Look at Her, She’s Sandra Dee: A Summer Place (1959, dir. Delmer Daves)













As August came to a close, I eked out some time for a melodrama I had been curious about for years, A Summer Place. I’m not sure what I expected aside from repetitions of the love theme popularized by Percy Faith & His Orchestra, but I was surprisingly moved by the ways that the actors brought their characters to life in a story that, like its contemporaries Gidget (1959) and Where the Boys Are (1960), pushes the boundaries of how sex was discussed in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

Filled with as many tangles as any tale of star-crossed lovers, A Summer Place focuses as much on societal/generational clashes as on the theme of second chances. It all starts when Bart Hunter (Arthur Kennedy), owner and proprietor of a somewhat run-down inn on an island off the coast of Maine, announces to his wife Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) that their incoming guests for the summer will be a man they grew up with on the island, Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan), along with his family. Although Sylvia has never told Bart, she and Ken were in love when they were young adults, before class distinctions drove them apart. Now, decades later, Ken is a self-made millionaire stuck in a passionless marriage to Helen (Constance Ford), who is preoccupied with their teenage daughter Molly’s (Sandra Dee) chastity. Upon reaching the inn, both families are immediately tested: Molly is charmed by Bart and Sylvia’s handsome, college-bound son Johnny (Troy Donahue), while Ken and Sylvia are drawn to one another as surely as if they were their kids’ ages once more.

Worry sets in for the older paramours as they watch their children, concerned that Molly and Johnny are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. This is where A Summer Place finds its footing as a romantic drama. Sandra Dee, whose performances in Imitation of Life (1959), the aforementioned Gidget and Portrait in Black (1960) had ranged from “just OK” to “good” in my estimation, does an absolutely fantastic job at articulating Molly’s conflicted emotions in Delmer Daves’ film. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I shed some tears. The same cannot be said of Troy Donahue, who plays Johnny with all the intensity of a block of wood, but at least he adequately conveys the character’s sweetness. In fairness, it’s refreshing to see a teen boy depicted as more sexually inexperienced and unsure of himself than a girl, although she’s hardly worldly; Molly’s history seems to be restricted to making out.


As was the case for the adolescent protagonists of another censorship-pushing 1959 film, Blue Denim, Molly and Johnny’s loss of virginity is followed up with frank conversations about pregnancy and abortion, some of which are beyond dated. But again, Sandra Dee handles Molly’s zigzagging between pursuing desire and bowing to social conventions – trying to combat the burdensome shame of not living up to the expectations of a “good” girl’s behavior – with mature poise. Equally worthy of praise is Constance Ford’s role as Molly’s obsessive mother, who demonizes her daughter with the cruelest tactics she can think of to break up the teen couple, including a first-time gynecological exam to determine whether Molly has had sex (she had not at that point). A Summer Place ultimately hews to Hollywood’s Hays Code edicts about sexuality and marriage, but its sympathetic view of Molly’s journey is as effective now as it must have been sixty years ago.

Furthermore, as a supplemental reading, Sandra Dee’s 1991 essay for People about surviving childhood sexual abuse and subsequently battling anorexia and drug/alcohol addictions (the latter two leading to her eventual death from kidney failure) gave me insight into how she was able to relate to the most serious aspects of what Molly Jorgenson endures. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for Dee – who was only sixteen when A Summer Place was shot – to balance her newfound stardom with her past and present traumas, but the fact that she could so expertly hide that pain (even though she obviously should not have had to) and become a candy-coated icon of teen fun is a testament to her inner strength and acting ability.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)












In anticipation of the upcoming film Pain and Glory, I took a leap of faith last month and dove into the filmography of Pedro Almodóvar, whose work I had been intrigued by ever since my high school AP English teacher told the class about his limitless admiration for Talk to Her. Thanks to the Criterion Channel app, I started with the film that I had heard was one of the most accessible introductions to the auteur’s style, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Designed as an homage to the Jean Cocteau play The Human Voice, the film is a madcap confection of occasionally surreal humor that moves at the breakneck pace of Hollywood screwball comedies from the 1930s and 40s and is anchored by the incredible actresses whose characters propel the story forward.

The glowing sun at the center of Women’s solar system is Pepa (Carmen Maura, a new favorite for me), an actress who has had some success doing TV commercials and voiceovers for Spanish-language dubs of American films like Nicholas Ray’s 1954 cult classic Johnny Guitar. Pepa is in a state of barely-controlled panic thanks to a bad breakup: her married lover, Iván (Fernando Guillén), has left her for someone new. Even worse, Iván’s long-suffering wife Lucía (Julieta Serrano) is consumed with exacting revenge on Pepa almost as much as Pepa obsesses over getting Iván back. Lucía tries to convince her grown son, Carlos (Antonio Banderas with a haircut best described as “the Lyle Lovett”), of how much she has been hurt by his father’s philandering, but Carlos soon finds himself unexpectedly crossing paths with Pepa when he and his fiancée Marisa (Rossy de Palma) coincidentally answer an ad that Pepa has placed to sell her apartment. Add to the mix Pepa’s friend Candela (María Barranco), who believes that the police are hunting her down as an unwitting accomplice to a potential terrorist attack – don’t ask – and that, like Pepa’s refrigerated pitcher of barbiturate-laced gazpacho, is a recipe for absurd, funny disaster.












The supporting cast includes more recurring faces from Pedro Almodóvar’s oeuvre, like Kiti Mánver, Chus Lampreave and Loles León, as well as Guillermo Montesinos playing the driver of Madrid’s most enthusiastic form of car service, the Mambo Taxi. Almodóvar’s screenplay and direction, the cinematography by José Luis Alcaine, costumes by José María de Cossío and the score composed by Bernardo Bonezzi harmonize to present a colorful cinematic delight, topped off by a great La Lupe song in the end credits. Since watching Women, I have seen (in this order) Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Matador, Law of Desire, What Have I Done to Deserve This?, High Heels, Kika and The Flower of My Secret, all of which have strengthened my newfound affection for Almodóvar’s unique artistry. I don’t know if I’ll have time to make my way through his entire filmography before Pain and Glory opens in New York theaters, but I’ll give it my best shot!

The Human Factor: HBO’s “Chernobyl” and the Performance at the Heart of Episode 1

Like just about everyone under the sun, I watched HBO’s miniseries “Chernobyl” with grim fascination, hooked on writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck’s presentation of how and why the 1986 nuclear disaster occurred in Soviet Ukraine. Now that awards season is upon us – voting has begun for the 2019 Emmy Awards, the nominations for which will be announced on July 16 – the discussion of predictions for the various “Limited Series” categories has opened up. Now that the acclaimed show is over, there is agreement on Jared Harris’s strong chances for Best Actor, as well as good odds of recognition for Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson in their supporting roles, but this widespread appreciation wasn’t assumed before the show aired. Looking back at member forums on Gold Derby, I’ve noticed that prior to “Chernobyl’s” debut on May 6, a number of people expected it to succeed primarily on technical merits.




