#52FilmsByWomen: FANGIRL

fangirl

31/52 FANGIRL

This week’s five-minute morsel takes a fly-on-the-wall look into the world of teenage fan girls and it reminded me of how much our culture has changed since I was a teenager.

Back in my day, I lived in a small Indiana town that boasted the second largest Amish population outside of Pennsylvania and had a booming tourist industry because of it. I’d cash my tiny paycheck from my ice-cream parlor, restaurant or babysitting job and run over the local pharmacy to see if the latest issues of BOP or BIG BOPPER magazine had come in. Then I’d hole up in my room to see what Michael J. Fox, Kirk Cameron or Alyssa Milano were getting up to. At that time my family didn’t own a computer and, in fact, I hadn’t yet learned how to use one. We had to catch our favorite television shows when they aired and we rented movies from the video store.

For me, the colorful and gossipy glimpse into the world of Young Hollywood wasn’t really about “romance.” I did have crushes, to be sure, but mostly I just wanted to live the kind of life that these teenage actors were living. I wanted to be in movies, go to the beach and live in a place that was sunny all year round. I don’t think I ever believed that the actors I admired would be friends with me; I just wanted to be like them.

In today’s world, that sort of innocent and distant infatuation has evolved into a hyper psedu-intimacy, where every banal thought and deed is posted instantly on social media and available to a public audience. Young teens grow up feeling like they have access to the most private aspects of their idols lives and, therefore, an emotional bond forms that is rooted in the public fantasy instead of in reality. Some of that is status quo, some of it is innocent and some of it can be quite disturbing–particularly when you think about how this constant virtual voyeurism is depriving young women of the opportunity to discover their own strengths, interests and passions. I also think about how much pressure young people must feel to be “followed” socially and to have their five minutes of fame.

Director Liza Mandelup is exploring a worthy subject. You can read her director’s statements and watch this short doc HERE.

 

#52FilmsByWomen: WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED

Kelly

30/52 WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED

I have been waiting for this. Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong is one of my favorite directors of all-time. You know her from such beautiful films as Oscar and Lucinda, Little Women, Charlotte Gray and My Brilliant Career (this one is a MUST SEE). However, Armstrong hasn’t made a narrative feature since 2007 and the reasons are becoming familiar as I research and watch these films by women. The issues are a lack of funding and opportunities for women filmmakers and films, of overblown corporate studio systems that get in the way of making good films and, most of all, the wasteland that exists when it comes to finding a solid script. Armstrong has been outspoken about the fact that, for many years, she hasn’t found one decent narrative story to make. The scripts that come her way are “banal” and “predictable after the first ten pages.” She believes the best writers are mostly in television now (true) and laments the dearth of great dramatic and character-driven theatrical films.

Like Debra Granik, whom I also featured on this blog, Armstrong has turned her hand to documentaries, where there is a wealth of wonderful stories to be told on less expensive budgets. This week her latest documentary was released on VOD and it tells the story of Orry-Kelly, the incomparable yet mostly unknown Hollywood costume designer, who also hailed from Australia. Although you may not know his name, you have definitely seen his work, as he designed for everyone from Bette Davis to Marilyn Monroe to Ingrid Bergman to Katharine Hepburn to Jane Fonda. He also had a profound influence on some of our best costume designers working today, such as Ann Roth (The English Patient), Colleen Atwood (Chicago) and Catherine Martin (The Great Gatsby).

This film is fascinating on a few levels. As a lover of Old Hollywood film history, I couldn’t get enough of the inside scoop on the behind-the-scenes drama of the studio system. There are tons of juicy tidbits about actors such as Bette Davis, who is one of my artistic heroes and who was a close collaborator with Kelly. The fashion and glamour is a feast for the eyes. But, most of all, Kelly was one of the few openly gay and working members of the Hollywood system at a time when the LGBT community was often ostracized and blacklisted. And Kelly carried a powerful personal secret to his grave that I won’t spoil for you if you haven’t seen the film.

Armstrong went on a long hunt for a lost memoir of Kelly’s, which she finally located and which is finally going to be published. Her sources are first-hand–both Kelly’s own writing about his life and other artists who actually worked with him. Armstrong employs actors in stylized re-enactments of certain scenes; it’s a bit jolting at first but stick with it. Eventually it dawned on me that, as a master of her craft, Armstrong made a precise choice in how to tell her story and it all serves her subject matter perfectly in the end. It’s an emotionally compelling and entertaining ride through old Hollywoodland and I’m thrilled to see new work from this director I love.

#52FilmsByWomen: TALLULAH

Tallulah

29/52 TALLULAH

It’s such a treat to have a new film about women, by women and with a fantastic cast of women, premiering on Netflix as TALLULAH did this past Friday. Netflix offered to purchase this film before it had even played at Sundance and released it as a Netflix Original, which seems to be the wave of the future. Now we can have great movie premieres from the comfort of our homes and–after an exhausting week–it was something I was really looking forward to.

TALLULAH was written and directed by Sian Heder, best known for her work on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. She first conceived this story as the short film, MOTHER, which premiered at Cannes and then spent several years trying to finance the feature. One consistent obstacle she encountered was the note to make one of her three female leads a man, instead, in order to make a sale. Thank goodness she didn’t.

The heart of this film lies with three wonderful actors–Ellen Page, Allison Janney and Tammy Blanchard. Page plays a homeless drifter who, making a split-second decision she thought was best at the time, winds up kidnapping a toddler and passing her off as the daughter of her missing boyfriend. Blanchard is the reluctant mother of the child and Janney is the reluctant grandmother. All three women have wonderful chemistry and scenes with each other. As an actor, it’s a film that I latched on to from the first moment and enjoyed from start to finish. And I can’t overstate how refreshing it is to watch a film that revolves around women. I loved seeing Page again in a character so suited to her talent. Janny is a Goddess in my world and someone I aspire to be like in my work. And Blanchard was unknown to me but this Tony and Emmy nominated actor steals about every scene she’s in; I want to dig up her other work because she’s amazing.

TALLULAH is streaming now on Netflix and is an excellent way to spend an evening at home.

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