Films About Women List 4

For the last two posts in the series, I have posted films that were featured at the Cleveland International Film Festival. These films rarely (if ever!) get a wide release.

So, these three films will be films that DID receive a very wide release AND won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

1 Gone With the Wind

I said in my introductory post that I would post films that were culturally or artistically important, even if I did not like them very much.

This is one of those films.

Gone With the Wind is, for my money, bloated. The music is incredibly annoying, the racial stereotypes are very disturbing and problematic, and it’s overly (overly!) sentimental. It also goes downhill completely when Scarlett marries Rhett. Some of these problems are the problems of the book. Others are the fault of the film.

Even with these problems, it is still one of the most successful films of all time. The heart of the story is a love triangle set against the backdrop of the Old South during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

It is also important because it shows the path that cinema could have taken. David O Selznick, the producer of Gone With the Wind, conceived of film as a verbal medium, similar to theater. Theater is a medium of the spoken word, and has been since it’s inception by the ancient Greeks. Selznick thought of film in much the same way. This is why there are so many moments in Gone With the Wind when Scarlett speaks in soliloquies to express her opinions. In the following years, Selznick’s vision of film would fade away. Film becomes a visual medium. A director tries to give the audience information not in words, but in images. He will use the composition or the type of shot to eliminate unnecessary words.

For that reason, above all, I encourage everyone to see Gone With the Wind. Watch it, and see the road not taken.

Gone With the Wind

2 All About Eve

In 1998, when Titanic was nominated for 14 Oscars, it tied the record for the most Oscar nominations. This is the first film to receive fourteen nominations.

All About Eve tells the story of a girl, Eve Harrington, who plots to supplant her stage idol. The original trailer and poster advertised it as a film about women and their men. It’s also more than that. It’s a mediation on age, the role of women in society, the theater, and ambition. The screenplay is incredibly thoughtful and the performances are wonderful. It’s also told mostly through the eyes of the women involved and manages to be both witty and dramatic.

All About Eve Poster

3 Silence of the Lambs

Ironically, this film is mostly remembered for Anthony Hopkins’ brilliant, chilling portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lector. However, the real protagonist of the film is Clarisse Starling, the young FBI agent.

Clarisse Starling spends most of the film surrounded by men, who range from paternal to patronizing to simply creepy. There are some wonderful scenes of quiet menace. David of Selznick would have demanded that Clarisse have monologues about how she feels threatened by the men in the film. Johnathan Demme, in contrasts, surrounds Jodie Foster with men, and then films her squirming. The film also hints at the connection between the treatment of Agent Starling and the monster of the serial killer.

The film is thrilling and suspenseful without being overly graphic, and Hannibal Lector is truly unforgettable.

Silence of the Lambs

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Passover and the American Exodus Story (Random Thoughts)

I always feel jealous of Jews around Passover. They get to have a Seder meal and they tell a really exciting, scary, and moving story. I even like eating matzo. (I know, I know.) Why is this?

1 Part of this is the Seder ritual itself. It’s not just a dinner party, it’s a religious ritual. There are prescribed actions that must be performed and all of the objects have symbolism. They get to eat exotic foods and light candles and pray in a foreign language.

2 There are few such rituals in the US. For Thanksgiving, we get together and eat, and that’s about it. Sure, we may watch TV together or go shopping, but that’s just super lame compared to a Seder.

3 The ritual of the Seder goes back thousands of years. At the same time, it is flexible. Different people and groups are free to make their marks on the Seder. Rabbi Hillel introduced the idea of eating a matzo and bitter herb sandwich as a way of fulfilling both mitzvoth. Today, some Jewish feminists are adding a Miriam’s cup ritual to honor Miriam the prophetess and the role of Jewish women.

Seder_Plate

4 The exodus story is very much an American story. I saw God In America, a PBS miniseries about religious freedom in America. (It was excellent.) There was a historian who said that the story of America was the Exodus story. People leave a place of bondage and oppression, travel great distances, experience freedom, and form a nation.

5 Of course, the Israelites, according to the story, travel first to Mount Saini to receive the law. In America, we forged the law ourselves. There are some Americans who attribute an almost divine quality to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (Wrongly, of course, but they do exist.)

6 This story gives America a strange relationship with Europe. It is the motherland, but it is also Egypt, for many people. It is the place where our ancestors experienced oppression, a place where our ancestors needed to escape, cross the Atlantic Ocean (the Red Sea) and then experience freedom.

7 It also shapes how we view America. America is not only the place where the streets are paved with gold, it is a land flowing with milk and honey.

8 The story of the exodus also resonates strongly with the experience of slavery in the South. It’s a fascinating twist on the story. A people are in a place of freedom and travel thousands of miles to experience bondage and oppression. Then, when they are freed, they must find freedom not in their homeland, but in Egypt itself. They must share Egypt with the Egyptians. What does that mean? This question looms large in the American experience.

abolition poster

9 At the end of the Seder, the celebrants declare “Next year in Jerusalem!” It’s not so much about the literal Jerusalem; even Jews in Jerusalem still say it at the end of the Seder. Jerusalem clearly calls to mind a distant ideal. For Jews, this would be a future Messianic age. There is the tension between the horror of the past (and perhaps the present) and the promise of the future.

