June 13, 2008

Debra Winger Surfaces with New Book

I got excited when I heard that Debra Winger has written a book. I thought, finally, a tell-all where we can all learn where the fuck she's been all these years and why she wasn't making movies. Her last big movie was Shadowlands in 1993, and she was the female star of the 80s with Urban Cowboy, Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman and Black Widow. But then she disappeared. Winger became the touchstone for the lack of opportunities for women as they age in Hollywood. People have thought that if the great Debra Winger can't make it, what chance do I have as they all exhibited in the Rosanna Arquette documentary Searching for Debra Winger.

The news about the book is that it is not a tell all at all. It is a book of meditations, and at first I didn't really like it because I wanted so much more. I wanted to know why she fought with Shirley MacLaine and about all the other crap I read over the years. But after I went to see Winger speak the other evening at a NY Times event, I understand why this is the only type of book she could write.

The thing about Debra Winger that I never really got until this week is that this is a woman who does not give a shit about Hollywood in the least. She loves to act (and even said that if you have to ask the question should you become an actor then you shouldn't because it is the type of life that chooses you) but hates the business. She made most of her movies before the town become obsessed with box office and youth and she just got out because she had other things she wanted to do with her life.

You gotta respect that. I think all the rumors about her being difficult (I pride myself on being difficult) are probably real and blown out of proportion because she turned her back on Hollywood and Hollywood hates that. Hollywood can kick you out, but you can't leave Hollywood.

I found her in person to be so real, introspective and inquisitive.

Here are some of most interesting tidbits she shared:

  • An Officer and a Gentleman was basically shelved and they released it only because there was a strike.
  • She never watches her old movies, it makes her self conscious.
  • She has no relationship to the film business - "I don't need to"
  • "I really love acting, but the business, you just have to keep stepping away from it."
  • She'd love to produce.
  • The Rosanna Arquette film was called State of the Art which is why Winger agreed to do it. Arquette later called and told her she had changed the name.
  • She said that women need to go out and see movies the first week just to have our "vote." "Next time you see something interesting go and see it."
One of the things I've noticed in the coverage of her book (and return to public life for a brief moment) is that there are tons of questions about whether she has had plastic surgery. Just from my brief encounter with her I can pretty much tell that plastic surgery or botox is not something she is interested in. She says it best in this section Aging Gracefully from her book Undiscovered
Each time I travel to another country and encounter another culture, when I return I am struck by how much American culture is led by the media and not the lives and inherent beauty of its general population. Popular culture has no room for real wrinkles. The movie industry in the United States promotes a lineless, motionless look for women of all ages that is so completely nonthreatening as to be, ironically, scary. We are the specialists in no lines, no map, no history, including the history of many other lands.
Here she is on the View from earlier this week.

Sexist Blog Comment of the Day

Katherine Heigl created a bit of a storm the other day by pulling her name out of Emmy contention for her role on Grey's Anatomy (she won the Emmy last year). She basically publicly said that she felt her part on the show this year was crap. Immediately, Heigl was skewered as she was last year for saying that Knocked Up was "a little sexist." Why is it when a woman speaks out she is tared and feathered. Check out this great piece examining whether the treatment Heigl is receiving is sexist from Rope of Silicon Is Sexism the Overlooked -Ism?

This comment from David Poland of Movie City News (who now joins Jeff Wells in the Hollywood blogger Hall of Shame) is just vile.

And then, in a few years, the almost-40 topless work, hoping to remind Hollywood that they really wanted to bang this blonde just a few years before. And who knows, maybe she will become a real actress as she hits movie-parental age and can play the lonely wife opposite a 60something Jim Carrey.
Shame on you.

June 12, 2008

My Boys Second Season Premieres Tonight on TBS

Last summer I happened upon a new TBS series about a female sportswriter and her posse of guy friends. There are no other shows that have a female sportswriter as the focus and while it doesn't really deal much with her work issues, there were a couple of episodes that had her deal with being one of the only women in the locker room.

Of course it helps that PJ played by Jordana Spiro is cute and blonde and non threatening and very straight. But it's beyond cool that she really, really loves sports, can keep up with all the guys on everything, and that they don't talk down to her in any way. She's just a woman who loves sports and probably because she liked sports most of her friends turned out to be guys.