Metacritic scores and review aggregation are all well and good if a viewer’s preferred method for determining the value of art is rooted in statistical percentages, but there is no substitute for the experience of watching a show and judging it for yourself. And what does it mean for a show to be “plot-heavy” but devoid of significant acting? In this case, it seems like some prospective viewers expected “Chernobyl” to focus its energy entirely on the nuclear accident – even though that obviously wouldn’t be the main event of every episode, unless the series were a Soviet Groundhog Day – yet somehow avoid showing the effects that the catastrophe had on the residents of the town of Pripyat, as well as on the scientists and government officials who were brought in to assess the disaster.

It would be easy to write a thinkpiece praising “Chernobyl”; many others have done so. Instead, I would like to shine a spotlight on the one acting performance more than any other that drew me into the show, the confirmation that I cared about the characters in the aftermath of the tragedy. Of the many firefighters who lived in and around Pripyat and were sent to the Chernobyl power plant to douse the blaze – not realizing that the incident was more than a “roof fire” and that the site was overflowing with deadly radiation – the show concentrates on one man in particular, Vasily Ignatenko. Like his comrades, Ignatenko was awakened by the nuclear explosion that occurred at 1:23 AM, and was sent to help put out the fire without any understanding of the danger involved. The character is portrayed by Adam Nagaitis, an English actor probably best known to Americans for playing Cornelius Hickey in season one of AMC’s 2018 drama “The Terror,” and it is Nagaitis’ subtle handling of Vasily in the first episode that made me realize I was fully invested in “Chernobyl.”

Vasily’s arc from happy-go-lucky citizen to doomed hero is depicted in only a few scenes and without much dialogue over the course of the episode, which is titled “1:23:45” in reference to the moment when Chernobyl’s reactor #4 exploded. Vasily is matter-of-fact about his being called to the scene with his fellow firefighters, even though he does not typically work on the late night shift. He does his best to comfort his wife, Lyudmila (Jessie Buckley), who is concerned by the eerie glow from the reactor that is visible in the distance, perhaps a mile or two away from their apartment window. Vasily assures Lyudmila that the situation is not serious and that he will return in the morning, telling her not to worry and to go back to sleep. Nagaitis’ smiling confidence sets us up for the peril that Vasily will soon come face-to-face with at the plant.

Upon reaching the power plant, Vasily witnesses one of his firefighter friends, Misha (Sam Strike), pick up a chunk of graphite from the ground at the base of the reactor. Although the men do not know it, the presence of graphite can only mean one thing: that the reactor’s core has exploded and its chemicals are spewing forth in the giant, billowing columns of smoke. Poison is being spread all over the town of Pripyat, nowhere more strongly than at the accident site. The firefighters are unaware of this, though; Vasily is perplexed (and maybe a bit amused) but not scared when he asks “do you taste metal?” of his colleagues. That development was yet another sign of the radiation pulsing through the air, but still Vasily looks up at the raging fire with curiosity, a slight smile upturned on his mouth.

After some time has passed, we see the repercussions of Misha having touched the graphite rock. We hear the man’s screams before we see him, but with a chilling certainty we already know what is happening and to whom. Vasily turns to catch sight of Misha, whose hand is now horribly burned and bloody. Suddenly, this fire is no longer the manageable task that Vasily thought it was, and when he looks back at the inferno and at the graphite strewn over the ground, his eyes display a fear that was not there before. His mouth quivers a little, as though he wants to say something but cannot find the words. Those brief seconds of fright were like a knife to the gut, and it was at that moment that I knew I cared deeply about how the characters of “Chernobyl” – and by extension, the real people – would be affected by the events of April 26, 1986.

Finally, there is the scene when Vasily is ordered by his superior to begin the climb up to the roof in hopes of successfully extinguishing the flames. As Vasily moves nearer to the nuclear reactor’s core, there is a close-up of his reddened face intercut with a shot of Lyudmila sitting in the apartment, awaiting her husband’s safe return. In that instant, with the gravity of the situation weighing upon Vasily, it appears that the vision of Lyudmila must be flashing before his eyes as he makes the decision to ascend further up into the hellscape. As Adam Nagaitis stares into the camera, Vasily stares into the face of his own impending death.

Watching all the firefighting scenes in the montage above, you can feel even more intensely the collective impact of those heartrending moments. We revisit Vasily later on in “1:23:45,” when he collapses on a street and is loaded into an ambulance destined for a Moscow hospital, and we follow his and Lyudmila’s story until its inevitable ending later in the miniseries, but Adam Nagaitis’s work in his first few scenes of this episode was the incentive I needed to follow this miniseries to its conclusion. He may not be remembered come Emmy time, but it is a performance that will stay etched in my memory.

(Images via doriansvictory and goswinding on Tumblr and Meu Epílogo)

High Life (2018/2019, dir. Claire Denis)








Like a strange, fascinating slumber that teeters on the edge between dream and nightmare, Claire Denis’ sci-fi drama High Life is a unique experience that I had the great fortune to see on the big screen at BAM last month. The audience was small, maybe ten or fifteen other people besides me and my friend, which was just right; the two women who were sitting directly in front of me left a couple of minutes into the movie, undoubtedly because they realized they were in the wrong theater, but I like to think it was because they immediately decided they weren’t into the opening scenes of a spaceship’s lush garden, a baby crying and Robert Pattinson accidentally dropping a screwdriver into the infinite darkness of outer space.

Pattinson portrays Monte, whose story is slowly revealed to us through fragmentary flashbacks. He and the other inhabitants of the spaceship – Tcherny (André Benjamin), Boyse (Mia Goth), Nansen (Agata Buzek), Chandra (Lars Eidinger), Mink (Claire Tran), Ettore (Ewan Mitchell) and Elektra (Gloria Obianyo) – are convicted criminals who are there as part of a cruel experiment headed by Dibs (Juliette Binoche), herself a disgraced doctor. As the inmates begin to realize their purpose on board the vessel, distrust and anger ripples violently throughout the group. Slowly, the situation becomes more and more deadly.








