Linda Stirling Unmasked: The Black Whip

: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.



My Sister's Keeper: Cameron Diaz Stricken By Motherly Love

My Sister's Keeper confronts with an astonishing raw candor a question that any parent, intent on loving all their children as much as possible, never hopes to face. That is, if you had to choose one child to sacrifice for another, which would it be, when you just want to love them all so completely.


David Carradine: The Last Interview

David Carradine with Barbara Seagull in Martin Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha

'The purpose of art is to comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.'

David Carradine [December 8, 1936 - June 3, 2009]

A conversation with David Carradine, over beers at The Playwrights Tavern in Midtown Manhattan, just a few weeks before his tragic passing on June 3rd.


Prairie Miller


A Walk To Beautiful On DVD

Director/Producer Mary Olive Smith

An Engel Entertainment Production in association with NOVA
Filmed in Ethiopia

The setting is beautiful, breathtaking. The hardship endured by the native women excruciating to see, to learn about and their illness is unimaginable for those who have never seen it nor smelled an incontinent woman

Imagine being a five to ten year old girl, married. Imagine getting pregnant and giving birth at 13 or 14 years of age. Imagine being in labor not for 24 hours but for a week because the birthing canal is too small to enable the fetus passage. Imagine the damage to your body, the puncture of the thin wall between the birthing canal and the bladder.

Imagine the reversal of all you know about and feel about being toilet trained, about being part of a civilized, loving nurturing community. Imagine being ostracized, having to live in a separate space from everyone, Imagine being totally alone, rejected, at thirteen, fourteen years of age. That is the plight, the central premise of the film A Walk To Beautiful: a six mile or more lonely walk in search of help.


DVD Features: Deleted Scenes; Commentary By The Filmmakers; Featurettes: Fistula Worldwide: The Hidden Epidemic; Wubete and Yenenesh: Three Years Later; Scene Selection.

Linda Z
Women Film Critics Circle
WBAI Women's Collective


Woody Allen On Whatever Works

Whatever Works just misses a perfect four star score by succumbing to the usual narrow scope Woody exhibits when it come to women, ranging from conniving to moronic. And while the reluctant protagonist's designated honey here sorta undergoes an IQ upgrade courtesy of her learned geriatric flame, it's less Pigmalion than a serving up of macho pig on the menu. And exposing yet again, Woody's eternal dilemma in his movies of failing to 'get' women when not failing to just plain get them, seductively speaking.




HE SAID, SHE SAID....The Proposal



By Prairie Miller

Sandra Bullock does her frantic best with exceedingly thin material, and playing blatantly against type with her instinctively sweet and soft spoken persona, as a ferocious ball-busting dragon lady executive ruthlessly draining the self-esteem out of her assistant at the publishing house where they work. Bullock is Margaret, aka Satan's Mistress, a boss from hell who delights in tranforming her meek but quietly resentful underling Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) basically into her nine to five and beyond bitch....



By Gerald Wright

Historically, comedy has been rumored to be a man's game and there's little room for women. Some guys love it when a woman isn't too proper to laugh at a crude joke. Many men look at female comedians as their replicas. Those guys who have half a brain know that this fact is not true. In fact, the female gender is really in full charge of the gags. Over the years, Sandra Annette Bullock has worked in every genre imaginable. She came to fame in the 1990s with Speed and since established herself as a leading actress with 2005's Miss Congeniality. This film exposed her comedic side. In the "romcom" The Proposal, the combination of a good male and female comedian come together to make the right blend of love, lust and humor....



Gerald Wright
Film Showcase

A Wink And A Smile - Female Sexhibitionism: Self-Empowerment Or Exploitation?

A Wink And A Smile is a documentary that peels away, so to speak, what's up with the new self-described feminist stripper phenomenon, and does it have anything to do with rain in the forecast. Directed by Seattle filmmaker Dierdre Timmons, the film explores a new trend based in Seattle, of women taking classes in burlesque stripping performance as a rather usual form of self-expression and female self-empowerment.

A Wink And A Smile raises many questionable issues, which I debated with Timmons by phone to Seattle. And in part, where is the line between sexual self-empowerment and sexual exploitation. Well, you decide. Here's Dierdre Timmons...


Our City Dreams Movie Review

Our City Dreams
Director: Chiara Clemente
Cast: Swoon, Ghada Amer, Marina Abramovic, Kiki Smith, Nancy Spero
Review by Nancy Keefe Rhodes

“I needed to be in New York because it’s, like, the biggest, loudest, dirtiest, most intense city we had,” recalls the young Brooklyn-based printmaker and installation artist Swoon, “so that’s where I needed to be.”