The second season kicks off with PJ and a mystery man going to Italy (I'm not going to reveal who it is, but I felt it was kind of anti-climactic) along with her best friend Stephanie who has been her guiding female force since grad school.

I like this show cause it's light and all the guys surrounding PJ are great, especially comedian Jim Gaffigan who plays her brother Andy, a guy who after many years of floundering sells out and goes to work for a big law firm.

The second episode focuses on Andy's beautiful Scandinavian nanny and I thought it was a bit pathetic.

The show was created by Betsy Thomas and Jamie Tarses (remember her from when she was the first woman to run a network?) is one of the executive producers.

Check it out tonight at 9:30pm on TBS.
(photo: Patrick Ecclesine/TBS)

A Show I Really Would Love to Have Seen Aired

When I saw this article about a show called The Tower I got so excited my heart started palpitating -- Marcia Gay Harden playing a news mogul in a drama from Meredith Stiehm (the creator of Cold case). Could this be true? Was it coming to CBS?

Alas, the show didn't make the fall schedule but the question is why did the story run on CBS' Show buzz site? Maybe its not dead? Are they trying to get another network to pick it up? Please someone pick this up. Sounds sooo good.

Here's the description of the show: "The show follows a group of reporters as they investigate stories and solve mysteries against the backdrop of the struggle between journalistic ideals and the pursuit of profit."

Marcia Gay Harden Building "The Tower"
(photo: CBS)

News Briefs

  • Producers Sara Risher and Stephanie Austin have teamed to form indie production shingle Chickflicks, aimed at generating two to three pics annually aimed at the female demo. (Variety)
  • Katie Jacobs, Executive Producer of House, optioned Girls Like Us the Sheila Weller biography of Carly Simon, Carol King and Joni Mitchell. (Variety)
  • Joan Allen will be back on Broadway in 2009 co-starring with Jeremy Irons in Impressionism by Michael Jacobs. Can it be that Allen hasn't been on the stage since the Heidi Chronicles in 1989? (Broadway World)
  • Army Wives broke the record for Lifetime series with its second season premiere this past Sunday. 4.5 m viewers tuned in. (Variety)
  • Zeitgeist has picked up Sundance doc prize winner "Trouble the Water" by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal for a late summer release, the company unveiled Tuesday. It will open August 22 a week before the anniversary of Katrina.
  • Katherine Heigl will star in and produce the feature film adaptation of "Escape," the bestselling memoir of Carolyn Jessop, whose testimony helped convict polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs. (Variety)
  • Lifetime Television ordered thirteen episodes of the new original comedy, Rita Rocks. With a premiere date slated for this fall, the series stars Nicole Sullivan as Rita Clements, a busy mom and wife who finds herself by starting her own garage band. Also starring is Richard Ruccolo and Tisha Campbell-Martin. The series will be paired in a one-hour comedy block with Reba. (Cynopsis)

June 11, 2008

Hollywood Thinks About Thinking About Taking Women Seriously as a Market

Sometimes I wonder if being 3,000 miles away from Hollywood I can get enough of a sense of Hollywood's prickly relationship to women and why its so contentious.

So I kind of felt good when I read Rachel Abramowitz' LA Times piece Hollywood Rethinks Chick Flicks for confirmation that yes, I do get it. I get it 100%. I usually like Abramowitz but this story is a rehash of old news and really doesn't do anything to push the conversation any further.

I guess we should be happy that women are finally saying things out loud that have been whispered for a long time. But I'm not happy. I want more and better movies about women.

"Why does the fate of female audiences rest on one movie?" asks producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, who produced the upcoming film "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl," as well as such women-driven hits as "Maid in Manhattan." "There are many movies made for male audiences that work and don't work, but it doesn't seem that the fate of gender-based movies rested on them."
The NY Times reported yesterday that Goldsmith-Thomas is incredibly nervous that the folks at Picturehouse are rolling out her film on July 2 to 1800 theatres. I'd be nervous too because those geniuses at the NY Times did her and her films a complete disservice when they pushed it as the next "women's movie" of the summer. Nothing can live up to Sex and the City. We all knew that before it opened.

