Tag Archives: film

Film Review: Escape from New York

I might not be timely—Escape from New York came out in 1981—but one of my goals is to watch more movies (especially classics and cult classics that I’ve missed along the way). I want to use this space to share my thoughts about films I like.

computer

I recently rented Escape from New York and enjoyed it immensely. It’s directed by John Carpenter (of Halloween fame). The film is set in a distopian future America. Crime has skyrocketed and the entire island of Manhattan is a walled-off prison where inmates are left to fend for themselves. When Air force One is hijacked and crashes inside the walls of Manhattan, authorities turn to Snake (played by Kurt Russell). Snake is a special forces soldier turned criminal. The film follows Snake as he tries to find and rescue the president.

Kurt Russell

I enjoy a good story—and this movie has it—but more than that, I enjoy compelling visuals. This film was so fun to watch. It’s dark and moody. There are shadows everywhere (and people lurking in them). The high tech government offices with their super computers is a stark contrast to the rough, almost Medievel feel of the prison. Shots were composed beautifully, and it was a joy to watch. I took photos of the screen with my phone while I was watching the movie in my living room. Strange, perhaps, but the colors, lighting and composition of the scenes inspired me to paint what I saw. Now I have photos to work from.

In addition to Kurt Russell, there are terrific performances by Ernest Borgnine as a cab driver, and Isaac Hayes, who plays the Mayor of New York City.

2 Comments

Filed under Art, Film

We Still Love Lucy

Today would have been Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday. She died close to a quarter century ago, but in her 77 years, she changed the face of television.

lucy mural in Jamestown

Lucille Ball is most well-known for the character she played on I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show. But she did more than star in those shows; she had one of the longest-running careers in Hollywood. She was a model, a radio actress, and a movie star (of over 40 films, mostly B movies) before becoming a TV and movie producer and the star of her own shows.

another lucy mural in Jamestown

When Ball helped develop I Love Lucy, she brought her then-husband, Desi Arnaz, onboard. The two formed Desilu Productions, which made Ball the first woman in television to be head of a production company.

Desilu pioneered a number of television production methods still in use today. For example, they filmed I Love Lucy before a live studio audience with a three-camera setup, and used distinct sets next to each other. They shot on film, not kinescopes, meaning the quality of their show was never degraded. That’s part of the reason why it’s still in syndication today (well that and its astounding, universal appeal). Fortunately, Desilu negotiated to retain the rights to the film footage of I Love Lucy, meaning that after its initial broadcast, CBS no longer owned the show. As a result, Desilu made millions of dollars on rebroadcasts.

lucy and desi in Jamestown

Desilu produced several other shows too. Lucille Ball, with her years of experience in Hollywood, knew how to pick a show that audiences would love. Desilu produced The Untouchables, Star Trek, Mission: ImpossibleThe Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Andy Griffith Show, and the first seven seasons of My Three Sons.

lucy images on a brick wall in Jamestown

Lucille Ball was a pioneer in other ways too. She married a man six years her junior—and an interracial marriage at that. At a time when women married young and had kids young, Ball was almost forty when she had her first child.

Ball and Arnaz wrote the pregnancy into the show. It’s hard to believe now, but at that time there weren’t any pregnant TV characters. At first, CBS refused to  show a pregnant woman on television. They finally allowed the pregnancy storyline, but banned the word pregnant. The approved term was expecting.

Lucille Ball is known as a funny woman, but she was also beautiful, smart, and talented. She was an excellent businesswoman and influenced the path of the women in the film industry. This weekend, in her birthplace of Jamestown, NY, Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday is in full swing. My parents are there celebrating. In fact, the pictures in this post are courtesy of them. They’re all taken in Jamestown—except this last one, which I found yesterday in Everett, WA. Proof that all over the country—and the world—people still love Lucy.

lucy mural in everett washington

7 Comments

Filed under Feminism, General

Qiu Jin: Modern China’s First Feminist

A woman without talent is virtuous.

That’s the world Qiu Jin was born into. And it was a world she was determined to change.

Qiu JinI learned about Qiu Jin this week during one of the many Women’s History Month events my company is hosting. I attended a screening of “Autumn Gem: Modern China’s First Feminist,” a documentary directed by Rae Chang. I am participating in the Feminist Fashion Bloggers second group post, and knew Qiu Jin would be a great subject to share. Here’s what I learned while watching the 56 minute film:

Qiu Jin is well-known throughout China and is considered a hero and a martyr. Outside the country, she is less well-known. She was born in 1875 to a privileged family. Her brother had a private tutor and as a young girl, Jin would often sit nearby and watch him learn.

