View From The Balcony

Young filmmaker enjoys first directing opportunity
to produce tape of local dance company

If necessity is the mother of invention, then hunger must be the father of creativity. It was during one of his frequent breakfast trips to the Brady Street Pharmacy that Jason Helgren got put in touch with the Milwaukee Dance Connection. The dance group wanted to obtain a finished videotape of their spring performance on April 26, and Jason was asked to produce it. Jim Searles was the go-between, doing one of the things he does best: uniting people with similar interests and inspiring them to tackle the tough stuff.
        
The Milwaukee Dance Connection, a sort of hybrid modern dance/African dance troupe, is in its infancy. The company happily uses the upstairs space at the Astor Street Performing Arts Center for occasional rehearsals.
        While this filming project was Jason's first three-camera shoot, he's been involved in video, music and other creative arts production for several years. At 30 years of age, he's already a seasoned artist.
        Freelance TV commercial production is one of his three primary creative outlets at this point. "It's how I make a living," he says. "That's the one I can count on."
        And, Just this past winter, Jason started producing a line of clothing – t-shirts and tank tops for men and women. He bought his own silk-screen press and set up a little lab in his basement. The business is only a month old and already he's showing in three different stores, and expanding into the Chicago market.
        Jason's third job is freelance website production.
        He got a degree from UWM in Film Production, but he knew almost immediately that he was going to have to diversify to survive.
        "I guess when you're going to school, at least for me," he says, "I'm like, yeah, going to school for film. Having a lot of fun creating this art. Hopefully, I could get paid someday to do work on my own."
        After he found out "real fast" he had to do something to survive, he got a lucky break in finding the TV commercial production business.
        "Film school let me have my freedom to do whatever I wanted," he says. "I got experience using a camera and editing. But working on a TV commercial, I see lighting techniques, camera techniques I meet a lot of different people." He points out that most of his colleagues in the commercial production field are also artists who use the TV work as a source of income, in order to fund projects of their own, as well.
        "For a tot of the people involved, some offshoot of film is in their life in some way," he says.
        As if his time weren't spread widely enough already, Jason would love to do work on music videos. He spent part of his time at UWM in the electronic music department there.
        "What I think is best for me, and what I'm best at as a filmmaker, is image and sound together, and how each one plays off of the other," he says.
        If he suddenly was on the receiving end of a cash windfall, Jason says he would love to buy the equipment he'd need to produce music videos, but also to expand his video production capabilities.
        "If I won the lottery, I'd love to produce my own commercials for the betterment of the world," he says. "If there was a cause that I felt was not being promoted commercially, something I felt strongly about, I'd work to give a voice to people who didn't otherwise have a voice on TV."
        There's so much power there, in TV. The ability to reach millions of people is something he now only dreams about, but "it would be awesome."
        Jason's work on the video for the Milwaukee Dance Connection is a tiny example of the power of film and videotape to reach people, to communicate with as yet unknown audiences.
        The MDC would love to ultimately get a full-length documentary for itself, but in the meantime, Jason's finished tape of their spring concert will serve a valuable purpose. The group plans to use the tape to promote itself, to expand the company's touring range and possibly to show to potential financial contributors.
        Jason had a great time on the project, which was his first three-camera shoot. He coordinated the shoot with his cameramen, figuring out what equipment they needed and what it would take to get a good final product. They looked at getting enough coverage from the three cameras so that, when edited, it would look better than a simple high school play, for instance.
        The three cameras were set up at different distances from the stage: one for close-ups and short shots, one for medium views and one in the second balcony for "establishing," wide shots. A system of monitors helped him see what each of the cameras was recording and he used walkie-talkies to communicate with the cameramen
        Jason Helgren is, certainly, a filmmaker, but he's so much more. "I like doing a lot of things," he says. "I don't think I could center in on just one thing at this point in time."
        The Milwaukee Dance Connection shoot was a good opportunity for him to do a lot of things, but this time, simultaneously.
        "It was fun to organize, to be able to use my brain a little more than just for setting up monitors," he says, referring to his work on TV commercial production. "I like commercial work, I like my job, but who wouldn't want to be the director?"    Back to topics