The deal is we need to have more than one movie to hang our hats on. If there are still so few in the pipeline every one that opens will be overly scrutinized and held to an unreachable standard just like some woman I know (well I don't know, but I wish I did know) who is off the campaign trail this week.

But she does get Alan Horn the head of Warner Brothers to go on the record about North Country.
"I love that movie," says Horn, referring to "North Country," the Charlize Theron drama based on a landmark sexual harassment case. "It did not perform well commercially. Does that say anything about a movie starring women? No, it doesn't. Sometimes there's a difference between quality and commerciality or marketability."
Bullshit. It absolutely said something about a movie starring a woman. Has there been another film like North Country since North Country? The only ones I can think of are Angelina Jolie in A Might Heart and Reese Witherspoon in Rendition. Both of those failed for a myriad of reasons other than the fact that they starred women.

I also found Horn's quote about the success of Sex and the City quite patronizing:
It seems pretty clear we ought to be talking about a sequel, though there's no immediate conclusion we draw regarding the women's audience. We at Warner Bros. do not wish to be set up as industry seers.
Any movie that was about a guy that opened the way Sex did would have a sequel deal signed this week and announced in the trades. Give me a break. And what the hell does he mean that Warner Brothers does not want to be set up as industry seers? Isn't that the fucking point of the business? To be ahead of your competitors? To make movies that others don't? Do you mean that you don't want to be the studio that actually gets behind the women's market because that would tarnish your reputation as being for boys only? Don't you want to make money? These guys just totally don't get that women are desperate for good movies.

Donna Langley the president of production at Universal which will release Mamma Mia! later this summer said:
"I hope the film's success encourages not only studios to make more films for women but more female writers and directors to step forward with their own unique voices,"
It's time for women like Langley and her female peers to stand up and hire those women that she is asking to step forward. That's the only way women will get a foot in the door. I will be shocked and happy if it happens.

Feminists Write About Sex and the City

It's been a bit lonely out here. (I know that everyone and their sister has written about Sex and the City, but not too many from a feminist perspective. Here are some other opinions.

Amanda Marcotte aka Pandagon writing in Alternet
All these attacks on “Sex and the City” in light of the movie that has come out---mostly from people who probably never watched a minute of the show---are sexist. And they’re a particularly insidious form of sexism, one that feminists are prone to falling for, which suggests that women don’t deserve respect unless they distance themselves from unserious things.

But the worst is the assumption that because it’s about four women and it’s funny and it’s about sex and there’s expensive clothes, then it is by definition stupid. Why? Because it’s feminine, admit it.

And that’s why, as I’ve said before, the show is a fantasy for a lot of fans who don’t have that opportunity to live, well, like men get to. And that’s why the show is such a sore spot in our country, because it put a friendly face on that demonized woman, the independent woman. There’s not a lot of room for independent women still in the Hollywood machine. Movies like “Knocked Up” can push the envelope of raunchy humor, but still play it very safe and deny the threatening idea that a woman (gasp!) might not want to be tied down to just any random dude who asks. The Sexual Politics of Sex and the City
Sarah Seltzer on RH Reality Check
SATC allows its characters to feel the omnipresent judgments and conflicts in women's lives, and feel them deeply, in a way that resonates with truths about modern womanhood. But then, as the arc or episode draws to an end, the four characters always accept each other. That kind of unassailable sisterhood is a feminist ideal, even when accented by silly designer shoes.

Let's hope that the triumph of this film, combined with that of Juno, means that there will more smart movies for women. But more importantly, let's hope that it gives Sex and the City II, and other movies of its ilk, license to be more risky, to be more real, and to include racial diversity that's more than just a gesture. Sex And The City: Eww It's For Girls!
Anita Diamant in the Boston Globe
Ah friendship; the love that dare not speak its name. I speak of women's friendship, a thing nearly invisible in popular culture where women seem to operate in a near-friendless vacuum. Friends and the city
Judith Warner on the NY Times website
“Sex and the City” is the perfect movie for our allegedly ever-so-promising post-feminist era, when “angry” is out and Restalyne is in, and virtually all our country’s most powerful women look younger now than they did 20 years ago. Woman in Charge, Women Who Charge
Paula Kamen on Women in Media and News
But the reviews have gone above and beyond just criticizing the movie to being very defensive about the characters’ sexuality, to the point of exhibiting a strange hostility. New Yorker hostility beyond being ‘just not that into’ SATC

June 10, 2008

Will a Hit Movie About a Girl Help Make More Movies About Women?

