Film Forum's new series on Women's Crime Fiction

Film Forum is running a special series of films adapted from crime fiction by women authors. The series is meant to coincide with the release of the Library of America's collection of Women's Crime fiction that I reviewed for PopMatters a couple weeks ago.

Everyone should watch these films because they're really fabulous, but it's equally important that the actual books get read as well. Often the feminine perspective in them was suppressed or completely effaced as the texts were forced through the masculine framework of film noir, and, as is the case with IN A LONELY PLACE, they bear little significance to their parent texts.

 

I'm not someone who expects fidelity from adaptations, and I think that approaches to cross-media adaptations that use the fidelity framework tend to be uninteresting and dismissive of the values of repetition and re-articulation that adaptations can embody. However, when you're talking about a literary and film history that is thematically concerned with gender and genre, it's important to trace such changes across the process of adaptation because sometimes the most salient aspects of critique or social commentary can get lost. Women had specific things to say about their experience in American society when they were writing crime fiction, and those things aren't always preserved in the move to film.

Too long, didn't read -- watch Film Forum's new series, but stagger your viewing with readings of the actual texts written by women. The films have already contributed to the erasure of women's contributions to the genre. With this recent anthology, there is no reason to continue letting them do so. 

November Updates, both Academic and Popular

I've had a few fun things come out on PopMatters, and I also presented a paper at the annual Journal of Film & History Conference in Wisconsin. The former are all available on the web, of course, but I've put the latter up on Academia.edu for those interested in looking it over.  Links at the bottom of the page. 

Updates, new work, etc.

I've been slack about keeping this thing updated, unfortunately. But I have a few pieces of good news and such to put out there:

I have been contributing quite a bit to PopMatters in the last few months. I've been reviewing the new episodes of Empire every week, and I have also been cranking out some DVD reviews as well. Links to all of that can be found below:

Empire S2E1, S2E2, S2E3

 

25th Anniversary Collector's Edition of Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Bear.

Blu-ray release of Magic Mike XXL.

PBS Frontline documentary Growing Up Trans

 

I've also added a new page that combines all my freelance clips into one page for easier access to everything I've done so far. Should make everything a bit more organized.

Advantageous (2015), dir. Jennifer Phang

Written, directed, and cast almost entirely of non-white women, Advantageous is a futuristic dystopia in which human labor has been almost completely replaced by tech. Society's answer is, of course, to try and maneuver women back into the home, thus freeing up remaining jobs for men. The result is that being a single woman--or worse, being a single mother--is nearly impossible. Advantageous taps into a range of feminist issues including aging, beauty labor, motherhood, personhood, and class in a way that's both timely and otherworldly.

One of the things that I was really struck by was the way that this dystopia diverged from the genre's usual treatment of gender issues. While often gender is completely effaced by dystopian fiction (think Snowpiercer), when it is treated, it's usually done so through rape (think the new Mad Max). Usually rape in these films is just a way of demonstrating how completely social conventions have fallen apart; it's a very big, very bad world out there where women can't walk around for fear of being assaulted.

As a woman, this deployment of rape has always seemed easy and, well, not terribly compelling. As most women will tell you, social conventions do not protect against the seemingly omnipresent threat of assault. One of the reasons Advantageous was so moving and so different is that the dystopian future for women it imagines isn't sensational or violent; it's terribly predictable and familiar. Economically disenfranchise them so that they have to return to the home, to dependence on men. 

Again, not to belabor the point, but this is part of why we need different kinds of people making different kinds of film. It improves the quality of the content. Where the worst reality a male screenwriter might be able to imagine for women is their constantly being raped, a female screenwriter sees a completely different nightmare scenario: one where self-nullification is, quite literally, her only advantage.


Alice Guy-Blaché and the Importance of Diversity in Film

I wrote a petite review of Alice Guy-Blaché's Sage Femme de  Première Classe (1902) for Write out of L.A.'s list of "100 Films Made by Women." You can find it here. 

I became familiar with Guy's work in a French Film independent study that I did with one of my undergraduate mentors. The professor knew that I was interested in gender and women's studies, and so he gave me a lot of room to explore the influence women had on early cinema. Guy's largely credited as being the first female director, and I spent a lot of time looking at how her work was both similar to and different from the male directors contemporaneous with her. 

Guy's first film was La Fée aux Choux [The Cabbage Fairy], which she made in 1896. At the time, she was a secretary for early studio mogul Léon Gaumont, and she actually shot La Fée aux Choux over her lunch break as a kind of audition. She eventually become head of production and then later manager for Gaumont, where she's credited with being the first filmmaker to really develop narrative film.

What I loved so much about her work was how different its content is from that of her contemporaries. While she did make standard early cinema fare--trick pictures, dance and travel shows--she also centered themes and action that directly related to women's experience as women. La Fée aux Choux and then its later adaptation Sage Femme de  Première Classe are both interested in pregnancy, motherhood, and childbirth. The latter film is particularly special because it's interested in how these things intersect with class and race, which not only being incredibly prescient was also unconventional content for the time. 

One of the things I noted to my then-professor, which I think is still the lesson I take away from Guy's work, is that setting aside questions of fair representation, having diverse bodies behind the camera has an impact on the diversity of content that winds up on our screens. We should be invested in having different kinds of people bring their experiences and perspectives to the movies not only because it's good politics but also because it's just plain good entertainment. 

This is part of why it's been so much fun reading and contribute to Write out of L.A.'s list of women filmmakers. It's great seeing a film about an Iranian vampire (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)  being reviewed next to a queer short (One Night).

 I think Ms. Guy would be pleased.

Watch Sage Femme below and go check out the other 7 parts of Write out of L.A.'s list of films by women.