View From the Balcony by Peggy Schulz

Halle Berry – Monster Ball

When Halle Berry presented this year's Best Actor Oscar to Adrien Brody the youngest man ever to win in that category perhaps she was thinking back to last year, when she herself made Oscar history. As the first African-American woman to win a Best Actress Oscar, Berry must have been able to appreciate at least some of the thrill that Brody experienced this year.
        But, was Berry's excitement dimmed by Steve Martin's introduction of her? Taking his role of jokester-emcee a little too far, in this writer's opinion, Martin said that Berry had broken significant barriers last year by showing that a "really hot woman" could win an Oscar!
        Of course, that single comment couldn't diminish her success. Her acting in "Monster's Ball" was done in large part without any makeup, looking tired and careworn, as her character's portrayal called for. And that performance earned awards from many other organizations besides the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
        But, Martin's comment could leave us to wonder how far women, and particularly minority women, have come in the eyes of the motion picture industry, since the days when the names of female actresses were often mere afterthoughts in movie promotions, if not left out altogether.
        Was Denzel Washington's comment, in announcing Nicole Kidman as Best Actress in a leading Role for her portrayal of Virginia Wolff in "The Hours," scripted or off-the-cuff?
        Washington paused after saying, "And the Oscar goes to… by a nose, Nicole Kidman," an obvious reference to the prosthetic nose she donned in the movie. Even when a serious, albeit beautiful, actress takes on an equally serious role, portraying a brilliant woman not known for her physical beauty, it seems the superficial often takes precedence over the profound.
        Berry had other things to think about when she left the stage, after Brody laid a liplock on her, swooping her nearly off her feet. Had Kidman done the same to Washington, what might the reaction of the audience have been?
        Still, there is room for optimism that the movie industry as a whole is broadening its horizons to recognize the achievements of other than white, male actors, artists and other industry professionals. Back to topics


Hollywood's Shame:

