I have a mental disorder that leads me to furiously research career paths at even the subtlest of nudges. I watched The West Wing and mapped out a path to become the Warren Administration's Press Secretary (the first step involves me changing my name to C.J. Rothkopff); I pet a bunny and registered to take the VCATs (Veterinary College Admission Test); I read a book and bought a pen. So, I imagine that you can imagine the state of panic that this year's success for women in comedy has put me in. I watched Bridesmaids last year in the Burlington theater and literally went home and first picked out my top ten MFA Screenwriting programs and only second did I open a word document and start writing the most mediocre jokes. I have been continuously taunted for the past year as Kristin Wiig, Lena Dunham and the three women of Happy Endings (my idols, Casey Wilson, Eliza Coupe and Elisha Cuthbert), among many other talented comediennes have destroyed their male counterparts. It's not news to point out that 2011 and 2012 has seen an almost incredible level of talent and success in the aforementioned women, and so I will leave the work of critiquing the first episodes of Girls to the 1,000,000 other interested bloggers who have already done a fine job with the task.
Since sex was invented, women have been welcome in front of audiences as performers, and many have significantly contributed to the evolution of comedy and film in general. What is continuing to niggle, however, is the announcement of flicks to be featured at this year's Cannes film festival. In just a few weeks, 22 worthy directors of many shapes and sizes will descend upon the beach town to bask in le soleil and the glory of their artistic achievements. And the group really is diverse, boasting Wes Anderson's much-fussed-about Moonrise Kingdom, the newest from Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian auteur whose Where is the Friend's Home? or Khane-ye doust kodjast? stole my heart in Aesthetics of the Moving Image two years ago, as well as pictures by Korean director Hong Sang-soo and the Belarusian Sergei Loznitsa. But you get where this is going: Not one film by a woman was nominated. Homme des lettres Jean Cocteau famously said, "The Festival is an apolitical no-man's-land, a microcosm of what the world would be like if people could make direct contact with one another and speak the same language." I hate to say it for fear of sounding trite, but that no-man's-land is obviously a man's-land and that same language is dude.
Why is this alarming? Because one might assume that the major success women have found in comedy would correlate to similar success in film production. Instead, there has still been only one woman to win the Academy Award for direction (Katherine Bigelow, The Hurt Locker, 2008) and since the first festival was held at Cannes in 1946, only one woman, Jane Campion, has ever won the film world's highest honor, the Palme d'Or for The Piano. Women have risen to the highest ranks of the film world with a surprisingly skewed number heading up major studios. They (we) have not, however, been allowed the distinguished status of auteur, creators revered for their original aesthetic vision. Although surrounded by a busy cloud of hype, Lena Dunham comes close to this signifier, with her DIY, unpretentious style -- but her generation and constructed image require that she rule trendier, even grungier festivals like SXSW.
Even still, Lena Dunham is criticized within the context of female filmmakers. As the dialogue is so heavily male, the qualifying of films made by women in those terms automatically puts them at a disadvantage. Ultimately, until critical analysis of film is degenderized and critics (male and female alike) can discuss female work as just work, then women will be unable to reach the same level of acclaim.
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