Claire Denis is nothing if not transgressive. High Life is a canvas painted with bodily fluids in a vision probably most closely aligned with her 2001 horror film Trouble Every Day, which I have not yet seen but have heard is graphic in its depictions of gore. Certain scenes in High Life elicited gasps of shock from my fellow moviegoers – to say that it is not a film for everyone is an understatement of limitless proportions – but there is always unquestionable artistry in those instances. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux captures the horror and disturbing beauty of the characters’ journey into the farthest reaches of the universe, while Pattinson (he continues to evolve so admirably), Binoche (light years away from her turn in Denis’ Let the Sunshine In), Benjamin (a wonderful presence), Goth (another fearless descent into body horror after her work in Suspiria) and Mitchell (absolutely chilling) give performances that remain seared into my mind. Denis’ drama may evoke recollections of Solaris, Alien, Sunshine and other tense trips into the abyss, but High Life has a style and a mood that set it apart from the rest.

Three Reviews: The American Friend + Transit + No Fear, No Die

The American Friend (1977, dir. Wim Wenders)

Last month I attended a screening of The American Friend held at the Museum of the Moving Image, played in tribute to the brilliant Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who passed away in February. I am a fan of Ganz from way back, having first seen his peerless performance in Wings of Desire on TCM thirteen years ago (I remember distinctly that I was soon to graduate from junior high at the time; I felt as though I were on the precipice of exciting changes in my life). As a devotee of Ganz and Wenders, having seen many titles from both men’s filmographies, it was especially gratifying to see this unique crime drama on the silver screen.

In this adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel Ripley’s Game, Ganz portrays Jonathan Zimmermann, an expert art restorer and picture framer in Hamburg, Germany who has been told that he has terminal leukemia. Worried as to how his wife Marianne (Lisa Kreuzer) and son Daniel (Andreas Dedecke) will fare when he is gone, when an opportunity comes along to earn a fortune from mysterious businessman Raoul Minot (Gérard Blain) by acting as a hitman and killing a couple of men, Jonathan reluctantly agrees to the job. Making matters even more complicated, Jonathan is tangled up in shady transactions with Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper), an American art dealer who traffics in forged works. Eventually, Jonathan’s associations with Minot and Ripley collide in perilous situations, including a pair of murders on a train and a climactic shootout at Ripley’s decrepit mansion.

One could describe Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper as the stars of the film, but just as vivid is the cinematography by the late, great Robby Müller, who had already worked with Wim Wenders on a number of previous films and went on to lens many classics/cult classics by Alex Cox (Repo Man), more by Wenders (Paris, Texas and Until the End of the World), William Friedkin (To Live and Die in L.A.), Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, Mystery Train, Dead Man and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai), Andrzej Wajda (Korczak), Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark) and Sally Potter (The Tango Lesson). I mention all of these directors to highlight how respected Robby Müller was, truly a master of his craft. His technical prowess is evident throughout The American Friend, as in the famous shot of Jonathan trying to match up the edges of a painting’s frame, the incorporation of neon green lighting in shots of Ripley playing billiards in his German countryside home (here and here) and the stunning shot of clouds reflecting in a boardwalk as two vehicles race each other to a beach in the final scenes.

Story-wise, The American Friend’s occasionally confusing plot does not measure up to the all-time best cinematic version of a Patricia Highsmith thriller, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 take on Strangers on a Train. Moreover, The American Friend is a little too long, clocking in at 125 minutes. Despite these issues, Wenders’ film establishes a compelling mood for its viewers. And obviously there is a strong draw for cinephiles thanks to his quirky casting of many of the smaller roles, using celebrated directors, actors and even a singer. Appearances include Nicholas Ray (sporting his late-in-life eyepatch), Samuel Fuller (chomping on a cigar, of course), Peter Lilienthal, Daniel Schmid, Sandy Whitelaw, Jean Eustache, Lou Castel, David Blue and Rudolf Schündler. The American Friend is a meditation on the collaborative nature of art – both paintings in the film and, for Wenders, the creation of the film itself – and his use of cult favorite director Nicholas Ray is a tribute to Jean-Luc Godard’s assertion that “le cinéma, c’est Nicholas Ray.”

Transit (2018/2019, dir. Christian Petzold)

Rotten Tomatoes can’t be right all the time. Transit, the latest drama by German filmmaker Christian Petzold and currently the recipient of a 96% Fresh rating on the aforementioned website, was a massive disappointment when I caught an afternoon screening at Lincoln Center recently. Starring Franz Rogowski, whose resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix has been noted by many critics, Petzold’s film (an adaptation of a 1944 novel by Anna Seghers) was designed for our current political climate, yet it never gives the audience the benefit of being able to think for itself.

The Seghers novel follows the tale of refugees trying to escape Europe during World War II, but in recreating this narrative, Petzold made the decision to film it in modern-day settings with clothing, cars and everything else typical of the year 2018. This aesthetic choice is meant to underscore the sad timeliness of Seghers’ story, observing the threat of fascism now as well as then, but one can never entirely get over the not-quite-this, not-quite-that flimsiness of Petzold’s storytelling trying to exist in two time periods simultaneously.

At its core, Transit relates most strongly to the concepts of identity and memory made malleable by circumstance. Rogowski’s Georg, who flees Germany for the sunny port of Marseille, France, assumes the identity of a writer to whom he was supposed to deliver some personal letters, having discovered that the fellow committed suicide only after arriving in France. Posing as the distinguished author, Georg locates the man’s wife, Marie (Paula Beer), who has no idea that her husband has killed himself. The couple fall for one another despite their unusual predicament, with each trying to figure out the other’s plans for obtaining transit visas for Mexico.

Marie and other supporting characters flit in and out of Georg’s daily existence, intended to be important yet never making the requisite emotional connections needed for viewers to care about the outcomes of their subplots. This issue has nothing to do with acting, however; it is due in large part to Petzold’s overuse of narration. He never gives either Georg or the audience a moment to rest. Yes, this is deliberate since our protagonist is a man on the run and therefore Petzold wants to highlight the claustrophobic nature of his stop in Marseille, but it is impossible for anyone watching the film to reach a conclusion about a character’s psychological state when, as soon as the dialogue pauses in a scene, the narrator jumps in to explain what emotion is being depicted and what thoughts are informing a character’s mindset. Even worse, sometimes the voiceover redundantly describes actions we are already seeing unfold unscreen, e.g., “The neighbors stood in the doorway, staring.”

Hans Fromm’s cinematography is often visually appealing, although Petzold’s drab palette interferes with it. At the film’s denouement – a truly memorable last shot – I was glad to be rid of these characters, which is the surest sign of a film’s failure. A viewer should always be intrigued by the question of what might come next. As soon as the credits started, the inclusion of an upbeat rock song felt like one last slap in the face, a suggestion that maybe nothing that had occurred over the past hour and forty minutes should have been taken seriously.