Let's be honest. There are only a couple of female centric films opening this summer. Mamma Mia is the largest one and then there are a couple of smaller films notable Brick Lane and Frozen River (I've seen and liked both) but not too much else.

But Hollywood is really trying to figure out how to build on the Sex and the City audience so they're pitching the girl movies like Kit Kittredge: An American Girl to women. I haven't seen Kit Kittredge yet (I will later this week) but I am pretty offended by today's NY Times piece that basically says that Picturehouse is trying to get the Sex and the City audience to see Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. Pleeze.

I have nothing against Kit. In fact you can probably bet that I will like it. It's directed by a woman (Patricia Rozema), written by women (Ann Peacock and Valerie Tripp), produced by a woman (Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas) and stars the lovable Abigail Breslin as a young girl reporter trying to be taken seriously in 1934 Cincinnati. Shit, that's some serious women power.

Sounds pretty good to me. It's based on the American Girl doll (character) and I know some girls worship those dolls (they are way better than Barbies) and the store has become a serious destination for the young set in the cities where they are located.

But this is a movie about a girl. This is not a movie about a woman or women and that's where I take offense. It's just not the same. Movies about girls and young women even movies with feminist messages like this one sounds like it has, have always been ok. Think about Bend it Like Beckham, Mean Girls, Nancy Drew and the upcoming Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. But movies about women is where we are faltering.

If they really wanted to build on the Sex and the City "womentum" wouldn't it have been smarter to move up the date of The Women into the summer and try to make it another group outing?

I hope Kit Kittredge does great, but Hollywood still needs to pay attention to women and films about girls won't cut it,
More Girls, Little Ones, Try to Take Back the Multiplex (NY Times)

Women in Leadership Positions in the Arts in the UK

Why is it that the British papers actually analyze issues while we spend time talking in circles? In a well-researched piece, Maddy Costa of The Guardian looks into why women who are excelling in the arts fields are not making it to the top jobs. The story began when Culture Minister Margaret Hodge unleashed a scathing diatribe about the lack of women in artistic leadership positions. The Guardian talked to women in all areas of the arts and here are some of the notable quotes.

Vikki Heywood, executive director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, thinks we've reached the tipping point: on this, she's absolutely confident. "In 10 years' time," she says, "you and I won't be having this conversation."
Nadia Stern, chief executive of Rambert Dance Company, says, "Margaret Hodge is right, and it's a bit depressing that this is still newsworthy. Dance is still very male-dominated: most of the choreographers are male; most of the designers are male; when I meet my counterparts in venues around the country, they are almost always male. Given the talent that is out there, something is going on if most of the people in those positions are men."
Talk to enough successful women, and you start thinking that women are on an equal footing with men. And yet it's difficult to reconcile that with the fact that fewer than 25% of British theatres have female artistic directors, that Kathryn McDowell is the only managing director of a British orchestra (the London Symphony), or that four of the 14 senior staff at Tate are women.
The work-family balance issue gets some comments:
Polly Teale, who co-runs the theatre company Shared Experience, says that when her husband Ian Rickson was artistic director of the Royal Court, the pair felt that "we both needed a wife, in the old-fashioned sense". Joking aside, she wonders whether leadership positions need to be restructured to allow women to maintain those jobs alongside a family life.
To a degree, long hours, low pay and the work-life imbalance are not gender-specific problems. Depressingly, the problem that seems to be unique to women is their own self-doubt.
Some women think there are now other, more pressing diversity issues to be addressed. Heywood highlights the frustration felt by black and ethnic minority theatre directors, whose opportunities to work in the mainstream are few.
We could really use an analysis like this here, don't you think?
Thinking Outside the Box

