Poem for a Hungry World

My thoughts today for this anxiety-producing world…

“Fading Away” ©2004 Maggie Taylor

by the incomparable Maggie Taylor

for Naomi Shihab Nye

We send and send poems, but they never arrive.
23 years, your son already in college.
What happens to all the words along the way?

“Return to Sender,” say the poems.
The postman picks them up, and only smiles.
Soon, he knows, all of the words will merge,

language turning from English to Elliptical, from Farsi to Frenetic,
from Hebrew to Ham-N-Cheese, from Hungarian to Hungry-Never-More.
This way, all of the words will have real meaning.

We send and send poems,
but the mailmen are all at lunch, eating Ham-N-Cheese.
When they Finnish, the Swedes have hidden their money

in secret accounts, Hungary for the Czechs to release
the artwork the Nazi’s confiscated. The Poles have closed
the voting booths, while Lech Walesa Skypes his intention

to play himself in Andrzej Wajda’s, “Man of Iron.” The Czechs
are in turmoil, as Vaclav Havel writes another play. He writes
and writes, but the words are never delivered,

the hearts of the people of the world no longer heard.
We send and send poems
but when the postman sees they’re addressed to The New Yorker

he laughs and throws them away, saving us the resident
embarrassment and humiliation. (What were we thinking?)
What happens to all the words after we say them? After we send them?

The postman all refuse their task — after that day
of the Ham-N-Cheese,
when they rose from their chair, all the poems in their satchels

taking to the air like helium,
the words in their parcels feeling misunderstood,
rose like butterflies, took matter, as it were,

into their own hands.
No longer would they be prisoners,
pressed and enveloped.

“Look!” They say, “What humankind has done to us!
The mangling! The abuses!”

Soon, poems and postmen fill the skies.
They rise so high, it is difficult to tell a postman
from a hungry word.

Hunger is the word of the hour in Haiti, where young boys
mistake the vision for Popcorn and take to their

Same in Israel, Palestine, Ghana, Afghanistan,
Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan and Massapequa.
Soon postmen are falling from the skies,

while words escape, lithe, elliptical.
The postmen, Hungry-Never-More, (due to the
Ham-N-Cheese) bounce home unharmed like rubber balls.

But then, the real crisis emerge.
“The poems are getting away!” Someone cries.
And it is true.

Freed from their captors, they vow to fly until honored,
never more flung out in haste.
“What will we do without poems?”

Cry the mayors of Israel, Palestine, Ghana, Afghanistan,
Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan and Massapequa?

The words fly higher and higher,
a snowy silence raining below.
Everyone grows hungry (except for the postmen).

The wars all stop, everyone forgetting about Allah
and Jesus, Mohammad and Moses, now praying
instead to Dickinson and Keats, Mahapatra and Rumi.

Things get so bad, someone actually resurrects Rod McKuen.
The temples close down, the mosques. The Wailing Wall
collapses from the weight of tears.

“Return to Sender,” cry the envelopes.
But it’s no use, as the beauty of the world
dries up. Flowers go on permanent boycott,

refusing to be part of a universe
where poems gestate, percolate, aerate
and audaciously perambulate.

“It just ain’t fittin’” explains one distressed Iris
(who asked to remain anonymous).
Anonymous, synonymous í nameless

Faceless, un-deified, unnamed.
The old gods vanquished, so does the need
for ‘US’ and ‘THEM.’

“Every child shall have a pen!”
Cry the people famished for lyricism.

This is how the poems return, each by each, born again.
And a little child did lead them.

(Although in San Antonio, where two post offices merged,
people complained that flaky postmen were still seen
delivering mail to wrong addresses, and holding mail of the elderly hostage.

“Texas is just bigger than any of us imagined,”
cried a distressed postal worker, who asked to remain

(Later, it is discovered the disgruntled employee
had been denied Ham-N-Cheese at lunch.)
He quit his job, vowing revenge.

But since there were no more wars, no guns,
he performed an act worse than homicide,
becoming a devotee of Rod McKuen, and copying his style.

© 2010 Ally Acker

I sent this to the New Yorker…But they didn’t bite. Go figure….

Film fans…I’m off to Yelapa tomorrow. Wish me Scorpion luck!

Why Couldn’t Nora Win?