No Fear, No Die (1990, dir. Claire Denis)

Before last Monday night, I had never seen a film directed by one of France’s leading auteurs for the past three decades, Claire Denis. Fortunately, I was able to make time for a screening that was part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s retrospective, “Strange Desire: The Films of Claire Denis.” Hailed as the most complete collection of her work ever to be shown in the United States, No Fear, No Die was a real coup since the film has never been available on Region 1 DVD and I’m not sure how many times, if ever, it has been shown since its New York theatrical run in the summer of 1992.

Two of France’s finest actors, Isaach De Bankolé and Alex Descas, play Dah and Jocelyn, black immigrants – the former from Benin, the latter from the West Indies – who are forced to make ends meet by training roosters for cockfighting in the back room of a shabby restaurants run by a middle-aged white gangster, Pierre Ardennes (Jean-Claude Brialy). Very neo-noir meets Frantz Fanon: the two protagonists struggle against the racial and economic constraints of their situation, including tangling with a blonde femme fatale in the form of Pierre’s alluring wife, Toni (Wings of Desire’s Solveig Dommartin), and more nastiness from Pierre’s son, Michel (Christopher Buchholz), who is having an affair with his stepmom behind his father’s back. Dah and Jocelyn want to last in the racket just long enough to pay off their debts before moving onto the next job, but Jocelyn can’t relinquish his childhood memories of Martinique, where Pierre knew his mother. The scheme unravels for everyone.

I have read that the films of Claire Denis tend to be focused far more on atmosphere than on plot, but I found plenty of both in this drama. The cinematography by Pascal Marti, the jazzy score by Abdullah Ibrahim and the eclectic soundtrack – the best cut being Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” – perfectly complement the story’s tensions. I can’t wait to try another Claire Denis film as soon as possible, as well as more films featuring Alex Descas, whose performance in No Fear, No Die is riveting and heartbreaking.

International Women’s Day: Celebrate with These 20 Films Directed by Women, Available on YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and More

Today is International Women’s Day, and because this blog is all about promoting the wide array of films made by women behind the camera, here are twenty films (both features and shorts) from a variety of eras, genres and cultures, all viewable instantly thanks to YouTube, other streaming services and cable TV on demand.

Suspense (1913, dirs. Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber) – YouTube

“Lois Weber and Philip Smalley’s Suspense might only clock in at barely over ten minutes, but for the earliest run of home invasion films, it is by far the most memorable, utilizing many cutting-edge camera tricks and establishing a seriously unique visual style along the way. […] The story revolves around a young wife, played by Weber, who lives on the outskirts of town. One day, her husband goes off to work. Unbeknownst to Weber’s character, the housekeeper chooses exactly that day to resign due to the remote location of the home. Due to this stroke of bad luck, the wife is left alone in the house, which is bad news because it’s the exact day a very random grifter shows up to terrorize her. After locking eyes with the villain, she calls her husband for help, and he frantically rushes home while the bad guy advances on the young wife and her child.

“When discussing this film, one of the most important details is that the camera work on display here is incredible. The memorable moments are almost too many to count. When the wife very first senses something suspicious is happening, she leans slowly out the window, only to see the vagabond look suddenly up at her in a moment that still carries chills to this very day. Her phone call to her husband splits the screen into 3 triangles, one of her, one of her husband, and one of the villain methodically breaking into the house. When the husband steals a car to rush to her side, the police follow him and he peeks back at them through his passenger side mirror. While many of the camera tricks had previously been utilized in other films, the hurried pace at which they cut together in Suspense is something new entirely.” (Sara Century, Syfy)

Mabel’s Blunder (1914, dir. Mabel Normand) – YouTube

“Mabel Normand was the first major female comedy star in American motion pictures. She was also one of the first female directors in Hollywood, and one of the original principals in Mack Sennett’s pioneering Keystone Comedies. Mabel’s Blunder (1914), made two years after the formation of the Keystone Film Company, captures Normand’s talents both in front of and behind the camera.

Mabel’s Blunder features Normand as a stenographer secretly carrying on a romance with her boss’s son – played by Keystone regular Harry McCoy. She becomes jealous when she sees McCoy taking up with an attractive woman (Peggy Page), and disguises herself as a chauffeur to spy on them as they rendezvous at a restaurant. At the same time, Normand’s younger brother disguises himself as his sister, and finds himself the subject of amorous attentions from her boss (Charles Bennett). In the end, Mabel discovers that her perceived love rival is actually McCoy’s visiting sister, and everything is sorted out for the better.

“Besides trading on the comedy staples of mistaken identities and misunderstood intentions, Mabel’s Blunder also features a double-dose of another standard of farce: gender-impersonation, with Mabel disguising herself as a man, and the unidentified young actor* playing Normand’s brother donning drag to impersonate his sibling. Normand had been impersonating males for comic result ever since her Biograph days. An early Keystone, Mabel’s Stratagem (1912), had also featured Normand as an office worker who is fired when her boss’s wife feels her husband is being too affectionate to his stenographer, and insists that he hire a man for the job instead. Mabel later dons male drag and gets the job – only to find herself now becoming an object of flirtation from the wife.” (Brent E. Walker, Library of Congress)

*Note: Al St. John played Mabel Normand’s brother, as per the IMDb listing.

The Ocean Waif (1916, dir. Alice Guy-Blaché) – YouTube and Kanopy

“Alice Guy-Blaché (French, 1873-1968), the world’s first woman film director, made films for Gaumont in Paris (1896-1907), then had her own studio, the Solax Company in Fort Lee, New Jersey (1910-1914). After Solax ceased production, she became a director for hire and went to work for The International Film Service, owned by William Randolph Hearst. The plot of The Ocean Waif adheres closely to the Hearst agenda: a romantic story, plenty of pathos but no brutality, a likeable hero and an innocent young woman, and a suspenseful plot with a dramatic and happy ending (‘the Mary Pickford school of narrative’). Blaché’s parody of the Pygmalion-type love story gives equal screen time to each lover’s point of view, but also skewers conventional class tropes. Doris Kenyon stars in the title role of an abused young woman who finds safety and eventually love in the arms of a famous novelist.” (Kanopy)

Craig’s Wife (1936, dir. Dorothy Arzner) – YouTube

“Columbia, to be quick about it, has been able to do quite well with [George] Kelly’s drama of domestic infelicity. Mary McCall Jr. has retained all that mattered of the original lines, Dorothy Arzner—Hollywood’s only woman director—has given them a full hearing without sacrificing camera mobility, and a supple cast headed by Rosalind Russell and John Boles has translated the whole into a thoroughly engrossing photoplay which has a point to make, keeps it constantly in view and drives it home viciously at the end. ‘People who live to themselves are generally left to themselves.’ That is Mr. Kelly’s story and Craig’s Wife makes the best of it.

