I recently finished watching “The Intern” by Nancy Meyers. Granted, it was on a plane and the sound and picture resolution were not what you would get in the theater, but I have to say as far as movies go, it was pretty damn good. I’d give it four and a half stars. The missing half star is only because it’s a highly commercial film, and although it digs into some really important topics, it skims just above the surface of the deeper and more painful aspects of gender bias, keeping the viewer from having to look too hard at themselves or society. But is that such a bad thing?
I know immediately some people out there will say, “Well of course you liked it. It’s a chick flick and you’re a chick!” But the fact of the matter is: you see more of Robert De Niro in this film than you see Anne Hathaway. And his character actually has the line, “I hate to be the feminist among the two of us but…” The film seems to say, “Hey ladies, don’t hate the good guys! Some dudes are really great, and lots of them really love and support women who want to be or are successful.” Now this certainly isn’t a message I disagree with, but it left me wondering why it needed to be said in the first place. Just how much “male bashing” is going on out there? Do women really need to be told “men are not the enemy?”
IF this is the case, it makes me wonder why. And it worries me. Because no group is going to rise based on the diminishing of another group. Life just doesn’t work that way. The fact is: those who scream and point their finger ALWAYS create suspicion in others. This, however, doesn’t mean they are always wrong. It just means that there is a way to talk about bias and “bashing” anyone isn’t one of them. On the flip side, was this ultimately a way to tell the patriarchs of the entertainment industry, “Don’t be threatened by us gals on the rise because us gals really need your love and guidance?” I don’t know… but it did make me wonder.
I also wonder if some women hate “chick flicks” because they have heard them demeaned so often that they don’t want to be associated with something that some people look down on. But who are “those people” and frankly, what should anyone care what “they” have to say? If you think a movie is good and you like it, what is more important than that? (And if you don’t agree with me, I hope you agree at least that it’s ME you disagree with, not who I “represent” in some generalized way.)
Speaking of generalization, why do Nancy Meyers movies have to get stuck in the “chick flick/women’s movie” genre in the first place? Why does her work have to minimized in that way? She makes good, successful films that a lot of people pay money to watch, no matter what you think of their deeper message. Films that have interesting male characters and strong male lead actors as well as very strong female characters and actors. And the point of view of the film doesn’t feel particularly “feminine” in my opinion, as if it suffered from another way of minimizing the import of films called the “female gaze.” Her films just feel like “fantasy” to me. A particular kind of fantasy, but one that I think can appeal to men as well as women. I’d call it “the good life” fantasy.
(I realize this isn’t much of a review, classically. But I am trying to put my oar in the waters of review-land one way or the other because I think more voices of humans-who-happen-to-be-women need to be out there talking more about the stories we are consuming as part of our mass culture. So love it or hate it, I’m basically putting my money where my mouth is.)
So (hoping that you forgive the fact I did not finish college) let me touch on the classic review principals as I understand them via Google.
ACTING: The film is very well acted. I felt that the actors were committed to their roles and the worlds that they inhabited. I did not sense cynicism or commenting coming from any actor. As an actor myself, this tells me that the actors themselves were feeling really happy to be there and enjoying the script, the director, and the general environment. I think this is really important because it says that the film was probably made in a positive environment, not under duress. This tells me it was a good production with a capable leader at the helm (none other than Nancy Meyers herself.)
WRITING: Nancy Meyers is terrific writer. I challenge anyone to write as neat a script and as fun a plot as she manages to come up with time and time again. Although I question some of her choices regarding how much the lead female comes to depend on the lead male, I give her the benefit of the doubt that she really gave it a lot of thought before she sat down to give us her ideas, so the least I can do is take some time to consider them. “Women do NEED men, just as men NEED women,” I think that was pretty much what she was getting at. And that’s not necessarily a terrible message. I think she really addressed a lot of gender based issues and how much almost everyone has trouble wrapping their heads around the shift of women from secondary citizens to leaders equal to men. Everyone but Robert De Niro, the old white feminist. I know a few old white male feminists myself, so I know that his character isn’t all fantasy. But he isn’t all reality either.
COLOR AND TONE: Although somewhat bright and glamorous looking, the overall color scheme fit the “youthful” tone that the film seemed to strive for. The trees were in bloom, the office was light and airy… even the trip to a warehouse seemed clean and organized. Apparently part of a “new life” that Robert De Niro’s character suddenly finds himself living in at the ripe old age of 70. That said, there was no poverty, no homeless, no rugged reality other than that one of the characters, a 20-something intern guy, couldn’t afford the rent in New York City. But don’t worry, he gets rescued. Basically there’s almost no suffering other than that by overwork. Every character was “on the way up” and enjoying good luck and the fruits of their labor. Again, this makes it a fantasy film, but it reminded me more of films of the 30’s and 40’s that were created to help distract people after the depression. Escapism in the guise of modernism. I’m not complaining.
