The ideological feminism of the 70s in “3 women” and “girlfriends”


Among the great crusades for social justice that emerged in the United States during the 1970s, the feminist movement remains perhaps the most immortalized and the most widely discussed. In 2020 alone, the life of second wave feminist icon Gloria Steinem was chronicled in not one, but two major projects: the critically acclaimed FX miniseries. Mrs. America (nominated for ten Primetime Emmys, winner one), and the festival’s blockbuster feature film The Gloria, written and directed by Oscar nominee Julie Taymor.

Feminism, unquestionably, has been around as long as the heteropatriarchy. But in many ways, the ’70s iteration of women’s liberation remains the most documented and dramatized in contemporary news and media, in large part due to the artistic and technological advancements of the decade. In 2011, feminist historian and media scholar Amy Peloff wrote: “Feminist ideas [in the 1970s] were communicated through media readily available to anyone in the United States with access to television, radio, magazines, or newspapers.

Unlike the work of female suffragists in the 1910s and 1920s and the work of all the activists who came before them, American second wave feminism was widely disseminated to the public through film and television. Such unprecedented exposure can be attributed both to the commercial ubiquity of these entertainment media and, more importantly, to the trends and ideologies adopted by these media throughout the decade.

As reported in a 2011 The Directors Guild of America quarterly editorial: “A restless generation of directors took Hollywood by storm in the late 1960s and 1970s, reflecting the country’s climate. Second-wave feminism undoubtedly existed at the forefront of this climate; the CUNY New Labor Forum reported in 2013: “Second wave feminism was the largest social movement in US history … polls reported that a majority of American women identified with it … from the mid-1960s to to its decline in momentum [by] the 1980s. ”

As the paradigms of the studio system of production, storytelling, and censorship collapsed with the rise of the American counterculture of the late 1960s, major Hollywood productions and independent films turned their attention to the movements. eminent counterculture (increasingly dominant). The rise of second wave feminism within this insurrectionary spirit meant that film politics and gender politics were challenged, challenged and transformed simultaneously in 1970s America, catalyzing an inevitable convergence of the two phenomena. .

No two works more intelligently capture this intersection of cinema and contemporary politics than that of Robert Altman. 3 women (1977) and Claudia Weill Girlfriends (1978). Both films feature female protagonists and tackle topics and dilemmas relevant to many experiences of women in the late 1970s in America – including (but not limited to) marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, work, friendships, personal autonomy and complications to exist both within and outside of domestic spaces. In other words, both works remain irrevocably contextualized by the final years of Second Wave feminism, which also means that they capture an enigmatic and transitory moment in American history.

In a broad analysis of the decade, the staff of THE STORY note that at the end of the Carter administration and for much of the 1980s, “the idealistic dreams of the 1960s [had been] worn out by inflation… unrest and rising crime. In response, many Americans have embraced a new conservatism in social, economic, and political life. The feminist movement in the United States metamorphosed into increasingly intersectional third and fourth waves, but the rise of neoconservatism of the 1980s nonetheless undermined the second wave and, essentially, all contemporary progressive movements.

This ideological shift in American society – from an avant-garde worldview to a more traditional (and ultimately regressive) view – has pushed women’s liberation out of the important pop-cultural sphere it has entered in the years. 70 and kept her out of that sphere for decades. . The end of the 1970s thus marked a period of confusion and feminist calculation.

A critical dialogue can then be established between 3 women and Girlfriends, each does to the denouement of both second-wave feminism and what is now called the “new American wave” of cinema. Compellingly, the juxtaposition of Altman’s and Weill’s films reveals a rare example of ideological overlap, where Hollywood cinema grapples with dilemmas and experiences regarding women (3 women) and American independent cinema grappling with the same subjects (Girlfriends) achieve similar thematic ends through disparate aesthetic means. More precisely, the two films simultaneously accept and reject traditional gender roles and the ideals of motherhood, marriage and domesticity, but achieve this identical inconsistency through diametrically opposed modes of production, financing, performance, writing and directing.