The Pressure on Actresses To Be Thin by Cindy Anderson

Ohhhhhhh! I hate myself. I'm so fat! In reality, I am 5'3" tall, I weigh 118 pounds and I wear a size six petite pant. Not too many women are willing to divulge that sort of information. So where did my distorted perception of my body image come from? Through lifelong struggles of dissatisfaction with my own body image, I have sought to understand the power of film and the messages it sends to audiences around the world, and more specifically female audiences. In my educational pursuit of a degree in the field of psychology, I have come to see and understand the extensive damage caused by negative spoken and unspoken messages. I am an avid film watcher and I would even go as far to say that I am somewhat of an addict. I must also state, with great conviction, that I feel the unrealistic female body image that has been perpetuated through films, advertising and media has contributed in part to my body image struggles.
        Recently I went searching for an entertaining "old" movie for a relaxing Saturday night viewing and decided to watch How To Marry A Millionaire (1953), starring Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable. Needless to say, I ended up anything but relaxed from watching the film! The number of unhealthy psychological messages delivered to women from this movie had my hair standing on end. I realize that the intended moral of the story, deciding to choose love or money was probably regarded as a positive message, but that message along with the more subtle "unspoken” messages create damaging human perceptions that have been perpetuated throughout time in our American culture. It is those "unspoken" messages and the psychological ramifications of those messages that I must take issue with.
        How To Marry A Millionaire tells the story of three models who set-up in a posh New York apartment intent on relieving their financial woes by employing all their talents and drawing upon their best assets to trap and marry the wealthiest men possible. Those assets and talents consist of batting their beautiful eyelashes, wiggling their perfectly sized little behinds, accentuating their disproportionately tiny waistlines, and flashing those blinding white smiles. Ahhh... so the ultimate ideal is to win a wealthy man and the only way to success it through a beautiful face and body! No? The success of this movie was so great that a TV series ran from 1957-1959 and more recently revived through the "reality TV" phenomenon with the 2000 version Who Wants to Marry a Multi-millionaire? Pola Debevoise (Marilyn Monroe) certainly struggled with the ideal image of what a woman should look like. "You know what they say about women who wear glasses", stated Pola bluntly when Schatze (Bacall) insists that she wear her glasses. Monroe refused to wear her glasses in public, choosing instead to look like a stumbling idiot by running into everything and everyone because her well being was far lower on her priority list than her outer physical image. Obviously, Pola got a powerful message somewhere that took precedence over her own well being. Do I even need to argue the point of how negative messages such as this are very prominent in our culture and in cultures around the world today?
        In her private life, Marilyn struggled desperately with wanting to be accepted in society as an intelligent human being with a greater capacity for more serious acting endeavors. The 1953 movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, launched Monroe's career as a "sex symbol." It also tagged her with the "dumb blonde" image; both stereotypes plagued her when striving to attain other types of roles in film. Although Marilyn Monroe suffered from a traumatic past, I feel that her disconnected outer and inner body/mind image, along with trying to live inside the box built for her through films and media, impacted her life deeply and contributed to her untimely death at age 36.
        The story of Betty Grable, Loco Dempsey in How To Marry A Millionaire, is a revealing example of the unhealthy environment and culture within the film industry itself. Grable was catapulted into the role of star after her 1930's film Down Argentine Way. Grable gained phenomenal popularity during WW II, known around the world from a 1943 bathing suit photo that showed her from behind. Fox Studio insured her legs for a million dollars with Lloyd's of London, and she was labeled "the girl with the million dollar legs." She was also said to be the highest paid star of that era. Regardless of the fact that she had reached such extraordinary heights of success, Grable seemed to struggle with being an ideal female image participant as did Monroe. In one of her last films, Three For the Show (1955), Grable imitates the singing style of Marilyn Monroe. During a post-filming interview, Grable stated, "she felt she was handing her crown on to Monroe." In a recently read biography on Grable, I found this personal quote: "There are two reasons why I am successful in show business and I am standing on both of them." I can't even begin to imagine what kind of stress I would feel everyday if I had to live with the knowledge that someone had taken out a million dollar insurance policy of some part of my body.
        You can be sure that Ms. Grable had a tremendous challenge put before her in the task of upholding that beautiful, slender, female body image. Where is the healthy sense of satisfaction from succeeding in life in a situation such as this? In part, it has become lost in the horrible, twisted perceptions that have manifested in female minds of what the ideal female body image should be. I feel film and media have contributed greatly to the perpetuation of extremely unhealthy ideas of what a female body should look like.
        In the more recent past, films have obviously placed women with body types that are more in line with reality in starring roles. It is a place to start and I do feel compelled to commend the industry for their willingness to address a very serious issue that plagues a huge percentage of women in our world. I would like to say the change has made a dent in the psychological damage to the female psyche or penetrated the way a large majority of men look at women. In a recent viewing of About Schmidt (2002), I was very discouraged after watching the scene where Kathy Bates joined Jack Nicholson in the hot tub. The look of repulsion and his immediate reaction to leave the tub was worth a million words. My conclusion: men today still drip and drool over a female with a "beautiful body" and they have very little time for women who do not fit the bill when it comes to the age old 36-24-36 ideal female body image!  Back to topics


One Man's Vision Can Make A Difference:

