, and at the International Film Festival, in 1988. In 1990, Léa Pool shot her first documentary film, Hotel Chronicles, part of the series of the National Film Board of Canada, Talking about America. It won the Gold Medal in the documentary category, at Chicago’s 26th International Film Festival, and participated in numerous international festivals. In 1991,

Ms. Pool directed her fourth fiction film, La Demoiselle sauvage, co-written with Michel Langlois and Laurent Gagliardi, adapted from a short story by Corinna Bille. The film was presented in the official competition at the Montréal World Film Festival, where it won the Super Écran Award for best Canadian film and the award for best artistic contribution (photography). It also won the award for best direction at the French film festival in Saint-Martin, West Indies.

In 1992, she wrote Rispondetemi, one of the sketches of the movie Montréal vu par..., codirected by Patricia Rozema, Denys Arcand, Michel Brault, Atom Egoyan, and Jacques Leduc.

In 1992-1993, she wrote and directed her fifth fiction film, Mouvements du désir,
nominated in eight categories at the Genie Awards, including Achievement in Direction and Original Screenplay. It was also presented at the Sundance Film Festival in California, in 1994.

In October 1994, the Bloies Festival (France) presented a retrospective of the cinematographic work of Léa Pool, and the "Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France" awarded her the title of "Chevalier".

In 1994-1995, she directed two documentaries for a six episode bilingual television series titled Women: A True Story, on the emancipation of women, based on scenarios by Rina Fraticelli and Léa Pool, and hosted by Susan Sarandon. In 1996, she directed a short fiction film, Lettre à ma fille, for Le Musée de la civilisation (Québec).

In 1997-1998, she directed a documentary film on the life of one of Canada’s most important authors, Gabrielle Roy.

In 1998-1999, she co-wrote with Nancy Huston and directed her sixth feature film entitled Emporte-moi. This wildely acclaimed film was selected for the opening of Les Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois and won the Special Prize of the ecumenical jury of Berlin’s 49th International Film Festival.

Since 1989, she received many honors around the world, from Switzerland, France, Japan(Tokyo), Belgium, Sweden, Canada (Toronto), and in the United States from Denver, Berkeley, Princeton, Chicago, Boston, New York (at the Museum of Modern Art) and Seattle, to name a few.

In 1993, she received the Prix d'excellence Émergence from Université du Québec à Montréal.

In 2000, she directed Lost and Delirious, starring Piper Perabo, Jessica Paré, Mischa Barton and Graham Greene. It was a co-production between Québec and Ontario, written by Judith Thompson, based on the novel The Wives of Bath by Susan Swan.

In 2002, she directed the feature film The Blue Butterfly, starring William Hurt and
Pascale Bussière, a co-production between Québec and England, written by Peter McCormack, based on the life of George Brossard.

In 2004-2005, she gave acting workshops for UDA members and in 2004-2006, she teaches
film directing at Université du Québec à Montréal.

In 2006, she is honoured with three life achievement awards; the first from Université du Québec à Montréal (Prix Reconnaissance), the second from the Foundation of the Woman's Y(Prix Femmes de mérite) and the third from the Quebec government (Prix Albert-Tessier),

Quebec's most important award in recognition of her exceptional talent and contribution to the Quebec cinematography.
In 2007, Léa Pool wrote and directed for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) one of the series of documentaries entitled Hidden Lives, inspired by the stories of our neighbours and she will direct a feature film entitled Maman est chez le coiffeur, written by Isabelle Hébert and, in 2008-2009, she writes Une belle mort, an adaptation of Gil Courtemanche’s novel, coproduced by Quebec/Luxembourg.

Karyn Kusama (b. 1968)

This is the first part of an interview published on (to access the full text click on this post's title).

Interview: 'Jennifer's Body' Director Karyn Kusama (Part One)
by Todd Gilchrist - Sep 17th 2009

There's a sort of amazing nexus of visibility that Jennifer's Body is enjoying as it moves towards its opening day: men and women alike are obsessed with any- and everything Megan Fox does, and critics and audiences are curious to see how successfully Diablo Cody will follow-up her Oscar-winning script for Juno. Meanwhile, director Karyn Kusama bears the burden not only of shepherding the result of their efforts and the test for those expectations into theaters, but is in herself in search of a project that can both fulfill and overcome the preconceptions of viewers familiar with her two previous films, the acclaimed independent film Girlfight and the decidedly less-acclaimed studio opus Aeon Flux.

Cinematical recently sat down with Kusama for an epic conversation about her latest film, Jennifer's Body. In addition to discussing the project's origins and inspirations, she talked about tapping into expectations without acquiescing to them, examined the high-profile careers of her collaborators, and offered a few insights into her own creative process. (Check back tomorrow for part two, which further delves into her own feelings about the film's themes and her execution of its ideas.)

Cinematical: How did you process Diablo's writing style when you were directing and maybe even editing? Because she was kind of an unknown quantity when you started working on this but now she obviously has a style that polarizes audiences.

Karyn Kusama: I think Diablo was a part of seeing what the process had to be for the movie in terms of certain dialogue, even when it was really funny, really entertaining, we either had to cut entirely just – in studio terms – to get to the story faster, or there were moments when particularly certain elements of comedy, we had to sort of dial back a little because it upset the balance of what actors were doing emotionally. I think Diablo is really interesting because she writes with a very distinctive voice, but she's not particularly precious either, so she can know that something has been cut, but judge it again without even lines she really cherishes to sort of see how it operates on the whole. So I think she's pretty skilled at letting go of certain stuff, and then saying, 'this is important to me. I want to protect this.'

If anything, I think my director's cut is more authentically representational of the script and I'm proud that there's a director's cut that exists because it's a little bit closer to what both Diablo and I had imagined the finished movie would be. But that being said, I also think she often talks about, when she would see a cut and there would be something missing, she often writes in a very interesting, kind of rhythmic style – a joke that builds on a joke that builds on a joke, so it's sort of these trios of ideas. For her, it wasn't about losing any one part of the trio, it was about losing the shape of the trio itself, so she would often say, 'if I had to choose as the writer, I would rather lose everything than retain two parts of what should be a triangle.' So it was very interesting because she was more able to articulate a sort of formal understanding of her work than a lot of people are, and she was also really willing to articulate the most important thematic ideas, and kind of give up on the ephemera.

I feel like the issue of her voice being strong and people having a problem with it is very interesting to me because I think there are plenty of writers whose work generates that discussion. I have just never heard Quentin Tarantino or David Mamet or Shane Black be called a whore in people's blogs; I am shocked sometimes by the vitriol. It makes very little sense to me. [But] I think with Diablo it will be very interesting to see because I know she loves young people and she loves youth movies, so maybe she'll stick to that, but at a certain point it would be really interesting to get Diablo's take on grown-ups, because she herself is a really interesting grown-up. I think she's got a sh*tload of very real talent, and maybe it's not everybody's cup of tea, but what is?

Cinematical: Perhaps not dissimilarly, how did Megan's own visibility affect the production? I visited the set just a few days after those photos were leaked, and I'm not interested in asking about that, but how does something like that creatively affect the set, or change the way that you direct her to make her feel comfortable?

Kusama: It's incredibly damaging to a set when one of your lead actors feels like their privacy has been completely violated and betrayed. I think she felt understandably defensive and angry and self-protective, but the problem with an actor being self-protective on a set where they're supposed to be playing a character who at certain times can't be protecting anything of themselves, it just affects everyone's ability to work. So I was trying to make her feel as comfortable as I could and give her the space she needed while still making our day. So it was a little bit of a balancing act. But her visibility in a way comments back on the movie itself somehow, and in that regard, it's intellectually interesting to me. I would think to be Megan Fox right now would be hellish – to always be looked at, critiqued, commented on. She's in a no-win [situation]. That's the problem with being put on a pedestal – there's always going to be a lot of grubby hands trying to pull you down, and I think Megan is fascinating because as much as she is able to put herself in the spotlight, she really wants to be invisible, and it's going to be a tricky balance for her to strike personally and professionally.

