Hollywood of the 1920s and 1930s was a male-dominated space, with men like Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Renoir, and countless others receiving credit for their illustrious place in film history. But, one person that film history largely forgets is Dorothy Arzner, who has the largest oeuvre of any woman filmmaker. She was the only female director working during this time and the only female filmmaker whose work moved from the silent era into sound, showing her strength in filmmaking as well as her creativity. But it isn’t just her technical prowess that deserves praise; it is also her desire to portray nuanced and complicated women, rather than the stereotypical women-as-objects seen in that era of cinema. Her films explore women, how they’re represented in classic Hollywood narratives, and how supportive friendships between women flourish, which can be seen in Dance, Girl, Dance. She made films about women for women, and addressed the many facets of being a woman, from societal standing to romantic relationships to what it means to work. Arzner was also a lesbian filmmaker, which can be seen in her critiques of heteronormative relationships and their consequences, particularly in her 1933 film, Christopher Strong.
Despite a prolific career, Arzner is not commonly mentioned with this era of Hollywood cinema and she is rarely studied. I was lucky enough to be introduced to her work by a TA in grad school, who told me only one book has been written on Arzner and how difficult is to find many of her films — only a few of them are available to stream or even purchase. I believe Arzner deserves a larger place in the canon, and more recognition for the types of films she was creating, particularly with her focus on catering to a female spectator. The films I detail below are some of her more easily found work and exemplify Arzner’s key themes around social class, work, friendship, and critiques of heteronormativity.
I first encountered Sally Wainwright through watching a series that she wrote, created and produced entitled Scott and Bailey, which revolves around the powerful friendship forged between three women detectives in a police unit despite their stark differences in hierarchy, age, and personalities. I haven’t looked back since, continuing to watch as much of her filmography as I can. What I received out of it was a profound understanding on the myriad of ways women lift each other up, and how important it is for us to recognise that the bonds between women have to be strong, necessarily so. They have to be filled with kindness, empathy, and love for us to quite literally, survive in a world that isn’t in any hurry to stop men from hurting us. In short, what summarises my tender fondness for her work is this quote put forth succinctly by Wainwright herself:
“Women do have very strong relationships with each other and you don’t often see that dramatised on telly. In fact, friendship itself isn’t dramatised terribly well on television. I’d suppose I do like reflecting on friendships. A lot of warmth and humour can come from the relationships women have with each other.”
For this spotlight, I have decided to focus on Sally Wainwright because I am, frankly, exhausted of seeing women pitted against each other on television. Most shows can spend up to seven seasons churning out feuds between women, reducing our identities to pure cattiness and jealousy, with harmful implications. Such representations perpetuate the false sentiment that there is no room for women to succeed because other women exist, which distracts us from the truth — there is no room for women to succeed because we live in a patriarchal world that simply doesn’t want us to. As a result, it’s all the more imperative that the portrayal of women on television affirms the strength that can be drawn from our love for one another, and this is exactly what Wainwright’s writing offers. I know that my relationships with other women have saved my life, and continue to do so. Continue reading “Female Director Spotlight: Sally Wainwright’s Honest Portrayal of the Relationships Between Women”→
If you’re into lesbian cinema, then you’ve probably heard of Angela Robinson. Her profile has recently expanded; long after blessing us with the likes of D.E.B.S. and Girltrash!, the writer-director went mainstream last year with her vastly under-appreciated Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. (You can read our LFF review of the film here.)
At Much Ado About Cinema, we cherish LGBTQ+ film, and queer cinema is a core foundation of our lives. Robinson is an example of a filmmaker who constantly centres lesbian/bisexual women in her stories, and produces these stories in a way that often makes us feel validated and genuinely represented – she is a brilliant example of why LGBT stories are told best by LGBT people. Whether it’s through comedic parodies or psychosexual dramas, we’ll be following Robinson’s career wherever she chooses to go. If you’re new to her work, take a gander at the profile below: you’ve got a whole lot to catch up on.
