Another mixed bag coming up in the seventh part of the 100 Films Made By Women. A man with a gun, squabbling sisters, stroppy teenagers, child abuse, a ground-breaking documentary, classic literature, oddball comedy – the list can go on. Go ahead, enjoy the next ten:
Children of a Lesser God (1986) – Randa Haines — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
I don’t want to make the cinematic bloom that is Children of a Lesser God about the Academy Awards, but there are a significant milestone of the film’s success. Of course the wonderful Marlee Matlin won Best Actress, while William Hurt and Piper Laurie were also rightly nominated. Joining them were nods for Picture and Screenplay, but nothing for the woman directing, Randa Haines – in spite of her Director’s Guild mention. She does a marvelous, skilled job here, creating the foundations for a turbulent romance between two strong-willed people who build tension with their varying viewpoints, all the while falling in love. Matlin is a revelation without any doubt, an actress whose talent speaks louder than words, so to speak. Hurt is terrific too, an actor relishing those three consecutive Oscar nods (Kiss of the Spider Woman and Broadcast News too), considering his turns in Body Heat, The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist as well, he was formidable in the eighties. Children of a Lesser God is an acting masterclass from the principles, Haines works them to the bone, and gets flourishing results. What was extra sweet about Matlin’s Oscar win was that due to his win the previous year it was Hurt who got to present her with the prize. That, and the movie itself, proves there is magic in Hollywood if you know where to look.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953) – Ida Lupino — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
In her fifth outing as a director, Ida Lupino, often referred to as the first mainstream American woman to take on the noir genre, adapted the true story of a 1950 psychopathic rampage into a concise 70-minute film, proving that she could tell a tough story just as effectively as “the guys”. While doing so, Lupino also manages to throw a couple of bricks at the noir genre. The most interesting thing about this film is that the so-called victims are not the typical damsels-in-distress, but two fishing buddies who pick up a hitchhiker – played by B-movie bogeyman favorite William Talman – and spend the remainder of the film trying to escape his abuse. There are no macho heroics here, just two ordinary guys trying to outsmart their captor. Lupino also sets her story in two contrasting but equally claustrophobic settings – inside a car and in a wide-open desert, not the usual urban setting of most noir efforts. This is perfect B-movie fare that ran as the second feature at drive-ins in the 50s and numerous late shows that terrified babysitters in the 60s before the talk shows took over late night TV. While the films she directed were never blockbusters or even considered to be on the same level as her male counterparts, Ida Lupino was probably the first actress to make the jump to produce, direct, write and even secure financing for her films. And with regard to her concise, fearless, no-nonsense style of storytelling that rivaled the boys? I only wish that Lupino was still around to witness the work of the woman who inherited the flame Ida lit – Katherine Bigelow.
Polisse (2011) – Maïwenn — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Given the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Polisse (the mispronunciation of the word police by a child) opens with a series of investigative interrogations. Not with criminals, but rather young, care-free children, who may well be the unknowing victims of sexual abuse. Always a horrific, frantic head-shaking subject, within seconds of the picture I felt my stomach turn and my heart being crushed. Even when a grandfather is vocal about petting his grand-daughter’s kitty-cat your head is ducked under the water of the worst possible connotation. Written by Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot (recent Best Actress winner at Cannes for the also Maïwenn-directed Mon roi) this throws punches left, right and center, the horrors of inner-family awfulness you don’t want the innocent children exposed to, let alone be made aware of the reality of it. The police of the title seem to sometimes be in a kind of documentary, a day in the life of, as these officials hang-out in gangs, socialize, and of course do their police work. They are vocal, boisterous, surrounded by tension and adrenaline. Maïwenn brings her words and vision as director together proficiently, considering the size of the cast and the taboo of the issues. The film closes with the kind of sucker punch it began with, but of a very different impact.
