“I think there is still a misconception that all directors are Cecil B. De Mille types with a loud voice and a whip. Perhaps maybe that’s why there’s always been some puzzlement about a woman in the director’s role.” – Gillian Armstrong
TCM host and film expert Alicia Malone's follow-up to her book Backwards and in Heels, is a comprehensive guide to the history of female directors in Hollywood and beyond. The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made By Women catalogs over 50 films, directed by women, in chronological order from 1906 to present day. The book is a mix of articles written by Malone as well as a variety of female film critics and experts.
Malone's articles in particular are in-depth studies of particular films with an examination of the plot, behind the scenes information and biographical details on the woman director. Malone also focuses on the director's career, especially before, during and after making the discussed film. A common thread in her research, something Malone will tell you herself, is that the success of a movie made by a woman director does not necessarily open doors to other work. Looking at the chronological order of the book we see far more female directed films in this century than in the previous one. However, even today, women directors still face an uphill battle to get their movies made.
Why does this matter? If you're a woman on film Twitter, you've had a man try to explain to you (i.e. mansplain) that there is no difference between a male and female director in terms of the end product. But the truth is that there is a difference. A big one. Representation matters and having a diverse group of voices helps us avoid the reinforcement of stereotypes and caricatures and gives us new perspectives that both enlighten and inform. Malone's book is invaluable not only in that it spotlights the female filmmakers but it also explains how their visions made their film unique. Reading each essay, especially about the films I hadn't seen, felt like uncovering a new treasure.
In addition to Malone's articles are a variety of short form pieces by other female film critics. I was happy to see familiar names including friends Marya Gates, Farran Smith Nehme, Danielle Solzman and so on. In a few cases one movie is discussed twice and because the pieces are by two different writers it gives a nice balance of perspectives. And for those of you worried that the book is too one-sided, there are quotes from male voices too including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Robert Osborne, Roger Ebert, Barry Jenkins, etc.
The Female Gaze is more skewed to 21st century films but there are some fine articles about early movies that classic film fans will enjoy. Pieces on Alice Guy-Blache's The Consequences of Feminism (1906), Germaine Dulac's La Souriante Madame Beudet (1922), Dorothy Arzner's Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker (1953). I wish there were a few more articles about classic female film directors. Maybe one on my favorite early female director Nell Shipman would have been a nice addition. If you picked up Kino Lorber's Pioneers First Women Filmmakers boxed set (review coming soon!), a collection of silent films made by female film directors, Malone's book would make for a nice companion.
Alicia Malone’s The Female Gaze shines a much needed spotlight on female filmmakers and their movies. This is an indispensable resource for film historians and feminists alike.
Thank you to Mango for sending me an electronic copy of The Female Gaze for review.