Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was retiring from acting and that the Phantom Thread would be his last film. Unlike Peyton Manning, who retired after wining the Super Bowl, Phantom Thread will not provide Day-Lewis with a similar winning moment. The actor is famous for losing himself in his roles and he certainly does that again as Reynolds Woodcock, a designer in 1950s London who is fawned over by his wealthy and royal clients. Day-Lewis has the designer act down, from the way he handles a needle to the constant sketching of gowns to the meltdown when his fashions are being paraded before the critics. Like so many artists, Woodcock is single-minded in his approach, relegating those around him to a supporting cast that is necessary, although on most occasions annoying.
Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville
Woodcock’s company and, in fact, the designer himself, is managed by his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). A confirmed bachelor, Woodcock even leaves it up to Cyril to break off relationships, which we are led to believe, never last for very long. That’s until he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress he meets on one of his visits to his countryside home. Shortly after ordering his breakfast (Welsh raerebit with a poached egg on top, bacon, sausages, jam-not strawberry-and lapsang tea), he invites her to dinner. After the meal, he undresses her, not to have sex, but to design a dress for her. At this point, we know Alma is never returning to waitressing, but will become his muse.
Alma is a curious choice for Woodcock’s inspiration. And here director Paul Thomas Anderson does something quite right, casting the unknown Krieps as Woodcock’s Eliza Doolittle. She’s not conventionally beautiful, but she commands attention when on screen, particularly when she’s wearing one of Woodcock’s creations. The fashions are breathtaking. (Costume designer – Mark Bridges)
Alma is no fool. She not only falls in love with Woodcock, but she understands him and what he needs. It comes down to one thing – mothering. Woodcock still has dreams about his mother and the wedding dress he designed for her when he was a child. Cyril may have once fulfilled that role, but now Alma is committed to taking over. And what’s the one thing that mothers do best? Taking care, lovingly, of a sick child. In Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, mushrooms were used to off a Union solider. Alma won’t go that far, but her omelette soon have Woodcock as her patient, and a willing one at that.
Woodcock, Hitchcock? The parallels are there, making Phantom Thread less about romance and more about survival.
Top: Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis Photo Credit : Laurie Sparham / Focus Features
The Beguiled is visually beautiful. A large white Virginia mansion sits surrounded by majestic trees dripping with moss. The women who inhabit this home are outfitted in gowns that would put Scarlett O’Hara to shame. Each scene, shot in gauzy, low light is mesmerizing, giving the entire film a dreamlike quality. Yet that exceptional cinematography cannot save a film whose storyline is demeaning to women. That the director is Sofia Coppola and the cast predominantly women only adds to the disappointment.
“I think just the power between men and women, which we can all relate to, is at the heart of the story,” Coppola said on the CBS Morning Show, explaining why she decided to do a remake of the 1971 film which starred Clint Eastwood. The earlier version did poorly at the box office after being marketed as a “hothouse melodrama” – “One man…seven women…in a strange house!” That setup, a group of women competing for the attention and love of a man, never falls to draw an audience, one reason why ABC’s The Bachelor is now in its 21st (!) season. Still, whether during the Civil War or in current time, seeing women scratch and claw each other to win a man is unseemly.
Seven women, ranging in age from seven to 40, are holed up in the Farnsworth Seminary for Young Women, practicing their handwriting and studying French while trying to ignore the Civil War raging around them. The youngest girl, Amy (Oona Laurence) is gathering mushrooms in the forest when she happens upon a wounded Union soldier, Colonel McBurney (Colin Farrell). She helps him back to the mansion where he collapses. The school’s head, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), decides they should tend to his injuries before turning him into the Confederates. He’s placed on a bed in the music room which is kept locked. Miss Martha strips off his clothes and sponges away the dirt and blood on his body, her movements and facial expressions making it clear it’s been a long time since she’s seen a man. She also cleans out and stitches up the wound in his leg.
When he regains consciousness, McBurney tells the women he recently arrived in America from Ireland and, being short on cash, was paid to take another man’s place in the Union Army. Fighting for a cause he knew little about and didn’t believe in made it easy for him to desert when he was wounded. He wants the women to know that he’s not their enemy. (Eastwood’s character told the women he was a pacifist.) The women soon band together to protect McBurney from being turned in when Confederate soldiers stop in to check on Miss Martha and the others.
Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst
Although Miss Martha keeps telling McBurney he’s not a guest, he’s soon joining them at the table for dinner. The women dress for each occasion like they are dining with a prince. McBurney doesn’t disappoint, enjoying the food, particularly Amy’s mushrooms, and flirting with each woman. Although Miss Martha tries to keep things professional, there’s no doubt she’s attracted to him, too. But the major contenders are Edwina, the school’s second in command and teacher played by Kirsten Dunst, and Alicia, one of the older students played by Elle Fanning. McBurney plays one off against the other until his manipulations backfire with disastrous consequences.
Despite the fact that the film is set during the Civil War, Coppola made the curious decision to jettison one of the characters, a slave, Hallie, played in the original by Mae Mercer, which sparked some fascinating and heated exchanges with Eastwood’s McBurney. Hallie and the women (a cast headed by Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman) dressed in work clothes, not ball gowns, and toiled in the fields in order to supply their food. In Coppola’s version, not only do we wonder where all the mansion’s food comes from (aside from Amy’s mushrooms), but also ponder who spends time washing and ironing all those dresses?
Coppola’s work was recognized with a best director’s award at Cannes, which certainly is a boost to women directors battling for equity in Hollywood. And the cast (which also includes Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, and Emma Howard) delivers strong performances. Too bad the plot didn’t present women in a better light.
International Women’s Day is March 8th. In the spirit of the occasion, it seems appropriate to consider watching a movie with a woman director. Sadly, at present, this is a limited field, nevertheless we have found five worthy contenders and hope to see far, FAR more in the future.
The Piano (1993) Written and directed by New Zealand’s own Jane Campion, this romantic drama starring Holly Hunter as a mute piano player and widowed mother who becomes entangled in a convoluted love triangle with Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel. It made over $140 million worldwide on a seven million dollar budget, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three; Best Actress for Holly Hunter, Best Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin, and Best Original Screenplay for Campion. Campion also became the first and thus far only woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes. She would later go on to direct the award winning romantic drama Bright Star, as well as write and direct the TV mystery/drama series Top Of the Lake starring Elisabeth Moss in a role that’s won her a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award.
Monsoon Wedding (2001) Directed by Indian born Mira Nair this romantic comedy details various entanglements and dramas taking place during a traditional Punjabi Hindu wedding in Delhi. Along the way we are treated to song and dance numbers as well as a number of observations about life in Modern 21st Century India and Punjabi culture. The movie was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival making Nair only the second Indian to win in that category. Nair would go on to direct such films as The Namesake (nominated for a Gotham Award and Independent Spirit Award), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (for which Nair won The Bridge, The German Film Award for Peace), and Queen of Katwe (nominated for four NAACP Image Awards and Winner of Best Family Film by Women Film Critics Circle.)
Lost In Translation (2003) Written and directed by Sofia Coppola (daughter of the legendary Francis Ford Coppola), this bittersweet comedy starring Bill Murray (in a role that many considered to be his best work to date and which launched a career renaissance for him) as a washed up movie star who connects with young, unhappy, newlywed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson in her breakout role). The movie was a huge breakout success earning over a $100 million on a four million dollar budget. Johannson and Murray each received BAFTA Awards. The film garnered four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. Coppola actually won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Sofia would later become the first American woman to win the Golden Lion the top prize at the Venice International Film Festival for 2010’s Somewhere which she also wrote and directed.
The Hurt Locker (2009) Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days). This war thriller about an Iraqi bomb squad starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty is one of the most suspenseful and grittiest war movies ever made with an incredible emphasis on the psychological toll of combat. It’s so intense and realistic you can almost taste sand in your mouth during one particular sequence. It was universally acclaimed by critics and went on to win six Academy Awards including Best Picture. Bigelow won the award for Best Director and as of this date The Hurt Locker remains the first movie directed by a woman to win either Best Director or Best Picture. Bigelow would go on to direct Zero Dark Thirty which would be nominated for five Oscar awards including Best Picture.
Selma (2014) Directed by Ava DuVernay. While DuVernay was the first African American woman to win the Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Director for her feature film Middle of Nowhere, it was this historical drama starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. based on the real life voting marches from Selma to Montgomery,that helped her truly rise to prominence. With Selma, DuVernay became the first African American woman to be nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Director as well as the black female director to have her film nominated by the Academy for Best Picture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th examining race and mass incarceration in the U.S. She’s currently working on directing on an adaption of A Wrinkle in Time for Disney with a budget exceeding $100 million making DuVernay the first black woman to direct a live action film with a budget of such size.