Archive for category Women/ feminism

STEELE INTERVIEWS: Illeana Douglas

book cover. I blame Dennis Hopper

Do not expect to find gossipy stories in Illeana Douglas’s memoir I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories From a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies . Instead this reads as a genuine love story with film. Infused with passion and enthusiasm, actor/director/producer Illeana Douglas discusses her journey to become an independent voice in cinema. Illeana reveals disappointments and achievements with equal parts humor and honesty. She recounts her early and ongoing love for classic films and the art of film-making itself. She writes: “That’s how movies change us: in ways we cannot even remember. Those images of movies stay in our brain; those fragments become shards in our memories.” She recalls working with directors such as Gus Van Sant, Martin Scorsese and Allison Anders. Illeana has starred in a ton of  films including Grace of My Heart, Picture Perfect, To Die For, Goodfellas, Wedding Bell Blues [check this one out. it’s so much fun], Ghost World, Return to Sender, She’s Funny That Way, Factory Girl, Happy, Texas, and Cape Fear. She directed Illeanarama and Easy to Assemble as well as several short films.

Not only did she study acting but she questioned every moment while on a film set and dissected various films to completely absorb and comprehend the film-making process. She voraciously read books about film. Illeana explains: “To me, a movie is like a roulette wheel with a series of problems where the numbers should be. The wonderful mystery of a movie is that you can never predict those problems, so fixing as many things beforehand as possible, such as answering questions in the script, is a good idea.”

I truly enjoyed this memoir. It provided so much insight and Illeana possesses such a passion for film and a respect for the entire process. She’s a great storyteller and she remembers details about everything. We met briefly when she screened Devil Talk at The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. Grace of My Heart is my all-time favorite film so I ask Illeana lots of questions about it.

Illeana took the time to answer some questions by email.

Amy Steele: Why did you decide to write this book now?

Illeana Douglas: We are in a period where-although movies are readily available to see-we have no context with which to talk about them. I was lucky that I had my grandfather Melvyn Douglas talking to me about working with Greta Garbo and Peter Sellers. Now that’s context! I always saw and wrote about movies-but it wasn’t until I started working with Turner Classic Movies that folks became aware of it. Yes, I’m an actress, and I do talk about my own career/life story in the book but the focus is that I am a fan of movies as much as being in them. These are 15 stories about movies or movie stars that changed my life.

Amy Steele: Why the title?

Illeana Douglas: It’s called I Blame Dennis Hopper because I wanted to tell a memoir through the movies because the movies have defined who I am. In 1969 my parents saw Easy Rider. After seeing the movie they rejected their middle class life style and became hippies. The title pays homage to him because it’s how the power of that film– Easy Rider— changed my destiny. I am an actress because of Dennis Hopper—because as a child I was raised on his philosophies—which were based on the film Easy Rider. Later on of course I met and worked with Dennis Hopper—in the movie Search and Destroy— and had my own profound experience which is what I write about in the book.

Amy Steele: You talk about films at the drive-in being a major part of your childhood and teen years. Is that how you developed such an interest in classic film and film-making in general?

Illeana Douglas: I learned about classic film I think because I was spending time with my grandfather and sitting across from Myrna Loy or Robert Anderson or Diane Baker at the dinner table. I knew they were in the movies. I wanted to be able to impress my grandfather so I started reading more about classic film so I would have something to say at the grown ups table! Then when he brought me to the set of Being There I started to get an interest in the behind the scenes making of films. He picked up on my eagerness to learn, and started sending me movie books.

Amy Steele: Your childhood did surprise me. The hippy factor and uncertainties. How did this influence your acting and shape you as a person?

Illeana Douglas: My childhood seemed like a movie. It was all out of my control. I became obsessed with movies—somehow I knew this was my way out. Movies were—when I was growing up—how you could define yourself. You looked to the movies. I wanted to be Liza Minelli, or Ruby Keeler, or Richard Dreyfuss. I looked up to these icons– still do. I knew if I could be in the movies I would be happy and that has been very true!

Amy Steele: Your grandfather [Melvyn Douglas] was a well-known and Academy-Award winning actor [Being There, Hud]. What kind of relationship did you have with him and how did he influence your decision to act? Did he know that you wanted to act and what kind of advice did he give you?

Illeana Douglas: He was of course my first mentor and my first fan. He believed in me. He gave me structure. He encouraged me to read and to learn. He said, “When you find someone to learn from don’t let go of that person”. I have tried to honor that. To respect the craft and the history of acting. He also pushed me to write. So writing has been my way of making him happy.