In an uncommon move, the tutor remarked to Jin’s parents how smart she was—so they let her learn alongside her brother. During this time in China, most girls didn’t receive an education and many were illiterate; she enjoyed a childhood where she could learn and read and be active outdoors. Her father and uncle taught her martial arts. She read about Hua Mulan and other legendary woman warriors.

Her adolescence coincided with a tumultuous time in China’s history. Foreign armies invaded, the Opium Wars were over, but opium use was rampant, and the government was corrupt. But she couldn’t participate in change. She wed a stranger in an arranged marriage and was isolated from her family. During this time she was sad and lonely. She wrote poetry and had two children.

Inspired by women she’d read about—women like Sophia Perovskaya, Madame Roland, and Joan of Arc—Qiu Jin was determined to save her country. She believed that women needed to be independent and productive in order for China to be strong, defeat its enemies, and overthrow the Manchu government. But women didn’t even entertain the idea of a different life. She had to teach women to think differently. She once had bound feet, but unbound them and spoke against the practice, as well as against other things that kept women from being self-reliant.

Qiu Jin left her husband and children and set off to Japan where she met other Chinese intellectuals. She wore men’s clothing and loved freedom they provided. Many shunned her because of her attire and attitude. But people also listened. By the time she returned to China to overthrow the government, the Restoration Society she helped form was 50,000 people strong. The revolutionaries accepted her and she began training an army of women.

She wrote and published a Chinese woman’s journal where she encouraged women to become part of society. But Jin felt trapped by her female body. At a time when being a woman meant being subservient—not being a member of society, but an ornament for a husband—being female was a disadvantage. Jin felt she could accomplish more if she were a man.

Still, she plotted the uprising. However, her plot was revealed and she was arrested and publicly executed. She was 31. She didn’t succeed in that act of defiance, but her execution fueled the revolution. She was the first woman to die for the cause and she inspired other women to join the fight.

It’s impossible for me to grasp what life was like for a woman 100 years ago. Qiu Jin’s life was short and violent, and it’s hard to understand her experiences at the crossroads of feminism and nationalism. I do respect her dedication to her values. She was a strong woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She questioned the status quo and imagined a better world when others couldn’t. This year is the 100th anniversary of both International Women’s Day and The Chinese Revolution. It seems like a good time to acknowledge Jin and other pioneers of feminism who paved the way for others by fighting and dying for what they believed in.

~

See what the other Feminist Fashion Bloggers wrote about:

Sidewalk Chic – Reclaiming leather skirts and other ‘provocative’ clothing

Mrs Bossa – In Bad Company: Girl Tribes

Oranges and Apples – Some thoughts on Marthettes, blogging about ‘feminine’ stuff and perfection

The Magic Square Foundation – Body Policing/Fashion/Feminism

Alexa Wasielewski – Some Feminists Need to Spartan Up!

Fishmonkey – The Man Repeller and The Male Gaze

Knitting up the ravelled sleeve of care – Knitting a Better World

Interrobangs Anonymous – Millie’s Take on Modesty

Adventures in Refashioning – Soldering in Heels

What are Years? – My Thoughts on the CBC Documentary, The F-Word

Aly en France – My Body Entirely

7 Comments

Filed under Fashion, Feminism, Film

Karen J. Whitehead Talks about Her Film

Last month I wrote about an incredible photographer: Jini Dellaccio. In my post, I mentioned that someone is making a documentary about her life. Well that someone is Karen J. Whitehead. I sat down recently to ask Karen, the producer/director of the film, a few questions. (Be sure to and follow her production blog.)

(c) Five Star Films 2011

(c) Five Star Films 2011

Jean: How did you first learn about Jini Dellaccio?

Karen: A friend of a friend got in touch after coming across Jini’s photographs online – thinking (quite rightly) she would make a great subject for a film.

Jean: When did you approach her about a documentary and how did she feel about the idea?

Karen: I started doing some research for myself about the Northwest music scene in the 1960s, and Jini’s story, in the fall of 2009. After several conversations with the Jini Dellaccio Collection, which oversees Jini’s archive, I arranged a research trip to meet them and Jini in January 2010.

We spent several hours together, and as I listened to Jini describing some of her life experiences and passion for art and music, I was captivated and at the same time staggered that the world does not know who Jini is!

