Thursday, December 13, 2012


Well, the big thing going on right now is that it's officially Award season, and believe me, I'm following it closely, like always, and for once, it seems like this year's races, are actually races. And it's not just Best Picture or something, it's practically every category across the board, there are no clear frontrunners anywhere this year, at least not yet. There's usually a clue or two from the numerous critic awards that start to get their preferences out around now, but they've pretty much been split across the board, although there are a few names that are starting to get a lot of repeat appearances on Awards ballots. This week, is when the Critics Choice, SAGs, and Golden Globes, announce their respected Award nominations, all on consecutive days btw. Well, if there is an apparent frontrunner, this week, it might be the film "Zero Dark Thirty," Kathryn Bigelow's controversial film based on the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Especially lately, it's been winning, a great deal of Awards and nominations, and already there's some criticism going out, for Bigelow, the main one being that, she wouldn't be getting so much acclaim for the film, if she wasn't a woman. Bigelow, some of you may remember, became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director a few years ago, for her film "The Hurt Locker", which also won Best Picture. If she's nominated again, she will become the first woman, to ever get nominated in the category twice, and definitely, she would be the first to win two. Let me start with the obvious point that I have to make, and that is that, we wouldn't be having this discussion, if she wasn't a great filmmaker to begin with. Not a great woman filmmaker, a great filmmaker. Plus, it's not like there haven't been women filmmakers until recently, women have been directing since the beginning of moving pictures. The fact that it took until recently for a woman to win, is insulting, and considering how few have previously been nominated, is also quite shameful. It's not that she's a woman, that her movie's are getting acclaim and Award consideration, neither is the fact that she's a good-looking woman, either, I've heard that claim too, it's because she's a great filmmaker.

That said, it is a little interesting to me that Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win the directing Oscar, and it many ways, if there is this anti-woman bias in Hollywood towards female directors, (and to a certain extent, I think there is) than it makes perfect sense to me, that Bigelow would be the first one to win, possibly win twice even. Now, why am I saying that? Well, look at her filmography for a second here. On top of "The Hurt Locker", she's also directed such acclaimed films as "Point Break", an action thriller about cops and bank robbers, "K-19: The Widowmaker", about a Russian submarine that's fallen to the bottom of the ocean, the aforementioned "The Hurt Locker" about Bomb-disposal units in Iraq, and now, a movie about Marines, doing a dangerous mission to kill the world's most wanted terrorist. (She's directed other movies, but I'm not as familiar with them, so I don't want to pre-speculate) The common theme in her work, is of all things, masculinity. She is utterly fascinated by the male ego, and the comraderie between men, particularly during enclosed pressure-filled situations, such as bank robbers, police, and the military. These are common themes for many filmmakers, but predominantly they're male themes. Her genre, is the action genre, which historically is a genre dominated by male directors, male actors, male fans. Young male fans, in fact. Quickly, name the female character in "The Hurt Locker". You can't do it, can you! Okay, someone got it, the wife of the Jeremy Renner character, who we don't see until the end of the movie, even then only briefly, as her main character, chooses to go back to Iraq and be with his fellow men, putting his life on the line disposing bombs.(Sorry if I spoiled that ending, but it's been three years, it won Best Picture, you should've seen it by now) Now I'm not criticizing her subject matter, in fact, I'm glad that she makes these kinds of movies, and her perspective on such a subject is far more interesting to me than most filmmakers who tackle this material. But, let's compare her work to other women filmmakers, and just to simplify this, (because, there's a lot of great female filmmakers I can use if I wanted to [Catherine Breillat, Kimberly Pierce, Patty Jenkins, Jill and Karen Sprechter, Amy Heckerling, Liliana Caviani...etc.) let's narrow it down to the other female filmmaker who've earned Best Director Oscar nominations.