Amy Steele: Then your grandmother was the first democratic woman elected to Congress from California. What did you learn from her?

Illeana Douglas: She was so confident. She believed strongly in her principles-which were very liberal. Politically- it was her opinion or you were on the wrong side. She also had great taste in art, music, and antiques. These are all qualities I admire. She also loved to hear little poems or songs I had written. Pictures I had painted. She created a world that I very much wanted to be a part of.

Amy Steele: How has acting influenced your directing?

Illeana Douglas: I love acting-love it-but my heart lies in directing. Acting made me want to be a director. When I work with actors I obviously know through experience what they are going through. I have a certain empathy. They are not in control. My goal as a director is to tell the stories of emotional triumph.

Amy Steele: As with many industries (journalism for one), film is quite white-male dominated, what has been your greatest challenge as a woman in the industry?

Illeana Douglas: The greatest challenge is that an “actress” will always be treated with gender bias. It’s sad because I love acting and actresses but you will never get respect as an actress if you have opinions. Shirley Maclaine has said she’s played a hooker 8 times in movies. What does that tell you about being an actress in Hollywood?

Amy Steele: Hollywood also has issue with aging actresses. Seems once you’re over 40 you get the mom roles. What do you think could change that?

Illeana Douglas: I don’t think generally it will change. All you can do as a woman is write a great part for an older woman and try like hell to get it made. In the meantime there are other areas in show business you can work in and a lot of actresses—I’m one of them have branched out to writing and directing.

Amy Steele: As Grace of My Heart is my all-time favorite film, I adored that section and found out many things I didn’t know like that you and Allison wanted to make a film about Anne Sexton. Is there no possibility to make that film?

Illeana Douglas: We would love to collaborate on a film. I don’t think it will be Anne Sexton.

Amy Steele: Of you and Allison you said: “Allison and I both felt like female artists who didn’t quite fit in a mold.” I would think that’s a good thing. Can you explain how that shaped the film as well as your relationship with Allison?

Illeana Douglas: I wanted a collaboration with a female director in the way that male actors did with male directors. Allison is so knowledgeable about films. That was the surprise. We just clicked because we both loved movies—especially melodramas. We wanted Grace of My Heart to be a musical melodrama and I think we achieved that. We got that movie made, and I am awfully proud of it. We are friends to this day. I love her. I loved co-hosting with her on TCM and the Trailblazing Women series.

Amy Steele: You’ve worked with mostly male directors. How are things different working with a female director?

Illeana Douglas: I have actually worked with many female directors. Allison Anders, Nancy Savoca, Kathy Bates to name a few. I sought a collaboration with Allison Anders. She was the quintessential female director I wanted to work with because I felt she would bring out the best in me and she did. What I have found is that once you are on set everyone is very supportive– it’s getting to the set.

Getting a female-driven film set up and made that is the challenge. I know when I am directing a project—I get more personally involved in the hiring of women in all departments. There are more women physically on set. I have also worked with two female D.P.s [cinematographer/Director of Photography and I have found no sexism directed towards them once they are on set. Again it’s getting the job that is the problem.

Women directors tend to write their own material. It usually feels, as in the case of Grace of My Heart that the story is very personal and very real. Everything I have written for film and directed—my shorts etc. are all based on real experiences or feelings and I have turned them into a narrative. I’ve said this before and it’s widely quoted but I believe women shoot better sex scenes than male directors. They are just prettier to look at, and certainly more arousing. Some of the male depictions of sex scenes turn my stomach a little—they seem about power—not so much about love.

Amy Steele: As you worked in the Brill Building for one of your first jobs how cool was it to make a film about its history?

Illeana Douglas: I worked in the Brill Building in 1987 and continued to work there throughout the 90’s and became fascinated by its history. I’m a big music buff—so the idea that this was Tin Pan Alley fascinated me. I started to read a lot of books about it as my grandfather’s parents were actually song-writers themselves. There were so many stories of these great song-writing teams at the Brill Building. Of course the Carole King story resonated with me—as it did Allison Anders. She’s an expert on the girl groups. I was merely a fan. We would have loved to film in the actual Brill Building.I did film there with the movie Picture Perfect. The halls are square and have linoleum on them so you could move pianos around. I liked the idea of that much creativity happening in one building. We tried to create what it would have felt like to be a singer/songwriter in that era. One of my favorite scenes is writing a song with Howard (Eric Stoltz). It felt very organic. Of course it helped that Elvis Costello had written the song for us.

