Sunday, 16 October 2011

Woman of the Day KATHRYN BIGELOW

Kathryn Bigelow - the first female director in history to win the Academy Award for best picture with The Hurt Locker, which she also produced.  In addition, she's the first woman to win the BAFTA for Best Director (also for The Hurt Locker).

She's only the fourth woman in history to be nominated for the Academy Award.  The other three were Jane Campion, Lina Wertmuller and Sofia Coppola.  I think that the quote below tells us all we need to know about her opinion on women directing.

If there's specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can't change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It's irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don't. There should be more women directing; I think there's just not the awareness that it's really possible. It is.
Kathryn Bigelow

She spoke to one journalist at The Governors Ball, and said: "girls who dream of being directors should believe that anything they want to happen can happen"

The Hurt Locker is vintage Bigelow, gripping characters, riveting action and explosives.  Kathryn Bigelow proves that female directors can direct action to equal any male director. She has long been demonstrating this. 

This is her acceptance speech from the 82nd Academy Awards:

"This really is when ... there is no other way to describe this.   It's the moment of a lifetime.
First of all, this is so extraordinary to be in the company of such powerful - my fellow nominees -such powerful film makers who have inspired me and I have admired for -- some of whom -- for decades.
Thank you to every member of the Academy.   This is again the moment of a lifetime.
I would not be standing here if it wasn't for Mark Bohl who risked his life for the words on the page and wrote such a courageous screenplay that I was fortunate enough to have a great cast bring that screenplay to life. Jeremy Renner. Anthony Mackey and Brian Garrity.
And I think the secret to directing is collaborating and I had truly an extraordinary group of collaborators in my crew:  Barry Akroyd and Kelly Juliason, and Bob Murawski, Chris Innis, Ray Beckett, Richard Stutzman.  And if I could also just thank my producing partners, Greg Shapiro and my wonderful agent Brian Suberal, and the people of Jordan who were so hospitable to us when we were shooting.
And I'd like to dedicate this to the women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world and may they come home safe.
Thank you"

The Hurt Locker Trailer

I always want to make films. I think of it as a great opportunity to comment on the world in which we live. Perhaps just because I just came off The Hurt Locker and I'm thinking of the war and I think it's a deplorable situation. It's a great medium in which to speak about that. This is a war that cannot be won, why are we sending troops over there? Well, the only medium I have, the only opportunity I have, is to use film. There will always be issues I care about.
Kathryn Bigelow

Artist & Film Maker

Kathryn Bigelow's creative journey started in earnest in 1970 - she went to San Francisco Art Institute.  It says on the IMDB website that she was a very talented painter.  She graduated in 1972 as a Bachelor of Fine Arts and went on to be accepted into a scholarship program in New York where one of her professors was Susan Sontag. 

Whereas painting is a more rarefied art form, with a limited audience, I recognized film as this extraordinary social tool that could reach tremendous numbers of people.
Kathryn Bigelow
Bigelow then attended Colombia University where she earned her master's degree in film.  Her first short film, The Set-Up was a twenty minute deconstruction of violence in film. 

Her first feature length film came in 1982 and was an outlaw-biker movie The Loveless which starred Willem Dafoe. 

After this, came my favourite Kathryn Bigelow film, and the one that first brought her onto my 'must see film-maker' radar.  The film was Near Dark and Kathryn Bigelow co-wrote it.  It's a vampire film - and for my money it's also one of the best vampire films ever made. 

Near Dark Trailer

After Near Dark she made Blue Steel a cop-action thriller starring Jamie Lee Curtis as a tough New York cop, fighting to clear her name.  Around this time she also wrote an episode of The Equalizer a P.I. Series starring Edward Woodward.  The episode was entitled 'Lady Cop'.

Blue Steel Trailer

After Blue Steel came one of my favourite action films.  Point Break - a rip-roaring, fast-paced bank-heist film about a group of dare-devil surfers who rob banks dressed as ex presidents.  An FBI undercover agent becomes one of them and his loyalties are tested to the limit.  The film starred Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves.  At that time, people would say women can't direct action films.  I'd enjoy asking them if they thought Point Break was a good action film - which they invariably did and then I'd let them know who directed it! 

Point Break Trailer

After Point Break, she went back to TV, directing Wild Palms and then on to the science fiction feature film, Strange Days starring Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett.  After this came three episodes of the ground-breaking cop show Homicide: Life on the Street and the film The Weight of Water which is about a journalist investigating a murder from the past, starring Sean Penn and Catherine McCormack.

