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Sharing Our Story: Mary Harron’s Misunderstood Cult Classic ‘American Psycho’

Sharing Our Story: Mary Harron's Misunderstood Cult Classic 'American Psycho'

As this year’s
Sundance Film Festival swings into gear, let’s take a look back at a
woman with a definite place in Sundance history: Park City darling Mary Harron. Born to comedian
Donald Harron and actress Gloria Fisher in Ontario, Canada, Harron has one sister: producer Kelley Harron. 

The future director studied in the
UK, entering St. Anne’s College for women at Oxford University, where she earned
a BA in English Literature. After graduation, Harron moved to New York and
landed in the middle of the punk-music revolution. She helped found the fanzine Punk, for which she wrote the
very first state-side interview with the Sex Pistols. She also conducted early interviews with The Ramones, The Talking Heads, and other soon-to-be punk royalty. 

After moving back to
London, Harron took on research jobs for the BBC and Channel 4, eventually directing and producing a number of documentaries and short films about pop culture. In 1991 she returned to New York to produce segments for PBS’s Edge. In her book Women Directors and Their Films,
author Mary Hurd claims Harron “proposed the idea
of a documentary on Valerie Solanas to [Edge]
producers Christine Vachon and Tom Kalin, who encouraged her to pursue a
dramatic feature instead.” The film I
Shot Andy Warhol
, which Harron co-wrote and directed, premiered at the 1996
Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury award for actress Lili Taylor.
The film also received an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

Harron’s sophomore
feature, American Psycho, debuted at
Sundance in 2000. Critics at the festival quickly turned against the story’s violence and treatment of women. In a recent interview with SundanceTV, Harron recalled the press’s initial response to her movie. “What I did have to face were the people who came to interview, and some of them were very hostile,” she said. “One woman, looking at my very pregnant stomach, said, ‘How could you, a mother, make this film?!’ which really annoyed me, because no one ever says that to a male director about their children.”

Harron always viewed her adaptation of the novel by Bret Easton Ellis as a satire. In a self-authored article for the New
York Times
she called the book itself “a surreal satire, and although many scenes were
excruciatingly violent, it was clearly intended as a critique of male misogyny,
not an endorsement of it.” 

Though met with mixed
reviews at the time, American Psycho has gone on to become a cult sensation. 

Still fascinated with
the cultural fringe, Harron’s next turn at narrative directing came with her biopic of a pin-up
icon: The Notorious Bettie Page (2006). In 2014 she told Anisee Gross of The Believer magazine, “I am a product of feminism. Without feminism, I would not be
making films.” She also said of Bettie
, “A lot of men were disappointed in the film because they wanted it to
be sexy. They wanted the male experience of Bettie, and in a way that makes it
my most feminist film, because it’s about what it’s like to be Bettie.” 

Harron also adapted the YA vampire novel The Moth Diaries (2011) and boasts extensive TV-directing credits for such series as Oz, Six Feet Under, Homicide: Life on the
Street, The L Word
Big Love, as well as the Lifetime movie Anna Nicole (2013), about the Playboy model and reality star Anna Nicole Smith. Harron has worked
for some time on an adaptation of Please
Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
, written by her Punk co-founder Legs McNeil. The film intends to recount the 1970s New York scene that she helped document from its

Join us on Friday, January
 at 8 PM as Seeking Our Story celebrates Mary Harron’s American Psycho. The film screens as
part of MiMoDa Studio’s Friday Night
Film Club and is sponsored by @TheDirectorList.

Prior to the screening
at 7 PM, join @WomenNMedia for a networking
session connecting filmmakers and crew members for future collaborative
 This is a community
screening with donations gratefully accepted.

Filmmaker Samantha Shada produces the Seeking Our Story series in Los Angeles. She screens an alternative approach to film history by highlighting the works of women directors. 

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