Tuesday, January 18

Claudia Weill on the sleaze of the 70s in Hollywood: “They had never seen a woman direct” | Films

CLaudia Weill’s career as a feature film director lasted only two years, but it had a huge impact. Girlfriends, its 1978 debut about two young New Yorkers who were dragged in different directions was a small independent film, but its influence has been spreading since then, especially detectable in the work of Greta Gerwig and Lena Dunham.

“It’s just a joy,” says Weill, to see others pick up where she left off. “We all inspire each other.” Weill certainly thinks that Frances Ha, who starred in and was co-written by Greta Gerwig, was inspired by Girlfriends. “But it was a completely different movie,” he adds, “and women’s friendships are a big issue.”

Girlfriends, which is screened in select theaters this month, revolves around Jewish photographer Susan Weinblatt, whose relationship with her friend Waspy Anne Munroe is damaged when the latter moves out of her apartment to start a family with her boyfriend. The script, co-written with Vicki Polon, was based on Weill’s own experiences: She was eager to present a story with a refreshingly imperfect lead.

“I grew up in a family that expected me to get married and have children,” says Weill, now 74, speaking to me from her home in Massachusetts. “I did eventually, but it wasn’t the path I was on at all.” The movie was Weill making peace with who she was while everyone around her was hanging out. Weill examines platonic and sexual relationships lightly, delving into themes with an honesty unknown to many American moviegoers. He was a documentary maker before making Girlfriends and naturalism carried over. “Making documentaries was film school for me,” he says. “I was learning to read behavior. Girlfriends deals with miniature moments that reveal something about who the person is. “

A masterpiece of miniature moments… Brides.
A masterpiece of miniature moments… Brides. Photography: PR

She pushed Girlfriends to the Cannes film festival and then after that she called some studios. After a bidding war, he sold it to Warner Brothers. Then Columbia Pictures knocked on the door and cast Weill for 1980’s It’s My Turn, a romantic comedy starring Jill Clayburgh and Michael Douglas that scratched similar territory and has its own allure. However, Weill did not like the experience: being the head of a team of men meant being constantly undermined.

“I didn’t understand that an important part of being a director in Hollywood was politics,” she says. “How you maneuver to get what you want.” His biggest battles were with producer Ray Stark. “If you say to someone like Ray Stark, ‘I’m not sure if this or that is the right fit for the role,’ he will immediately see you as an antagonist. As a woman, you could never make them, and ‘they’ is universally masculine, feel threatened. Especially as a sexy young woman. He was 30 years old and most of the men he dealt with were middle-aged or older. They had never seen a direct woman. There was an instinct to put me in my place. “

At one point, she says, Stark ran his hand down her back on set, among the team, and said, “Claudia, you’re not wearing a bra today.” She was silent. “If I were to say, ‘Fuck off, get your hand off my back’ in front of an entire cast and crew, most of them middle-aged men, what good would it have been? I would have become ‘that bitch.’

The experience did not make her love the industry. “I certainly didn’t want to keep making movies in Hollywood. I didn’t want to have to go through that again. “Instead, she went to the theater and then to television, directing movies like Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life.” I really didn’t miss making a feature film, “she says.

'When you can't be honest with your girlfriend, then you're really lonely'… Girlfriends.
‘When you can’t be honest with your girlfriend, then you’re really lonely’… Girlfriends. Photography: PR

In 2013, he directed an episode of Girls. Lena Dunham had met Weill at a screening of Brides in 2011, which left her speechless. “Lena said, ‘My mother has told me for years that I have to see this movie! And I’m working on this TV series called Girls and I feel like I should have seen your movie before because that’s what it’s about. ‘ And then he would give it to his cast and crew before a shoot, for reference. And that’s just flattering. “

At the end of Weill’s episode, there is a phone conversation between Hannah from Dunham and Marnie from Allison Williams in which they are both unhappy but pretend otherwise. It is very reminiscent of Weill’s debut. “That scene reflects things on Girlfriend,” she says. “When you feel like you can’t be honest with your girlfriend, you are really alone. Are Really only. And that’s sad “.

Such themes are timeless, which partly explains why Girlfriends still feels contemporary. Dunham has praised the film for “the complex relationships, the subtlety, the weird comedy that was awkward long before awkward was great.” And lately it has enjoyed a resurgence. In 2019 it was inscribed in the US Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant,” and last year Criterion added it to its collection.

“It’s amazing to have a live movie for over 40 years and still be fresh. Last night Quentin Tarantino screened it in his Los Angeles theater, a double bill for Girlfriends and It’s My Turn, and it was road sold. It’s so gratifying that this little movie that you made so long ago is still speaking to people. It is very moving “.

Weill now teaches film directing and has no plans to do another one herself. “I’m over it,” he says. “I love teaching. But you know, there are always those movies, those stories that you haven’t told. Who knows what I’ll do with it? “


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