Programmed by Ursula Wagner
This series idea came to me in summer of 2016 when I attended an outdoor screening of Thelma and Louise, a movie I had only watched alone. From the moment the heroines started fighting back against the patriarchal forces keeping them in check, the audience let loose a floodgate of emotion. It felt like a release of anger, a wave of joy, total catharsis. I wanted more. Revenge fantasies give us space to explore our complex feelings about vengeance. E.g., if we are cheering as Ms. 45 kills her rapist onscreen, would we actually support this being the real-life norm? Complicating things further, many films celebrating the ways women fight back are themselves directed by men complicit in an industry that regularly harms women (Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown). Also problematic is that we must often endure disturbing content (Hard Candy) or assault scenes that may not seem worth the ensuing revenge scenes (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). And despite these being "fantasies," things sometimes end poorly for their heroines. I submit that the women in these stories are strong enough to transcend these elements. I also included films that were written by women and/or contain significant input from their female stars. The films come from around the world (Finland's The Match Factory Girl), and range in genre from horror (Teeth) to comedy (9 to 5) to fairy tale (Maleficent). Although they span the past 45 years, starting with Lady Snowblood (1973), these films speak to our current #MeToo moment. This series was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.
(Toshiya Fujita, 1973) · This tale of 19th-century Japan was so influential for Tarantino that he made the cast and crew of Kill Bill watch it throughout filming. Yuki was a baby conceived solely for the purpose of revenge. By 20 she has been trained as a deadly assassin. Armed with a sword hidden in the handle of her umbrella, she sets out to hunt down her mother's rapists. True to its title, this film delivers gorgeous shots of falling snow... glistening with blood.
runtime: 97m format: DCP
(Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2007) · At the center of this new-millennium feminist horror film is an age-old myth found in cultures around the world: the vagina dentata. Jess Weixler won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for playing Dawn, a teen active in her local abstinence group. As Dawn slowly discovers how many men in this world are predatory, she also discovers strength via her body's built-in form of self-protection. Camp is balanced with seriousness in this clever coming-of-age parable.
runtime: 94m format: 35mm
(Quentin Tarantino, 1997) · Jackie Brown is based on the novel Rum Punch, in which a blond flight attendant conspires against federal agents and a ruthless drug dealer (Samuel L. Jackson) in order to walk away with both her freedom and $550,000. But by casting Pam Grier (of 70s blaxploitation fame) in the lead, Tarantino turned this thriller into a story about Jackie outsmarting a system inherently rigged against "a 44-year-old black woman." Profits will be donated to RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network)"
runtime: 154m format: 35mm
(Aki Kaurismäki, 1990) · It's always the quiet ones... Iris is a dull young woman leading a dull life that consists of straightening labels on matchboxes all day before going home to cook and clean for her dour parents. One night she meets a potential mate, but he callously casts her aside, leaving her alone and pregnant. This is when Iris snaps, in her own quiet way. Kati Outinen's performance as Iris is haunting, and Roger Ebert added the film to his Great Movies list.
runtime: 68m format: 35mm
(David Slade, 2005) · Hayley is a 14-year-old girl who uses her online persona of Thonggrrrl14 to lure a 32-year-old possible pedophile into a sadistic trap. A pre-Juno Ellen Page looks shockingly young here, playing Hayley as the version of Little Red Riding Hood you always wished for, catching the wolf in his own trap. The film's content was so controversial that Slade intentionally shot for less than one million dollars so the studio would be less likely to object.
runtime: 104m format: 35mm
(Niels Arden Oplev, 2009) · This original adaptation of Stieg Larssen's novel features goth-punk heroine Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant hacker navigating this misogynistic world while assisting with a murder investigation. The film is unflinching in its depictions of sexual violence, but never exploitative. Ms. magazine called it "decidedly feminist," stating: "It's rare that a film centers on a feminist hero, and even more rare for such a film to meet with rave reviews."
runtime: 152m format: 35mm
(Ridley Scott, 1991) · Tough-as-nails Louise (Susan Sarandon) takes her meek best friend Thelma (Geena Davis) on a weekend getaway. But just a few hours in, they must go on the lam for killing a rapist. With equal parts humor and catharsis, the film is ultimately a story of awakening. Assisting in that is Brad Pitt as a sexy drifter and Harvey Keitel as the detective on their tail. Six Oscar nominations followed, with Callie Khouri winning for her first screenplay. Print courtesy of the Yale Film Study Center.
runtime: 130m format: 35mm
(Abel Ferrara, 1981) · This classic examplar of the rape-revenge exploitation film stars Zoë Lund as Thana, a mute garment-worker. During her second rape in a day, she manages to disarm her attacker and goes on a vengeance spree with his .45 pistol, hiding her gun in a nun costume, a particularly iconic image. Lund was only 17 at the time of filming but was given vast creative control over Thana's story and chose to emphasize her strength. Note: print is faded and red.
runtime: 80m format: 35mm
(Robert Stromberg, 2014) · Angelina Jolie earned universal acclaim for her portrayal of Maleficent, the evil fairy from Disney's 1959 Sleeping Beauty. Here the fairy tale is retold from Maleficent's perspective. Her feminist revisionist backstory comes complete with a devastating betrayal that is merely sad for child viewers but that adults will recognize as a rape metaphor. The tale of her overcoming of abuse is draped in dazzling effects, striking makeup, and Oscar-winning costumes.
runtime: 97m format: 35mm
(Colin Higgins, 1980) · Revenge fantasy meets labor film meets comedy in this story of three office workers who exact vengeance on their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton play Judy, Violet, and Doralee with exuberance and comedic chemistry, all backed by that great theme song. Fonda was inspired by and researched the plight of real office workers, then made the film with her own newly-formed production company.
runtime: 109m format: DCP