The first one was the great Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmuller, who was nominated for her film "Seven Beauties", about a WWII playboy, who loved seven women, and needed his ability to seduce women to help him survive the war. She's also directed such films like "The Nymph", ""The Seduction of Mimi", "Love and Anarchy," and her best film "Swept Away By an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August", which some of you may be familiar with because of the infamous Guy Ritchie remake of that film "Swept Away", starring Madonna. Now she has a few different themes, politics for instance, being a major one, her movies were often allegoricalical, but they were also often romances, and very often, her films explored sexuality, mostly from a female perspective (although not a feminist persopective, which was quite daring of her, especially during the '70s, which is considered the peak of her career and the peak of the women's rights movement, keep that in mind), so think about all that, especially considering that her films were in Italian, which makes getting an Director Oscar nomination even more unusual. (I'm not sure any director has ever won for a foreign language film, now that I think about it) The fact that she got nominated at all, is rather shocking, if you consider and accept a male-bias in the Hollywood community.

Now, the second one nominated, back in the early nineties, was Jane Campion, nominated for her wonderful film "The Piano". She's a New Zealand-born director, although she resides in Australia predominantly, but her films are in English, a plus, for the Best Director chances, but let's consider her subject matters. She often makes romantic sensual films as well (Sensual not sexual), such as "The Piano," as well as "In the Cut," about a sexually adventurous high school teacher, she also makes period romance dramas, about more adventurous women, again, "The Piano," but also "The Portrait of a Lady," as well as, "Bright Star," her most recent film, a romance about John Keats, a romantic poet, but focused on the girl he had a 3-year affair with Fanny Brawne. So, female leads, who are, non-traditional leads, her films are more character-based than plot-based I would say, that is to say, she's more intrigued by the emotions of the characters, particularly the female characters, all throughout history, and modern times, she also makes family dramas like "Sweetie", and a few of her Award-winning short films like "Peel", and "Passionless Moments", often the relationship is between sisters, great subject matters, and she usually makes strong, really good movies, (and even her bad ones are more interesting than a lot of directors' good movies) but again, not really subject matter that you associate, with Hollywood blockbusters, or even with major Award-winning films, it's not exactly what makes a lot of money, they don't necessarily appeal to the desired market demographics.

Now, let's look at Sofia Coppola, the third female to earn a Best Director nomination, the first American woman to do so, and from a Hollywood superfamily by the way, her father of course, is Francis Ford Coppola, who's won multiple Oscars, including a Best Director Oscar for "The Godfather Part II", and I'm gonna admit bias right away, she should've won the Oscar the year she was nominated for her masterful film "Lost in Translation". She lost to Peter Jackson for the third "Lord of the Rings...", film, and it was one of the biggest screw-ups in Oscar history, and they should apologize for that, everyday as far as I'm concerned. (Yeah, I know it's been almost a decade, and yes I'm still pissed off about it, that's how badly they screwed up that year.) Now great filmmaker, with a Hollywood pedigree that's inarguable, but again, let's look at her filmography, as a director. She made "The Virgin Suicides," a good film, about a family of sisters, who are fawned upon from afar by the local high school boys, as they're notoriously forbidden from leaving their home, by their strict parents, it was a strange, black comedy, I guess you would describe it. She has female leads, but not necessarily all the time, as in "Lost in Translation," and her last film "Somewhere," which was about male actors, who happen to be spending time in hotels, one of them on location, another because he's living there, and both films, one subliminally, one not, also deal with a father-daughter type relationship, as more importantly, being the daughter of a male who is famous. So fame is a big issue with her, which was also apart of her other feature film, the costume epic, "Marie Antoinette", which is about a teenage girl, suddenly becoming Queen of France. This is another common theme, again, character pieces, not really films that are plot-oriented, occasionally a romantic element, but she's interested in this combination of fame and notoriety from not an outsider perspective, and from within, and not just the more glamourous side either, it's often the banality and absurdity of such fame ("Somewhere" for instance, has some of the most bizarre and purposefully boring scenes involving prostitutes, a movie star, and a hotel room, I've ever seen).

