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Hollywood’s Femme Fatality Rate

Hollywood’s Femme Fatality Rate (photo)

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In the mid-’70s, when women (among them Claudia Weill, Joan Micklin Silver, Joan Darling) were getting the chance to direct mainstream movies, Pauline Kael cautioned against expecting great things right away. Filmmakers needed a chance to learn and develop, she said, and there was always a chance they might not, or might simply become proficient hacks. It didn’t matter, she was quoted as saying, whether there was a king or a queen on top of the garbage heap.

Daphne Merkin’s profile of Nancy Meyers in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks back was an attempt to claim that a Garbage Queen was a step forward. The trouble with the piece, as with almost every plight-of-women-in-film article, is that the relentless focus on Hollywood winds up saying that the women directors working outside the mainstream don’t exist.

The institutional sexism that still cripples Hollywood is appalling. When Mira Nair’s “Amelia” opened poorly at the box office, there was talk about how it had just become harder for all women directors to get big assignments. We remember the remarks — later hotly denied — from the Warner Bros. executive who declared no woman would ever again star in a WB release when Neil Jordan’s “The Brave One,” starring Jodie Foster, wasn’t a hit. Like the partnership at a law firm, or a slot on the board of directors, getting a chance to work in Hollywood is a chance to earn attention, clout and big money.

But treating the movies as if they were solely a business has, since the late ’70s when “Star Wars” showed the enormous profits to be made from blockbusters, been the main thing eroding the quality of American mainstream movies over the last 30 years. It’s not wrong for any filmmaker to want a shot at that kind of success. But this far into the game, any filmmaker, female or male, has got to realize the odds against doing good work there.

01192010_KathrynBigelow.jpgFor Merkin and all the other writers who have filed similar pieces, women making it behind the camera in Hollywood is a question of basic fairness. For film critics, who see good films ignored or buried as a matter of course, there’s something bigger at stake than gender parity atop the garbage heap — namely, the chance for talented directors to develop their own styles and do good work without having to worry about a mainstream increasingly geared towards spectacle and merchandising.

Merkin mentions the notable 2009 films from female directors, among them Jane Campion’s “Bright Star,” Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” and “Julie & Julia” directed by Nora Ephron or, as she might be called, Meyers Mach I. But the view of the article is expressed by John Burnham, executive vice-president at the talent agency ICM, who says, “There are about four women directors in the business, only two of whom are working.”

Merkin calls Burnham’s view cynical, but pretty much allows it to stand. And as an example of the myopia that affects Hollywood, it’s close to perfect. If it didn’t happen here, it didn’t happen.

Thinking of the women who made films in the last year, I came up with Claire Denis, Lucrecia Martel, Agnès Varda, Lynn Shelton, So Yong Kim, Catherine Breillat, Karyn Kusama, Havana Marking, Anne Fontaine, Drew Barrymore and Andrea Arnold. I’m sure I’m leaving out plenty of others. And that list doesn’t include other contemporary women directors like Sofia Coppola, Nicole Holofcener, Lynne Ramsay, Barbara Kopple, Darnell Martin, Stacy Cochran, Kasi Lemmons, Gillian Armstrong, Catherine Hardwicke, Allison Anders, Lynne Stopkewich, Kimberly Peirce and Patty Jenkins.

Those names carry their own untold stories, the years between projects (during which many got by on TV work), the films that didn’t get released, the projects that went to more established directors (to think we lost Lynne Ramsay’s “The Lovely Bones” only to get Peter Jackson’s disaster). But it’s not a list you come up with if your idea of a movie is limited to what’s at the multiplex.

What’s so insidious about making Nancy Meyers Hollywood’s little-engine-that-could is that her films present perhaps a particularly retrograde notion of womanhood.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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