THE VIRGIN SUICIDES EDITION
CONTRIBUTORS REBECCA MARTIN is the founder of Cinema Femme Digital Magazine. Rebecca grew up in the Chicago suburbs, Singapore, and the UK. She loves to bring people together who share the same passions. Rebecca has always been passionate about film. She founded the meet up group Chicago Film Lover Exchange in 2011, which has grown to over 5,000 members. Rebecca is also passionate about empowering and encouraging women to follow their dreams and passions.
AMY RENEE WASNEY is a passionate writer and feminist living in the south suburbs of Chicago and an annual participant in National Novel Writing Month who enjoys hot beverages, baking, and cross-stitching. Her favorite films include “The Princess Bride”, “Big Fish”, and “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and her personal heroes are Fred Rogers and Hermione Granger. She tries to live up to their example each and every day.
JENNIFER JENKINS is an awardwinning graphic designer who began her experience working at local newspapers, but her love for graphic design was sparked back in high school. Starting with advertisement design and prepress, she worked her way up to small magazines and eventually onto larger publications like Chicago Lawyer magazine. From bright, splashy designs to clean, modern vibes, Jennifer brings a creative and fun spin to the graphic design world.
PAMELA POWELL, a member of the CFCA, BFCA, Rotten Tomatoes, and the WFCC, currently writes for both print and online publications and co-hosts a segment on WCIATV and WLRW radio. She attends film festivals around the world including Sundance, SXSW, and Toronto, seeking new blockbusters and hidden independent gems. Pamela participates in panel discussions and local social impact film series, and focuses on female filmmakers.
LAURINE CORNUEJOLS is a French illustrator who uses a combination of traditional and digital media to communicate ideas and emotions in her work. With her illustrations, she creates a poetic and colorful world. When she is not working from her studio in London, she travels the world with her sketchbook and her watercolors. She loves exploring new places and is inspired by the beauty of the world and the people she meets.
LAURA MOSS is a director and production designer from New York City whose work has screened at MoMA, SXSW, Tribeca, Sundance, Telluride, Berlin, and Cannes. Her most recent short film, “Allen Anders – Live at the Comedy Castle (circa 1987)” premiered at SXSW 2018. Laura is an alumna of NYU’s graduate film program. She was recently named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film.
MARJORIE MORGAN is a writer, playwright, and journalist with special interest in cultural and social politics. Marjorie writes both critically and creatively for a number of national and international publications, such as The Guardian and Reader’s Digest, and she was also recently shortlisted for the 15th Windsor Fringe International Kenneth Branagh Drama Award in 2018.
STEPHANIE DYKES has been passionate about film since she saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” at an age most would consider inappropriate. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in film studies from the University of Florida. She is beyond excited to contribute to a new publication that encourages others to indulge in their passion for film and always strives to get people excited about film and its importance.
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INTRODUCTION CINEMA FEMME INAUGURAL ISSUE – EDITOR’S LETTER Welcome to the inaugural issue of Cinema Femme Magazine, the voice of the female film experience! Cinema Femme is a digital magazine that voices the female film experience through personal essays and interviews, accompanied by illustration and design. Our magazine has a mission, a mission to support and contribute to an increase in diverse, female representation in film criticism, which will result in bringing female-directed and diverse films to the forefront.
CONTENTS Personal Essays
Every Cinema Femme issue will focus on a single film. This issue’s film focus is Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” (1999), which was adapted from the book by Jeffrey Eugenides. “The Virgin Suicides” was Sofia’s first feature film, following her short “Lick the Star” (1998).
The Watchers: The Compelling Gaze in “The Virgin Suicides”
I want to give a special thank-you to our team:
Superman is Just For Kids
By Amy Wasney
Marjorie Morgan, contributing writer. Marjorie has written for a number of national and international publications, such as “The Guardian” and “Reader’s Digest”. Amy Wasney, contributing writer. Amy is a passionate writer and feminist. Stephanie Dykes, contributing writer. Stephanie is a passionate film lover and member of the Meetup group Chicago Film Lover Exchange. Laurine Cornuéjols, illustrator. Laurine is a French, London-based illustrator who illustrated the inaugural issue cover. Thank you for capturing the film in the most perfect way. Jennifer Jenkins, designer. Thank you, Jennifer, for bringing life, beauty, and style to our pages.
