Cool Stuff to Check Out in NYC: June 2016

For all you dedicated cinephiles out there, here are some upcoming film screenings and retrospectives that are sure to excite you this June in New York City. Information regarding the theaters and dates/times can be found by clicking the links provided at the beginning of each series or event’s entry.

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Danger lurks behind every corner for Nancy Allen in Dressed to Kill (1980).

“Brian De Palma” at the Metrograph (Wed. June 1 – Thurs. June 30): The new arthouse cinema on Ludlow Street (Lower East Side) will be hosting this look back at director Brian De Palma’s half-century-long career as a master teller of Hitchcockian tales filled with sex and violence, as well as a maker of more commercial, action-oriented fare like The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. With the exception of Murder à la Mod (1968), Metrograph will be showing Brian De Palma’s entire history of feature films. If you’ve never experienced Sisters, Carrie, Dressed to Kill or the crazy, extravagant mess known as The Black Dahlia, here is your chance to do so.

The Series IncludesThe Wedding Party (released in 1969 but shot in 1963), Greetings (1968), Dionysus in ’69 (1970), Hi, Mom! (1970), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), Sisters (1973), Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Obsession (1976), Carrie (1976), The Fury (1978), Home Movies (1980), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Scarface (1983), Body Double (1984), Wise Guys (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Casualties of War (1989), The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Raising Cain (1992), Carlito’s Way (1993), Mission: Impossible (1996), Snake Eyes (1998), Mission to Mars (2000), Femme Fatale (2002), The Black Dahlia (2006), Redacted (2007), Passion (2012)

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The skydiving sequence in Point Break (1991, dir. Kathryn Bigelow).

“Genre Is a Woman” at Film Forum (Fri. June 3 – Thurs. June 16): This is the series I am most excited about this June. The retrospective will be looking at films made by nineteen women directors (spanning the early silent era to the present day), none of whom were or are restricted by the usual stereotyped boundaries (e.g., “chick flick” romantic comedies). You will see teen comedies, fast-paced action flicks, sci-fi thrillers, biopics, sexploitation dramas and much more. My personal recommendations among the selections here are Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953), Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless (1981) and Point Break (1991), so you should definitely make time for those.

The Series Includes Films ByAlice Guy Blaché (silent short films including Babies from Cabbages; The Detective’s Dog; The Pit and the Pendulum), Dorothy Arzner (Dance, Girl, Dance), Ida Lupino (Not Wanted; The Hitch-Hiker; two episodes of “Thriller”), Doris Wishman (Nude on the Moon; Bad Girls Go to Hell; Let Me Die a Woman; A Night to Dismember), Barbara Loden (Wanda), Stephanie Rothman (The Student Nurse; Group Marriage), Barbara Peeters (Bury Me an Angel), Kathryn Bigelow (The Loveless; Near Dark; Blue Steel; Point Break; Strange Days), Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Amy Holden Jones (The Slumber Party Massacre), Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia), Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary), Katt Shea (Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls; Dance of the Damned; Streets; Poison Ivy), Sondra Locke (Impulse), Cindy Sherman (Office Killer), Mary Harron (American Psycho; The Notorious Bettie Page), Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff; Night Moves), Ami Canaan Mann (Texas Killing Fields) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)

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Kamikaze ’89 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Fri. June 3 – Thurs. June 9): BAM is showing the final film starring the incomparable German auteur/artiste Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kamikaze ’89 (1982, dir. Wolf Gremm), for a week in early June. This rarely-screened thriller is set in a dystopian future society and R.W.F. plays a detective; the cast includes roles for Fassbinder’s frequent collaborators Günther Kaufmann (Whity (1971), In a Year with 13 Moons (1978), the miniseries “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980)), Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1973), Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975), Chinese Roulette (1976)), and Juliane Lorenz (Fassbinder’s editor for films and TV, as well as his girlfriend, from the late 70s until his death in 1982), as well as an appearance by international star Franco Nero. Kamikaze ’89 cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger also worked with Fassbinder on his own projects, photographing “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980), Lili Marleen (1981), Lola (1981), Veronika Voss (1982) and Querelle (1982).

Trivia: Fassbinder was buried in the leopard-print suit he wore in Kamikaze ’89.

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Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung share a quiet, contemplative moment during a rendezvous in In the Mood for Love (2000, dir. Wong Kar Wai).