Born in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1977, Swoon “landed” in New York two decades later for art school, and it’s been her home base ever since. In Chiara Clemente’s “City of Dreams,” we encounter Swoon as she’s transitioning from her “street pieces” – large-scale wood-block prints made as she crouches on the floor of her apartment, put up with wheat paste on the sides of gritty buildings next to graffiti – to preparing her first solo gallery exhibition at Deitch Projects in 2005. There is also footage of cross-country travels and, in the summer of 2006, collaboration on the construction a connected fleet of river boats in Minneapolis called the Miss Rockaway Armada. Appealingly down to earth, Swoon is just verging on serious success. She’s exhibited at PS1 and the Tate; MoMA has just bought six of her prints. And, while she’s wary of what might come with such attention and keen to keep some open space about herself, she also feels that “we’re actually in a moment when it’s actually encouraged to be a woman artist.”

Swoon is the first of five women artists that Clemente profiles in “Our City Dreams.” All are transplanted New Yorkers by choice, all captured at a recognizable juncture in quite accomplished – even rarified - careers, and all working representationally with the human form, crossing media when it suits them, and in various ways entirely willing to discard restraints imposed by traditional framing. We see just enough of the work of each to want to see more, and the subtle ways in which their work echoes each other’s ties their stories together as much as their choice of home base. This deceptively unassuming film enjoyed only a modest theatrical run earlier this year, but has an afterglow born in the web of associations among its subjects. Clemente clearly knows her terrain and has won an extraordinary degree of confidence from her subjects; my guess is this film will enjoy a steadily rising reputation as times goes on.

Clemente, whose father is the Italian painter Francesco Clemente, grew up in New York and left at 18, certain she’d never return. After eight years – divided largely between Rome and Los Angeles – Clemente returned in late 2005. She had already made short documentary films in Italy about a number of artists, among them Jim Dine and Frank Gehry. She decided, after a three-hour studio visit with the Cairo-born fabric-artist/painter Ghada Amer, that she could best return to her city by following other women artists who also chosen this spot as their anchor.

They range in age from Swoon, who is likely to remain elfin at 80, to Nancy Spero, who actually does celebrate her 80th birthday uproariously during the film, a witty, curious, sharp-as-a-whip, still-working artist despite quite advanced crippling arthritis in her hands. Each woman recounts how she decided to be in New York, though part of what emerges is the city’s cosmopolitanism and the ease with which its residents come and go. Perhaps it could be said of no other city that making a film about its artists provides the opportunity for trips as far-flung as Venice, Cairo, Serbia and Paris (well, via footage of early careers) and Thailand, not to mention heartland America (Minneapolis figures in more than one story).

Over roughly two years shooting, Clemente follows them, apparently crossing paths fairly often (besides Minneapolis, the Venice Biennale, the Deitch and Gagosian galleries appear with some regularity). After Swoon, there’s Ghada Amer (“born 1963, Cairo; landed in New York City, 1996”), who combines tapestry and paint with sewn drawings of women, often with their limbs entwined. Amer travels back to Cairo for a project born of rug-making and visits her parents, a diplomat father who encouraged her and a hesitant mother who likes to look at the work only “from a distance.” This furnishes one of several rich portraits about the complexity of parental support for artist off-spring.

Kiki Smith, daughter of painter Tony Smith (born 1963, Nuremburg, landed in New York City 1975 – by way of New Jersey and San Francisco), works in drawing, clay sculpture, print-making and painting. Besides filming Smith as she peddles around New York on her bike, gray hair streaming, Clemente follows her preparing for her retrospective, 1980-2005: A Gathering, at Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, musing on work some of which she herself has not seen in a quarter century, considering whether she’d have been an artist at all if her father had lived longer.

Marina Abramovic (born 1946, Belgrade, landed in New York, 2003) is a pioneering performance artist. All these artists do work that is representational and involves the female body, though Abramovic most directly makes her own body the medium. Abramovic, who cut her stomach with razors in 1975 (Clemente includes footage of this piece, Thomas Lips), is now 60, and has scarcely let up. Likening performance to ballet in the physical rigor, training and sensitivity required, Abramovic also coaches younger performance artists, and speaks about this as a medium with particular clarity. She also travels to Thailand after the Tsunami for God Punishing, a piece involving dozens of Thais who join her in wielding whips in the ocean surf.