Cinematical: What do you think are her emerging strengths that you think she brings to this film or to the films she's in?

Kusama: I can only speak to our experience together, and I remember really vividly when we talked about the sacrifice scene and she said as a very off-handed comment, 'a lot of young girls are going to see this movie, and it would be socially irresponsible for me to do anything but play it straight.' I thought that's a pretty sophisticated take, because so much of the script is so sort of hyper-real and theatrical and walking this sort of absurdist-comic tone that she could have easily looked at her dialogue in that scene and not played it straight. I thought I was gearing up for a conversation about moving her towards this sort of more realist depiction of that event, and here she had already gotten there on her own, and she didn't feel that there was any other way to do it. I just thought, that's her strength – she has innate intelligence, and a sense of respect for the character she's playing. In a funny way, of course shooting that scene was pretty difficult and kind of uncomfortable, and here the whole dynamic of the scene is that she is freaking out while everybody else is joking around her and treating her like a thing, and so I think one of her strengths is that she can go deeper than you think, particularly if you just ask for it.

I think she's really game to go deeper and try new things; I don't think she'll ever get to play the ugly girl, which maybe is in its own way limiting. I think you just have to accept that beauty is a natural component of her because she's actually naturally beautiful, and if anything the sort of glamour girl is another kind of mask for her and a way to hide, in my opinion, but I think she has the possibility of a very bright future. It's just, will celebrity eat her alive before she gets the chance to really create that body of work?

Kusama: It's incredibly damaging to a set when one of your lead actors feels like their privacy has been completely violated and betrayed. I think she felt understandably defensive and angry and self-protective, but the problem with an actor being self-protective on a set where they're supposed to be playing a character who at certain times can't be protecting anything of themselves, it just affects everyone's ability to work. So I was trying to make her feel as comfortable as I could and give her the space she needed while still making our day. So it was a little bit of a balancing act. But her visibility in a way comments back on the movie itself somehow, and in that regard, it's intellectually interesting to me. I would think to be Megan Fox right now would be hellish – to always be looked at, critiqued, commented on. She's in a no-win [situation]. That's the problem with being put on a pedestal – there's always going to be a lot of grubby hands trying to pull you down, and I think Megan is fascinating because as much as she is able to put herself in the spotlight, she really wants to be invisible, and it's going to be a tricky balance for her to strike personally and professionally.

Cinematical: What do you think are her emerging strengths that you think she brings to this film or to the films she's in?

Kusama: I can only speak to our experience together, and I remember really vividly when we talked about the sacrifice scene and she said as a very off-handed comment, 'a lot of young girls are going to see this movie, and it would be socially irresponsible for me to do anything but play it straight.' I thought that's a pretty sophisticated take, because so much of the script is so sort of hyper-real and theatrical and walking this sort of absurdist-comic tone that she could have easily looked at her dialogue in that scene and not played it straight. I thought I was gearing up for a conversation about moving her towards this sort of more realist depiction of that event, and here she had already gotten there on her own, and she didn't feel that there was any other way to do it. I just thought, that's her strength – she has innate intelligence, and a sense of respect for the character she's playing. In a funny way, of course shooting that scene was pretty difficult and kind of uncomfortable, and here the whole dynamic of the scene is that she is freaking out while everybody else is joking around her and treating her like a thing, and so I think one of her strengths is that she can go deeper than you think, particularly if you just ask for it.

I think she's really game to go deeper and try new things; I don't think she'll ever get to play the ugly girl, which maybe is in its own way limiting. I think you just have to accept that beauty is a natural component of her because she's actually naturally beautiful, and if anything the sort of glamour girl is another kind of mask for her and a way to hide, in my opinion, but I think she has the possibility of a very bright future. It's just, will celebrity eat her alive before she gets the chance to really create that body of work?

Ava DuVernay (b. 1972)

source: LA Sentinel, March 2009 (click on the post's title to access the original text)

Ava DuVernay has worked in the world of film as a marketer and a publicist for more than 14 years, forming The DuVernay Agency in 1999. Her award-winning firm has provided strategy and execution for more than 80 film and television campaigns for acclaimed directors such as Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Robert Rodriguez, Bill Condon, Raoul Peck, Gurinder Chadha and Reggie & Gina Bythewood. Here, the brainy and beautiful businesswoman-turned-filmmaker discusses her directorial debut, “This is the Life,” which offers a rare insider’s view of the underground urban music movement in Los Angeles. Already the winner of Audience Awards in Toronto, Los Angeles and Seattle, this riveting documentary about the roots of rap has just been released theatrically by Forward Movement and is set to debut on Showtime in April.

Sentinel: Hi Ava, thanks for the time.

AD: No, thank you, Kam. I’m a big fan.

Sentinel: Congratulations on your directorial debut! How was the premiere party at The House of Blues?

AD: It was unbelievable and unforgettable… Truly a remarkable night... To have all these amazing artists reunite in celebration of our documentary was a dream come true.

Sentinel: What interested you in making This Is the Life?

AD: Well, I was a part of The Good Life movement as a young artist. Eventually, I went on to handle publicity for studios and networks, to work all over the world, execute huge premieres and red carpet events, but in all that time, I never experienced anything as creatively pure as I had at The Good Life. When it was time to make my first doc, I knew it had to be about that very special place.

Sentinel: What prior experience did you have with directing?

AD: I’ve directed two shorts previously, a short narrative and a short doc. My short narrative, “Saturday Night Life,” starred Melissa De Sousa of “The Best Man.” It toured the festival circuit and eventually was selected for the Showtime Network’s Black Filmmaker Showcase, and aired in February, 2007.

Sentinel: How did you prepare to shoot this movie?

AD: The most extensive preparation was in connecting with and relaying my vision of the story to all the participants. This film is the true story of many people’s lives, so beyond the obvious technical preparation, it was the personal connection and building of trust that was at the forefront for me throughout the process.

Sentinel: How was it seeing old friends over the course of the shooting? Had you kept in touch with most of them?

AD: It was wonderful to not only see all the old friends, but to have the opportunity to sit down and have long conversations, really delve into the memories. It was a beautiful time for me personally.

Sentinel: You were once an aspiring rapper? How would you describe your style?

AD: I don’t know if I was ever an aspiring rapper, as in aspiring to have a record deal and be a rap star. I liked to express myself through rhyme and to practice lyrical patterns that were unusual. I liked to hang with my friends who were all rhyming. I liked being a part of The Good Life family. At the time, I was doing what I loved, and not really thinking much beyond that – in terms of commercial viability or aspirations.

Sentinel: Were you disappointed when you didn’t make it as a rapper? How did you feel when Eve exploded with your rap nickname?

AD: No, not at all. I never pursued it like that. I was a student at UCLA and was just a local young woman enjoying the hip hop scene. It was never really meant to be more than that.

Sentinel: What famous rappers would you say were influenced by performers in This Is the Life?

AD: In the film, we explore the connections between several emcees of note and their Good Life counterparts. Particularly, Ice Cube and Bones Thugs & Harmony. We lay it all out for the viewer to judge the influences for themselves.

Sentinel: Do you still get up on stage anywhere on open mic night?

AD: No, I’m no longer performing.

Sentinel: Then, where can folks go to hear a sample of your rapping?

