Saturday, November 16, 2013

Why Sofia Coppola Is Not Invited (Post#5)

Copyright 2010 Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
     Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino – when talking about famous directors, these names come up in mind. And they all have one thing in common: they are all male. Whether it be scy-fy blockbusters, action films or even romantic comedies, there’s not a lot of women with director credit in mainstream film industry. And even though today we live in a world where women changed their aprons for business suits, the director’s chair still belongs to men. This is very well illustrated by the representation of women at the Academy Awards - only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director since 1929 when first Oscars were given: Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1976), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003), and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2009). Surprisingly, except for Campion, these women directors are not included in the WomenMakeMovies database of films by and about women which is supposed to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry. To me, this hints at the fundamental juxtaposition of movies made by women for mainstream audiences versus those made by women as feminist statements. By analyzing films of Sofia Coppola, I will discuss potential reasons for why she was not invited to the feminist party.
      Sofia Coppola has a privilege of being the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, the acclaimed director of The Godfather, which, of course, carries some benefits to a young female movie-maker, such as well-known actors and a rock-star producer (her father). In her recent interview with Tim Teeman, she says, “I work really hard, but I’m definitely lucky to have the connection with the industry I do. I knew how to get a good sound designer. I definitely had advantages but was disadvantaged too that people could dismiss me.” Nonetheless, she doesn’t feel a desperate need to counter these charges. “You can’t please everybody. I just get on with my work.” As I write, Coppola has made five feature films, The Virgin SuicidesLost in TranslationMarie AntoinetteSomewhere and The Bling Ring and I've seen them all. All of them are written and directed by her and reflect her personal creative vision, making Coppola the auteur with a distinct set of easily-identifiable traits of authorship. A signature style of her films includes the aesthetically beautiful picture, soft lighting, attention to feminine details. In Coppola’s films there is not a lot of dialogue, and the characters are complicated. Most of her protagonists are women, often with many "vices" and negative attributes, on which Coppola deliberately focuses the viewers' attention. Arguably, in this way she explores the way society and show business often treat young women, placing them on pedestals and surrounding them with unattainable expectations. Her protagonists may be viewed as a social commentary on the way women are objectified in the media industry since very young age. On the other hand, maybe she just doesn't like women and thinks that we are all sluts?
     The Virgin Suicides is a story about 5 sisters living under the roof of their  strict, religious mother and a pussy-whipped father. The film explores the rottenness of the white suburban affluent lifestyle. The sisters are highly idealized through stereotypical representations of their innocence and dirtiness at the same time - crumbled panties in the bedroom, red lipstick, and the many scenes of Lux's promiscuity. This reinforces sexist representation of women found throughout various media. The mother, on the other hand, is depicted as a sex-less woman who holds the entire family in an iron fist, which similarly is not a very likable character.
     In Lost in Translation, an aging white man in an exotic and non-white location engages in a romantic affair with a married white woman also visiting the exotic location.  Not only is the female protagonist a "manic pixie dream girl" but this film scores very poorly on the Bechdel Test.  Maybe the Bechdel Test is not a scientific standard for whether or not a movie is feminist, but it is a good start––and Lost In Translation's orientalism and precocious-white-women-in-love-with-older-white-man obsession does not really provide the movie with anything else that would prove Coppola is a critical and daring feminist film-maker.
     Similarly, female characters of Marie Anoinette are mostly over-privileged young women who refuse to speak in full sentences or really at all. Their main worries are occupied with dresses, parties, and men. Coppola depicts the queen as a lonely and unhappy woman valued only for her reproductive abilities, who finds escape in conspicuous consumption of the material pleasures a royal life has to offer.
     In Coppola's next film, Somewhere,  it is not a single protagonist but rather the totality of women in episodic roles that is problematic. I’m giving away very little about the movie by pointing out that there is barely one woman who isn’t easily bedded by Johnny Marco, the male protagonist. The women in  Coppola’s Hollywood world flash their breasts, bare any and all other parts of their bodies, and sleep with Johnny without so much as one word. Coppola says she wanted to show a side of the movie-star lifestyle that people don't normally get to see.
"I wanted to show what happens in between the more public moments [of an actor's life,]" she says. "When I was writing the script, there were a few stories in the news about a couple of really successful actors and performers having personal crises, and it looked like they were having this fun party lifestyle — and from there, I tried to imagine what [Marco's] life would be like the next morning."
     Finally, The Bling Ring, takes absurdity of the "show-off" culture to extreme. In this film a group of teenagers take us on a thrilling and disturbing crime spree in the Hollywood hills as they rob the houses of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom. The teens “assumed they should be celebrities, with their obsession about brands and bling”, Coppola says.

      As you can see, all her films carry a strong feminist rhetoric which is concealed by a veil of misrepresentation, as if she is winking at the viewer. She is a female film-maker, making movies about women and the way society shapes our experiences. However, Coppola refuses to acclaim any political meaning to her movies. “I was raised by a feminist but I don’t really describe myself as anything. I don’t want to be political and I don’t make political statements. Actions speak louder than words: it’s important to be independent and strong.” She refuses to push messages of morality in her films and prefers ambiguous endings. Perhaps, her personal detachment from the feminist movement is what justifies her success in the male-dominated Hollywood as much as her exclusion from the WMM.
 Works Cited:

No comments:

Post a Comment