A Question of Silence (1982) – Marleen Gorris — Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
What have you done in the last 34 years for the feminist cause? Likely nothing compared to the case put forward in Marleen Gorris’ psychological and societal inquiry, and blackly comic courtroom drama A Question of Silence. Its issues may today be commonplace to those of a more intelligent persuasion (you may be surprised how few of us there are), but A Question of Silence exists in acknowledgement of the radicalness of its argument and its enormous scope – Gorris’ approach is incendiary, and rightfully so, identifying the tiniest of sparks and reinterpreting it as the mightiest of blazes. She intends to turn our faces to the fire that’s been raging behind us for far too long, and the sense of purpose behind this film imbues it with a dynamism and an immediacy that few films can claim. Of particular note is the sensitivity with which she relates vital feminist codes of communication, and the movement’s rejection of the inherent misogyny within language. What’s a female-focused list without a film that focuses not only on females, but on feminism!
Gas, Food Lodging (1992) – Allison Anders — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
While the likes of John Sayles (with Passion Fish), or Hal Hartley (Simple Men), or Jim Jarmusch (Night on Earth) were doing the low-budget rounds, Allison Anders, a woman, was sitting in the same independent cinema net with Gas, Food Lodging. Made with the same kind of haphazard fragility as the temperament of one of three central characters Trudi (Ione Skye), this tells the tale of the mother Nora (Brooke Adams), hopeless at the game of love, and her daughters. The younger sibling, Shade (Fairuza Balk) wants to find her mother a nice man, when she is not idolizing the cinema icon Elvia Rivero or taking the brunt of her sister Trudi’s major attitude. Anders’ film has it’s fair share of amateur dramatics-style acting, certainly not a bad thing, as characters reel off their thoughts and feelings, and have shouting matches (with Trudi involved one way of the other) before it soon falls into the realm of seeking out companionship while shadowing the past. All three girls have potential suitors, but also the complications life brings you no matter how much you think you know. Even with splashings of genuine, sharp dialogue, Gas, Food Lodging is a grainy and raw family film, made in a time of the great rise of American Indies. It is still refreshing, but not nearly enough seen, when these days we get to see this style of amateur, honest film still being made. The guitar twangs of Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis is a real bonus too.
The Selfish Giant (2013) – Clio Barnard — Thomas Pollock @FilmMasterT
The Selfish Giant is a British film, directed by Clio Barnard, telling the story of two 13 year-old boys in a working class neighborhood. They try to make money by trying to sell things to a scrapyard, which begins to have consequences. This is a bleak and emotional charged film that boasts social realism. The acting from the young performers is convincing and impressive, drawing you in to their lives. This is a story of social class, childhood and friendship. Partly inspired by the Oscar Wilde story of the same name, Barnard tackles the issue of what can happen to lesser-fortunate children in broken homes. A gritty and honest film that is likely to stay with you after viewing.
Harlan County, USA (1976) – Barbara Kopple — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
I truly feel that without Barbara Kopple, we would have no Laura Poitras (CitizenFour), Gabriela Coperthwaite (Blackfish), Amy Berg (Deliver Us from Evil) or Jehane Noujaim (The Square). Every woman who made – or ever will make – a hard-hitting documentary film owes Kopple, who went to Brookside Mine in Kentucky to cover one thing and ended up staying for a year, coming home with something entirely different. The UMWA began a strike against Duke Power’s Eastover Mining Company and Kopple filmed the ensuing struggle between the 180 workers and the mine, the company, the corporate parent and ultimately, the state. She doesn’t bother with narration because the action speaks for itself. She explores the hardscrabble existence of the workers whose already poor wages free-fall behind the inflation rate and who deal with daily dangers of their working conditions and future perils such as black lung disease waiting round the corner. Her camera captures numerous interviews and maneuvering from both sides of the line as well as the picketing. She films the State Police clearing the way for scabs, the armed strikebreakers shooting at the miners and their families, including the funeral of a young minor shot during a confrontation. The thing about Barbara Kopple – she never blinks. Kopple won the Oscar in 1977 for Best Documentary feature. She won a second in 1991 and has also done some series TV (OZ and Homicide: Life on the Street), but it is Harlan County, USA that put her, feature documentaries in general, and female documentarians, in particular, on the cinema map.