As well as our personal essays, please check out our conversation with Pamela Powell, film critic, writer for “The Daily Journal”, and cohost of “Reel Talk with Chuck and Pam.” I also had the honor of speaking with Laura Moss, filmmaker and director of the short “Fry Day,” which was featured at forty different film festivals and awarded the Student Visionary Award at SXSW. Be on the lookout for Laura’s feature film “After Birth”, currently in development.
By Marjorie H. Morgan
Enchanted by The Details
By Rebecca Martin
By Stephanie Dykes
A Conversation Between Cinema Femme Founder Rebecca Martin and Film Critic Pamela Powell
A Conversation Between Cinema Femme Founder Rebecca Martin and Filmmaker Laura Moss
We look forward to sharing our Cinema Femme journey with you. You can support Cinema Femme by checking out our Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cinemafemme/cinema-femme-magazine-voice-of-the-femalefilm-exp. With your financial support, we can keep the pages and the movement of Cinema Femme alive. —Rebecca Martin, founder & editor of Cinema Femme Magazine CINEMA FEMME DIGITAL MAGAZINE
The Watchers: The Compelling Gaze in “The Virgin Suicides” BY MARJORIE H. MORGAN
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he film “The Virgin Suicides” is a feast of watchers: it confirms that we are all watched and we all watch. Like George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” this film reminds the viewer that we are all under constant surveillance. Sofia Coppola directs her own screenplay adaptation of the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides from behind the director’s lens, and she uses immense finesse to craft this voyeuristic piece of art that portrays the moral and social decay of a 1970s American neighbourhood. This modernist metadrama observes the theatre of people of all ages closely scrutinising each other; with this approach, Coppola destroys the illusion of reality and demands the critical involvement of the neighbourhood boys (as narrators), and the audience (as spectators) to the whole performance. The film is ostensibly about the suicides of five teenage sisters, yet death is not purely physical or limited to the siblings. The parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon, both lose their dreams of the perfect suburban family life, and stability of employment and home when the sequential demise of their daughters impact their lives like falling dominoes. Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner) is the primary, often overlooked, watcher in this film; she is always on guard against the invasion of uncontrolled life and the influence of the outside community into her fortress home. Mrs. Lisbon uses religion, clothing, and even the physical positioning of her body to shield her family— especially the girls—against the pervading influences of the external environment. To Mrs. Lisbon, the only safety is to be found in the house where she can monitor the family from close quarters. However, Mrs. Lisbon’s concrete belief in the security of the home is shattered when Cecilia uses the house as a springboard and a landing mat for her own death. This death is the start of the “poison in the air” that invades the entire neighbourhood. Ronald Lisbon (James Wood) watches and reacts from behind his wife; he is an outsider in his own home, and he sits in the corner of the room while his female family members appear to freely occupy the rest of the house. When other men, such as Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) and the family familiar priest (Scott Glenn), come into the living room of the house, they occupy the outer edges of the designated female portion of the space. Trip Fontaine is uncomfortably placed in a corner of a sofa and physically blocked from looking at Lux (Kirsten Dunst) by Mrs. Lisbon who observes the m o v e ments of all her girls while they are under the gaze of any young male interloper. In contrast, the priest is granted freedom to wander through the house looking for the female occupants without a chaperone—his male gaze has been muted to neutrality by the cloak of religion. The devastating concept of loss is also experienced
by the neighbourhood boys who watch and occasionally socialise with the Lisbon sisters. They are unsuspecting witnesses to the first death, and later they recall the history of their experiences from the prism of adulthood. As grown men, they admit that they have been “scarred forever” with the memories of the past “making us happier with dreams than wives.” Their gaze is subjective because of their distance and their gender. The five siblings are viewed and treated like raffle prizes; the boys discuss which one they will “win.” The Lisbon girls’ separate identities are shown at the beginning of the film, however, with the exception of Lux, the other siblings behave the same way and look the same with their repeated blond personas. The film projects an overriding white and middle-class sense of perfection that is slowly destroyed. Despite many whispers and intense speculation, the popular blame for the pervading community decay is firmly placed with the foreign “other” personified by “the immigrant kid” Dominic Palazzolo (Joe Dinicol). Palazzolo is portrayed as both ungodly and worldly because he is quickly captured by uncontrollable passion for Diana Porter—another blond teenage girl in the vicinity—who goes to Switzerland on vacation leaving Palazzolo so bereft that he denounces God and jumps off the roof of his relative’s house as a demonstration of the validity of his love. This mature uninhibited behaviour is viewed as the trigger that sparks the desire to die in Cecilia and her sisters. This causes the main group of male teenage observers to conclude: “We knew the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love, and even death.” Everybody—the male and female actors and the