Female Writer: Louella Parsons

I’veImage become interested in Louella Parsons.  I mostly knew of her from her rivalry with Hedda Hopper but I learned that she got her first start in Hollywood/entertainment/media when she was a scenario writer/screenwriter for Essanay Film Manufacturing Company in Chicago in the 1910s.  Her notoriety came from her radio show and gossip columns in New York and LA but her start came as a writer in Chicago.

I’m very interested to learn more about Parsons’ Chicago career, including her time at Essanay as well as the time when she worked at Hearst’s Chicago paper.  I’m also interested to learn more about her role in the Hearst campaign to suppress “Citizen Kane.”  Was she just a mouthpiece?  or did she have stakes in the matter?  I’m very early in my research on Parsons so I’m interested to read more about how it all played out.

I have the Samantha Barbas book about her on hold at the library and I know that will give me a good foundation.  A few interesting links I’ve found so far include:

Photoplay in the 1950s: The Old Biddies:  A terrific analysis about the celebrity/gossip relationship of Old Hollywood and the matronly, “old biddy” personas of Parsons, Hopper and fellow gossip columnists Elsa Maxwell and Sheila Graham:

“… [T]hese women ARE ALL OLD BIDDIES.  Especially by the time we get to the mid-’50s — these ladies used to be matronly, but now they’re downright elderly.  They’re your Great Aunt with the costume jewelry telling your brother to shave his beard.  And they were the face of traditional fan magazines — and gossip more generally — as Hollywood attempted to reconfigure itself during the 1950s.” — Anne Helen Petersen

Give Louella an Ince; She’ll Take a Column: A Snopes article that examines the possibility that Parsons got her lifetime contract with Hearst because she kept quiet about the goods she had on a murder Hearst committed.

The Warrior Queens of Gossip:  A 1985 People Magazine profile of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, included as part of a feature on the CBS made-for-TV movie “Malice in Wonderland,” (Netflix) starring Elizabeth Taylor as Parsons and Jane Alexander as Hopper.  I think it’s interesting the amount of page count the magazine gave to this piece; I can’t imagine today’s People Magazine would give over this much room to a backgrounder for a TV movie, especially when the subjects of the movie are two elderly women who had died 15 years prior to publication.

Bette Davis talks about Louella Parsons: A clip from the Dick Cavett show.  Bette Davis talks about how she managed gossip columnists and very briefly touches on Louella Parsons in particular.  It’s just mostly Bette Davis and Dick Cavett being terrific and having a lot of fun chatting with each other and performing the relationship between star and celeb-journalist.

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Jane Campion on TV versus Film

Jane Campion: this much I know | Film | The Observer.

Interesting (and very brief) thoughts from Jane Campion on TV versus Film:

“It feels like TV has the smart audience. You can be more adventurous in TV than you can in film, as viewers know the world’s a strange place and don’t mind seeing it. You can be as ambitious as you want.”

I haven’t started watching her TV show, “Top of the Lake” yet, but it’s on my list.  I agree with Campion that TV has become a place for more daring work, and a place where there is more possibility for different kinds of storytelling and different kinds of characters.  There’s less at stake: the whole budget doesn’t need to be made back in the debut airing of a show like it does in the opening weekend box office of a movie, so riskier choices can be made by networks in terms of the subjects and characters that get aired and in terms of the filmmakers/showrunners the networks will work with.

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Short Film: Nora, dir. Carrie Cracknell

Nora

I screened the short film Nora, directed by Carrie Cracknell this past semester for a class I was teaching on idea development, screenwriting and pre-production.  It sparked quite a lot of conversation between the men and women in the class.  One young man flat out said that she was “a bad mother” for her final action.  Another young man said that he’d been raised in a big family, with lots of noise and kids, and that his matriarch “never would do that”.  A young woman countered, “Maybe you just never saw her when she was frustrated.”  Another young woman said, “My mom never did that, but there were plenty of times when I saw my mom get right to that point.”  It was a really interesting discussion that unfolded and to hear how differently the students perceived this protagonist and how vividly those differences lined up along gender lines.

