After Tiller (2013)

After Tiller poster


Directed by Martha Shane
Lana Wilson
Director of Photography Hillary Spera
Cinematography Emily Topper
Edited by Greg O’Toole
Executive Producers Artemis Media Ventures
Belle Max Productions
Produced by Martha Shane
Lana Wilson



America is at war with itself over abortion.  In other countries, this simple, legal, and in many cases life-saving medical procedure is a matter of personal, private choice.  In the USA, it’s an act that elicits screams of protest, picket lines, macabre placards, and, in the case of Dr. George Tiller, a self-righteous fanatic with a gun.

Dr. Tiller specialized in third trimester abortion, a complex procedure that focuses on preserving the integrity of the mother’s reproductive organs whilst terminating her pregnancy at any point after twenty weeks.  Despite the fact that these abortions count for less than 1% of those carried out in the United States each year, anti-abortion activists targeted Dr. Tiller and his clinic in Wichita, Kansas with tragic results.

On May 31, 2009, as he attended a church service with his family, Tiller was shot in the head by one such activist.  Tiller’s assassination made him the eighth abortion clinic worker to be murdered since Roe vs. Wade, and also wiped out his Wichita clinic and the health services provided to Kansas women.

In the wake of this tragedy, only four doctors in the United States, all friends and former colleagues of Dr. Tiller, offer specialist third trimester abortions.  AFTER TILLER, Martha Lane and Shana Wilson’s thoughtful documentary, explores their daily practice, interviewing them, the workers in their clinics, and the patients who seek their help. Continue reading

LOVELACE: [Re]Written On The Body

Deep Throat poster 2



Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman


Stars:  Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, James Franco, Chris Noth, Chloe Sevigny, Hank Azaria

Sometimes, a movie is just a movie.  Sometimes it’s a cultural flashpoint, a watershed within a wider revolution, a landmark in socio-sexual history.  Sometimes it’s the first time people hear the word ‘clitoris’ or go to a movie theater to watch a woman voluntarily swallow an erect penis without triggering her gag reflex. Sometimes it’s a battleground between feminists and pornographers, censors and hedonists, the FBI and the Mob.  Sometimes it becomes synonymous with both a specific sexual technique and a presidency-destroying informant.

Sometimes a movie is Deep Throat (1972), the 61-minute porno that cost $25,000 to shoot but coined over $100 million (the actual box office revenues are the subject of much controversy).  The star, Linda Lovelace, née Boreman, never received a penny for her efforts. Instead, she was rewarded by fame – or infamy – as the poster-girl for sexual freedom and the punchline to a million dirty jokes. She couldn’t act, sing, or dance, nor was she model-beautiful, but her party trick propelled her onto the pages of Playboy, Bachelor and Esquire and into the zeitgeist.

In 2013, this kind of career trajectory doesn’t seem at all out of place (eat your heart out, Kim Kardashian), but in the mid-1970s Linda Lovelace represented an entirely new phenomenon. Her sunny, girl-next-door charm was touted as evidence of changing attitudes to pornography.  If a nice girl like Linda could enjoy onscreen sex, and be invited to Hollywood parties on the strength of her performance, so could anybody. Inevitably, however, the dream turned to dust.

In 1980 Linda, by then a born-again Christian and married mother of two, published Ordeal, an account of the grim reality behind the carefree smiles and coy giggles.  In Ordeal, Linda claims physical, psychological and sexual abuse put her in front of pornographers’ cameras and kept her from going anyplace else.

It’s a classic rags-to-riches-to-rags cautionary tale, drenched in neon 1970s nostalgia, coupled with the durability and cultural impact of the Deep Throat brand.  No surprise, then, that two Hollywood Lovelace biopics competed to be the first into theaters, spurred by casting merry-go-round rumors (Kate Hudson, Lindsay Lohan, and Malin Ackerman were all lined up to play Linda at some stage).  Rival Inferno seems to have bitten the dust while Lovelace hits theaters this week, bringing a starry cast and a lot of sympathy towards telling Linda’s side of the story. Continue reading

No more ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’. Please.

