As part of the Boston Calling Music Festival in 2018, Natalie Portman curated a special festival of films at the Brattle Theatre. Her program, “The Female Gaze,” ran from May 22-24, 2018 and featured films with similar themes told from the perspective of either a male or female director. The following are her notes on the program in general and the specific films that she chose.
Category: Special Pages
It’s that time of year again! Time for hot chocolate by the fire, building snowmen, hosting extravagant parties, and waiting for Santa to come down the chimney!
Of course, no one finds this their reality, as the majority of movies over romanticize Christmas. Most people know the type: the cheesy Hallmark Channel movie about some overly decorated suburban town with that one person who left, who then comes back to fall in love with his or her high school sweetheart. It might as well achieve its Christmas designation with some sage advice from a mall Santa. There are also over joyous Christmas movies like Elf, where I am left queasy with Christmas spirit after the opening scene and stuck with the image of Will Ferrell in tights burned into my retinas. Then there’s the classic tale of Ralphie pining for a ‘Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle’ in A Christmas Story, another holiday classic reminding me of simpler times when the most stressful moment in life was getting a “triple-dog-dare” from friends, whether that person was born in the 40s, 70s, or 2000s, like myself.
Kathleen Collins (1942–1988)
Thirty years after director Kathleen Collins’ death, her landmark film Losing Ground finally received a wide release. Its belated moment in the spotlight is all the more astonishing as it flourished along the festival circuit. To people who are familiar with the film, it is known as one of the first feature films made by an African American woman, if not the first. It is also one of the first times audiences saw an all-black middle class cast on screen, as Nina points out in an interview. The significance of this achievement is easy to overlook in our age of media overstimulation and saturation but mustn’t be, because to do so would be to forget the enormous service that Kathleen Collins did by breaking ground for women filmmakers and filmmakers of color with Losing Ground.
Yangqiao Lu (YL): I want to start with some basic questions, and then I’m going to open it up to the audience. You started with a background in criticism and writing, and you sort of fall into this tradition of some critics and academics becoming filmmakers. And there’s a strong tradition in the history of cinema, like the New Wave and still today there are a lot of critics are using filmmaking as a creative outlet for their thinking. So I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about that transition from cutting film into pieces to putting together, from criticizing something to this creative process. How did you become a filmmaker?
Kogonada (K): OK. And also, just thank you guys for being here on a Sunday afternoon, and thank you for the Brattle Theatre. This is an incredible theatre. I think filmmakers that I know who’ve never practiced film criticism, the way they talk about films is a kind of film criticism. So some of us have had an opportunity, and I had an opportunity to make a living deconstructing films for a while. I don’t think I’m original. I think it’s a part of the conversation of cinema if you love the medium, as I do, and you are thinking through all those decisions and the choices the filmmakers that have meant something to you have made. So I had an opportunity to actually do a form of visual criticism, which was really great training to make films because I actually got to do the sort of deconstruction, and reconstructed through editing, but it was always with this dream or aspiration to make something larger, to make a feature. There was a programmer who’s not there any more at Tribeca who had reached out to me and asked if I was ever going to make a feature that they would be really interested, and that was a real moment for me to say if I ever want to make a feature, I should start doing that.
If the moment I started studying with Peter Hutton had a color, it would be cerulean. I don’t know which other could articulate the curious alloy of surging energy and contagious calm that he brought to his teaching. If I were of a certain persuasion, I would call the ensuing feeling oceanic, and chuckle at the way it loosely evokes imagery from his film At Sea, which blew my mind and those of all of my classmates, but the implicit over-seriousness of describing it as such verges on hero worship, a counterproductive habit that Peter taught me to work beyond. Imperfect as the metaphor is, invoking a color of electrifying clarity will have to do for this belated eulogy for the teacher who helped me move from darkness into light—or, better put, who helped me locate the light in darkness—more so than any other teacher. He did so with humbleness, grace, and simplicity, qualities that I believe any teacher worth their salt ought to strive for. Peter embodied these qualities, and so many more, and I am eternally grateful to have studied with him.
On first glance, the silent films Beggars of Life and Diary of a Lost Girl appear to have little in common, except that each stars the luminous actress Louise Brooks. Yes, should you need to be reminded, that Louise Brooks, the actress equally famous for her beauty and bobbed hair as well as for her role as Lulu in the sensational 1929 film, Pandora’s Box.
Brooks, once described by a surrealist critic as “The only woman who had the ability to transfigure—no matter what the film—into a masterpiece,” appears on the Brattle screen in early September. Recently, both Beggars of Life and Diary of a Lost Girl were digitally restored and released on home video by Kino Lorber. In fact, the restored Beggars of Life has just come out on DVD / Blu-ray for the first time.
Under the Roofs of Paris (Sous les toits de Paris) (1930) dir. René Clair
One of France’s first musicals was not very typical of the genre. With a somber tone, René Clair created a dismal representation of lower-class Paris that was very disparate from the cheerful, operatic musicals that were popular in France during the 30s. French moviegoers expected to be transported away from their problems at the movies, not reminded of them. The film follows a street singer named Albert that falls for Pola, a beautiful Romanian immigrant. However, two other men are also in love with Pola: Albert’s best friend Louis and the incredibly dangerous gangster Fred.
~ Valley Girl & Real Genius
Armed with an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Martha Coolidge studied acting before entering the filmmaking world in Los Angeles. Her first feature length film, Not a Pretty Picture (1976), told the semi-autobiographical incident of a date rape. Coolidge found her most commercial success with a variety of comedies in the 80s; most notably, for the Romeo and Juliet inspired Valley Girl (1983), which sparked the career of Nicolas Cage. Coolidge also helped to launch the career of Val Kilmer, in the science fiction comedy Real Genius (1985).
Coolidge was lauded for her 1991 film Rambling Rose, a family drama set during the Great Depression, which earned two Oscar nominations. From 2002-2003, the director held the honor of being the Director Guild of America’s first female president. Coolidge continues to direct films and many episodes of television shows such as Weeds, Psych, Madam Secretary, and Angie Tribeca.
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) dir. Elia Kazan
1947’s other “message film” to also deal with antisemitism was Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement, which took home Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress. Adapted by Kazan and Moss Hart from Laura Z. Hobson’s best-selling novel of the same name – which she wrote after learning a congressman’s racist tirade against Walter Winchell was met with applause by the House – the film concerns a journalist (Gregory Peck) who spends six months living as a Jew to expose antisemitism in New York for his liberal newsmagazine.
Text by Juan Ramirez
The Belle Starr Story (1968) dir. Lina Wertmüller
The only Spaghetti Western ever directed by a woman (who would later go on to become the first woman ever nominated for the Best Director Oscar), The Belle Starr Story is a sordid revision of the life of the infamous outlaw. More preoccupied with her usual battles of the sexes and themes of memory and trauma than with historical accuracy, Wertmüller casts fashion model Elsa Martinelli as a glamorous sharpshooter with winged eyeliner and black leather suits.