Film Talk turned to look at Their Finest, below are the notes from the talk.
Tonight I’d like to explore the position of women behind the camera, a subject that has become more prevalent recently. Looking at representation and equality or lack of, behind the camera. Using Their Finest (2016) as a starting point for we’ll look at women working on propaganda films before jumping back to the early days of film then making our way up to the present day.
For two years the British film industry has been working closely with the Ministry of Information whose aims for feature films were
“…the importance of films as a medium of propaganda’ in putting across the themes that [Lord] Macmillan had suggested; what Britain is fighting for; how Britain fights; the need for sacrifices if the fight is to be won…”
Britain Can Take It, British Cinema in the Second World War – Anthony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards pg 26
The film industry collaborated with the government on over two hundred films for the duration of the Second World War. It was a constant battle between creatives, production heads and the Ministry of Information to convey the messages necessary to keep morale up.
The first film to be made under this new relationship was The Lion Has Wings (1939), an Alexander Korda production. It was however commissioned before the outbreak of war but was given the approval of the MOI
“For one thing, the MOI provided “technical facilities” in the production of the film and deal struck whereby it was accordingly afforded a share of the profits. Figures as high as ’50 per cent of the profits’ were quoted by some sources and were ‘the cause of the great deal of discontent in the industry’. Whatever the exact sum, however, the MOI did not to badly out of The Lion Has Wings. It was able to pass on to the Exchequer £25,140 from the film, and that was a straight profit, after it had covered whatever costs had been accrued…”
Britain Can Take It, British Cinema in the Second World War – Anthony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards pg 24
At the beginning of the war, women were not yet conscripted as men were leaving to take up arms and fight. Leaving a majority female audience back home at the cinema. It took MOI head at the time Jack Beddington to realise he had to
“…address the needs and desires of the predominantly working class, disenchanted, under-served and under-respected female audience. The women, it seems, wanted heart-swelling encouragement and entertainment but gave short shift to anything that didn’t smell of reality.”
Sight and Sound – May 2017 Vol 27 Issue 5, Women and WWII British Films – Stephen Woolley Pg 40
To reach that female audience, female voices were needed to communicate with them. Scriptwriter’s such as Diana Morgan who worked at Ealing and contributed to
Her experience of working in the film industry was rather confusing at times
“Sometimes you got credit for something you hadn’t done, or you wrote most of the picture and you didn’t get a credit. We didn’t worry about things like that.”
“They used to say, ‘We’ll send in the Welsh bitch [Morgan] to put in the nausea.”
Sight and Sound – May 2017 Vol 27 Issue 5, Women and WWII British Films – Stephen Woolley Pg 42
The Nausea being “The Slop” in Their Finest being the women’s dialogue. Morgan’s roles reflected by another Welsh woman – Catrin played by Gemma Arterton, whose brought in after her works discovered by scriptwriter’s at an unknown studio. It’s only after she persist does she see an increase in wages and work with her male counterparts.
It’s the persistence to get what she wants which her male counterparts would not have to fight so hard for. A fight that has been going on before WWII and is still going on today.
If we go all the way back to the silent era of film in Hollywood it was a more even playing field. Even then however it was still relegated to
“…routinized film processing tasks deemed appropriate to their sex in largely segregated setting. For male entrepreneurs, however, the film industry’s first decade suggested adventure, autonomy, and riches”
Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher – Pg 9-10
It was however a time in Hollywood when women could take, such as screenwriter Beulah Marie Dix who could take on extra work.
“…in addition to writing scenarios, she worked as an extra, tended the lights, and “sent a good deal of time in the cutting room”
Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher – Pg 39
It was probably the only time in Hollywood when men and women had parity in the industry as film historian Wendy Holliday found.
“…screenwriting in the early 1910s created a particularly “modern’ heterosocial work culture in which male and female writers like actors and actresses, were roughly equal, having a hand in all phases of production.”
Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher – Pg 41
If Wartime propaganda films employed women to write the “nausea” or “slop”, originally Hollywood would at times cut those costs in half. In hoping to aim at the female audience they ran writing contests.
“In 1909 Evangeline Sicotte of New York City won $150 in the Georges Melies Scenario Contest for her script “The Red Star,” and Florence E. Turner of Brooklyn won third place, receiving $50 for “The Fiend of the Castle.” A scenario submitted by Mrs. Clemens to the St Louis Times not only resulted in a cash prize but also reach the screen in 1910 as a film entitled The Double.”
Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher – Pg 41
Moving away from the early writers of film and across the Atlantic to France we find Alice Guy Blanche who worked as a secretary to Leon Gaumont made her own films, I’d like to share one with you – Madame a des Envies (1906) a short which depicts a woman, played by herself that indulges in whatever she wants and not thinking about the consequences. Something that has since been more regularly applied to men on-screen.
The role of editor was originally an entry-level position, which was mastered by one of the most respected editors in the industry during her time. Margaret Booth began her career with D.W. Griffith when the process was very cumbersome and frustrating.