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For five seasons, TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras has been inviting viewers to ogle at little girls parading in inappropriate costumes, and encouraging the pageant Moms to exploit their daughters even more for behind-the-scenes exposure. The latest scandal involves a clip showing a three year old strutting her stuff in hooker boots, dressed as Vivian from Pretty Woman.

Is it time to call time on the show? One blog, Pigtailpals, called for its cancellation back in January:

“Toddlers & Tiaras” is a petri dish of sexualization. Little girls are taught, often times forced by their domineering mothers, to act coquettishly, learn suggestive dance routines, wear sexualized costumes and bathing suits, endure hours of hair and make-up, and are even put on restrictive diets in order to lose weight for competition. This is perverse. While TLC continues to air “Toddlers & Tiaras”, the network becomes an agent of this sexualization.

Open Letter to TLC: Cancel Toddlers & Tiaras –

Reality TV has always thrived on the exploitation of its subjects, creating artificial conflict between friends, asking individuals to adopt a “villain” persona, re-editing situations so they fit producers’ proposed storylines. However, the reality format is now well into its second decade, and any adult who signs a release form for one of these shows should be aware of what they’re getting into. It’s a trade off, public exposure for cash. It’s a choice adults make.

Reality shows that revolve around non-consenting minors are a different matter. It’s bad enough that these two and three year olds are forced into the pageants in the first place (no one is giving any kind of informed consent at that age). However, a child beauty pageant used to be a one-off, ticketed event, with stage performances only committed to Mommy’s video camera, and some kind of oversight given to the people watching in the audience. Single men playing pocket billiards? Not welcome. A TV show is an entirely different matter, broadcasting these little girls into living rooms (1.3 million an episode), their sexualized performances preserved for all time in YouTube clips.

The American Psychological Association’s 2007 report on the Sexualization of Girls (here) always makes sobering reading. Sexualization is different to healthy sexuality, and occurs when

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making;
  • and/orsexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

The APA’s research suggests the consequences of sexualization in girls include

  • poor grades (“thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity”)
  • depression (“sexualization and objectification undermine confidence in and comfort with one’s own body, leading to a host of negative emotional consequences, such as shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust.”)
  • eating disorders

All this contributes to a cycle of low self-esteem where a girl values herself solely in terms of appearance and physical attractiveness, but, because she holds herself up to impossible and narrow ideals of attractiveness, she’s doomed to self-hatred. And it will only get worse as she ages.

The fact that child beauty pageants are even allowed to happen, let alone be the subject of primetime broadcasts on The Learning Channel, speaks to the morality of modern America. If this is how little girls are treated, and if this is how TV companies make money off them, think of the delights that are in store for them once they hit puberty and beyond.

L’Oréal Ads banned in UK: “Too Airbrushed”

A LibDem MP, Jo Swinson, succeeded in getting ads featuring Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts banned on the grounds that they didn’t represent how real women look.

Swinson lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority that the ads represented a “false impression of beauty”.

In response, L’Oréal, which has had ads featuring eyelashes banned in the past,

provided the ASA with pictures of both women “on the red carpet” to show that they were naturally beautiful, admitted that digital post-production techniques had been used on Roberts but maintained that the changes were not “directly relevant” and that the ad was an “aspirational picture”.

Contractual restrictions (i.e. Julia’s people said “no”) meant the ASA were not permitted to see the untouched images used in the ad.

Despite this, Swinson was satisfied with the ban, saying

“Pictures of flawless skin and super-slim bodies are all around, but they don’t reflect reality,” … Excessive airbrushing and digital manipulation techniques have become the norm, but both Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts are naturally beautiful women who don’t need retouching to look great. This ban sends a powerful message to advertisers – let’s get back to reality.”

L’Oréal Julia Roberts Ad banned – Guardian

Angels & Whores

AdeleAfter Adele topped the Guardian‘s Music Power 100, her label boss, Richard Russell, attributed her success to the focus on her voice rather than her looks, which, he believes, puts her in stark contrast to other female pop artistes.

“At the level it is at now, it is radical,” he said. “It is clearly about the music and the talent and the things it is meant to be about. I think there has been a certain amount of confusion, and it’s resulting in garbage being sold and marketing with little real value to it. I think Adele is a good thing to be happening.”

