A March Marathon of Films Directed by Women: My Feedback

Alice Guy-Blaché

I really have bad blogging habits these days! I have to get back in business and publish more often than I have so far in 2021. Anyway, I had the idea to discuss my monthly film challenges and, more particularly, the one I did in March. I started these challenges in January when I decided that I had to watch more recent films. Indeed, there was a lot of stuff released during the recent years that I had to see. Although I tend to focus on classic films, I still like to keep myself updated regarding what’s going on right now in the world of cinema. Then, for February, I focused on (classic) British films. Not that I hadn’t seen any British films in my life (far from it), but many of them were on my to watch-list for a considerable amount of time. I thought it was about time for me to watch them. And, once again, I made so many great discoveries, and it just made me love British cinema even more.

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March was a special kind of challenge. Since March 8th marks International Women’s Day (I prefer the French title for this day: Journée international des droits de la femme, which means “International women rights’ Day”) and that the whole month of March is considered Women’s History Month in the US, the UK and Australia (October for Canada), I decided to focus on films directed by women. Because, as a woman, I judge I hadn’t seen enough of them. To make the challenge even more interesting (and perhaps even more “challenging”), I also decided to focus on pre-2000 films. I cheated twice, but for the films themselves, it was totally worth it. I also tried to focus on a different director each day. Once again, there were exceptions, but it was the result of a concept. I’ll come back to that later.

Not a photo from a film but I just love it!

While I was doing the challenge – Actually, you know what?  I don’t particularly like to call that a challenge. It makes it sounds as if it were difficult to watch films directed by women. Let’s call it a marathon instead. So, as I was doing the marathon, what particularly struck me is that films directed by women are not enough put in evidence, not enough promoted. I saw some excellent films that I had never heard of before, and I just thought, “where were all these films all my life”??? I mean, there are many films directed by men that we have all heard of, and we don’t even know when we heard of them first because they are culturally so present. I can think of stuff like The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) or A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971), for example. Can you remember when the first time you heard of these films was? Me neither. I can’t remember either when was the first time I heard of super famous celebrities like Elvis or Madonna. However, I feel that this doesn’t really happen for women’s films. Let me know if I’m wrong. In a way, maybe it’s a good thing as we become more “aware” of the picture when we first hear of it or watch it. Not sure if that makes sense. Also, another reality is that, yes, there are more films directed by men. Yes, there are more and more films directed by women (finally!). However, if we consider cinema history since its very beginning, I still think men’s films are more numerous. Ok, I haven’t counted (I have life), but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Then, because films directed by women are not thrown at our face like films directed by men are, you might wonder how I made my choices for the marathon. As a total, I watch 43 films directed by women. Precision: some of them were short films. I knew I wanted to watch at least one film by Dorothy Arzer, Ida Lupino and Susan Seidelman. I knew they were directors that I liked. For the Dorothy Arzner film, I chose The Wild Party (1929) because I thought it was about time to watch something with Clara Bow – This actress is SOOO COOL! For the Ida Lupino film, I watch Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951), which was also my way to celebrate Claire Trevor‘s birthday. I liked it much more than I would have thought. My only regret is that Robert Ryan is playing an extra (why are you doing this to me???). Finally, for the Susan Seidelman film (she directed one of my most favourite films: Desperately Seeking Susan), I went with Making Mr. Right (1987). Ok, this is not necessarily a masterpiece, but I enjoyed it so much! It’s a fun film that deserves more attention. Plus, it was an excellent excuse to watch something with John Malkovich (who plays a dual role) as I haven’t seen many of his films.