audience alike— is captivated by this film that is a meditation on the existential horror of teenage life. We are all voyeuristic and as awkward as the teenagers portrayed because we don’t avert our gaze. We are compelled to watch as the dread of multiple deaths play out in front of our eyes. This is a public yet personal observation because we have all experienced the angst of being a teenager with the ever-present heaviness of being misunderstood. The film ends with the complex self-reflectivity of the continually self-conscious boys who have been looking at the Lisbons for what seems like their whole lives, but is in the pseudo-reality of the film only a year. One of them symbolically holds a lighter aloft while they stand staring at the mausoleum that the previous summer contained a seemingly normal vibrant family—Lux (the central light) and the symbol of decaying white suburbia is therefore present in the opening and closing scenes of the film as the empty house looks back at them. The mundane lives and quietly observed deaths are the constant threaded spectacle that Coppola weaves throughout the film: from the neighbourhood boys constantly watching the Lisbon sisters (and even eating popcorn whilst viewing Lux’s nightly sexual trysts) to the local woman who serves refreshments on a tray whilst people watch as the railings where Cecilia was impaled are ceremoniously removed. “The Virgin Suicides” is prime heteronormative theatre and a white cultural spectacle for all observers compelled to watch and who are, at the same time, helpless to do anything about what is taking place. ■ CINEMA FEMME DIGITAL MAGAZINE
Superman Is Just For Kids BY AMY WASNEY
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hy do men always think they can save us? That may be the wrong question, because there are plenty of people with all different kinds of answers to that. Some might say it’s a result of our entire patriarchal society where women are viewed as the weaker sex and need the strong men to protect us. Some others might think it doesn’t go that far and will say it’s because of pop culture, with icons like Superman or John Wayne teaching men that being strong and saving the womenfolk is the only way to truly be a man. Maybe it’s a combination of the two of those, maybe it’s something else entirely that goes even further and deeper. Perhaps the better question would be, why don’t men ever learn that they can’t save us? Whether it’s physical threats, emotional turmoil, financial struggles, or even just a bad boss, there are always going to be men that think they can ride in on their white horse and save women from every problem that comes their way. But most men aren’t Superman, and most problems can’t be fixed by having a male swoop in and whisk you away. Before I go any further, I think it’s important to clarify something. I’m not talking about good deeds, or helping your friends and loved ones in any and every way that you can. Goodness and kindness are an infinite resource that we all have to give, and offering a helping hand to others, even strangers, is so important to our society. No, what I’m talking about here is the noble
The boys didn’t learn the lesson she was trying to teach them, although I guess that makes sense. One freak occurrence is not going to change everything you’ve grown up believing. We never heard from Dr. Horniker again, so we’ll never know if he learned anything. I certainly hope so, even though experience has taught us that the chances are slim. It took the rest of the Lisbon girls a little while longer to learn, but not much longer. Lux mostly got the lesson from Trip. Waking up to find you’ve been abandoned in the middle of a football field is a harsh way to wake up, in more ways than one, but her excursions to the roof solidified the knowledge. In the iconic shot of her with her cigarette, staring into nothing, there’s a coldness in her eyes that we hadn’t seen before, that only shows up in a girl’s face after she’s learned that she’s on her own. It’s not as clear when Therese, Mary, and Bonnie learned, but I’d wager it was somewhere in those phone calls with the boys, when they were reaching out for help in the only way they could and in return received records played over the phone. Don’t get me wrong, they were good songs, and the messages in them spoke loud and clear, but it wasn’t the most practical rescue of all time. And I’m not blaming the boys for that. They were only teenagers, after all, in a sticky situation with no real answers. But how many of us can relate to reaching out to someone you
They hadn’t heard us calling savior, the knight in shining armor, who thinks that all they have to do is ride in, sweep the girl up onto their white horse, and ride off into the sunset where they can live happily ever after. It’s this fantasy that it seems men can never let go of, it’s this fantasy that women find it so tiring to tiptoe around or cater to, and it’s this fantasy that can cause so many rifts in relationships. It’s not just boys that grow up learning this. Little girls are often raised on stories about being rescued from a tower by a knight in shining armor, that all they have to do is be patient and their Prince Charming will save them from their lives. Most of the time, however, girls learn. It never seems to take very long for women to abandon their girlhood fantasies of being rescued and realize they’ll have to fend for themselves. But then again, when one of the major threats to your safety and well-being is the one that’s supposed to save you, it’s pretty easy to see through the fantasy. Cecilia was the first of the Lisbon sisters to be told that men would fix her problems, when Dr. Horniker suggests inviting boys over as a way to help with her depression. Cecilia was also the first to try and show the boys that nothing they did could save her by jumping out the window right under their noses.