The Strive Media Story by Peter Fraser

Matthew Johnson developed a passion for urban kids in the early 90s. He believed that what prevents many minority kids from success is a lack of opportunity and encouragement. So, he developed the Strive Media Institute that allows high-risk kids the opportunity to develop marketable skills in the area of mass communications.
        From its headquarters on Martin Luther King Drive, Strive kids have produced an Emmy award-winning weekly television show, Teen Forum, and a national magazine for teens, Gumbo. In addition, some of the kids even managed a website design company called TechKnow Solutions, profiled in The Milwaukee Journal.
        Strive has established an educational curriculum geared toward emerging fields of communication technology, integrated marketing communications, print journalism, and video/film production. Students in the program take classes with tangible goals in an environment of professionalism and success.
        These students are the same ones who attended those notorious inner-city schools with meshed windows and metal detectors. They often lived down the street from drug houses and prostitution strips. Credit Matthew Johnson for understanding that all human beings have been molded from the same clay. Some are just offered a little more help day by day.
        So, Matthew Johnson, a graduate himself from Milwaukee Tech, found a way to help high-risk kids, and a new generation of filmmakers is emerging. It’s a wonderful story and one well worth hearing first hand should you ever find your way to that part of town and have time to stop in to the beautiful facility at 1818 N. Martin Luther King Drive.
        While in the neighborhood, you might also swing past the site of the new St. Marcus School going up at Palmer and Garfield. It’s to be the new home of one of the more successful urban education programs in the city, and the home of the Wandani Youth Outreach, a tutoring and sports program that has reached over four hundred kids from some of the city’s toughest areas over the past eighteen months. There, too, a whole generation of potential artists and community-builders is taking strides forward.
        It's not all bad news these days. As Michael Moore recently pointed out, the bad news just sells a little better. There are wonderful stories out there in the world of filmmaking, like the Strive Media Institute, that just need to be heard.
 Back to topics


The Problem With PG-13 by Tim Lambrecht

In 1984, when the Motion Picture Association of America added PG-13 to its list of movie ratings, it was done in order to help parents. A PG-13 film was at a higher intensity level than a movie simply rated PG.
        However, in recent years, PG-13 has become so ambiguous, that almost any film, short of a very violent or very sexual film, falls into the PG-13 category.
        An example of this summer's films that fall into the PG-13 rating include Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, full of scenes of violence and sexual innuendo, 2 Fast 2 Furious, more violence and dangerous situations, Pirates Of The Caribbean, with adult situations and some real and some computer-generated violent scenes, and Whale Rider, a beautiful New Zealand family film about a girl's coming-of-age.
        So how can a film like 2 Fast 2 Furious and Whale Rider have the same rating? For that answer, we have to look at the official definition of the PG-13 rating.
        "Parents strongly cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. This signifies that the film rated may be inappropriate for pre-teens. Parents should be especially careful about letting their younger children attend. Rough or persistent violence is absent: sexually oriented nudity is generally absent; some scenes of drug use may be seen; one of the harsher sexually derived words may be heard."
        In the case of most of these films, the films do fall within this criteria, but what about Whale Rider? Why is it rated PG-13? If you have seen the film, you may have blinked and missed the reason. Early in the film, as we are being familiarized with the characters, there is a shot of the little girl's uncle laying down in the sun with a pipe and a haggle on his stomach. As the girl approaches, he takes the items and pockets them, so she won't see. The offensive visual is on screen perhaps two seconds. Some may argue that the scene is not necessary, and the filmmaker could take it out without losing anything to the telling of the story. However, it is important to establish a small piece of the uncle's character. The film also has 3 non-sexual references to "dicks", and one use of the "s-word."
        So, these "offenses" bumped the film into a PG-13 category? Yes, according to the body that assigns these ratings, the Rating Board, located in Los Angeles. The Rating Board consists of eight to thirteen full-time members and is part of the Classification And Rating Association. (CARA). The members all come from a parenting background and rate the films accordingly.
        It would seem that films like Charlie's Angels and 2 Fast 2 Furious are at the "high end" of PG-13, while Whale Rider sneaks in at the "low end." Maybe PG-13 should be split again depending on the number and intensity of its "infractions."
        So, we can already see that there seems to be injustices in the ratings system. If that weren't enough of a problem, there is also a problem with the advertising and marketing of PG-13 films.
        Recently, Roger Ebert reviewed Whale Rider for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper and for his syndicated movie review show. He said, "Take the kids to see Whale Rider. They'll see a movie that will touch their hearts...and minds."
        The distributor placed the quote into their print advertisements for the film.
        After seeing this, the MPAA got in touch with the distributor and told them that they had to remove the line from the ads, because a film with a PG-13 rating can not be marketed to children.
        Ebert responds, "This raises several problems: 1) I said "Take the kids", not "send them in alone", 2) Kids can, in any event, attend PG-13 movies by themselves. They only need the parent or adult for an R-rated movie, 3) it is my right any my duty as a critic to make such judgments, and surely the distributor has a right to quote them, and 4) this is a sad example of a system that has lost all reason and now categorizes an inspiring family film. (Yes, family) like Whale Rider in the same category as Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and 2 Fast 2 Furious."
        What is even more hypocritical is that films like Pirates Of The Caribbean, The Matrix and Charlie's Angels have a tine of toys and dolls associated with their film. Certainly that is marketing to children.
        And anyone who frequents fast food restaurants can testify, new movies are regularly advertised to children through "Happy Meal" toys and / or positioning of movie posters near Happy Meal posters, which will of course, draw the attention of children. Currently, you can walk into any McDonald's and see posters for Pirates Of The Caribbean, another PG-13 film. But this is acceptable. Perhaps because none of the quotes on the posters actually say ' take your kids to it.' The critics’ praise is either excluded or it’s simplified. Quotes like "A Great Time", or "A Fun Movie", are so vague that it would seem it's not being directly marketed to anyone specifically.
        Anyone can see the playing field is not level here. A film like Whale Rider needs all the exposure it can get, and hanging a PG-13 rating on it is misleading and unfair. And when the distributors cannot even include the praise it deserves in its advertising, it makes it all the harder for a small film to reach a larger audience, or for a child to be touched by it.  Back to topics


