19 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 36 | February 19, 2010

Women Behind the Camera I

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Featured this week
Monday         —   Lone Scherfig
Tuesday         —   Nora Ephron
Wednesday    —   Claire Denis
Thursday        —   Anne Fletcher

Kathryn Bigelow

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  The Hurt Locker; nominated for 9 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director; nominated for 3 Golden Globes; won DGA Award (first woman to win).

kathryn_bigelow“This is the most incredible moment of my life,” Bigelow said, winning the DGA Award a few weeks ago.  Wonder what she’ll say if she wins the Oscar next month.  It’s a good bet too that she’ll do it—only six times in six decades has the DGA winner not won Best Director.  Three women had been nominated in the past—Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, and Sofia Coppola—but Bigelow could be the first woman to win the Academy Award for directing.  Bigelow, nonetheless, would prefer to downplay her gender, shunning the “woman” description in her occupational title.  “I suppose I like to think of myself as a filmmaker.”

She’s right.  The sex of the person behind the camera shouldn’t be a big deal.  The exclusive men’s club nature of past directors’ awards, however, makes Bigelow a noteworthy figure.  There needs to be a first before there’s a second, a third, or a tenth.  Her success, and others’, will make it easier to see “women directors” as just directors who happen to be women. 

There’s nothing in Bigelow’s work that says “this film was directed by a woman.”  Except, perhaps, that she sees men—especially men who like danger (one of her favorite subjects)—with a certain clarity that it may be hard for men themselves to have.  Point Break(1991) features a thrill-seeking gang of surfers and a scene with Keanu Reaves’s undercover cop jumping from a plane without a parachute.  (There’s also a group known as the Ex-Presidents, who rob banks while wearing masks of Presidents Reagan, Carter, Nixon, and Johnson.  It’s a clever visual, not to mention, a sly political comment.)  Set in an L.A. on the verge of apocalypse, Strange Days (1995), with Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett, has an ex-cop who relives better days with his ex-girlfriend by playing “SQUID” recordings that connect directly to the memory center of his brain.  (The SQUID experience is not unlike an avatar’s.  James Cameron co-wrote the script.)  K-19:  The Widowmaker (2003) is about the men on a Soviet submarine’s ill-fated maiden voyage.

“War’s dirty little secret is that some men love it.  I’m trying to unpack why, to look at what it means to be a hero in the context of 21st-century combat.”  That’s Bigelow on The Hurt Locker.  Her focus again is men, three soldiers in a bomb squad.  The leader is a staff sergeant who doesn’t shirk from danger, but instead revels in it, bravely and recklessly.  The film’s opening quotation provides an explanation:  “war is a drug.”  (More on The Hurt Locker here.)

Beyond the final credits
Kathryn Bigelow was married to James Cameron twenty years ago.  Both are up for the directing Oscar this year. It was Bigelow’s only marriage, the third of five for Cameron.  Three of Cameron’s wives had worked on films he directed (Gale Anne Hurd, Linda Hamilton, and Suzy Amis), though not Bigelow.  Cameron, on the other hand, has collaborated (writing, producing) on two of Bigelow’s films:  Point Break and Strange Days.


The Hurt Locker (2009)
Kathryn Bigelow, director


Interview with Kathryn Bigelow


Quote of Note
Thelma
:  Good morning everybody, this is a robbery.  Now if nobody loses their head, nobody will lose their head.  Now Simon says everybody lay down on the floor, except you, sir.  You’ll have a story to tell your friends, or a tag on your toe, it’s your decision.  Now you take this bag and empty the cash register into it.
Store Clerk:  Yes, ma’am.
Thelma:  Let’s see who wins a prize for keeping their cool.  Now you, sir, lay back down, thank you.  Can we get a couple of Wild Turkeys too?
Store Clerk:  Sure, ma’am.
Thelma:  Thank you, now everybody just stay down on the floor until I leave.  Thank you for your cooperation and have a good day.
—Thelma (Geena Davis), Thelma and Louise (1991)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 19 Feb 2010 @ 06:49 AM