think can help you, only to realize there’s nothing they can do and you’re on your own in this. But while the Lisbon sisters were facing this realization trapped in their house, the boys across the street still thought their rescue mission was chugging along. Maybe it’s the adult narrator that makes this so frustrating. Teenage boys not being able to figure out what they were missing is understandable; they’re still learning about the world and growing. But now those boys are grown men with careers and children of their own, and they’re still gathering all of the evidence and scanning through the pictures and diaries, looking for the gaps in the story, never realizing that the biggest gaps of all are their own misunderstandings, never understanding that they couldn’t be the heroes for those girls. In the final words of the film, the narrator states, “They hadn’t heard us calling, still do not hear us calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time,” but that’s not true. The Lisbon sisters heard you loud and clear, but they knew then what you have still not managed to figure out. They knew that you couldn’t save them, you couldn’t ride in, swoop them up onto your white horse, and ride off into the sunset together to live happily ever after. ■ CINEMA FEMME DIGITAL MAGAZINE
Enchanted By The Details BY REBECCA MARTIN
range jumpsuits with chainsaws. A dead oak tree on the front lawn. Midwest suburban house. Four teenage girls in white nightgowns and yellow hair race out of the front door of their middle-class home. The girls push away the men with chainsaws and circle around the tree with their arms linked together, like angels protecting the darkness and sadness of their short lives.
There are two important facets to recognize and appreciate in a Sofia Coppola film: the story and the atmosphere. The focus of the Cinema Femme inaugural issue is on Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” (1999), based on the book with the same name by Jeffrey Eugenides. As the founder of this magazine, I chose Sofia’s first feature film for the first issue because I wanted to set the tone as personal. “The Virgin Suicides,” specifically the work of this director, is special to me. Watching this movie, along with “Lost in Translation” and all of Sofia’s other directed films, has inspired me to look at film differently and more deeply. I’ve always loved a good story, but Sofia’s films have taught me that the medium speaks more when there is a captivating atmosphere—full of possibility, beauty, and poetry. And Sofia’s atmosphere is a powerhouse because of the details. Sofia’s film adaption of “The Virgin Suicides” centers around the lives of the Lisbon sisters, five teenage girls who all commit suicide within a twelve-month period. The sisters are Therese (17), Mary (16), Bonnie (15), Lux (14), and Cecilia (13). The story is narrated by Sofia’s cousin Giovanni Ribisi. His narration is the adult recollection of the boys that grew up in same neighborhood as these girls. To illustrate the power of the details in this story, I’d like to analyze the opening of the film. On first viewing, one can easily overlook all the intimate details. Here’s what we can initially grasp—the opening shot of the Lisbon sister Lux, played by a young Kirsten Dunst, standing in the neighborhood street sucking on a popsicle looking around absentminded. Then the camera takes quick shots around the neighborhood, then a shot of the Lisbon sisters’ bedroom windowsill, to a shot of Cecilia, played by Hanna Hall, laying in a bathtub in her own blood. Then we hear the first line of the film, by Ribisi: “Cecilia was the first to go.” All of that occurred in only the first minute of the film, so it’s easy to miss the details. When you slow the scene down, here are some gems you may have missed... 8