Nora Ephron

I always think every movie should begin with a logo that says…
“[Such and such studio] did everything in its power to keep from making this movie.”
Nora Ephron

I wanted Nora to win…Only problem was, she wasn’t nominated. Like Meryl, the over-appreciated star of her latest stunning vehicle, Julie & Julia, the Academy just figures enough of a good thing gets boring. Why give accolades to someone that everyone already knows is a genius, when you can give them to someone who makes boy movies better than the boys? How much more fun is that. And novel too!

(Or like the Golden Globes, why not give them to yet another lark-filled, booze-soaked buddy movie and its ever-increasing puer pubescents? The Hangover over Julie & Julia? You have got to be kidding…)

Nora has seen two Oscar nominations…Both for best original screenplay. First for “When Harry Met Sally” (1990), and then for “Sleepless in Seattle” (1994). She didn’t win either time. And she was never nominated for directing, as though her multi-faceted hyphenate gifts (writer/producer/director/journalist/book author/blogger) make her too eclectic (too threatening?) to be considered a serious enough director for the Academy.

I called Nora Ephron in 1986, and because I was a producer for the Today Show at the time, she picked up the phone. I told her I was doing a five part series on pioneering contemporary women behind the scenes in Hollywood, and could I interview her? At the time, Ephron had written the Academy Award nominated Silkwood (1983), and the hilarious and heartbreaking, Heartburn (1986) from her best-selling novel. Quite rightly, and refreshingly not full of herself, she turned me down. She said she really didn’t feel she had yet garnered the kind of experience in movies to allow her to wear such a lofty mantle as pioneer. But in the years to come, that would change for Ephron, and all rather quickly.

Let’s face it, most of us are not Nora Ephron. Most of us are mere mortals. Most of us are good at some thing, usually one thing. And then, there are the others. There are the Sherry Lansings of the world who truly, deeply and organically understand what is means to sail graciously through the social stratum of a man’s world and not just survive, but thrive. There are the Sherry Lansings, and there are the Nora Ephrons. These are women who have it all. The whole package. We get mad at the Sherry Lansings when they say things like,

“Almost never have I seen any examples of prejudice…It would be very easy for me when I am frustrated about not being able to get a movie that I care desperately about to get made to say, ‘Oh well, it’s because they’re prejudiced against women.’ In fact, it has nothing to do with it. I’ve never ever thought that my failures had anything to do with me being a woman…. If you have the passion, and the conviction and you really believe in something, eventually you will get it done. I’ve always believed that in this business there is only one God, and that God is talent, and that nobody will ever refuse a talented person.”

And the Nora Ephrons, who say things like,

“Nobody really has an easy time getting a movie made. And furthermore I can’t stand people complaining. It’s not a conversation that interests me…Those endless women-in-film panels. It’s like, “JUST DO IT. Write something else if this one didn’t get made.” It’s my ongoing argument with a whole part of the women’s movement.”

Melissa Silverstein in her blog, Women and Hollywood from a Feminist Perspective got mad:

“Geez Nora. Don’t you think after 25 or 30 years we’re all tired of these panels? Isn’t everybody tired of asking the same question for 30 years? Wouldn’t it be great to never need to have a panel that focused on the lack of women directors anymore? But since there are so few female directors that are successful, isn’t it all of our jobs to keep pushing and hounding and asking the questions? Yes there is complaining, frustration and whining at times. But there are also legitimate conversations about box office issues, the lack of interest in scripts about women and the ongoing SEXISM in the business. If we didn’t have these panels and agitate and complain and pushed – where would we be?”

Valid point, Melissa. But in fact, it is this very annoying trait in Lansing, and in Ephron, and in people lucky enough to grasp what they seem to have grasped, that is the secret of their success. Take nothing personally, move on from your mistakes, don’t wallow too long on your failures, and you too may find heretofore unopened doors suddenly spring wide. It also doesn’t hurt if you are a multi-faceted, facile writer like Ephron, with a distinctive voice that never fails to hit a popular nerve. And when it does fail, she tries to learn from her mistakes, but keeps the pen moving.

There have been real doozy disasters, such as “Michael,” starring John Travolta as a fallen angel who smokes and drinks and hides enormous feathered wings under a trench coat. (Nora, what were you thinking?) And “Bewitched,” called dismal by the Washington Post. The New York Times said that Ephron “forgot that a gimmick is no substitute for a screenplay, never mind a real movie.” Ouch.

