Tag Archives: Feminist films

A Woman Under the Influence-1974

A Woman Under the Influence-1974

Director-John Cassavetes

Starring-Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk

Scott’s Review #1,051

Reviewed August 11, 2020

Grade: A

I champion films that are not necessarily easy to digest but are well-worth the struggle if the result is either a fantastic pay-off or the afterglow of watching something of worth or substance. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) is a grueling watch for the ferocious intensity alone that Gena Rowlands infuses into her emotionally challenged title character. Rowlands and director/writer/husband John Cassavetes changed the face of independent film forever with this project.

Critical film darling and fantastic director Cassavetes specifically wrote the screenplay of A Woman Under the Influence for Rowlands who wanted to play the character but could not take the strain of playing her eight days a week on stage as originally envisioned. Thus, the project was birthed using their own money to finance the making of it. Co-star Peter Falk also contributed financially. Each served as makeup artist, gofer, or performed other non-actor or non-director tasks to achieve the end results. A real house was used to film in rather than on a studio set.

The film was rebuffed by distributors and Cassavetes begged to have it shown at college campuses where he would discuss the film afterwards. It was the first time in the history of motion pictures that an independent film was distributed without the use of a nationwide system of sub-distributors. This is the main reason that Cassavetes is heralded as an independent film god and has a category named after him at the annual Independent Spirit Film Awards.

Rowlands parts mountains to make this role her own and she is passionate about it. Originally only seeing the legendary actress in one film, the gritty Gloria (1980), I kept a notion of her as the impatient, tough-as-nails, mobster girlfriend that she played in that excellent film (also directed by Cassavetes). In A Woman Under the Influence, made six years prior to Gloria, she plays a much more vulnerable, to say nothing of unhinged, character. This is not to say that Mabel is crazy in a psychotic sort of way. She is loving and adoring of her husband, Nick (Falk), and kids Margaret and Angelo. Rowlands puts her versatility on display.

In her desperate attempts to keep her family happy she tries to put on a brave front as she dutifully cooks dinner, puts her kids to bed, and kisses her husband. Inside though she is dying and unsure what is wrong with her. She knows she is unhappy and doesn’t know why. What she does know is that she is slowly going insane.

At the risk of making A Woman Under the Influence Rowland’s film as the title implies, it’s really not. Falk does not merely serve as a supporting player to her story but blossoms with one of his own. The story could have easily been told only from Mabel’s perspective, but we see such a range of emotions from Falk as his character tries desperately to keep it together. This is great acting. Nick thinks that inviting friends over to celebrate Mabel’s return home from the hospital is a good idea, and realizing it’s not, angrily sends them home. His emotions spiral as much as hers do, but in a different way.

The best scenes are the most emotionally taxing for all. When Mabel talks gibberish at a speed of a mile a minute, Nick tries to be patient but soon explodes with anger, sympathetic to his wife but also exhausted beyond belief. When Mabel and Nick spar fireworks explode. In pure Cassavetes genius there lies no solution to Mabel’s woes and we wonder what will happen to her. Will she eventually be institutionalized for life? Will she take her own life or someone else’s life? The vagueness is its beauty.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974) is one of the most realistic films ever made to focus on mental illness in a difficult and truthful way. To add boldness to the tough subject matter, especially given the time-period made when we now know more about the disease, Cassavetes and Rowlands add a feminist quality to the film while also showcasing the male point of view. 1970’s cinema oozed with creativity, richness, and experimentation. True artists emerged, who have created an important legacy on small budgeted films forever.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-John Cassavetes, Best Actress-Gena Rowlands

Little Women-2019

Little Women-2019

Director-Greta Gerwig

Starring-Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh

Scott’s Review #982

Reviewed January 21, 2020

Grade: A-

Numerous creations of the illustrious 1860’s classic novel by Louisa May Alcott have been forged upon the silver screen, some good and some not as good. The consensus is that Little Women (2019) is one of the better offerings, if not the best. Director, Greta Gerwig crafts a clear feminist, progressive version of the trials and tribulations of the March family, led by spirited spit-fire, Jo (Saoirse Ronan). Gerwig’s telling is fantastic, breathing fresh life into a classic story.

