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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

how to suppress women filmmakers

For those who don’t quite understand how Kathryn Bigelow is being dismissed or belittled as a filmmaker because she’s a woman… herewith a look at some of the reactions to The Hurt Locker, which closely follows the track Joanna Russ laid out in her 1983 book How to Suppress Women’s Writing [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.]. (Thanks to reader Hank for reminding me of Suppress in connection with Bigelow.)
She didn’t direct it.

[So far, I haven’t been able to find anyone suggesting that someone else — someone else male — actually directed The Hurt Locker, but please do let me know if you stumble across anyone putting forth such a notion.]

She directed it but she shouldn’t have.

How can a woman like Bigelow EVER understand what it’s like to be a soldier on the EOD detail? I mean, really. Much less a sheltered Hollywood guy like Boal.

But I have a real problem with a female director, who just can’t understand WHY men will do brave things (brotherhood, duty, rewards) and would come at it with a female sensibility. Which is like putting Sam Peckinpah on a Jane Austen movie. Or Quentin Tarantino (with say Michael Madsen as Mr. Darcy and Christopher Walken as Mr. Bennet) directing Pride and Prejudice?

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She directed it but look what she directed about.

It’s really a study in etiquette. Do you kiss the guy’s ring finger or wait till he turns his back and dump a magazine into him, because his bravado is surely going to get you killed?

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She directed it, but she only directed one of it.*

I have to start by saying I’ve found Kathryn Bigelow’s career to be a bit of a disappointment. I think Near Dark is pretty much perfection. … That being said, I think it’s been down hill for her ever since. …

So, I’m happy to report that The Hurt Locker is, in my opinion, a real comeback for her.

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*[This one is iffy, since it doesn’t explicitly connect the singular success of this film to Bigelow’s gender. I’d be happy to replace it with a better example, if someone comes across one.]

She directed it but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art.*

to call this a war movie, let alone a good one, is absurd. It’s Point Break in Baghdad; it’s Top Gun meets Jarhead. There’s nothing wrong with fun action movies, but it doesn’t work when set in the very serious context of the Iraq war. I am sure I thoroughly grasp everything The Hurt Locker has attempted to convey, which is why it makes it all the more bewildering that I seem to be the only one who really didn’t think this movie was good. Maybe I’m missing something, though, and I’d love it if it could be explained to me. If it’s to show the stress that war places on soldiers, or even just a portrait of a soldier addicted to war, The Hurt Locker fails miserably.

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*[Also iffy, since it doesn’t explicitly connect what the writer sees as the faults of the film to Bigelow’s gender. I’d be happy to replace it with a better example, if someone comes across one.]

She directed it but she had help.

Hollywood filmmaker KATHRYN BIGELOW almost passed up the chance to direct award-winning war film THE HURT LOCKER – until her ex-husband JAMES CAMERON convinced her to take on the project.

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She directed it but she’s an anomaly.

everything about her speaks of refinement and class: She has a salad and a latte, easily exchanges mots bons and not so bons with a reporter. She has the great listener’s ability to focus and seem to weigh a response. She nods, possibly laughs, her eyes alight with engagement. Ugh, she’s so damn perfect it’s quite annoying. She can probably hold her liquor, discuss art, socialize with senators and duchesses, shoot skeet and dance an incredible rumba.

So how would she know so much about HIM? He’s a knuckle-dragger, a curser, a drinker of shots and cans and bottles with worms in them. He hurts people; he blows things up; he breaks things and takes things. He knows about guns. He’s part animal, smells like a hog and couldn’t tell a teacup from an athletic cup. He’s driven by a duty he can’t articulate, and if you give him snark, he’ll take your teeth out without an uptick in pulse rate.

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and

the “good for a girl” backhanded praise continues to dog her. At the Q & A after a screening of The Hurt Locker at AFI Dallas, moderator Gary Cogill commented that his favorite book about the Iraq war was written by a woman (The Long Road Home by Martha Raddatz) and then asked Bigelow a question that essentially amounted to, “Isn’t weird that The Hurt Locker is so good, since you’re a girl?” Bigelow deflected the question, but the issue came up again when an audience member who introduced herself as a member of Women in Film gushed that it’s “almost miraculous” that Bigelow has “embedded” herself in the making of “big boys movies.” This is when I decided it was time to leave; as i made my way out, I heard Bigelow respond that he choice of material is chiefly “instinctual” and not motivated by a desire to step where she supposedly doesn’t belong by virtue of chromosomal difference.

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and

Bigelow is a Hollywood anomaly. Most obviously, of course, as a female director in a town that discourages them, she’s one of an endangered species. What makes her really interesting and unusual, however, is that she has spurned the romcoms and other chick-flicks that remain the only preserve of so many female American directors. Bigelow has macheted her own path through the Hollywood jungle, making intense, stylised action thrillers such as Near Dark, her early cult vampire thriller; Blue Steel, in which Jamie Lee Curtis played a tough rookie cop; Point Break; Strange Days, with Ralph Fiennes, a disturbing millennial crime thriller; and 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker, about the crew of a malfunctioning nuclear submarine. As The New York Times noted: “No one will ever say she directs like a girl.”

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She directed it BUT…

the fact that this war movie is directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow – and one with impressive unusual creds for making gritty, testosterone fueled films about men (Point Break, Strange Days, The Widowmaker) that delve into the raw male psyche at that, is inconsequential. Bigelow disappoints here, as a director for hire simply following rules in a man’s game. Never mind that a substantial number of female soldiers are part of these bomb detection crews, there’s not a military woman in sight.

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and

It’s odd to think that a woman has crafted one of the better war films to come along in recent memory (odd, yet not implausible), but if there was a female director who could pull it off, Bigelow would be on the short list.

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