Films About Women 16

1 Les Diaboliques
Les Diaboliques is a French thriller made in 1955. It tells the story of a married woman whose husband is cheating on her. She teams up with her husband’s mistress to kill him. They kill him, dispose of the body, and then bizarre, scary things start to happen.

Hitchcock actually wanted to direct this film, but the French director Henri-Georges Clouzot managed to secure the rights to the film. Much like Psycho five years later, the audience is urged to keep the ending a secret, with a title card saying “Don’t be devils!”


Another fascinating aspect of the film happened at the beginning. When the film began, it quotes the French censorship code, which stated that a film could morally show people committing crimes and heinous acts, BUT it also has to show people getting punished for these acts. This code is the reason why Hitchcock had to create another ending for Vertigo when it was shown in France. It is a simple scene showing two people listening to the radio, which describes the arrest of a murderer. It’s a terrible scene that undercuts the power of Vertigo’s iconic ending, but that was what the French censors demanded at the time.

I don’t want to say too much more about the film, because I don’t want to be a a devil. :)

2 Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich is a Stephen Soderberg film about a single mother who takes on a power plant in California. It stars Julia Roberts, in the movie for which she won Best Actress. It also stars Albert Finny, who is simply wonderful opposite of Julia. The film is a bit of a hybrid between comedy and drama; it’s very much a dramatic film but it does have some wonderful comedic moments, usually in the interaction between Albert Finny and Julia Roberts.

julia roberts erin brockovich

It also explores a common theme in Hollywood, the woman who devotes herself to a cause and the resulting stress in her relationship. (Are there any films where men devote themselves to their jobs to such a degree that they destroy their relationships? I’m serious. Why is it that men are allowed to sacrifice their family for the sake of a job or a noble cause, and wives are never allowed to complain?) There is a wonderful scene where Julia Roberts listens to her boyfriend describe her daughter’s first word, and Julia Roberts wonderfully captures the joy and pain of the moment.

3 The Painted Veil

I think this might be my favorite romantic movie.

The Painted Veil is a movie based on the book by W Somerset Maugham about a woman who marries a man she does not love. They move to Shanghai, where she begins an affair with another British ex patriot. When her husband discovers the affair, he coerces her to joining him in a remote region of China, where there is a raging cholera epidemic.

The film is absolutely beautiful in its images of China. This is the third version of The Painted Veil made since the book’s publication in 1925, and the makers wanted to bring a sense of China to this film; they felt the original films were insufficiently Chinese. The landscape is lush and gorgeous; it makes me want to travel to the more remote areas of China. It also has exceptional performances from both Naomi Watts and Edward Norton as the couple whose marriage is, for all intents and purposes, practically dead.

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Romeo and Juliet aka Films I’m Not Watching Now

I should acknowledge the one and only Stephen Colbert for the title of this (and the American Heiress post) with his wonderful bit “Who’s Not Honoring Me Now.”

I have a nasty habit of taking out too many things from the library. I have a problem. I recognize that I have a problem, but I have no intention of seeking help from a Higher Power in overcoming this problem. So there. :)

A few months ago I rented the 2013 version of Romeo and Juliet, but I took it back before I even finished it. In fact, I did not even get to the end of Act I.

Why is that? Because it is unfaithful to the text.

Now, someone might say, “But the film looks faithful! They are dressed in Renaissance style! It takes place in the past!”

When most Americans think of “faithful Shakespeare productions,” we think primarily of the costumes and set pieces. This happens for a number of reasons; we’re a visual culture, we do not know Shakespeare, education primarily focuses on the plot and characters and not the aesthetic of the language, etc. But here’s the thing. Shakespeare never dictates what the sets are, which were probably minimal. He also lived before Realism, which means that he, his actors, and his audience did not try to find out what people were wearing in late 15th century Vienna.

This version changes the words. I’m not talking about an occasionally deletion or substitution of a word. I am talking about adding whole sections of dialogue. That to me is unforgivable.

It also makes me angry.


About 20 years ago, Baz Luhrmann released his famous version of Romeo and Juliet, which transposes the action to Verona, Florida in the 90’s. That version kept the original text, whereas this played fast and loose with it. The average person, however, will think that the former is less faithful to Shakespeare, which is unfair. The latter is unfaithful in the only thing that really mattered.

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You Men By Sr. Juana Ines De La Cruz

A few months back, I posted a poem by Anne Bradstreet, the first poet of America, and mentioned how cool it was that the first poet of America was a woman.

As fate would have it, the first poet of the Americas, or the Western Hemisphere, was also a woman, Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz.

Silly, you men-so very adept
at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you’re alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman’s mind.

After you’ve won by urgent plea
the right to tarnish her good name,
you still expect her to behave–
you, that coaxed her into shame.