“Since ten years have passed since the play was shown here, a brief reminder of its materials may be in order. Harriet Craig was a woman with a purpose—she wanted a home, symbol of permanence, position and security. To attain it she married and to retain it she had to obtain full control of her husband, modeling him into just another bit of house furnishing. Always it was the house that counted; dustless, friendless, a temple of material things which, if she guarded well, would be hers for the keeping.

“…The entire weight of the drama depends upon the malign effectiveness of its central character and Miss Russell, here enjoying her first real opportunity in Hollywood, gives a viciously eloquent performance. Mr. Boles, although sincere and natural in the rôle of the husband, is unable to keep his audience from jeering in that dramatically feeble moment of rebellion when he breaks crockery and spills cigarette ashes. That, admittedly, was more Mr. Kelly’s fault than Mr. Boles’s. The other players are uniformly splendid, with special mention of Alma Kruger as the aunt, Elizabeth Risdon as the housekeeper, Nydia Westman as the maid. Billie Burke as the flower-gathering neighbor, Thomas Mitchell as Fergus Passmore and Robert Allen as the niece’s suitor.” (Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times)

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946, dir. Maya Deren) – YouTube

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946) silently follows Rita Christiani’s perspective as she enters an apartment to find Maya Deren immersed in the ritual of unwinding wool from a loom. Deren includes another expression of the external invading the internal with a strange wind that surrounds and entrances her as she becomes transported by the ritual. Ritual in Transfigured Time links the looming ritual with the ritual of the social greeting. Christiani enters a party, meets and greets, moving throughout the crowd like a dancer. Her movements become increasingly expressive and fluid, the ritual becomes a performance. Key themes in this film are the dread of rejection and the contrasting freedom of expression in the abandonment to the ritual.” (Wendy Haslem, Senses of Cinema)

The Hitch-Hiker (1953, dir. Ida Lupino) – YouTube

“With no major female characters, Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Hitch-Hiker is somewhat idiosyncratic in her feature film directing career. Considered a director with a strong female identity, Lupino shows she can handle a gritty all male thriller just as skillfully as one of her mentors, Raoul Walsh. She was also admittedly an admirer of Allan Dwan, Fritz Lang and cinematographer George Barnes. The Hitch-Hiker, made in 1953, tells the story of two weekend fishermen, Roy Collins (Edmund O’Brien) and Gil Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) who graciously but unfortunately pick up hitchhiker Emmett Myers (William Talman). Myers turns out to be a psychopathic mass killer who forces the men to take him across the border to Mexico. The remainder of the film is a claustrophobic ballet of survival between the two hostages and the killer. Lupino keeps the trio in close quarters throughout the film enforcing the fear that escape is impossible. Much of the time the three men spend in cars and small backrooms, yet even in the openness of the Mexican desert Lupino’s camera confines the characters’ space.

“From the opening sequence, Lupino keeps you on the edge of your seat with the threat of violence about to explode at any moment. Filmed by the magnificent cameraman Nicolas Musuraca, it is filled with stark, contrasty black and white imagery that enhances the moody aridness of the brutal desert heat. What is amazing is how much Lupino accomplished with such a low budget, both in front and behind the camera. Like all of Lupino’s directed features, this was a no-frills production.” (John Greco, Twenty Four Frames)

Mister E (1960, dir. Margaret Conneely) – YouTube

“A domestic black comedy, Mister E expresses some of the edgier mischief and discontent that women of mid-century America could rarely express openly. This short film narrates the revenge acted out by a young wife, left at home while her husband is at a card game; by staging a rendezvous with a mannequin, this woman provokes an eruption of jealousy and violence before bringing about the desired marital tenderness.” (Chicago Film Archives)

The Heartbreak Kid (1972, dir. Elaine May) – YouTube

“Scripted by Neil Simon, May’s most critically and commercially successful film as director induces both laughs and shudders in its acerbic portrait of male egotism, selfishness, and cruelty. The Heartbreak Kid opens as nebbishy salesman Lenny (Charles Grodin) hits the road with his new bride Lila (played by May’s daughter Jeannie Berlin, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress) for their honeymoon in Miami Beach. Unconscionably annoyed by Lila’s whiny neediness before they reach the first rest stop, Lenny realizes that he’s made a mistake — and when he sets eyes on blonde socialite Kelly (Cybill Shepherd) at their beachfront hotel, he abandons the sunburned Lila in her room and sets out in pursuit of the shiksa dream goddess. ‘A first-class American comedy’ (Vincent Canby, The New York Times); ‘The culminating work of Hollywood’s Jewish new wave[,] as well as a hilarious riposte to [Mike Nichols’] The Graduate … a masterpiece of social pathology’ (J. Hoberman, The Village Voice).” (2018 Toronto International Film Festival)

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982, dir. Amy Holden Jones) – YouTube

The Slumber Party Massacre was conceived as a parody of the slasher and its gender dynamics (as they were interpreted in the early ’80s, of course) by screenwriter Rita Mae Brown, a lesbian activist and novelist. In the years that followed, Brown complained that her satirical script was stripped of its satire by a studio that was more interested in luring in the usual horror movie target market of teenage boys than in making some kind of feminist commentary. But her complaint misses the mark. Maybe this isn’t the movie that Brown envisioned when she was writing it, but under the earnest direction of Amy Holden Jones, The Slumber Party Massacre turned out to be a whip-smart slasher that totally works as both a genuinely well-done cheapie slasher film and as a twist on the standard slasher psychology. There is still plenty of satire here, but it’s affectionate, gentle satire—not really genre-busting, as Brown perhaps intended it to be. Indeed, its cleverness actually makes it much more fun than many inferior slashers, and in the end it’s more likely to bring new fans into the fold than convince anyone that the whole genre is worthless. The Slumber Party Massacre gives slasher fans every single thing they could possibly want from this genre, with a ton of bonus wit that makes viewers feel smart and the film feel like a ton of fun. And that’s something you just don’t get every day.” (Megan Weireter, NotComing.com)

Little Women (1994, dir. Gillian Armstrong) – Netflix

“‘Some books are so familiar reading them is like being home again,’ Jo March observes in the new film version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel. She’s talking about Shakespeare, but we all know Little Women is a book like that, one of the most seductively nostalgic novels any child ever discovers. As the gold standard for American girlhood, it lingers in our collective consciousness as a wistful, inspiring memory. Ladies, get out your hand-hemmed handkerchiefs for the loveliest Little Women ever on screen.