“Luminosity: The Art of Cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing” at the Museum of Modern Art (Thurs. June 16 – Thurs. June 30): MoMA pays tribute to one of the most talented cinematographers in Asian and European cinema. One of the must-sees is the romantic drama In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai’s take on Brief Encounter set in Hong Kong in 1962.

The Series Includes Films By: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Dust in the Wind; The Puppetmaker; Flowers of Shanghai; The Assassin), Wang Tung (Strawman), Ann Hui (Eighteen Springs), Tran Anh Hung (The Vertical Ray of the Sun; Norwegian Wood), Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love), Tian Zhuangzhuang (Springtime in a Small Town), Ivy Ho (Claustrophobia), Chiang Hsiu-Chiung and Kwan Pun-Leung (Let the Wind Carry Me), Gilles Bourdos (Renoir), Jay Chou (The Rooftop), Yang Chao (Crosscurrent)

365 Day Movie Challenge: 2015

For the third year in a row, I gave myself the task of watching at least 365 films between January 1 and December 31. I passed the test with flying colors: 404 movies seen in 2015! Here is the complete, chronological inventory.

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1915-1919: ’49-’17; The Ocean Waif

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1920-1924: Dr. Jack; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The Kid; The Penalty; The Sheik

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1925-1929: The Gold Rush; It’s the Old Army Game; The Son of the Sheik; So’s Your Old Man; Why Be Good?; A Woman of Affairs

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1930-1934: Ace of Aces; Baby Face; Counsellor at Law; The Count of Monte Cristo; The Devil to Pay!; Downstairs; Fast Workers; Feet First; Five and Ten; Happiness Ahead; I Am Suzanne!; Liliom; The Man with Two Faces; Penguin Pool Murder; Red-Headed Woman; The Road to Ruin; Shanghai Express; Strangers May Kiss; This Side of Heaven; Three Faces East; Topaze; Waterloo Bridge

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1935-1939: Bachelor Mother; The Big Broadcast of 1936; Bonnie Scotland; Born to Dance; Bride of Frankenstein; Bulldog Drummond Comes Back; Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge; The Crime of Monsieur Lange; Dodge City; Dracula’s Daughter; The Garden of Allah; Intermezzo; Little Miss Broadway; Love on the Run; The Lower Depths; Mad Love; Magnificent Obsession; The Man in the Iron Mask; Mysterious Mr. Moto; Never Say Die; Raffles; Show Boat; Smartest Girl in Town; The Soldier and the Lady; Son of Frankenstein; Splendor; Stage Door; Steamboat Round the Bend; Stella Dallas; Stowaway; Trade Winds

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1940-1944: Blossoms in the Dust; Boom Town; Cobra Woman; Desperate Journey; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; From Mayerling to Sarajevo; How Green Was My Valley; The Ghost of Frankenstein; The Great Dictator; House of Frankenstein; June Night; Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman; Ladies in Retirement; The Little Foxes; The Long Voyage Home; Louisiana Purchase; The Mask of Dimitrios; Ministry of Fear; The Moon and Sixpence; Moontide; Mrs. Parkington; The Mummy’s Hand; The Mummy’s Tomb; No Greater Sin; The Sea Hawk; Son of Dracula; This Above All; This Land Is Mine; You Were Never Lovelier

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1945-1949: The Banquet; Berlin Express; The Big Clock; Cornered; Criss Cross; Desperate; Easy Living; The Enchanted Cottage; The Gangster; High Wall; Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar); House of Dracula; The Killers; Lady on a Train; Ma and Pa Kettle; Macbeth; Monsieur Verdoux; Nora Prentiss; Red Light; Royal Rabble; Thieves’ Highway; Too Late for Tears

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1950-1954: Ace in the Hole; The Affairs of Dobie Gillis; Bad for Each Other; The Crimson Pirate; Early Summer; Executive Suite; The Gambler and the Lady; Girl with Hyacinths; Give a Girl a Break; The Glass Wall; Gun Crazy; The I Don’t Care Girl; Ivanhoe; Kiss Me Kate; Limelight; Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town; The Men; Million Dollar Mermaid; The Narrow Margin; Pandora and the Flying Dutchman; The People Against O’Hara; Small Town Girl; So Big; Split Second; The Star; Susan Slept Here; Tomorrow Is Another Day; Too Young to Kiss; Woman on the Run

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1955-1959: Aparajito; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; The Defiant Ones; The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing; Imitation of Life; The Journey; The Man Who Never Was; The Mummy; Party Girl; Pather Panchali; La Paura (aka Fear); La Pointe Courte; The Proud Rebel; Separate Tables; The World of Apu; Zero Hour!