Wayne’s World (1992) – Penelope Spheeris — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
A woman, Penelope Spheeris, is responsible for directing that wacky satire about geeks Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) and their cable TV show Wayne’s World – just like the one you saw on Saturday Night Live. Spheeris takes these two pop cultured boys and their perhaps warped view on the world on a journey through the high life and corruption fame can bring. More so this is a movie that just wants to have fun. It has donuts bleeding jam, iconic guitar love, the timeless Bohemian Rhapsody re-enactment, several re-worked endings. A whole host of well-known faces pop their heads in too, including Meat Loaf, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ione Skye, Ed O’Neill, and of course Alice Cooper. Wayne’s World has a firm, funny grasp of the younger generation’s outlook on pop culture, ways of communicating, video games, hot girls, music. More importantly this is fresh, genuinely comic film, never taking it’s foot off the laughing gas no matter how ludicrous or oddball it gets.
Wuthering Heights (2011) – Andrea Arnold — Asif Khan @KHAN2705
Directed by British filmmaker Andrea Arnold, this gritty and dark adaptation of the classic Emily Brontë novel from 1847, was a divisive and somewhat ignored film when it came out few years ago. It had won award for its cinematography at Venice but the audience, the few who actually watched it, were put off by its unorthodox approach to the source material as well as the period romance sub-genre in general. A passionate defender and admirer of the film, I was enamored and swept by the brutal yet visually stunning treatment of the story. Arnold has been working on TV as a director and actress, she made some short films (her Wasp won live-action short Oscar). Her feature debut Red Road and sophomore effort Fish Tank are both winners of Jury Prize at Cannes, she has won BAFTA and numerous other prizes. Arnold is one of the most exciting voices in not only British cinema but the world. There is an impassioned search of realism and naturalism in her films, of the the characters and their surroundings. How they are shaped up by where they grow and why there is so much to be learned about a person through their psyche and emotions. Wuthering Heights (Arnold co-wrote it with Olivia Hetreed) is such a representation of these classic characters mostly known and celebrated but not really looked beyond the obvious. Animalistic love, harsh characteristics, spellbinding sight and sounds. Misty, rain swept and mud covered windy moors – and the undying love of Heathcliff and Catherine.
Under the Skin (1997) – Carine Adler — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Forget Jonathan Glazer and Scarlett Johansson (for the time being), and instead immerse yourself in Carine Adler, Samantha Morton, and Claire Rushbrook. The 1997 British drama titled Under the Skin is a tale of two sisters, both grieving the loss of their mother. Iris (Morton) is losing her shit, suffocating in her personal and professional life, pretty much on the downward slope. Rose (Rushbrook) is settled, married and baby on the way, but is a sensitive soul. Iris’ describes sexual encounters in detail in voice-over, and the heavier side of the soundtrack is not there to cradle your emotions, it thuds and beats and drowns out sounds. It takes Iris away from it all a while so she can rub herself or lead herself to more promiscuity with men. There are transitional fades within the same sequence, which is kind of effectively disorientating, and Adler’s camera tilts ever so slightly and hovers at times. Her screenplay is brutally honest, sometimes painful, an enlightening look at how two people can suffer so differently. This is Iris’ story though, and Samantha Morton’s film, so affecting and magnetic (as always) in this, even when hardly moving a muscle. Morton excels as playing troubled, tender souls on the verge of sadness or breaking point, and this is certainly no exception. Adler writes with authentic passion for the more unstable human interactions, characters speak their mind, and say insensitive things at the wrong moment. That people can, and do, act irrationally, violently, in despair, without glossing over the very rough edges. It would not be a stretch to make comparisons to Mike Leigh in it’s human nature, but there is fire in her belly in the way Adler executes the gritty, no holds barred direction.