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Cut the Cord: Female Directors
March 2022. Volume 1, Issue 3.
Welcome to the third issue of Cut the Cord. It's been so fun putting this together for you.
A reminder that if you watch any of these movies (from this issue or any other), to leave a comment or reply to this email. I love the feedback on what you're liking and what you aren't. I try to put a little bit of variety in every list.
I'm also open to suggestions on the month's theme. This month's theme is "Female Directors." All of the themes so far have been tied to different facets of filmmaking (genre, black cinema, female directors) but if something like "cats" or "Italy" would interest you - I'll take any and all ideas. We plan a little in advance because it takes a lot of time to compile a list, watch the films, narrow them, etc. - but we're flexible.
Enjoy the list.
Good Dick (2008)
A fidgety, wisecracking video store clerk develops a fixation on a particularly reclusive customer, a frequent visitor to the pornography section of Cinefile, the video store where he works in Los Angeles. After multiple failures to impress her during their brief daily transactions, he finds her street address in the store’s database, drives to her apartment building and initiates an unconventional campaign to win her affections.
We're starting off this list with the weirdest and maybe most unsettling entry in Good Dick, (one Letterboxd user is to quick to point out that "NO ONE in this movie's name is Richard OR Dick").
But I wanted to include this movie, and have it first on the (non-ranked) list for a few reasons. Movies from women are so rare (Women and Hollywood says only about 10% of movies are directed by women) that even a film that just misses the mark, but takes a big swing (mixing sports metaphors here) is still exciting and courageous.
This movie is strange. It's uncomfortable. It's left field, (I've decided on the baseball metaphor). Director Marianna Palka also leads the film with then-husband Jason Ritter as the other lead and that chemistry makes it hard to nail down. But Palka got to make a movie that's uneven and that's great. Let's get more messy films from female filmmakers. Men get to make crap all the time, why can't women swing for a 50/50 chance?
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
An 18-year-old high school girl is left at home by her parents and decides to have a slumber party. Meanwhile, a mass murderer with a propensity for power tools has escaped from prison, and eventually makes his way to the party where the guests begin dropping off one by one.
Horror is a very male-dominated genre. The male gaze in slasher films is real. Slashers in particular feel so masculine. Other than The Slumber Party Massacre, I can't think of a single female-directed slasher off the top of my head. I think that says less about myself and more about the genre.
Director Amy Holden Jones takes the male gaze and turns it on its head. There's still unnecessary nudity, there's still overt sexualization (which are both genre tropes) but it's all done tongue in cheek. You feel a certain commentary during any of those moments. The movie is making fun of itself and the tropes of the genre.
That's not to say that it isn't scary, because it is. It's got some really great kills and a terrifying killer that doesn't hide his face behind a mask. You can't miss that commentary either.
A ship carrying settlers to a new home on Mars after Earth is rendered uninhabitable is knocked off-course, causing the passengers to consider their place in the universe.
I must warn you that this movie is bleak, so if that's not something you can handle when you're ready to hit play, just skip it. This is a textbook example of the "Hello darkness my old friend" crop of movies.
If that's something you can hurdle and maybe something you even seek out, this is a great one. Swedish filmmakers Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja don't play around with their rich themes, difficult choices, and stylistic nuances.
I find the idea of being in space so scary for the exact reasons that this film suggests. What if something goes wrong? What if you run low on supplies? What if you're completely unprepared for what's going to happen? No thank you! If I have to leave Earth because of some sort of disaster, I'm simply not going. When people ask why I would rather die in a fiery explosion on Earth than potentially save my life by going into space, I will cite films like this and Gravity.
The Queen of Versailles (2012)
With the epic dimensions of a Shakespearean tragedy, The Queen of Versailles follows billionaires Jackie and David’s rags-to-riches story to uncover the innate virtues and flaws of their American dream. We open on the triumphant construction of the biggest house in America, a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot mansion inspired by Versailles. Since a booming time-share business built on the real-estate bubble is financing it, the economic crisis brings progress to a halt and seals the fate of its owners.
The Queen of Versailles is also dark and bleak, but in an entirely different way. When the film starts, you can't help but laugh at the absurdity associated with having more money than God. Why does a house need 30 bathrooms? Could you imagine pooping in a different bathroom in your house every day for a month?
