Elaine May gained notoriety for directing the 1987 Hollywood mega-disaster Ishtar, but before that she broke barriers for women in comedy with longtime partner-in-crime Mike Nichols, and for women in film with her gripping Mikey and Nicky and hilarious The Heartbreak Kid. She's worked against the grain as a writer and director, pushing against systems that normally value women only for their looks and not their wit. And, to top it all off, she's still pretty damn funny.
As we enter into the third week of the series, I thought we’d continue our conversation about fables and girlhood generated by Friday’s post on Hanna by looking at Spanish director Victor Erice’s haunting 1973 film The Spirit of the Beehive. The film filters a young girl’s experience with James Whale’s Frankenstein through the lens of Francoism, familial and sisterly discord, and the interrelated nature of fear and fascination that shapes children’s psychologies.
Robert Altman's Come Back to the Five and Dime offers a space to explore film characters' relationship to fandom and identity politics, as well as the relationship between actresses and male directors.
We begin the second series with Věra Chtytilová’s Sedmikrásky (Daisies), which was released in the writer-director’s native country, Czechoslovakia, in 1966 and received an American release the following year. The 74-minute feature tells the story of two young women named Marie (Ivana Karbanová and Jitka Cerhová). Out of boredom and annoyance toward their bourgeois existence, they decide to wreak havoc in a magnificently hedonistic fashion. They entertain a few gentlemen, leaving them in a lurch once they tire of them. They cut up in a dance hall. They harass waiters. They break into a banquet hall presumably outfitted as a dinner for communist leaders, gorge on the decadent spread, and throw a food fight before the film concludes with them trapped under a giant chandelier.
Since I saw Melancholia at Fantastic Fest 2011, I haven't been sure how to respond when people ask me if it's good. It feels inappropriate to summarize it in those terms: the single best word to describe it isn't "good" or "bad" but "uncomfortable." It's a full two hours but feels longer, full of headache-inducing hand-held shots and constantly shifting focus, but the most unsettling thing about it is how blatantly nihilistic it is.
Welcome to the twenty-first century. Are either of these films accurate or comprehensive portrayals of their time? Not even remotely. But they reflect cultural attitudes surrounding women, motherhood, and work, and the putrefied trope of Heigl’s character didn’t exist in 1987. Heigl and Keaton’s characters are analogous as white-controlling-educated-women-who-have-careers-plus-family, and the evolution of this character is telling. Where Baby Boom gave hope, Life as We Know It brings despair.