AD: Nowhere! The evidence is long gone. [Laughs]

Sentinel: Which do you enjoy more, rapping, directing or being a publicist?

AD: Oh wow! What an interesting question. I’m proud to say that I am someone who very much tries to remain in the moment. At each of those moments – as an emcee, as a publicist and now as a director – I am completely immersed, completely present, completely enjoying it. I can’t say I love one over another because as I was doing each, I loved it through and through.

Sentinel: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

AD: I am happy, and hopeful, and healthy, and here! What more can we really ask for?

Sentinel: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?

AD: I live in what Angelenos call “The Valley.” Sherman Oaks, California to be exact.

Sentinel: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

AD: “A Strange Freedom” by Howard Thurman

Sentinel: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

AD: Yes, whenever my ego starts to get the best of me – I know that’s just fear rearing its ugly head.

Sentinel: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?

AD: My Mother.

Sentinel: How do you feel about Barack Obama’s becoming President?

AD: I feel empowered to do just about anything. If he can achieve his dream, I can achieve mine, and you can achieve yours. Whatever they may be.

Sentinel: The Laz Alonso question: Is there anything your fans can do to help you?

AD: Don’t buy bootleg. And please support black films on the first weekend.

Sentinel: What was the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome in life?

AD: Fear of failure.

Sentinel: Teri Emerson would like to know when was the last time you had a good belly laugh?

AD: Last night, at a screening of THIS IS THE LIFE. An emcee performed an amazingly hilarious freestyle after the show and we all fell out of our chairs.

Sentinel: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

AD: Be not afraid.

Sentinel: Do you have a website?


Sentinel: Thanks again for the interview, and best of luck with all your endeavors.

AD: Thanks, Kam. It’s an honored to be interviewed by you. Keep up the great work!

Lisa Cholodenko (b.1964)

source: Movie City News (2002/3)

Five years ago, in her critically acclaimed debut film, High Art, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko introduced audiences to a group of tragically hip Manhattan artists and photographers, whose only relief from the ravages of terminal boredom came from heroin and kinky sex.

Her second feature, Laurel Canyon (opening Friday in limited release) may have been set in a far sunnier and infinitely more casual corner of NeverNeverland, but the featured sybarites are every bit as determined to keep reality at bay for as long as is humanly possible. Instead of heroin, marijuana and beer are the primary intoxicants ingested by a group of musicians working feverishly to complete an album, under the watchful eye of a record producer who might have been around when Joni Mitchell first wrote "Ladies of the Canyon."

Frances McDormand delivers another smashing performance as Jane, the free-spirited producer who refuses to act her age. Complications arise when her conservative son, Sam (Christian Bale), returns home after graduation from Harvard Medical School with his rich fiancé, Alex (Kate Beckinsale), who's trying to complete on a research project. The idea of sharing the house with his mother and her much-younger boyfriend doesn't appeal to Sam, especially when Alex allows herself to be seduced by the rock 'n' roll lifestyle he abhors.

Just as she did in High Art, Cholodenko paints a remarkably detailed portrait of a highly dysfunctional group of artists and musicians cohabitating in the timeless oasis that is Laurel Canyon. She again resists the temptation to moralize or critique the lifestyles of her characters. It is a stance that's as refreshing as it is unusual.

This interview with the 38-year-old Valley native took place at the Le Meridien Hotel, last month.

by: Gary Dretzka

Movie City News: The Peter Pan male is a familiar character in the movies. Jane seems to possess all the characteristics of a Peter Pan female ... someone who lives in the Never-Neverland of Laurel Canyon, and has no real desire to grow up.

Lisa Cholodenko: Yeah. I didn't want to design a character that would come off as being some kind of desperado. It would have to be more of an unconscious thing.

MCN: Living in Laurel Canyon, and working in the music industry, there was very little pressure on Jane to stop smoking pot, find different friends, or dress and act like other women her age.

LC: Exactly. I didn't want her to be hung up on sex or drugs. Male characters in similar circumstances never are.

MCN: It seems as Jane could have stepped right out of Joni Mitchell's song, Laurel Canyon.

LC: I wanted to construct a character that might have lived through that period, and embodied some of the spirit of the women in that song.

MCN: Of course, she also had a home in Malibu, where her ex-boyfriend was camped out.

LC: Yes, a very booshie one.

MCN: Did the positive response to your first film, High Art,help grease the wheels for Laurel Canyon?

LC: Things were very weird for me in Hollywood that year, so the whole process took a long time. Then, when it looked as if the actors might go out on strike, we thought we'd have to put the project on hold for a while.

MCN: Considering that Frances played a rock 'n' roll mother - albeit of a very different sort - was it difficult to persuade her to play Jane?

LC: Someone suggested Frances to me for the part. I loved her work, and was really happy to hear she might be available. After her agent gave her the script, Frances was eager to do the part. We met with her the next day, and it seemed as if she was courting it.

MCN: And Jane wasn't required to experience the usual assortment of guilt feelings, second-guesses and anxiety that Hollywood normally expects from free-spirited women characters.

LC: When you think about, it's a juicy part for a woman of a certain age to play ... a sex object.

MCN: Did Jane's laissez-faire attitude toward drugs, sex, rock 'n' roll and motherhood - and Hollywood's traditional skittishness toward such permissive behavior in women - narrow the talent pool?

LC: Ironically, there weren't that many great actors for Kate's role. Maybe, that's because it's a less sympathetic role than Jane, in some way.

MCN: It reminded me, in some ways, of the risks Ally Sheedy took in High Art.

LC: The part of Jane is a great star role for a woman in her 40s. It required work to keep her sympathetic in all the usual ways ... she couldn't be sleazy, but she had to be sexy and have a great sense of humor. Frances embodies that better than any woman I could have imagined.

MCN: It isn't too much of stretch for me to believe that someone who grew up in the Valley could draw a persuasive portrait of this particular Lady of the Canyon. It surprised me, though, that you seemed to have such a handle on New York's heroin-chic art crowd.

LC: Well, I attended graduate school at Columbia and was living in New York before I made that movie. I knew that scene and modeled some of the characters from my friends there.

MCN: Recreational drug use was prevalent in both movies. Even so, it was presented in a very matter-of-fact and non-gratuitous way. In New York, the drugs of choice were heroin and cocaine, while the Laurel Canyon crowd preferred pot and booze. Did you get any feedback on this seemingly neutral POV?

LC: People were skittish about drug use in High Art. Not viewers, per se, but the companies we brought it to before it was made.

MCN: In High Art, the heroin use ultimately proved to be destructive to the lead character. Even so, these were the attractive people, and they looked good doing the drug. Some viewers might have found it difficult to "just say no" to heroin chic.

LC: I didn't see it that way. But I can understand how some people might have interpreted it that way. Lucy's death was a tragedy.

MCN: One of the recurring themes in your movies involves the complications that come from intimacy.

LC: I'm getting the feeling that people in our age group - I'm pushing 40 - are the ones who are going to respond to this movie most. I find it interesting that the only intelligent questions I've gotten on the movie are from people who are old enough to remember the '60s.

MCN: Maybe younger viewers are uncomfortable with Frances' character ... an unrepentant sybarite old enough to be their mother.

LC: Maybe. If you didn't live through that "if I feels good, do it" period, it's tough to envision what it was like. Things are different today.

MCN: Jane has a much younger boyfriend ... a rock singer who's closer in age to her son. I kept waiting for him to turn into a schmuck and dump her, but it doesn't happen.

