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Knight at the Movies: She's Beautiful When She's Angry
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2015-03-11

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"You can't convince me you can't change the world because I saw it happen," Chicago-based feminist Mary Jean Collins comments proudly at one point in She's Beautiful When She's Angry. And director Mary Dore's documentary history of the women's-liberation movement, roughly 1966-1971, backs up that assertion.

Beautifully researched, enlivened by interviews with passionate and feisty survivors of the movement, and stuffed to the gills with vintage archival footage ( much of it unseen in over 40 years ), the movie is both thrilling history and a cautionary tale. Without constant vigilance—as Dore warns at the outset with footage of recent demonstrations by protesters in Texas—the strides that women have made ( especially in the area of abortion rights ) are all too easily eroded.

The film traces the founding of NOW ( National Organization for Women ) and several of its offshoots, including the theatrically inclined W.I.T.C.H. ( Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell ), whose demonstrations found the activists dressed in capes, pointed hats and brooms. As prominent activists in the women's movement recall their organizing efforts and their concurrent struggle for recognition and demands for equal rights, legal abortions, child care and other issues, Dore's vintage footage plays out.

Naturally, any chronicle of the struggle for equality is going to resonate deeply with Our People, and the movie doesn't stint on including the struggle within the struggle—the lesbians inside the movement who frankly made their heterosexual counterparts anxious about losing gains because of their impatient demands for recognition ( vividly recalled by a defiant, funny Rita Mae Brown ).

The film is a vivid reminder of the positive, tremendous difference—the long-lasting effects a small group of devoted individuals can have on a culture. She's Beautiful When She's Angry plays exclusively in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., beginning Friday, March 13. Dore and special guests from the film ( including Mary Jean Collins ) will attend the opening weekend screenings. http://www.musicboxtheatre.com/features/shes-beautiful-when-shes-angry

We are women—hear us roar

The flowering of the feminist movement in the 1970s also spurred a resurgence of films with strong women characters at their center—a trend that has ebbed and flowed in the following decades. Some of them include:

An Unmarried Woman ( 1978 )—Jill Clayburgh shines as a pampered Manhattan housewife whose divorce shakes up her life and then finds her on the path to renewal, thanks in large part to the support of her women friends and her lesbian psychiatrist.

Girlfriends ( 1978 )—Claudia Weill directs Melanie Mayron as a photographer of bar mitzvahs struggling to find meaning in her life in this beautifully observed character study.

9 to 5 ( 1980 )—Before his death, out director Colin Higgins helmed this mainstream feminist revenge comedy smash starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. Decades later, Parton's hit title tune was the basis for a Broadway musical.

Lianna ( 1983 )—John Sayles wrote and directed this intimate study of a housewife ( Linda Griffiths ), the title character, whose awareness of her budding lesbianism via a romance with a female psychology professor leads to painful but ultimately rewarding changes in her life.

The Color Purple ( 1985 )—Stephen Spielberg directed, Quincy Jones produced and both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey made their film debuts in this lavish adaptation of Alice Walker's seminal novel set in the Deep South of the 1920s. The movie and book are about Miss Celie—a poor, tender-hearted, disenfranchised woman separated in adolescence from her beloved sister who slowly triumphs over years of racism and abuse.

Daughters of the Dust ( 1991 )—Writer-director Julie Dash's groundbreaking story of three generations of Black women—former slaves living in North Carolina, as they prepare to move north at the turn of the 20th century—is a one-of-a-kind film experience on many levels.

March in queer movie history

St. Patrick's Day has seen the release of not one but two groundbreaking films in queer movie history—Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band in 1970 and John Waters' Female Trouble in 1972. The former was helmed by Chicago-born William Friedkin ( who also directed The French Connection, The Exorcist and the controversial Cruising ). Based on the 1968 smash hit play, The Boys in the Band—in light of Stonewall and the burgeoning gay-rights movement—was already a tad passe in its viewpoint by the time it reached movie houses. But the story of an all-gay birthday party for the very late and bitchily droll Harold ( Leonard Frey ) was nevertheless the first time many U.S. filmgoers saw a movie devoted entirely to a gay storyline. Out filmmaker Crayton Robey's 2011 documentary Making the Boys is an insider's look at both the play and the film.

