Thursday, 14 April 2005

lady beware: focus on female gothic

The Melbourne Premiere screening of Birth, the highly anticipated new feature from UK director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast), will open Lady Beware: Focus on Female Gothic, a genre-crossing season of thriller, noir, melodrama and horror films screening at ACMI Cinemas from April 14 to 25.

Starring Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Danny Huston and a breath-taking performance from child actor Cameron Bright, Birth is an eerie metaphysical love story revolving around Anna (Kidman), a delicate young widow, who is on the verge of a new life when a solemn little boy appears, claiming to be the reincarnation of her dead husband. 

Originating in literature in the late nineteenth century, 'gothic' themes have been taken up enthusiastically by all aspects of popular culture. Central to gothic culture and its many offshoots is fear: fear of the unknown, the monstrous, the alien and the uncanny. Its stories and characters inhabit a dark shadowy, not-quite-real 'otherworld' of dreams, paranoia, repression, ambiguity and danger.

While female gothic themes provide inspiration for just about every part of pop culture, including music (such as the dark musings of PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux); literature (Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre) and television (Samantha and her 'evil' sister in Bewitched, Buffy, Morticia from The Addams Family), their most potent influence is felt in film.

Frequently intersecting with the thriller, crime, melodrama and the horror genres, female gothic-influenced films take on many forms, their heroines caught in webs of repression and desire from the classic woman-in-peril (Janet Leigh in Psycho) to the 'femme fatale' (Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity), to Sissy Spacek's panicked and murderous coming-of-age teen in Carrie, to 'domestic angels' constrained by marriage, unknown enemies or their own perilous state of mind (The Stepford Wives).

Curated by Roberta Ciabarra (ACMI) and Adrian Martin (The Age), Lady Beware: Focus on Female Gothic is a cinematic feast of gothic-inspired films, both vintage and modern, from such masters including Alfred Hitchcock, Brian de Palma, Roman Polanski, Jane Campion and Abel Ferrara.
Among the highlights:

  • Screen Talk: Every Woman's Nightmare - the Female Gothic and Beyond (Saturday 16 April at 5pm, ACMI Cinemas)For those who want to learn more about female gothic in film, join Lady Beware guest curator Adrian Martin (The Age) for an exclusive lecture as he traces the paths of the Female Gothic across the thriller and horror genres, women's cinema and the avant-garde path.

  • Femme Fatale (Brian de Palma, USA, 2002) - 35mm print, Australian Theatrical Premiere!
    Brian de Palma's sexy thriller Femme Fatale (2002), starring Antonio Banderas and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (X-Men) as the blond, icy, desirable, duplicitous eponymous heroine.
    'One of the smartest, most pleasurable expressions of pure movie love to come from an American director in years.' Los Angeles Times

  • Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1964) - 35mm imported archival print
    Tippi' Hedren is Marnie, a compulsive thief and liar who goes to work for Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), then attempts to rob him. Mark impulsively marries the troubled beauty and attempts to discover the reasons for her obsessive behaviour. Opening to mixed reviews upon its 1964 release - when the film's offbeat combination of crime and sexual dysfunction met with derisive incomprehension - Marnie has since come into its own to be widely acknowledged as Hitchcock's final classic.
    'If you don't like Marnie, you don't like Hitchcock. If you don't love Marnie, you don't love cinema' Robin Wood (film scholar, critic and author of the seminal book Hitchcock's Films)

  • Ms .45 (Abel Ferrara, USA, 1981) - 35mm imported archival print
    This early 1980s cult classic still stands as a potent and uniquely feminist entry in the urban revenge subgenre. Nastassja Kinski look-alike Zoë Tamerlis Lund stars as a beautiful mute seamstress in New York's garment district, a shrinking violet who is transformed, following two brutal assaults to a one-woman vigilante force hunting the scum of society and using herself as bait. The second film for Ferrara, the bad boy of independent American filmmaking, Ms .45 sparks with a genuine ferocity earning it an initial X rating with the censors.
    'Highly regarded by both audiences and critics, Ms. 45 is that rare breed of exploitation film--intensely disturbing yet sexy, clever, intelligent, and even funny.'

  • Klute (Alan J. Pakula, USA, 1971)
    Jane Fonda won her first Oscar for her role as Bree, the wanna-be actress and call girl in Alan J. Pakula's 1971 mystery thriller opposite Donald Sutherland.
    'Klute is one of the most resonant and gripping genre films Hollywood ever produced' Film Freak Central

  • Morgiana (Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia, 1971) - 35mm imported archival print
    60s TV culture was rife with good girl blondes cursed with evil dark-haired relatives: Morticia, Samantha and Jeannie all had them and in this 1971 hallucinatory 'good sister/evil sister' goth horror from Czech New Wave director Juraj Herz, poor (blonde) Klara - who has her pick of suitors - can't quite figure out why her spurned, lovelorn sister, Victorie, would want to poison her. 

  • Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, Canada, 2000)
    Carrie-meets-Clueless-meets-Heathers.  Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as 'the best teenage werewolf movie ever made', Ginger Snaps is a darkly comic recasting of the werewolf legend from a coming-of-age female perspective. 
    'This time, Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf are one and the same, and she kind of likes it.' Seattle-Post Intelligencier

  • Other films screening include Rosemary's Baby (1968), Roman Polanksi's genre-defining 'mother' of all supernatural possession thrillers, George Cukor's seminal Gaslight (1944) starring the incomparable Ingrid Bergman and Buongiorno, Notte / Good Morning, Night (2003), Italian director Marco Bellocchio's hallucinatory drama where a young female terrorist confronts ideology, patriarchy and her own identity; and the raw Woman's Nightmare film Positive ID, from Andy Anderson, whose  similarly deadpan installation Drive-By Shooting appeared in ACMI's recent Screen Gallery exhibition, Proof.

    Read Lady, Beware: Female Gothic Variations, an introductory essay by Adrian Martin.

    ACMI thanks Warner Home Video for their support in the promotion of the Lady Beware: Focus on the Female Gothic.
    Femme Fatale and Klute are available on DVD from all leading retailers

  • Further information

    Danielle Poulos, Communications Coordinator, ACMI ph 03 8663 2415 m 0417 540 543
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