So I asked Facebook, “Who’s gonna do this thing?” and Delirious Hem editor Shanna Compton said, “You are.” Never having curated an essay series before, I had no idea what I was getting into, which is why most people are stupid enough to try new things. We posted the call for essays and immediately the requests for movies flooded in. It turns out, we all have our own Gidget.
In the call, I said the theme of Chick Flix was wide open for interpretation—not just Meg Ryan vehicles (though she is represented in our series) but also films in which women kick ass, go insane, get laid, seek revenge, and dance with a buzzing vibrator to Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk” (Slums of Beverly Hills, also represented).
I did that because I hate rom-coms. It’s not a (consciously) feminist thing—they just bore me. Always have. But I'm fascinated by the way they affect women.
I was discussing this recently with one of my girlfriends—a serious film buff who really knows her onions. She took me to see Vera Chytilova's Daisies at BAM—15 minutes into which, I leaned over to her and whispered, "This is the weirdest movie I've ever seen."
Of rom-coms, she said, “I always hated them, too, but then I turned 30, and something happened to me. You know the remake of The Women?”
“Abysmal garbage,” I replied.
“Absolutely," she agreed, “yet I’ve watched it, twice. There’s something cathartic about them. It’s a social thing.”
I recalled that, when I turned 30, the value of my women friends suddenly soared. To be part of a society of women. To be bolstered by it. And I understood why, in the most ancient religions, men sit on one side of the church, and women on the other—sometimes behind a wall or a curtain. It’s not “necessarily” a bad thing. And in the company of my wonderful women friends, I have watched many a cheesy rom-com. Normally, the only way you could make me watch Love Actually is at gunpoint—unless I’m with my girlfriends—sacked out on the floor, eating Chinese take-out, etc.
The original version of The Women is also represented in our series, by the way.
Of the fifty films that inspired writers from all over the planet (we have a Kiwi on our roster) to contribute to our series, seventeen were either written, or directed, or both, by women: Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen, Tamara Jenkins’ Slums of Beverly Hills, Susan Seidelman’s Making Mr. Right, Delia Ephron on Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, Diablo Cody’s Young Adult, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo on Bridesmaids, Robin Schiff on Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, Gabrielle Upton on Gidget, Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, Anne Carlisle on Liquid Sky, Callie Khouri on Thelma and Louise, Kristen Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz on Legally Blonde, Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, Kelly Reicherdt’s Meek’s Cutoff, Anita Loos on The Women and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Annette Haywood Carter’s Foxfire, which was based on a Joyce Carol Oates story.
Does a movie written or directed by a woman, about women, resonate more to women? It should, unless the woman writer/director's talking down to women, as in The Sweetest Thing—a deep pile of Cameron Diaz Bandini that actually infuriates me.
But what of our 33 other films about women that were written and directed by men? In his wife and muse Gena Rowlands, John Cassavetes had one of the most hard boiled, badass women in American cinema at his disposal. And what did he do with her? He dragged her through hell on screen—drove her nuts, shot at her, really put her through the ringer—and I am riveted by her. His films with Gena Rowlands blow the rest away.
Maybe in watching magnified, distorted, simplified, stupefied, hyper-sexualized and virginalized representations of ourselves, filtered through the gaze of men, we can marvel at how wrong, or how right, they got it.
Tomorrow, we'll kick things off with Nancy McGuire Roche's homage to Barbarella. Until then, let's dim the lights and watch a poem by Lina ramona Vitkauskas.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR
Wanda & I were in a very important biology,
economics, or political science course.
The last time I saw a mallard. When I excused
myself from the party, baseball in a poem—here.
Like a fur coat, interesting place, China. I saw the sky—
sugar, bloody brandy, pool rooms. Cooperation is the
essence of efficient corporations. Something off my chest—
but I’m too heavy. Suddenly, all the planets simultaneously
there—like a lost crayon. It was 5pm, and I realized
I’d missed the whole class, they were locking up
the lecture hall & Chicago turned into
I can be very demanding & critical.
Love should feel good.
Jennifer L. Knox is the author of three books of poems, The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, Drunk by Noon, and A Gringo Like Me, all available from Bloof Books. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review and four times in the Best American Poetry series. She is at work on her first novel.
Lina ramona Vitkauskas is the author of A Neon Tryst (Shearsman Books, 2013), HONEY IS A SHE (Plastique Press, 2012), THE RANGE OF YOUR AMAZING NOTHING (Ravenna Press, 2010), and Failed Star Spawns Planet/Star (dancing girl press, 2006). In 2011, she was a poetry finalist for SLS (Summer Literary Seminars – Kenya, Lithuania, Montreal), and in 2009, Pulitzer finalist Brenda Hillman selected her for The Poetry Center of Chicago's Juried Reading Award. She’s been published in literary magazines such as DIAGRAM, TriQuarterly, The Chicago Review, The Toronto Quarterly, VLAK (Ed. Louis Armand, Edmund Berrigan), The Prague Literary Review, Van Gogh's Ear (Paris), White Fungus (Taiwan; displayed at MoMA), and more. She is a part-time faculty member at The Chicago School of Poetics and the co-editor of the 12-year-running online literary magazine, milk magazine.