LADY FILMS – “Frida”

26 May

HELLO!  It’s been so long since I’ve updated like a good little blogger.  Here are my excuses for why I’ve been absent, so put on your Forgiveness Pants:

  1. On the 11th, it was my birthday, and I was too busy partying/having an existential crisis because I am now 23 and that is scary/partying/stewing in my own sweat because we don’t have AC/partying/eating Mexican food/partying.
  2. Last Wednesday I was sick and when I tried to write the blog post, I actually coughed up one of my lungs onto the keyboard, and it was super gross and messy.  That didn’t really happen, but I was sick and I slept a lot.
  3. Also, I’ve been spending SO MUCH TIME looking for a job.  It’s as if looking for employment is my actual job.  I had an interview today, though, and I’ve been prepping for it a lot (and by “prepping,” I mean “FREAKING OUT”).

So do you forgive me?  I hope so, because I am here to make it up to you with DOUBLE LADY FILMS MADNESS!  TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE (EVEN THOUGH THE PRICE IS “FREE”)!  DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE, DOUBLE YOUR FUN!

And we couldn’t have picked two films that are more radically different.  In one corner, we have Frida, a biopic about bisexual Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, starring Salma Hayek!  In the other corner, we have Bridesmaids, chick comedy extraordinaire, starring Kristen Wiig and many other hilarious ladies!  DO YOU EVEN SEE HOW MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS I AM USING RIGHT NOW?!  I am having to bring DOUBLE THE EXCITEMENT!  Look!  All caps, too!

But seriously…

Frida

Much like my last Lady Film, Bright Star, Frida is a true story about a lady who loves art and the people who create it.  The film, which came out in 2002 and was directed by Julie Taymor, tells Frida Kahlo’s story, from the crippling bus crash she survived as a young woman, to her first art show and her death soon after.  For the most part, the film focuses on her marriage to famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera (played by Alfred Molina), a man known for his murals, his belief in Communism, and his womanizing ways.  The two have a tumultuous relationship full of infidelity.  Diego has sex with Frida’s sister, with nude models he uses for his artwork… basically anything that has boobs and is still breathing.  But that’s okay because Frida does the same!  She sleeps with Leon Trotsky!  She even sleeps with women Diego has already bedded.

They both sleep with this woman, but Frida took her out to breakfast afterwards, so clearly she wins.

Throughout all her marital struggles, and her numerous health problems, and a miscarriage, Frida learns to channel her anguish into her surrealistic paintings (although it’s worthwhile to note that Frida did not see her paintings as surreal; as she said, “I don’t paint from dreams or nightmares.  I paint my own reality”).  The film mirrors the aesthetic of Frida’s paintings, and there are a handful of beautiful shots where paintings blend into reality.

"The Two Fridas"

Frida is perhaps best-known for her multiple self-portraits.  She often “turned the camera” (paintbrush?) on herself.  Her paintings became explorations of her own identity, and that often included her identity as a woman.  As a historical figure, Frida Kahlo is already widely regarded as a feminist figure, due to her success, her “radical” lifestyle, and her keen observations on what it means to be a woman.

So does the film reflect that?

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?

Yes.  There are other female characters – most notably Frida’s mother and sister, and Diego’s ex-wife, who becomes a friend of Frida’s.  They talk about life and art some.  The relationship between Frida and Diego’s ex is particularly special, considering that it starts off rocky and ends with them commiserating about being married to Diego.  Frida harbors some jealousy towards Diego’s past and current conquests, but is ultimately able to look past that to forgive them, to find friends in them, to rekindle a sisterly relationship with them, and even to make them her own lovers. Typically, in films, when a man enters the picture and two women both have some sexual history with him, or both want him, things get ugly.  While that’s true here, ultimately it comes down in favor of the female friendships, at least acknowledging that sisterhood is powerful.

Character and Content:

Frida is definitely a strong female character.  She doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and her status as a woman rarely, if ever, stands in the way or slows her down.  As far as character goes, this is certainly a good example of a feminist film.  The content, however, could have reflected a feminist point of view better.  I realize that Frida’s relationship with Diego Rivera was an important one, and that narratively, it’s easier and more coherent for the film to focus on one strong relationship.  However, I feel that the film does a disservice to the real Frida Kahlo by only addressing her intimate relationships with women in passing.  The film pays more attention to the famous men in her life – Trotsky, Diego Rivera – and only really hints at her bisexuality, which seemed to be a very important part of her identity.  Or the film portrays her bisexuality as something merely sexual, or even a means for her to retaliate against Diego’s infidelities, when historical fact tells us that she actually had some meaningful relationships with women.

