AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, February 20, 2010 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Why do women pay to see crappy movies? Where is the networking and support for female filmmakers? And

GIRLS JUST WANNA SEE CRAP? AWFJ member Monika Bartyzel puts into words the conundrum female filmgoers face when we want to see a movie about women:

While I can’t fathom forgiving all of the flaws of [Sex and the City] on the big screen, forgiveness is an essential part of the experience for any moviegoer eager to see real-life women. There are, quite simply, too few films that are interested in reaching beyond the typical stereotypes, and even when they do, bothersome cliches usually sneak in. We are part of a cinematic landscape where The Bechdel Rule still runs strong. “The Rule” is simple: Find films where two of the characters are women, who talk with each other about something other than men. Jette Kernion struggled to find even a handful of solid examples when she wrote a Cinematical Seven on The Rule. I spend a long time staring at my many DVDs when I want some intelligent and real female fare — especially when I add further qualifiers like little to no romance and no-heart-wrenching drama.

This is why so many terrible movies featuring female characters do so well at the box office: Women are simply desperate to see women on the big screen. I, however, long ago can up forgiving these terrible movies their flaws, and now Bartyzel ask other women to do the same:

But at some point, we have to stop forgiving everything. As much as we all have dramatic lives that need release with fluff fare and mediocre cinema, we can’t keep paying into the system that perpetuates crap.

Take Valentine’s Day: It earned the #1 spot at the box office this weekend, grabbing over $56 million. Regardless of the holiday ties, this overly cliched, embarrassing excuse of a rom-com just made a ton of money and already has a sequel in the works, once again “proving” that the women of Valentine’s Day are the kind of females moviegoers want to see on the big screen — the sweet-as-pie grade school teacher, the airhead blonde high schooler, the perpetually single girl who wallows in candy and panic attacks, the rich wife who tries to ignore her husband’s infidelity… (Not to mention the film’s treatment of minorities, and other cinematic atrocities, which might get outlined in another post.)

If you pay to see films like this, and buy them for your shelves, because maybe you like Emma Roberts’ spunky teen, or love Jennifer Garner’s sweetness, or Anne Hathaway speaking in a Russian accent, every cent that goes to these movies decreases the chance of finding anything better on the big screen. Studios don’t see the success of Garry Marshall’s latest, or the cash raked in from SatC, as an example of moviegoers wanting more diverse and awesome women on the big screen, or more women in general. They see it as a simple equation: Romance + sexy women + comedy = Goldmine. Female friends + fashion + money = Goldmine. Women obsessed with men = Goldmine.

Studio Goldmines = Smart Moviegoer’s Hell

Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. There are other entertainment options for women who want to see smart stories about women: they’re on cable TV, they’re in indie and foreign movies for rent or on demand. I, too, wish more women would seek them out instead of giving in to whatever latest rom-com junk Hollywood is pushing. It’s not that hard. And until mass women audiences simply stop financially supporting bad films about cartoonish women, the torrent of them will not end.

THE MOVIES WOMEN AREN’T MAKING. Artist and filmmaker Miranda July — who gave us the wonderful Me and You and Everyone We Know a few years ago — spoke to DazedDigital.com this week about her work. And she touched on something that doesn’t get a lot of play when we talk about why there aren’t enough women in power positions in Hollywood (not that July is powerful, alas): mentoring and networking and other forms of professional and creative support from other women filmmakers. About her 1990s project Joanie 4 Jackie, July explains:

I wanted to create some sort of feeling that girls were making movies because I was too nervous to. It was a simple idea, any woman who sent me a short movie, I would send her back a tape with her movie and nine others. I did that for many, many years and I would tour, often doing something interactive, like making a movie with the audience. It would feel really special that you were a part of that night. There was almost an aesthetic of revolution that was empowering, and it still is. Especially if you’re really poor and keep getting fired from jobs and you’re basically a kleptomaniac… umm, not anymore.

The Web site at Joanie 4 Jackie currently has a notice stating that it’s undergoing a redesign: here’s hoping that project, which originated on VHS, will be reborn for the digital era. The Google description of the site says it’s a “free, alternative distribution system for women movie makers, all of them. Every woman who submits her tape is accepted.” While anyone — male or female or other — can upload a movie to YouTube, it’s all too easy for movies to get lost there. A new iteration of Joanie 4 Jackie would be wonderful.

July’s enthusiasm for the project and how helpful it was for her as an artist is clear in this minidocumentary about Joanie 4 Jackie:

Joanie 4 Jackie from Miranda July on Vimeo.

July hits on the importance of women filmmakers supporting one another at the end of the video: What movies aren’t being made, she wonders, when women aren’t making movies? That question is rarely even broached, and the answer is depressing to think about.

QUICK PICKS

• Irin at Jezebel notes that cable network Showtime:

has a solid track record of shows that not only feature complex, unconventional roles for women — among them, The L Word, Weeds, The United States Of Tara, Nurse Jackie — but often have a woman (or several) in charge behind the scenes. And taking a look at what Showtime has in the pipeline indicates that they don’t intend to change that.

• A female playwright will, at long last, be featured Shakespeare’s old stomping ground, London’s Globe theater, reports Mark Brown at the Guardian:

It has taken more than 400 years but a female playwright will finally have a work performed at what is now Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, it was announced today.

Nell Leyshon’s Bedlam is a fictional portrait of the Bethlem – the London hospital for the insane – set during the mid-18th century gin epidemic.

Leyshon said it was a “great privilege” to be the first woman to have a play staged at the Globe. “It’s a challenge and I’m quite aware of the fact,” she said. “I have to be honest, it fed my writing; I thought I can’t write a flabby play. I wanted to prove that women can do conflict, that they can write big structures, big stories because I’ve heard it too many times that women aren’t as good at that.”

OPENING THIS WEEK. Women are literally missing in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, a thriller about two U.S. Marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) who investigate the disappearance of a female patient at a remote mental asylum. DiCaprio’s cop is haunted, too, but the memory of his wife (Michelle Wlliams), who died before the film opens but does, at least, get to appear in his nightmarish flashback-y hallucinations.

Women at least have supporting roles in The Ghost Writer, a thriller about a journalist (Ewan McGregor) who gets caught up in political intrigue when he agrees to write the “auto”biography of a disgraced British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan): Kim Cattrall as the PM’s executive assistant and Olivia Williams as the PM’s wife do not, however, have much to do that isn’t par for the course for mainstream films. The film brings the additional complication of it being the latest from Roman Polanski, who has been a fugitive from justice for the past 30 years after admitting to raping a child. Whether one can separate his crimes from his art — and this truly is an excellent film — is up to the individual to decide.

For more, see the AWFJ’s regular weekly rundown of new releases.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at FlickFilosopher.com, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her Women On Film archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).