Today is International Women’s Day and though there are plenty of newer films available to honor the day, why not celebrate the feminine with a few forgotten old school films? None of the films on this list were commercial blockbusters at their time of release but all of them are now highly respected and/or considered classics with the added benefit of having kick-ass soundtracks. Enjoy.
Season of the Witch (a.k.a Jack’s Wife) (1972) Dir: George A. Romero
Image ©Arrow Video
The only film on the list written and directed without the input of a woman, this film nonetheless shows remarkable insight into the minds of aging housewives in the late 1960’s at the dawn of the women’s liberation movement. The plot concerns Catholic housewife Joan (Jan White), who has spent the best years of her life doting on her abusive husband Jack (Bill Thunhurst), and raising her very cool free-thinking daughter, who is now in college and no longer needs her. Despite having all the comforts of a suburban life, she regularly attends therapy sessions for her recurring nightmares in which she is tied up like a dog and left in a kennel by Jack. Eventually, she meets a practicing female occultist and decides to explore “the craft” in an effort to gain meaning and empowerment in her life. The question at the heart of the film is whether witchcraft is responsible for Joan’s ensuing emancipation, or if she has manifested these things through her own decisions. She casts spells, but she also initiates practical steps that are in no way supernatural and directly lead to her having an affair with her daughter’s boyfriend, breaking off her relationships with her older, more conservative-thinking female friends, and ultimately to the death of her husband. The power, it seems, was Joan’s all along and it is her decision alone who she will submit to. No irony is spared when we see her dead husband being carted away on a stretcher intercut with images of her kneeling down, completely nude for indoctrination into her local coven. Entirely happy with her new identity, the film’s conclusion is nonetheless haunting as it seems the rest of the world has yet to catch up with the new modern Joan as she is still referred to socially as “Jack’s wife.”
In the UK, Arrow Video will be releasing this film later this year on Blu-Ray. Definitely check it out.
Foxes (1980) Dir: Adrian Lyne
Image ©Warner Home Video
Starring a young Jodie Foster and The Runaways’ Cherie Curie, the film follows the friendship of a group of girls in L.A. in their last year of High School in the late ‘70s. Although each girl has a coming-of-age storyline, the plot’s focus lies mainly with latchkey kid Jeanie (Foster), and her close relationship with her druggie friend Annie (Curie) who constantly parties to avoid going home to her physically abusive policeman father. Director Lyne is no stranger to drawing complex authentic performances from his female actors as evidenced by his excellent take on Nabokov’s Lolita (1997) and this film is no exception. Jeanie is not just a kid. She’s the smartest person in the room even when she’s with her mother or her teachers. She takes care of everyone and everything. Consequently, she has difficulty finding people who will look after her when she needs it. Her parents are divorced and both act younger than her. After tragedy befalls one of their group, Jeanie leaves them all behind for college and hopefully a better future.
Times Square (1980) Dir: Allan Moyle
Image ©Network Video
This film is probably my favorite on the list. The development of the unlikely friendship between shy well-off Pam (Trini Alvarado) and volatile street musician Nicky (Robin Johnson) into the band the Sleeze sisters serves as emancipation from expectations for both girls, who become beloved by all the young girls in the city for their take no bullshit attitude. The excellent music is enhanced by the backdrop of decaying 1980 Manhattan, which almost becomes a character in and of itself with the age-old question of culture vs. gentrification featuring prominently. The changing city has an important impact on the way these divergent girls come to understand each other, their sexualities, and the outside world. In the end, the message is one of rebellion, self-expression and believing in yourself, even when at odds with those closest to you. As if those weren’t enough reasons to see it, the soundtrack rocks (it features the Ramones and XTC among others) and Tim Curry plays a DJ.
Girls Town (1996) Dir: Jim Mckay
Image ©Lions Gate Films
Not to be confused with the 1950’s Mamie Van Doren movie, this title is another film about the last year of high school, this time set in gritty urban New Jersey. The film follows a gang of four girls (Lili Taylor, Bruklin Harris, Anna Grace and Aunjanue Ellis) one of who is a single teen mother to a little girl, who must cope in the aftermath of the rape and subsequent suicide of one of their group. Feelings of rage, sadness and hopelessness cause the surviving three to act out towards in various ways, to just about everyone in their periphery despite the prospect of college and a better future. The girls become closer in their shared trauma and they know in their hearts, that no matter where any of them end up in life, this will be the event that defines their friendship. The writing (with contributions from co-star Lily Taylor) is especially poignant when dealing with mother-daughter issues and the guidance or lack thereof provided after the incident. This one is hard to find as it was only ever made available on VHS, but it is worth looking for the occasional screenings on IFC, which is where I first discovered it. The performances are incredibly strong and the soundtrack features some great music from that era, including Queen Latifah’s U.N.I.T.Y., which is used to great affect as the girls patrol their neighborhood spoiling for a fight.