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Female Filmmaker: Ida May Park

This blog takes its name from a passage written by Ida May Park for the 1929 book Careers for Women:

Ida May Park from the Jul. 14, 1917 edition of Moving Picture World.

Ida May Park from the Jul. 14, 1917 edition of Moving Picture World.

“Wait until the profession has emerged from its embryonic state and a system has been evolved by which the terrific weight of responsibility can be lifted from one pair of shoulders.  When that time comes I believe that women will find no finer calling.”

Ida May Park was born in 1880 in Los Angeles, CA.  She began her career in her teens working as a stage actress.  Ida May Park directed and/or co-directed 14 films and wrote 50 more.  Her early directing efforts for the Universal Pictures imprint Bluebird were described in the July 14, 1917 edition of Moving Picture World:

“Her first picture [The Flashlight] was largely acted out-of-doors and Miss Park climbed mountains and waded streams with all the facility and disregard for obstructions that any man might demonstrate.  The surging mob scenes in ‘Fires of Rebellion’ were expertly handled and in directing ‘The Rescue’ the woman director fitted to a nicety because the July 23 Bluebird is distinctively a ‘woman’s feature’ with society scenes and fine gowns dominating incidentals to the problem plot.  Thus has Miss Park fitted into her niche — made for herself an essential place, equal to that of most men in creating features for a program of the first class.”

Ida May Park’s final work as a filmmaker was as the writer for the 1930 film “Playthings of Hollywood.”   She died in 1954.

Learn more about Ida May Park:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_May_Park

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0661844

Lowe, Denise. “Park, Ida May (1880 Los Angeles, Ca – 1954 Los Angeles, CA).” Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films, 1895-1930. London: 2005.

Park, Ida May. “The Motion Picture Director.” Trans. Array Careers for Women. Cambridge, MA: Riverside press, 1920. 335-37. Print. <http://tinyurl.com/3kkdupb>.

“Ida May Park, Director.” Moving Picture World. 14 Jul 1917: 222. Print. <http://archive.org/stream/movwor33chal>

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Madonna thanks exes for encouraging movie career

Why oh why can’t she just be a filmmaker without having to establish her “cred” by having been (briefly) married to two other filmmakers? It’s like how every time someone interviews Bigelow we have to be reminded that she was (briefly) married to Cameron so she’s got the goods. Like filmmaking is a sexually transmitted vocation.

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So it begins: Talking with Women Filmmakers

Ida Lupino. Not interviewed for this project. Awesome nonetheless.

I’m working on a project this summer that I believe will help me connect a lot of dots.  In collaboration with Women in Film Chicago, I am interviewing women in the motion picture industry in Chicago, with the aim to assemble a report that depicts a sort of “state of women in the motion picture industry in Chicago”.  Well, that’s the long view.  I’ve already started speaking with a number of women, and they’ve already begun to clue me in as to how far this rabbit hole can go.

I’m doing a number of one-on-one interviews at the moment, informational largely for myself in order for me to better understand what the hell it is I’m really interested in versus what would be useful for Women in Film’s needs.  And one thing I’ve figured out for sure:  These one-on-one interviews are not going to be the best way to approach this project.  They’re immensely helpful background information, but what I think will get me to the meat of my ideas is by handling this as a series of focus groups.