LC: I liked him. He was a normal guy, not some cliché hair rocker. I suppose, some people will think he's adolescent, but I didn't. He was just one slice of Jane's pie. Some of the people in this movie might have been reckless pleasure seekers, but they weren't evil or malicious people. Ian really wanted to be with Jane.

MCN: Her home, with its lush vegetation and sprawling swimming pool, was just as important a presence in the film as any character. The Chateau Marmont also played an important role.

LC: People around the country only know about the Chateau because it was John Belushi died of a drug overdose. But, in L.A., it's known more as a hangout for artists and musicians. For me, it was more of a fun, personal location.

MCN: Not a product placement?

LC: No, no. Jane is the kind of L.A. woman who would have homes in Laurel Canyon and Malibu, but would crash at the Chateau when things got too crazy. We were shooting on location, anyway ... so, why not do it for real?

Susanne Bier (b. 1960)

source: The New Tork Times (access original text by clicking on this post's title)

A Director Comfortable With Catastrophe

interview by Sylviane Gold (2007)

THERE’S something about the way the Danish director Susanne Bier says the word “comfortable” that tells you a lot. She’s trying to explain why, even though she likes working with actors she knows, she always casts unfamiliar ones too. “I’ve got this fear of becoming comfortable,” she says, carefully pronouncing all four syllables and letting her face, her tone and her body language convey complete distaste.

You could guess as much from her recent movies, in which happy, comfortable characters are jolted by events of unfathomable sadness. In “Open Hearts” (2002) a devastating automobile accident smashes the future of a newly engaged couple. In “Brothers,” which won her an audience award at Sundance in 2005, a seasoned soldier endures a horrific captivity that comes close to destroying him and those he loves. And in her latest, the Oscar-nominated “After the Wedding,” family secrets wreak havoc in the lives of former lovers who have been apart — continents apart — for 20 years.

That film (which opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles) stars Mads Mikkelsen, the cold-eyed villain of “Casino Royale,” as a Dane who has been helping to run an orphanage in the slums of Mumbai. His life takes a 180-degree turn when a Danish tycoon (Rolf Lassgard) offers the orphanage a large contribution but insists that the expatriate return home to pick it up himself. A seemingly casual invitation for the visitor to attend the wedding of the businessman’s daughter reveals that despite their very different circumstances, the two men have much in common.

Catastrophe is always right around the corner in her movies. But Ms. Bier, whose last name rhymes with peer and who pronounces her first name su-ZAHN-a, is herself decidedly cheery. In New York to edit her first English-language movie, “Things We Lost in the Fire,” she’s taking a break near the Midtown postproduction facility where she has been poring over freeze frames of Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro in yet another story of family disruption and pain. Strikingly pretty and easily carrying off a pair of tight jeans at the age of 46, she says there’s nothing autobiographical about her dark themes.

“I’ve had a very fortunate, very privileged life,” she says. “I say it with all humility, because it could change tomorrow. But I have a very strong ability to empathize, to understand what things feel like.”

It’s a quality her collaborators have noticed. The writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen calls it her “humanness” and says, “She’s very good at putting herself in a character’s place, which is really a gift.”

Mr. Mikkelsen, who played a tormented doctor in “Open Hearts” before he took the role of Jacob in “After the Wedding,” says he spent many draining days trying to evoke the emotion that Ms. Bier was looking for at a given moment. On the phone from Denmark, he says, “She is very aware of human nature in general, and she can tell when it’s not there.” Sometimes it’s not there for 10 hours at a stretch, he says. But, he adds, “it’s comfortable to know we’re not leaving the scene until it feels right.”

There’s that word again: “comfortable.” Maybe it’s a Danish thing, this finding comfort in the uncomfortable. Mr. Jensen, who wrote the scripts for Ms. Bier’s last three films, is in New York to work on their next project, about the Holocaust. They like to hole up together to hammer out the stories. “Then,” he says, “I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.” He agrees that neither one of them is particularly morose. “Every time we start doing a script,” he notes with a laugh, “we say, ‘Now we have to do a comedy.’ But we never end up doing a comedy. Somehow when we work together, we go in that other direction. I don’t know why.”

Ms. Bier has a suggestion about why her films are the way they are, with their keen portrayal of both happiness and despair. “I think that being Jewish has generated an extremely strong sense of the importance of family,” she says. “If I look at my Scandinavian colleagues, they don’t have that urgency about family. All my movies are about that.” And, she adds, she doesn’t think she would be the director she is if she hadn’t had her children, a son who is 17 and a daughter who is 11.

Her Jewish heritage left her with another legacy. Her father fled Germany with his family in 1933. “They were part of German society,” she says of her grandparents. “They had a lot of non-Jewish friends. And then suddenly society turned against them. I think the lack of automatically feeling, ‘Yes, the future is going to be like the present’ — that is very much a Jewish thing.”

And it certainly is the operating principle of her films. In “After the Wedding,” which was a box-office hit in Denmark and which earned its Oscar nomination in the foreign-language category, Jacob’s surrogate family in India is as susceptible to loss as the wealthy family in Denmark. And its sunny newlyweds have only the briefest of honeymoons before an almost casual betrayal sours the marriage.

Despite the painful situations she explores, Ms. Bier says she is scrupulous about ending her movies on a hopeful note. And she makes it a point not to alienate audiences. “I do believe that movies need to have an ability to communicate,” she says. “For me moviemaking is not pure art. It is a mass medium, even if it should be artistically coherent. I’ve had a lot of spanking from my European colleagues. They really don’t agree. But I believe that.”

Nonetheless she also embraces the “nuclear bomb” that the Dogme theorists, led by her countryman Lars von Trier, exploded in the film world in 1995. “They told us we have to get back to basics, to get back to telling stories about human beings for other human beings,” she says. “They’ve been immensely influential.”

“Open Hearts” was a Dogme film, but Ms. Bier says she’s too enamored of the “richness in the language of movies” to adhere to the austere Dogme aesthetic, which forbids the use of background music, set design and other artificial enhancements. “We don’t necessarily have to obey all the rules,” she says. “We’ve learned the lesson.”

Raised in Copenhagen in what she calls an observant Jewish family, she imagined that she would eventually “marry a Jewish lawyer and have six kids.” But as she grew older, “I was looking for something else in life,” she says. “Also, all the nice Jewish boys I met were too boring. I was consistently falling in love with not-so-nice non-Jewish boys.”

She studied religion, then architecture, which led to an interest in set design. When she started reading scripts, it gradually dawned on her that she wanted to direct them. She graduated from Denmark’s state-run film school in 1987 and became part of the small but active Danish film industry.

Leaving that cocoon to make “Things We Lost in the Fire,” to be distributed by Paramount this year, was not a decision she took lightly. “As a European director you hear all these horror stories about European directors working in Hollywood,” she says. “They’ve done great movies in their own country, and then they go to America, and you can’t even tell that they ever were involved in that movie.”

She also worried because she often changes dialogue as she shoots and encourages improvisation. “I was concerned,” she says. “Was my English sufficient for doing that?”

She decided to go ahead because she wanted to work with Sam Mendes, who is one of the producers, and she liked the script, by Allan Loeb. Its broken family and extreme emotions offered enough familiarity to offset the challenges of working in a foreign language, in a foreign country, with a crew of 200 instead of 40. In other words, comfortably uncomfortable.

Yasmina Benguigui (b. 1957)

source: Film Movement (

Born in Lille, France to Algerian parents, film director Yamina Benguigui is renowned for her penetrating cinematic treatises on gender issues related to the North African immigrant community in France, particularly the Maghreb.

