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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Thumbnails Special Edition: Women Writers Week 2018

Women Writers Week has been an outstanding success in every respect. I am so proud of all the amazing female writers who have contributed their voices to our site over the past five days. For this special edition of Thumbnails, I am celebrating all of them, while highlighting a handful of excerpts showcasing their talents. For our official table of contents, click here. You can also find my personal introduction to #WomensWritersWeek here. And please know that each of our contributors write powerful articles and reviews either here, or at their own websites and print media all year long. A hearty thanks to all!—Chaz Ebert

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1. 

"It Takes an Army": Carrie Rickey takes a close look at the disparity between male and female directors and the people fighting to correct it. See also: Jennifer Merin's optimistic take on the future for women in the industy; Olivia Collette's reflections on the documentary "Searching for Debra Winger"in light of the #MeToo movement; and Joyce Kulhawik's conversation with legendary burlesque queen Tempest Storm.

“Since 1998, Martha Lauzen, professor at San Diego State University, and head of the Center for Women in Television and Film, has published the annual Celluloid Ceiling report tracking film employment, the ‘Boxed In’ report, that does the same for women’s employment in TV, and ‘It’s a Man’s World,’ tracking representation of women on the big and small screens. In the 1990s, she read newspaper articles about how women were doing better in film and TV. The reports were anecdotal—they were about the unicorns, or exceptions—and had no correlation with what she was seeing on the big and small screens, and in the credits. ‘I started conducting research on an annual basis to accurately document women’s underemployment, and to build industry awareness,’ she wrote in an email. It didn’t occur to her that it would take decades to build momentum and ‘for the demographics of the country to help push it along.’ The Center tracks employment for women in all areas behind the camera, from cinematographer to screenwriter. (Lauzen was the first to provide statistics showing how a woman director boosts the number of women on the set: on films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for only 15% of editors and 5% of cinematographers. On films with female directors, the percentages of women editors rose to 35%, and cinematographers to 26%.)”

2. 

"How to Create Sex Scenes That Women Will Enjoy as Much as Men": An undervalued topic is given a wonderful analysis by Olivia Collette. See also: Violet LeVoit article on the representation of C-sections in American movies; and Kristen Lopez's two excellent articles, "On the Representation of Disabled Women in Cinema" and "Disability Theater Access in 2018."

“When critics focused on Lena Dunham’s body during her sex scenes in ‘Girls,’ they often missed how much women enjoyed watching those scenes. It wasn’t just the comedic awkwardness of some of it; it’s that we were seeing women with developed sexual appetites enjoying sex on their own terms. Marnie runs to the bathroom to masturbate after an artist speaks to her commandingly. Jessa wears her sexuality like armor. And Hannah loves to experiment, even if it garners mixed results. They govern their sex lives, and they have fun doing it. Elsewhere, ‘Basic Instinct’ is a fucked-up film, and though it ultimately equates Catherine’s murderousness with her ravenous bisexuality, it also has the balls to show us a woman who loves sex and is in complete control of the sex she’s having. Not only is it hot to watch, the movie makes it quite clear that sex with Catherine is amazing.”

3.

"'Phantom Thread,' Jane Eyre and the Power Dynamics of the Hetero Romance": An amazing, in-depth exploration of the literary legacy of Paul Thomas Anderson's latest Oscar-winner. See also: Jessica Ritchey's case for how "Night of the Living Dead" destroyed Hammer films; Elena Lazic's impassioned defense of "The Greatest Showman"; and the 30th anniversary of "Working Girl," as commemorated by Christy Lemire, Sheila O'Malley and Susan Wloszczyna. 

“While this resolution has the thrill of the unexpected within the context of the film’s narrative, it also had a ring of familiarity, recalling another great story of a man’s domestication: Jane Eyre. Jane is a small, poor young woman who works for the rich, overpowering Mr. Rochester. They fall in love, though their relationship is an ongoing battle of wills, as strong-willed Jane attempts to remain her own master while Rochester both loves her strength and treats her as something of a possession, expecting the ease and subservience his maleness and wealth and power have always afforded him. Jane leaves Rochester (mad wife in the attic—you know how it is), grows, turns down a proposal from a man who doesn’t love her, and conveniently inherits her own wealth. When she returns to Rochester, she finds him scarred, blind, and short a hand (that mad wife, again!). Rather than harming their relationship, this development—which has calmed him, made him meeker, less certain, more dependent—is the linchpin that finally makes their relationship tenable. Like Alma and Reynolds, it allows them to settle into an ideal and idealized marriage, complete with baby.”

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4. 

"Return of 'Roseanne' Marked by Notable Highs and Lows": The popular TV reboot is given a sublime review by Allison Shoemaker. See also: Shoemaker's review of FX's "The Americans"; and Jana Monji's essays on ABC's "The Good Doctor" and Netflix's "Lost in Space".

“If the show has a weakness outside of its off-putting ‘topical’ moments, it’s Barr’s portrayal of the still-compelling central figure. She’s as charismatic as she ever was, with great timing and that terrific laugh, but there’s a hesitancy to her performance, particularly in the first episode, that was rarely, if ever, in evidence the first time around. That’s a quality that does eventually seem to fade—in the second episode, she’s back in fine form—but whether due to nerves, a little rustiness, or some other factor entirely, the spark is somewhat diminished. The same can be said of both Goranson and Fishman, though like Barr, Goranson seems more at ease as the series progresses. And while you couldn’t call the newest Connor kids rusty, the young actors recruited for this go-round lack the relaxed quality that made the young Goranson and Gilbert’s performances so memorable. Still, they all have a quality that’s essential to the show’s DNA: they can layer in the world-weariness, sorrow, or slight touch of bitterness that allow the jokes to land all the harder, because they feel so real. These characters are funny. They find life funny. But the reality isn’t funny at all.”

5. 

"King in the Wilderness": A must-read four-star review penned by Arielle Bernstein. See also: Monica Castllo's review of "Acrimony"; Tomris Laffly's review of "Birthmarked";  Tina Hassannia's review of "The China Hustle"; Susan Wloszczyna's review of "Finding Your Feet"; Jessica Ritchey's review of "First Match"; Justine Smith's review of "Gemini"; Sheila O'Malley's reviews of "God's Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness" and "The Last Movie Star"; Nell Minow's review of "Love After Love"; Allison Shoemaker's review of "Outside In"; and Christy Lemire's review of "Ready Player One".

“‘King in the Wilderness’ is a quiet and understated film, which lingers lovingly on its subject. We see Dr. King’s famous sermons at the pulpit, and also see him sitting quietly with family and friends. Regardless of whether King is performing to a crowd or sharing a private moment with someone dear to him, his gentle and determined spirit permeates every scene. This is true in the actual found footage, as well as moments that capture his friend’s recollections about the kind of man he was. These interviews convey King’s private hopes, as well as fears, frustrations, and doubts. We learn that King had a great sense of humor, worried about his ability to be a good father and husband, and wrestled with his ability to lead under the threat of violence to his own person. At one point, he develops a tic when he speaks, which eventually resolves on its own. When his friend asks about it, he explain ‘I made my peace with death.’”

Image of the Day

Filmmaker Andrew Haigh chats with Tomris Laffly about his acclaimed, beautifully shot new movie, "Lean on Pete."

Video of the Day

The Life of a Woman, Directed by Women from emma piper-burket on Vimeo.

I absolutely love Emma Piper-Burket's new video essay, "The Life of a Woman, Directed by Women," spanning 122 years and containing clips of trailblazing artists on every content.

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