“…joiners squinted at negatives through a magnifying glass, trying to determine where to cut with scissors and where to rejoin with tape. They couldn’t watch the film as they were working on it, so the only way to see the print was the pull the negative quickly between their fingers… The process became easier with the arrival of the first cutting machine in 1919, which had foot pedals to run the film and a spy-hole to view it through. It looked similar to a sewing machine, and perhaps because of that (and because it was a low level job), there were many women working as film cutters.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 34-5
Booth went onto become one of the most respected editors in the industry.
Moving forward into the sound era we have fewer women of note working behind the camera. One of those is actress/director Ida Lupino who along with her husband set up a production company, they only made a few films, the first being Not Wanted (1949), which she initially chose not to direct. Everything changed when the hired director had a heart attack
“Ida stepped up to take over, and she was a natural. A reporter who had been on set observing her work wrote that he was impressed with her speed and efficiency giving order. Ida hoped that “Not Wanted” would “show the public the heartbreak of the unwed mother;” but when the film was released, reviews were mixed, though the Hollywood Reporter said the story was “done with taste, dignity and compassion.” Ida Lupino had arrived as a director.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 102
Lupino is most remembered for making The Hitch Hiker (1953) in less than a month. Coming in at 71 minutes unlike Elaine May’s directorial debut New Leaf (1972), which came in at 180, which proved too long for Paramount who edited out 80 minutes.
“Elaine was so upset at the studio tinkering with her movie and took them to court. She lost the case and publicly disowned her movie, saying this was not the cut she wanted audiences to see. But despite that conflict, Elaine continued to work with the studio, and her follow up was a big success, 1972’s “The Heatrbreak Kid”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 120-1
Staying with the studio executives, there have been a few females in the boardroom, but not without cost. Sherry Langsing arrived after her enthusiasm for story editing at MGM. Sadly having to put up with her share of sexism from directors such as Don Siegel.
“…who was furious at being a script notes by a woman. “I dealt with sexism by denying it,” Sherry said in her biography; “Did I hold grudges? Absolutely. But I felt that I had two choices, Either I was going to quit my job, stand on a picket line, and burn my bra, or I was going to have to find a way to navigate the system until I reached a position where my opinions would be heard.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 120-1
“There was a lot of pain and humiliation in those years,” Dawn wrote in her memoir. “I would walk into my office and I would close the door and I would say, ‘I won’t cry, I won’t cry, I won’t cry.’ At least, I wasn’t going to let them see me cry.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 139-40
Moving forward to the present day a study at MDSC (Media, Diversity and Social Change) that looked at the 1000 grossing films between 2007 and 16 and the directors on the.
“For each of those ten years the average percentage of male directors was 96%. This means only 4% were female directors, a ratio of 24 men to every one woman. That reflects a huge percentage of female directors not being able to work. These figures don’t have anything to do with the lack of women who actually want the job, but are due to a lack of women being considered for these jobs and a perceived lack of experienced female directors.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 158
That sadly doesn’t take into account one of the most successful superhero films –Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins whose last feature film was Monster (2003) since relegated to TV work. Thanks to the box office success Wonder Woman she’s hopefully guaranteed the work she deserves.
As Dr Stacy Smith from MDSC found and Wonder Woman proves.
“When you have a female director, you have more female leads, you have more female speaking characters, you have more characters that are from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, more characters 40 years of age or older. You also have more women working in other key production roles.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 159
I’ll end by briefly turning to on-screen depictions, with Ghostbusters remake director Paul Feig whose known for his more female focused films when he directed the female version of The Hangover – Bridesmaids. Proving that audience respond equally to women in comic roles as men.
“I just jumped in and did it,” says Paul; “It was just so much fun. First of all, knowing I had all these roles to cast funny women in. And then once it ended up doing well, it showed me that this excuse of ‘people won’t see these moves’ was pretty much killed”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 170
Change is slowly happening in film to make a shift towards more diversity not just for women but people of different origins both on and off-screen. With actresses of all generations, especially Jennifer Lawrence speaking out about rates of pay compared to her male counterparts.
I need your help,
I’m working with my local community library in Rothley. For the past few months I have been writing and running a Film Talk. We want to engage with the local community and share my passion for film. It’s early days and we are struggling to connect with the right and steady audience to make this really work.
So far we have discussed It’s A Wonderful Life (1947), A Kind of Loving (1962) and Midnight Cowboy (1969). We have another one lined up, ready and waiting too!
Moving forward I have been working with the Rothley Community Library to put together a short survey (7 questions) for you to answer. Your answers will help Film Talk grow in new and exciting directions.
The second in my ongoing series if Film Talks I’m running at the Rothley Community Library. I decided to discuss two films this time A Kind of Loving (1962) and Midnight Cowboy (1969) both directed by John Schlesinger. Below are the notes from the night.
Tonight I’ll be taking a look at one of last months recommendations – A Kind of Loving (1962), which I noticed was directed by John Schlesinger who went onto make Midnight Cowboy (1969). I’ll start by sharing what makes a Kitchen sink drama or has otherwise been known as a British New Wave or Social Realism. Before moving onto look at A Kind of Loving and drawing comparisons with Midnight Cowboy.