That a strong female performer is gaining success without bowing to pressure to conform to a certain body type or being over-sexualised, is “unbelievable”, he said.

“It’s just so boring, crass and unoriginal,” he said, adding that the problem goes “way beyond” the music industry.

While it is good to see diversity, and to think that a talent like Adele’s can find an audience without being dressed up in a sequinned corset, Russell’s remarks reek of old-school patriarchy. He describes watching female popstars on MTV as “faux-porn” and says it made him feel “a bit queasy”. This suggests he is unnerved by the idea that women might feel empowered by and even enjoy raw sex, the kind that has had the ties to love, romance, marriage or reproduction stripped away. The kind of random, no-strings-attached sex that men have been allowed to enjoy (and discuss) for centuries.

Flamboyant sexuality has been part of pop music from the very beginning; lyrics have always contained innuendo and slang references to the sex act (rock ‘n’ roll being just one). From Elvis Presley’s hips to Mick Jagger’s lips, the defining moments of male pop artistry have always been about celebrating sex appeal. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, whether you’re a glam rocker stripping down onstage to reveal a chiselled torso circa 1976 or hip-hopper humping air in a 2011 music video. However, these displays of male sexuality don’t tend to be critiqued as “faux-porn” or make anyone feel sick.

Russell’s righteous indignation suggests that he has missed the point. Pop music is pretty much the only area where a female performer can take control of her sexuality and use it to communicate a message, or spark a discussion. Against a backdrop of abstinence-only sex education, and generally repressive attitudes towards reproductive rights, pop music might offer the only open forum in which to debate the anomalies of the human sexual spectrum. Rihanna’s recent embrace of S&M allowed her to discuss her past experiences of abuse, and explain how playing a specific role in the bedroom allowed her to overcome that. Lady Gaga has used her Little Monsters tour as a platform for discussing the problems faced by LGBT individuals.

By positioning Adele as a Good Girl, one who is more talented and more deserving of acclaim because she diminishes her sexuality, Russell is tarring Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry et al with the Bad Girl brush, making the judgment that because they rock’n’ roll as part of their act, they are of less value as performers. The suggestion is that because Adele conforms to Russell’s idea of propriety (she sings, nicely, and doesn’t do anything that would scare a man or make him throw up), she should be rewarded more than the out-of-control Bad Girls. This is a division old as time, when Lilith (so ancient Jewish legend goes) was cast out of Paradise (and wiped from the orthodox version of the creation myth) for insisting on being on top during sex. It seems the Angel/Whore dialectic, that tired Victorian trope, is being perpetuated in today’s pop music.

Adele Can Change How Music Industry Markets Female Acts – Guardian
Female Sexuality Is Not A Pandora’s Box – Stephanie Vega

“Better than nothing”

The New York Times’ chief film critics discuss the recent spate of female-led action movies (Hanna, Suckerpunch, Kick-Ass, Let Me In) and whether or not this marks a cultural shift when it comes to the representation of women on screen. While there’s an uncomfortable patriarchal slant to a lot of these action femmes (Hanna and Hit Girl are both “run” by their fathers, and the women of Suckerpunch live in fear of their pimp/orderly), any female-driven movie has to be embraced as a type of positive. As Dargis says:

Bottom line: It used to be easier to make movies with women. You could put them on a pedestal and either keep them there (as revered wives, virginal girls) or knock them down, as with femmes fatales. If that’s trickier to pull off today, it’s partly because, to quote the great Kim Gordon, “fear of a female planet.”

I don’t see a shoot ’em up like “Hanna” challenging those fears, but at least it has female characters who do more than smile at the superhero or the guys having a swell bromance. It’s better than nothing.

Gosh sweetie, that’s a big gun – New York Times

Sexism Begins At Home

According to research done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender In Media, rigid gender stereotyping is particularly rife in the cartoons and other shows aimed at pre-schoolers.

Davis has played some iconic female characters in her time, (“as an actor I wanted to feel challenged and, you know, play baseball rather than be the girlfriend of the person who plays baseball”), and will always be remembered as Thelma in Thelma and Louise. However, she acknowledges that those kinds of roles are few and far between for women, and that this is part of a pattern of media representation that begins with G-Rated material aimed at very young children. Davis first encountered the issue when watching TV with her daughter, so she decided to investigate further.

