Woman; 345; The Lady Vanishes: Where are the Women in Films?
Good evening and welcome to this week we're beginning a mini series on the image of women in the media. Tonight we're going to take a look at women in film. With me is Marjorie Rosen Marjorie is a film critic journalist and author of popcorn women and the American dream. Also with me a coordinator of the now image of women in film task force and a member of the United States Commission on women and the media. Welcome to both of you. Thank you. Yeah I mean speaking about women and ladies it's really depressing when I think of what I've seen recently two films come to mind the did have women in them which is kind of a rarity which I suppose we'll talk about here one of the films was a film called I will I will for now which starred Elliott Gould and Diane Keaton and then another was a film called The Duchess in the dirt
water Fox which is a Melvin Frank film which 20th Century Fox just released. And these films have a great deal in common and in that their sex comedies using women kind of as a as the butt of like a dirty joke it's kind of a modern dirty joke and I will I will for now Diane Keaton is a frigid wife who goes to one of these sex clinics with her husband and it's kind of like a throwback to the Doris Day comedies of the 50s whereas the Doris Day comedies were really kind of tasteful and very humorous. I mean this this film is absolutely vile and vulgar and disgusting and revolting and has absolutely nothing to recommend it including a kind of an ancient attitude about women and sex. The say the second film The Duchess in the ditch water Fox stars Goldie Hawn and the running joke through that film. Regards her pasty as you know her little burlesque pasty that keeps dropping out of her. Outfit when she disguises herself as a
duchess in the Old West in order to marry some Mormon Well anyway I mean it's very depressing. Goldie Hawn is a very popular kind of actress so I think that male producers liked cast a great deal and she's like a modern Betty Boop. Exactly I've heard you both say and read what you've both written that you feel very strongly that movies are in the disaster area in the media as far as discrimination against women is concerned. Absolutely Sandy had been observing the media for about six years you know in the town taskforce on the media. And it seems to me that television has begun to reflect the changing role of women whereas films have absolutely gone in the opposite direction have wiped out any sense of change that the American woman is going through. It's a very fascinating thing I think for sociologists to study. And real depressing we brought with us a Manhattan movie cock.
This just gives you an example of the the films that are around today. Now listen to this Seven Beauties that the that's a film that's about a man The Sunshine Boys The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes smarter brother taxi driver lies my father told me Tommy. Dog Day Afternoon. Barry Lyndon. Michael Angelo and Dick. Give em Hell Harry The Man Who Would Be King and so on and so far so forth. The only films on the boards right now that have women in them are Grey Gardens is a documentary about the Beale of the Beale sisters. The story of Adele 8 which is a European film from France mind Michel which is a film from Israel and it is about a woman and a real release a funny lady and that's it. It does seem a little biased of the vanishings and
certainly on film and it scores the Academy Awards this year. It's an embarrassment isn't it really. Yeah it really is I mean the women when there aren't enough women to be nominated and they and the cademy sees fit to elevate women who should have been nominated in supporting actress categories such as Louise Fletcher for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Well I mean that really tells us that things are in pretty bad shape when there are not five reasonably large reasonably well acted performances and I with the women of the Screen Actors Guild are truly embarrassed by this situation. It's you know it's hardly shows them in a fun light. I understand that some of them refused to vote this year. Yes Ellen Burstyn has said that she refused to vote. Well Margaret hasn't been this bad since they were time in the 30s and 40s when women were top box office
doors women were getting leading roles they were portrayed as strong women. Oh absolutely I mean in the in the in the 20s also Clara Bow. Joan Crawford in the 30s though in a sense all kinds of women were top box office you had Marie Dressler who was not your you know your average kind of you had Shirley Temple who was not yet your average And you had Garbo Dietrich Sanya Henty. And all those wonderful comedians of the screen Carole Lombard Irene Dunn and so on and so forth in the 40s you had Betty Grable who reigned for 13 years as America's top box office heroine who was single handedly responsible for putting 20th Century Fox you know out of the dumps and into the profit making. Money money department. Where women writers stand out. Oh yes many women have to know where they are writers.
Oh absolutely absolutely. Very few women directors but many women who are writing who are doing scenarios screenplays from the beginning of films I mean when films first began. You know it was it was not your classy as menial and they they took material from anybody. Right and and anything I mean we had the Rs in there who were directed on films for three decades and I would guess the some of these names are names especially the women writers or names that most of us have never had much of. Women's history is lost to us but we are rediscovering them they're a women's film festivals taking place all over the country and we're seeing some foreign films that these people directed and wrote. Yeah I really have a theory that you know when when the movie industry became a big money industry was which was in the mid 20s that's when the women started getting exercise from their creative roles.