MUSIC: The music felt like classic “rom com,” unobtrusive for the most part, and lighthearted although strangely familiar. It guided you through the film, without lyric, allowing the scenes to be viewed without too much “let us tell you how to feel” blasting through my earphones. At times it felt slick, but it never made me feel like I was being talked down to, which not all films manage, musically. Again, it kept me floating in the pretend bubble of the film’s created world.
Although it may sound like I’m bitching in some kind of super-subtle way, I really don’t think that the film was dishonest. At no point did the film try to force me to feel like this was a “reality” I had to accept. Instead it showed the pretty New York full of possibility that inspired me to move there in the first place: the cleaned up brownstones where a single family lives, the leafy green trees bursting with green over a city block in the springtime, the big warehouses in Brooklyn full of busy young people working hard at making the world a better place. A city full of hope and possibility.
That’s a not always a fantasy New York, but I’d rather remember it that way than as it tends to be most of the time: an overcrowded metropolitan area that’s now too expensive for the middle class to live in, not to mention the working class. A place where people yell at you if you walk too slow, or too fast, or for no reason at all. A place where the winter is cold and unforgiving and the summer equally hot and unforgiving. A place that runs on aggression and competition, merciless to the weak, the poor, or the unlucky.
I think you’ll agree with me that life can be hard in any town so a little fantasy can go a long way. It’s delicious to look at the lithe and lean Anne Hathaway in her fantastic wardrobe, living in her gorgeous brownstone, being driven to work in her BMW. Why not allow ourselves the taste of a cupcake?
Speaking of which, I must make a stop at the original Magnolia Bakery when I’m next in New York City. The frosting always tasted the best there.
CM: Tell me about your film. Why are you making this? Aren’t you an actor?
CM: I guess it’s personal. I wanted to quit acting and be a director when I was 22, but my mom was sick (she had Cancer) and begged me not to. I couldn’t deny her needs, so I waited. After she died, I tried again, but experienced a little betrayal from a woman I was working with on a performance art piece. I had really put my heart into this piece, been writing it for years, put in my own money. The entire concept was mine. After the show ended she took the concept, got a grant for it, and made a whole second show out of it (and didn’t tell me). I was really heartbroken. When I found out, I asked her, “Why didn’t you tell me about this?” She claimed she had, but she really hadn’t. It was still total artistic thievery and a complete betrayal of a friendship that I had held as deep and meaningful. The pain of that event stopped me from trying to direct for a long, long time. Sixteen years, to be precise.
CM: You made two films in 2013. What compelled you to get into film?
CM: To answer this question properly, I’d have to go back and talk about what happened on a soaps that I was working on because honestly, it hadn’t crossed my mind to direct a film. I was an actor. I wrote songs and poems. I went to art school. I was trying to find both myself and a person I could make a home with… but directing film seemed far out of my reach, so I didn’t even consider it.
When they killed off my character on AMC (Dixie) at the end of 2006 it was a real motivator for me to reconsider my future. And for the record (again) killing Dixie was a move to get the fans shocked and surprised in that “anything can happen to your favorite characters, so stay tuned,” sort of way. And as most people know, there was a huge uproar and they asked me back in 2009 and offered me a two year contract in 2011. Then they asked me to do the internet version of the show in 2013. I was even on the cover of Soap Digest in 2009 with the line “We Screwed Up: What Went Wrong and How AMC is Making it Right” under my face. These are the facts.
But that event really did hit me hard. I felt like I’d lost my family, the place that “had my back no matter what.” So I had to really dig inside myself and find a new path.
I do think a lot of women have been afraid to speak out, but for many, right now we are at a tipping point where the need to be heard is stronger than the fear of staying silent.
CM: Sounds like this still gets to you sometimes. Does it?
CM: I’ve probably have one of the thickest skins you’ll ever meet. Like, rhino thick. I know I come off as a pretty gentle person, but when things get tough, I’m the person you want around. My favorite saying is “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” But I’ve got feelings, you know? I have a heart.
CM: But good things have come out of that adversity. You continued to work on soaps, and have had a lot of recognition for your films, even a “Honorable Mention for Best Director.” That must have meant a lot.