Benguigui began her career as assistant to Jean-Daniel Pollet for four years before beginning to write and direct her own films including the documentaries Women of Islam in 1994 and Immigrant Memories—The North African Inheritance in 1997. It was The Immigrant Memories- the North African Inheritance that marked her success in the film industry. This stunning reflection on the memory and the exile of North African immigrants was welcomed favorably by critics and the general public. Since then, Benguigui has realized a series of short films and documentaries including The Perfumed Garden (2000), Pimprenelle (2000) and Pas d'histoire! A Look at Everyday Racism (2000). In 2001, she made her first feature-length fiction film Inch'Allah Dimanche.

Despite her success, it took Benguigui awhile to be accepted both by her family and the general public as a prominent Algerian female filmmaker. According to her, "It was extremely difficult for me. One price I had to pay was that I had to be willing to cut myself off from my father. My father was not willing for me to follow this career, and it's only recently that I've been able to reestablish contact with him […] Because you're cut off to some extent from French society, you have to really impose yourself, you have to really fight to be able to work on subjects like this, subjects and realities that France isn't necessarily willing to acknowledge. It's a constant struggle, and you're constantly juggling several different hats: the hat of a woman, a director, the daughter of immigration. It's not easy."

Amma Asante (b. 1969)

"Financially there really aren't any rewards when you're a first-time filmmaker at this level"

Amma Asante has taken an unusual route into film direction. After appearing on TV screens as a child actor in Grange Hill, she moved behind the camera, writing New Year Jamdown and the BBC Two series Brothers And Sisters. Now she's making her directorial debut with the gritty but compelling South Wales racism drama A Way Of Life, which she also wrote. She recently won the UK Film Talent Award at the 48th Times bfi London Film Festival.

Interviewed by Adrian Hennigan

Where did the idea for A Way Of Life come from?

Two ideas hit me at the same time. The press was focusing a lot on girl-led gang crime - boy gangs with maybe one girl running things. I suppose, having been an actress in my late teens, I was always interested in that area. When I'd written my soap, those late teen characters were the age range I enjoyed writing about the most. At the same time, the Bradford/Burnley riots were happening and the news was focusing quite a bit on that. I was listening to the young Asian guys, and then listening to what the young white guys were saying, and to me they were saying the same thing. But all they could see were their differences. I found myself wanting to challenge the stereotypes, and show that people who seem different can be incredibly similar. I wanted to find the humanity that links us all, really. That's what a good film is all about.

Why is it set in South Wales?

Again, a couple of things. I'd always been interested in South Wales because it has some of the oldest black communities in Europe. Those who came to Bristol were mainly slaves, but those who went to Cardiff had come more through free will, and I thought that must have made a difference over how those multicultural communities were going to be living together. As I started doing my research, I found out that, at one point, Newport was number two for hideous race crimes in the country. So it wasn't necessarily all as rose-tinted as perhaps I was painting it. As I started to dig further and further, issues of poverty clearly began to stand out - because a lot of these multicultural communities were often living in the poorest areas of South Wales.

Also, my niece and nephew are half black, half white, half English, half Welsh. Quite often when you think about mixed-race children, it's the side of them which represents the minority that you're worried about honouring. The obvious way to go was the black side. But then I realised, when my brother was talking about moving to Wales, what makes that side any more or less important than the Welsh side? I don't have any children of my own, and I really wanted to write something - in the craziest way, I know - that paid tribute to their Welsh side. I wanted to be able to say, "I'm writing this because you are half-Welsh, and that is as important as your black side, and here's a way that I can honour that," albeit in a hard-hitting story.

It's interesting that Hassan, the victim of racial abuse, is a long-time Turkish immigrant and not even someone you'd stereotypically class as 'black'...

I think A Way Of Life is very much a film about the grey areas. You know, that area between child and woman, boy and man, and definitely the area between black and white. And the only way to not make this a black and white issue was to make Hassan as close to [the kids] as possible, but still different. Because I really felt that, in many ways, the issue of racism in the film was being used to explore themes and issues surrounding poverty. I think black and white racism has been explored before on film, but it hadn't been done in a way where those issues of identity were a lot more smudged and smeared.

The Leanne character is that much-maligned tabloid figure, the teenage single mother. How important is it for you that she's a very caring, considerate mother?

Incredibly important. I was deeply, deeply in love when I was Leanne's age [17], and I always felt that the fact that I was young and a teenager in love somehow made it not as important, that I didn't know how to love. So I wanted to show in the film that babies can be made in teenage lives through loving relationships. But also I wanted to make Leanne quite powerful in one way. In her group, she's the only one who has the ability to give life. All of them have the ability to take life, but she can give life. I had to show that Leanne had the ability to value something in her life.

I didn't want to be condescending in the other way. Sometimes you see working class characters and they're just the salt of the earth, you can't fault them in any way. I also didn't just want to make her the most horrendous creature you'd ever seen on screen. Although she can be extremely difficult to watch, I actually wanted to show that, gosh, even murderers love. When the Yorkshire Ripper's wife used to go out at night, he'd say, "Be careful, because it's dangerous out there." That boggled my mind, but I suppose sometimes, to get to the bottom of our problems, we have to understand that people who commit these crimes are human beings.

The casting of Leanne is crucial to the film's success. How did you find Stephanie James?

In looking for the character of Leanne, I first went about it in completely the wrong way. What I was looking for was someone who was tough, who could have moments of vulnerability. And I realised after quite some time - after quite a few people had come in and actually scared me! - that this wasn't what I should be looking for. What I should have been looking for was someone who was utterly and completely vulnerable, but who would spend all of her time putting her front up. Stephanie was not what I was looking for at all in my head. I'd imagined Leanne to be quite scrawny, with greasy lank hair, and I suppose a stereotype in many ways.

We saw hundreds and hundreds of kids, and as I started to see lots of these young potential actors - many of them coming from a not-too-dissimilar world to the one which I was creating - I realised that there was something quite aesthetically beautiful about catching that moment between child and adult. Stephanie is very shy, very beautiful to look at, but - even though it maybe wasn't expressed at her first, second, third or even fourth audition - I just knew there was a talent in there that I could play with. I think it's like when you're house hunting or flat hunting and you walk into the corridor; you haven't even seen the rest of the place but you just know that it's right. It was an instinct I had. I love the way she looked; I love the fact that she looks like a healthy teenage girl; and there's something very pure when you look at her. Stephanie's next part could be in a costume drama playing somebody as pure as the snow, and it would work.

One of the things people say about Ken Loach is that he casts unknowns who are very similar to the characters they play in the movie, and that subsequently they don't go on to develop acting careers because they don't have the necessary range. Do you think that's true here?

I would say that's the complete opposite for all of my young actors. None of them are remotely - character-wise - like the characters they play. I think it's sad in many ways that that's said about actors - that they're playing characters that are quite close to themselves - because I think we take away from the really hard work that they do. Whatever happens with this film, I think these actors are faces that you're going to see for a long, long time to come. My hope for them, actually, is that it doesn't happen too quickly, it doesn't happen overnight, and that they're able to build steady careers.

How do you gauge success on a movie like this, because it's probably not going to make £10 million at the box office...

I certainly wasn't trying to make a calling card movie that might get great reviews but nobody would ever see, that financiers would say, "Oh, she got good reviews on that, let's give her some more money to do another one." I really wanted to make a movie that people will hopefully go and see. It's difficult when you're a first-time director. I mean, I saw the poster and I thought that was success. The first good review you get, you think that's success. The boundary gets pushed along all of the time.