The new millenium dawned and in 2002 Bigelow created K19: The Widowmaker a film about the troubled crew of a Russian submarine, starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, she also produced this film and after it produced and directed The Hurt Locker - the rest on that is history!

This year saw her at the helm of The Miraculous Year - an HBO TV pilot starring Susan Sarandon.  Currently Kathryn is working on a yet untitled international thriller - she'll be the producer and director of the project. 

I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about what my aptitude is, and I really think it's to explore and push the medium. It's not about breaking gender roles or genre traditions.
Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow is a hugely respected and much celebrated film-maker and desrevedly so, she's been a member of the jury at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990, a member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1998 and a member of jury at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2003.  Long may she continue to break-ground and entertain us. 

Kathryn Bigelow on Directing

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Psycho-Biddy OR Grand-Dame Guignol

The "Psycho Biddy" genre originates back to "The Grand Guignol"

The Grand Guignol operated in Paris for over sixty years and ended in 1962. It produced one-act plays of up to 40 minutes in length and was famous for it's violent works of horror.  The theatre was based in the middle of the Parisian red light district, so visitors would have to pass by prostitutes in doorways on their way through the shadowy alleyways which led to the theatre space.

(Source: Richard Hands excellent Grand Guignol books)

The alleyway leading to the Grand Guignol Theatre in Paris.

The Psycho-Biddy Genre or Grand Dame Guignol

This outstanding sub-genre is also delightfully known as 'hagsploitation' and is widely believed to be dervied from the Grand Guignol genre. 

Basically, psycho biddy offerings usually exist in film, and are often chamber pieces - neat theatrical stories concerning a woman trapped in some way, or those of a woman who has trapped somebody in some way. 

Forms a psycho-biddy can take:
  • The crone
  • The matriarch
  • The malevolent grandmother
  • The nanny
  • The woman 'past her best'
  • The terrifying and dominant psychopath

You know the sort of thing!

Psycho Biddy or Grande Dame Guignol is a fusion of two key concepts - the older woman and Grand Guignol.   The older woman is often powerful, flamboyant or eccentric.  In other words strong, present and nuts! 

When looking at the history of Psycho Biddy, we can't begin to imagine the impact that films such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) would have had when they were released. 

Psycho Biddy uses suspense, realistic violence and psychological intensity and follows in the gothic horror tradition and arguably, that of Grand Guignol - to my mind the Psycho Biddy genre keeps gothic horror and Grand Guignol alive.

Many older female performers have been redescovered in the genre and many strong female performers have made a name for themselves within it too.

These include:

  • Bette Davis
  • Joan Crawford
  • Ellen Burstyn
  • Kathy Bates
  • Barbara Stanwyck
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Shelley Winters
  • Lousie Fletcher
Psycho Biddy or Grand Dame Guignol attracts the very best performers. 

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Shortly before the release of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, an advert appeared in the Hollywood Reporter. 

It read:

“Situation Wanted, Women/Artists.  Mother of three, divorcĂ©e. American.  Thirty years experience as an actress in motion pictures.  Mobile still and more affable than rumor would have it.   Wants steady employment in Hollywood"

The advertiser was Bette Davis - the Oscar-winning star had been suffering a shortage of opportunities for nearly a decade. 

By the time her ad was published though, Baby Jane was about to be released.

Bette Davis & Joan Crawford
in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Scripted by Lukas Heller, who also wrote the screenplay for 'Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte', 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane' is set in a decaying Hollywood mansion, where Jane Hudson (Bette Davis), a former child star 'cares for' her sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), a film star forced to retire after a terrible accident, they live together in isolation.  You could chew on the tension in their relationship which in my opinion defines how sibling rivalry should be played.

As time goes by, Jane exercises greater and greater control over her sister, intercepting her letters and ensuring that nobody from the outside has any contact with her.  As Jane slowly loses her mind, she torments her sister - it is one of the greatest films of all time. 

Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte

Bette Davis
in 'Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte'

Charlotte Hollis is an aging recluse in a state of dementia brought on by horrible memories, she lives in a secluded house where, thirty-seven years before her married lover was beheaded and mutilated by an unknown assailant. 

The Night Walker

Barbara Stanwick
in 'The Night Walker'

Written by Robert Bloch, who wrote the original 'Psycho' and went on to write several Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Tales from the Darkside episodes, The Night Walker starred the sublime Barbara Stanwyk and told the story of a wealthy woman having nightmares about her jealous, blind husband who supposedly burned to death in a recent fire.

During the course of the film she tries to convince her lawyer that her nightmares are real.