Spike Lee:

The Challenge of the Black Filmmaker edited by Jim Searles

The following is excerpts from a talk given by Spike Lee at the Imagination Conference in San Francisco, June 8, 1996, speaking of his early years as an independent filmmaker and some of the efforts to release the movie Malcolm X.

Growing up in Brooklyn, we went to the matinees regularly and sat through the film six times every Saturday and drank all the Coca Cola we could drink and ate all the popcorn we could eat and threw stuff at the screen and tried not to get thrown out. I never knew that people actually made movies. We just went there, and showed up, and the projector was turned on, and stuff was on the screen. In fact growing up I wanted to play second base for the New York Mets.
        
So going to college, I'd no idea of what I wanted to do. And like most underclassmen there comes a point where you run out of the elective classes you can take and you have to declare a major. I chose mass communications and that major encompassed film, TV, print journalism, and radio.
        
I was very fortunate because my parents were very creative. My father is Bill Lee the jazz bassist, and I grew up with him taking me to hear him playing in clubs in the Village. And my mother taught art. We were raised in a very creative environment. I remember going to see Broadway plays, The King and I, stuff like that. Now I could see that that exposure was very important, even though I didn't know that was what I wanted to do, even though I didn't want to see these plays, I did not want to see my father play jazz. Now I see that if my parents didn't insist on it, even with me kicking and screaming. I'd have not become a filmmaker.
        
When I chose mass communications... for me film was the thing I'd think this was what I wanted to do. And in the summer of 1977 I could not find a job and I bought a Super 8 camera and I went around New York City that whole summer just shooting stuff. It was also the first summer of disco. People were having these block parties all around the city and that's when the dance the hustle was out. My first film was a Super 8 film called Last Hustle in Brooklyn, which was really like a highlight film of black people and Puerto Rican people looting and dancing. When school began I showed it to my class and I got a favorable response and that's a great feeling, the initial time that happens.
        
Upon graduation, I still did not have the necessary tools to be a filmmaker. We only had the facilities for Super 8, so I wanted to learn film grammar, learn how to make a film, and I applied to the top three film schools USC, UCLA and NYU. Unfortunately for me, at USC and UCLA you had to get an astronomical score on the GRE, (and I still feel a lot of those standardized tests are culturally biased). But, luckily for NYU, you didn't have to take a test. All you had to do was submit a creative portfolio, and I was accepted.
        
