hat is this so-called ‘women‘s film"? The marketing executives churn out statistics and demographic charts to convince us that Mystic Pizza will play to female viewers within certain age groups. the posters and ad campaigns are polished accordingly. and the product finds an audience that has been told it will be entertained. Never mind that the director and producer are male; this is about girls bonding, it’s schmalzy. it’s got a happy ending. it’s about ‘women‘s things’.

This kind of lightweight. throwaway. mainstream fodder isn’t enough by itself. It may satisfy the undiscerning cinema-goer. but if we are to believe that film is a worthwhile art form which expresses and reflects the diverse nuances of modern life embracing all races. ages. creeds and genders then the production process has to be cracked open to allow filmmakers from wider backgrounds to participate.

Once the politically correct applause has died down. even this kind of statement has to be analysed. If all it takes to properly represent

Director Dorothy Arzner (right); one of the few women to break through the Hollywood studio system in the 1940s


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Hollywood: traditionally a corporate bastion where the men in suits hand outjobs to the men on the sets. But, argues Alan Morrison, more and more women are taking hold of the industry, bringing a different perspective to the movies.

women on film is to have a female director

calling ‘Actionl‘. then The Piano would be on an equal footing with Big. Blue Steel and Triumph ()j' The Hill. lt might sound like a contradicton. but gender will only have the correct weight in Hollywood when it is no longer an issue in the making of the film. No doubt Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark. Paint Break) will still receive reviews that congratulate her for making genre pictures ‘just like the boys‘. but until women are allowed to work freely across the industry regardless of the projects’ budgets. themes or intended audience then the power brokers will continue to assign them to marginalised material. It’s one thing. whether studio or independent. to make a film with credibility and

integrity; it’s entirely another to have it marketed. distributed and exhibited in an

appropriate manner.

In its long history. the Hollywood studio system has always kept its means of control within a closed old boys‘ club. where women

took notes and looked attractive. With the rise of

feminism in the 70s. some ground was claimed back (progress was made) but. even now,

women face the same pressures and obstacles as in most multi-national corporation structures. Of course. the past throws up its exceptions that prove the rule. Silent screen actress Mary Pickford was one of the quartet that founded United Artists in 1919. while Dorothy Arzner worked as a director during the Golden Age of the studio system on films such as Christopher Strong and Dance, Girl. Dance. But you only have to look at the Academy‘s woeful record of female Oscar nominations in the Best Director Category only Lina Wertmueller (1976, Seven Beauties) and Jane Campion (I994. The Piano) have joined several hundred of their male peers —— to realise the real level of respect shown within the industry.

'l‘hat neither of these nominated women are American is surely telling. Wertmueller, an Italian. emerged as one of the leading filmmakers in her home country, and was subsequently offered an exclusive contract by Warner Bros to make films in English. In several other countries. women directors are box office draws Maria Luisa Bemberg (Argentina), Agnes Varda and Diane Kurys (France), Agneszka Holland (Poland). Pilar Miro (Spain), {Vlargarethe von Trotta (Germany). Sally Potter (UK). In Campion’s case. she has benefitted from the young industries in Australia and New Zealand where a fairer system operates. particularly when funding shorts early in careers. with the result that she has been joined on the international stage by Gillian Armstrong, Jackie McKimmie. Ann Turner. Alison Maclean and others.

‘If all it takes to properly represent women on film is to have a female director calling ‘Actionl’, then The Piano would be on an equal footing with Big, Blue Steel and Triumph Of The Will.’

There is. however. a glimmer of light in l-lollywood. A combination of factors the acclaim of The Piano, the box office success of A League Of Their Own, etc means that it has made sound business sense to open a few doors. Women are coming into the American industry from a variety of backgrounds: there is a rise of actress power (Jodie Foster. Meryl Streep. Winona Ryder) that helps get a project developed; easier access to film schools is producing more confident graduates (Darnell Martin); the rich independent scene provides a more level playing field when it comes to women sharing their stories (Allison Anders, Lizzie Borden. Bette Gordon).

Sure. there are more female producers than directors working inside the system, but what is needed is an increase in writers and, importantly. executives it was 1980 before Sherry Lansing was the first woman to head a studio. at 20th Century Fox. then Paramount. Female directors are still in a tentative position simply because one failure can have a huge knock-on effect; when it’s a man who’s at fault, there‘s a swifter process of forgiveness. The attitude is much harsher when a woman screws up. Consider the fate of writer-director Elaine May after a certain 1987 fiasco: $50 million down the drain with Ishtar. Its stars. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty (also the producer), are still rubbing egos with the big boys, while May is forever consigned to the ‘where are they now?’ file. C]

8 The List 24 Mar-6 Apr 1995