That's that's when you stop hearing about them when the when the doors closed. A lot of women directed films at the beginning. Kind of surreptitiously surreptitiously not some of it was one of them for me a little Norman before it was a status. Right exactly. And only in the last few years have we even been made aware the door of the arsenal directed us 15 feature films during Hollywood's most important you know most prosperous period. You make another connection about when when the kind of change began. Yes well what I see is that we began to see the male buddy movies in about 1968 I believe that was. And interestingly enough that was really the start of the second wave of feminism in this country and others women were coming into their own discovering. Many different options and roles in their lives and just as that was happening. Women were being wiped off the screen. And with the
advent of male buddy movies we you know we began to see women as adjuncts as hookers as prostitutes as very much secondary characters to these male central characters. Were there no prostitutes etc. in the 30s and 40s in movies. Well there were always hookers and. We idealize much redder Gretta Garbo played hookers and she played chords on communal Camille have been acquired. That is the difference and the difference is that you know in one thousandth the 20s 30s and 40s they made 600 films a year and women were not only hookers and prostitutes on screen they were women who were housewives shop girls. Office workers advertising executives actresses paper reporters right front page women you name it they were it to some extent qualify that. Now there's there are no options there are no women on screen. There are no options for them at all. Which is ironic considering that women have made options for themselves in real
life and that's a distressing thing is the fact that we see women as the victims of violence. This is a very common pattern that we see in films. That the ones who are wiped out are raped. Or whatever and also another category feel strongly about is women on the brink of madness as a very very popular show. In the film. Oh absolutely and that's that's a category that really drives me crazy and especially because a lot of women who are making films today also use that as a take as a taking off point for their films. But women are totally isolated and totally totally alienated as if the women today are not able to cope and as if that's the only experience that we can translate to the screen when in fact it's not. Give me some titles for the violence movies the violence against women a lot of the straw dogs. Magnum Force dirty Harrity the killer early.
Oh what what others. Heck and any of second horrors films right. The most gratuitous use of violence against a woman was in the long goodbye the Robert Altman films. Do you remember that where you know the gangster is trying to threaten Elliott Gould with how tough he is he says and he's standing there with the gangsters standing there with his girlfriend and he says and he breaks a coke bottle and shoves it into the girlfriend's face and says to good now I love her and that's what I did to her imagine what I'm going to do to you. You know and then the next scene the girl is back with her face all battered up and with Band-Aids. OK she's back for more. We're actresses more powerful than in the 30s and 40s to think well in a funny way they weren't because they were under contract and they pretty much had to do what the studios gave them to do what they did. They did do more however you know today if an actress makes one picture or two pictures a year she's
doing quite a lot. I think that the few actresses that are stars in that are bankable as. They say in Hollywood lives in an alley and Barbara Streisand and Jane Fonda do have more options than let's say Bette Davis said when she was under contract to Warner Brothers. But I'm not sure that these options are being exercised in in any way that's benefiting women. No I don't think the bar neither Barbara Streisand nor lives of unknowing have really brought us any images of contemporary women. We have some slides of what you call the body films which you think are really the basis of this whole thing. And I'd like to show them this first one I guess is Sting. You need to talk a little bit about the sting and and what the message is you say women got from this movie. This thing was one of the most popular of the male body movies and the there were two women in this thing one of whom believe
that her main purpose was to serve drinks to the two men to be there to serve there and serve their needs and the other woman. Slept with one of them and then tried to work on him. In the male buddy movies we very often have the woman as a threat. And we have another side here I think this is from scare crow. That's right. This is was a male Odyssey road film that we've had many two men in their adventures as they travel across the country. Is it your opinion that there's a homosexual mismatch in this film. Oh absolutely absolutely I mean the woman is unnecessary. I mean the men have each other and they have their guns and I really I really think the yanking of guns this this slide is from cops and robbers. What was that movie more three cops and if I remember correctly it was the movie where these two cops decide to hold up a
bank. Is that what it was. It's kind of a light comedy about these two and this is an ocular little recent one I guess. California Split and another it was it was a gambling situation again the year to two on the on the only movie about two women that I can think of in the last 10 to 10 years the last decade has been in a French movie called Celine and Julie go boating in America they just wouldn't do a movie like this where women are not allowed to be friends although it's interesting then Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. We didn't have a better retouching and that one little scene in the restaurant. Yeah and I think we should say a word about Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and that it did prove to be a profitable film. And yet we don't see the movie studios jumping on the bandwagon to reach some sort of a film that many of us drive direct deals. You know why because it's my own feeling that the male