For the next three years, that's all I did was make films. We spent very little time in the classroom, without making films. If you're not working on your films, you're working on your classmates' films. And that's where I became a filmmaker by just actually doing stuff. Luckily, my thesis film was a film called Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop and it won a student Academy Award. With that acclaim, with the little acclaim that that award brought, I got an agent, from William Morris; I was very new to the game. My agent said "Look Spike, just leave everything up to me, I know how to handle the studios. Just sit back and wait by the phone." So I waited by the phone, and waited by the phone, and finally got up enough nerve to ask my agent "What's up?" I'm very naive, I don't know the ropes. He said "Look, just take a chill pill, I know what I'm doing. Just wait by the phone. I waited by the phone some more, and waited by the phone. And then Ma Bell turned the phone off. And then Brooklyn Union Gas followed shortly thereafter. Then I realized that I'm going to have to take some alternative means to becoming a filmmaker. Just writing a script and knocking on some studio's doors is not going to get it.
        
I said I have to do my own independent film. My first feature film has to be independent. I wrote a script, called Messenger. I got involved with some bogus producer who said he was going to deliver on the financing of the film. When you do an independent film you have to draw on a lot of favors, so I asked all my classmates, people I went to school with, to crew for me, and also a lot of actors I had met. People were turning down work to work on my film, cast and crew. After six weeks we waited for this mysterious, miraculous, wire-transfer to come into our production bank account. It never did. Finally I just had to break the news to the cast and crew that they had wasted their summer on a project that was never going to happen. They would not be compensated for it. As you might imagine, my name was mud, and rightfully so.
        
A critical moment in me being a filmmaker was one day when I was crying like a baby – sitting in my bathtub. All the water had drained out, I was wrinkled like a California raisin and I was ready to quit. I said 'well let me give it one more try. I'm going to pick myself up off the canvas and try it once again. Just try to re-evaluate where I went wrong.' In retrospect I saw that I committed several key errors all first-time filmmakers do. They try to be over-ambitious, try to do stuff that's beyond their means – that helicopter shot, all types of stuff. I definitely didn't have the means to raise the money for that script.
        
So I said to myself, the next script I write I'm not going to make those same mistakes. I'm going to write a script that can be done. There'll be two or three people in a room, going to shoot it in black and white, won't have to worry about the production design that much. And I'll shoot it in a couple of days. Shoot what is possible. That film was She's Gotta Have It. We raised the money for the film. It cost $125,000, and it went on to make 8-1/2 million. That's when agents really began to call – but there were no more agents for me up ‘till Malcolm X.
        
Growing up in this country, the rich culture I saw in my neighborhood, in my family – I didn't see that on television or on the movie screen. It was always my ambition that if I were successful, I would try to portray a truthful portrait of African Americans in this country, negative and positive. I've never really tried to get in that hole where everything has to be 100%, because I think that it's not necessarily true and it's definitely not dramatic having the subject, the characters in your film be 100% angelic, and god-like.
        
The character that I played in She's Gotta Have It was named Mars Blackmon and Mars was a b-boy and his favorite athlete in the world was Michael Jordan. Mars was fanatic about Michael Jordan. Two young men at Wyden Kennedy named Jim Griswold and Bill Davenport saw She's Gotta Have It and they came up with the idea of pairing Mars Blackmon, the character I played in She's Gotta Have It with Michael Jordan. When they called me of course I wanted to do it, but it was really left up to Michael, because at that time he was not a moviegoer and he'd never heard of me.
        
Michael Jordan is the reason why I've done so many commercials, because Michael could easily get his own hotshot guy on Madison Avenue. Mike said 'let me give this young black filmmaker a chance'. Even though he chose the Knicks every time there was a playoff game, Mike was the one who really hooked me up with the commercials. It was a complete accident that I got into commercials when I did Mars Blackmon.
        