Now, again, these aren't films that exactly appeal to the widest demographics, they aren't exactly films that immediately scream Oscar appeal, they don't have or follow the same plotpoints of most Hollywood films, they aren't easy to place in a single genre, they don't necessarily appeal to the widest demographic, and particularly not the coveted demographics that make a lot of money, not tent-pole movies per se,.... However, and the point I do really want to make here, is that, while, these filmmakerss aren't exactly the kind of movies that Hollywood prefers to make, nor are they exactly films that, on-the-surface seem like Oscar movies, these aren't exactly atypical themes, compared to other female filmmakers. Now, not every female filmmaker of course, some female filmmakers are far different than others, even if we are stereotyping a bit here, romances genres, family dramas, character pieces, female leads, these are typically you would almost except from, female authors in literature, as well as other known female directors. Films like that, even when they were directed by men like R.W. Fassbinder or Douglas Sirk, or George Cukor for instance, were once upon a time called "women's film", like "Written on the Wind," or "The Philadelphia Story," or "The Marriage of Maria Braun", for instance, movies that appealed predominantely appealed towards women. Look at the most popular novel right, "Fifty Shades of Grey," which btw, I am reading myself, (I'm trying to anyway), a female protagonist, a romance, an erotic novel, that's more about a character evolving than a plot devloping.... If we are going to generalize a male and a female-type of movie, that would be a more female-type story, that would appeal mostly to women, while a movie with a lot of action, and plot, a 3-act structure, beginning, middle and end, and often involves, a male protagonist, usually doing a feat of strength or accomplishment, often placed in a hero, role, let's use "Speed" as a good example of a typical Hollywood film example. Guy does get the girl in the end, but not until after he saves her life, and a whole lotta blowing up, and saving the day doing miraculous things occur. That's a typical male storyline, I would say.

Now, I return to Kathryn Bigelow, and again, I'm not saying that, she doesn't deserve to get an Oscar nomination for directing, (in fact, the exact opposite, I think she more than deserved it for "The Hurt Locker", and, while I think it's arguable who should've won that year, [I would've voted for Tarantino] but, I didn't have a problem with her winning, that was a great film, a more-than-worthy Oscar-winner) but, isn't it interesting, that she's the first one to win an Oscar, considering a lot of her material is predominantly the kind of subject matter that happens to appeal to mainly male audiences and fits right in, with a lot of films that Hollywood typically makes. Now if you really want to look at her work, I would say that, "The Hurt Locker" for instance, was also a character piece, not a plot-based movie, that was about how a character changed over the film, so it's the quote-unquote "female story arc", but she placed it, in a location that you would, normally find a male story arc. (Again, I haven't seen all her films, but if she does have other films that have a similar arc and setting, let me know). Still, I just wonder if that, since there is still such a focus of male-theme movies from Hollywood, as well as the traditional bias that there's always been, to some extent against female filmmakers, that I always found it ironic, that the first Best Director winner, happens to be a director, who's predominant theme in her films, is masculinity. It's just an observation by the way, but I think an intriguing one. An intriguing one, 'cause I don't think the question should be, "Whether she's winning or getting recognition because she's a woman," but instead, I would ask, "Why did she win first, instead of, other female filmmakers?" Well, the first answer is that she's a great filmmaker, but the other might be that, she's just a great filmmaker who makes movies, that happen to be about or take place in the same genre/ouevre/whatever, as typical male filmmakers? Maybe, maybe not. I think it's at minimum, it's ironic, at least to me it is. Maybe it's just a coincidence. It's probably not being as discussed because we don't want to associate male and females with different kinds of films, (I don't either btw, it's stupid to do that) but, I don't know, I watch a lot of movies, and I watch as many as I can from male and female directors, I gotta say they're different perspectives, and different kinds of films usually. Good films, bad films, but I can typically tell when a movie is directed by a male or a female, usually. Bigelow's a little bit harder to tell it's a female director than others. I commend her for that, actually. She would probably appreciate that too. After all, it's not whether it's a male or a female behind the camera, it's whether it's a good film in front of the camera that matters. Hopefully, this will be one of the last pieces of literature, that even suggests a difference. I doubt it, though.

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