CM: It absolutely did. It was a real validation that I had the two things directors need most: determination and vision. And I experienced real respect on those shoots. The crew I worked with were all men and they were terrific. We had a great time working together. Next time, I am going to hire more women behind the camera, because now I know how many fantastic women there are who deserve the opportunity.
CM: You are making a documentary about women filmmakers. Why a doc and not another short, or even a full length narrative feature?
CM: I think the reason behind me talking to women filmmakers (as well as women in TV and theater) has a great deal to do with my looking for strong, creative, female leaders that I can look up to and learn from. My Mom died when I was 25, and my Dad was an alcoholic and almost never around… and he died when I was 35… so I’ve really had to search to find people who were beyond me in their life experience and understanding, you know, role models. School only takes you so far. It’s experience you need to listen to. I really needed to hear from people who were DOING the work I looked up to. And I’m so glad I did. It’s been an amazing journey so far.
CM: What is the purpose of the film?
CM: Ultimately, the goal is to shine light on these artists ability and what makes them persist in creating meaningful stories, against dismal odds. I’m not looking to deny how bad it’s been, but I feel there’s a lot of press out there about the limitations and obstacles. And yes, things have got to change in so many ways… But I feel like the kind of stories these particular women are telling are real game changers.
For example, Leah Meyerhoff digs deep into the interior life of a teenage girl with her coming-of-age film “I Believe in Unicorns.” I mean, when have you seen a film about a teenage girls INTERIOR life?? C’mon. That’s pretty rare. Deborah Kampmeier explores the importance of becoming whole again after losing your innocence (not pure, but WHOLE, a really important distinction) with “Houndog,” and is digging even deeper into feminine power and spirit with “SPLit.” Meera Meron explores the raw bonding within female friendships on a whole new level with “Farah Goes Bang,” and just directed the first film about women on Wall Street in 27 years, “Equity.”
CM: Why are these stories so important?
CM: I think there is this passive bias that women tell “soft stories,” and that is an erroneous cliche that is partly to blame for women being kept out of the larger marketplace. These artists are digging into aspects of the female gender that, when I see and hear them revealed, make me want to cry out of sheer gratitude. Up until now, despite having worked on soaps, I haven’t seen these points of view. I haven’t seen enough of MY reality as a woman reflected back in the stories we are telling ourselves as a culture. But that’s changing now. It’s a huge and thrilling shift.
CM: Why is this so important… to see a woman’s reality reflected back via stories on stage and screen?
CM: To be a good storyteller is to know life, and to know what the culture needs to confront. A great film forces us as an audience to look at certain aspects of human nature, even when we’d rather look away. We as a culture value those storytellers because they know we need to look, they know we need to confront ourselves and they make us do it.
Women are 51% of the population. To not have their point of view, to not honor their insights is to have a culture that is out of balance. A culture that will turn in on itself, sicken and die. We can’t just look at one side of the coin. We must have women’s stories in order to have a healthy society.
The world needs more people who are willing to step forward and talk about what is going on, so we can all grow and learn together
CM: But you seem to also be saying that women tell stories that are just as raw as the stories that men tell.
CM: Yes, but it’s in a different way. I think it comes down to understanding this issue of “what is female.” It shouldn’t be confused with “what is feminine,” because “femininity” is a word with a lot of cultural layers on it. “Femininity” can suggest a passivity, and I don’t know many passive women, do you? They all seem pretty active in their lives, even if it’s by being subversive. And to address the women out there that are passive or that struggle with passivity: passivity is a behavior that is informed by fear. You’re passive when you’re afraid. I have a lot of compassion for that as I’ve known a fair share of fear in my life. I do think a lot of women have been afraid to speak out, but for many, right now we are at a tipping point where the need to be heard is stronger than the fear of staying silent.
CM: What’s so inspiring about these stories for you?
CM:The female aspect within is much deeper than gender. It’s a spiritual aspect that both sexes have. Men need to know that it’s okay to have a complex side of themselves that isn’t all action. Women need to know that they aren’t just relegated to being a sounding board. Kids need to know that they don’t have to follow entrenched gender roles, but find their own truths. Looking at the deeper female nature is a way to allow this wisdom back into the culture.
CM: So you think that women storytellers and women’s stories will help heal the world?
CM: Why look so deep into the issues of why stories are important? Why not just enjoy life and relax a little?
CM: I’m not sure I can answer that question. I’ve been on my own quest to continue to pursue what I feel is important. Which is to tell stories that illuminate the human experience in general, and women’s experiences in particular. And by listening to the women who have taken the road less travelled, I’m getting some incredible insights and wisdom that I am excited to share with the world.
