Thursday, March 13, 2014

Women's History Month

It is well known that, compared to men in the film industry, women are vastly underemployed, underutilized, or not present at all.  However, there are a great deal of women in film who are powerful, influential, and brilliant.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but instead are names and works of filmmakers who I have always appreciated and admired.  There may be some obvious omissions, but that's done on purpose.  Some are very well known for their contributions to film, and others are not.  All are worth recognizing, however.  So here they are:

Alice Guy Blaché
If you are a film student or ever researched early motion pictures, then you know who Alice Guy Blaché is.  To say she is a pioneer of film would be a gross understatement.  She is not only the first woman to direct films, but she is also one of the first directors in history to venture into fiction from "actualities."  She is the first director to use the hand tinting method of coloring films, as well as many other technological innovations utilizing sound.  Blaché directed over 350 films throughout her career, but by the 1920s, the general public was recognizing the lucrative nature of film, making it nearly impossible for anyone who was not white and male to work as a director.  Here is a clip of her on set directing (she is front and center, with her back towards the camera):

Penny Marshall
Bronx-born funny lady Penny Marshall started her career as an actress with roles on hit television shows The Odd Couple, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and most notably, Laverne & Shirley.  Later, she went on to direct 1980s comedy classics like Big (1988), and A League of Their Own (1992):

photo: Directors Guild of America
Kasi Lemmons
Also first known as an actress, appearing in School Daze (dir. Spike Lee, 1988), The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991), and Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992), Lemmons' directorial debut was a haunting tale of a strong girl who holds a terrible family secret in Eve's Bayou (1997).  Lemmons also wrote the screenplay:

photo: Claudette Barius
Allison Anders
In discussions of women in film in the 1980s-1990s, Allison Anders name will (and should) be one of the first mentioned.  She has directed great films exploring femininity and coming-of-age stories.   She also wrote and directed "The Missing Ingredient" segment from the film Four Rooms (1995) as well as episodes of Sex and the City, and she is an avid classic film fan with great insight on theory, history, and filmmaking. Here is a trailer for her first film, Border Radio, about the LA punk scene:  

Sally Menke
The witty, involved dialogue and general aura of "cool" in Quentin Tarantino's films would amount to very little if the editing wasn't brilliant.  Sally Menke has edited every film Tarantino has ever directed (with the exception of Django Unchained; she passed away shortly before).  Think of all the incredible fight scenes in his films, and you realize how much talent this woman had.  Out of all the Tarantino films I could pick for a clip, I may get beat up for picking Deathproof (2007), but this car chase scene shows off Sally's editing skills and stuntwoman Zoe Bell's level of badassness:

photo: Sebastian Kim
Julie Taymor
First woman to win a Tony for directing (The Lion King on Broadway, which will go down in history as Disney's best Broadway production of all time), and director of such visually striking movies as Frida (2002), Titus (1999), and The Tempest (2010), it takes a great amount of talent and creativity to present the songs of the Beatles in original ways.  She did that in Across the Universe (2007): 

Julie Dash
With Daughters of the Dust (1991), filmmaker Julie Dash used the power of cinema to preserve a certain culture and history that mainstream sources were not paying attention to.  Her work is revered, and incredibly important.  Here's a trailer for her most beloved film:

Penelope Spheeris
I don't even like to entertain the misguided opinions of those who think women are not funny or incapable of making great comedies.  The characters of Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar surely originate from Mike Myers and Dana Carvey's popular SNL sketches, but the film could have gone down in flames (like many SNL movies did) without Spheeris' contributions.  Here is one of my favorite moments of Wayne's World (1992):

Mira Nair
Indian-born filmmaker Mira Nair directed Mississippi Masala (1991), Monsoon Wedding (2001) and The Namesake (2006).  Here is a clip of a segment she directed in New York, I Love You (2008) starring Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan, where she lets opposite ethnicities, religions, and genders collide; always resulting in finding common ground (start video at 1:30):

Ida Lupino
Remembered by many as a star in classic films alongside stars like Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra (1941), Lupino turned to writing and directing when she found Hollywood roles scarce.  This is quite an accomplishment, being that the 1940s and 1950s saw very few women in the director's chair.  Starting with dramas like Never Fear (1949) and Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951), she also turned to television directing in the years to follow.  Lupino is the only woman to direct an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Her episode, "The Masks," is in full here: 

These ten women have made great marks in the realms of television, film, and theater, tacking issues of genre and gender.  There are MANY more women who have produced, written, acted, designed and edited their ways into film history, and I urge further reading on them (for starters - Lois Weber, Frances Marion, Dorothy Arzner, Nora Ephron, Maya Deren, Mary Harron, Agnieszka Holland, Agnes Varda, Jane Campion, Sarah Polley, Marta Rodriguez).

- 'Til next time!