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Arts & Culture

Film Geeks SD Pay Tribute To Women Directors Dorothy Arzner And Ida Lupino

Sylvia Sydney tries to be a "modern" wife in the 1932 pre-code martial drama "Merrily We Go to Hell."
Paramount Pictures
Sylvia Sydney tries to be a "modern" wife in the 1932 pre-code martial drama "Merrily We Go to Hell."

'Merrily We Go To Hell' and 'The Hitch-Hiker' screen at MOPA as part of Famous Firsts

Celebrating Women Directors
GUEST: Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic

This is KPBS mid edition, I mourn Cavanagh, it is not often that you have two successful studio pictures directed by women playing in theaters at the same time. Now, Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit as one critical claim and Patty Jenkins wonder woman has dominated the center box office. To complement these two recent examples of the female Helms films. The Museum of MOPA will be showcasing some pioneering women directors, here to talk about women filmmakers is Beth Accomando. Do Kathryn Bigelow and Patty Jenkins reflect progress that Hollywood is making or are they exceptions?There a little bit about, they represent progress in the they are making big studio films, Bigelow is the only women to win a best Oscar for director, for the hurt locker, she is able to initiate her own projects and get them backed by a major studio, she did that with Detroit. With wonder woman, Jenkins is the first female director to helm a major superhero film. That is progress as well. According to the most recent study from the center of disease -- Center for women at San Diego State University, women presides -- comprise only 7% of all directors working on the 250 highest grossing domestic features last year, that is a slight decline of 2%.Often when with Mark given a chance to direct, it is a story about what women and family.Catherine Burgos different, she doesn't conform to the stereotype of the kind of film women should make. She is interested in genre films, action films, she likes to be in the heat of the moment of action as opposed to dealing with nuanced emotions. She has had some strong female characters such as the weight of water and zero dark 30. She also has these testosterone driven films like point break and the hurt locker. -- Point blank. She is much more concerned with always trying to tackle these more female driven stories where women are the ones pushing the steward forThey owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneering women directors of old Hollywood. The work of two of them is being featured tomorrow at MOPA. Tell us about that.Being in the minority is one thing, being the only woman filmmaker for a while is something that is an amazing milestone, I'm thrilled to be able to come present bills by Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino as part of the film geeks they missed first series. Dorothy Arzner was the first woman admitted to the Directors Guild of America, we are showing her precode look at a modern marriage. It is called merrily we go to hell. Here is a example of the risqué exchange.I always said you as well.Perhaps you think so much much longer, because if being a modern husband gives you privileges them being a modern wife's gives me privileges.I'm not worried honey, I told you before, you have the words but not the 10.Don't forget, I have a musical ear and can pick up tunes easily. I want to hurt.Where you going?I made a luncheon friend with Charlie Baxter, he is been after me for a long time to have lunch with them.John,[ laughter ]Dorothy Arzner is an interesting personality, she is dressed in men's suits, cropped hair, she driven ambulance in World War I, she defied the gender norms of the studio system. She did not hide the fact that she was a lesbian. How did she become a director?She was so smart, she understood the studio system, what she did wasn't she understand it they should start as a script typist, moved onto big editor, she proved how valuable she could be to the studio by using stock footage to save them's dock footage. She leveraged this into getting a directing gig and doing some screenwriting. She understood the system and knew how to succeed by being valuable to the system.She was in her peak in the 20s and Thursday, Ida Lupino directed her first film in 1949, she came to it from a different path, tell us about that.Ida Lupino was an actress first, although she worked for studios is a contract player, she was rebellious. She often refused to play parts and was put on suspension , and she used that time to get on set and study what she was -- study what she could about directing. Unlike Dorothy Arzner, she decided to form her own company and make the kinds of films she wanted , outside the mainstream industry. I am really happy to show the first noir film directed by a woman, this is the hitchhiker. This scene sets up the premise of the two men who pick up a hitchhiker who turns out to be an escaped convict.When are you due back?No particular time.We told otherwise we -- they can inspect is only get there.You have wives? Any kids?I have, just thinking how nice it will be to see them again.That is very interesting, from what I understand this is a woman director, Ida Lupino and there are no women in the film.Yes, in some ways, Ida Lupino and Dorothy Arzner reflect Kathryn Bigelow and Patty Jenkins. Ida Lupino is like Bigelow, she likes these films that are about these intense situations. This is a tense claustrophobic thriller word is three men, almost the entire time a car traveling. She does tackle a lot of strong female characters in her films, and this particular one, it is like Bigelow's films, she is interested in the dynamic, very tight, very tense of these three men. It is great that she was able to make this film and not be stuck doing films about women's issues or about female characters. She was a real trailblazer in a lot of respects. The hitchhiker's one, she also made outrage which dealt with rape at an early time in the Hollywood studio system, when that was not a popular theme to deal with. She is someone that we really need to look towards as contributing to the women in the Hollywood industry.The work of Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino will be highlighted at mobile -- MOPA.That is not the only celebration, this Saturday, there are some different kinds of trailblazing females on display at left Fama underground film Festival. Can you give us an example ?most of these are short films, most are expendable, you will not find standard narrative form, there's a lot of narrative that explore female sexual the, there are films that are horror films from a female perspective, there's a lot of stuff that pushes the envelope mostly, in terms of narrative structure. They feel that this is close to them, you do not always get to see these in mainstream films.As you heard, this weekend there are a number of choices for anyone wanting to support women filmmakers. You can check out Beth Cinema junkie blog at KPBS.org for all the details , I have been speaking with Beth Accomando. Thank you so much.Thank you. [ music ]