As this is a creative conference I will try to say, if I can, what I think about creativity. I think it's something, either you have it or you don't. I know that may sound cruel. But that's what I feel. You can get out there and front like you have it, but the people who know, know. Being a commercial filmmaker, it's a great challenge to try to do stuff that's creative. At the same time in film if you don't (have the) money, you're out of here. It's a high wire act that you're doing probably even more than music, because there's much more money at stake in films. I think the average price of a Hollywood film has gone up to $35 million. And because I started out as an independent filmmaker, She's Gotta Have It had no studio behind me telling me what to do. Because I raised the money myself, I had final say. And, once that film became a hit I was able to set a precedent so that from then on I've been able to have creative control. Basically I have been able to do any film I wanted to.  Back to topics


Women's Roles In Hollywood:

We've Come A Long Way Baby… Or Have We? by Jim Searles

The view of women in film has shifted over its more than 100-year history. In 1905, the name of the actress was not printed on movie posters. Charlie Chaplin said that women were not important in his films. He had only met one or two actresses who were his equal, he said. The names of actresses were not even listed in early film credits. That was to change.
        An early film periodical, The Motion Picture Story Magazine, got an inquiry asking who the "little lady" was whom they had mentioned in a previous issue. In the magazine's Letters Column, the answer appeared that it was the "Biograph Girl," Florence Lawrence. Legend has it that the questioning letter was actually from the Motion Picture Story's rival publisher, Vitograph. Nevertheless, Biograph apparently used this opportunity as a PR stunt.
        Actress Mary Pickford, the Biograph Girl's successor, dominated film from 1914 to 1924. Pickford was able to force the male company presidents to yield to her salary demands. She wanted a salary higher than, not merely equal to, that of Charlie Chaplin. With her golden curls and feminine appeal of "Little Mary," they gave in. Pickford obviously had made the connection between the studios' attempts to keep their female actresses virtually anonymous, and their desire to keep those same actresses' salaries equally unremarkable.
        But, Pickford obviously was an exception in the movie industry. Flash forward to "Lights of Sante Fe", 1944. At the top in large bold letters, Roy Rogers and Trigger the Wonder Horse are given star billing. At the bottom of the page in letters about half the size, Gabby Hayes is given credit. Under that line in still smaller print, we find Dale Evans.
        Trying to figure out where we are now is not so simple. In 2001, men worked twice as many days as women in live theater and TV productions. Men held 62 percent of roles. Women over forty years of age had 27 percent of female roles and just 10 percent of all roles. There is no cut-off age for men. You can cast a 50-year-old actor with a 30-year-old actress and it works. For women, the cut-off point is age 35.
        Basically, it comes down to return on investment for the studios. If the actress proves to be a big draw, the studio will run with her. "Erin Brockovich," 2000, featuring Julia Roberts, had a $125.6 million take. Roberts got the best actress Oscar that year. In 2001, "The Princess Diaries", with Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews; "Legally Blonde", featuring Reese Witherspoon; "The Others", with Nicole Kidman, and "Lara Croft; Tomb Raider", starring Angelina Jolie, each grossed about $100 million.
        My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 2002, was shot on a budget of $5 million with a box of $241 million. It starred Nia Vardalos as Toula. The implications of the movie are important. A low budget film made a big hit. The movie told a story of the problems with cultural conflicts when a Greek woman marries someone outside her normal world. An unknown actress made a big splash.
        2003 reflects a continued trend for expanded star status for women. Chicago is the big blockbuster of the year. The one thing that studios like better than Oscars is box office yield. The two main female roles in Chicago, Roxie and Velma, played by Renee Zeilweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, outshine Billie, played by Richard Gere. Are we seeing a trend towards stronger parts for women? Certainly compared to the beginnings of film in the early 1900s, a limited measure of equality has evolved.  Back to topics


View From The Balcony by Peggy Schulz

Under The Gun

Deadlines, ultimatums tend to get exaggerated in film format. But they're also increasingly becoming a major factor in our everyday lives.
        
