Stream Films About Remarkable Women II

Women in the arts: Paris Was a Woman 1996 Documentary. Directed by Greta Schiller. Terrific. An exploration of the community of women in the arts in Paris 1920s/30s. (Most of them gay.) Neither mistress nor muse, these formidable forces created their own iconoclastic lives. Archival footage lets us hear/see interview excerpts from some of the subjects. Additional photographs illuminate.

The women: Art collector/author Gertrude Stein (and her partner Alice B. Toklas) whose salon was THE place for struggling artists and writers to mingle; Janet Flanner, whose Letter From Paris under the pseudonym Genêt ran in The New Yorker for half a century; Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach who respectively owned the first bookstores in Paris to hold readings, start libraries, and eventually publish – Ms. Beach founded the iconic, English language establishment Shakespeare & Co. which exists today.

Also designer Eileen Gray, entertainers Bricktop and Josephine Baker, authors Natalie Barney, Djuna Barnes, Colette, portrait painter Romaine Brooks “the thief of souls,” and photographer Giselle Freund…What comes to light is collective support and cross-pollination. Free with Amazon Prime.

Crusader Erin Brockovich: Erin Brockovich 2000 Dramatization of the true story of a woman instrumental in winning an enormous contamination case against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. Directed by Stephen Soderbergh. When unemployed single mother of three Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts – Academy Award Best Actress) loses an accident case on which she counted for remuneration, she plants herself in the office of her lawyer Ed Masry (Albert Finney) and demands a job. Erin is crass, uneducated, and dresses like a tramp, but a good mother and street smart.

Given the files for PG&E’s purchase of the home of Hinkley resident Donna Jensen (Marg Helgenberger), Erin is surprised to find medical records and drives out to the Jensen’s to investigate. The housewife has suffered from several tumors; her husband has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. PG&E supplied a doctor and paid all the bills ostensibly “because of the chromium.” Erin interviews locals finding prevalent illness of all kinds. Each family sends her to the next. Suspicious of lawyers, they relate to her. What began as a single claim grows into a class action suit against the behemoth.

Masry’s skepticism fades. A meeting with PG&E attorneys is priceless. No one expects anything of this untrained, lower class woman who knows all her families’ facts by heart and has a comeback for every challenge. It’s a crackerjack story. Roberts inhabits the character. Critic Andrew Sarris wrote, “We get the best of independent cinema and the best of mainstream cinema all in one package. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Frida KahloFrida – a 2002 film produced by and starring Salma Hayak as the surrealist Mexican painter. Directed by Julie Taymor with her wildly creative stamp all over it. Of all artist biopics, this one leads you furthest into the mind and spirit of its subject. Paintings literally come to life. Hayak is terrific.

Impaled by a metal pole in a bus accident at 18, Frida Kahlo had countless operations, remaining debilitated and in pain her entire life. Art came to her almost accidentally, at first presented as therapy. Even as a young woman, she was a force of nature. A passionate, dysfunctional relationship with womanizing husband, painter Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), is matched by her own bisexual dalliances. We see both careers rise in Mexico and New York, meet Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush), with whom she has an affair, and patron Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton). To the end of her aborted life, she burned with creativity. Amazon Prime and Netflix

Edith Piaf (1915-1963): La Vie en Rose 2007 Co-written and Directed by Olivier Dahan. Marion Cotillard as Piaf won a Best Actress Academy Award, the first time an Oscar had been given for a French-language role. Despite liberties, the film will give you a fairly good sense of “The Little Sparrow” from street urchin childhood, to booed music hall performer, to international star. The indomitable performing artist often makes poor choices in love, overcomes addiction, performs, suffers tragedy, and writes timeless songs, never feeling as if she fits. A tumultuous life played with ferocity. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Aviatrix Amelia Earhart: Amelia 2009. Sources include “East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and “The Sound of Wings” by Mary S. Lovell. Directed by Mira Nair. Better for sequence and spirit than character plumbing. Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank really looks like her) approaches publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere) as a candidate to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. There are book and licensing deals attached. Both pilot and navigator are, however, men. She holds the title “Commander” while actually a passenger. Next time Earhart makes the trip, she’s at the controls.

