BOOKS: Film Fatales

Judith M. Redding and Victoria A. Brownworth
Film Fatales
Seal Press/Publishers Group West

Depressing: More women directed, produced, wrote, and filmed Hollywood movies in 1915 than in 1995. Inspiring: Hollywood is no longer the only game in town. Over half of the contemporary women directors profiled in this biographical compendium are lesbians and/or treat lesbian themes. (Film Fatales' authors--filmmaker and critic Judith M. Redding and activist Victoria A. Brownworth--write for Curve, the popular lesbian glossy.) A majority of the sketches feature directors of color or white directors who consistently cast actors of color and whose work deals explicitly with race. But, coincidentally or not, only a tiny fraction of the 200 indies discussed in the book are widely available on video.

And there's the catch. Intending to make the work of women directors readily accessible to a general audience, Redding and Brownworth selected those "working outside mainstream studio systems" whose work they liked. But to focus almost exclusively on indies squelches debate of the pros and cons of Hollywood for women directors and viewers alike. While it's clear the authors dislike the work of Kathryn Bigelow (Blue Steel, Strange Days)--suggesting her films "aren't qualitatively different from similar films by men"--it's not so evident why. Equally unsubstantiated is their suggestion that Euzhan Palcy's A Dry White Season, the first feature by a black woman to garner mainstream release, "is more white than black."

The authors' omissions seem even more conspicuous. If Redding and Brownworth had included such commercially successful lesbian filmmakers as Rose Troche (Go Fish) and Maria Maggenti (The Incredible True Adventure of Two Girls in Love), Film Fatales' indie dialogue would have aired some more pressing questions--among them why many lesbian audiences crave conventional formulas.

 
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