Amy Steele: You also stated that the 90s was the “height of independent film-making”—how and what has changed with independent film since then?

Illeana Douglas: We don’t have enough time! The 90s represented the best of that mid-range indie film—3 to 5 million dollars. Now you can either make a big budget movie that will have to have big big stars or make a movie for under a million. It might get into a festival and it will not be released in theaters, it will be VOD. We are making a lot of movies– not as many people are seeing them. Also it was filmed. Everything now is digital. Doesn’t have the warm quality of film.

Amy Steele: Why do you think you’re more of a comedic actress than a dramatic actress?

Illeana Douglas: I enjoy satire and irony. I think funny. Situations in life I find comic. I find life absurd—like a Fellini movie. I really enjoy making people laugh, it makes me happy.

Amy Steele: Illeanarama is so funny and so is Easy to Assemble –where did those ideas come from and what has doing a web series allowed you to do these days?

Illeana Douglas: I had a couple of pilots that I made that didn’t go anywhere and then I was approached by IKEA in 2007 to create some branded interstitials. Easy to Assemble came out of my feeling of wanting to do more comedic writing. I had made a number of shorts but my directing was always put on hold so I could act. Easy to Assemble which came out of Illeanarama was a way to act in projects I had written and to have a voice comedically. I had five years to write/produce/direct because of IKEA. I was able to learn how to produce, handle budgets work with actors and write scripts without the pressure of failing. I knew I would be writing and directing films and this was a fantastic training ground. We were pioneers and I will always be proud of that and thankful to IKEA.

Amy Steele: You stated: “I’m a bit of a rebel. It’s true. I challenge the system and I question authority.” I am the same way and it hasn’t helped me much. People don’t appreciate that. Has this been problematic or beneficial for you?

Illeana Douglas: I do not like unfairness, and when something is wrong I will speak up. Does it rub people the wrong way to be outspoken– yes it does. You also have to question authority because they want to corral everyone into the same thinking. I am for the individual. Women have to rebel and risk not being liked. There is no other option for a woman than to have the attitude of “I got this” but that rubs folks the wrong way.

 

2014 TCM Classic Film Festival - A Conversation With Richard Dreyfus at Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

HOLLYWOOD, CA – APRIL 11: Actors Richard Dreyfuss (L) and Illeana Douglas attend a conversation with Richard Dreyfuss at Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel during the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 11, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/WireImage)

Amy Steele: Richard Dreyfuss seems to be the actor you’ve always admired. What do you like about him?

Illeana Douglas: Everything. He’s one of our finest amd most thoughtful actors. His films in the 70’s shaped a generation. There is no performance like Jaws or The Goodbye Girl. His energy and drive is palpable and yet underneath is strong vulnerability. And he’s DAMN funny. I like what I wrote about Richard Dreyfuss, “Was he cocky… yes… was he right? Always.”

Amy Steele: You developed a special relationship with Roddy McDowall. How much did he mean to you?

Illeana Douglas: Roddy got me into keeping journals and autograph books. He was a student of film history and was one the first people to talk about film preservation. He was gracious and kind and just the epitome of class. Everyone loved him, and he was also a very talented photographer. I never saw him complain or be sad about any blow that life dealt him. His picture is on my desk, and he is always in my thoughts.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about working at TCM?

Illeana Douglas: Working with Turner Classic Movies is a dream. There is not a person who works there who has an agenda other than to celebrate movies, movie makers and to put on a pedestal the giants of the cinema. I have great respect for Robert Osborne who gave the channel a face. They are also in tune with the fans. The fans make TCM a family, and I don’t know a TV channel today that actively thinks about pleasing the fans. I have had the opportunity to interview luminaries like Richard Dreyfuss, Jerry Lewis, Eva Marie Saint.

When I was going to write a book it aligned with what I was doing with TCM—which was shining a light on the importance of films. Our Trailblazing Women series set the agenda for female filmmakers and the contributions of female filmmakers going back to 1896. Many of the films we highlighted are now being recognized –Ida Lupino, Shirley Clarke, Barbara Loden– no one was talking about them– now their films, and the films of many other female filmmakers are being recognized.

Amy Steele: What inspires you?

Illeana Douglas: Amarcord means “to remember” I am the rememberer.

purchase at Amazon: I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies

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TV News: Amanda de Cadenet speaks with Secretary Clinton on The Conversation

First, I’m not sure if The Conversation is returning as a series to Lifetime. This sounds like a one-off special. Following Amanda de Cadenet on Twitter, I think it airs online. Second, I have zero idea who any of the YouTube  “personalities,” “experts” or “influencers” are or how one becomes one. Is this now something that millennials and the next generation aspire to be? But kudos to young women for speaking out. I’m a GenXer. I just don’t understand that kind of celebrity.

On Wednesday, January 13 at 10pm ET/PT on Lifetime will air an exclusive one-hour presentation of The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet featuring Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. de Cadenet and Clinton discuss her childhood, life as a grandmother and what drives her to run for President of the United States. The two discuss issues facing women and girls, the importance of friendship, the definition of success and the best advice Clinton’s ever received.

conversation special

For the second part of the special, de Cadenet invites social media influencers – comedian and YouTube personality GloZell Green, fashion expert and stylist Chriselle Lim and creator of the “Be Shameless” movement, Maya Washington to discuss a variety of topics important to women.

The Conversation airs Wednesday, January 15 at 10pm ET/PT on Lifetime.

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film: 11 scary films directed by women

halloweencatyawn

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American Psycho [2000]
directed by: Mary Harron

in her skin

In Her Skin [2009]
written and directed by: Simone North

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Jennifer’s Body [2009]
directed by: Karyn Kusama
written by: Diablo Cody

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Pet Sematary [1989]
directed by: Mary Lambert

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Office Killer [1997]
directed by: Cindy Sherman

mirror mirror

Mirror Mirror [1990]
directed by: Marina Sargenti

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night [2014]
directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour

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Carrie [2013]
directed by: Kimberly Peirce

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The Babadook [2014]
directed by: Jennifer Kent

anna-walton-in-a-still-from-soulmate

Soulmate [2013]
written and directed by: Axelle Carolyn

countess

The Countess [2009]
written and directed by: Julie Delpy

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: comedian [and founder of stand-up showcase Broad Appeal] Christa Weiss

  

I met the very funny, smart and lovely Christa Weiss when she was performing at V to Shining V. Graphic designer by day and stand-up comic at night, Christa Weiss started Broad Appeal– a comedy showcase that consists primarily of female comics–a year ago. Broad Appeal celebrates its first anniversary at The Armory in Somerville, Mass. on Thursday, October 8, 2015.

Amy Steele: How did you get into stand-up? 

Christa Weiss: I’ve watched standup since I was a little kid and I’ve always loved writing & performing. Standup always seemed kind of inaccessible to me when I was younger because I grew up in a smaller city and had only seen it on tv. The first comedian I saw live was John Stewart in a giant ampitheater. It was amazing but actually pursing standup seemed impossible. When I moved to Boston I started going to live shows regularly at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. Seeing comedy in intimate setting made me realize it was something I could realistically pursue. I started going to open mics and got addicted immediately.

Amy Steele: What do you like about being a comedian?

  

 

Christa Weiss: I love writing and performing and being able to say exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. I work in a creative field during the day, but my work is largely dictated by what my clients want, so it’s really nice to have full creative control. I love silliness but I also want that silliness to mean something. I love being able to combine the two. 

Also, many of my closest friends are comics and it’s nice to be surrounded by a community of like-minded weirdos. Comedy is kind of the Island of Misfit Toys or the new punk rock, depending on how optimistic you’re being. 

Amy Steele: It’s been discussed often that women aren’t funny although Tina Fey, Margaret Cho, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Nikki Glaser, Mindy Kaling and tons of others make it clear women are definitely funny. Still late night talk shows, stand-up and the comedy world remain dominated by men. Why? (As an entertainment/music critic I think women aren’t appreciated in many areas of entertainment though stand-up seems particularly harsh.)



Christa Weiss: Haha. People are defiantly a lot more vocal about their opinions of female comedians. (Fuck you, the Internet. Go call your Mom.) I think there are a lot of reasons. In general, if a woman wants to go into the performing arts they generally lean more towards theater or music. I think that’s mostly personal preference. On top of that there’s a lot of logistical things. Being in a male dominated environment can be very intimidating to some people. The college I went to was 75% male so that was never really an issue for me. 

I think the gap is starting to close, which is great. There are more women doing comedy than ever. However, that’s not always represented on stage or TV. I think a lot more people realize that women can be funny to more than just other women, but the entertainment industry is a business, and not one that particularly wants to take risks. If a straight white guy always brings in money, I don’t think think they see the need to change the formula. 

Amy Steele: Why did you start Broad Appeal? What has the reception been like?


Christa Weiss:
A few reasons. There are a lot of really strong female comics out there and I really want to showcase their talent. A lot of places are afraid to put more than one or two women on a show, for fear that it’ll be too….womany? Unfortunately, this means there’s less work to go around. It seems crazy to me, but you’ll almost never see a show with the acts 50% male and 50% female without someone making a big deal about it.

I thought it would be fun to do a reverse of that- book mostly women and one or two ‘token males.’ I wanted to create a female-focused show that guys would also want to go to. Sometimes all female shows have a ‘girls only vibe’ which is fine, but if you want to prove that women are funny its not a great idea to not bother inviting the part of the audience you’re trying to prove something to. 
I’m happy to say that the show has been really well received by both men and women, comics and audience members alike. I make it a point to showcase strong acts with unique points of view and none of that ‘fighting with my husband about leaving the toilet seat down’ type of thing. I get a broad (HA!) audience of cool open-minded people from many different walks of life, which is exactly what I was going for. 

Amy Steele: What can people expect at the Broad Appeal anniversary show on Thursday?

Christa Weiss: I run a showcase style show, with a female headliner. We’ve got an amazing lineup for Thursday with Bethany Van Delft, of Comedy Central and NickMom. We’ve also got Dan Crohn from Last Comic Standing as well as several fantastic comics who’ve been in some amazing festivals like the Boston Comedy Festival, WICF, The Seattle International Comedy Festival and Bridgetown. 

The Women in Comedy Festival (WICF) will be there recording the show and doing interviews with the comedians after the show. We also lightly sexually harass the male comics but they all know what they’re getting into and it’s all in good fun. Also there will be candy. The candy bowl is very important.
Amy Steele: What challenges do women in comedy face?



Christa Weiss: Comedy is hard for everyone, male and female. I think the challenges you run into as a female comic are a little different. You have to work a lot harder to get people to take you seriously. If you’re the ‘token female’ on the show you kind of represent all women, which means there’s a lot a pressure to do well. If a guy bombs, he sucked, if a woman bombs all women suck. 

Amy Steele: Which comics do admire?
Christa Weiss: Maria Bamford, Chelsea Peretti, Patton Oswalt, Mike Birbiglia, John Stewart, Sarah Silverman 

Amy Steele: What comedy specials and sitcoms would you recommend?
Christa Weiss: Maria Bamford’s Special Special Special is amazing. Instead of being filmed at a club, it’s filmed at her house and the only audience members are her parents. [AS note: directed and produced by Jordan Brady who also directed I Am Road Comic. Read my interview with Jordan Brady.] Feelin Kinda Patton by Patton Oswalt is one of the first comedy albums I got really really really into. The movie Sleepwalk With Me, directed/written/starring Mike Birgbilia is based on his storytelling and gives you some great insight on what it’s like to be a comedian. [AS: agreed. Very good.] The Sarah Sliverman Program is ridiculous and amazing and if you’re into history, Drunk History is hilarious. I’m also a big fan of animated stuff, so I love Home Movies, Bob’s Burgers and Rick and Morty. 

Broad Appeal Comedy Night One-Year Anniversary takes place Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 8pm at Arts at the Armory, Somerville.

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Lifetime TV news: Grace of Monaco, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe coming in May

Lifetime has several movies this spring with impressive casts that fit right in with Lifetime’s roster of movies about broken women, struggling women, mentally ill women and women who give up careers. Wonder how Nicole Kidman feels about her film airing on Lifetime? Wonder if she’ll promote it.

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Grace of Monaco
premieres May 25
starring: Nicole Kidman; Tim Roth; Paz Vega; Frank Langella; Parker Posey

Originally screened at Cannes Film Festival, Grace of Monaco will see a small-screen release in May. Academy Award® and Golden Globe® Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman stars as Grace Kelly. The film covers the professional and personal struggle for the former Hollywood actress as she contemplates her decision to retire from acting forever while the future of Monaco hangs in the balance.

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The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe
premieres May 30 and 31
starring: Susan Sarandon; Kelli Garner; Jeffrey Dean Morgan; Emily Watson

Based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s New York Times bestseller of the same name, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe begins with a portrait of a young Norma Jeane Mortenson as she battles a lonely and loveless existence with an absent mother. She soon reinvents herself as Marilyn Monroe to become the symbol of an era. A complex woman quite different from her public persona, Monroe faces mental illness as well as failed marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller and a complicated relationship President John F. Kennedy.

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Women’s History Month: Recommended Documentaries About Women

Here are some recommended documentaries about women. I posted another list in 2014.

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Miss Representation (2011)
Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Kimberlee Acquaro
90 min
Rating: A

Explores how the mainstream media’s often disparaging portrayals of women contribute to the under-representation of females in positions of leadership. In the United States women aren’t represented in government as in other countries. Women make up 51% of population but only 17% of Congress. 67 countries have had a female president or prime minister but not the United States. There’s less focus on looks than on intelligence in the media.

“If women don’t stand up for each other then no one else will. No one’s going to look out for the interests of women except other women.” –Lisa Ling

dark girls

Dark Girls (2011)
Director: D. Channsin Berry, Bill Duke
71 min
Rating: A-

examines prejudices dark-skinned women face throughout the world, includes the roots of classism, racism and the lack of self-esteem within a segment of cultures. Thoughtful, provocative and detailed.

Paper bag test: “if you were lighter than a brown paper bag when you were considered beautiful, smart. You passed that test.”

“If I had a little girl, I didn’t want her to be dark like me.” So sad.

A black guy says: “dark-skinned women look funny beside me so I’d rather date a light-skinned woman. Yeah light-skinned

One of the most popular products in the third-world is skin-lightening cream. Twice as many white women get married as black women.

“I am so happy that there is a woman who is dark-skinned in the White House and she’s the first lady.”

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A Girl and a Gun (2012)
75 min
Director: Cathryne Czubek
Rating: B+

Guns symbolize power and danger but mostly in the hands of men. These women are an interesting cross-section using guns for various reasons: personal protection; hunting; military and for fun [gun ranges]. It really shows safety, practicality and both sides of the gun control issue. There are many incidents of deaths through gun accidents. One woman is in prison because she “snapped” and killed her girlfriend with a gun. Another woman shot an intruder, lives in the rural Oklahoma and carries guns for protection. Shows media portrayal of sex appeal with women and guns. Provides pros and cons and reality of women carrying and using handguns.

“I know a lot of people don’t approve of this. It just makes sense to me.”

A Massachusetts Tai Chi instructor: “people ask me how I came to own a handgun. I tell them I have felt the fear.” In Massachusetts it’s legal to own a gun but not a taser.

Another woman who’s getting her gun teaching license and shoots at a range: “We’re not having a gun in the house. It’s just too attractive for friends coming over . . . for teenage boys . . . for showing off.”

women art revolution

Women Art Revolution (2010)
83 min.
Directed by: Lynn Hershman-Leeson
Rating: B+

Renowned artist Lynn Hershman-Leeson spent 40 years gathering interviews and news footage for documentary profiling the feminist art movement, which seeks to empower female artists and improve their access to male-dominated art spaces.

“It was hard to get women to come out as artists.”

“My work had been marginalized,” artist Martha Wilson, who opened her own center to exhibit marginalized work.

“The feminist art movement was always incredibly heterogeneous and was richly conflicted and that’s what made it the most important political movement in the art world.” –Dr. Amelia Jones, art historian.

buying sex

Buying Sex (2013)
75 min
Directed by: Teresa MacInnes and Kent Nason
Rating: B

Buying Sex is about the debate over pending reforms to Canadian prostitution laws. The filmmakers compare the decriminalized prostitution model in New Zealand and the criminalized prostitution model in Sweden.

“Sex is a commodity.” –Valerie Scott, sex worker and advocate. “I do not believe all sex workers are delusional.”

“We have a lot of models. They can work for themselves, they can work in managed brothels or they can work on the street.” –Catherine Healy, National Coordinator New Zealand Prostitute Collective.

One sex worked in NZ says: “you need impeccable grooming and a really strong stomach.” And: “I’ve got my degrees. I felt more used and exploited with a minimum wage job where I got 10 minute lunch breaks than doing this and doing what I want.”

A former Canadian sex worker says: “If there was no male demand no women would’ve been on the street. I wouldn’t have been on the street.”

no woman no cry

No Woman, No Cry (2010)
70 min
Directed by: Christy Turlington Burns
Rating: B

Investigates maternal mortality through this documentary, which profiles several pregnant women from around the world whose lack of access to basic health care and nutrition places them and their unborn children in unnecessary danger. There are cultural, economic and social barriers to giving birth throughout the world.

1/22 women die in pregnancy or childbirth in sub-saharan African.
1/5 women of reproductive age have no health care in the United States.

“Here in U.S. where providers and services are abundant, healthcare is anything but free.”

In Bangladesh, 90% of births occur outside a hospital. “If a woman cannot give birth, the fault is on the woman. In one village there is 19 local terms for infertility but for men there are only two terms.”

its a girl

It’s a Girl (2012)
63 min
Rating: B+
Directed by:

–examines the cultural traditions that surround widespread female “gendercide” and violence toward women in India and China. A woman in India has strangled eight of her daughters after birth. She says: “Why keep girls when raising them would be difficult? I felt we could keep it only if it was male. I would kill it if it was female.” Baby girls have less value and are aborted, killed after birth or abandoned. In 1961 the dowry system was outlawed in India but it’s still practiced and that places a lot of pressure on families.

The male: female ratio throughout the world is about 105: 100. In China and India it is 140: 100

If only someone could explain that men determine the sex of a child. It’s NEVER the fault of a woman because she doesn’t have a son.

In 1979, China adopted the one-child policy. If your first child is a girl you can have a second child. China has the highest female suicide rate. 500 women kill themselves daily in China.
Because the ratio of male to women is now so skewed there’s an increase in sex trafficking and child brides.

sexy baby

Sexy Baby (2012)
84 min
Rating: B+
Directors: Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus

–examines what it’s like to be female in today’s sex-obsessed culture from the viewpoints of three very different women–an ex adult film star, a 12 year old girl and a 22 year old yearning for “normal” genitalia. The film star wants a family, contemplates how her porn experiences affect her today and may affect her children. The 12 year-old seems like she’s 19. She’s very smart and worldly but also obsessed with looks and Facebook and internet connectivity. The 22 year is getting labiaplasty because she feels her labia is unusually large and that without the surgery she’ll never be able to function normally.

Ex film star Nakita: “That’s what porn sex is. It’s sport fucking.”
“Regular guys are trying to pull porn moves.”

12-year-old Winnifred: “We are the pioneers.”

“I cry because I’m not the way I used to be. I’m not interesting anymore.’

“Facebook is literally 30% of my life and it shouldn’t be. We make ourselves seem like w’re down to fuck. It doesn’t shape how you actually are and how you end up in real life.” [think I was really shocked to hear a 12-year-old say this. Have my nieces been having sex since age 12? I had sex at 23—a late start—but by choice.]

22-year-old post labiaplasty: “I feel more motivated to do the things I want to accomplish.”

WomenArentFunnyPoster-226x350

Women Aren’t Funny (2014)
78 min.
Rating: B+
Directed by Bonnie McFarlane

–comedienne Bonnie McFarlane talks to comics, people on the street, club bookers and promoters to find out why people don’t find female comics funny. She sheds light on many stereotypes about female comics in the male-dominated industry. She interviews comics such as Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Perretti, Michael Ian Black, Artie Lange (comes off as the total sexist a-hole I thought he was), Colin Quinn.

brave miss world

Brave Miss World (2013)
Rating: A
Directed by Cecilia Peck

Linor Abargil– Israeli Miss World winner 1998– survived a brutal rape months before being crowned. Now in law school she travels the world talking to survivors. In this documentary the rapist faces parole, Linor is getting married and she’s also become an Orthodox Jew. Interesting because her family is secular. This documentary serves to help her face the rape and its aftermath as well as helping others in the process. It’s simultaneously sad and empowering.

chisholm

Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed (2004)
76 min.
Rating: B+
Directed by: Shola Lynch

New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress. In addition she became the first black person and women to run for president in 1972.

“The only thing that I have going for me is my soul and my commitment to the American people.” –Shirley Chisholm

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book review: How to Grow Up

how to grow up

How to Grow Up By Michelle Tea.
Plume| January 2015.| 304 pages |$16.00| ISBN: 978-0142181195

Rating: 3.5/5*

“If your path into so-called adulthood has been more meandering and counterintuitive than fast-tracked, then this is the book for all of you, my darlings.”

“Those ten years living below poverty level would likely be unacceptable to someone reared in a wealthier environment, but I always expected I’d be poor. I hadn’t expected to be able to build a life around being creative, and I really hadn’t expected to ever make a living at it.”

