“I wanted to make a Merchant-Ivory movie with vibrators.”

14 May 2012

Doesn’t Maggie Gyllenhaal have a special glow?

What’s not to like about this news? Hysteria, a new female-directed, female-produced romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator to cure hysteria in women during the 19th century, will be out in limited release in the US this Friday, May 18!

In a nice interview, director Tanya Wexler (and directors Sarah Polley and Malgorzata Szumowska, both of whom have new films with imminent release dates) and their female stars talk about portraying female sexuality onscreen and how it differs from that portrayed by male directors. But ultimately Wexler concludes on a somewhat grim note about the fate of female directors in Hollywood:

“What we’re doing as women by making these small, little movies, because that’s all they’ll give us, is we’re making things that don’t make as much money, that have a smaller audience and are harder to get right, and then we’re wondering why we don’t get bigger movies. That is very self-reinforcing. I would love me a big Hollywood movie. ‘Wonder Woman’? Give me a call.”

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11 Responses to ““I wanted to make a Merchant-Ivory movie with vibrators.””

  1. Becky Says:

    Fabulous! The story is incredible, and I am so excited that someone has made a movie of it. Let’s not forget Kathryn Bigelow’s success with The Hurt Locker. I would like to see us get past the notion that female directors have to do stories only about women. Female directors probably do most stories better than men!

    • Didion Says:

      Argh. For her success with The Hurt Locker, Bigelow was rewarded with a big yawning gap in work and difficulties finding the money for her next project. You’re welcome, Bigelow!

      It makes me less cranky about those women directors who opt for the shameless rom-com — at least they’re getting regular work, even if we all die a little inside at the portrayal of women onscreen.

  2. JB Says:

    Calling a period film with the recognizable mid-level stars and heathy production values of Hysteria a “small film” is like calling a working-class American family with a mortgage and car payments “poor”: it’s employing some standard that somehow neglects to account for about 96% of all the films made in the world.

    • Didion Says:

      Fair enough. But let’s also remember that Hollywood’s sole frame of reference is The Avengers. Wexler makes the point that Marc Webb catapulted from 500 Days of Summer to Spider-Man 3, and that this kind of career move doesn’t happen for female directors. The biggest score for a female director in recent years was probably Jennifer Yuh with Kung Fu Panda 2, and as far as I can tell, she doesn’t have another film directing gig in the works.

      Besides, is it really appropriate to tell ambitious people to be happy with what they’ve got? which also leads to my favorite question ever, asked by one of the comments on a particularly snarly post of mine: why do you hate America?

      • Didion Says:

        Hm. Let me also note the better question: why, besides the money, would one want to direct Spider-Man 3?

      • JB Says:

        I am of course in complete support of gender not begin any sort of bias with regards to access to making whatever kind of movie, and I have nothing against Wexler getting a shot at a superhero movie if that’s her goal (maybe she would do something more interesting with Wonder Woman than she does with Hysteria), but I find it deeply depressing when we have to talk about viable film careers or even film movements solely in terms of cash cows, of making appallingly expensive movies that for the most part are not good and have no lasting presence in the culture. You want to talk about “small” pictures? Let’s talk about Kelly Reichardt (or Claire Denis, or Lucretia Martel, to name but two of my personal favourite contemporary filmmakers who just happen to be female). Reichardt’s brilliance is wide-ranging, but it resides in part in her resourcefulness. And I’d argue it’s artists like her who are pointing the way forward with regards to integrity, innovation and endurance in the medium, as opposed to the hunger for fleeting and precarious power. Penny Marshall made some big movies, but they don’t mean any more to me as a film lover than the movies of Gary Marshall.

      • Didion Says:

        I think if I were a director I’d want to know how I could attain the status of a Steven Soderbergh — not that all his films are winners by any means, but he figured out, somehow, how to have a level of creative independence from the funding conundrum. I love every single thing Reichart does (and Denis and Martel, too, [oh my god, Lucretia Martel!] but funding in France & Argentina works differently) but I’ll bet she has to fight to find money every single @#$%ing time. That would suck the life out of me, and I’d fantasize about the possibility of funding just magically appearing because it’s a Didion project, not because I showed up to fight for the money every day for six weeks.

  3. Hattie Says:

    All I can say is I can hardly wait to see this movie!

  4. Marian Says:

    Here’s a terrific interview with Kelly Reichardt that explains how she does it and provides a perspective on women filmmakers that I hugely enjoy: http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/feature/redefining-success-an-interview-with-kelly-reichardt/44 She’s ace-and-awesome!

    • Didion Says:

      Hey, this is great! — and I love the fact that she’s prickly about this subject. I’m going to see if I can find info on how she feels after Meek’s Cutoff, to see whether the funding is coming more easily. It was such a success on so many levels, and a bigger film in general than Wendy & Lucy. Thanks, Marian!


  5. […] wanted to make a Merchant-Ivory movie with vibrators,” Wexler explained in an entertaining interview last spring. What, I asked, could go […]


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