We raised some money, and we ended up doing the largest research study ever done on G-rated movies and television shows made for kids 11 and under. And the results were stunning.

What we found was that in G-rated movies, for every one female character, there were three male characters. If it was a group scene, it would change to five to one, male to female.

Of the female characters that existed, the majority are highly stereotyped and/or hypersexualized. To me, the most disturbing thing was that the female characters in G-rated movies wear the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as the female characters in R-rated movies.

And then we looked at aspirations and occupations and things like that. Pretty much the only aspiration for female characters was finding romance, whereas there are practically no male characters whose ultimate goal is finding romance. The No. 1 occupation was royalty. Nice gig, if you can get it. And we found that the majority of female characters in animated movies have a body type that can’t exist in real life. So, the question you can think of from all this is: What message are we sending to kids?

She hopes that, through raising awareness of the problem with the Writers’ and Directors’ Guild, a culture shift is on its way, and that by the time of the next study, due in 2015, “we will have seen the needle move”. Here’s hoping.

Life Imitates Art– Geena Davis in the Wall St. Journal

“I Do All My Own Stunts”

Black SwanEveryone loves a chance to put an Oscar-winning actress down, now it’s Natalie Portman’s turn as her dance double for Black Swan claims credit for the performance.

Sarah Lane, soloist with American Ballet Theatre, was hired to depict all the complex dance sequences that Portman, with only a year of training under her leotard (as opposed to the two decades that go into making a professional dancer), could never have pulled off. So far, so usual: stunt doubles are routinely hired for fight, chase, dance, ski-ing, driving or riding sequences that demand an elaborate set of physical skills. It’s almost part of the illusion expected when we go to the movies, that at some point, the actor will disappear back to their trailer and let a bewigged stunt person of approximately the same height and build get down to the death-defying gymnastics. There are two main reasons for this 1) stunt people are professionals who are really, really good at the physical stuff, and b) if it all goes pear-shaped, stunt people can be replaced halfway through principal photography, while a lead actor cannot.

Lane’s beef is not so much about the illusions created within the film-making process, which involved having Portman’s head digitally superimposed onto her body for the long shots, as she knew that was going to happen. She is more concerned about the way Portman’s people claimed credit for her dancing as part of her Oscar campaign. She accuses them of

“trying to create this facade that [Portman] had become a ballerina in a year and a half… How unfortunate it is that, as professional dancers, we work so hard, but people can actually believe that it’s easy enough to do it in a year. That’s the thing that bothered me the most”.

A big part of Portman’s pre-award press did include coverage of how she suffered for her art during the making of the film, both with the year of training beforehand, and the pressures put upon her during the actual movie to come up with convincing dance performances. And Academy voters love to see actors suffer, as well as push their physical limits. A movie is only one part of a media phenomenon, like Black Swan, which consists not just of the film narrative, but of all the narratives swirling round it – like the love story between Portman and her principal choreographer.

Darren Aronofsky jumped to his star’s defence for Entertainment Weekly:

Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80% Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman.

And to be clear Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic. I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.”

Sarah Lane is a performer in her own right, an artiste who is used to getting credit and acclaim for her work. And she has a day job. No wonder she’s pissed – but she is in a uniquely privileged position to bitch about it. Portman is also a relatively soft target – it seems easier to accuse an actress of not being able to cut the physical stuff than a male star. No one would dream of making similar allegations about Jason Statham or Dwayne Johnson. There are legions of stunt artists out there who will forever remain silent about their contribution to the work of actors (usually macho action heroes) who claim that they, also, do all their own fighting, chase, dancing, ski-ing, driving or riding on screen. If these stunt doubles speak up, they never work again.

Much of Hollywood’s allure – and marketing – revolves around the larger-than-life abilities of “the talent”. The audience want to believe that what they see on screen is the singular performance of one very special person, when, in fact, it’s the result of hundreds of hours of work by whole teams of people, both on set and in post production. But bottom line is that the star always gets the credit – that’s showbusiness.