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Shot one: Lux wearing a pink top, bordered in red lining. She is sucking on the last bit of the red-colored popsicle, then sucks up the rest, chews what’s left in her mouth, and holds the popsicle stick absentmindedly with her arm crossed over. We hear the sound of summer, cicadas, with the distant music of Air (who composed the music for the film). The sun is shining through the trees and the shadows reflect. Shot two: Distant side shot of a man in a red sweater and slacks watering his bushes in his front lawn bordered by a tree in the right of the frame. Shot three: Distant shot behind two women walking on a sidewalk together in longer ‘70s-style dresses. At this point, we get the impression we’re in an upper middle class Midwest neighborhood in the 1970s. One of the women is walking a dog that looks like a Golden Retriever. The sun shines through the trees, with speckles of shadows on the street accompanied by the melancholy Air song becoming louder and in tune with the summer sounds. Shot four: Distant shot of two men in orange jumpsuits and hard hats hammering a notice on a large tree. One of the men has a blonde ponytail. Close up on the notice, we see “City of Gross Point Parks Department: Notice for Removal.” Shot five: Distant shot of boy, maybe seven or eight, throwing a basketball at a hoop in a front driveway, next to his father cooking on a red grill. While we look at the boy and his father, we start to hear sirens. Shot six: Branches and leaves of a tree with the sun shining through. Shot seven: Summer sounds stop. We are now looking at a close-up of a windowsill: we see a Japanese fan, makeup brushes, lipsticks, mascara, lip gloss, a rosary hanging from a perfume bottle, stickers of butterflies, stars, moons, mirrored by a ‘70s floral curtain. During this shot, we hear only the drips of water and sirens, then the opening line: “Cecilia was the first to go.” Shot eight: Cecilia, the youngest Lisbon sister, laying in a bathtub full of blood with her eyes open and glazed, fully clothed. The sirens get louder. I don’t know about you, but I get chills by the intimacy of the details. Her films vary in story, but no matter what the story is about—a seventeenth-century queen, spoiled teenagers in Hollywood, a middle-aged celebrity traveling in Tokyo—I know that I’m going to be enchanted by the artistry of the cinematic details that bring me deeper. ■
A Conversation Between Cinema Femme Founder Rebecca Martin and Film Critic Pamela Powell REBECCA MARTIN: I met film critic Pamela Powell through Twitter. She had taken a video of actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Q&A after the screening of her film “Fast Color” (directed by Julia Hart) at the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Her praise for Gugu drew me to her as a critic. I retweeted her post, and the rest is history. Months later, I’m so happy to get the opportunity to interview her and share her story. See highlights of our conversation below.
BEING A FEMALE FILM CRITIC MARTIN: I’m curious what your thoughts are in terms of being a female critic. POWELL: It’s been an experience! I’m frequently a minority when it comes to representing my gender in a screening room. Sometimes I’m the only female. Sometimes there’s one or two others out of the group. It’s a really difficult question and I’ve had several very positive experiences. I love the fact that Chuck Koplinski is my film critic partner. He asked me to be a part of his show (“Reel Talk with Chuck and Pam”). He didn’t have to do that, but he knew that a woman’s voice is just as important to have as a male’s voice. He’s the one who approached me to do the show on WCIA. And I give him a lot of credit for recognizing the fact that a woman’s voice and opinion is needed in film crit-
icism. He didn’t have to do that. He graciously has opened the doors for me. I wouldn’t have had half the opportunities that I have now if it wasn’t for his generosity.
“WHAT THEY HAD” MARTIN: It seems that you are drawn to independent films, in terms of films you’ve seen recently. Of the films you’ve seen over the years, which ones deeply connected with you? POWELL: I just got back from the Toronto International Film Festival. There’s a movie that I believe premiered at Sundance Film Festival this year called “What They Had,” directed by Elizabeth Chomko. I missed it at Sundance and I finally got a chance to see it at Toronto. If you want to know my story with my mother, my father, and my brother, I think Elizabeth Chomko must have had some psychic devices, because it’s my story, and my life. It shows how
I dealt with my mother going through Alzheimer’s disease, and my father and brother dealing with her condition, and me traveling back and forth from Chicago to New York. It was probably, and I’m going to get choked up thinking about this, one of the most emotional and personal films I’ve ever seen that I’ve been able to connect with. That’s just an example of one film that really hit home with me, and I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there that this story is going to hit home with as well.
