Films About Women Part 9

1 Rebecca

Rebecca tells the story of an unnamed heroine who marries a wealthy gentleman named Mr. DeWinter. The main character arrives at Manderly, his great estate, with no experience running a great house. (Think Downton Abbey.) At his house, she discovers that the house is haunted, not by a ghost, but by the memory of Mr. DeWinter’s previous wife, Rebecca. The main character is also haunted by Mrs. Danvers, the sinister housekeeper who is very devoted to the memory of her late mistress. It is a very gothic film, and a film about a very English subject (the slightly sinister great house where there are some kinds of terrible secrets). Ironically, this is the first film Hitchcock made in America. All of his previous films were made in Britain, but he was lured to Hollywood by the promise of more money and better toys (technology and production.) Ironically, it was the low budget and resources in Britain that led to one of the most iconic features of his films. Apparently, Hitchcock had little money originally to buy extras for big crowds. Instead, he and all the crew, had to appear as extras in the film. This is the genesis of the famous Hitchcock cameo tradition.

Rebecca

A few series ago, I talked about how David O Selznek’s had a vision of film as a verbal medium. Alfred Hitchcock’s use of film as a visual medium would shortly become the dominant view. This film, produced by Selznek and directed by Hitchcock, shows both styles. The film is very much a product of its time, and yet, I feel that it transcends its time in some way. I chalk that up to how it was shot, as well as to the wonderful character of Mrs. Danvers. It’s a film about what it is like to live in someone else’s shadow, as well as what it is like to have a terrible secret. Mr. DeWinter has a terrible secret about his first wife, Rebecca, and the revelation is actually a wonderful twist.

2 The Help

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s wonderful novel, this film is a very moving depiction of life in Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement. To me, and I think to many people, Mississippi is the heart of the South. When I think of Deep South, I think of Mississippi. It has a reputation for being backwards about race relations. (I saw a documentary about a Mississippi high school’s first ever interracial prom. In 2008.)

the_help

However, Mississippi is also the land of Faulkner, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. (Sadly, I admire him more than I like him.) The South is also known for its writing tradition. Kathryn Stockett, in her first novel, shows that she is firmly a novelist in this tradition. She is patient. I’m not saying she’s a writer of the status of Faulkner, I am just saying that she is a patient writer, taking the time to set the scene and building the plot. (Go read the book. It is a wonderful book.)

The Help talks about the plight of the African American maids and nannies in the South. Gone With the Wind, and many other older stories, revered the Mammy character, who devotes her whole life to the white family. Skeeter, the white daughter of a local wealthy family, wants to expose the realty behind that myth. She recruits two women to tell their stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that she can publish a book. This film stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis (whom I love!) and Octavia Spenser, who received an Academy Award for her portrayal.

The film has some wonderful performances and a great color palate. I also love the costumes.
3 Chicago

I finish it off with the film Chicago. It’s a musical about Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, women who hope to use their murder trials to propel them to stardom.

This film gets a certain amount of hate because it won best picture instead of The Pianist. Nonetheless, this film is fun. It’s got good performances from the main leads, and for my money, it’s very entertaining. I bought the score when the movie came out and I still love it. It’s colorful, and it also has a unique solution to the “musical problem.” The common argument against musicals today is that the audience will not accept people singing and dancing. To counteract that, the film shows Roxie as imagining nearly all of the musical numbers.

Chicago musical movie

I love the cinematography of this film, and the music is so catchy. I love singing along with it. I love how the musical numbers are staged. I love how the choreography, the sets, and the costumes reinforce the story and the point of view of the song. The best example of this is “We Both Reached For the Gun,” which is staged with the dancers acting like mannequins in the background.

Was it the best picture of 2002? Only time will tell.

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