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1960-1964: Band of Outsiders; Bikini Beach; Boys’ Night Out; Can-Can; A Child Is Waiting; The Connection; The Killers; Lolita; The Manchurian Candidate; Mr. Sardonicus; The Premature Burial; Requiem for a Heavyweight; The Suitor; Topkapi

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1965-1969: Another Day, Another Man; Bad Girls Go to Hell; Bonnie and Clyde; Grand Prix; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; Indecent Desires; The Ipcress File; Love Is Colder Than Death; Mississippi Mermaid; My Brother’s Wife; Paint Your Wagon; Point Blank; The Sex Perils of Paulette; A Taste of Flesh; Thunderball; Too Much Too Often; Topaz; Witchfinder General

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1970-1974: Aguirre, the Wrath of God; The Amazing Transplant; Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; Count Dracula; Deadly Weapons; Deliverance; Double Agent 73; The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick; The Heartbreak Kid; Kelly’s Heroes; The Last House on the Left; The Last of Sheila; Ludwig; McCabe & Mrs. Miller; The Merchant of Four Seasons; The Murder of Fred Hampton; Super Fly; Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; Two-Lane Blacktop

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1975-1979: Apocalypse Now; Autumn Sonata; The Boys from Brazil; Chinese Roulette; Every Which Way But Loose; Fox and His Friends; The Gauntlet; Girlfriends; God Told Me To; Harlan County U.S.A.; The Hills Have Eyes; In a Year with 13 Moons; The In-Laws; Killer of Sheep; Kings of the Road; The Last Wave; Men in Orbit; Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven; Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht; Prophecy; Rocky II; Time After Time

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1980-1984: Body Double; Footloose; Halloween II; The Loveless; Mrs. Soffel; My Brother’s Wedding; A Nightmare on Elm Street; Night Shift; A Night to Dismember; Paris, Texas; Private Benjamin; Risky Business; Rocky III; Stranger Than Paradise; Variety

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1985-1989: Bull Durham; Children of a Lesser God; Cookie; A Dry White Season; The Last Temptation of Christ; Mississippi Burning; Pale Rider; Planes, Trains & Automobiles; Pretty in Pink; Red Scorpion; Rocky IV; Runaway Train; Salaam Bombay!; Strapless; Tapeheads; True Love; The Unbelievable Truth; The Untouchables; Without a Clue

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1990-1994: Basic Instinct; The Bodyguard; Captives; Cliffhanger; Dead Again; Ghost; Greedy; I Come in Peace (aka Dark Angel); Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles; I.Q.; Jacob’s Ladder; JFK; Joshua Tree (aka Army of One); Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.; The Lawnmower Man; A League of Their Own; Menace II Society; Mississippi Masala; My Own Private Idaho; Peter’s Friends; Pulp Fiction; Reservoir Dogs; Rocky V; Scent of a Woman; Trust; Wayne’s World

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1995-1999: Affliction; Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me; Before Sunrise; Bulworth; La Cérémonie; The End of Violence; Eve’s Bayou; Forces of Nature; From Dusk Till Dawn; GoldenEye; Home for the Holidays; Jawbreaker; Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love; Nixon; Pleasantville; Primal Fear; Private Parts; Restoration; Rounders; Saving Private Ryan; Showgirls; The Truman Show

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2000-2004: Blood Work; Bread and Tulips; Bride & Prejudice; The Caveman’s Valentine; 8 Women; Femme Fatale; Frida; The Gift; Girl with a Pearl Earring; House of Sand and Fog; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Million Dollar Baby; Mission: Impossible II; Monsoon Wedding; My Life Without Me; Mystic River; Pootie Tang; Proof of Life; Queen of the Damned; Satan Was a Lady; Space Cowboys; Vatel; What Women Want

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2005-2009: Amelia; The Beaches of Agnès; Before Sunset; The Black Dahlia; The Devil Wears Prada; The 40 Year Virgin; Hustle & Flow; I Love You, Man; The Incredible Hulk; Mission: Impossible III; The Namesake; Notes on a Scandal; The Omen; RocknRolla; Rocky Balboa