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE POWELL: I’d like to add that there is a new site that’s going to be launched in the next few weeks called CherryPicks. Do you know anything about it? MARTIN: No, but that’s a great name. POWELL: It is. It is an answer to Rotten Tomatoes. It is a site for female critics. MARTIN: Oh my god, how did I not know about this. That’s great! POWELL: They realize that women’s stories are out there and some of the films that capture these stories are not being rated very highly because they are rated primarily by men. For example, “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which I absolutely loved. Female director (Niki Caro), based on a book written by a woman (Diane Ackerman), and that film got totally panned. You look at the women that critiqued it and it got high marks, but there’s not enough of us to put the foot on the scale to make a
difference. Thankfully Rotten Tomatoes is recognizing this and is trying to make some changes. I’m happy that they have accepted me as a Rotten Tomatoes critic. And it’s the only time I like to have the scale go up! CherryPicks is going to be a site that’s for female criticism. Hopefully in the future we’ll see movies like “The Zookeeper’s Wife” show a bowl full of cherries by CherryPicks. I’m really excited to be having this site come out for women. Go online to learn more (thecherrypicks.com). MARTIN: Thank you Pamela for taking the time to do this interview. I’m so happy to be able to voice your words on our pages. POWELL: Thank you, it’s a real honor. ■
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A Conversation Between Cinema Femme Founder Rebecca Martin and Filmmaker Laura Moss REBECCA MARTIN: I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Moss, NYC-based filmmaker. I met Laura last year at the Chicago Critics Film Festival, where I saw her short film “Fry Day.” I was immediately drawn to her as a female filmmaker and her unique filmmaking style of beauty in the horror genre. I wanted to interview Laura because of her passion for film and filmmaking. Below are highlights from our conversation.
LIFE EXPERIENCE LAURA MOSS: I went to NYU [as an undergraduate]. I was a sophomore when 9/11 happened. I studied directing for theater and design and I knew I was interested in the arts. Then September 11th happened and we were evacuated. I went through a period where I was like, “This is not important. I need to do something that’s important, or something that’s immediate and helpful to people.” So that informed the rest of college for me. I ended up finishing school in Egypt, with a Middle Eastern Studies concentration. Then I ended up working as an EMT with the Red Crescent, which is the Muslim Red Cross in the West Bank. It was a period when—I mean, I love the arts and it’s what I’m best at, but when they evacuated us, they were like, “If you have medical treatment, stay. If you don’t, you have to leave. You’re not going to be helpful.” I think that stuck with me. I need literal medical
training, because I don’t ever want to be in this situation again. Then I came back, and I just basically needed a job, so I got a job as a PA. ... And on the side, I was playing around with Brendan O’Brien, who was my collaborator. Actually at the time we were married. We are no longer married, but we are cowriters and we do every project together. He and I were developing this silly zombie documentary (“Rising Up”), but neither of us knew what we were doing, so we shot it over like three hundred weekends, it felt like. We submitted it to festivals and despite it being way too long—it was like twenty-five minutes—it got into a fair number of horror film festivals and got into the Boston International Film Festival and won an award. So we were like, wow, we might be onto something. “Rising Up” was my first film I directed, and it seemed like a synthesis of all the skills I developed in life: my writing, my EMT training—which is very much about triage, and prioritizing different emergencies—and working with actors at college. It 10
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just felt very right. I was like, oh shit, I might be a director. And I had no idea how to go about doing that. So I made a deal with myself: I was going to apply to only the East Coast film schools because I was married at that time, and I only applied to NYU and Columbia. If I got in, I would be a director, and I was lucky to get into both schools.
FILM SCHOOL MOSS: The great thing about NYU grad film school is that they make you work every position. So in addition to making your own films—you make around seven in the course of the program—you must work in every capacity on everyone else’s movies. I was a bad assistant director, a bad assistant camera, sound mixer, but what I loved about that was it really made me understand and respect every position. And I think it really helps the directing. It really helps because you can confidently speak someone’s language when you’re working with them.