Jini was thrilled that I was interested in her life and artistry. We really made a strong connection, and I think she was immediately open to the idea of doing a film because I wanted it to be very much an intimate oral history. By that, I mean in her own words, (no narrator or scripted scenes), as she remembers the many decades of her creative journey and her personal background, with recollections of some of the musicians she photographed. From this, I felt the film could be a fascinating exploration of her relationship with her subjects as well as her fine art photography and how it is all underpinned by the importance of music and art in her life.

Jean: What parts of Jini’s life are you focusing on and how did you choose them?

Karen: A central part of the film is of course, behind the scenes of Jini’s rock ‘n’ roll photography in the 1960s. She was responsible for capturing the frenetic energy of live concerts by The Who, The Rolling Stones, Mitch Ryder, Mamas & Papas to name just a few – and she was doing this years ahead of Annie Leibovitz. But really the heart of the story is how Jini got to be shooting the Godfathers of garage punk rock (The Wailers/The Sonics) and other great Northwest bands like The Daily Flash and Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts – in her middle age! Plus the tales from her Neil Young shoot and all the great concert photography she did with her beloved Hasselblad camera.

But it is also much more than that – I really wanted to craft a film that explores Jini’s creativity and determination. I think her life story from humble beginnings to jazz musician in the 1930s to her discovery of art and then self-taught photography is really inspiring. Especially when you consider she was often going against the grain, and conventional roles for the time. She was always in a man’s world, but not afraid to experiment, and be out there, in pursuit of her art. So, to give the audience an insight into this, I have Jini and other photographers, as well as the subjects of her lens, commenting on her work and I show her “at work” still in her 90s taking on a new challenge – digital technology, and shooting a new generation of rock bands coming out of Seattle’s vibrant music scene – The Moondoggies. When you see Jini working with The Moondoggies, almost 50 years from her first rock band shoot, I think you get the measure of Jini’s accomplishments and her legacy.

Jean: When creating documentaries, are there storylines that “write themselves” (unexpected narratives) or do you shape the film’s development?

Karen: That is a very good question! And the short answer is yes and no – or a bit of both!  Documentary is often about revealing unexpected narratives and in this case, I really felt that the rich cultural history behind Jini’s personal (mostly untold and unknown) journey as an artist would appeal to audiences. But of course, for audiences to really “connect” with your subject matter, you have to give them some compelling visuals and a simple rule but a golden one: good story telling, to keep them engaged. That is where the crafting of the narrative structure comes in. So, although there is no formal script as such – we build the filming around Jini’s  recollections and what she reveals about her motivations and life experiences. It is a collaborative process really – what you discover along the way may take you in different directions than you were expecting or planning – but it is important to have a structure like a road map so you don’t get lost in the edit!

Jean: What’s the most surprising thing you learned in the making of this film?

Karen: Some things Jini told me from her Jazz days in the 1930s were incredible, but I don’t want to reveal all the cool stories in the film here. Lets just say there are some “crackers” as us Brits like to put it!

Also – sideline, Seattle really does have some of the best coffee in the world…I am a definite fan!

Jean: Anything else you want to share?

Karen: Here’s something to think about:

“Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us.” —Robert Redford

So, let’s make sure stories like Jini’s are not “lost.” Unfortunately, indie arts films like this are hard to make because we have fewer places to go for funding than other film projects. In the current dismal climate for arts funding, with threats to vital lifelines like the National Endowment for The Arts, it is increasingly up to individuals to engage not merely as an audience – viewing a finished product, but as a participator much earlier on in the process.

I want Jini’s artistic excellence, creativity and innovation to be shared with the world and that is why I put my passion and resources into this project. Although I was able to complete all essential filming with Jini, for the film to be complete – which includes editing and the specialised scanning and treatment of Jini’s vintage stills from the archive, the production is seeking funding from donors, industry sources and fellow believers in arts projects as a necessity not a luxury. Hopefully with support from Seattle’s vibrant arts community this film will be heading to the big screen soon.

Jean: You’re having a fundraising event in Seattle. When is it, and how can people attend?

Karen: The fundraiser event and world premiere screening of the extended trailer, followed by Q & A with the production team, and film contributors (Jini guest of honor) will take place at our fiscal sponsor Northwest Film Forum on Saturday, March 12th at 4pm. A limited number of seats are still open to the general public on a first come first serve basis – just RSVP the production team for your official invite at: dellacciodoc@fivestarfilmsinc.com.

~

I want to thank Karen for taking time out of her busy filmmaking schedule to answer my questions. If you want more information about contributing to the fundraising efforts, attending the premier screening, or anything else related to the film, feel free to drop me a line at jeanofalltrades@live.com.

For more information, check out:

The Production Blog
The Five Star Films Corporate website

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Feminism, Film, Music