And that’s this film at its core is about. I want to empower women and those who identity as “female” to feel less alone in their journey by showing them all the amazing artists who are fighting to tell underrepresented stories, their stories. I also hope to inspire others who want to tell these stories to take the risks toward making their dream happen. The world needs more people who are willing to step forward and talk about what is going on, so we can all grow and learn together. It feels like an amazing time of change and possibility, and I hope this film will help propel that change forward.
CM: You sound like a politician or a self-help guru! C’mon, isn’t that what you are, deep down?
CM: No, absolutely not. I’m an artist. Artist’s talk about life in their art and that’s all I’m trying to do. If what I make inspires others to think about life a little differently, or makes them laugh, or makes them want to get up and tell their own story then I’ve done my job.
Yeah. So. I’m doing a doc on women directors. Why? Well… it’s kind of a long story. The basic skinny is that it occurred to me that every once in a while I would hear about a woman director, and I’d sort of “pine” for her. Like when you hear there’s a new Jimmy Choo shoe coming out that you know you can’t afford but you’d really like to see all the same. Do you dare to look or will it make the pain of not having even worse? I know it’s sorted of effed up to compare a woman to a Jimmy Choo shoe (or is it?) but that’s how I felt. Like there were these women out there who had created something and I knew I should be closer to what they were creating… but it just kind of HURT to even think about it.
Funny thing about pain… it’s always the great motivator.
So the pain got bad enough, or the desire to be out of pain got big enough… and someone actually said, “OH MY GOD THAT’S A GREAT IDEA YOU SHOULD DO THAT” in such a way and at such a time that I said to myself… “Well, shit. I guess I should do this.”
So what happened is, my husband knew this one woman who he thought I should talk to. She’s a director named Shana Betz. We had had dinner with her a few months back and I really dug her, like a mini, unexpressed girl crush kind of dig. She was a bad ass. My husband said she might be a cool person to start talking to, so since we were already friends on FB I screwed up my courage and messaged her.
Here’s exactly what it looked like. For real.
I seriously couldn’t believe this. Almost fell out of my chair.
(Isn’t it funny how all you have to do sometimes is say “YES” to a deep idea, and th universe is right there, waiting for you?)
Okay, so I said YES in a really, um, BIG way.
(Forgive me if it offends.)
I thought this was totally hilarious.
And that’s how it began… the journey has continued and I have so much more to share and to say… I’ve learned and grown so much in these past few months… but meanwhile, please join me on the FB page for this film:
I am very excited that my second short film has been accepted into the SOHO International Film Fest in NYC. It also was accepted into the LA Film Festival, the Best Shorts Film Festival (Award of Merit), the LA Film Review (Honorable Mention Best Director), and the Indie Gathering Film Festival (Winner- Best Comedy/Drama Short).
I had such a fun time at the LA Indie Film Festival. So many wonderful pals showed up to support my work, and the audience (made up of not only my friends, but total strangers, too) laughed all through the film! What a delight!
Best of all, my wonderful husband was there to cheer me on and support the work. What a great guy!
I am so thrilled to share with you that my second short film has been accepted into a highly respected festival in Hollywood, the LA Indie Film Fest.
If you are in the LA area and would like to join me at the screening, here is a link that will take you to the website where you can buy tickets. The screening will be within a block of other short films, and there will be a Q&A with the attending filmmakers afterwords.
Date: Saturday, March 7th, 2015 (this is a correction!)
Place: The Actors Company, 916 N. Formosa Hollywood, CA 90046
I firmly believe in “cleaning out one’s closets” both internally and externally. That said, I can’t seem to ever get mine clean ENOUGH. Argh. I’m constantly finding “treasures” that I simply can’t part with… that is, until I force myself to “get real” about what I really “need” (which is generally not so much crap!)
While on a storage unit purge recently, I found a letter from one of my distant relatives, a cousin of my mom’s, written to her. She told my mom what an impressive “creative” she was, detailing how she was talented in drawing, painting, writing, etc. This relative was also an artist in her own right, a collage artist, so I was struck by what a lovely, encouraging compliment this was.
I was also struck by the awareness that I, too, am a multi-tasking creative. I write books and music; write, direct and produce films; make my own collages; and of course, act. I am better at some of these arts than others. Trust me, more than once in my life have I thought, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” But I try to ignore that voice and putter about in whatever art seems to be calling to me at the time. Now I try and focus on the fact that my mom passed on this gift, and that I should treasure it and be grateful.
