Girls on Film is a weekly column that tackles anything and everything pertaining to women and cinema. It can be found here every Thursday night, and be sure to follow the Girls on Film Twitter Feed for additional femme-con.
It’s been a rather sour season for women in Hollywood. 2011 has welcomed notable directorial work from the likes of Ramsay, Reichardt, and Rees, notable scripts from the likes of Morgan and Marling, but if awards consideration was any indication, these films don’t exist. They’re invisible in a sea of George Clooneys and Brad Pitts, of Steve McQueens and Alexander Paynes, of male-centric stories of angst and manliness.
But the Invisible Women syndrome doesn’t have to infect your gift giving as well. A number of great women-centric releases have hit shelves this year, and as we hit the final frenzied week before Christmas, this is a damn good time to acknowledge them and help make great female-centric fare more common-place.
Instead of simply throwing disparate choices at you, what follows is a list of double features – films with films and films with books – that will help enrich your favorite gift-ee’s shelves. Every new release is teamed with a mate – books that match with films, old classics that go well with new favorites. They encompass the light and the dark, the old and the new, the heroines and the killers – just some of the many characterizations and creations women excel at.
Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition + Millennium Trilogy Box Set
As a teen, Stieg Larsson saw his friends gang-rape a 15-year-old girl. He failed to intervene and it haunted him the rest of his life. It also inspired him to write Men Who Hate Women, published posthumously with the watered-down title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, part of the Millennium Trilogy. When Niels Arden Oplev filmed the Swedish TV/theatrical version, Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth Salander became a household name and a heroine fighting against female oppression.
It’s a challenging and provocative Christmas present choice, but also an important one that serves as entertainment, education, and a reminder that Salander is about more than pierced breasts groped by James Bond. As Larsson’s partner has explained, it is fiction full of events that have “happened at one time or another to a Swedish citizen, journalist, politician, public prosecutor, unionist or policeman. Nothing was made up.”
Instead of the film editions, the extended Blu-ray offers the Swedish television versions that flesh out the story with piles of scenes deleted from the theatrical releases.
The Thin Man Collection + Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood
Myrna Loy had a long and impressive career, giving us one of cinema’s most dynamic women – Nora Charles in The Thin Man – yet her name has never reached widespread recognition alongside the likes of the Hepburns, Garland, or Taylor. Emily W. Leider attempts to change that with her recent book release, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, which offers “the first full picture of a very private woman who has often been overlooked despite her tremendous star power.” Leider details Loy’s work and relationships in Hollywood as well as her fervent activism through the mid-twentieth century.
Naturally, this book matches beautifully with The Thin Man series and Loy’s most iconic role. Nick and Nora are a couple so well-crafted that they easily transcend age and still seem modern and progressive decades later. Loy’s Nora might love to shop and be the sidekick wife to her husband, but she’s also a dynamic woman and partner who is never reduced to any of her feminine pursuits.
This package could easily become a triple feature with a book of Pauline Kael’s work. The famous film reviewer was greatly impacted by The Thin Man and considered it one of the films that “changed American movies.”
Bridesmaids + Whip It!
Kristen Wiig has been hitting the stage of Saturday Night Live for six years now, but it wasn’t until the last few years that Hollywood realized her blockbuster talent. She stole every scene she had in Knocked Up, and started earning supporting and cameo roles in half the comedies that were being produced. But Drew Barrymore’s Whip It! was the first film that really revealed her depth. Maggie Mayhem allowed Wiig to evolve beyond the uninhibited and fearless comedienne, and into a thoughtful screen presence with dramatic warmth.
This year Wiig even broke those bounds, proving to be not only a gigantic box office draw, but also a talented screenwriter with the blockbuster comedy Bridesmaids. It’s not a wholly progressive film that wipes away every stereotype, but rather a film that re-brands stereotypes into more worthwhile and dynamic characterizations for women – while reminding the world at large that women can command the box office. (Remember, this is Judd Apatow’s most successful film.)
Meek's Cutoff + Wendy and Lucy
Director Kelly Reichardt has been making films for almost twenty years, but it’s her work with Michelle Williams that really put her on the map. It started with 2008’s Wendy and Lucy, which earned Williams a number of nominations and honors for her portrayal of Wendy, a woman whose life spirals out of financial control on her way to a summer job.
A few years later, Reichardt became one of the only women to enter the western genre with this year’s Meek’s Cutoff, an Oregon Trail drama that delves into the grittier quest for survival on the trail as a team of men and women begin to question their guide’s competence. Based on a true story, Reichardt strives to portray the worlds of the women on the journey just as much as the dire landscape they travel on, and she does so with one of Hollywood’s biggest female talents.