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2010-2014: August: Osage County; Before Midnight; Birdman; Clouds of Sils Maria; The Drop; The Expendables; Footloose; Fruitvale Station; Girlhood; Gone Girl; Happy, Happy; Kingsman: The Secret Service; Learning to Drive; Love & Mercy; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol; My Week with Marilyn; 99 Homes; Passion; Pitch Perfect; Ride; The Rover; Thanks for Sharing; That Awkward Moment; Two Days, One Night; Under the Skin; Unknown; Welcome to Me; What We Do in the Shadows; Winter’s Bone

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2015: Aloha; Amy; Ant-Man; Avengers: Age of Ultron; Bridge of Spies; Ex Machina; Fantastic Four; Jurassic World; Magic Mike XXL; The Martian; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Pitch Perfect 2; Run All Night; San Andreas; Sicario; Spy; Tab Hunter Confidential; The Walk; The Wolfpack; Woman in Gold

Silver Screen, Gold Anniversary: Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)

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On this date in 1965, Doris Wishman’s B-movie classic, Bad Girls Go to Hell, premiered in Fresno, California. Far from being a heartwarming Christmas story, Bad Girls is a drama of predators and prey in the big city. Testing the limits of good and bad taste, Wishman’s 65-minute feature observes the struggles of Meg Kelton (played by Gigi Darlene), a Boston housewife who is sexually assaulted by a neighbor in her apartment building. After killing her rapist during the fight to free herself, Meg runs off to New York, where she continues to be targeted by both men and women. Besides directing and producing this “roughie” (so named for the blend of violent and sexual content), Wishman also wrote the film.

In a 1986 interview with Andrea Juno for Incredibly Strange Films, when asked what Women’s Lib meant to her, Wishman stated that “women are coming into their own – if they can do a man’s job, I feel they should be paid for what they can do. But I don’t always think they can do a man’s job. But then, by the same token, a man can’t always do a woman’s job, so it sort of equalizes.” Wishman did not consider herself a feminist, and one can argue that Bad Girls Go to Hell does not tell a pro-feminism story, but Doris Wishman’s tenacity to succeed in her chosen career, a field dominated by men (many of whom worked with bigger budgets), inspires me every day. Furthermore, when Andrea Juno asked Doris Wishman if she liked her own films, Wishman replied: “Yes, otherwise I don’t make them. I have to think they’re marvelous, great, and wonderful, otherwise I don’t get involved. Of course they may not always turn out that way, but I have to feel that. It’s a challenge, it’s exciting, and I enjoy what I’m doing, and that’s very important.”

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As in all of Wishman’s movies, she lingers on shots of feet and legs, one of her trademark tendencies. (Noted fetishist Quentin Tarantino has nothing on Doris for this particular interest.) She also makes good use of Central Park, which seems to have been her favorite place to film, apart from the neighborhood where she lived in Queens.

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Two of the most iconic performers associated with Wishman’s mid-to-late-60s films are twin sisters Darlene and Dawn Bennett (Bad Girls’ star, Gigi Darlene, chose the last part of her stage name as a tribute to friend Darlene Bennett; the “Gigi” was in honor of the Vincente Minnelli-directed musical). Both twins appear in Bad Girls, but Dawn, who is not credited in the film’s cast list for some reason, has the bigger role as Della, a lesbian character who rents a room in her NYC apartment to Meg. Like many of the women who populate Wishman’s films from this era, Dawn Bennett’s closet includes lacy underthings, including catsuits.

I wish I knew what ever happened to the Bennett sisters, but finding out anything about them – even whether Darlene and Dawn Bennett were their real names – has been impossible so far. If anyone could help me out, that would be excellent!

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Interior design is another noteworthy element of Doris Wishman’s cinematic style. Between the mid-60s and the 1980s, most (if not all) of her films involved scenes shot in her Queens apartment. However kitschy the decor may be, it’s all Doris’s doing.

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Then, of course, there is the question of how Meg (who goes by the pseudonym “Ellen Green” when she comes to New York) deals with the troubles she faces. What’s a girl to do when she must constantly fend off unwanted, violent advances? Where can she go and avoid being groped and attacked by sleazy employers and landlords? Throughout the film, C. Davis Smith’s B&W cinematography lights Meg’s moments of uncertainty and turmoil to great (if occasionally disturbing) effect.