How would I gauge it? You know what, bums on seats are important to me, because I made it for an audience, I didn't make it for the critics. Ultimately, I don't think a movie becomes a movie until it meets its audience, and if it had a decent audience, that to me would be successful. Success to me is if it touches an audience, and if it touches a big enough audience so that people are talking about it out there. We made this film and all I get out of it is to express my creativity. Financially there really aren't any rewards when you're a first-time filmmaker at this level. I'm sure my financiers won't like me saying this, but the finance... I've put that to one side at this stage in my career.

David Gray penned the film's soundtrack. How did he get involved?

I think the great thing about being a first-time director is that you really have no ego, and if someone says no to you, you haven't lost anything. I wrote to David and just said, "I know this is a crazy long shot, but please just read the script and, if it moves you, please consider writing as little or as much as you like." Three or four days later we got a call from David's management saying he wanted to do it. We went along to meet him, and it was a scary meeting, to be honest. He's a most unscary man, but I'm a fan; I had been listening to his music for a long time. On the train, going back and forwards to Wales, I would have White Ladder playing in my ears, so his voice became synonymous with the piece that I was writing, and it was an absolute bonus that he was Welsh as well.

Someone asked me what advice I would give to young, up-and-coming writer/directors, and my biggest piece of advice is to ask. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and certainly in my career as a writer and now a director, there have been seven or eight key people who have made a difference to my career purely because they've decided to put their own neck on the line and take a risk on me - and David was one of them. I think that those people exist for everybody, but you don't find them unless you ask.

source: (click on this post's tilte to access the original text)

Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979)

by Theresa L. Geller

When I went to work in a studio, I took my pride and made a nice little ball of it and threw it right out the window.

—Dorothy Arzner (1)

Dorothy Arzner was one of the very few women (including Ida Lupino) who established a name for herself as a director in the film industry of the 1920s and '30s. Despite the extreme sexism prevalent in Hollywood, Arzner was able to establish what remains to this day the largest body of work by a woman director within the studio system. Nonetheless, she has been virtually ignored in most film histories. It was only with the emergence of the "herstory" projects of '70s feminism that scholars began to reclaim women such as Arzner from relative obscurity. Her career in Hollywood is approached today mainly for its exceptionalism, as for years she was the sole female member of the Directors Guild. Yet, her innovative work is central to any number of film history sub-headings: the studio system, the genre film, the development of sound technology, the star system, the representation of women in the Hollywood mainstream.

Though born in San Francisco, Dorothy Arzner's life was shaped by Hollywood from her early life, when her parents moved to Los Angeles and opened a café frequented by many silent film stars and directors. Arzner spent two years studying medicine at USC and worked for a time as an ambulance driver, but a visit to a movie studio inspired her to go into the film industry. She had connections with William DeMille, who at the time was a major director at Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, the parent company of Paramount Studios. She started as a typist, but within three years had moved up, first to screenwriter, and then to editor. Women frequently held these positions in early Hollywood, and Arzner distinguished herself as an editor, most notably in the Rudolph Valentino vehicle, Blood and Sand (Fred Niblo, 1922). In her work on the film's bullfighting scene, she saved the studio thousands of dollars by intercutting stock footage with original material in several scenes, impressing director James Cruze, who employed her as a writer and editor for several of his films. Arzner had garnered a great deal of leverage through this and her work on over fifty other films at Paramount, eventually threatening to move to rival Columbia unless given a directorial position. In 1927, Paramount conceded, putting her in charge of the silent Fashions for Women, which became a commercial success.

Her subsequent features also performed well, and in 1929 she directed Paramount's first talkie, The Wild Party, with established star Clara Bow and Frederic March in his first leading role. For Arzner, this was familiar material, as she had edited a silent version of the same story. This film is particularly important to the history of sound technology in that Arzner had technicians rig a microphone onto a fishing rod, essentially creating the first boom mike, which allowed Bow to move more freely on the set. The Wild Party was a success both critically and commercially, and, set in a women's college, it introduced some of the coded lesbian themes often cited in Arzner's work (Leontine Sagan would make Mädchen in Uniform in Germany just two years later). Her films of the following three years are prime examples of Hollywood before the Hayes Code. Anybody's Woman (1930), follows the consequences of a wild night for chorus girl Ruth Chatterton, the star of many of Arzner's films, and Working Girls (1931) is a stark, knowing portrayal of women trying to get by in New York during the depression. Interestingly, the feminist director Lizzie Borden would use this same title for her filmic exploration of the daily lives of sex workers fifty-five years later.

Arzner made eleven features at Paramount from 1927 until 1932, when she left to begin work as an independent director for several of the studios. The films created in this period are her best known, and they also established Arzner's talent for launching the career's of young actresses including Katherine Hepburn in Christopher Strong (1933), Rosalind Russell in Craig's Wife (1936), and Lucille Ball in Dance, Girl, Dance (1940). She was linked romantically with a number of actresses, but lived much of her life with Marion Morgan, choreographer for Dance, Girl, Dance. She stopped directing features in 1943, for reasons that remain unclear (although playwright R.M. Vaughn has speculated on this question in his play “Camera, Woman”). Arzner continued working over the next three decades, making Women's Army Corps training films and commercials for Pepsi, at the request of her friend and rumored lover Joan Crawford. She also produced plays, often for one of her favorite actresses to work with, Billie Burke (famous for her role as Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz). In the '60s and '70s, she was a popular professor at the recently established UCLA film school, teaching screenwriting and directing until her death in 1979.

Feminist film historians, using feminist literary revisionary models established by women such as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, rediscovered the oeuvre of Dorothy Arzner in their attempts to recuperate women from the past as part of the larger project of feminist film studies. Historians reclaimed the body of Arzner's work in the name of adding women to the dominant canon of directors that had been instantiated with the auteur theory of the '40s and '50s by (male-centered) film critics such as Andrew Sarris. These feminist film critics were equally invested in establishing a canon of women filmmakers to argue that there existed a separate, identifiable female, or feminine, aesthetics of film. Exemplifying this position is Claire Johnston's 1975 collection Dorothy Arzner: Towards a Feminist Cinema, and this has set the terms for much of the work on Arzner that followed. Yet, this idea of a clearly ascertainable set of codes that distinguish a woman-made from a man-made film is premised upon assumptions that have been scrutinized for some time now. The founding belief operating here is that a female director (like a female writer) will make a distinctively different film than a male director because of some essential and unmediated relationship between gender identity and artistic production. Problems arise from such a presupposition; for example, this presumes that "woman" is a stable, coherent category that has not changed in different historical and cultural contexts. Yet, feminist and poststructuralist insights concerning the instability of identity and the performativity of gender have come to challenge the essentialist foundations of gender-specific author studies.

Still, the question of the relationship of film practice to gendered producers and receivers of film text cannot be left behind. For one, as long as the paradigm of film analysis based on auteurism prevails, the study of women directors remains an important part of feminist interventions into canonical film studies. But in the wake of the move from essentialist theories to social constructionist models for understanding the production of gendered subjects, the kinds of questions asked of film have significantly changed. In discussing the films of Dorothy Arzner, the question has moved from 'how do her films represent a female worldview' to 'how do these film-texts interrogate or even disrupt the hegemonic (read: masculinist) ideology of dominant Hollywood cinema?' Still, it is important to complicate even this question in order to avoid reducing the analysis of her films to a simple dialectic: is Arzner simply a female dupe of the studio system or a feminist rebel in a male-dominated system? Many of Arzner's critics have taken up one side of this debate or the other (usually, the former). Different questions must be asked of Arzner's work in order to alter the terms of such Arzner criticism. One significant question is how does Arzner appropriate the Woman-as-Image upon which dominant Hollywood cinema relies and to what effect?