“Gillian Armstrong’s enchantingly pretty film is so potent that it prompts a rush of recognition from the opening frame. There in Concord, Mass., are the March girls and their noble Marmee, gathered around the hearth for a heart-rendingly quaint Christmas Eve. Stirring up a flurry of familial warmth, Ms. Armstrong instantly demonstrates that she has caught the essence of this book’s sweetness and cast her film uncannily well, finding sparkling young actresses who are exactly right for their famous roles. The effect is magical. And for all its unimaginable innocence, the story has a touching naturalness this time.

“…The direction by Ms. Armstrong, who long ago summoned memories of Little Women with My Brilliant Career (1979), is sentimental without being saccharine. And the film maker is too savvy to tell this story in a cultural and historical vacuum. So this Little Women has ways of winking at its audience, most notably when the tomboyish, intellectually ambitious Jo March reveals that she has cut off and sold her mane of hair. ‘Jo, how could you?’ wails Amy. ‘Your one beauty!’ Well, this Jo is Winona Ryder and the joke is that she has beauty to spare, along with enough vigor to dim memories of Katharine Hepburn in the now badly dated 1933 George Cukor version. Ms. Armstrong reinvents Little Women for present-day audiences without ever forgetting it’s a story with a past.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)

Fire (1996, dir. Deepa Mehta) – YouTube

“In this film, Radha is unwavering in her devotion to her husband, Ashok, despite their sexless arranged marriage. For 15 years, she has been the consummate Indian wife, while Ashok, under the guidance of a spiritual leader, is attempting to rid himself completely of any form of desire. Meanwhile, Ashok’s brother Jatin has brought home his new wife, Sita, but is unwilling to give up his relationship with his Chinese girlfriend. Added to the mix are Biji, Ashok and Jatin’s infirm mother, who keeps a watchful eye over the family. Slowly, Sita’s presence causes the threads that held the family together to unravel.

“Each member tries to hang on to a semblance of allegiance to the deeply rooted traditions of Indian family life, while at the same time seeking expression for their own personal needs and desires. Unable to woo her new husband, the young and feisty Sita is the first to question the order of things. Her doubts are contagious, and soon Radha’s devotion begins to waver, too. Deprived of their husbands’ affections, the two women draw closer together in ways neither imagined.

“Director-writer Deepa Mehta has captured the shifting landscape of the entire Indian subcontinent, where both men and women are caught in the immense tension between the continuity of the extended family and the desire for greater freedom and independence. Lusciously photographed and passionately told, Fire ignites the senses and the emotions.” (Jinah Kim, Harvard University Department of History of Art and Architecture)


Frida (2002, dir. Julie Taymor) – Showtime (streaming or on TV via the Showtime on Demand channel)

“The tormented, turbulent and passionate life of legendary painter Frida Kahlo, an artist of unique and bountiful talent – and an icon of suffering who has become known in Mexico as the saint of the afflicted – was too big to fill a single canvas. She suffered for her art and made art out of suffering, merging art and life in autobiographical canvases that mixed Mexican folk art with European surrealism. Hard to capture on film. But Lion King director Julie Taymor, an artist with her own fame for stylish and audacious visuals, has knocked herself out condensing the breathless melodrama of that life into a film of overwhelming artistry, beauty and impact. The result is Frida, the greatest movie about an artist since Vincente Minnelli grafted the psychological turmoil of Vincent Van Gogh onto the screen in Lust for Life.

“Belying its $12 million budget, the film is a lush, sensuous triumph with wonderful music, sumptuous cinematography that matches [Salma] Hayek’s beauty, and a striking use of puppets, computer animation and collages that come to life, in locations ranging from the colonial city of Puebla and the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan to La Casa Azul, Frida’s famous villa in Coyoacán, named for its azure blue walls. The film begins and ends in that house, with the stench of gangrene already upon her as her first exhibition is being planned in Mexico City. Forbidden by her doctor to leave her bed, Frida is carried through the streets by mariachis in the same four-poster bed where she taught herself to paint lying in a horizontal position. In flashbacks, we see her as a spunky teen, dressing like a boy to scandalize her parents; the horrific accident that left her crippled for years; and the bizarre relationship with Diego that began as fellow comrades fighting capitalism and led to an eternal love affair that brought her more torture than joy. Diego is played by Alfred Molina as a mad, excessive and violent hedonist with lusty appetites for food, fiestas and fornication. (On the morning after their wedding, Frida awoke to find Rivera’s ex-wife cooking his favorite mole sauce in her kitchen. The woman stayed for years!) By all accounts, Frida was a better painter, but in the early stages of their life together, she sublimated her own talent to be his muse and inspiration and play a supplemental role in his career.

“…Ms. Taymor manages to piece together the salient facts of a life charged by sex, politics and art with coherence and a strong allegiance to narrative, but at the same time she rubs the material with a brilliant patina of her own. Straightforward biography is superimposed with visuals, as the paintings of Kahlo and her husband Diego appear and dissolve. Kahlo devoted herself to the Buddhist theory that pain can produce beauty (‘I took my tears and turned them into paintings,’ she declared in her diaries), and Ms. Taymor knows the tricks of perspective to take all of these elements closer to Frida’s state of mind, in which art and life merge cinematically. The transition from Frida’s psychological pain to the surrealism with which her conscience finds its way to her canvases is daring but not pretentious, and there is always something amazing and luscious to look at. I have seen it twice, and I found awesome discoveries both times. I have heard this movie called everything from a masterpiece to pure kitsch – which would probably have amused the wicked, fun-loving Frida immensely. Julie Taymor’s vision of Frida Kahlo’s life and art is as prankish as its subject – an artful echo of a lyrical, sensual, voyeuristic, anarchic slapstick tragedy.” (Rex Reed, The New York Observer)

Sabah (2005, dir. Ruba Nadda) – YouTube

“In Arabic, sabah means ‘morning,’ and Sabah’s main visual metaphor is of a delicate flower stretching toward the morning sun. Played by one of Canada’s finest actors, Arsinée Khanjian, Sabah is a dutiful daughter in a close-knit, immigrant Muslim family who lives at home taking care of her mother. But something’s missing: having resisted an arranged marriage, she’s never known love. On her fortieth birthday her over bearing brother Majid (played by Jeff Seymour), gives her a photograph of herself as a little girl in Syria, standing by the seashore with their now deceased father. The photograph awakens a remembrance in Sabah, and like the influential Syrian filmmaker Mohammad Malas, Nadda uses memory as a formal device to lead Sabah toward her future.