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 18 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 35 | February 18, 2010

Women Behind the Camera I

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Featured this week
Monday         —   Lone Scherfig
Tuesday         —   Nora Ephron
Wednesday    —   Claire Denis

Anne Fletcher

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  The Proposal; nominated for 1 Golden Globe; worldwide box office, $314 million. 

anne_fletcherAnne Fletcher grew up in Detroit.  A dancer trained in the Cecchetti method, she left for California after high school where she eventually found work dancing in films such as The Flintstones (1994) and The Mask (1994).  She was choreographer on Boogie Nights (1997), The Wedding Planner (2001), and dozens of film and television productions.  Her first directing job was Step Up (2006), a drama-romance about a street dancer from one side of the tracks and a dance student from the other.  Then came 27 Dresses (2008), starring Katherine Heigl, a romantic comedy about the perpetual bridesmaid (27 times!) who’s in love with the man her sister will marry.  The two films did poorly with critics but well at the box office, each crossing the $100 million mark worldwide.

Fletcher’s third directing effort, The Proposal, is another wedding-centered story.  The big event this time is a sham, arranged to avoid deportation to Canada for a book editor played by Sandra Bullock.  Hollywood has been turning out romantic comedies for years, and this one may not break new ground.  It has no ambitions beyond a few laughs for its audience.  Perhaps on that score, the film did well.  Critics, as with Fletcher’s other films, were still lukewarm.

For years men in the film biz have been making genre pics that reel in their target audience.  Fletcher has shown that women, when given the chance, can do the same.  Her movies so far haven’t generated a lot of award buzz, but with her three films all hits, she’s likely to be around for a while.  Stay tuned.

Beyond the final credits
Sandra Bullock had an unusually award-worthy year in 2009.  She starred in three films:  The Proposal (nominated for a Golden Globe), The Blind Side (won a Golden Globe, nominated for an Oscar), and All About Steve (nominated for a Razzie…oops).


The Proposal (2009)
Anne Fletcher, director
Trailer


Interview with Anne Fletcher


One of the Greats
Edith Head had a long and distinguished career as a costume designer for hundreds of Hollywood films.  She was active from the mid-1920s through the early-’80s.  For decades Head worked at Paramount, and later at Universal, while designing for top actresses such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn.  She was a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock’s.  Head won a total of eight Academy Awards and was nominated 35 times (both are records for women, and no doubt she’d have had more if the Academy had presented awards for costume design before 1948).  Head was honored by the Postal Service with a commemorative stamp issued in 2003.  She was the inspiration for the character of the fashion maven Edith Mode in Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004).

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 17 Feb 2010 @ 07:58 AM

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 17 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Wednesday Minute
No. 34 | February 17, 2010

Women Behind the Camera I

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Featured this week
Monday         —   Lone Scherfig
Tuesday         —   Nora Ephron

Claire Denis

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  35 Shots of Rum.

claire_denisClaire Denis was born in Paris but raised in Africa, and drew from that experience in her debut film Chocolat (1988), about a young French girl living in Cameroon, where her father is a colonial administrator.  The film explores the boundaries that exist between the French and the people of Cameroon, and the tensions that arise when people move beyond those limits.  The film was a selection at Cannes and nominated for a César Award.  Another of her films, also set in Africa, is Beau Travail (1999), which adapts Herman Melville’s Billy Budd but transplants its maritime story to Djibouti.

Denis’s film 35 Shots of Rum screened at the Toronto Film Festival and at Venice, then received a limited release.  It’s one of the best-reviewed films of last year.  (Its score at Metacritic is 92.)   The film stars Alex Descas and Mati Diop as Lionel and Joséphine, a man from Africa living with his daughter on the outskirts of Paris.  The story explores their relationship, their love, their dependency, and eventually their need for change.  Again drawing from her own life, Denis based the story in part on her mother and grandfather’s relationship.  Denis’s style—a minimum of dialogue, long takes, a meditative tone—was influenced by Japanese masterYasujiro Ozu, and 35 Shots of Rum is an homage to his work, particularly Late Spring (1949).