Celebrate Women Filmmakers

Women Direct

"Wonder Woman" (2017, Patty Jenkins), still in theaters and now streaming

"Detroit" (2017, Kathryn Bigelow), still in theaters

"Merrily We Go To Hell" (1932, Dorothy Arzner), screening 7:30 p.m., Sept. 1, at MOPA

"The Hitch-Hiker" (1953, Ida Lupino), screening 9 p.m., Sept. 1, at MOPA

Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival, Sept. 2 at Digital Gym Cinema

It’s not often that you have two successful studio pictures directed by women playing in theaters at the same time. Kathryn Bigelow’s "Detroit" has won critical acclaim and Patty Jenkins’ "Wonder Woman" has dominated the summer box office. To complement these two recent examples of female-helmed films, Film Geeks SD will be showcasing a double feature on Friday from pioneering women directors Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino.

Women directors today

Women such as Bigelow and Jenkins do reflect the progress the industry has made in that they are directing major studio films.

Bigelow is the only woman to have won a best directing Oscar, for "The Hurt Locker," and she is able to initiate her own projects and get them back and distributed by major studios as she did with "Detroit."

And with "Wonder Woman," Jenkins became the first female director to helm a major superhero film. So that’s progress.

But according to the most recent study from Center For The Study Of Women In Television And Film here at San Diego State University, women comprised just 7 percent of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases last year, and that’s a decline of 2 percentage points from 2015.

The two women also reflect different filmmaking styles and approaches. Bigelow has always been interested in genre films and action films, and films that don’t look obviously like they have been directed by a woman. She’s not interested in making "chick flick" or rom-coms or even exclusively female driven films, although she has had some strong female characters, as in "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Weight of Water." She has also directed very testosterone driven films like "Point Break" and "The Hurt Locker."

Bigelow thrives on stories where she can be in the heat of the action as opposed to wrestling with complicated emotions. I admire her for not conforming to stereotypes about the kinds of films women should direct.

Jenkins has only two features under her belt ("Monster," "Wonder Woman") and both are focused on female characters that drive their stories. She is much more vocal about advocating for female empowerment on and off screen.

The trail blazers

These women have gotten where they are based on their talent but they also owe a debt of gratitude to some of the women who paved the way for them when there were no women directors to be found at the major studios in Hollywood.

Director Dorothy Arzner examining some film.
UCLA Film & Television Archive
Director Dorothy Arzner examining some film.

As part of the Film Geeks SD, I am thrilled to present films by Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino as part of the Famous Firsts series at the Museum of Photographic Arts. The firsts they represent are: Dorothy Arzner was the first woman admitted to the Directors Guild of America (Lupino was the second) and Lupino's "The Hitch-Hiker" represents the first film noir directed by a woman in the United States.

For Arzner we are showing her pre-code look at a “modern” marriage teasingly called "Merrily We Go To Hell." In the film Frederic March plays a philandering husband and Sylvia Sydney's response is not moral reproach but rather to do some philandering of her own.

She tells him, "If being a modern husband gives you privileges than being a modern wife gives me privileges, too."

Arzner is an interesting personality in her own right. She drove an ambulance in World War I and she defied the gender norms of the studio system and did not hide the fact that she was a lesbian. She was also incredibly smart in assessing the film industry and how to succeed in it. She started as a script typist then moved up to being an editor and proved how valuable she was by coming up with clever ideas in post production — like using stock footage to save money — and quickly moved up to scriptwriting and directing.

Arzner was at her peak in the 1920s and 30s. Lupino directed her first film in 1949 but she came to directing in a different way than Arzner.

Ida Lupino on location directing "The Hitch-Hiker."
RKO Radio Pictures
Ida Lupino on location directing "The Hitch-Hiker."

Lupino was an actress first and although she worked for studios as a contract player she often rebelled and refused to play parts. As a result she was often put on suspension. That’s when she started to watch directors on the set and learn about editing and directing. But, unlike Arzner who navigated through the studio system, Lupino formed her own company and made her films outside the mainstream industry.

Lupino was the first woman to direct a film noir and we are showing her tense claustrophobic "The Hitch-Hiker." This scene sets up the premise of two men who pick up a hitchhiker who turns out to be an escaped convict.

"The Hitch-Hiker" and "Merrily We Go To Hell" screen at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 1 at the Museum of Photographic Arts. There will be food trucks in the park that night so you can enjoy dinner and a movie.

And if you are in the mode of supporting female directors old and new, there is Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival running this Saturday, Sept. 2 at Digital Gym Cinema.

More on Les Femmes Underground International Film Festival here.