You batter her resistance down
and then, all righteousness, proclaim
that feminine frivolity,
not your persistence, is to blame.

When it comes to bravely posturing,
your witlessness must take the prize:
you’re the child that makes a bogeyman,
and then recoils in fear and cries.

Presumptuous beyond belief,
you’d have the woman you pursue
be Thais when you’re courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.

For plain default of common sense,
could any action be so queer
as oneself to cloud the mirror,
then complain that it’s not clear?

Whether you’re favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you’re turned away,
you sneer if you’ve been gratified.

With you, no woman can hope to score;
whichever way, she’s bound to lose;
spurning you, she’s ungrateful–
succumbing, you call her lewd.

Your folly is always the same:
you apply a single rule
to the one you accuse of looseness
and the one you brand as cruel.

What happy mean could there be
for the woman who catches your eye,
if, unresponsive, she offends,
yet whose complaisance you decry?

Still, whether it’s torment or anger–
and both ways you’ve yourselves to blame–
God bless the woman who won’t have you,
no matter how loud you complain.

It’s your persistent entreaties
that change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
you would have her good as gold.

So where does the greater guilt lie
for a passion that should not be:
with the man who pleads out of baseness
or the woman debased by his plea?

Or which is more to be blamed–
though both will have cause for chagrin:
the woman who sins for money
or the man who pays money to sin?

So why are you men all so stunned
at the thought you’re all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you’ve made them
or make of them what you can like.

If you’d give up pursuing them,
you’d discover, without a doubt,
you’ve a stronger case to make
against those who seek you out.

I well know what powerful arms
you wield in pressing for evil:
your arrogance is allied
with the world, the flesh, and the devil!

Juana Inez (de la Cruz) lay clothes

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My BFF Won the Nobel Peace Prize!

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her work for education for girls around the world.  I could not be happier for my BFF.

Congratulations Malala, God bless you, and continued success!

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Random Thoughts on the Bechdel Test

Since I’ve been doing a series of Films About Women, I figured I should give my thoughts on the Bechdel Test.

For those not in the know, the Bechdel test has the qualifying criteria.

To pass the Bechdel test, a film

  1. has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.

This test was first mentioned in a cartoon, but many people point out that the idea stems from Virginia Woolf.

“All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. [...] And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. [...] They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that.” A Room of One’s Own

1 It goes without saying that the Bechdel test is not perfect.  Twilight passes the Bechdel Test, and Twilight is the worst thing ever.  (Seriously, fuck Twilight

2 On the same note, Henry V also passes the Bechdel test, but The Merchant of Venice does not.  And no actress would turn down the role of Portia to play Katherine.

3 What does it mean for two women to have a conversation about a man?  The best example of this is Zero Dark Thirty.  The main character has several conversations with women, but the conversations are always about a man: Osama Bin Laden. The women are not discussing Osama’s potential merits as a husband, father, or lover.  They are trying to kill him!  Is this a conversation about a man?  If a woman surgeon and a woman anesthesiologist have a discussion about a male patient, does that pass the test?

4 I do understand the motivation to quantify how women are portrayed in films. Are women portrayed as accessories for men? Do women have the same level of personality as a car? Or do they have their own lives? Do films respect the fact that a woman’s life and world are just as valuable and just as important as the life and the world of a man?

5 I’m not so interested whether an individual film meets the standards. There are a lot of really good films with absolutely no women, but not for sexist reasons. Into Great Silence does not feature any women, and only a few conversations in the entire film. Kundun has two women, but they are incredibly minor characters. Of course, both of these films take place in monasteries, so why would there be a surplus of women?

6 On the other hand, I do think it is valid to ask why so few films pass the Bechdel test relative to the films that fail the reverse Bechdel test. The reverse Bechdel tests asks
1 If there are two men
2 Who have a conversation
3 About something other than a woman.

Why do films often portray women as accessories for men, but rarely portray men for accessories for women?

7 Nonetheless, it is possible to pass the Bechdel test and still portray women as nothing more than accessories for men. As does Twilight.

Seriously, fuck Twilight.

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Elizabeth Beltzhoover Mason by Gilbert Stuart

Elizabeth Beltzhoover Mason Gilbert Stuart

Gilbert Stuart, as I’m sure you know, painted a lot of portraits. I like this one, which is at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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He was despised by Hillary Summers

I realized that I mostly post sopranos on my blog. There are a number of reasons for that, most of which are not my fault. :)

However, I did find this lovely performance of He Was Despised from the second act of Handel’s Messiah sung by Hillary Summers. Now this is a contralto voice.

And once again, perfect diction! I can understand the words! Even if I can’t understand the language the singer is singing, I want to hear the consonants.

Oh, I do have a post coming up at some point with a baritone.

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