Rob Edelman: Bits And Pieces
Cinematically-speaking, one simply cannot sum up the just-concluded year in a sentence or two. The world is quickly changing, and this fact is impacting mightily onscreen. Take for example BLACK PANTHER, BLACKKKLANSMAN, and IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. These are very different films, on any number of levels, but what they do share is that their main characters are black characters. Would they all have been produced and released just a few years ago? Well, I somehow do not think so.
Also, more and more these days, established film stars are popping up on TV series, which once upon a time would have been a strict career downgrade. Julia Roberts... Jane Fonda... Michael Douglas... Nicole Kidman... They and so many others are shelving their Academy Awards and showing up on TV series. Back in the day, one could not imagine actors like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn embracing roles on TV series.
Additionally, the manner in which films are available for viewing is fast-changing. On the day in which THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, the latest Coen brothers film, came to theatres, it also premiered on Netflix! So you need not trek to your local movie house to see THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, or wait patiently until it finally debuts on home entertainment. Such is the future of A-list movie viewing.
I’ve already noted that plenty of current A-list films have offered positive portrayals of women characters. But I would be remiss if I failed to state that, cinematically-speaking, all women have for decades not just played passive second-class Americans. This is underscored in one of the best DVD packages released in 2018. Its title is PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS; it is released by Kino Lorber; and it consists of restorations of works by women filmmakers who were active a century ago. Some are fairly well-known among film aficionados. They include Alice Guy-Blaché, Nell Shipman, Cleo Madison, and Lois Weber. But others are new to me, and all are cited in a thoughtful essay, by Shelley Stamp, which accompanies the package.
One example is THE DREAM LADY, which dates from 1918. Its director is Elsie Jane Wilson, and it is quite a film. THE DREAM LADY stars Carmel Myers, a major (albeit long-forgotten) silent star. Myers plays a spirited, independent-minded young woman, and the storyline follows her response as she inherits a fortune. Also playing a role here is a subject that is more appropriate to 2018. And that is... cross-dressing! Indeed, there is so much to savor in PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERS.
Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.
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