In the last year of my mom’s life she gave me another gift: a copy of the book “The Artist’s Way.” If you read my book, “Murdering My Youth,” you know my mom had some issues (to put it lightly), but this book made a huge difference for her. I would’ve loved to have seen how it changed her life even more, but sadly her time on earth ran out. Still, I was so grateful for the changes this book made in her that I picked it up myself. Wanting to stay connected to the best in her, I went through the lessons in “The Artist’s Way” not once, not twice, but three times. I still go back to it again and again for reminders of how to negotiate treacherous creative waters; how to re-inspire myself; and how to create a life where I felt safe to create. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
My belief after years of making art of all kinds, is that all arts come from a similar place within us, and all arts are meant to connect us, to make us think as human beings about our experience here on earth. This is why I continue to work, because I love that feeling of taking something from within my imagination or experience and feeling that connection.
My latest short film is all about connection: the loss of it, the fear of it, the desire for it. I don’t know if I have ever worked so hard as I did directing and producing this latest project. Films are not only expensive to produce, but time and labor intensive. They are also a collaboration amongst artists in all kinds of arenas: from the color correction to working with actors, it’s always an experience of talents mingling.
I suppose you could say each project I do is like me taking a bunch of stuff out of my closet, putting it together in a way that tickles me, and then sharing it. First with the other artists I work with, and then with the audience.
It means a lot to me that the artists who accept my invitation to work together have a good experience. I think I can say without reservation that I’ve found a truly amazing and talented crew. But it also means a lot to me that the audience keeps coming back to me to hear what I’ve discovered, to see how I’ve put together something that quite possibly is not just a private moment for me revealed, but a universal experience we all share, and perhaps feel a little embarrassed about.
So thank you for watching my work, and connecting with me. Thank you for joining me on this journey of creative discovery. It means the world and I am so grateful.
One question I have been asked often recently is this:
“After years of childhood misery and years of unhappy, unsuccessful adult relationships, how did you manage to change it all and ALSO find a great guy?”
Basically they are asking me, “How did you get happy?”
The simple answer is: I realized I was the common factor in my unhappiness, and changed my choices.
Here I refer to three bits of wisdom a therapist once gave me. (Did I mention he’s Italian?)
PITHY ADVICE FROM THERAPIST #1
He said something like this:
“You walk into a bar. You see a person at the bar you’re really attracted to. S/he’s got that “spark” that all the other people you once loved (and went through hell with) also had. Walk over to where s/he is sitting, TURN AROUND, AND TALK TO THE PERSON STANDING NEXT TO THEM.”
I never forgot the simplicity of this advice. The message is: what is familiar may be a “draw” for you. “Spark” may resonate with all the hope of finally fixing your love life, or maybe even your childhood, but when you go down that path… you usually get drama. Despair. Frustration… and end up back on the usual emotional merry-go-round. What to do?
TURN AROUND AND TALK TO SOMEONE YOU WOULDN’T CHOOSE.
Yeah, yeah, I know…
But look. If you are like I was, your “picker” is broken. You simply have to look around at all the people you are not currently picking.
So be brave! Say hi to someone you might not have. You never know where it could take you. Honestly, it’s how I met the love of my life.
Speaking of which…
PITHY AND REMARKABLY USEFUL TID-BIT FROM THERAPIST #2
…went something like this:
“Take a pencil and a piece of paper. Draw a simple circle. Make a point in the middle of the circle. Now draw a line from the point in the center of the circle to any point on the outside of the circle. (This is a lot easier than I am making it sound.) Now draw a second line from the center point maybe 3 degrees from the first line.
If you kept on drawing those lines further and further out, they’d end up really far apart from each other.
Line ONE is the path you are on.
Line TWO is where the new choice takes you. Just 3 degrees of change can make you end up far away then where you were headed.”
PITHY AND SURPRISINGLY USEFUL ADVICE FROM SHRINK #3
“Here’s your homework. Go home and WATCH JUDGE JUDY.”
Seriously… my therapist told me to watch Judge Judy. When I did, I realized that I was being really “wishy-washy” in my life, giving some people FAR too much credit, and definitely not standing up for myself. I needed a New York Overhaul and JJ was just the lady to help me out. I can’t say it worked overnight, so if you are shy, like I used to be, repeated viewing is highly suggested.
Finally, in order to accomplish any goal, all you really need is one attribute. I think this ONE THING is what separates those who change their lives from those who never do.
WILLINGNESS. If you are willing to change, or can cultivate the willingness to change, then you can change your life. I admit, sometimes I know what I have to do in order to change, I’m just not willing to do it. But at least I am 100% clear that I am choosing to NOT be willing. The willingness to change sometimes comes slowly and is usually accompanied by great pain, and pain… well, pain sucks. But enough of it sure can make you willing to change.