Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lost Endings and Hidden Meanings

Since I was in the area, I popped into the current exhibit at Space, Cherchez la Femme, about French feminist activist videos. Since there were no captions for any of the myriad screens, I wasn't sure what I was watching and since none of the headphones worked, I couldn't be sure what was being said except for the English subtitles on the screen. But, a familiar face caught my eye. "Is that Jane Fonda?" I wondered and sat down to confirm or deny my suspicion. Yes, it was, and she was discussing one of my favourite films, Julia, so I stayed put.

Well, it was most interesting. Jane, in translation, was talking about the representation of the female friendship in the film (between her and Vanessa Redgrave) and how it made the crew uncomfortable. The director, Fred Zinnemann, actually COUNTED how many times she touched Vanessa in their scenes together, because he didn't want anyone to think the characters were lesbians. Well, no doubt, their emotional intensity and the ambiguity of the relationship is exactly why the film made such an impact on me as a child. How often is a female friendship the anchor of a film? Jane's thoughts, exactly, as she elaborated on how rare it is to see two women behave "naturally" with each other and her realisation that that behaviour is so threatening to men.

Recently, I have been checking out films on DVD, including those I have seen before but many years before, as well as some I have missed. Last week's viewing included the commercial DVD of Desperately Seeking Susan, with director's commentary by Susan Seidelman, as well as three women involved in producing the film. Most illuminating were their comments that they had great feminist intentions for the film and wanted the two women to stay together at the end of the film. "I hate to say it," opined Seidelman, "but it's a love story between two women." A lot to ponder in that statement. Why "I hate to say it"? Presumably, because that implies a lesbian relationship between the two leads, Susan and Roberta, and that's (as Jane had stated) just not allowed, because it makes men uncomfortable and threatened.

Most startlingly to me, and I may be the last person on earth to realise it, but the ending of DSS was actually changed after shooting, because it "tested badly", i.e., audiences reacted badly to the two women RIDING OFF TOGETHER ON CAMELS at the end. This ending is actually included on the DVD and made my jaw drop. It totally changes the meaning of the film. How the %&*$£"! was that allowed to happen? To please the studio, presumably. And this is how female relationships are edited out of cinematic history. Cherchez la femme, indeed.

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