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As Austin Film Society programmer Lars Nilsen wrote about Bad Girls Go to Hell in June 2015: “All the Doris Wishman black and white films are like photo essays of another forever-lost time and place. The high contrast interiors, the shots of walking feet, the disembodied dialogue. Watching a Doris film is like turning page after page of an imaginary Diane Arbus book documenting the struggles of a young woman in the world of plaid-suited, cigar smoking, completely disgusting men. This is my favorite of her films, and a good place to start.”

They Were There Too: Ten Female Directors to Add to TCM’s “Trailblazing Women” Series

Director Isabel Coixet on the set of My Life Without Me in 2002.

This month Turner Classic Movies has been broadcasting a series of films from female directors as part of their “Trailblazing Women” series, airing on every Tuesday and Thursday in October. While four dozen groundbreaking women have been included in the schedule, which is hosted by actress/writer/producer Illeana Douglas, there are more women and films that I would have chosen if I had curated the program. Here are a few examples.

The Last Stage (1948), dir. Wanda Jakubowska – Given that TCM’s programming is an overview of more than 100 years of filmmaking and there is only so much that can be included from each country and era (although the focus is primarily on works by American women), of course there are many notable directors who have not been included in the series. It would have been great to see works by María Luisa Bemberg (Argentina), Susanne Bier (Denmark), Muriel Box (England), Jane Campion (New Zealand), Vera Chytilová (Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic), Claire Denis (France), Safi Faye (Senegal), Marleen Gorris (Netherlands), Ann Hui (Hong Kong), Tahmineh Milani (Iran), María Novaro (Mexico) and Margarethe von Trotta (Germany), just to name a few. If I had to pick one particularly important foreign film to include, I would have chosen The Last Stage (1948), directed by Wanda Jakubowska (1907-1998). Jakubowska used her experiences as a Polish-Jewish survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp as the source material for a drama about women struggling with life and death in that camp. Nowadays moviegoers probably take it for granted that World War II is a popular topic for filmmakers – often considered “Oscar bait” depending on the amount of melodrama in the performances – but the subject meant something very different to Jakubowska, who lived through one of the most harrowing traumas imaginable and told her story at a time when the subject was still fresh (and painful) in many people’s minds, among the first filmmakers to make a movie about survival inside a concentration camp. Additionally Jakubowska utilized the horrifying realism of filming on location at Auschwitz.

Indecent Desires (1968), dir. Doris Wishman – The exploitation (or “sexploitation”) films of the 1960s and 70s don’t get much airtime on TCM, except maybe late on Saturday night during the “Underground” block of programming for films that are not mainstream and considered a little too weird for the channel’s typical consumers. As a result, women like Dorothy Davenport (an early entrant in this field in the 1920s and 30s), Roberta Findlay (maker of many sexploitation, porn and horror movies between the 1960s and 1980s), Stephanie Rothman (a protegée of Roger Corman, directing sex, gore and crime in The Student Nurses, The Velvet Vampire and Terminal Island) and Barbara Peeters, the first woman to direct a biker flick (Bury Me an Angel), have been left off the list for this month. My own personal choice would be Doris Wishman (1912-2002), a director who tested the limits of taste on every possible occasion. To most eyes her films are poorly made, edited together haphazardly and displaying bizarre uses of ADR (the post-production dubbing of voices to match the actors’ mouths) which meant that dialogue never came out of anyone’s lips correctly. For those interested in the seedy, creepy world of mid-to-late-60s New York as seen on a super-low budget, Wishman’s films (which she often wrote and produced and sometimes edited) are fascinatingly weird and unquestionably unique. Indecent Desires (1968) is one of my favorites because it has all the best things you can get in a Wishman B-movie: random nudity (like when lead actress Sharon Kent answers her phone after getting home from work); strange camera angles (here is another character exercising, again a woman in the buff); the antagonist’s (Michael Alaimo) realization that Kent, with whom he is obsessed, resembles a doll he has at home (hence this superimposition over Kent’s image when Alaimo sees her on the street); my favorite part, a bizarre dream sequence in which Alaimo imagines a rendezvous with Kent, which also involves him looking at her body from oddly-positioned perspectives. All of this was photographed by C. Davis Smith, a cinematographer who also worked on Wishman’s most famous film (largely in part of the eye-catching title), Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965). I don’t know if Wishman kept working with so many of the same actors and crew members because they believed in some genuine talent of hers or because they just needed the paychecks, but I’d like to think that Smith saw something compelling in Wishman’s visions (and visuals) of women’s bodies, desires (for sex, money, the purported normalcy of marriage/being a housewife) and fears over upsetting the rules of polite society.