Arzner considered herself a Hollywood director, directing what the studio needed, and to which her prolific output at Paramount is a testament. She succeeded in the studio era through her skill and drive, but she was helped by her 'mannish' style and appearance (she almost always dressed in men's suits and ties), which ironically made her stand out less among directors of the day even while she departed from the feminine image. Her ability to defuse her exceptionality allowed her to succeed as a director within Hollywood codes and expectations. Even after leaving Paramount in 1932 and working independently, her films were primarily melodramas, but these were still produced within the studio system. Perhaps somewhat more successful than any attempt to label her as an overtly proto-feminist director has been the movement to categorize Arzner as a director concerned with the cinematic workings of femininity. In this respect, her identity as butch lesbian may have allowed her a certain distance from and perspective on her on-screen heroines. Her films, for the most part, fall under the rubric of Woman's Melodrama, and as such reflect paradigmatic women's roles. Still, as a studio director, this may have had more to do with what the studio felt was appropriate to assign to a woman then what Arzner herself was interested in or capable of working with (as her screenwriting in genre features such as action films and westerns proves). Nevertheless, the thematic of women's private and public lives is clearly evident in the titles of her feature films, Fashions for Women, Sarah and Son (1930), Working Girls, Craig's Wife, and The Bride Wore Red (1937), for example. Even in her last film, a spy thriller entitled First Comes Courage (1943), a woman is cast as the 'hero' of a Casablanca-like tale (though both films were in production simultaneously, so the question of influence is moot). A critique of performative female sexuality, often explicitly built into the narrative, and the possibility of women's community emerges in much of her work.

The melodrama Craig's Wife exemplifies these themes and brings Arzner's active role as auteur to the forefront. It centers on Harriet Craig, a woman obsessed with control over her home. Yet, unlike the one-note play upon which the film is based, Arzner made significant changes to alter the anti-feminist sentiment of the original. This was common for Arzner to revise original source material to stress the complexity of women's lives. She often worked closely with scriptwriters, almost always women, keeping them on the set with her as she shot. In this case, Arzner worked with scriptwriter Mary McCall to depathologize the character of Harriet Craig, originally intended to be vilified by the audience and side instead with the put upon husband. Harriet Craig is characterized as a cold woman who cannot connect with the human beings around her. Yet, under Arzner's direction, Rosalind Russell gives a much more complicated performance, which becomes a subtle critique of the institution of marriage and the limits imposed upon women under patriarchy. Harriet speaks of the role she plays as wife to Walter Craig in exchange for the security of a home. And although Harriet certainly dominates her home and those who occupy it, including her husband, the emphasis on the performative nature of her role as wife makes the question of her “betrayal” difficult to resolve. The movie utilizes the trope of “honesty” to trouble the heterosexual contract. Harriet's niece, Ethel, refers to Harriet's “practical-minded” description of the marriage contract as “bargain” she must strike in order to secure the permanence of her home as “dishonest”. Yet, the film places “honest” heterosexual relationships under scrutiny. The direct comparison the film makes is to the Passmores, a married couple whose “dishonesty” is built on the woman's sexual indiscretions that lead to the murder-suicide committed by the husband. This is reframed by Harriet's emotional comparison to her own mother, who was abandoned by Harriet's father for a younger woman. Harriet's teary speech, detailing her mother's loss of home and ultimate death of “a broken heart” shows well the costs of entering into the marriage contract “honestly”. These two women's deaths certainly challenge the naïve “honesty” Ethel clings to in her own romantic relationship.

Yet, as Arzner often does in her films, the distanciation from the heterosexual romance is coupled with the alternative posited by the possibility of women's community. Harriet's “dishonesty” is ultimately punished within the narrative by her being left alone in the house. She is abandoned in a series of scenes by all the occupants of the house: first Mazie, a servant and her (unemployed) boyfriend, then Ethel and her professor boyfriend, Aunt Austen and another servant, Mrs. Harold and, eventually, Walter himself. What is notable in these pairings is the least ambivalent is the one non-heterosexual coupling—Aunt Austen and Mrs. Harold, who are to commence a trip around the world. It is they alone who represent a connection that is not defined by the heterosexual contract and its subsequent domestication of women. Whereas the married couple is tainted by the deaths of Mrs. Passmore and Harriet's mother (as well as Harriet's sister), the female couple becomes a life-affirming alternative route. This route is also presented to the audience as way out for Harriet from her domestic entombment.

Arzner and McCall made significant changes to the script in regards to Billie Burke's character, the neighbor Mrs. Frazier. Instead of a one-dimensional bitter widow, as originally written, Burke's Mrs. Frazier is a life-affirming grandmother, seen frequently in her fecund rose garden rather than inside her own home, standing is opposition to Harriet. Mrs. Frazier, though a peripheral character, is central to the film's recuperation of Harriet. After everyone leaves Harriet to her house, she receives a telegram of her sister's death. This moment allows Arzner to redeem Harriet from condemnation. Earlier in the film, Aunt Austen is skeptical of Walter's belief that Harriet “will be heartbroken” if her sister dies. The narrative sets Aunt Austen as the wisest of the characters (along with Mrs. Harold), introducing the audience to the manipulative Harriet the audience eventually sees themselves. Yet, this moment in the conclusion of Harriet's quite visible (and quite beautiful, as filmed in close-up with a lingering shot of Russell's tear-stained face) “broken heart” finally breaks with Aunt Austen's otherwise accurate description of Harriet's demeanor. The Aunt's total condemnation of Harriet becomes impossible to swallow in this moment. Since this is one of the only scenes we see Harriet without an observer of any kind, the audience is asked to reconsider what has come before as performance, and this break as representative of the “true” Harriet.

Significantly, Harriet's breakdown in this melodrama is not over Walter's walking out but rather over the loss of a sister. Against Aunt Austen's earlier speculations, we see that Harriet truly loved her sister. This paves the way for the entrance of Mrs. Frazier, who comes in and sympathizes briefly with Harriet but leaves soon after, not knowing how to handle this unexpected moment of vulnerability. Mrs. Frazier leaves without Harriet's knowledge, before Mrs. Frazier hears Harriet's request for her to stay (for the first time). Harriet's “honest” love for her sister leads her to act on her desire for community with women. Although Harriet never chases Walter out the door as he leaves, she distinctly chases after Mrs. Frazier. In fact, having taught this film for some years, it always surprises my students how much more they wanted Mrs. Frazier to return to Harriet than Walter. For much of Arzner's work, sexuality stands as a threat to women's community. Women, in the heterosexual contract, must play their part, as opposed to the more “honest' form of love between women. To this extent, Harriet is often seen posing for Walter, especially in the shrine of her living room. Surrounded by classical Greek sculptures, the pivotal scene shows Harriet posed by the mantle, draped in a white toga-like dress with gold details. She appears the Vestal Virgin guarding the hearth.

