As we open the 15th part of the 100 Films Made By Women with 3 movies in black and white, we also include the oldest film on the entire list (and one of two short films). Continue to salute with us these extremely talented women bringing exceptional films to our attention:
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) – Ana Lily Amirpour — Robin Write
Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (proving yet again there’s some incredible film talent deriving from Iran), and seemingly talked about with high anticipation long before many had even seen it (due to an appalling limited release), A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is an exceptional, infectious film experience. Immaculately lit, framed and focused in its black and white, you would really struggle to find a frame of film here that is not unquestionably pleasing to the eye. And why should you, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night catches your gaze and holds your attention from beginning to end. Subliminally taking to you in and out of great movies gone-by depicting many specific eras by acclaimed film-makers, too many to mention here perhaps, this pays the highest respect and homage to some of cinema’s finest memories without appearing as copy-cat or wanna-be. It also expertly drifts through genres of horror and western with its dead town landscape and dark, clandestine places. Somehow both eerie and comforting simultaneously, Amirpour’s execution feeds our subconscious reminding us in no certain way what draws us to the enigmatic lure of vampires. The remarkable soundtrack takes me back to my alternative days of youth at times, while always adding to the movie’s composure and elusive tone. Catchy songs are used in a less conventional way in accompanying the mood, yet the music and the scenarios feel familiar and real. This is an exquisitely made little film, beautifully atmospheric and captivating, with ample drops of chills and romance in all the right places, it is always at ease in fulfilling our appetite for cinematic indulgence. A motion picture to relish and cherish.
Midwife to the Upper Classes (1902) – Alice Guy-Blaché — Desirae Embree @ZeeSayre
Midwife to the Upper Classes is the story of a young, bourgeois couple of discriminating tastes. The film follows them in their attempts to purchase the perfect baby from their local midwife, which proves no small feat. Like most early films, this one features a deceptively simple narrative under-girded by complex social commentary and decorated with whimsical mise-en-scène. The result is half satire, half fairy-tale – all fun. While Guy treats the film’s anxieties with a light touch, they will resonate with the contemporary viewer nonetheless. The couple’s revilement at being offered a Black baby, the undertone of contempt for engineered parenthood, and the subtle lampooning of upper-class privilege all prefigure the racial, economic, and sexual revolutions that would followed the rapid technological advancement of the era. Midwife also stands as an early example of the film remake, as it was based on Guy’s 1897 directorial debut The Cabbage Fairy. Both films show a unique commitment to the cinematic treatment of women’s experience that is perhaps Guy’s most important and lasting contribution to early film history. Like many of her films, Midwife to Upper Classes is available on YouTube, and remains a powerful example of the singular delights offered by the work of early cinema’s female pioneers.
Go Fish (1994) – Rose Troche — Robin Write
Go Fish is a film I won’t forget for many reasons. Back in college this was shown to us young celluloid nerds as part of the film studies course. I’m not sure it was official syllabus material, but when you think twenty years later we still have a minority issue with films by women, about women – gay women – it was quite an extraordinary thing. Being a sucker for the indie flick I was never complaining. Go Fish also looks and feels like a film someone at college would make, the kind of vibe that came from those films I and colleagues were trying to make more often than not. That low-key, amateur tone is by no means an insult to this film, far from it. Rose Troche directed Go Fish, and co-wrote the screenplay with Guinevere Turner, who also plays the lead, Max. The plot develops when Max meets another woman who is currently in long distance relationship. That main thread-line is linked with various quirky and observational scenes of lesbian friends dissecting each other, their sexuality, and its place in their social circle, and their outlooks on current relationships. The dialogue is thought-provoking for the most part, we’re interested in the banter and the theories, regardless where the story is going. The narrative does roll forward however in fine pace, lurking closer to it’s rather explicit, but satisfying closure. There is a jazzy score and some rather nifty editing to boot.
Sita Sings the Blues (2008) – Nina Paley — Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
Simply put, Sita Sings the Blues is among the most joyous, entertaining experiences that the world of film has produced so far this century. You’ve seen a lot like it, in little bits and pieces, but nothing at all like it on the whole: an animated adaptation / discussion / re-imagining of something or other – real life, parable, fantasy. If Sita Sings the Blues is all of the above, it wouldn’t surprise you, so complicated is Nina Paley’s conceit. Yet it functions with the smooth simplicity of the most finely-finessed Old Hollywood capers, an example of intricate construction bearing forth a multi-faceted product with a single, superb purpose: to make you smile! Animated in a variety of styles, each one delightfully rendered despite a minuscule budget, taking on a variety of storytelling forms, each one as charming and persuasive as the last, and set to the most fabulous soundtrack, buoyed by a selection of Annette Hanshaw classics, you’ve truly seen nothing like Sita Sings the Blues. So see it, and love it!
One Night (2012) – Josephine Adams — Robin Write
This short Swedish film booms in immediately with a pulsating dance beat as our protagonist Line, a worried, hesitant looking young woman enters what appears to be a gay night-club. She is alone for now, and soon picked up by another girl, Julie, who was seemingly left stranded herself in the club moments earlier. Outside, the rather timid Line is given gloves and scarf from Julie to warm her up – how very romantic indeed. Back at Julie’s place they have drinks and flirt, this time echoed by a chilled-out music track, a couple of times their ambiance disturbed by Julie’s ringing phone – turns out to be a partner who may well have hurt her. Both girls seem aggrieved, but trying to hide it and seek comfort in each other. Josephine Adams directs every one of the twenty-two minutes running time with a sharp precision, an intimacy reminding us that the lead-up to a sexual encounter can often take some courage and personal preparation. When things do heat up, personal insecurities put a halt on the physical proceedings, but the girls sleep side by side in the same bed, and embrace. It’s a tender, warm sequence (and film overall), only the rustling of the bedding prevents the complete silence. They whisper song choices to each other, from an earlier ice-breaking question about the type of music they like. They wake the following morning and before Line can leave they snuggle back into bed, start kissing, and eventually undress each other. The last couple of shots with Julie playing her guitar and Line half-smiling on her walk home signifies some potential release from their own personal troubles. Short and sweet, Adams has crafted a small gem here, giving value to the realm of short films but also the tiny chapters of companionship in our lives.
First published August 2015.