Archive | Film Matters

The Hollywood Firsts of Sherry Lansing: Q&A

Sherry Lansing is the Queen of Hollywood firsts. When appointed president of production of 20th Century Fox in 1980, she became the first woman to run a Hollywood movie studio. Going on to run Paramount Studios during one of its most successful decades, she prevailed as a Tinseltown superpower through the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. She even became the first female studio head to leave her hand- and footprints on the sidewalk in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

Standing five foot ten, Lansing worked as an actress mentored by the legendary director Howard Hawks (she appeared in his “Rio Lobo” with John Wayne) before joining MGM as a script reader. Married to director William Friedkin since 1991, she left the film biz in 2005 to launch the Sherry Lansing Foundation, which is dedicated to funding and raising awareness for cancer research, health, public education, and encore career opportunities. Now she’s the subject of Leading Lady, an authorized biography by Stephen Galloway. On a deliciously long phone call, we talked about her many hats as well as feminism, the changing movie industry, and “Fatal Attraction,” which she produced. Continue Reading →

‘Lady Macbeth’ and the Unlikeability Paradox

The “female likeability” mandate has been holding women hostage in literature, as in life, since the Ancient Greeks introduced Medea and Clytemnestra. But it was Shakespeare who really enforced the myth that girls had to play nice. Though he authored some beautifully complex women, he also created a bevy of thorny female characters who either sweetened up or met a brutal fate–in King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew, especially. Then there’s Lady Macbeth. As a woman who notoriously did not know her place, she was doomed to go mad before offing herself entirely.

Though she is never name-checked except in its title, William Oldroyd’s adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s classic 1865 novel, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk, is haunted by the Lady. About a young woman sold into marriage to a man more than twice her age, this “Lady Macbeth” is a feminist screed that doesn’t just politely nudge at expectations that adult women should be good little girls. It rips them up and then stares at us defiantly. Continue Reading →

Women Problems, ‘The Witches of Eastwick’

Though the toast of the town while alive, John Updike has fallen out of favor since his 2009 death. Perhaps this is because literary styles have changed, and the notoriously prolific writer’s Proustian effusions and adverbial chattiness have no place amid the muscular, subject-verb prose in vogue right now. But Updike’s oeuvre also has the sort of “woman problem” that is less tolerated with every passing year. It’s not that he wasn’t fascinated by women – his work is arguably as awash in female bodily fluids as any male writer since James Joyce – but there lurks a hate-love dynamic in it as well. Rooted in his books is the premise that women may be the source of all life but also the source of all trouble – a conflict best exemplified in 1984’s The Witches of Eastwick. Set in a fictional New England town, it focuses on three women whose latent magical powers materialize when a well-heeled stranger rolls into town and beds each of them. Though some hailed the book as a triumph of pagan feminism, others saw it as retrogressive, especially as a man is required to rouse these women into action. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy