It’s Saturday, and the weather outside (if you’re in New York, that is) is certainly frightful. The best thing you can do under such indomitable hardship, or maybe just in general, is to curl up with Netflix or a few good DVDs. If it were me, it would also undoubtedly involve wine and cheese, but that part is optional. In any case, it’s often pretty difficult to find movies that feel aligned with female subjectivity. Women in the movies are sidelined, two-dimensional, untrustworthy, or just openly objectified and ogled. Oftentimes as women we become secondary in the viewing experience of men; we have grown used to seeing films through men’s eyes. As a film critic and scholar, with a particular focus on classic American movies, it’s clear to me that men have ruled the discourse of Hollywood, and of the types of films that are made. However much I love them (as do many other women), the dominance of the Western or Gangster genres shows this preference for the masculine viewer. That’s why it’s awfully nice sometimes to get into the feminine headspace; it IS a different one, and it deserves attention too. That’s where this trio of movies come in:
1) Thelma and Louise (1991), Dir. Ridley Scott
Detractors aside, Thelma & Louise is a testament to that rare filmic thing, a realistic female friendship and camaraderie that runs deeper than their reliance on men. They reject domesticity, dead-end jobs, unfulfilling husbands and boyfriends, a nowhere town they’re stuck in. They get to ogle the male body, to carry guns, to drive around with an arrogance previously reserved only for men; but they also get to talk about rape frankly, to be hysterical occasionally, to be fully drawn-out women as well as being figures of rebellion. Sentimental and tacky moments aside, the film is vicariously joyous. (Also, it’s available for instant streaming on US Netflix. Hooray!)
2) A Woman Under The Influence (1974), Dir. John Cassavetes
The shattering, realistic portrait of a neurotic housewife who undergoes several nervous breakdowns, and one of the most breathtaking female performances of all time from Gena Rowlands. The long-term psychological effects of an oppressive husband and a lifetime of being told how to think, act, and appear seems to leave Rowlands’ sanity hanging by a thread. A devastating film, and a masterpiece of 1970’s cinema.
3) The Lady Eve (1941), Dir. Preston Sturges
One of the most brilliantly-scripted, hilarious and progressive screwball comedies, where the ‘battle of the sexes’ genre is used to great wit. Any lucky souls who haven’t seen this film can find it available for instant streaming on US Netflix. Barbara Stanwyck claims one of the most cunning, charming, and memorably sassy roles of the 40’s comedy. If you’re unfamiliar with this period of American movies, you’re in for a delight – it’s a sparklingly witty era. I wrote an extensive piece on the proto-feminism of The Lady Eve here.