Remember when Ashley Judd was in every movie?

Of course, some of this could be blamed on the time period when it was released, and the fact that it was still a fairly mainstream film.  And perhaps this isn’t solely a feminist issue, because I suspect that it would have paid the same amount of attention to the same sex partners of a male character as well.  Homosexuality is still a fairly taboo subject in film.  But the fact remains that female sexuality is, in itself, rather taboo.  Women in films want love, not sex.  A woman experiencing pleasure during sex is something so “radical,” the MPAA frowns upon it (see:  “Blue Valentine”) (not that this is truly shocking to anyone who knows the MPAA’s track record).  This most certainly goes hand-in-hand with the seeming lack of portrayals of female homo- or bisexuality (seriously, is there a lesbian equivalent to “Brokeback Mountain” or “Milk?”).  Women can’t enjoy sex, and they especially can’t enjoy it with another woman – not in the world of mainstream film, at least.  I expected a bit more out of a film about Frida Kahlo, but alas, I was disappointed.

Creative Control:  Julie Taymor, the director of the film, is actually one of the more prominent female directors in the business today.  I don’t think she gets very much credit as a feminist director, though, and I rarely hear her name mentioned in discussions about woman directors.  She’s more of an artist than a storyteller, I’d argue, as the look of her films and Broadway shows (she’s the mastermind behind “The Lion King” musical) tend to trump the content.  I don’t know if I see some massive treatise on what it means to be a female artist in “Frida,” but I’d say there’s evidence that Taymor at least attempted to make some statement about it, and she certainly could relate.  In many ways, the film is situated very much around specific paintings of Frida’s, with almost every major moment coinciding with or leading to Frida creating something.  In this way, a woman’s artistic vision drives both the story itself, and the film, as it was directed by a woman.

While I think Taymor is often style over substance, she is tremendously good at what she does, and is one of the few female filmmakers working today who has a singular, recognizable stamp that she puts on each of her projects.  In this way, she occupies a very unique space in Hollywood, and I have to commend her for that.

Final Verdict:  Ultimately, “Frida” is mostly a pretty good example of a lady film.  It’s a realistic and inspiring portrait of an iconic woman.  However, it’s not really that Hollywood lacks portrayals of extraordinary women like Frida Kahlo.  It’s that they don’t put the same consideration into portrayals of everyday women.  A woman shouldn’t have to be a real person, a famous artist with an intriguing life, to merit such a cinematic representation.

***

This post got kind of HUGE.  So I think I will go ahead and publish it and do “Bridesmaids” in a separate post.

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2 Responses to “LADY FILMS – “Frida””

  1. S May 26, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Opportunity!

    The Writers’ Center of Indiana’s Memoir Project takes writing into the community and helps people learn the skills they need to tell their life stories. WCI staff and volunteers have collected and published the stories of a wide range of people, including Latino and African American youth, senior citizens, special need moms, war veterans, 4-H alumni, and girls in prison. This year the WCI received funding from the Summer Youth Program Fund to work with young people aged 6-18 at the St. Florian Center Summer Leadership Camp, La Plaza’s Leadership Institute for Latino Youth and the Concord Neighborhood Center. Each project will culminate with the publication of an anthology of student work and a spoken word performance.

    St. Florian Center Youth Leadership Camp
    Ages 6-9, 10-13, 14-18
    Mondays and Wednesdays, June 6- July 13
    9 a.m.-11:45 a.m.
    IPS Center for Inquiry at Central Ave. & 57th Street

    LaPlaza’s Leadership Institute for Latino Youth
    Ages 11-13
    Mondays and Wednesdays, June 20-July 29 (No class on July 4th)
    2 p.m.-4 p.m.
    St. Gabriel (6000 W. 34th Street)

    Concord Community Center
    Ages 11-13
    Wednesdays, June 1-August 6 (No meeting on July 6th)
    9:30 a.m.-10:45 a.m.
    (1301 S. Meridian Street)

    We will be teaching close to 150 students this summer, and we need volunteers to assist us with teaching, writing, and transcribing. Past volunteers agree that helping young people write about their lives is a satisfying and often transforming experience. If you are interested in helping the youth at St. Florian, LaPlaza, and Concord Community Center in Westfield tell their stories, please email Education Director Lyn Jones at jlwjones@comcast.net. We ask that you come for at least two consecutive sessions at the site or sites you choose.

    • Layne Ransom May 29, 2011 at 10:29 pm #

      chickz, Tyler and I are doing this and it seems like a great opportunity. if you can, I’d at least consider doing it.

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