Thursday, December 17, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #336: Directed by Women

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is films directed by a woman. I thought some about it, and had two movies in mind that fit a common theme, and tried to think of a third. Unfortunately, the third one was made-for-TV according to IMDb, but considering the subject material for my three selections, I think it's worth bending the rules a bit to use it:

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (2018). Directed by Pamela B. Green, this documentary, as you can guess, tells the story of Alice Guy-Blaché. Guy wasn't just a pioneering woman director, she was a pioneering director period, making movies starting in the 1890s when anybody making movies was a pioneer. (The humorous story is that she was working for a company making camera equipment as a secretary, and her bosses let her make short films to promote their equipment on the proviso that it not interfere with her day job.) Guy worked through the 1910s, spending a fair bit of time in America. Her movies are in the public domain, and the last I checked, Youtube has copies of The Birth, Life, and Death of Jesus and Falling Leaves.

Scandal: The Trial of Mary Astor (2018). In 1936, actress Mary Astor was making Dodsworth. She was also involved in a bitter custody battle with her husband for custody of their daughter Marilyn (who appears in the documentary). The husband had apparently obtained a copy of Astor's diary which had some entries that might scandalize Hollywood, and threatened to use it against Mary. (Both parties to the case had rather serious flaws, however.) Amazingly, Astor was allowed to make Dodsworth by day, going to court at night for the proceedings in the custody battle. Alexa Foreman, former TCM employee, directed, and in his will Robert Osborne bequeathed her the amount of money the rights holders to Dodsworth were looking for so that she could use the clips in the movie.

The Brothers Warner (2007). Cass Warner Sperling, a granddaughter of Harry Warner, directed this movie about the four brothers who founded one of Hollywood's more celebrated studios, and ultimately part of a megacorporation. Sam died young (the day before The Jazz Singer premiered); Harry and Albert sold their stock in the company in 1956 in a deal that the fourth brother, Jack, engineered so that he could snooker the other brothers into giving up their control of the studio, allowing him to take control. This was made for TV (I don't know if it premiered on TCM, but that's where I saw it), and has lots of interviews with descendants of the Warners and som other studio heads too.


thevoid99 said...

Oh, we share a pick on Be Natural. Nice!

joel65913 said...

All good documentaries that I saw on TCM. I found the Brothers Warner the most involving but that might have been because I'd already read Mary Astor's biography and a great deal of the material in there was included in her doc so it wasn't as revelatory as it might be for others who hadn't.

I was tempted to do all Ida Lupino films but again TCM took a hand and ran a 14 week series looking at women in film and that provided me with lots of choices although I did include the Ida film I think is her best as a director.

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)-Two buddies Ray (Edmond O'Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy) head off for what is supposed to be a relaxing fishing trip but make the mistake of picking up an innocuous hitchhiker Emmett Myers (William Talman) who turns out to be a sociopath on the run from the law. Knowing that he’s a killer and sure that as soon as he’s done with them they are dead they plot an escape. But their plan is hampered by the fact that even when he sleeps Myers keeps one eye open. Director Ida Lupino, the only woman in the 50’s listed as a member of the DGA, keeps the action economical and the atmosphere tense.

The Ascent (1977)-In the deep winter of the German countryside during WWII a pair of starving Soviet soldiers leave their unit in search of food but are captured by a Nazi patrol. Tortured for information they don’t possess one of them stands by his principles while the other seeks a way out but both pay a heavy cost. A big success upon release this proved to be the final film of director Larisa Shepitko who was killed along with her crew in a car accident shortly afterwards scouting locations for her next film.

Daughters of the Dust (1991)-Julie Dash directed this look at the Gullah community off the coast of South Carolina at the turn of the last century where the descendants of former slaves kept a mix of African and colonial ways alive. As the changing times intermingle with the old ways conflicts ensue.

Zero Motivation (2014)-Stationed in a remote desert location a disparate group of female Israeli soldiers wait until their period of service is up while they bicker, bond and fight against the ennui that comes with living in such an isolated spot. Tayla Lavie directs this with a fine mix of humor and gravitas.

Brittani Burnham said...

This is the second time I've seen Be Natural mentioned. I really need to check that out.

Cinematic Delights said...

Great picks - so much scandal! Sounds like Alice Guy-Blaché was seriously underestimated by her employers.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

To be fair, I don't think anybody could have known in the 1890s who would have made a good or poor filmmaker, which is part of what makes her story so fascinating.

Birgit said...

I so would love to have TCM and miss out on all of these. I wonder if these would be on YouTube. I have to check it out even though I know the stories I always love learning more...Jack Warner was a real S. O. B. Wasn’t he.