So far, though, the women I’ve spoken with as of this writing (I have a bunch more lined up in the coming days) have opened a number of new inquiry areas for me, ones I need to reckon with some more in the coming days.  Rise Sanders‘ elegant breakdown of the macro-level politics of broadcast television and how the broadcast reforms of the 1980s and 1990s have come to roost in the 2010s decline of hour-long documentary programming was an eye opener.  Anna Jung shared a vivid description of how her career has evolved from writer to producer to director and how each role carries with it different expectations and percections.  Having worked in fiction feature to non-fiction episodic and beyond, Nicole Bernardi-Reis gave me a lot to think about regarding mentoring and fostering women in production as a whole and in Chicago in particular.  The impending AFI Directing Workshop for Women production of Towing, written by Cari Callis and directed by Wenhwa Tsao (both Chicago-based), is a direct intersection of both the representation of women in motion pictures and the challenges that women in motion pictures come across on the way to get work produced.  Beyond the specifics of filmmaking, each of these conversations have also revealed to me ideas and questions about women and waged work; women and career advancement; gendered familial roles and the impact on working women; and art vs. commercial work.

And clearly, I have to get these women, as well as all of the others I want to include, into a room together to hear them discuss and deconstruct “motion picture work” as a “career for women”.   One-on-one interviews are easier in that regard, but I know putting them all in a room will just generate so much more rich information (and probably some GREAT stories as well.)  So now on my to do list:  Find place(s) where I can host 8-10 people at a time and find time(s) when I can coordinate all of these folks’ schedules to do it!

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Watched: Down to the Bone by Debra Granik

Ok, so I like to find still images on the web to post with my musings because images go a long way to convey the underlying mood, tone, etc. of a film.  Here are the two that pop up when you Google Down to the Bone by Debra Granik:

It’s pretty great that these images pop up because they sum up the whole damned movie so well:  A woman, wasted out of her skull, leans on the men in her life to help her get things sorted out.  Maybe watching this so soon after Sherrybaby wasn’t such a good idea.  They’re incredibly thematically similar (lower-class, white, drug-addicted mother tries to ‘get straight’).  And they both do a great job of getting across a message that their protagonists don’t quite learn:  “Don’t sleep with people you meet in recovery ’cause you’ll end up relapsing and feeling pretty awful about it.”

Granik’s 2004 film stars Vera Farmiga, who I only know from The Departed.  In this film she’s got an interesting air about her that separates her distinctly from Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in Sherrybaby.  In that film, Gyllenhaal’s desperate, all-consuming love of her young daughter is bright, brittle and close to the surface.  Farmiga’s Irene has a detachment from her kids.  She cares for them (sort of) and she likes them well enough.  But there’s never a tearful, screaming moment of maternal anguish:  Irene never has a “my babies!” moment.  When she checks in to rehab, she listlessly agrees with the counselor that she’s entering because of her kids, but there’s never an actual sense that Irene believes that.  Which makes this film diverge strongly from Sherrybaby, a film where the broken mother protagonist is desperate for her child.  In Down to the Bone, the broken mother protagonist isn’t all that “motherly.”  Farmiga’s pinpoint pupils, her detached expression throughout the film, isolate her from everyone else.  The only time she is able to get close with someone — her children, her lover — are as you see them portrayed here: eyes closed, blasted out of her mind.

Granik’s lo-fi approach suits the story well.  It’s video (unabashedly), the lighting is largely practical, there are a goodly number of non-actors mixed with actors.  She works extremely hard to create a realism on screen, which makes Farmiga’s detachment even more unsettling.  It’s as if we’re watching a documentary of this woman’s ambivalence, or perhaps more closely, a surveillance of her experience.

It falls apart in the relationship(s) between Irene, her husband Steve and her paramour Bob.  And perhaps it’s related to her ambivalence toward getting sober.  Steve uses, Bob doesn’t, so when she gets clean she wants to keep clean and bonds with Bob.  But then Bob isn’t as clean as she hopes.  Even though Steve uses throughout, he’s honest.  He watches the kids.  He goes to work.  When Bob uses, he loses his job, he is dangerous with the kids, he lies.  So Irene:  What’s so great about Bob after all?  I don’t know if Irene ever figures that out.  I don’t know that she ever figures anything out.  It’s a study of ambivalence all across the board.

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