Of course, I also wanted to discover new directors. There were some films that I had heard of and was curious to see. Because, although women’s films aren’t put in evidence as much as men’s films are, they are not all hidden under a rock either. So, those films that I had heard about before were: Animal Farm (Joy Batchelor and John Halas, 1954), Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975), Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970), Children of a Lesser God (Randa Haines, 1986), Audrey (Helena Coan, 2020), The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani, 1974) and Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999). A bunch of films that certainly don’t leave you indifferent. Among these, I would say that the one I prefer was Children of a Lesser God. I had seen Marlee Matlin in my favourite David Bowie film, The Linguini Incident (Richard Shepard, 1991), and though she was brilliant in it, so I thought it would be appropriate to watch her Oscar-winning role. I mentioned that I made some exceptions by watching some films directed by the same person. Well, that was the case for Randa Haines, who directed Children. The following day, I watched The Doctor (1991). I judged it would make an appropriate logical suite as it also starred William Hurt. However, I thought Children was much better. Boys Don’t Cry was also great (that was the last film of my marathon) but also VERY difficult. I sort of have mixed feelings about Wanda. My thoughts alternated between “ok, I love that” and “meh”. Seven Beauties is certainly not a girl power film despite being directed by a woman. Or maybe it is, in the way that it denounces certain male behaviours. And I guess you could say that the female Nazi guard represents the girl power symbol of the film? Or not? It might sound a bit far-fetched, and who wants to glorify a Nazi?

Kimberly Peirce

Then, there were directors from the early days of cinema history that I knew about but still hadn’t seen any of their films: Mabel Normand (I had seen her acting in some films directed by Chaplin), Lois Weber and Alice Guy-Blaché. The latter is considered the first female director of cinema history. So, one evening, I focused on shorts directed by Mabel Normand. I had some of them in a Chaplin DVD box set and completed with the stuff I could find on YouTube. That was an occasion to witness her work both as a director and an actress. She was a lively and very likeable performer! The shorts I ended up watching were: Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914), Mabel’s Busy Day (1914), Mabel at the Wheel (co-directed with Mack Sennett, 1914) and Mabel’s Blunder (1914). Then, coincidentally, Carol from The Old Hollywood Garden posted a review of Lois Weber’s Suspense (1913) on her blog. So, I decided that I should watch that. Quite a thrilling film! I then completed that with the short comedy How Men Propose (1913), a pretty funny film. As for Alice Guy-Blaché, I watched many of her short films. My verdict is that she is a director that definitely deserves to be more talked about. Not all the films were regular because that I thought some were excellent and some were just ok. The shorts directed by Guy-Blaché that I watched were: The Consequences of Feminism (1906), Falling Leaves (1912), A House Divided (1913), The Cabbage-Patch Fairy (1896), A Sticky Woman (1906), Disappearing Act (1898), The Irresistible Piano (1907), A Four-Year-Old-Heroine (co-directed with Louis Feuillade, 1907), The Race for the Sausage (1907), Madame’s Cravings (1907), The Drunken Mattress (1906- best film title ever), Dranem Performs “Five O’Clock Tea” (1905), Serpentine Dance by Mme. Bob Walter (1897) and Algie, the Miner (1912). Among these, The Irresistible Piano became my favourite. Basically, it’s the story of a piano that makes people dance despite themselves. And in the version that I watched, they used a post-1907 piece of music, something more modern than 1907, and it worked perfectly!

The other films I watched were the result of researches and simple curiosity. I had made myself a long list of women directors with some of their films. Also, when it was some actor’s or actress’s birthday, I tried to see if they had starred in films directed by women, etc. As a result, I discovered some great romantic comedies, among them: A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971), Crossing Delancey (Joan Micklin Silver, 1988) and The Mirror Has Two Faces (Barbra Streisand, 1996). I consider these three among my very favourites of the marathon, and The Mirror Has Two Faces probably became my overall favourite. It’s not a masterpiece, but I just thought it was hilarious and absolutely loved it. Plus, I loved the chemistry between Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges.

Aside from Susan Seidelman, Ida Lupino and Dorothy Arzner, I also added a new film directed by Agnes Varda: Kung-Fu Master! (1988) Ok, that was a… peculiar subject, to say the least (a grown-up woman falls in love with a teenage boy), but I thought it was an excellent film, despite the subject. I was also quite different from the one Varda film I had seen before: Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962). I also watched one more film directed by Swedish actress-director Mai Zetterling: Loving Couples (1964). That one was a good surprise, and I loved some of its thought-provoking dialogues. I know that Zetterling directing style is often compared to the one of Ingmar Bergman. And, in a way, it makes sense: there are similarities. However, in another way, she had her own style that made her films unique. When I did my master in cinema studies at Stockholm University, I took a course on Swedish films and television. At one point, we watch a film directed by Zetterling: The Girls (1968), but, unlike Loving Couples, I didn’t like it so much.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to watch a film directed by an Irish female director. I ended up watching Maudie (Aisling Walsh, 2016). Along with Audrey, that was one of the exceptions of post-2000 films that I watched during the marathon. Despite being directed by an Irish director, it’s an Irish-Canadian production. However, I would call it a Canadian film rather than an Irish one as it takes place in Canada (Nova Scotia- but it was filmed in Newfoundland for budget reasons) and tells the story of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. Sally Hawkins plays Maudie, and Ethan Hawke plays her grumpy husband. It was a beautiful film about a talented female artist, one that makes you feel a lot of different emotions.