studio heads do not relate to the changing role of women do not feel comfortable with that. I do not see the many possibilities that we know that exist in developing such stories about the male stars I mean are they about to allow themselves to be taken over by women scripts. I mean they must you know not all in the male the male stars have their choice these days not at all. I mean. They can make whatever kinds of movies that appeals to them and I suppose it's just natural for male actors and directors and producers to gravitate toward whatever kinds of fantasies turn them up which are pretty much a little boy fantasy something that goes back to the you know the great American train robbery in those early movies I mean they're still playing fireman and cowboy boots. But Sandy it is interesting to notice the changes taking place in television where we have I believe it's not very very popular prime time television shows which have central female characters and these shows
are very very successful and are among the 20 top rated shows on television so they know that very same American public men and women are watching those shows what does that tell us. It tells us tells me that there's a tremendous cultural lag of it leaves 10 or more years going on an hour away. Who are the people who are going to listen and why do you have some idea that are they different from the people that are watching television. Well according to Alan Hershfield the president of Columbia Pictures and you take his word for this right. It doesn't make sense to me that movies are being made for young men between the ages of 18 and 30 and that television shows are being programmed for women between the ages of 18 and 14. Of those those statistics make sense to me. I mean. You know the man and the man isn't lying that's that's who he thinks goes to the box office that sort of things you know paid a hundred million dollars to do in the first five
months. I think we can look askance at some of that research Sandy because I have seen research that shows that women prefer to see women on the screen and men prefer to see men. But it is not natural or we relate to something that we we know something about. I think there is some research that's being largely ignored by the male studio heads. But I think that the difference is in this. This isn't defending their choices the difference is that women are socialized so that they will go and see men on screen and they will enjoy it and they will fantasize about it I mean a willing can go and see over one movie or she can go and see Straw Dogs Out of curiosity. I don't think that man and I don't think that the studio people think that men will go and see women's pictures. But Marjorie aware of the choices many of the women I know are just don't go anymore. And it's true montre It's not like men have a chance to choose between the two kinds of movies because they really don't you know because those kinds of movies don't really being. Well that's true.
If you were to Marjorie young men are watching watching the road I have seen the statistics. I like that there are very many myths that Hollywood is living by. I just think that if you know there's a couple who has to hire a babysitter and spend $25 on a Saturday night you know including their movie and their dinner out to go to to go to a movie and I think that I think that the men would be much more difficult about his selection of which movie to go to and I don't think he would be as anxious to see Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore as he would be to see the friends you know I'm going to play the devil's advocate suppose that we had and there are many fine young. Actresses Katharine Hepburn types let's say who had a really great movie as were the movies that Catherine appeared in. I believe that family would take themselves out and see it. I think there's a paucity of imagination that's taking place sterility in Hollywood.
Oh I agree totally absolutely. The only way to find out is to hope that they would begin to make those kind of when they were painting this as an activist in this area I believe that we have to do more than hope. I believe that we have to do as now as doing stockholder actions recently. Let's talk about that a little bit what are the stockholder actions. When you own stock you can do a resolution and now call for resolutions with. Columbia asking for women on the board of directors we need women decision making capacities they're asking for an improvement in the image of women in the film product and asking for enforced affirmative action programs so that women are advanced to become vice president to become studio heads and what have you. We are getting mail related films because we are having fun make movies and make decisions about those movies. So we're already doing some of that we would also like to see the
women of America write to the film companies in Hollywood you don't even need the address to say how you feel about a movie that shows violence against women or shows women as ridiculous trivial. We must not be passive about this. The films are still a major mass communications media and they do affect people's opinions of that women and we must not. Sit back and leftist continue to happen. You said violence. And I guess we have to talk about the movie that it's causing so much commotion enough snuff all over the place and I hate to you know give it more publicity. But I really am curious to know what you feel about snow. Well I didn't see snuff and I won't go and I'm sorry we're giving it to you listening and I wish people would pick it because it's just not worth their energy I think they should let it sit in a big empty movie house so that every you know everybody connected with it loses a lot of
money. OK. I think that the publicity I mean everybody's got prurient interests and I think I think that the publicity only makes people curious to go out and you know and I think that's enough said about snuff and I like to write I'd like to do the book and it talks of water but of how about why more movies with women aren't being made and I think one of the reasons is that writers are not writing in part for women. They're not they're not writing the kinds of scripts that include women and I think one reason they're not writing the kinds of scripts that include women is because they know that they won't sell because they can't get the stars do you know I mean I was told by an agent recently that not only do male stars now. Choose whatever they want to do according to whatever property interests them. Now they want to be in every single scene or in the star film isn't content with being in