On the other hand, Female Trouble, from underground cinema pioneer Waters ( already infamous for Pink Flamingos ), was unapologetic about its enthusiastic support for gay rights. ( The scene in which Edie Massey begs her straight hairdresser son to "turn nelly" is just one of the movie's 10,000 delights. ) The movie also cemented the stardom of the 300-pound drag performer Divine, whose memorable life was chronicled in out director Jeffrey Schwarz's 2013 documentary I Am Divine.

A decade after Female Trouble premiered, Mary Poppins herself—Julie Andrews—starred in Victor/Victoria, a 1930s-era musical comedy with the Oscar-winning songbird essaying the title role of a down-on-her-luck soprano reinvented by her gay mentor ( a hilarious Robert Preston ) as a female impersonator who the world ( including gangster James Garner, who has the hots for her ) thinks is a man. This landmark in queer movie history opened to critical and box office acclaim on March 19, 1982.

To the Batcave!

As part of its year-long 125th-anniversary celebration, the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., is screening Christopher Nolan's 2008 comic book blockbuster The Dark Knight on Thursday, March 19.

The complimentary screening of Nolan's thrilling superhero epic—the second in his Batman trilogy ( filmed in Chicago ) and the one that features Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance as the diabolical Joker—is being turned into a real event. The cavernous Auditorium lobby will be transformed into an approximation of the Batcave, special Batman-themed cocktails will be available, a superhero photo booth will surely amuse guests and there will be special entertainment from members of Acrobatica Infiniti Circus performing stunts dressed as Batman characters.

All of this happens before the screening, which is the latest installment of the Auditorium's Made in Chicago series. The fun begins at 6 p.m., with the 7 p.m. screening to follow. Now this is my idea of how to present a movie! www.auditoriumtheatre.org/shows/thedarkknight/ .

Upcoming movie calendar

Highlights from films opening in Chicago, March 13 and March 20 ( or available digitally )

Cinderella ( 3/13 )—Disney goes the live-action route with this remake of their 1950 animated classic. Lily James is Cinderella, Richard Madden is her handsome prince, Cate Blanchett plays the wicked stepmother and Helena Bonham Carter is the Fairy Godmother.

In casting news, quasi-out star Luke Evans has signed to play Gaston in Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Former Downton Abbey heartthrob Dan Stevens is playing the Beast ( Joe Manganiello wasn't available? ) and Emma Watson has been cast as Belle. We're still awaiting word on who gets the Angela Lansbury role of Mrs. Potts.

She's Beautiful When She's Angry ( 3/13 )—Mary Dore's documentary chronicle of the rise of the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s. It's playing exclusively at the Music Box. ( See details above. )

She's Funny That Way ( 3/20 )—Peter Bogdanovich directs his first film in seven years, a dramedy focused on a hooker-turned-actress ( Imogen Poots ) hired by a client/Broadway director ( Owen Wilson ) to join the cast of his latest show and get the dirt on his cheating wife. Will Forte, Kathryn Hahn, Jennifer Aniston and Joanna Lumley co-star. Cybill Shepherd, Bogdanovich's one-time lover and protege, is also in the cast.

City of the Damned ( 3/21 ) and For Francis ( 3/22 )—These two LGBT-themed shorts ( the first focused on Uganda's anti-gay bill, the second on a 7-year-old boy who loves dresses ) are being screened as part of the Peace on Earth Film Festival. Filmmakers will be present for Q&As. The festival is being held March 19-22 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. Complete festival information: peaceonearthfilmfestival.org/ . City of the Damned screening info: peaceonearthfilmfestival.org/film/city-of-the-damned/ . For Francis screening info: peaceonearthfilmfestival.org/film/for-francis/ .

An Honest Liar ( 3/30 )—A documentary portrait of magician and paranormal skeptic James Randi ( who came out in his 80s ) and his life partner Jose Alvarez. Playing at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.( See WCT's March 4 interview with Randi and Alvarez. ) http://www.musicboxtheatre.com/features/honest-liar

WTC View ( Available digitally now )—Out actor Michael Urie ( Ugly Betty, Buyer & Cellar ) stars in this 2005 drama from writer/director Brian Sloan about a gay photographer searching for a new roommate the weekend before the 9/11 tragedy. ( See WCT's March 4 interview with Urie. ) www.facebook.com/WTCViewMovie .


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