Those are my random thoughts about Passover. I hope no one found them offensive, they were not intended to cause offense.

A Happy Passover to everyone!

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The Entry Into Jerusalem Fra Angelico

It’s important to remember that the idea of realism did not take hold until the 19th century. Fra Angelico gives his characters the hats and clothing of Florence.

fra_angelico_entry425x620

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Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

A rather belated realization that it has been 20 years of Kurt Cobain.

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Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Paul Revere’s Ride

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I was fortunate enough to perform this poem in the fifth grade. A group of us performed it in front of the whole school.

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and somber and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

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Statue of Paul Revere outside the Old North Church.

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Writing Without Boundaries

Back in college, I entertained visions of being a high school history teacher and directing school plays. (I know, I know.) As a part of this dream, I took a few acting classes. In my acting Shakespeare class, my teacher told me that I “acted with boundaries.” He meant that I made safe, boring choices when I acted, as opposed to more daring, potentially wrong choices. I could not be vulnerable. I thought about that a lot when I took up writing again. In a way, I had never stopped writing. I had still kept a journal throughout those years. Mom would see me periodically sitting on the couch, writing furiously, and constantly ask what I was writing. Nonetheless, I had stopped writing essays or stories of any kind. It seemed childish to write. When I took up writing again, I swore that I would not write with boundaries.

I never had much of a problem writing with boundaries. Writing has always been a form of self therapy. I’ve written about moving, divorce, cancer, as well as other traumas great and small. Certainly, in my journal, I do not practice much self-censorship. Why would I? I don’t share my journal with anyone. if I was married, I would not let my husband read my journal. If he chose to read it, he would be signing his death warrant. This brings me to my next point. Writing in my journal is one thing. Writing in essays or stories is a little more difficult, because those I plan to share.

One question that haunts me as I think about writing is, “What if it hurts someone?” Last year, I watched a short film about a woman who drops her newborn daughter on her head. She turned her experience into a screenplay. We were fortunate to have her there after the screening. She talked about how when she finally felt ready to give the screenplay to her husband for him to read. He didn’t speak to her for two days after reading it.

It can be difficult even if the person is not directly involved in the incident. My junior year of high school, we were asked to write a cause and effect essay. I chose to write about the effects of my parent’s divorce. At the time, we had a student teacher, so I thought that she would be the one to read it. Unfortunately, my regular English teacher read it. I wasn’t totally humiliated, but at the same time, it made me feel really uncomfortable. Oddly enough, it’s easier for me to have strangers read certain subjects than people I know.

At last, I get to the point of this blog post. I have an essay I want to write. It’s not going to be a blog post, this is a separate, stand alone essay. This essay is going to be pretty broad, but in order to write it, I have to write negative things about my mom. I cannot address the topic unless I write them. This is as good a time as any to point out that I actually have a great relationship with my mom. I love her very much. She’s a good friend. I can talk to her about almost anything. She’s just not perfect. (Who is?) But I cannot write what I want to write unless I talk about my mom and some of the mistakes she’s made. I feel horribly guilty about this.

I actually feel doubly guilty about this. My mom has been encouraging me to write more. She’s even encouraged me to explore publishing my work. She made me feel that I actually should write more. This makes it seem like a double betrayal. I want (need?) to write something that may hurt her.

This brings me to Eminem. About ten years ago, Eminem did a song called “Cleaning Out My Closet.”

Of course, my relationship with my mom is nothing like the one depicted in this song. (Thank God!) Still, I can’t help but think about it. I remember listening to this song with my friend in her car, especially the refrain, “I’m sorry mama, I never meant to hurt you.” My friend replied, quite rightly, “If he doesn’t want to hurt her then why did he write this song?” It does seem disingenuous. He knew full well that most of us would never meet her, never hear her side of the story, and our opinion of her would be entirely shaped by what he raps in this song.

A few weeks ago, there was a new song by Eminem on the radio. It was also about his mother, but it was apologetic and conciliatory. He talked about hating the closet song now, and refusing to perform it at shows. He even thanks his mother for doing the best she could have done in difficult circumstances.

I haven’t heard that song on the radio recently. It’s just as well; it’s not as good as Monster ft. Rhianna. It’s also just was well for me. Whenever I would hear that song, I would cringe and lose courage. I feel as though I could not write anything that would potentially hurt my mom.

At the same time, maybe I should.

I’m a passive-aggressive person by nature. I either avoid confrontation and act as a doormat, or I lash out in passive aggressive ways. My therapist once told me she would like me to confront people more directly. Perhaps I should tell mom what I am going to write and how I feel about the past. I’ve done this before. I told my mom about something she did before my knee surgery that upset me, and I realized that she actually took care of it at the time.

Perhaps I should talk to her. After all, as Brave says, “Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way the words do when they settle ‘neath your skin.” She may be right.

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Paul Revere by J.S. Copley

I noticed I had never posted American artwork. So, I present Paul Revere by J.S. Copley, via Wikipedia.
Paul Revere
This picture at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I don’t remember if I saw this painting, but I do know I’ve seen example of his silversmith skills.

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Paul Revere’s house.
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I also got to visit the Old North Church.
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Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year

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