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In the Company of Women: Contemporary Female Friendship Films

Karen Hollinger
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    In the Company of Women
    Book Description:

    From Desperately Seeking Susan, Steel Magnolias, and Thelma & Louise to Desert Hearts, Girl Friends, and Passion Fish, mainstream cinema has seen a wave of films focusing on friendships between women. In the Company of Women is the first critical work to investigate the recent resurgence of this variety of the “woman’s film.”

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8930-9
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction: Theoretical and Generic Contexts of Contemporary Female Friendship Films
    (pp. 1-26)

    Mainstream cinema, a term used to describe films that receive commercial theatrical distribution in the United States, has seen a recent wave of films focusing on friendships between women. One need only consider such box office successes asJulia(Zinnemann, 1977),Nine to Five(Higgins, 1980),Desperately Seeking Susan(Seidelman, 1985),Steel Magnolias(Ross, 1989), andThelma & Louise(Scott, 1991) to realize the enormous popularity of what appears to be a newly created cycle of films specifically addressed to a female audience. On the one hand, it might be argued that the female friendship film is merely the women’s...

  2. 1 Woman’s Film Precedents
    (pp. 27-41)

    The predecessors of contemporary female friendship films are the woman’s films of the 1930s and 1940s. Both generations of woman’s cinema attempt to examine “women’s issues,” but the plots of 1930s and 1940s woman’s films make it clear that the issues filmmakers deemed important to women in that time period involved romance and domesticity, not female friendship. The relationship of woman’s films to their female viewers is, in fact, a matter of some dispute among film scholars. The films have been analyzed most extensively by three critics: Molly Haskell, Mary Ann Doane, and Jeanine Basinger. Haskell devotes one chapter to...

  3. 2 The Sentimental Female Friendship Film
    (pp. 42-82)

    The films that initiated the contemporary female friendship film cycle cluster around the period of the late 1970s and early 1980s and represent various approaches to the topic of female relationships, ranging from the more to the less politically challenging. The most prominent type of film in this period is by far the dyadic sentimental female friendship film, which can be seen as potentially the least politically challenging representative of the cycle. The four groundbreaking female friendship films—Julia(Zinnemann, 1977),The Turning Point(Ross, 1977),Girl Friends(Weill, 1978), andRich and Famous(Cukor, 1981)—all concentrate heavily on...

  4. 3 The Female Friendship Film and Women’s Development
    (pp. 83-105)

    Whereas the sentimental female friendship film relies primarily on emotional effect to engage female viewers, other female friendship films released throughout the period of the 1980s cultivate viewer involvement by focusing on women’s relationships as they relate to female maturation and psychological development. These filmic investigations of female maturation parallel work being done by psychologists, who single out adolescence as a time of particular significance in regard to the formation of a woman’s sense of self. As Nona P. Lyons points out, traditionally, psychological studies examined the adolescent’s movement to adulthood in terms of male experience, and female development as...

  5. 4 The Political Female Friendship Film
    (pp. 106-138)

    Whereas sentimental female friendship films and those that focus on female maturation emphasize women’s personal psychological development, other films of the 1980s move from the personal into the realm of the political. The initiating films in this category,Nine to Five(Higgins, 1980) andOutrageous Fortune(Hiller, 1987), embed their political themes within a comedy format that reduces their threatening nature. They still, however, manage to open up possible spectatorial positions that challenge existing social norms and encourage a rethinking of issues related to women’s traditional societal roles.

    In contrast to these 1980s comedic portrayals of political female friendship, suddenly...

  6. 5 The Erotic Female Friendship Film: Lesbianism in the Mainstream
    (pp. 139-178)

    The 1980s represent a watershed period for the portrayal of lesbianism in mainstream American cinema. Prior to this time, lesbian relationships were largely absent from popular films, and when they were presented, they were branded as shameful, deviant, and unhealthy. It was only in idependent avant-garde cinema that more positive lesbian portrayals could be found, in the works of Jan Oxenberg, Barbara Hammer, Lizzie Borden, Sheila McLaughlin, and Su Friedrich, for instance.¹ The 1982 release ofPersonalBest (Towne) marks a significant transformation in mainstream lesbian representations.Personal Besttook the popular lesbian film in new directions by offering at...

  7. 6 The Female Friendship Film and Women of Color
    (pp. 179-206)

    The portrayal of people of color in American cinema has been as conflicted as the relationship between dominant white and other ethnic and racial minorities in the society at large. Critics have argued persuasively that minority representation in mainstream films has been and continues to be disproportionately rare and distorted. With the advent of more minority directors within both independent and mainstream cinema, the hope is that the representational picture of minority racial and ethnic groups is moving in a progressive direction and will continue to do so, yet critics argue on the negative side that control of the film...

  8. 7 Backlash: The Anti-Female Friendship Film
    (pp. 207-235)

    The manipulative female friendship film portrays a destructive female relationship that mocks the possibility of women’s forming the bonds of loyalty and affection that characterize other female friendship portrayals. These films often rejuvenate antiquated stereotypical representations of female relationships from woman’s films of the 1930s and 1940s. They represent women’s friendships as plagued by jealousy, envy, and competition for men, and they teach women to beware of and fear one another. By focusing so strongly on conflicts between women, they obscure other issues related to women’s position in society, relieve men of any responsibility for women’s problems, and suggest, instead,...

  9. Conclusion: The Future of the Female Friendship Film
    (pp. 236-248)

    The female friendship film clearly represents a major contemporary cycle in the history of women’s cinema. Female friendship films are currently by far the most popular category of films directed to a female audience, and this trend shows little evidence of diminishing. Films that are centrally concerned with the issue of female bonding continue to be produced in large numbers by both Hollywood and independent filmmakers. Recent productions that demonstrate the continuing viability of the cycle includeBoys on the Side(Ross, 1995),Moonlight and Valentino(Anspaugh, 1995),How to Make an American Quilt(Moorhouse, 1995),Now and Then(Glatter,...