3 women, preceding the release of Girlfriends at 16 months, remains a Hollywood anomaly. In his founding essay “Dream Project”, critic David Sterritt notes: “[Robert Altman] received the green light from 20th Century Fox not only with no completed script, but with the expressed desire to make the whole movie without. The director embarked on production with the full support of a large studio, despite an incomplete creative game plan from a dream he had while his wife was in the hospital.

This vision would be responsible for the frame of the film; As in Altman’s dream, 3 Women follows rehab nurse Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall), who is tasked with training a sweet, almost childish teenage girl named Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) to work. The two women later become roommates in Millie’s apartment in the California desert and frequent the local saloon run by alcoholic and womanizer Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier) and his seemingly mute and ailing wife Willie (Janice Rule). Willie paints murals of human-animal hybrids and is pregnant with Edgar’s child.

Millie becomes increasingly frustrated with Pinky’s naivety, believing that her immature behavior is destroying her social life (although Millie herself shows signs of delusional thinking and behavior). When Millie invites Edgar to the apartment to have sex, a distraught Pinky tries to drown in the shared pool. Falling into a coma, she wakes up weeks later with a completely different and outgoing demeanor, while Millie herself becomes more and more gentle and childish.

The two women, in fact, “change their personalities”, triggering a nightmarish odyssey that culminates in the delivery of a stillborn baby by Willie. The film ends with Edgar’s mysterious death in a “shooting accident” (it is suggested that one or all of the women killed him), as Millie, Pinky and Willie dissolve into the roles of “mother. “,” daughter “and” grandmother “and dine together at a farm just outside the living room property.

3 women proves a dizzying work of surreal art, which is surprising given its studio budget, Oscar-nominated director, top-notch cast, and critical reception. Upon her release, Ruth Batchelor from Los Angeles Free Press wrote: “[Shelley Duvall’s] Millie Lammoreaux is just as haunting as Vivien Leigh’s Blanche Dubois, ”while Roger Ebert commented,“ Acting in a story like this must be a lot more difficult than playing a simple narrative, but Spacek and Duvall go through theirs so well. changes it’s… unforgettable. The film too. “

Mainstream critics hailed Altman’s “dream project,” which to this day remains little more than a series of avant-garde abstractions. As writer Molly Langill noted: “The results of Altman’s open-film making would be his ‘subliminal realities’ … both his narratives and his characters are most often fragmented and incoherent, which makes it difficult for the audience to get a clear message. In the end, what began as the content of Altman’s dreams ended with a dreamlike work of epic – and impenetrable – proportions.

Noting these nebulous qualities does not diminish 3 women‘s, nor Altman, feminist tendencies. As writer Miranda Barnewall notes: “By examining (and drawing on her sympathy) the women in his films, Altman proves to be a sort of feminist outlet in the male-dominated era of New Hollywood. . Compared to the more typically “masculine” works of Hollywood Renaissance writers like Francis Ford Coppola (see the years 1972 The Godfather), Martin Scorsese (see 1976’s Taxi driver), and Brian De Palma (see 1976’s Obsession), Altman’s meditative view of the ever-changing relationship between two young women in contemporary American society proves to be a refreshing outlier. Likewise, Altman’s status as a feminist maverick of American cinema does not absolve his “1977 phantasmagoria” of ideological inconsistency, considering that the film’s ending poses more questions than answers regarding the problems of the filmmakers. women of the day.

For example, the delivery of a stillborn baby by Willie undoubtedly symbolizes the rejection of women as inherently maternal figures. Still, Willie is relegated to the role of “grandmother” when she moves into the farmhouse adjacent to the living room with Millie and Pinky in the film’s final frames, once again unable to escape the role of caregiver. Millie and Pinky are also trapped in “traditionally female” roles, fulfilling the functions of “mother” and “daughter” respectively. As writer Krin Gabbard argues: “Altman’s film is about three women who regress the pressures of adulthood in a bizarre trio of roles that parody normal family relationships.

In turn, 3 womenThe final moments of prove undecided: Following Edgar’s death and Willie’s stillbirth, are these female characters liberated and independent agents? Or are they still expected to fill oppressive roles involving the “home” and “family” that second wave feminism so passionately attacked?


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