Natalie Portman Accused In Black Swan Row – Digital Spy

Darron Aronofsky Defends Portman – Entertainment Weekly

Actors Who Do Their Own Stunts – Moviefone

Hollywood Stuntman reveals tricks of trade – NPR interview with Hal Needham

Red Riding Hood: Marketing Fail?

Red Riding Hood movie poster 2011Catherine Hardwicke’s version of the Grimm fairy tale opened this week to what pundits are calling a “soft” box office of $14.1 million.

From Box Office Mojo:

Faring not much better than last weekend’s fairy tale revamp Beastly, Red Riding Hood mustered an estimated $14.1 million on close to 3,500 screens at 3,030 locations, which was lower than The Brothers Grimm’s debut but above average for a werewolf movie. Its estimated attendance wasn’t much better than Cursed’s. Werewolves (sans vampires) haven’t been terribly popular at the box office, so it was always unlikely that Red Riding Hood would replicate the success of the two movies that inspired it: Twilight (despite being from the same director, Catherine Hardwicke) and Alice in Wonderland. The marketing campaign for Red Riding Hood, which received a profuse push on Thursday’s American Idol, focused on a barrage of different taglines (“It wants her,” “The truth will tear her apart,” etc.) and the mystery of who the wolf was, yet it didn’t show the wolf nor provide the context for why people should care. Distributor Warner Bros.’ research showed that 64 percent of Red Riding Hood’s audience was female, and 56 percent was under 25 years old.

It’s intriguing that everyone seems to be dubbing Red Riding Hood a “werewolf” movie – it’s not. Yes, there’s a werewolf in it, but it’s framed (and stunningly shot by Mandy Walker) as more of a love story set in a magical realm. As a modern execution of a fairy tale, it’s spot on: the wooden houses in the forest, the red cloak, the snow-covered haystacks, the too-tight britches of the hunky male leads are all beautifully realised if fantasy is your thing. The casting is great too – Amanda Seyfried’s fragile near-ethereal beauty provides the central core around which other characters revolve. Julie Christie is the sinister, fur-twirling grandmother who lives outside the village for reasons best known to herself. Virginia Madsen plays Red’s Mom as vaguely slutty, regretting some of the bad decisions made in her past that come back to haunt her as her youngest daughter reaches adulthood. It’s about female relationships, the family ties that bind, and the moment when a young woman must finally break free of all that if she is to be true to herself. It does what every movie should do as a bare minimum, which is transport you to a different realm for a couple of hours.

It’s odd that Warner Brothers, after giving a cursory nod to the Twilight audience (“From the director of Twilight” is on the poster), seemed so determined to position this as a PG-13 horror movie/mystery. Surely it would have made more sense to emphasise the fantasy and magic aspect, and aim this at the Harry Potter crowd? Apart from a couple of heaving bosom moments, and some severed hands, there is nothing too scary in here, and younger, Disney-jaded kids could really enjoy this kind of story-telling. Warner Bros could have called it something other than “Red Riding Hood” too – at least they left off the “Little”.

A fairy tale with dark undertones: surely that can find an audience? These stories have been around for hundreds of years and have in-built branding. The studios are going to have to figure out how to market this genre successfully as there are two versions of Snow White on the horizon, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is currently in production. It comes down to the studios lacking practice in selling non-fluff to females. That audience is there, and will turn out in droves as they did for Twilight, but they have to be nurtured and respected for their loyalty, just like the fanboys.

Weekend Report – Box Office Mojo

Hollywood & Hegemony

Susanne BierSo the Oscars are over for another year. Amidst last night’s hoopla, unsurprisingly, white men gave themselves all the prizes. Usually for making films about other white men. Unless they’re turning their male gaze on white women, and sort of missing the point(e) (Black Swan). And so the circle continues. It seems a woman’s main function at the Academy Awards is the wearing of a pretty dress and some borrowed diamonds.

The only woman who won in a non-actress category was Susanne Bier, director of the Best Foreign Language Film, In A Better World.

In other news, the MPAA’s annual breakdown of who bought tickets to see movies in theatres last year shows that women make up 50% of the North American movie-going public. But they don’t get to see themselves represented onscreen in those proportions, not in terms of lead female characters, or female helmed, shot or written movies. It’s 2011. It’s getting kind of old.

Who Goes To The Movies – Indiewire