The story fluctuates heavily between 1868 and 1861, during and after the United States Civil War. Liberal, the March’s reside in Massachusetts, led by matriarch Marmee (Laura Dern) mainly living life while their patriarch, Father March (Bob Odenkirk) is off at war. The rest of the household includes sisters Jo, Meg (Emily Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and the youngest daughter, Beth (Eliza Scanlen). The family endures joy, hardship, romance, love, and death as they carry on through the decade.

The focal point is Jo, a determined young lady, who moves to New York City, frequently reflecting on her life through back and forth sequences. She begins, an aspiring writer as she grows up, eventually becoming a success and boldly having her novel published. She resists the tried and true and questions why a woman must rely on a man for success rather than her own efforts and talents. During the story she is pursued by two young men, Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) and Friedrich (Louis Garrel).

Little Women is a fantastic and emotional story and a film that has no need for CGI, car chases, explosions, or any ingredients meant to enliven a film. It does not need them. The excitement is in the plot, as we thirst for more of the ups and downs that the March family faces. With any successful drama, there are nuanced characters, each taking a turn at story. While Jo is the headliner, Amy, Meg, and Beth are much more than opening acts. They each have their own lives, dreams, triumphs, and hardships, and the audience cares about each of them.

To capitalize on this point, the casting is dynamite. In a small, but brilliant role, Meryl Streep gives bombast to her character of Aunt March, the wealthy widow who owns a gorgeous house and vacations in Paris. She is cranky, but wise, only wanting the very best for her nieces, which is, of course, to marry rich! Ronan is well cast and charismatic as Jo, the actress losing her Irish accent for an American one. She uses her acting chops to infuse Jo with determination and just enough empathy to win over audiences.

Gerwig assures that the audience is reminded of the times and what it meant to be female during the 1860’s, with minimal chance at self-achievement, having to rely on a man for nearly everything. She in no way demeans or ridicules the male gender though. In fact, she paints no villains in her film, instead showing men as supportive at times, enamored at other times, but never exerting their power over women.

Little Women receives a small demerit in the pacing department. The film sharply plows back and forth, in too rapid a way, from period to period, at times leaving the viewer unclear as to what section in the film he or she is in. Blessedly, this ceases about midway through, but the technique is jarring and unnecessary. One wonders what the action was intended for and why not a more straightforward approach to the story telling was used.

A key facet of any outstanding film is the emotional reaction and Little Women had this viewer with tears streaming down his face. Sometimes for joy, sometimes for sadness, all in an organic way given oomph by a powerful musical score that resonates but never overwhelms. The film is one in which most of the elements come together in perfect harmony.

The film was served up six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Pugh), and Best Adapted Screenplay. Sadly, and in a never-ending slight for female directors, Gerwig was overlooked. Prior to 2019’s Little Women, the novel was adapted six times for film, most successfully in 1933 and 1949. Seventy years later, the most modern version is arguably the best, with a left-leaning stance that is oh so necessary in modern times.

3 Women-1977

3 Women-1977

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek

Scott’s Review #578

Reviewed January 1, 2017

Grade: A

Robert Altman is one of my all-time favorite directors and what a pleasure it is to uncover additional gems that he has directed over the years. I have seen 3 Women before, certainly, but some films (the true greats) are like fine wines and get better and better over time, in addition to being appreciated more and more with each passing viewing. 3 Women is a prime example of this. The level of psychology and the changing personalities of the character’s make it a unique and brilliant experience.

3 Women is a psychological feast and the study of three complex characters, hence the title. How fantastic how Altman claimed to have dreamed the entire film, complete with Duvall and Spacek in the roles, and then attempted to recreate the dream on film- he has done a masterful job. The film is certainly dream-like with an interpretive element that will leave the viewer pondering not only the relationships between the three women, but who exactly each woman is- consciously and sub-consciously. Lots of questions will abound as the film concludes. The main relationship is between the characters portrayed by Duvall and Spacek.

Duvall plays Millie Lammoreaux, a chatty and confident woman, who works at a California health spa for elderly clientele. She is statuesque and gorgeous, but surprisingly not well-liked by her colleagues, two of whom are mysterious identical twins. New employee Pinky Rose is a shy and vulnerable mousy type, who takes an immediate liking to Millie, becoming somewhat obsessed with her. The pair eventually move in together and begin to engage  in a mysterious and sometimes volatile friendship dripping in jealousy and lust. Eventually, they switch personalities, only adding to the mystique of the film. They reside in the Purple Sage Apartments, run by Edgar and Willie Hart. Willie is the third woman referenced in the title and is a pregnant painter, creating unsettling murals marveled at by Pinky.