Variety (1983), dir. Bette Gordon – Set in the parts of Times Square where films by Doris Wishman and other sexploitation and porn films would have been shown, Variety is the first feature film by Bette Gordon (b. 1950). It boasts a script by Kathy Acker, a feminist writer who was never one to shy away from bold imagery and sexually explicit dialogue. The protagonist of Variety (played by Sandy McLeod) takes a job as the ticket-seller at a porn theater’s box office and she subsequently changes her understanding of her friendships and romantic relationships, exploring what it means for a woman to be both attracted to and repulsed by the films shown in the theater and the men (and it’s always only men) who are in the audience.

Orlando (1992), dir. Sally Potter – Lead actress Tilda Swinton blurs the distinctions between male and female in this adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel of the same name, for which director Sally Potter (b. 1949) also wrote the screenplay. Orlando’s story spans four hundred years as the immortal character changes from a man to a woman, evolving as he (then she) learns the conventions and fashions associated with the female body as England’s social norms and fashions transform over the centuries. Sally Potter also co-composed the film’s score, music that is particularly effective in the scene in which Orlando escapes one era’s limitations against women by running through a maze that leads her into another century.

Eve’s Bayou (1997), dir. Kasi Lemmons – One night of screenings focuses on African-American women directors, pointing the spotlight on Kathleen Collins (Losing Ground), Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust), Leslie Harris (Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.) and Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere). A major oversight on TCM’s part is Eve’s Bayou (1997), the debut feature by actress-turned-director Kasi Lemmons (b. 1961). The film is set in Louisiana circa 1962, telling the stories of many women in the Batiste family as seen through the eyes of ten-year-old Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett). A Southern Gothic feel pervades the film, which was also written by Kasi Lemmons and has more women behind the camera in the crucial tasks of cinematography (Amy Vincent), editing (Terilyn A. Shropshire), costume design (Karyn Wagner), art direction (Adele Plauche) and set decoration (Joanne Schmidt).

My Life Without Me (2003), dir. Isabel Coixet – This drama did not get good reviews when it came out, likened to Love Story and other sappy, overwrought tales of women diagnosed with terminal cancer. Isabel Coixet’s (b. 1960) film offers a beautiful lead performance by Canadian actress Sarah Polley (herself a director too), explaining the fears of a woman dying in her early 20s, the anger over leaving her two young children without a mother and the frustrations of having never done as much as she wanted to in her small-town life. Adjectives like “selfish” and “egocentric” were thrown around by Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott in their reviews, when they described Polley’s character’s decisions not to tell her family and friends about her illness and to embark on an affair, just to see what it would be like to sleep with a man other than her husband; I see these choices as realistic given the character’s terrible situation and the knowledge that she has so little time left to do anything, so she has the right to decide what she wants to do with her body and her mind.

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), dir. Miranda July – It would be exciting if TCM could show Miranda July’s (b. 1974) debut feature, a dark comedy about misfits that pushes the boundaries of American independent film into unusual and sometimes taboo places. It also offers the rare opportunity to see character actor John Hawkes play a romantic lead, a shoe salesman with whom July’s character falls in love. Their weird journey and the arcs of the supporting characters (including those of Hawkes’ two sons, the older of whom has disturbing encounters with two teenage girls and the younger of whom has online conversations with a pedophile) is unlike anything else that American women directors have been making.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010), dirs. Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg – Joan Rivers was a certainly a trailblazer among women comedians, and this documentary by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg shows Rivers’ genius for telling jokes, her insecurities and the ups and downs of her relationship with her daughter Melissa after Rivers’ husband Edgar Rosenberg committed suicide in 1987. It is a revealing portrait of a pioneering comedienne. A little-remembered side note: Rivers herself was a director, making her one feature, Rabbit Test, in 1978.

The Kids Are All Right (2010), dir. Lisa Cholodenko – If the “Trailblazing Women” program included LGBT directors and stories, the dramedy The Kids Are All Right would be at the top of the list for me. Directed by openly gay filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko (b. 1964) and telling the story of a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) whose teenage children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) find and meet their sperm-donor father (Mark Ruffalo), leading to trouble for all of the characters, the film probably wouldn’t be played on the channel due to all of the sexual content (TCM tends to shy away from too much of that). Even so, LGBT topics form an important canon in film history and there are so many women filmmakers who have tackled those issues, including Donna Deitch (Desert Hearts), Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman), Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn), Maryam Keshavarz (Circumstance), Maria Maggenti (The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love), Deepa Mehta (Fire), Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), Mariana Rondón (Bad Hair), Céline Sciamma (Tomboy) and Alice Wu (Saving Face).