This image stands as a motif for Arzner; many of her films use the trope of virginity as that which allows women's community to thrive—the sisters in Working Girls before May becomes pregnant, or, in The Wild Party, the bond between Helen and Stella, before Stella mistakenly climbs into Gil's berth. Nowhere is the threat of sexuality more evident than in Christopher Strong, which introduces Cynthia Darrington (Katherine Hepburn in a role that would come to be her stock in trade), an independent aviatrix, as a woman over twenty-one who has never had a love affair. Her love affair with Christopher Strong is ultimately her undoing and she dies in a suicide plane crash, pregnant with his child. Arzner's films expose that strain of the heterosexual “bargain” that “shackles” women (referred to in the dialogue of Christopher Strong where Christopher gives a bracelet to Cynthia, the bracelet appearing in a close-up as a signifier of their lovemaking). As June says in Working Girls, virginal women have to learn “to say yes and no” at the same time in order to remain unshackled to the heterosexual contract. Of course, implicit in such a statement is the acknowledgement of the performative aspects of romantic love for women. This is the “dishonesty” of Harriet's love is her conscious distance from her own performance. She plays the role of the good wife (unlike Mrs. Passmore), all the while aware that it is a role, in order to guarantee her security. Although Craig's Wife does not justify her fears within the narrative, Arzner's other films make the threat clear. Harriet's counterpart, for example, in Christopher Strong is Mrs. Strong, notably played by Billie Burke. Her security is clearly threatened by Cynthia and Christopher's affair. This threat is underscored by the Strongs' daughter Monica and her own affair with married man Harry, who eventually seeks a divorce to marry Monica. It appears that the heterosexual contract is hemmed on all sides by the threat of abandonment or, indeed, death. It is only in women's community that such threats are held in abeyance, for example, Cynthia's suicide appears to be a sacrifice made for Mrs. Strong rather than Christopher, or Stella's sacrifice for Helen in The Wild Party, or June's securing of a proposal for May so she is not abandoned in Working Girls.

With Todd Haynes directing an upcoming biopic about Dorothy Arzner, hopefully these films (those that are still available) will be introduced to a whole new audience beyond the student of the odd feminist film class or the frequenter of women's film festivals. It may provide an incentive to re-master and re-release some of the lesser-known films such as The Wild Party and Working Girls, mentioned above. The most popular films for the feminist venues have certainly been Craig's Wife, Christopher Strong, and Dance, Girl, Dance. This last film is Arzner's best-known work and rightfully so as it is paradigmatic of her oeuvre in that it is preoccupied the themes named above, that is, “with the shifts from modes of interaction and community based on opposite-sex, versus same-sex, relationships.” (2) Further, it deals with these shifts in the context of women's explicit work of performance—in this instance, dance. This film starring Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball foregrounds dance as women's avenue to self-expression and economic independence. In doing so, it also highlights another consistent theme of Arzner's films, the contrast of social paths for women, usually embodied in two central but opposed characters, and the class distinctions that underlie this opposition. In Dance, Girl, Dance, Judy is a struggling ballet student trying to make it into the world of professional dance; Bubbles is also a dancer but makes a success of it in the world of burlesque, performing vamp routines as “Tiger Lily White”. Both simultaneously pursue romantic and work lives that will hopefully allow them some mobility of social class. Yet, even though the spectator is meant to identify with Judy's refusal to sacrifice artistic expression for economic gain, the film nevertheless refuses to vilify Bubbles for doing so.

Dance, Girl, Dance is a fascinating study for feminists to this day because it stands up to the developments within feminist film theory as it has developed over the decades from heterosexist notions of voyeurism through queer revisions of sexual difference to more complicated versions of racial and class ambivalences which frame questions of sexual representation. First recovered for woman-centered film festivals, this film was used in women's film classes as a test case for the study of the male gaze. Its penultimate scene of Judy, who has been hired as a 'stooge' for Bubbles burlesque show, confronting the mocking audience has been lauded as representing a palpable refusal of the male gaze. Judy's stopping the narrative to “return” the gaze of the diegetic audience has been interpreted as a filmic metaphor for a feminist critique of voyeurism. Yet, this interpretation has been complicated over the years, as film theorists have revised it to accommodate the growing field of feminist criticism. Centrally, it has been pointed out by Mayne and others that the audience Judy confronts is not only men; indeed, there are women among the audience, and it is a woman who initiates the applause for Judy's speech.

This recognition has led to broader interpretations of the film's workings, in that dance is not simply accepted as way to speak of femininity as a performance of sexual difference for a presumed male desire. Arzner's significant change to the script when she took over the project as director was to replace the male dance teacher with a woman, a female coded very much like Arzner herself. Madame Basilova, Judy's dance instructor, dresses in ties and appears quite “butch” in demeanor. The film's presentation of the relationship between Judy and Basilova in the film has inspired comparisons between the many photos of Arzner with her “femme” actresses as well as drawing from biographical connections to Arzner's life partner, Marion Morgan, a choreographer in her own right. There is certainly a number of “looks” exchanged between Judy and Basilova which center around their distinction from each other; in fact, when Basilova puts on a frilly hat, putting her on the side of “femininity”, she is killed by a bus.

Yet, this “queer” interpretation itself needs to be complicated further by the class dynamics of the Bubbles–Judy comparison, which turns upon Bubbles' lower class encodings to build our identification with Judy. Yet, even Bubbles is constituted by racial markers which stress her particularly “white” femininity when the film casts black actors in the periphery to underscore who can and who cannot cross class lines, who is and is not constituted as desirable. The use of blackface in a key dance sequence, performed by the American Ballet Company, drives this point home; new “hybrid” forms of dance may make the link between Bubbles' form of burlesque and Judy's more classical form of ballet, but it nevertheless is built upon the appropriation of Afrocentric forms that cannot be allowed center stage, so to speak. So, the matter of who can be subject to the gaze and who cannot needs to be revised by taking into account the complex discourses which constitute gender, such as race, class, and sexuality.

The question of the male gaze (and the woman's refusal of it) has been a particular fecund point of debate in Arzner's films. With the emergence of Queer Film Theory, authors have used feminist revisions of Arzner's films to expose the compulsory heterosexist strain in hegemonic feminist film theory such as the now infamous essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” by Laura Mulvey. Queer film theorist Judith Mayne has been at the forefront of reclaiming Arzner's film texts and the feminist-fetishized image of Arzner herself in order to make the point that the figure of the lesbian, particularly the butch, troubles the heterosexual presumptions underlying the male gaze. Further, her argument allows for the reintroduction of desire and the exchanges of gazes between women—a much-ignored possibility in the pantheon of feminist film theory. It also challenges the assumptions, stated above, concerning Arzner's own appropriation of masculine drag. When Laura Mulvey casts the female spectator as a form of “transvestism”, Arzner's unique position as a female director dressed in male drag stands in sharp contrast to the essentialist, heterosexist presuppositions built into the concept of the “male gaze”. In light of the writings of Judith Butler and others, the question of Arzner donning men's clothes becomes less of a desire to “fit into” the male world than an act of masculine performativity which speaks to the historical and discursive relations of gender to film production, that is, how gender must be “performed” on both sides of the camera.


As director:

Fashions for Women (1927)

Get Your Man (1927)

Ten Modern Commandments (1927)

Manhattan Cocktail (1928)

The Wild Party (1929)

Anybody's Woman (1930)

Sarah and Son (1930)

Paramount on Parade (1930)

Working Girls (1931)

Honor Among Lovers (1931)

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

Christopher Strong (1933)

Nana (1934)

Craig's Wife (1936)

The Bride Wore Red (1937)

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

First Comes Courage (1943)


Blood and Sand (Fred Niblo, 1922) editor

The Covered Wagon (James Cruze, 1923) editor

Inez from Hollywood (Alfred E. Green, 1924) editor

The No-Gun Man (Harry Garson, 1924) screenwriter

When Husbands Flirt (William A. Wellman, 1925) screenwriter

Red Kimono (Walter Lang, 1925) screenwriter

Old Ironsides (James Cruze, 1926) screenwriter

source: Sense of Cinema, 2003 (for further bibliography and references click on the link is on this post's tilte)

Theresa L. Geller is currently a Ph. D. candidate at Rutgers University. Her dissertation, entitled “Cinema in the Present Tense,” is an exploration in feminism, critical theory, and film studies. She has published on Twin Peaks and given papers addressing the construction of race, gender, and sexuality in The X-Files, The Matrix, and The Long Kiss Goodnight.


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.