So what is a Kitchen Sink Drama? I think you have to look at Britain socially first, in order to inform these films. I turned to The Social Structure of Modern Britain – E.A. Johns (1965); which is dated by today’s standards, but nonetheless allowed me to see how society was perceived at the time of writing. I first focused on the family,
“…the view currently held by many eminent writers is that the family has been stripped of the functions which are essential to its cohesion, and that parents have abnegated their responsibilities in favour of the government-run organs of the Welfare state.”
These essential functions of the family are :
- Provision of a home
- Production and rearing of children
- Stable satisfaction of sex need
R.M. MacIver – Macmillan 1957
Johns continued on the family by quoting W.J.H Sprott who argued that
“…The family, under Western cultural conditions has shrunk functionally” and that the social services are basically “anti-family” in that they cater almost exclusively for the individual rather than the family as a whole. This view is supported up to a point by M.Penelope Hall when she quotes the article on Social Policy and the Family…This document remarks that the family has until recently, been given only a minor place in social policy, “and over-all effect has been to lower status of the family in the national life”. Day nurseries and school meals, for example encourage a mother to go to work, but do not encourage her to create a home for her children”
There’s an improvement in opportunities for young mothers wanting to be independent, which would have a knock on effect. Whilst also looking at increased leisure time available in modern Britain.
“…the increasing adoption of the 5-day working week and introduction of labour-saving devices in the home both mean that families have more leisure time. The characteristically democratic structure of most modern families mean that husbands and wives spend more of this time together.”
I also looked at the position of women in the 60’s, first looking at the jobs they have
Married women stats
25-34 years – 2/3 are employed
35-44 years – ¾ are employed
45-54 – 2/3 are employed.
Types of work include
- distribution – insurance – banking – catering – laundries (industry jobs)
- Hairdressing – domestic service – nursing (tertiary jobs)
- Clerks – typists – shop assistance (“white-blouse brigade”)
These statistics only account for married women in employment. What about when the married couple moves away from the family home into the newly built housing estates?
“Another factor…is that when families make the sudden transition from an old-established neighbourhood with a strong social life to a virgin housing estate, they may experience a good deal of loneliness, at least initially. The wives, in particular. may miss the gossip and chatter of the streets, and see a substitute in the companionship of the office or factory”
Lastly looking at marriage and divorce, which was made more accessible, however divorce was only granted under certain conditions. This passage still carries some weight today regarding the failure of marriages.
“I think the most significant element, however, is the egalitarianism which characterizes the relationship between married partners today, by contrast with the patriarchal authoritarianism which was accepted as the normal pattern in the nineteenth century…The marriage a girl enters today has far more stresses than her grandmother’s. A partnership needs much more forbearance than the situation which the wife just used to accept the idea of doing what she was told.”
It does however acknowledge that number of younger couples getting married, and why. The most obvious is the reason why our main characters Vic and Ingrid in A Kind of Loving.
“In 1960, nearly 62,000 extra-maritally conceived children were born to women married for less than 8 months (usually 5 or 6). Translated into proportion of all marriages this means that one in five brides was pregnant, and it is well established that the shot-gun marriage is more likely to break down.”
Johns doesn’t mention the introduction pill was made available with slowly increased access to it.
“At first it was only prescribed to married women – most older women who had already had children and wanted no more…In the past most women had to married at an early age, being expected to give up their job and become a full-time housewife and mother wile their husband went out to work. If a woman wanted to follow a career she had to give up thoughts of marriage. Now, married could, if they chose, plan a career, and rigid gender based division of roles began to change. It was the beginning of both a social and sexual revolution, and there was much talk of the ‘permissive society’ and ‘free love’”
Life in the 1960s – Mike Brown Pg. 9
So we have some social context around the Kitchen Sink Drama we know that they are focused on working class issues. If you’ve ever seen one you’ll notice they are mostly in Northern locations complete with the rich accents. They are devoid of special effects, the gloss that you get over in Hollywood or Europe lets take a closer look at the key directors of the movement. The subjects they covered were.
Now lets take a quick look at the key directors of the movement.
Then we have John Schlesinger who began his career as an actor in his early twenties before making his directorial debut with a 30-minute documentary about Waterloo station – Terminus. A year later he made his feature film debut with A Kind of Loving, which saw him work with producer Joseph Janni for the first of 6 films together. It’s also the first starring role for Alan Bates.
The film follows a young man Vic (Alan Bates) who falls for Ingrid (June Ritchie), which starts off like a school romance, the passing of notes, the boys fighting, and the social dances. That’s all until Ingrid falls pregnant after they both loose their virginity. This is when the dream of a carefree romance starts to fall away opening them up to married life. In the first few weeks of marriage they are living at her home with her mother played by Thora Hird. Who makes life difficult for them under her roof. It’s her way or the highway, and they can’t really afford to leave just yet. The classic mother-in-law type brings reality crashing down for them. She’s hardly in the film but makes a strong impression on Vic who until recently was free to come and go as he pleased, now assuming the role of the husband. I’d like to show you the portion of the film (stills below) when the school romance fades away as they become adults.
In part two coming I draw comparisons with John Schlesinger’s last film of the decade – Midnight Cowboy.