We hear complaints about women directors who make duds for studios, then don’t get a second chance, unlike their male counterparts. And this is true. But here too, Nora Ephron seems to be the exception. Says Ariel Levy in a New Yorker article about Ephron,

“It is no small thing to get studio backing after you’ve lost money on a movie, especially if you are over a certain age. (In Hollywood, that age is approximately twenty-seven.) “It is hard,” Ephron said. “I think I’ve managed it partly because Amy Pascal, the co-chairman of Sony Pictures, keeps giving me work.” It can’t hurt, either, that Pascal’s boss is Howard Stringer; Ephron is Stringer’s son’s godmother. But a writer-director who comes up with something wonderful always has a chance, especially “if, like Nora, you have a long track record of having made money for the company,” as Michael Lynton, the chairman and C.E.O. of Sony Pictures, put it. This is the talent that Ephron has always relied upon to resuscitate her, whether from “the catastrophe, the great fiasco, of my second marriage,” or from the loss, domestically, of more than twenty million dollars on “Bewitched.” “If you’re a writer,” she said, “you can write your way back.”

There are great lessons to be learned from such resiliancy. That is not to say that sexism isn’t the cancer of the industry, indeed of the world. But such a philosophy: to be in the world, but not of it; to let criticism slough easily down the back, makes it possible for Ephron and just a handful of women like her, to continue to work with abandon in a medium that they’re good at, and they love.

“I’m very into denial,” she told an audience in 2006 on a panel called Advice for Women with her friend, Arianna Huffington, at the 92nd St. Y in New York. The rap on Ephron from her detractors, says Ariel Levy, has always been that her cinematic vision is too schmaltzy, too eager to soothe and please.

A line in Heartburn anticipates such complaints decades before they were made. “What they say about me,” Ephron wrote, is “I don’t have an original point of view, and I am a sellout. This last accusation always makes me cross, because I would love to be a sellout if only someone would ask.”

Her urge to put a happy ending on every story is what her critics dislike and her fans depend upon. And her corresponding refusal to succumb to self-pity is what people envy and resent: it is a quality you don’t often see in women, or, for that matter, men.

The eldest of four daughter of two successful Hollywood screenwriters, Nora grew up thinking, It was so clear there were no women in show business. It was so clearly not a place for a person like me.” Unlike the pre-1920s, if there were women in the film business at all, they generally had a husband they collaborated with, like Eprhon’s mother, Phoebe. When Nora graduated from Wellesley in 1962, and went to New York City, her fantasies had settled on becoming Dorothy Parker, not Preston Sturges. (And lest we forget, it was Dorothy Parker who said, Of course, calling them “women writers” is their ruin. They begin to think of themselves that way.)

In our family, we were expected to be writers, said Nora’s sister, Delia, one of her frequent collaborators. Phoebe Ephron got her wish. All four girls became writers. Ariel Levy describes Ephron’s upbringing as “madcap and bouncy…” and, “…only slightly more unnerving than the version that Henry and Phoebe Ephron presented themselves, in their play “Take Her, She’s Mine,” which was based on Nora’s letters and visits home during her time in college.

A happy household turned darker in her parent’s later years, when Nora was in late adolescence. Henry Ephron became a frequent visitor to mental hospitals and attempted suicide. Her mother took to alcohol and died of cirrhosis of the liver at age fifty-seven. “Everything is copy,” Phoebe Ephron told the girls, “…which was related to her expectation that all suffering be reconfigured into a funny story before it was brought to her attention. “Take notes,” she directed Nora, from her deathbed.

This is the indelible imprint that her parents left. They, “simply had no interest whatsoever in your sorrows,” said Nora.

It was so ‘Someday this will be a funny story…I’m not interested. I’m having a drink and smoking a cigarette, and what else is new?’ I think if you learn over and over from your parents that you do not get love from wallowing in heartbreak or failure, then you don’t really have much of a habit of doing it.

This, in a nutshell, is what makes Nora Ephron a pioneer. This, and a writing style bristling with a unique, dryly comic personality.