But when the money dries up thanks to the Great Recession and they're left with a shell of a house and no money, you can't help but feel bad for these people in some way. It's not easy to make you sympathize with a billionaire, but this case study from documentarian Lauren Greenfield is sensitive. A fall from grace can have a thud of a landing and when that thud happens, like having a family of ten that used to parade around the world instead share a handful of McDonald’s combos (she pulls up to the drive-thru in a limo), you can't help but feel this anxiety towards our economic system, the powers of the banks, and the actions of the 1%.
Imagine your life is somewhat complete with a house, job, and wife but then your best friend from college comes knocking at your door at 2 AM. During a pot-induced hedonistic party, a plan is hatched between the two friends to create an Art Film of “two really straight men having sex.” If they only knew how much this would affect all of their lives.
I've wanted to watch Humpday for a long time. An elevator pitch premise like that just demands you see how it plays out.
But I was hesistant to hit play for awhile because Mumblecore is so rarely my thing. I appreciate the fact that it's other people's thing, and I appreciate how it played with filmmaking conventions, but I usually have a hard time pulling the trigger - even though many Mumblecore movies come in way under 90 minutes.
In my limited experience with the movement, I think that Humpday is one of the best. Directed by the late Lynn Shelton, she lets the actors breathe. Despite directing, writing, and producing the film, Shelton gets out of the way. Mumblecore has never been about auteurism, so she lets the actors find their own way through a scene - discovering some of the best and most powerful moments along the way. I don't think that experiment always works, but it definitely does here.
Lady Bird (2017)
A California high school student plans to escape from her family and small town by going to college in New York, much to the disapproval of wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mother.
Speaking of Mumblecore, Greta Gerwig used that movement to cut her teeth, so that by the time she was ready for her directorial debut, Lady Bird, she was already a well-practiced and researched filmmaker.
Lady Bird was the first film she wrote and directed entirely on her own and it does not feel like a debut in any way. It's assured, it's strong, and Gerwig puts together a great cast.
I think that this movie fell away way too quickly. Saoirse Ronan, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, and Beanie Feldstein were all still on the up and up. And Gerwig was too in terms of her mainstream success. As all of those careers have exploded, (and many of them collaborated on an arguably better, stronger film in 2019's Little Women) it may be easy to dismiss this film as nothing more than a sturdy rung on the ladder.
It's much more than that. It's heartfelt, it's got some great dark humor, and Gerwig clearly knows how to work with actors, (of all ages - stage veterans Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, and Stephen McKinley Henderson all turn out great performances.) If you still haven't seen it, you've got no excuse - it's free!
The Love Witch (2016)
Elaine, a beautiful young witch, is determined to find a man to love her. In her gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, and then picks up men and seduces them. However her spells work too well, and she ends up with a string of hapless victims. When she finally meets the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved will drive her to the brink of insanity and murder.
The following appeared previously in my article Free Films You Can Stream This Halloween.
The Love Witch is all about the vibe. An homage to horror films from the 60s, filmmaker Anna Biller went to great lengths to make her project feel like one of those Technicolor melodramas.
The actors, including an incredibly strong lead performance from Samantha Robinson, all give stylized performances that are pulpy and theatrical. Vibrant colors in the production and costume design feel ripped straight from the pages of the 60s. And, of course, the movie was shot on film and was even one of the last films to cut an original camera negative on 35mm.
Just like the campy cinema that inspired this film, it’s trippy, hypnotic, and beautiful. It’s also the closest we will ever get to that kind of film in the 21st century.
The Hot Flashes (2013)
An unlikely basketball team of unappreciated middle-aged Texas women, all former high school champs, challenge the current high school girls’ state champs to raise money for breast cancer prevention. Sparks fly as the women go to comic extremes to prove themselves on and off the court, become a national media sensation, and gain a new lease on life.
This movie is surprisingly fun. I've talked before about my apathy towards the standard sports drama. I find them dry and usually have a hard time bringing myself to care about a film with almost no tension as the films are always unambiguous.
The Hot Flashes is sort of the antithesis to the sports drama of Rudy or Seabiscuit. Not only does it feature middle-aged ladies making a return to the basketball court, it's brought to you by a female filmmaker, Susan Seidelman. Those perspectives make the film feel so fresh despite the fact that it’s riddled with cliches, predictability and a fair share of jokes that don’t land. But the representation is great (albeit not exactly nuanced) and everyone involved looks like they’re having a blast. It’s infectious.
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We’re really enjoying this project and we hope you are too. See you next month.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.