“Fuelled by this long forgotten joy and sense of freedom, she secretly goes to a local pool. There, she meets Stephen, a Canadian non-Muslim (played by Shawn Doyle), who accidentally grabs her towel, her only protection in this foreign environment. Sabah takes a courageous first step toward her own happiness by gradually starting to talk to him. In doing so, she sets off a chain of events that eventually affects her entire family.

“…Federico Fellini once said, ‘The only visionary is the realist because he bears witness to his own reality.’ Nadda writes what she knows. Like traditional Arab writers, she weaves together aspects of her own life with those of her characters, mixing dream into reality. Born in Montreal in 1972, of Syrian and Palestinian parents, Nadda moved around Canada a lot while growing up. From those experiences, she says, ‘I developed an acute sensitivity and empathy. I’m able to identify with people and put myself in their shoes. And I can take that and put it in a film.’ Briefly living in Damascus at the age of sixteen, Nadda learned just how precarious a girl’s freedom in a Muslim country is: she was almost married against her will. From that moment on she says, ‘I enveloped life. When you’ve almost had your independence taken away from you, you never want to go through that again.’ Once, on the bus during her last year at York University she saw a Muslim woman in a burqua, completely covered head to toe; only her eyes were visible. Nadda wondered about the woman’s sexual urges and what would happen if she fell for the ‘wrong’ man. That moment gestated within her, slowly forming into what would eventually become Sabah.” (Noelle Elia, POV Magazine)

Mamma Mia! (2008, dir. Phyllida Lloyd) – Netflix

“Hanging a tale of a woman whose daughter might have been fathered by one of three attractive men on a bunch of ABBA songs sounds simple, but its simplicity is as deceptive as the masterfully crafted songs themselves. [Meryl] Streep plays Donna, a former singer, who has raised daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) alone at a fading resort on a remote Greek island. Sophie finds her mother’s diary from 20 years earlier and discovers that there are three men who might be her father. About to be married to boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper), she sends invitations to the celebration to all three on behalf of her mother but without telling her. Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård, as the possible dads, show up on the island where Donna is readying the wedding, helped by her two best pals (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski). The scene is set for songs, dancing and romance, all staged brilliantly, with many energetic and colorful performers, and beautifully shot.” (Ray Bennett, The Hollywood Reporter)

The Innocents (2016, dir. Anne Fontaine) – Netflix

“During a bitterly cold winter, tucked away in a provincial Polish village just after World War II, seven nuns are secretly pregnant. While the women sing in their barren church with faded blue stucco walls, a shriek echoes in the abbey, prompting one mischievous sister to race through the snowfall and into the woods for help. Some orphans lead her to the French Red Cross. There, she catches the attention of a young woman doctor, Mathilde (Lou de Laâge), who at first refuses to help the nun, following protocol, eager to please her male superiors with her hardened obedience. But the sight of the nun praying in the snow shakes some ice from Mathilde’s heart, and she comes to the rescue of another nun birthing a breech baby. Talk of science and faith dominate the conversations of Mathilde and French-speaking nun Maria (Agata Buzek). But both are struggling — Maria with her belief in God after the Russian soldiers who seemed meant to save them imprisoned them as prostitutes instead, Mathilde with the belief that she could ever be a respected woman of science in a male-dominated world.

“…Now, the idea of a woman’s loss of freedom isn’t necessarily fresh territory. Neither are nuns in a postwar Polish winter; Pawel Pawlikowski’s spare tale Ida (2013) already did a fine job with that, with a black-and-white palette of shadows that perfectly captured the isolation of both the season and the religious calling. But The Innocents departs with a surprisingly warm tone in both color and feeling. A calming natural light ribbons through every cold landscape, catching the almost translucent white skin of the nuns and the billowing navy and black of their habits — very Vermeer.” (April Wolfe, LA Weekly)

Raw (2016, dir. Julia Ducournau) – Netflix

It’s the cannibal movie that caused people to faint at a film festival – this is what people talk about when they talk about Raw, the extraordinary body-horror parable from French director Julia Ducournau. The incident, which happened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, might cause folks to view this as some sort of cinematic dare, a splatter shocker designed to test the limits of the scary-movie marine corps. Consider this a disclaimer, and a reclamation: The story of a young woman (Garance Marillier) who develops a taste for certain off-the-menu delicacies is indeed intense. It’s also after much bigger game than merely thrilling folks who’ve studied Fangoria photo spreads with Talmudic-scholar fervor. Smelling salts are not required, but the ability to recognize a near-perfect movie when you see it most certainly is. If Get Out reminds folks that you can smuggle intelligent social commentary and timely conversation-starters in to theaters via explosive genre packages, then Ducournau’s feature debut doubles down on the notion. In terms of the female-body politic, it’s an art-horror dirty bomb.

“…Ducournau has referred to her movie as a coming-of-age story, and you can see this waifish character go from awkwardly tottering in high heels (a shot that spells out the movie’s ideas on femininity drag; don’t even ask about the Brazilian waxing sequence) to aggressively asserting herself over 99 blood-flecked minutes. Girl, you’ll be a man-eating woman soon, and though references to bulimia and trichophagia suggest control issues run psychologically amuck, Justine also discovers a sense of empowerment in this taboo line-crossing. She begins to take ownership of her body by consuming others’.

“None of which should suggest that Raw is simply a grad-school term paper smothered in gore. Ducournau knows how to make the vocabulary of horror filmmaking either finesse or bludgeon with a frightening degree of facility. Few movies have used pacing and composition to such an effective degree in the name of XX-centric dread (the film owes as much to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion as it does to the cinema of repulsion), or understood how to employ color so effectively – from a seven-minutes-in-heaven encounter involving blue and yellow paint to the crimson drop on a white lab coat that signals a Type-O deluge. There’s a hallucinogenic quality to the deadpan scenes of Justine coming to grips with this personal channeling of passion and perversity, and a shocking aspect to the carnage that feels invasive in a way most shock artists can’t conjure. You never get the sense that you’re not watching a master at work, regardless of how scant Ducournau’s filmography is. She is the real thing.” (David Fear, Rolling Stone)