The Nanny

Bette Davis & Wendy Craig
in 'The Nanny'

Scripted by Hammer Horror's Jimmy Sangster and starring the spectacular Bette Davis - who gives one of her most remarkable performances as the nanny of a British family who's spent her life caring for the children of the wealthy whilst neglecting herself.  She is trapped by a deep dark secret from her past.

Flowers in the Attic

Louise Fletcher
in 'Flowers in the Attic'

Based on the fabulous novel by Virginia Andrews, the screenplay was by Jeffrey Bloom a TV writer who'd worked on series such as Columbo.

Flowers In The Attic starred the incredible Louise Fletcher - best known for her performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (a character who could be described as a psycho biddy in her own right!) 

Flowers In The Attic tells the story of a mother, who after her husband dies takes her kids off to live with her parents in a huge old house.

However, the kids are kept hidden in a room just below the attic, visited only by their mother who becomes less and less concerned about them and their failing health, and more concerned about herself and the inheritence she plans to win back from her dying father, to the point of murder.


Kathy Bates & James Caan
in 'Misery'

With an original story by Stephen King and a screenplay by William Goldman you really can't go far wrong.  Add in Rob Reiner as the director and bring the unbelievably talented Kathy Bates to the mix and we have lift off - before we even need to mention James Caan! 

The story starts when novelist Paul Sheldon is on his way home from Colorado after completing his latest book.  He crashes his car during a blizzard and is badly injured.  He's rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes who claims to be Paul's "number one fan". 

Annie takes Paul back to her remote house in the mountains.  Unfortunately for Paul, Annie is also an absolute lunatic and when she discovers that Paul has killed off her favourite heroine in his novel, the resulting scene shatters all expectations!

Richard Hand's books:



Woman of the Day VIOLA SPOLIN

For a short while on my facebook account, I've been discovering and sharing a woman of the day.  Some of these women have been my personal SHEROES (thank you for the description Maya Angelou!) All I know is that all of these women have been inspiring, real or fictional, from any walk of life...they are all outstanding, motivating and amazing. 

I've been completing this task as a challenge to myself to discover a little more every day about women's stories. 

I'm extending my task to BLOGGER today! 




"She has genius and shares it" - Valerie Harper

In the 1920s, a young Viola Spolin studied with Neva Boyd at the Recreational Training School in Chigago.  Neva taught a one-year educational program in group games, gymnastics, dancing, dramatic arts, play theory, and social problems. (Her book 'Handbook of Recreational Games' contains descriptions for 300 childrens games and their uses)

Inspired by her training Viola Spolin began to explore the use of games, storytelling and folkdance as tools for stimulating creative expression.  Along with Neva Boyd, she started out on a life-long journey to explore this.  The godmother of improvisation was born!

During her extraordinary life as a theatre practitioner Viola went on to work extensively in professional, educational, community and children's theatre.  Her techniques have massively impacted on so much work created today by actors, directors, writers and educationalists.  She has also inspired the worlds of social work, mental health and psychology.

Her book 'Improvisation for the Theater' sets her apart as the go to person for inspiration in practice. 
I certainly use this book, along with the excellent 'Theater Game File' and her others.  I use them constantly in the course of my work and I always strongly recommend others to use them too. 

Viola Spolin died in 1994, but her legacy lives on through the techniques that she created.  There is also the Spolin Centre, which carrys on exploring her techniques. One day I hope to visit.  It was run for some time by her son Paul Sills, who was a key player at THE SECOND CITY improvisation theatre in Chicago.  Another on the list of places that I must go!

The Spolin Centre website is well worth a visit:  http://www.spolin.com/

As is The Second City website: http://www.secondcity.com/history/

As for this posting, the last words belong to the magnificent Viola Spolin:

  • Play touches and stimulates vitality, awakening the whole person – mind, body, intelligence and creativity

  • Everyone can act. Everyone can improvise. Anyone who wishes to can play in the theater and learn to become 'stage-worthy.'  We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything. This is as true for the infant moving from kicking and crawling to walking as it is for the scientist with his equations. 

  • If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever they choose to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach. 'Talent' or 'lack of talent' have little to do with it.

  • Through spontaneity we are re-formed into ourselves. It creates an explosion that for the moment frees us from handed-down frames of reference, memory choked with old facts and information and undigested theories and techniques of other people's findings. Spontaneity is the moment of personal freedom when we are faced with reality, and see it, explore it and act accordingly. In this reality the bits and pieces of ourselves function as an organic whole. It is the time of discovery, of experiencing, of creative expression.

  • We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything. This is as true for the infant moving from kicking to crawling to walking as it is for the scientist with his equations. If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever he chooses to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach.

My hat is high!