So in spite the fact that she didn’t envision herself in show biz, Ephron would nonetheless distinguish herself in show biz, and a whole lot of the fields. In the sixties, she distinguished herself as a journalist. “…she began an eviscerating profile of Dorothy Schiff, the publisher of the New York Post, where she had worked for a time, with the words “I feel bad about what I’m going to do here.” In the seventies, she wrote a comedic column on the women’s movement for Esquire. (Pretty much everyone admits that she was funny.) That was also the decade she became famous for marrying Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, and claiming for years that she knew the identity of Deep Throat, (although enigmatically, the media didn’t take much notice). Bernstein had an affair when Ephron was seven months pregnant with their second child, fueling the novel, Heartburn, which became a best seller, and later, a film.

Her screenplay with Alice Arlen of Silkwood, was Ephron’s foray into movies, and won and Academy Award nomination and still more fame. Her screenplay for Cookie (1989), was directed by Susan Seidelman.

In the early nineties, Ephron decided, more or less, that she might as well direct her own screenplays.

“Most directors, I have discovered, need to be convinced that the screenplay they’re going to direct has something to do with them, and this is a tricky thing if you write screenplays where women have parts that are equal to or greater that the male part…You look at a list of directors and it’s all boys; it certainly was when I started as a screenwriter. So I thought, I’m just going to become a director and that’ll make it easier.”

It didn’t hurt that, at this juncture, she had a lot of famous friends in the business, and was famous herself. Her good friend, producer Lynda Obst, was one of her greatest advocates, and produced Ephron’s first directing venture, This is My Life (1992). It also didn’t hurt that she was also now holding a second Academy Award nomination for the wildly successful, “When Harry Met Sally” (1990), now a classic. If you’re not a successful actress, the next best route into directing is having a pen with a magic touch. And Ephron has that pen in spades. As Fay Kanin once reminded me, “No one is going to say, ‘We’re not doing this screenplay because a woman wrote it.'”

From there, the nineties became like a decade of greatest screenwriting/directing hits, Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Mixed Nuts (1994), You’ve Got Mail (1998). And in the first decade of the new millennium,
…Ephron managed the almost impossible feat of becoming an It girl yet again, in her sixties. She published the collection “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” which became a No. 1 best-seller. Remarkably, she enhanced her own glamour by writing about the distinctly dowdy subject of aging. “When we were young . . . the amount of time we spent making ourselves look good bore some correlation to the number of hours we spent having sex (which was, after all, one of the reasons for our spending so much time on grooming). But now that we’re older, whom are we kidding?” The book sold more than a million copies.

As Ariel Levy has noted about Ephron’s now cultural classics, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve got Mail, and the most recent, Julie & Julia, (her fourth collaboration with Meryl Streep, and the latest to bring Streep and Academy Award nomination for her astonishing incarnation of Julia Child…”Meryl doesn’t do an imitation of Julia Child,” said director Mike Nichols. “She is Julia Child. Now, we know that’s not possible, but we see it.” )

“They are deeply comforting comedies,” says Levy, “and they have made Ephron, at least by some measures, the most successful female director working in this country…”

Although “success” translated into big box office numbers, does not an Oscar winner necessarily make, as we now know from the lowest grossing Oscar-winning picture in history, “The Hurt Locker.”

“We don’t think of things that way and I’m not,” she told Levy firmly. “I think Nancy Meyers, who directed “Something’s Got to Give” is more successful. But it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that it just seems like a sad thing to be called.”

In her sixties, Nora Ephron showed no signs of slowing down. If we are to learn anything from this pioneer it is this,

“[The film business is] a very male business. Vast portions of it…might as well be the United States Army in 1943.” “If you want to be successful and you are a woman, you have to understand that there’s all kinds of horrible stuff that comes with it, and you simply cannot do anything about it, but move on.”

From my view, if you don’t have to be mortal, and can be Nora Ephron instead, with all her multifarious gifts, who cares whether or not a phallic little gold man is sitting on your shelf? For my money, I’d rather be a fly on the wall inside Ephron’s brain privy to her next great concept. All Uncle Oscar seems to be good for these days are Hangover puers ignored by the Golden Globes.

And the First Female Oscar Goes to WHO??

A Deeper Cultural Look at the First Female Oscar Recipient…

Don’t get me wrong, I like Kathryn Bigalow. I don’t mind her movies, although her filmic obsessions are completely different from my own. Anyone’s filmic obsessions are their own creative prerogative. Besides, we’re fellow film alums from Columbia…So this is not about Kathryn. This is about something much deeper.