three quarters of it or half of it or sharing a film for the sake of the storyline. I mean the play is not the thing anymore. Yes and while that's happening largely I think that we should talk about the women filmmakers the independent women who better just Renaissance taking lives and then dependent women filmmakers and these women interestingly enough are making films about women's lives. An example of this is Amway Rothschild's and Nana mama NE about three generations of her own family. These films are fascinating. They get very small distribution and museums and yes they're getting they're not getting a fair shake their hand they were very fully by Joan silver. Shows that we can have our films. Saying and has to street is a very successful film. It's a question of competence. We see independent women filmmakers. I mean are they making movies that are as good a quality they're making a different
type of a movie yes. Which is which gives Hollywood a perfect out. I don't know that's what I want you to answer to making a low budget documentary type movie which I mean working in a documentary form is not working with actors that is a different but totally different I will be there working with a much smaller amount of money. And they're working in terms of self self exploration self revelation rather than in terms of a highly plotted feature or a fiction film. But I mean when I see some of the film The Life of the people who directed them I think bigger than any of these women would be a safe. Yes they would be given an opportunity where very. Young men who are very very promising. Do you have to review them ever going to have to do you review the independent women filmmakers. Very often she do and what happens when you know maybe it's not quite up to par and you like it and you want to be supportive. Do you do you get into a real buy. I mean that's that's a very tricky situation
because you do want to be supportive to your sister so you do want to encourage them you do want to publicize them. I had very often I have a lot of reservations about these self-referential or autobiographical films very very often you have to either compromise your own very personal feelings or try and try not to write about them. But what I think is that they are learning. Their craft and that we would like to see them given a chance and how and where to make films. Kargil for sure but it wouldn't when you're when you're acting or you're writing as a critic you have to write as a critic first and as I'm in a second. Right. What about the actresses I mean you said earlier that they aren't really exercising their power. I really question whether they have any power. I think people like Barbara Streisand have a great deal of power. I think Barbara Streisand can get any project she wants going just by virtue of saying I will appear on the set in a week and we will start shooting and she will have eight million dollars
behind her instantly So that's a lot of power. I mean that's really what it's all about getting the money and getting the project together. Why isn't she for instance saying I would like to direct my own next movie. I have no idea. She may be not be understood. Well maybe she doesn't want the responsibility of failure. I mean if if a film fails you could say well the director the producers are responsible but you can't do it if you directed it. It seems to me that it's clear that the men are exercising the power they are now. Sam it's interesting though that the women actors and friends are beginning to affect the properties of their peer and in fact many of them have shown interest and directing and genre I was directing a film yeah. Still happening there as usual Europe is way out of us. Yeah but I developed you know last year. It's interesting because a very well-known French actress who was in Leicester at Merion but appeared in four films at that festival alone and at least two of them were by women and the French actresses
really you know supported each other by appearing in films of of. They're their sisters and it's a very nice they have a very unified way of working within the French industry. I have gotten to the point where I stay away from you know I go and I used to love to love going to the movies. Is there something. Give me two or three films quickly that women can go to and not be offended. It's just I just. All the President's Men I think is a very good film. Wait a minute. You know that's going to be the super buddy film. No it's not it's a very good film. I can be sure that you won't be offended. Well there's a French novel I don't know it's called French provincial which is a very interesting film. I'll try to see if I pass or fail better. There's a very humorous film such as Harry and Tonto.
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- This episode features a conversation with Midge Kovacs and Marjorie Rosen. Midge Kovacs is coordinator of the NOW Image of Women in Film Taskforce and a member of the United States Commission on Women in the Media. Marjorie Rosen is a film critic, journalist, and author of "Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the American Dream." This is the first book to explore the relationship of American women on screen and off.
- Woman is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations exploring issues affecting the lives of women.
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Director: George, Will
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Guest: Rosen, Marjorie
Host: Elkin, Sandra
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- MLA: “Woman; 345; The Lady Vanishes: Where are the Women in Films?.” 1976-03-26. WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 16, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_81-49t1g6kv>.
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