The Party (2017, dir. Sally Potter) – Hulu

“In Potter’s pitch-black, claustrophobic comedy, a stellar ensemble including Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Emily Mortimer, Cherry Jones, Cillian Murphy and Bruno Ganz tussles for a lean 71 minutes. While too many plot details threaten to spoil a delicious denouement, here’s the gist: an eclectic mix of guests gather at Janet’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) elegant London home to toast to her new appointment as health minister, a seeming boon in an increasingly bleak political moment. But, by night’s end, their verbal sparring, accompanied by a slate of life-altering revelations (from adultery to a medical diagnosis), derails any hopes of a sit-down dinner. And then there’s that pesky Chekhovian gun…” (Olivia Aylmer, Vanity Fair)


Step (2017, dir. Amanda Lipitz) – Hulu

Step looks like a dance film, but it’s really a rollercoaster ride about expectations, drive, and achievement. The weight in each rhythmic stomp produced by the young women featured in this movie isn’t just to produce a sound in glorious sync, but to signal a togetherness in an often-brutal world. Amanda Lipitz’s inspiring, Sundance award-winning documentary follows three African American teenage girls in Baltimore as they wend their way through a senior year in which they’re not just contenders for a statewide step dance crown, but also the first graduating class at an all-girls charter school designed with the express purpose of sending its students to college. The competition in Step isn’t just to hit a stage and win a talent prize, but to beat the odds in life. Start figuring out now how to clap and dab away tears at the same time; it’s that kind of experience.” (Robert Abele, TheWrap)


Shirkers (2018, dir. Sandi Tan) – Netflix

Shirkers is a documentary about the production of an uncompleted movie, but it doubles as an upgraded version of the missing project itself. As a punk teen in early-nineties Singapore, Sandi Tan wrote a feminist slasher movie for the ages, an exploitation road movie designed to ruminate on the energy of youth, creativity, and alienation. The director, a much older American high school instructor with dubious motives, stole the film canisters for unknown reasons and vanished into the mist; two decades later, Tan has completed a fascinating personal look at her quest to uncover his motives, resurrecting the significance of her original intentions in the process.” (Eric Kohn, IndieWire)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018, dir. Susan Johnson) – Netflix

“Romantic comedies have been forging a comeback, led by a recent boom on Netflix. The latest strong case for the genre’s revival is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which embraces its rom-com trappings with a distinctly millennial self-awareness. Based on Jenny Han’s beloved YA novel by the same name, the movie centers on the life of Lara Jean Covey (X-Men: Apocalypse‘s Lana Condor), a shy high school student who’d rather watch Sixteen Candles on a Friday night than try to find her Jake Ryan in real life. Her widowed father (John Corbett) and protective sisters worry that she’ll spend the rest of high school with her nose buried in her treasured romance novels as opposed to socializing. That all changes when the secret love letters she has written to her crushes–who range from the jock she smooched during a game of Spin the Bottle in the seventh grade to the boy next door who also happens to be her big sister’s boyfriend–are mysteriously sent to their addresses. As might be expected, chaos ensues. But Lara Jean’s embarrassing predicament soon develops into an unlikely love triangle that encourages her to come out of her shell and embrace her vulnerability.

“In many ways, the story feels like the teenage rom-coms of years past that Lara Jean loves to watch–but its sensitivity and cultural consciousness improves on its predecessors. In one memorable sequence, Lara Jean (who’s biracial, Korean and white) watches Sixteen Candles on a date, leading to a thoughtful discussion of the film’s now-glaring racism. Other complex issues–like slut-shaming, cyberbullying and the death of a parent–are tackled with nuance. Equally refreshing is the care given in establishing Lara Jean as the heroine of her life. In a genre that frequently resorts to clichés, the movie resists reducing her to an adorkable, lovelorn lead. Much of this is thanks to Condor, who plays Lara Jean with a charming pluckiness that reads as both endearing and empowering.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is only one of a plethora of youthful rom-coms to hit Netflix this summer in the streaming giant’s bid to bring back the form. But its heartwarming and clear-eyed approach to first love and the challenges of coming-of-age distinguishes it from its contemporaries. Add it to your queue.” (Cady Lang, TIME Magazine)

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, dir. Peter Weir)











Like another of Peter Weir’s 1970s films set in his home country of Australia, The Last Wave, the drama Picnic at Hanging Rock (adapted by Cliff Green from the novel by Joan Lindsay) is suffused with a haunting aura, asking us to contemplate the riddles of the unexplained. Neither film is sad, exactly, but they are deeply unsettling, even more so thanks to Weir’s refusal to give his audiences the typical kinds of resolutions that would probably be demanded of an American director.

Set on Valentine’s Day in 1900, which is at the end of Australia’s summer, Picnic at Hanging Rock poses a disturbing question: how and why did three students and a teacher from an all-girls school vanish without a trace while on a day trip to the title geological formation? Of the subgroup that was drawn to climbing further up the difficult paths to cliffs and caves, only Edith (Christine Schuler) saw the disappearance of Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), Irma (Karen Robson), Marion (Jane Vallis) and Miss McCraw (Vivean Gray). There is no satisfactory explanation as to where the quartet went, all seemingly under Hanging Rock’s strange and magnetic spell while Edith was able to escape and run back to the others.







Those who are left to puzzle over the mystery are faced with the terrors of the unknown. Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), the domineering headmistress who sent her schoolgirls on the fateful excursion, struggles to cope with the aftermath of a situation she cannot control; tenderhearted housemaid Minnie (an early role for Jacki Weaver) pities the lost souls; French instructor Mlle. de Poitiers (Helen Morse) is tormented by the memory of the girls saying goodbye before ascending Hanging Rock; another student, Sara (Margaret Nelson) – an orphan who is treated with disdain by Mrs. Appleyard – agonizes over the loss of her roommate, Miranda, with whom she is clearly in love. Finally, there are wealthy Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard) and stableboy Albert Crundall (John Jarratt), local teenagers who were among the last to see the pretty trio of students before they went missing. The tragedy looms large in the minds of these young men, one of whom has an unexpected connection to a member of the hiking party.







Were the girls and Miss McCraw swallowed up by Hanging Rock? What secrets do the boulders possess, or what peculiar brew of science and faith? The incident appears to be a metaphor for sexual awakening and the concept of a “loss of innocence,” but what else does it imply about young girls who are lead (or lead themselves) astray? There is an eerie, supernatural tone to Picnic at Hanging Rock, leaving its enigmas lingering in the stillness of the hot summer air. For that reason, the movie is both frustrating and engrossing. Photographed exquisitely by Russell Boyd and using Gheorghe Zamfir‘s pan flute composition “Doina: Sus Pe Culmea Dealului” as the key theme on the soundtrack, Picnic is a film that will stay with you long after it is over.