On March 7, 2010, for the first time in its eight-decade existence, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded its Best Director Oscar to a woman, and Kathryn Bigalow made herstory. The Hurt Locker, the lowest-grossing best picture winner of all time, was Bigalow’s prized contender. “Well,” said Barbra Streisand , presenting the award to Bigalow, “the time has come.” Every soul in audience-land knew that Streisand was referring to the glaring, gender-based decision. It must have been a mixed moment for Streisand, who was famously snubbed twice by the Academy; first for her monumental directorial effort, Yentl [1983], in which she became the first person in history to direct, produce, co-author, star and sing in a major motion picture, and later in her psychotherapy melodrama, The Prince of Tides [1991].

Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled that it finally happened. I’m thrilled that the glass ceiling finally broke. But one really does have to ask, is it a coincidence that the film Bigalow wins for is about war, starring an all male cast, with guys blowing things up? What exactly is that about?

Do I think that the unprecedented and embarrassingly low numbers of women who get to direct will now, like Moses, see a parting of the red sea of opportunity? Do I think this will make a difference in the abysmal way women directors are treated in Hollywood (if they are acknowledged at all)? How naïve to think it might.

I don’t want to be a sourpuss about this. Bigalow is unquestionably a fascinating and skilled director. The subject matter that turns a filmmaker on, and makes them shine is not at issue here. My ambivalent mood has rather more to do with something Streisand said in the aftermath of being ignored twice by the Academy,

“I look at it as a larger problem,”

[re: Warren Beatty’s best director win for his pet project Reds],

“it’s as if a man is allowed to feel passionate commitment about his work, and a woman is allowed to feel passionate commitment only about a man.”

And as director Mary Harron said it,

“Male executives are looking for fantasy images of their younger selves, and this pertains to both the people and the films they celebrate.”

This stuff is so deep in the psychology of the patriarchy that none of us can see the forest from the trees. Bigalow did a boy’s film. She did it as well as the boys, and perhaps indistinguishably better. Make no mistake, this was her crowning achievement.

Spending an entire career focused on gender bender masculine mise en scene, it is understandable that Bigalow resists acclaim as a “woman” director. As any filmmaker would, she wants to be known not for her gender, but for her work. As Reed Johnson has noted, In the old-boys club that is modern Hollywood, there are few surer ways to kill off a promising film career than by getting yourself labeled a “feminist” director. Yet in the larger cultural framework, it is essential that her Oscar win not be underestimated. As Monika Bartyzel said on Cinematical.com,

“The casual viewer has no idea how monumental this is, unless they happen to hit the Internet for research. There’s just enough women in the popular Hollywood consciousness to make this win seem less noteworthy if you don’t know the history and numbers. Last night was the perfect opportunity to alert the common public to the imbalance. It wouldn’t have taken much — just a simple mention that she’s the first woman to win after 8 decades of awards ceremonies, matched with an expression of hope that this marks a change for female filmmakers.

If you believe that it’s not necessary, just take a look at any of the articles and commentary provided by those who don’t follow the business closely. In a post for EW,

quoted a TV producer who said: “You know, like, on the one hand, I’ve read figures that say women make up only a small percentage of Hollywood. But then, on the other hand, you know, like Nancy Meyers? Nora Ephron? Good, right?”

The excitement is understandable — 2009 was a pretty stellar year as far as women in Hollywood were concerned. For the first time, there were a myriad of female directors inciting buzz, a blockbuster film led by the power of an actress, and notable features full of strong and engaging female characters. But it is essential that we remain balanced about these achievements and not let our happiness distort the reality. It’s all too easy to excuse away the fight that still remains, and for these achievements to work against women, becoming a mask that covers reality. The casual observer will see the chatter around directors like Bigelow, the success of Sandra Bullock and The Blind Side, and falsely assume that things are coming up roses for women in Hollywood. There’s no reason for them to recognize and realize the imbalance unless they start flocking to film sites and the power of IMDb.”

So why, you may ask, didn’t Bigalow’s ex-husband, James Cameron win? After all, AVATAR made more than $700 million at the box office in the US alone, vs. only $17 million for The Hurt Locker. Here I have to agree with Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times who noticed that it is not an academy tradition to vote for computer generated aliens or 3D cameras when it comes to Best Pictures. Note other groundbreaking science adventures that failed Oscar history: Star Wars, Jaws. The Academy still likes to see itself as a human-based enterprise, ever liberally “PC” when it comes to world affairs (as long as they are happening to someone else, on some other end of the world).

