Women Filmmakers, Women Artists
By Jan Lisa Huttner
(First posted in 2004)
|SOMETHING OLD:||CROSS CREEK|
|SOMETHING NEW:||THE COMPANY|
|SOMETHING BLUE:||THE GOVERNESS|
Springtime! Clear blue skies. Lush green grass. Flowers blooming in every direction. Color and light inspire the artist in all of us.
Remember THE YEARLING, that book we all read in high school about a kid named Jody and his pet fawn Flag? CROSS CREEK is the story of author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlins, a New York writer who fled the city and found her inspiration (and a Pulitzer Prize) in the Florida backwoods. The screenplay, by Dalene Young, is based on the memoir Rawlins published in 1943.
Mary Steenburgen anchors the film as Rawlins, but the scene-stealers are Dana Hill who plays Ellie (the real girl who became the male “Jody” character), and Alfre Woodard who plays Geechee (and received an Oscar-nomination for this part). Most of CROSS CREEK was filmed in Central Florida, where Rawlins’ home, located between Ocala & Gainesville, is now preserved as a state historic site. I much prefer the lyrical CROSS CREEK to the overly-sentimental 1946 film version of THE YEARLING (a movie which plays frequently on cable TV).
THE COMPANY opened in selected venues last December, but it was buried by the yearend crush of new releases. Come June 1st, however, it will be available to all on DVD and I highly recommend it. In fact THE COMPANY was my favorite film of 2003.
THE COMPANY depicts daily life in Chicago’s famous Joffrey Ballet Company, and it’s full of familiar landmarks (including one especially memorable scene shot in Grant Park). Neve Campbell stars as Loretta Ryan. A trained dancer who performed with the National Ballet of Canada, Campbell worked with screenwriter Barbara Turner to create a realistic film devoid of all the excess melodrama characteristic of films like THE TURNING POINT.
Ry has parents, step-parents, friends, rivals, mentors and lovers, but she’s at a critical stage in her career, and her life is focused on the moments she spends on stage. Scrupulous rehearsal scenes alternate with glorious performance scenes set to a range of musical styles (from solo cello to Latin jazz). The costumes, camera angles, and flow of limbs are all breathtaking.
So you’ve already seen FRIDA? Well, see it again! Although FRIDA is based on Hayden Herrera’s best-selling biography, the filmmakers delve deep beneath historical fact. My favorite scene shows painter Frida Kahlo dressing for her wedding. In that one moment we come to understand Frida as a woman who consciously created the vivid “self” so evident on every canvas she left us.
One of the best films of 2002, FRIDA received six Oscar nominations (including one for star Salma Hayek) but director Julie Taymor was overlooked. You can protest this egregious omission with your pocketbook: rent FRIDA or better yet buy it. The DVD version has wonderful extras including interviews with Taymor, features on visual design, and commentary by composer Elliot Goldenthal (who won an Oscar for his FRIDA soundtrack). Goldenthal is also Taymor’s significant other, and they wrote the Oscar-nominated closing song “Burn It Blue” together.
A dark and somewhat strange film, THE GOVERNESS is also mysterious and intriguing. On the surface it’s a gothic romance about a 19th century Jewish woman. Left destitute when her father dies, Rosina da Silva changes her name to “Mary Blackchurch” and takes a job in faraway Scotland. Peel back the layers though, and the real subject of THE GOVERNESS is photography, an art in its infancy for Rosina (Minnie Driver), but a science for her employer Charles Cavendish (Tom Wilkinson).
Director/screenwriter Sandra Goldbacher was well-known for her BBC documentaries when she took this giant leap forward. THE GOVERNESS received the “Best Newcomer” award from BAFTA (the British Oscars) and a special Debut Prize at the prestigious Karlovyvary International Film Festival. THE GOVERNESS is now recognized as a feminist classic, dramatically asserting the power of female subjectivity in opposition to the supposedly objective male gaze.
An author, a dancer, a painter, and a photographer: four artists whose lives are presented to us by women directors and screenwriters bursting with creativity, insight and passion.
© Jan Lisa Huttner (May/June 2004) – Special for The Woman’s Newspapers. Reposted with permission.