9 Iconic Movies with Stellar Portrayals of Women

Most of us are familiar with The Bechdel Test. To qualify as female-friendly, a movie must meet three requirements:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.

Isn’t there more? Let’s face it—women, if movies indicate correctly, are really only good for two things: birthing babies and pleasuring males. And everything related to these things. Sex. Prostitution. Stripping. Staying home with babies. Agonizing over babies.

Did we mention sex?

Here’s a new test: is the movie about sex or motherhood? Luckily, we have many, many great examples in the modern film canon!

Yes, many male filmmakers hit the nail on the head with their vaginally focused characterizations of female characters. Here are 9 great examples. And, just for fun, let’s point out what these characters’ male counterparts get to do.

  1. Blue Velvet. When she’s not waiting to get her kidnapped son back, Dorothy Vallens loves to get hit by Jeffrey Beaumont. Meanwhile, Jeffrey’s off doing things like solving mysteries and getting rid of the bad guy.
  2. Breaking the Waves. Okay, granted, Jan Nyman was paralyzed in an oil rig accident and attempts suicide. He fails. While he recovers he gets to have sexual fantasies about his wife, Bess McNeill, after he urges her to go out and get some on his behalf. She has tons of sex. She thinks God is speaking to her. She ends up getting beaten to death and Jan’s all better just in time for the funeral. Big win for women’s rights!
  3. Antichrist. You can’t really mention Breaking the Waves without bringing in an even bigger score for women the world over. We’ve reviewed Antichrist in a previous Cinemulatto post. But how can we resist including it here? The mental breakdown after “She” loses her child? “He” only gets to keep his sanity, although later his penis gets bludgeoned. “She” gets to chop off her clitoris. Susan B. Anthony fought long and hard for such a privilege.
  4. Scarface (the Brian De Palma version). Say hello to my little trophy wife. She snorts coke all day and is devoid of mothering capabilities since “her womb is so polluted.” Tony Montana gets to build an empire before losing it. Where’s Elvira’s spin-off, where she becomes a gang warlord?
  5. The Accidental Tourist. We know this is based on a novel by a woman. Couldn’t this have been a case of alternative casting? Two women: one loses a child, another chases a man from her first appearance in the movie. You can catch him if you follow him on the job—as he travels the world and writes best-selling books. Who wants to be an author when you can work at a kennel in heels?
  6. Requiem for a Dream.
    “I stole a cop’s gun. Or I think I did. I definitely stole a TV.”
    “Yeah, well I was in a sex show with a double-headed dildo.”
    “So what? I lost an arm and my buddy’s in prison.”
    “What about your mom?”
    “She’s psychotic.”
    “So, wait. Motherhood and sex?”
  7. Leaving Las Vegas. A down and out guy controls his own destiny with the help of not a bartender, or a therapist, or a cop, but a prostitute. (For other titles in the “I’m here to forward your story and I either have a kid or a sex job or both” cf. The Wrestler, Taxi Driver, Pretty Woman, Trading Places, and maybe a few others.)
  8. Fight Club. I’ll be chain-smoking and waiting to have sex with you while you travel the world and double as the hot leader of an all-male wallop society. I have a cool costume and makeup, though.
  9. Only God Forgives. This film may not yet have a place in seminal film history, but Ryan Gosling’s blank stare is, by now, iconic. He spends his time with prostitutes. He reaches into his dead, overbearing mother’s womb. End scene.

These are just a few examples. We both know you’re familiar with more great ones.


Film Editors I Have Known

Most people don’t know what editors do. People in the movie business don’t know what editors do. Editors are perceived as special people who work in dark rooms away from the madding crowd.—Evan Lottman, whose credits include Panic in Needle Park,
The Exorcist, and Apocalypse Now

Film editors are grossly underrated, often playing the role of wizard behind the curtain. Without looking it up, who can name the picture editor (or editors) of any of these movies?

  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • The Godfather
  • Taxi Driver
  • Easy Rider
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Star Wars

Without editors, we have no movies. And without the opportunity to work closely with and learn directly from editors, indie directors are missing out.

I’ve been teaching myself how to edit. I’ve covered Walter Murch. I’m currently making my way through First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors. Aside from combing through the thoughts of those with long lists of Hollywood credits to their names, I’ve been lucky to have worked with some pretty great picture editors, often before I studied great works from the film canon that utilized these techniques.

In honor of those who taught me something about putting together a movie, who made me see things differently and challenged me to keep learning and try new things, here are little nuggets from film editors I have known.

  • Marisol McIlvain: Marisol cut my first feature, I’d Rather Be…Gone. What I learned: cutting on motion, jump cuts, and using reaction shots to add drama, tension, and emotion.
  • Jason Touissant: Jason edited my short, Faith-Based Charity, as well as the trailer for an unproduced feature, My Mirage. What I learned: leaving “air” when it’s needed before moving into a new scene, rolling before “action” and “cut” to capture footage of an actor before he or she is “acting”, and using L cuts to connect scenes.
  • Amal Kouttab: edited We There. What I learned: music can make long moments seem shorter.
  • Jesse Kerman: edited Mother Country. What I learned: you can hone in on the emotion of a scene through the editing. This was the first movie where I worked with “name” actors; I was strongly inclined to not cut much out of several strong performances. I admit, however, that in some instances where the writing was weak, Jesse skillfully crafted emotionally charged moments by strategic omission. Less is often more, indeed.
  • Robert Wainscott: I’m throwing in a sound editor since I’ve learned so much from Robert. I’ve worked with him on all of my projects since 2008. What I learned: how sound can completely transform a movie, and how it can add layers to a scene. For example, for my short film Lucha, I wanted to use audio from Radio Venceremos, the underground radio station that operated during the Salvadorian Civil War. It was Robert’s idea to have the station playing not under the closing credits, but during the final moments of the movie, on a radio in a car driven by rebel fighters.

Many thanks and much appreciation to the editors in my life!

Oh, and here are the answers, so you don’t have to look ’em up:

  • Lawrence of Arabia:¬†Anne V. Coates
  • The Godfather: William Reynolds and Peter Zinner
  • Taxi Driver: Tom Rolf and Melvin Shapiro
  • Easy Rider: Donn Cambern
  • Pulp Fiction: Sally Menke
  • Star Wars: Richard Chew, Marcia Lucas, and Paul Hirsch