“AFTER BIRTH” MARTIN: So “After Birth” is the film that’s in the works right now? MOSS: It is, Fangoria Films picked it up. We’re currently developing it in hopes that it’ll be shooting in January of next year. MARTIN: That’s great. I will definitely be on the lookout for that one! Can you tell us a little more about “After Birth”? MOSS: It’s not quite a Frankenstein adaptation, but it’s inspired by the Frankenstein story. For me, it’s very much about my own personal fears about childbirth. Basically it’s the story about female “Dr. Frankenstein,” who is very estranged from her body and interested in creating life in her mind.
MARTIN: Oh my! That is really interesting. Can’t wait to see it! MOSS: Me too!
BEING A WOMAN IN FILM MOSS: I feel like there needs to be more diversity in general. There needs to be more representation across the board. I think that’s because people’s perspectives are very valuable. I was asked recently in an interview what would be different if you were a male director. I was sort of like, I’m not a male person, I’m a female person, and so much of my perspective is based on my life experience. My life experience is moving through the world as a woman. So I don’t think of myself as a female director, but essentially I am. MARTIN: Thank you Laura for taking the time to share your experiences. MOSS: Thank you. I’m so excited about this. I think Cinema Femme is really important, and I’m really glad you’re doing it. ■
Animals BY STEPHANIE DYKES Stephanie Dykes is the winner of Meetup group Chicago Film Lover Exchange’s essay contest. Members had to write an essay about a 2018 film they enjoyed. Stephanie chose the film “American Animals,” directed by Bart Layton and starring Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, and Ann Dowd.
he question of who might be trustworthy is a constant point of contention in Bart Layton’s vision in the 2018 film “American Animals.” Can we trust the characters? Can we trust the real people involved in the real situation? Can we even trust ourselves as viewers? Layton creates a world mimicking that of a dream that goes beyond the idea of “zero boundaries” between what is real and what is not. As viewers, the audience points its sympathy and wrath in different directions throughout the interwoven fiction and reality. To go on the journey of “American Animals” is to rarely, if ever, be certain who is “right” and who is “wrong.” The film is based on real-life events. A group of college students at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, plans a heist to steal extremely valuable books from the library at the university. We see them plan, meet with outside buyers, fantasize about their ideal outcomes, and eventually see what actually occurs and its aftermath. While the majority of the film focuses on the planning of the robbery, when the moment arises for the actual event, the film quickly changes hats to that of a thriller. The experience of watching the anxiety and the expectations of these undeniably human characters crumble the second their big plan is supposed to become reality caused physical reactions in audience members at this year’s Chicago Critics Film Festival. Shifting in seats, hands over mouths and eyes, and any other reaction one might have to observing abnormal heights of anxiety were all present. The experience of seeing the film on a small screen at home may be similar given the meticulous pacing of this film, but a dark room full of strangers certainly adds to this beautiful shared discomfort.
The idea of the unreliable narrator is certainly not new to the world of cinematic storytelling. What “American Animals” does a bit differently, though, is not only do we have the fictionalized versions of the real people involved, but the audience is made privy to interviews with the members of this gang of would-be thieves. The statements from these real men become a sort of commentary on their past actions, as well as a looming presence over their past selves. The characters cannot seem to agree on specific details of even the most basic occurrences and the real men cannot even agree with their fictional selves. Since the film is told from the point of view of the criminals, we as viewers find it only natural to view them as the heroes of the film. Every so often, though, we are reminded these are people actually committing a crime that, while is not necessarily violent in nature, is going to affect the lives of people in potentially horrific ways. When those moments of “oh, these aren’t the good guys in this scenario” occur, actual sounds of quiet horror or sympathy for the other people in this world can be heard throughout the theater. So, again, even the minds of the audience cannot really be trusted to make proper judgments of what’s actually happening. Layton takes us a bit beyond the idea of the antihero and into a slightly different area of simply that heroes or antiheros are not necessary to create a compelling story. The reflection of the experience after watching the film in its entirety may even be more fascinating that the film itself. The two men who were the ringleaders in this crime never seem to have an answer as to why they did it other than just to see if they really could. Sure they had an idea they would make money, but in reality it was more just to see if they could do it and a way to curb boredom. The film offers no explanation beyond this and neither do its participants. There is no apparent moral and there is no resolution. We do not get that moment of relief where everyone is friends again. In the end, it’s a smartly crafted, entertaining film about real people that leaves the audience asking infinite questions. ■
CINEMA FEMME DIGITAL MAGAZINE