The Babadook (2014), dir. Jennifer Kent – My favorite horror film of the last few years (it certainly has fans; The Exorcist director William Friedkin wrote on Twitter that “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook. It will scare the hell out of you as it did me.”) and a chilling look at a woman’s unraveling mind, The Babadook marks Australian actress Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut and provides an outstanding platform for Essie Davis, a longtime character actress who is now better known in the US thanks to her gutsy lead performance. The nightmarish dread of an unseen enemy casts a shadow (literally!) over Davis’s house, causing her psychological and physical torment and threatening the safety of her and her young son. It’s a daring, unforgettable film, challenging the viewers’ concepts of what it means to be a woman, a mother and a widow.

Saturday Night Spotlight #15: Doris Wishman

Hailing from Manhattan and standing only 4′ 11″, the life of Doris Wishman (1912-2002) started innocuously enough: she spent her early years as an adult getting an education at Hunter College and working as a secretary and a movie booker. After she was widowed in 1958, she embarked on a career in independent film that put her at the forefront of the “sexploitation” movement along with Russ Meyer, Radley Metzger and Michael and Roberta Findlay. Wishman began her directorial career with “nudie cuties” like the lunar Nude on the Moon (1961, co-directed by Raymond Phelan) and Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1962), the latter being the only film to star the burlesque queen. Wishman sometimes worked under male pseudonyms, directing Nude on the Moon in the guise of “Anthony Brooks” and also making a number of films as “Louis Silverman,” including Indecent Desires (1968), Too Much Too Often! (1968) and Love Toy (1973). Wishman even strayed into the territory of pornography with the features Satan Was a Lady (1975) and Come with Me My Love (1976). Doris Wishman’s career stalled for many years after the early 1980s, but her final two films came out in 2002 (the year she passed away) and 2007. Her filmography certainly begs the question: to whom do her movies’ collective gazes belong? Are they stereotypical products of the male gaze because of the usual audience for the sexploitation genre or are they films made with the unique vision of a female auteur?

Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) – In one of her better-received B-movies, Wishman tackles some sensationalist themes: a young housewife (played by Gigi Darlene) is raped by her apartment building’s janitor and after she kills him, she flees and continues to encounter problems and more abusive men. The film contains less nudity than the usual Wishman product, focusing more on the injustices faced by the female protagonist and the unwelcoming New York atmosphere. As was often true throughout her career, Wishman also produced the film and wrote its screenplay.

Double Agent 73 (1974) – Wishman worked for a while with one of the biggest (pun intended) sexploitation stars of the 70s, Chesty Morgan, including in this farcical send-up of spy movies. Once described as a “burlesque grotesque,” Morgan’s comically large bosom is the central plot device; one element of her character’s espionage tactics includes having a camera implanted in her sizable bust. Is the film different for having been produced and directed by a woman, not to mention the story being written by Judy J. Kushner (Doris Wishman’s niece) and scripted by Wishman? Incidentally, Chesty Morgan’s real-life backstory is compelling; before she was a stripper and actress she was a Polish-Jewish girl who grew up during World War II and whose parents were killed while they lived in the Warsaw Ghetto; Morgan later lived in Israel and then Brooklyn, widowed when she was only 27 (in 1965) after her husband was killed in a robbery at his store. Perhaps the common thread of widowhood bonded Wishman and Morgan.

Let Me Die a Woman (1977) – Filmed over several years, this quasi-documentary chronicles “sex-change specialist” Dr. Leo Wollman and his patients, men transitioning into lives as transgender women, exploring the meanings of femininity and what it means to identify with being a woman. Staged recreations of the stories being told as well as real footage of a sex-change operation made the film infamous for the perceived shock value, though the film also has interviews with the people whose lives were chronicled.

A Night to Dismember (1983) – Inspired by the “slasher” films that had become popular in the late 70s and early 80s, Wishman made her own entry into the violent horror genre with this tale of a woman (Samantha Fox) who is released from a mental institution, after which gory murders immediately begin happening. Doris Wishman cast the film herself and she contributed to the film’s editing (uncredited), though this time the story and screenplay were written solely by Judy J. Kushner.