The Chelsea, Massachusetts native writes about her prolonged move into what many deem adulthood—the societal check-list sort—buying a home, having a successful career, not living paycheck to paycheck and being in a stable adult marriage that maybe includes marriage and a family. As a fellow GenXer I understand the protracted route. Not knowing exactly what you want to do or where you want to be. Not knowing how to become who you want or how to be who you are and make money. All real worries. Plus roadblocks both mental and actual. In her youth, Tea worked lots of odd jobs. Some places fired her and some she quit. She learned from it: “I realized that having a job to fund your life’s purpose was every bit as important as being ready to quit your job when it got in the way of your life’s purpose.”

How to Grow Up is a series of essays that connects Tea from her childhood in working-class Chelsea to her happy marriage in San Francisco. She discusses meditation, Buddhism, healthy eating, feminism, writing, working out, being a creative type and finding love. Tea writes: “At forty-three years old, I think I’ve finally arrived, but my path has been via many dark alleys and bumpy back roads.”

In “You Deserve This” she writes of her awful apartment experiences–places chosen for locations and cheap rent. Most of us urban dwellers have had relatable experiences. I’ve moved annually. I could probably write a book about it. She writes: “It was as if each new apartment would elicit from us the harmony we lacked, each new house key a metaphorical key, too, the elusive key to making this thing work.” Also this wise statement: “By the end, I knew one thing for sure. Whatever relationship you are in right now, that is the relationship you’re in. You’re not in the future awesome relationship that may never happen. You’re not in the possibility of it, you’re in the reality of it.” So live in the moment. Get out if it’s bad. Seek therapy if you can.

Redefining feminism I understand. I had a millennial tell me that she felt guilty getting a pedicure and felt it was an anti-feminist thing. Tea explores Botox, anti-aging creams and other beauty products in “I’m So Vain.” She states: “When feminism felt like it was bumming out my reality, it was time to redefine what a feminist was.” At the base level feminism means equal rights for women in all aspects of society. Of course after Patricia Arquette’s wonderful speech about pay inequity at this year’s Academy Awards, she’s been called out for not being inclusive enough, overlooking that fact that she brought up the subject at all. It’s become that this white woman cannot speak for all of us. I would like women to just support other women.

Her relationship with veganism, being a Buddhist and eating healthy carries complicated explanations. In “My $1,100 Birthday Apartment” she said: “There was not a moment of hesitation about which purse I desire. It consisted of the slashed, long-haired pelt of some poor animal I hoped had died a natural death, not that I thought too much about it.” So she knows that likely that animal did not die a peaceful death for your designer bag. That dichotomy. Eating animals does hurt the animals and the environment and one’s health. All things that at various times, Tea says she cares about. She writes in “WWYMD: What Would Young Michelle Do?”: “I still wonder about my ability to love and emphasize with animals and yet eat them. It seems a disconnect must be in place, a kind of denial, but the more I probe, the more I believe it’s not denial but acceptance. I am a feeling, loving human who lives off the meat of other feeling, loving animals.” And then: “But somewhere along my stumble to adulthood I began to realize that, while it was important, food tasting good was only part of it. It should also be good for you, and maybe even be produced in a way that doesn’t harm working people or the planet itself.”

She starts to loosely practice Buddhism like most Americans who practice Buddhism. Buddhists are vegan. Not many Americans have the willpower to be vegan. One of the tenements is not to kill anything. She finds that meditation helps her greatly: “So Buddhism didn’t get me high, and it didn’t make me stop hating my ex. What it did do is show me exactly where the problem was located: in my mind. Which was great, because my mind, unlike my ex, was something I had some control over.”

Tea chooses not to be involved with anyone with depression and that’s her prerogative. Many people want to stay away from the crazy of mental illness. It takes a truly compassionate person to date someone with mental illness. Of course no one can prevent being mentally ill. Tea says in “Beware of Sex and Other Rules for Love:” “One standard that took me a while to wake up to was, no depression people. It was tricky in many ways, the deepest being that depressed people were my type, and for a long time, I didn’t even know it. Depression is like a haze, a cloud or an aura that surrounds certain people.” She meets a woman who complements her personality and loves her as is. They marry. Of Dashiell she writes: “As someone who likes to say yes to lots of things, especially odd clothes and home décor sourced from dusty thrift shops, I have been blessed to be with someone like Dashiell, whose dial is set to no.”

Although slow to start in which I had my doubts I ultimately truly liked my first Michelle Tea experience. I will seek out another of her memoirs. Some essays are more interesting and stronger than others but ultimately How to Grow Up is worth reading.

–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Plume.

purchase the book: How to Grow Up: A Memoir

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