The marathon also made me discover the work of director Muriel Box. And she’s one of the directors that, when I heard of her, I thought, “where was she all my life”? First of all, she directed classic British films. I told you how much I like these. Second, some actors I love played in her films, such as Leslie Phillips, Laurence Harvey, Shelley Winters, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Stanley Holloway, Naunton Wayne, Bessie Love, etc. Even Mai Zetterling played in two of her films! I started the marathon with one of her films: The Happy Family (1952), which was an excellent way to kick things off. I hope to see more of her films soon!

During the challenge, I also discover a film that was pretty ahead of its time: Olivia (Jacqueline Audry, 1951). The reason? This French film of 1951 is the among firsts in the country to openly depict lesbian relationships. Unsurprisingly, it caused a scandal on its released… Aside from its central theme, an interesting aspect of the film is its almost all-women cast. There are a few men (including acclaimed French actor Phillipe Noiret in its first on-screen appearance!), but they far from pre-dominate the screen time.

Finally, the three films I still haven’t mentioned are Now and Then (Lesli Linka Glatter, 1995), The Boys Next Door (Penelope Spheeris, 1985), and The Connection (Shirley Clarke, 1962). Now and Then was very cheesy but, overall, good entertainment. PS: I wished Cloris Leachman’s role was bigger. I watched The Boys Next Door because they had it at my library so, why not? Oh, and now I’m thinking: I had seen another film directed by Penelope Spheeris: Wayne’s World (1992). That might be one of those very popular women’s films that many people have heard about (in connection to what I was saying previously). The Boys Next Door is undoubtedly very different. Wayne is a film with lovable main characters, while The Boys is a film with hateful main characters. Quite a contrast. Finally, The Connection was the most experimental film of the whole lot. It’s a docufiction where a movie director and its cameraman make a film on heroin addict jazz musicians. It takes place in one room, like a play.

And that was my March exploration of new-to-me films directed by women. I hope I haven’t forgotten any! As I said, some were better than others, but it’s normal. It’s not because a film is directed by a woman that it is necessarily good! But overall, I don’t believe there are any that I genuinely disliked. I was, overall, super satisfied with my final selection. Of course, I know there are still many more to see. Don’t hesitate to tell me, in the comments, what are your favourite films directed by women (possibly pre-2000 films)! I might have seen them or not. And if not, I’ll add them to my to-watch list! I didn’t mention her in my article, but a female director that I love is Penny Marshall. Among her films, I saw A League of Their Own (1992), Awakenings (1990) and Big (1988), which I think are considered her best films.

Penny Marshall

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Now, for April, I’m doing another William Holden film marathon (with new-to-me films, of course). I’m hoping to complete his filmography. I’m not sure how possible it will be as some of his films seem hard to find. So far, I’ve watched 61 of them, so I’m definitely on the right track!

If I could give you another message to conclude this article it would be: watch more films directed by women! And now, you have a ton of ideas (all the stuff I mentioned in my article).

See you!

2 thoughts on “A March Marathon of Films Directed by Women: My Feedback

  1. That was quite a marathon! I loved reading about your experience and added a few films to my watchlist based on your recommendations.
    There certainly are more films by men than by women – not only because male directors dominated the scene from the 1920s onward, but also because older films by female filmmakers are not preserved: there are many lost Alice Guy-Blaché’s films, for instance.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the marathon and, if I can recommed one title, it’s The Seventh Veil by Muriel Box, a very good film with a bit of psychoanalysis… and James Mason.
    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know I had head about The Seven Veil (included some clips from it in my video tribute to James Mason) but I hadn’t realize it was directed by Muriel Box! Will definitely add it to my watch list because I’m planning to see more of her films. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment Leticia. I hadn’t thought about the preservation factor, but that makes so much sense.

      Like

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