Trigger + Thelma and Louise 20th Anniversary
Twenty years ago, Thelma and Louise became one of film’s most iconic road-trippers and female duos, and though their reaction to male dominance makes them sisters of sorts with Dragon Tattoo, the film also pairs well with the 2011 release of Bruce McDonald’s Trigger.
Both films redefine the bonds of female friendship, relishing in the Bechdel rule and offering dynamic and strong women in two very different scenarios – one team that must contend with a myriad of extraordinary and dangerous hardships, and one that uncover and discuss their own personal demons. These are films uninterested in towing the Hollywood line; their stars are older (Louise was even aged, a move pretty unheard of in Hollywood), their worlds aren’t defined by men, and they make their own rules. Moreover, the stars of both – Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, Tracy Wright, and Molly Parker – are formidable actresses allowed to really command the screen, rather than support the men who command it.
Hanna + The Professional
There’s something infinitely intriguing about the young female assassin. She’s a modern archetype wrenched from the classic world of pink lace and dolls and thrust into a deadly world requiring her to be smart, resourceful, and in the terms of stereotypical cinema, “boyish.” Natalie Portman earned her start in this world as the young and tough Mathilda, and Saoirse Ronan continued it in this year’s Hanna.
The first explores how a forgotten child can enter a world of crime, while the latter shows how a young girl can be crafted into a skilled assassin. Instead of more fantastical and violently whimsical killers like The Bride in Kill Bill and Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, Hanna and Mathilda merge the violent fantasy with reality – being both dangerous women and girls who also strive for some sort of real life.
True Grit + The Quick and the Dead
Taking a step or two closer to reality gives you last year’s critical success True Grit, which is a perfect revenge partner for Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead. Both see the camera travelling back to the old days of the west to feature strong women eager to avenge their fathers’ deaths.
Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie Ross is the young and determined backbone to True Grit. Her cinematic beauty is her determined resourcefulness. She’s not a larger-than-life girl who becomes a killer and takes on grown men without any help, but rather a smart kid who is a result of her circumstances. The Quick and the Dead then takes the theme to an adult world where Sharon Stone’s Ellen doesn’t need Jeff Bridges to become the hunter. She joins a gunslinging tournament to take care of the job herself.
Norma Rae with Made in Dagenham
Perhaps this combination is too obvious and on-the-nose, but nevertheless, Norma Rae and last Spring’s “British Norma Rae” Made in Dagenham make for a perfect double feature. Exploring quests for unionization, both Sallys (Field and Hawkins) are inspiring heroines based on real-life women who battled safety issues and discrimination in factory work during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Both films are important segments of history that shouldn’t be forgotten, great examples of female heroines and female-centric filmmaking (Field won many awards including an Oscar for her role, Dagenham received a number of nominations and some critical wins), and of course, great inspirations for new generations of women and men.
Jane Eyre + Jane Eyre
This year’s Jane Eyre was the first look at Charlotte Brontë's iconic heroine that made her the woman from the page – the smart and stoic Jane who fell into a romance of mind and tongue, not body and bosom-heaving. Though still a romance between Jane and Rochester, Cary Fukunaga’s version relishes in a heroine determined to be true to herself: “I must respect myself,” she says.
Paired alongside the classic novel (which is a free download onto Kindle) it’s a double-feature that allows for historical romance without sacrificed strength. It’s also a pretty perfect present for the Twilight fiends, as the similarities are quite distinct, though Meyer heavily discusses Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights in the books instead.
Tracy & Hepburn Definitive Collection + How to Hepburn
Oh, to count the reasons why the Definitive Collection, released this past April, is a must-have this holiday season. It features Katherine Hepburn, one of Hollywood’s most unique and gender-bending stars, it offers films with the classically tough Hepburn heroines, and it gives you 9 films and a documentary about Spencer Tracy that’s hosted by Hepburn for less than $20 ($17.99 to be exact). It’s history, and it’s got Hepburn roles such as political commentator Tess Harding in Woman of the Year and the sport heroine picture Pat and Mike.
How to Hepburn, a book compiled by Karen Karbo, gives the gift more fun with a how-to guide of “no-nonsense Hepburn-style commentary on subjects such as: making denial work for you; the importance of being brash, facing fear, and always having an aviator in your life; learning why and how to lie; the benefits of discretion; making the most of a dysfunctional relationship; and the power of forgiving your parents.”
Merry Christmas and Merry Femme-Centric Shopping!