It has been argued that 3 Women was an influence on the David Lynch masterpiece, Mullholland Drive (1992), and the more I ponder this the more that I agree with it. The dream-like, surrealistic qualities are prevalent in both films. Peculiar, strong written women are the central characters in both films and psychology and amnesia are main themes. The southern California setting is identical as are the interpretive elements, and the fantastically odd characters- both lead and supporting. When Pinky’s elderly parents are introduced, this is uncanny to a pair of grandparents featured in Mullholland Drive. Both are superior films so the comparisons are a joy to think about and ponder the complexities.

Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 psychological film Persona is most certainly a large influence on 3 Women. That film dared to explore merging personalities among women.

The final scene of 3 Women is intense and thought provoking. The lives of the women carry on following a tragic event, but each take on a certain persona and role within the family unit that they have forged.

Among other qualities, I view 3 Women as a feminist film, despite being directed by a male. Altman was famous for allowing his actors free reign in dialogue and development and this most certainly had to be the case with 3 Women. One of Altman’s masterpieces.

Altman is certainly a genius in nearly every film that he creates, but 3 Women is probably his most cerebral, and the film that can be talked about and analyzed more than the others. What a pure treat for a complex film lover to explore. 3 Women is not for mainstream audiences nor is is meant to be.

The Girls-1968

The Girls-1968

Director-Mai Zetterling

Starring-Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson

Scott’s Review #404

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Reviewed May 11, 2016

Grade: B+

The Girls is a 1968 political leaning, surreal, dream-like, feminist Swedish film. These may seem like too many adjectives to describe a film, but they all happen to be warranted and work to categorize it, which is tough- it is a complex film. The film left me deep in thought about what I had just viewed- that is a positive for me. Directed by a female, Mai Zetterling, the film clearly is told from a female perspective and is quite difficult to follow, though the message portrayed is a thought compelling and powerful one-women repressed- whether in reality or fantasy-by men.

In my attempt to describe The Girls accurately, it appears to contain a boys versus girls component throughout- told by the girls. The plot centers around three women: Liz (Bibi Andersson), Marianne (Harriet Andersson), and Gunilla (Gunnel Lindblom). The women are hired to star in a touring production of Lysistrata and each faces conflict and concern over leaving their respective families, but for differing reasons. Liz’s husband, who is having an affair, cannot get rid of her soon enough. Marianne has recently dumped her married boyfriend. Gunilla has four children and suffers from guilt.  All of the women are very friendly with each other.

All three principal actresses are familiar to eagle-eyed Ingmar Bergman fans as each of them have appeared in numerous films of his-in very different types of roles. Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal feature these actresses.

The women go on tour and have various surreal experiences based on the play in which they are star. The film, made in black and white, has very overexposed cinematography. The blacks and the whites are very sharp in look and this is no doubt purposely done.

On the surface it would appear that the women hate men and yearn to be free of them. Is that the point of the film? It seems to go in other directions as well. Do they hate their lives and feel confined with men and free without them, when they are touring their play? How do they feel about their children? Do they miss them on tour, love them, resent them, or perhaps  a bit of each? They yearn to be free of restraint.

We are treated to numerous scenes that seem to be a dreamlike state or a fantasy of one of the women. One runs through the forest and comes upon a grizzled, dirty child on the ground. Is it hers? She then sees her husband sitting in a living room chair in the middle of the forest. The symbolism resonating through The Girls is countless. We also see the women fantasize about a handsome, young man. Are they tired of the doldrums- looks and otherwise- that their husbands have caused them?

Many political scenes of protest occur throughout the film. In one, the women march in unison- Nazi style and chant. In another, the women lead what appears to be a charge of women- suffragette style, until the women start attacking each other and punch and kick each other in the streets. These scenes and countless others are tough to analyze, but perhaps this is the point? I decided to simply escape into the film and not try to figure out what everything meant.

Fantastic to see are the exterior scenes shot in Stockholm, Sweden, which reminds us what a liberal, democratic city it is. Yet the women are clearly repressed. Made in 1968, during the sexual revolution, the timing of the film is perfect.

The Girls left me pondering the story and the viewpoint and I will need further viewings in order for the film to more successfully sink in and for me to get it- if I ever do, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. In fact, the film is the kind of film that requires further viewings to understand. I look forward to watching this film again and that is high praise for it.