In The Graduate (1967), Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock makes a mad dash to a church, to try to keep Katharine Ross as Elaine Robinson from getting married. She's there, in her wedding gown, and so are the groom and a church full of guests. Benjamin arrives in the nick of time and he and Eiaine run off together, she still in her gown and veil. They jump onto a public bus just as it's about to pull away from the stop.
        All sorts of deadlines and time pressures are involved in this dramatic conclusion to the movie, not the least of which was their catching the bus on time to avoid being caught. Beyond the immediate press of time, though, Benjamin also was struggling with who he wanted to be when he grew up, having recently graduated from college and having had an affair with Elaine's mother, played memorably by Anne Bancroft. So, he wasn't just running to Elaine, he also was running from pressures both self-imposed and those placed on him by his parents and society at large. In the end, it seems that Benjamin was able to figure out what he wanted in life and he got it, with no time to spare!
        While Americans in 2003 reportedly spend less time actually in the workplace than ever before, and we have the benefit of umpteen laborsaving devices, we still seem to be on ever tighter and tighter schedules, even in our social lives. Where would 20- and 30-somethings be without their Palm Pilots and PDA'S to help them keep track of their hectic calendars, for work and school, and let's not forget party time.
        Headlines in parenting magazines talk about the "over scheduled" children in our country, when even high school and junior high age kids dash about at a frenetic pace in order to keep up with all of their deadlines and appointments. Network (1976) is another fine example of how time pressures and work deadlines affect us, most notably Peter Finch as Howard Beale, who unforgettably exclaims in the movie:
        "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going take it anymore!" He also encourages the viewers of the network from which he is about to be fired to join him in this "movement," by exhorting them to go to the windows of their homes and workplaces and shout the same thing. Beale also announces his intention to commit suicide on the air. Somehow, all of that ranting and raving turns him into "the mad prophet of the air-waves" and his once-slumping ratings skyrocket.
        Also in Network, Faye Dunaway loses the love of William Holden. Seems Faye, as Diana Christensen, is so wrapped up in her job at the network that Bill, as Max Schumacher, breaks up with her, feeling he can't compete with her utter devotion to her job, and the attendant deadlines and demands of breaking news.
        Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), based on a Jules Verne novel of the same name, was so popular that it was remade several times, including a 1919 German version, and turned into a TV series. A 2003 edition is in production, with Jackie Chan as Passepartout, Phileas Fogg's butler, and Steve Coogan as Fogg.
        In the classic 1956 version, David Niven, as Phileas Fogg, an emotionless English nobleman, makes a bet at his gentlemen's club that he can literally travel around the world in 80 days, not a simple task in 1872. (If you haven't seen this movie and you want to be surprised, skip ahead to the next paragraph.) Phileas does, in fact, lose the bet, but gains an appreciation for his fellow man and for his own feelings and emotions. His need to have a traditional English tea each day on the journey, regardless of the circumstances and the time remaining before the bet would be lost, is just one endearing, albeit maddening, quality that humanizes him for the viewer.
        Finally, The Mexican (2001) takes Brad PItt as Jerry Welbach to Mexico at the behest of his mob boss, to obtain a priceless antique pistol called "The Mexican," or face the consequences. Jerry gets a second ultimatum from his girlfriend Samantha, played by Julia Roberts. The plot twists and turns, including Samantha's abduction by a hit man who happens to be homosexual. But again, just as in The Graduate, the main character ends up redefining his goals and values.
        Perhaps what we can bring away from viewing any or all of the above films is that frantic attempts to meet deadlines and "now or never" type ultimatums only rarely result in personal success and/or happiness. Rather, such behavior almost always ends up leaving the chaser less well off, figuratively and literally, than the object of the chase. Meeting deadlines for the simple sake of meeting them is not, in and of itself, the Holy Grail.
        Neither is scheduling and plotting out your own life on the basis of someone else's personal planner and goals. Just as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. Howard Beale in Network, and Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days learned, happiness is rarely found by acceding to the directions of someone who has only their own needs and desires in mind. We need to establish our own goals, setting deadlines for ourselves if need be, and pursue those goals at a pace that works for us.
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