Beyond the final credits
Claire Denis’s Chocolat is not related to the 2000 Lasse Hallström film Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.  In the Hallström film, chocolat is chocolate the confection.  In the Denis film, chocolat is a French slang term meaning both “dark-skinned” and “to be cheated,” referring to the fate of people living under French rule; it is not just the Cameroonians who suffer.


35 Shots of Rum (2009)
Claire Denis, director


Talking with Ozu (1993)
Claire Denis, on Yasujiro Ozu


Quote of Note
“One day when my mother and father were singing together in the forest, a great storm blew up out of nowhere.  But so passionate was their singing that they did not notice, nor did they stop as the rain began to fall, and when their voices rose for the final bars of the duet a great bolt of lighting came out of the sky and struck my father so that he lit up like a torch.  And at the same moment my father was struck dead my mother was struck dumb!  She never spoke another word.”
—Flora McGrath (Anna Paquin), The Piano (1993)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 17 Feb 2010 @ 12:07 AM

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 16 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 33 | February 16, 2010

Women Behind the Camera I

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Featured this week
Monday         —   Lone Scherfig

Nora Ephron

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  Julie & Julia; nominated for 1 Oscar; worldwide box office, $118 million.

nora_ephronJulie is Julie Powell, a blogger.  Yes, they made a film about a blogger!  (Insert your own joke here.)  Julie had an idea for a blog and eight years and $118 million later, somebody may well be thanking her on Oscar night.  Who’d a thunk it?  I’m partial to the idea of Hollywood turning the stories of blog writers into multimillion-dollar productions (please contact my agent if interested), but the real appeal of the movie, I must admit, is the cookbook author.  I’d guess that cookbook authors, in general, are not a whole lot more fascinating than bloggers, but when the cookbook author is Julia Child, you’ve got a movie—and when she’s played by Meryl Streep, you’ve got a good one.  There’s not much to say about Meryl Streep that hasn’t been said before.  She’s a great actress and gives one of the most entertaining performances of the year.

Great acting doesn’t come out of nowhere.  Credit Nora Ephron for not only directing the movie but for writing the screenplay too.  She knows about writing.  She grew up in Hollywood, the daughter of screenwriting team Henry and Phoebe Ephron (There’s No Business Like Show Business).  She started as a journalist working in print media, then wrote scripts for the movies.  Silkwood (1983) and When Harry Met Sally… (1989) were both big successes.  She also adapted her own novel for Heartburn (1986), drawn from her marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein.  In the ’90s, Ephron had her first chance to direct.  Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998) were both hit romantic comedies starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.  She’s collaborated several times with her sister, Delia, splitting writing and producing credit.  Three times Ephron has been nominated for an Oscar, each of them for original screenplay.

Beyond the final credits
While married to Bernstein, Ephron apparently had guessed the identity of her husband’s source for Watergate stories, Deep Throat.  Bernstein referred to him as “My Friend” and used the initials “M.F.,” which Ephron guessed—and the world would later learn—was Mark Felt, associate director at the FBI in the Nixon years.


Julie & Julia
Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep, on Charlie Rose
Interview, Trailer


Nora Ephron, on Meryl Streep
AFI Life Achievement Tribute


Point of View
“Men have built the cities, made and defined the culture, interpreted the world.  At no time in recorded history have women been culture-makers….Movies are arguably the most influential, important medium in the world.  Because women are now making movies, then women’s ideas, philosophy, point of view will seep into that culture.  And that’s never happened in history.  We can’t even see the impact of that yet.”
— Producer Laura Ziskin

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 16 Feb 2010 @ 10:25 AM

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 15 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 32 | February 15, 2010

Women Behind the Camera I

In 1896 young Alice Guy was working as a secretary for Léon Gaumont’s photography company.  Gaumont wanted to make a motion picture film for the fledgling arcade business and he needed someone to oversee production.  The job went to Guy—with instructions that the work not interfere with her important secretarial duties.  (The auteur theory, you might have guessed, had not yet been formulated.)  The world’s first woman director went on to be a pioneer in the development of narrative film.  Guy made hundreds of pictures over several decades and just recently she was the subject of a retrospective at the Whitney.  Times, though, have changed.  They don’t give directing jobs to secretaries anymore.  Nor, as often as they should, to women.