But back to Bigalow. Clearly, she is something of an anomaly in planet Hollywood. As Andrew Hultkrans put it in Artforum,

Combining an affinity for the frenetic rhythms of the thriller with a taste for subversive genre-bending that recalls her “high art” beginnings, Bigelow is a consummate technician whose balletic action sequences remind us how cinematically pure the language of violence can be.

Here is Hultkrans’ interview with Bigalow. The fascinating biography of a consummate contemporary pioneer in her own words:

ANDREW HULTKRANS: It’s quite a leap from Conceptual art to the culture industry.

KATHRYN BIGELOW: It does seem like a departure. I was studying painting at the San Francisco Art Institute and one of my teachers put me up for the Whitney Program, so I went. This was ’73 or ’74, when Conceptual art really came to the fore. I did a couple of videos with Lawrence Weiner, and I worked with Art & Language, an artists, group who were critiquing the commodification of culture. So I was very influenced by them, and my concerns moved from the plastic arts to Conceptual art and a more politicized framework. And I became dissatisfied with the art world – the fact that it requires a certain amount of knowledge to appreciate abstract material.

Film, of course, does not demand this kind of knowledge. Film was this incredible social tool that required nothing of you besides twenty minutes to two hours of your time. I felt that film was more politically correct, and I challenged myself to try to make something accessible using film, but with a conscience. I still work off that foundation. So I shot this short piece called Set Up [1978].

I was matriculating in film history and criticism. I was reading Freud, which led me to the philosophy department. I was working on Semiotext(e). I had Peter Wollen as a teacher, and Edward Said – extraordinary thinkers. So naturally I was influenced by them, which ironically pulled me back into the art world. Structuralist thought is hopelessly out of fashion now, but it’s what led me to The Loveless [1981], my first feature-length narrative film. I was still resisting narrative; that film is more like a meditation.

Then I ran out of money again and got a teaching job at Cal Arts, out here. I was forced to move for economic reasons; I had no intention of The Loveless being a calling card to the industry. Working in the art world, of course, you have nothing but disdain for Hollywood. AH: The Loveless is a series of period tableaus; there are scenes where there’s hardly any sound, certainly no dialogue…

KB: Playing with genre is both conscious and unconscious, because I don’t think you’re ever immune to genre. Even if you choose not to use it, that’s a loaded decision in and of itself. But I have a desire to subvert and redefine. Genre exists for that purpose. It’s a so a great interlocutor with the audience, a way in, a language they understand and that makes them comfortable. Once you touch base in a genre you can go in any direction. It’s interesting to do a vampire western like Near Dark, to create a hybrid, but I’m not always cross-pollinating genres strategically. AH” It’s not, “I’m going to do a tech noir today”?
KB: [Laughter] Ironically, as we started to develop Strange Days, we did talk about it as a tech noir.
AH: So you’re a fan of film noir?
KB: Are you kidding? Film noir is probably my favorite genre. That’s how I moved from art to film, so to speak: I went through Fassbinder on my way to noir.

Born in San Carlos, California, the only child of the manager of a paint factory and a librarian, Bigalow spent two years at the San Francisco Art Institute. At 20, she won a scholarship to the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program. She was given a studio in a former Offtrack Betting building, literally in a vault. Her teachers and primary critics were among the notables: Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg, Susan Sontag. In 1981 she received her masters from Columbia University Film School.

I most respect L.A. Times’ Reed Johnson’s assessment of Bigalow’s filmic obsessions:

Critics often have focused on Bigelow’s evident appetite for loading up her movies with guns and steel, car chases and loud, baroque explosions. Well, why shouldn’t she? Violent imagery in art never has been an exclusively male preserve, even if a Bigelow or an Artemesia Gentileschi seems to come along only once every generation.

But this emphasis on the macho technical trappings of Bigelow’s films is misleading. Unlike so many of her male colleagues, Bigelow isn’t drawn to big bangs and mano a mano encounters simply to stoke the hormones of 14-year-old boys.

Her deeper interest lies in men’s tribal rites and rituals; their fears, posturings and warrior codes; their feelings about sex and fatherhood; their conflicted loyalties and clashing ideas of what leadership and heroism mean. Like one of her inspirations, the ultra-bloody Sam Peckinpah, Bigelow is intimately concerned with the bonds that connect men with each other, and the values that connect them with themselves.