Between segments of her last flight, we follow a flashback career of breaking records and lecturing, promoting both women aviators and plane travel as expertly handled by Putnam who becomes manager, PR person, and eventually her husband. Earhart tells him up front she doesn’t think she can ever settle down. An affair underlines the fact. (The Putnams recover.) We see flights from above and below observing credible exhilaration and dangers. Rent on Amazon Prime.

The Eye Has To Travel (Diana Vreeland) 2012 Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Frédéric Tcheng. If you’re barely acquainted with the indomitable Diana Vreeland, this will impress and entertain. “She was never a very rich woman, she was never a very beautiful woman, but she created wealth and she created beauty.” As a child, her mother told the girl, “It’s too bad you have such a beautiful sister and you’re so ugly.” She didn’t feel secure about her appearance until meeting handsome future husband, Reed Vreeland.

One night out dancing, by dint of personal style she was asked to join Harper’s Bazaar by Editor-in-Chief Carmel Snow. “But I’ve never worked before,” she responded. “Why don’t you?” Snow countered. This became the title of Vreeland’s wry column for the magazine. Her column was a great success, but Vreeland never rose in the ranks so when Vogue came calling, she jumped.

The previously “sleepy” magazine welcomed a new editor with an unerring eye for visual talent, an ear to the ground of culture and trends, and sophisticated aesthetics. She popularized bikinis and blue jeans, brought Twiggy to Vogue, discovered Lauren Bacall, used personalities as models, and indulged in extravagant photographic shoots the likes of which were never repeated. Vreeland also fraternized with artists of all stripes.Vogue cut her loose at age 70.

When The Metropolitan Museum of Art hired her to consult for the then quiet Costume Institute, they had no idea how Vreeland’s energy and vision would change everything. She took garments out of boxes and put them on mannequins; instituted blockbuster exhibitions and the fundraising party of the year. It’s great fun to hear throughout from the accomplished woman herself. We also see/hear Diane Sawyer, Jane Pauley, photographer Richard Avedon, model/actress Angelica Huston.  Free with Amazon Prime.

Patroness/Collector Peggy Guggheim: Peggy Guggenheim-Art Addict 2015 Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland. A good look (film and stills) at Peggy Guggenheim whose prescience about modern art resulted in groundbreaking exhibitions and eventually the museum in Venice, Italy. Powerfully influential in bringing together European and American avant-gardes, Peggy unabashedly slept her way through the community “sex is so refreshing” and is praised by talking heads for being a patroness, not just a collector. She seems willing to be exploited in return for visibility or favors.

We see some of Peggy’s own work, some of what she purchased. Artist anecdotes are appealing. The documentary offers so many different opinions by those who knew her, however, any clear portrait is left to the viewer. Just in front of The Guggenheim Collection in Venice stands the Marini horseman  (Sculpture) “The Angel of the City.” Its penis (legend has it Peggy had it added) is removable to avoid shocking the nuns going past on their way to religious festivals.  Rent on Amazon Prime.

Inventor/Entrepreneur Joy Mangano: Joy 2015 Directed by David O. Russell In 1990, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) was the sole support of a co-habiting family that might’ve been invented by George S. Kaufman: mother Terri (Virginia Madsen) who spent the day in bed watching soaps, maternal grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), divorced father Rudy (Robert Di Niro), and ex-husband, wannabe singer Tony (Edgar Ramirez). One day, in household frustration, she invents a self-wringing mop.

After several mishaps, Joy reaches QVC Executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper). Choice of pitchman is unfortunate until the inventor herself takes over. Through someone else’s bad business decision bankruptcy looms. Neil becomes a competitor. Joy pulls her company out of QVC  and becomes a multimillionaire producer of not only her own but others’ designs. If you enjoy this, watch television’s Shark Tank. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay 

About Alix Cohen (1793 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.