From the very beginning, Ida Lupino was destined to become an influential figure in the entertainment industry. Coming from the Lupino theatrical family, she wrote her first play at age seven and by ten she had memorized all the female leading roles in Shakespeare’s plays. That acting bug resulted in her 105 acting credits in films like High Sierra (1941), and appearances in television shows like Bonanza. But in an industry where good roles for women were hard to get, and with up and coming starlets vying for those roles, Lupino decided to leave Warner Brothers and create her own production company, The Filmakers [sic], with her husband, Collier Young. It was, primarily, an outlet for Lupino to direct, write, and produce her own low-budget and issue-oriented films. Their production company produced 12 feature films, six of which Lupino directed, five she wrote or co-wrote, and two she co-produced. It was during this time that Lupino became the first woman to direct a film noir: The Hitch-Hiker (1953). She later turned to television where she directed episodes for shows like The Twilight Zone, Gilligan’s Island, and Bewitched.
Adolescence is an important time for all of us. It’s a rollercoaster of unexplainable emotions – emotions that often cannot be accurately captured in words. It’s the first time we feel attraction, discover sexuality, and explore romantic relationships. It’s a crossroads for all, but it can be especially painful for LGBTQ+ youth. While heterosexual and cisgender teenagers will see their own desires reflected in the rest of their community, their trans and same gender attracted counterparts can often experience the throes of adolescence in complete loneliness.
Much of French filmmaker Céline Sciamma’s work focuses on the unique conflicts of adolescent life. Her camera juxtaposes the joy of new maturity with a fear of the unknown, calmly recounting the stories of strikingly individual characters. Her work is best watched collectively, for maximum appreciation of her minimal style, but if you’re looking for somewhere to start, take a look at the summaries below.
As Megan has been off at BFI Flare, Kareem has kindly taken over the spotlight this month! Read on to hear his thoughts on the wonderful Maren Ade.
It’s a moment of overwhelming helplessness; Ines, an emotionally drained corporate consultant (and human being), lies on a couch of a Bucharestian club. Her body language is equal to, how Germans would say, “einem Schluck Wasser” (a gulp of water) and as the techno remix of “Safe and Sound” enters a phase of temporary tranquility before the beat drops, her eyes well up with tears as the words “I could lift you up” inhabit the entire room for a second – almost like a whispered promise of comfort, directly addressed to her. She looks over at Toni Erdmann, a wigged character with fake teeth, invented by her desperate father. She sees how helpless he himself is – the tears are an expression of the powerlessness against the emotional chasm between them. She knows how hard he tries, despite his feeling of impotence – maybe because he has no one else to turn to at this point. They are both deeply lonely people, torn apart by time, space and societal conventions of emotional self-oppression.
Toni Erdmann is a film about many things, but like German auteur Maren Ade’s entire body of work, especially about how disconnected we can be from each other and ourselves, and thus how lonely.
When considering the work of female filmmakers, Ava DuVernay is a name that stands out in the minds of many. Her achievements are overwhelming; she is the first African-American woman to win the Best Director prize at Sundance, the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe, and the first black female director to have a film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. She has Emmys, Black Reel Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and countless nominations under her belt. In 2018, her film ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ will make Ava DuVernay the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of over $100 million.
In many ways, these facts are shocking – DuVernay should not have had to be the first to lay claim to these achievements. Regardless, her filmography paints a picture of true passion for the moving image. From short films to television specials, documentaries to biographical films, there doesn’t seem to be much that the filmmaker won’t try her hand at. As a director, writer, producer, marketer, and distributor, DuVernay is also involved in every level of the process – occasionally even making appearances in front of the camera (‘This is the Life (2008)’). The variety of her work represents not only an ability to adapt to various genres, but also the method by which she rose to fame. DuVernay did not go to film school, and instead practised her craft through lower-budget documentary filmmaking.