Flying - Confessions of a Free Woman Out on DVD Today

Jennifer Fox's epic documentary explorations on women's roles is available for purchase today. The series focuses on Jennifer Fox's questions about gender issues, motherhood, marriage and in the parts airing tonight she asks these questions of women activists working on issues in countries around the world. Check out my recent interview with Jennifer: Interview with Jennifer Fox

Purchase the DVD here ($3 from each DVD sale goes to Our Bodies Ourselves): Buy Flying

Sarah Jessica Parker on The View

Last Friday Sarah Jessica Parker went to The View to talk about Sex and the City. Some high points:

I had an instinct that the time was right. There were no numbers to look at because there are no films with women over 40 to look at.
What this hopefully means is that we have put a white hot spotlight in the fact that half the population of this country are women and they want to go to the movies and they want to see a story that is well told.
She also said that 41% of the audience had not been to the movies in two months. Duh, what would they have seen? It's a desert out there.

June 9, 2008

Sex and the City- Week Two Box Office

Sex and the City dropped a whopping 63% from last weekend and made $21.3 million for a cumulative total domestically of $99.3. The fall was expected but put the damper on the conversation over whether it would have any legs. But on the other side it did make $22 million during the week. Sex was also the overseas box office champ beating Indiana Jones racking up over $91 m in two weeks of international release. So, cumulatively, Sex has made almost $200 million worldwide in two weeks. Wow.

A Variety article last week tried to analyze whether the success of Sex would and could lead to more women's films. We still live in a world where studios have to be and prodded almost kicking and screaming into making films about women. I just don't understand what the problem is. They have potential to be successful if they are good. And we just had the most successful female film ever and the women of Hollywood (even the successful ones) know from their experience that the success of women's films does not breed more women's films.

Wendy Finerman (one of the most successful female producers says):

"When 'X-Men' does well and a studio decides to do 'Iron Man,' that's a reasonable business decision," says Wendy Finerman, who has produced "Prada," "Stepmom" and "P.S. I Love You" and recently set up "I Didn't Fancy Him Anyway" at CBS Films. "It doesn't happen that way with films that serve the female audience."
Diane English the writer and director of The Women (whose film will probably benefit the most from the success of Sex and the City) talks about her experiences:
Writer-director Diane English spent 13 years trying to get her redo of "The Women" into production, getting turned down by one female studio topper after another along the way before Bob Berney at Picturehouse finally said yes.

"I would come in with my list," she says, citing "The Hours" and "Steel Magnolia" as examples of similar fare that worked, only to hear studio execs dismiss each example as a fluke.

"We have to start over every time," English says.

The "Murphy Brown" creator admits she once considered it her mission to break the barrier against femme fare, but Bette Midler, one of stars of "The Women," advised her not to hold her breath, noting "First Wives Club" had no lasting effect. Nonetheless, English has two more femme-centric projects in the works -- an adaptation of Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying" and "The First Man," a romantic comedy about the first man married to a U.S. president.
Come on, this is the woman who made Murphy Brown one of the best sitcoms EVER which ran for a decade and did more to make the Republicans look like assholes than any democratic presidential candidate ever could. She is the top of the line and has spent over a decade literally begging for the measly 16 million to get her movie made. It just disgusts me. I can't wait to see The First Man. Some studio has to think its a good idea epecially now after Hillary Clinton's presidential run. If I had more than 22 cents, I'd be investing in Diane English.

Will Hollywood embrace femme pics? (Variety)

Woman Theatre Director on the Verge

It's hard to be a female director in any industry and the theatre business is just as challenging. Only four women have won Tony's and now a fifth is poised to join the club. Anna D. Shapiro, director of August: Osage County is predicted to join this elite club which includes Julie Taymor, Mary Zimmerman, Susan Stroman and Gerry Hynes. But Shapiro has no desire to become a full time Broadway director. She loves running the directing program at Northwestern so much so that she even turned down the prestigious job of Artistic Director at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA.

August Director Poised to Join Broadway's Exclusive Club (NY Sun)
(photo: Heuichul Kim)