Gender inequity in film directing has a long history.  The reasons for that we may cover at another time, but for now here’s a question:  Does it matter?  Of course, it matters to the women who aren’t getting the jobs. But does it matter to the average moviegoer?  Does it matter if a movie was directed by a woman or a man, or does it matter only whether a movie is any good?

The short answer is:  Yes, it matters who made the picture.  I don’t think it matters much on any single film, but the more movies we watch, the more it matters.  Film is arguably the preeminent storytelling medium of our time, and storytelling is one of the most deeply personal ways we communicate as humans.  It’s a loss for everyone if almost all our movie stories are told by men.

Maybe things are changing, though slowly.  For 61 years the Directors Guild of America gave its annual awards for outstanding achievement in feature film to men.  Two weeks ago the DGA gave the award for the first time to a woman.  No movie directed by a woman has yet won the Oscar for Best Picture.  This year two films directed by women are nominated, and one of them is considered a favorite.  Awards are nice, but as we know, money talks in the film biz.  The past year saw four films directed by women cross the $100 million threshold at the worldwide box office.

This week’s theme will focus on directors of noteworthy films from 2009.  I found it impossible to make a list of five women directors.  Instead…I made a list of ten.  It was a good year.

Ten, if my math is correct, is twice the number of weekdays in the typcial week, so here is the plan:  this week we’ll feature five of the directors, and the other five the week of March 8 February 22 [Update (2/16)=> A change of plans:  no need to split it up, let’s do the ten women directors in back-to-back weeks].

A list of ten, by the way, is hardly an all-inclusive roster.  Notable directors not covered this time around include:  Mira Nair, Amelia; Catherine Breillat, Bluebeard; Rebecca Miller, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee; Jennifer Lynch, Surveillance; and actresses-turned-directors Drew Barrymore, Whip It; and Nia Vardalos, I Hate Valentine’s Day.  Note that other women directors who didn’t release a film in 2009—e.g., Sofia Coppola, Julie Taymor—are also topics for another day.

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Lone Scherfig

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  An Education; nominated for 3 Oscars, including Best Picture.

lone_scherfigDanish director Lone Scherfig made her first English-language film a memorable one.  An Education is a teenage girl’s coming-of-age story set in early-1960s London, noted for its fine writing and fine performances, particularly the lead played by relative newcomer Carey Mulligan and her seducer played by Peter Sarsgaard.  How did the Danish director get to make an English film?  By luck of having the same agent as Nick Hornby, whose screenplay adapted an autobiographical story by British journalist Lynn Barber.

Scherfig was best known previously for Italian for Beginners, a 2000 movie following the romantic pursuits of a few lonely hearts in a Danish town.  A low-budget affair—shot for about $600,000, roughly one-tenth the budget for An Education, itself a modestly budgeted production at best—the film was certified by the Dogme 95 board (Dogme #12, if you’re keeping score at home).  Unlike some other Dogme films, the tone was not grim but comic and endearing.  It was an international hit and one of the most profitable Scandinavian films ever.

In addition to working in Danish television, Scherfig directed the films Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002) and Just Like Home (2007).

Beyond the final credits
Celebrated Danish writer and artist Hans Scherfig was the director’s great-uncle.


An Education (2009)
Lone Scherfig, director
Trailer

 


Interview with Lone Scherfig 


Quote of Note
“Doesn’t it ever enter a man’s head that a woman can do without him?”
— Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino), Road House (1948)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 16 Feb 2010 @ 06:04 PM

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