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Women Party Hard on Film in Latest Issue of Cléo

Women Party Hard on Film in Latest Issue of Cléo

Bust out the egg nog and alcohol early, because Cléo is preempting any Christmas or New Year’s Eve shindigs. The feminist film journal’s sixth issue is devoted to parties on film, but not just any kind of partying. Cléo founder Kiva Reardon argues that on film and in life, partying is more than just a way for feminists to let their hair down.

…the act of partying isn’t equal for all. There are issues of accessibility, issues of discrimination, issues of class, and issues of gendered power (not everyone is safe at the party). It’s this last issue that often makes headlines…It’s in these cases of sexual assaults at parties where so-called celebrations act as microcosms of society: the abuses of power that take place amidst the debauchery mimic those we see on the streets. This is why it’s a mistake to dismiss parties, and especially the act of partying, as merely frivolous. Reclaiming parties and thinking about them through a feminist lens has the potential to incite radical change by opening dialogues about consent culture, how we conceive of public space, and challenge toxic masculinity.

Cleo’s sixth issue, then, is filled with rich writing about women partying on film and what it means beyond having a little fun. The latest issue features two interviews with major female filmmakers: Reardon spoke with Julie Taymor (“Titus,” “Frida”) about adaptation and channeling the surreal, while Tim Hayes talked to Sally Potter (“Orlando” about how dance figures into feminist filmmaking. Here’s a bit from the latter:

cléo: Dance is inherently bound up in the fabric of your early films and has cropped up repeatedly in them ever since. Why do cinema, dance parties, ballets, and tangos all go together so well?

Sally Potter: Didn’t André Bazin describe how movement is the essence of cinema? But it is incredibly difficult to film dance well. As a director you learn that every decision is, in a certain way, a choreographic one. Is the camera going to move, or be still? Is a person moving from left to right, or right to left, and is that body language consistent with their character? Is the scene better if the characters are static and we move, or vice versa? All these decisions in every shot! You have to approach the job choreographically, and think about how film works through time.

The latest issue also features essays on women at parties on film or women trying to break into male-dominated areas, from Eleni Deacon’s appreciation of “Election’s” Tracey Flick (“a one-woman political party”) to Lindsay Jensen on Mia Hansen-Love’s festival favorite “Eden” to Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite on the beach party monster movie “Beach Girls and the Monster.” These essays cover parties of all kinds, from joyous affairs to dangerous bashes. One cult classic, the goofy murder-mystery comedy “Clue,” is both (well, maybe not for the characters), and Kathleen Kampeas-Rittenhouse wrote about how funny women survive the film’s “anti-party”:

Miss Scarlet, who proudly outs herself as a Washington madame, seems to have found one of the few direct routes to power for a woman in 1950s America: selling sex. Cheerfully impervious to the evening’s bourgeois code of conduct, she is the only character who appears to be enjoying herself, delivering a stream of Mae West-like wisecracks throughout the evening (Professor Plum: “I am [a doctor], but I don’t practice.” Miss Scarlet: “Practice makes perfect. I think most men could use a little practice, don’t you?”). Yet despite all her swagger, Miss Scarlet is ultimately relegated to the margins of society by her hypocritical male clients, politicians who uphold the laws that ensure her business remains illegal and socially condemned.

Kampeas-Rittenhouse makes an interesting observation about the otherwise enjoyably lightweight comedy: where the men in “Clue” are all in prominent positions of power, the women have all had to navigate society through different, often illicit means to find any modicum of independence or power of their own. 30-YEAR OLD SPOILER IN NEXT SENTENCE: More to the point, the murderers in two of the film’s endings are both women (in the third ending, of course, all of the guests killed someone), each of the women kill as a reaction against a sexist society, and the three most memorable performances in the male-dominated film are by women.

Finally, Cleo’s latest roundtable (featuring Anne T. Donahue, Durga Chew-Bose, and Sara Black McCulloch) makes a case for the 90s teen party movie as the Golden Age of feminist film:

Sara: Parties in nineties movies were written off as social events—which just meant girls and guys hooking up. But with the films you two have listed, there was so much more going on and so much more you could pick up on. I remember particularly that in eighties party scenes you either had hot, bitchy cheerleaders who rejected nerds—or you had plain Janes who were ridiculed or rejected. With nineties movies, we still have the high school hierarchy in play, but instead we get so many different girls and different group dynamics. I remember especially with that “Clueless” party in the Valley. Dionne is talking about social capital or she’s tearing into Murray. Tai is rolling with Elton. Cher is orchestrating a teen romance and maintaining social order. But Cher also pushes off Elton at the end of the night and lectures him on being a snob because he refuses to date Tai. With nineties party scenes, we get more of the girls and the many different ways they navigate how they’re perceived.

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