At the center of it all, in so many of Bigelow’s films, are men (and occasionally women) trapped in alien landscapes and disorienting spaces, trying to reconcile the tension between their professional duties and the adrenaline rush of living on the edge. Like the playwright David Mamet’s male characters, Bigelow’s struggle with the knowledge that they are defined and perceived more by what they do than by who they really are.

These are themes that Bigelow has returned to throughout her career: in “Blue Steel” (1989) with Jamie Lee Curtis playing a cop battling sexism and a serial killer; in “Point Break” (1991), which stars Keanu Reeves as an undercover FBI agent infiltrating a criminal gang of Zen surfer dudes; and in “K-19: The Widowmaker” (2002), with Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson as rival Soviet submarine commanders, coping with a secret mission gone lethally wrong…

Bigelow’s attitude toward such characters is invariably one of empathy and discernment. At the same time, by depicting men struggling, and sometimes failing, to master their environments, her movies subvert the conventional audience expectation of being able to identify with a strong male protagonist…

Whatever you say about the stunning attributes of her Oscar winning, The Hurt Locker still belongs, as L.A. Times’ Reed Johnson so astutely put it,

to the most guy-centric of all movie genres…the war picture still is a place where primarily male characters and male audiences can go to test their values, belief systems and relationships to institutions, history and country. In that sense, the war movie remains a cultural citadel of male privilege.

Bigalow showed her reluctance to highlight her historic win on Oscar night 2010, by making no mention of it in her Oscar speech. Even behind the scenes, when accosted by reporters, Bigelow remained reluctant to call herself a female director. She was asked, ‘Are you ready to say that now at this historic moment?’ Kathryn replied, ‘First of all, I hope I’m the first of many. And of course I’d love to just think of myself as a filmmaker, and I wait for the day when the modifier can be a moot point.'”

She ain’t the only one.

Hello Reel World!


picklogoreversesml.jpgHere’ s to what I hope will be a long, fruitful forum for all Reel Girlz to knock around ideas. Why, for instance, are we still reading studies that reveal startling numbers we thought would be erradicated twenty years after the onset of the women’s movement…

Martha Lauzen’s, The Celluloid Ceiling study from 2005 reads:

Over the last four years, the percentage of women working as directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors on the top 250 domestic grossing films has declined from 19% in 2001 to 16% in 2004. Women accounted for 7% of directors in 2005… This is less than the recent historical high of 11% recorded in 2000.

What kind of insane numbers are these? What is really going on?

I earned my graduate degree in film from Columbia University. There I had learned about the “GREAT” directors: D.W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, François Truffaut, C.B DeMille, Frank Capra, etc. But it wasn’t until I strayed far from my graduate work, and quite by accident discovered that before 1920 there were more women in influential positions behind the scenes in movies than perhaps even today. Who were these female auteurs, and why hadn’t we learned about them in film school?

Little did I know that for the next decade my life would be a quest to answer these questions. Why did my film professors teach about the ‘father’ of cinema, D.W. Griffith, without teaching about the ‘mother,’ Alice Guy Blaché, who made the very first narrative film in history?

My archeological dig would produce, Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present, the first book on the market to reveal the transformational role that women played in movies since movies began. From the book came ten DVD’s, Filmmakers on Film, which include interviews I conducted with over thirty contemporary filmmakers in Hollywood and Europe, as well as the CD-ROM, Reel Women: The Unknown Story, hosted by the gifted contemporary film pioneer, Jodie Foster.

What I hoped when I began Reel Women twenty years ago (!) is that the information I stumbled upon would at long last be INTEGRATED into film history, and not heaped in the garbage dump known as, “Women’s Studies”. To my mind, there is no such animal as Women’s Studies…there is only “The People’s History,” in this case, the people’s history of movies. That male film historians in the forties and fifties forgot to include the pioneering women who made as many advances as the pioneering men does not make the history of women’s remarkable acheivements any less valid.

However, a mere few months back, a young women who attended San Francisco State reported to me that not one woman filmmaker surfaced in her advanced film history lessons!


Clearly girlz…there is MUCH to blog about. As Agnes Varda said, “We have a lot of women now in the film business. It is in terms of consciousness that we have not got it right.”

I hope you find this the forum to unite and come up with solutions for a more conscious movie future for us all!

I hope enjoy your visit. Blog us with your insights!

Ally Acker
Reel Women Media