Nancy Spero (born 1926, Cleveland, landed in New York, 1964) met her husband, the painter Leon Golub, at the Chicago Art Institute. They went first to Paris in the 50s, but in the midst of the Vietnam War, she recounts, “We finally decided that we had to face the music, that we were American painters.” Like all the artists here, she encounters Clemente at a certain turning point that summarizes her journey thus far and makes clear why she remains important.

Compact at 85 minutes, “Our City Dreams” is absorbing and satisfying. Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini provides an understated, effective score that serves the film especially well, right down to use of an older ballad of affectionate whimsy about “old Amsterdam” over the closing credits matches the film’s large spirit.

“Our City Dreams” releases on DVD next Tuesday, June 23rd. It’s already listed at Netflix or available at “Make it Snappy” is a regular column in the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, reviewing both DVDs and films in theatrical release, new and enduring. Reach Nancy at


HE SAID, SHE SAID....Seraphine



By Penelope Andrew
The Huffington Post

....The genre of the biopic can often disintegrate into one-dimensional parody. Provost and Moreau made a pact to portray Seraphine without trapping her in hysteria, sentimentality, and the stereotypes often associated with women, artists, and the mentally ill. They have presented us with an always charming, sometimes funny, and ultimately tragic portrait of a woman who is more than an artist or a mental patient. Seraphine is an authentic character we feel we know and care about.


Penelope Andrew, a NYC-based writer who contributes to The Huffington Post and Critical Women on Film, is a member of the Women Film Critics Circle. A certified psychoanalytic psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker, she maintains a private psychotherapy practice in NYC.


By Gerald Wright

This film is a French period piece written by Marc Abdelnour and Martin Provost, based on the life of French painter Seraphine Louis (Seraphine de Senlis) and the book Seraphine de Senlis by Alain Virdondelet. It is rooted in real events and can be viewed as constituting a representation of reality, rather than an act of creative expression.

Embodied in stylistically innovation, this costume drama examines the tragic story of Louis (1864-1942), a humble servant who works as a kitchen helper, washwoman and floor scrubber for mere wages to survive. She was born at Assy in the Oise, and as an orphan she spent her childhood watching over animals and felt she was always being looked down upon. Very little is known of her life or how she began to paint. This is a secret she kept from everyone her entire life.


Gerald Wright
Film Showcase


What's Going Down At The Human Rights Watch Film Festival

A Scene From When The Mountains Tremble, Directed By Pamela Yates

Or, why do so few HRWFF film selections each year focus on US bad behavior around the world?



Agnes Varda's Vagabond

Director: Agnès Varda
Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Yolande Moreau, Macha Méril

Review by Nancy Keefe Rhodes

From the start she has liked these tracking shots that seem to go rogue. Agnès Varda had no formal training in cinema when she made her first feature in 1954, but in the opening moments of La Point Courte she turns a seaside village’s sleepy summer ambiance to sudden visual exhilaration with one such shot. We are all settled on the figure of a man standing at a corner when another emerges casually from the background, walks up an alley and enters a house. Varda’s camera swerves to follow the second man, flying along outside in the street as he walks from room to room within, catching him briefly through successful windows before finally we’re allowed inside at the meal too.

In Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), Varda tracks a glamorous singer awaiting a cancer diagnosis in real time through a series of encounters – sometimes following a little girl up the street and sometimes coming to rest on a bickering couple at the café table – as she circumnavigates the city of Paris (wonderfully re-created with a map and a motorcycle in the 2007 Criterion Collection DVD’s extras), much as Joyce’s Leopold Bloom circles the city of Dublin in Ulysses.

Before turning to film, Varda had worked as a photojournalist, a fact often remarked upon to explain her gorgeous framing. But surely these tracking shots are a further masterful adaptation of the demands of still, two-dimensional composition to the moving image’s additional realms of space and passing time. When Varda made Vagabond in 1985, she used a series of twelve linked tracking shots – each begins with an image that echoes how the previous one ended – combined with variations on the theme of Polish composer Joanna Bruzdowicz’s La Vita quartet, as a quiet scaffold for her story, the rapid disintegration of a young vagrant named Mona (17-year-old Sandrine Bonnaire) who freezes to death in the vineyards of southern France during one of the coldest winters on record.

Emerging from the near-freezing sea after an impromptu bath in the film’s first flashback after the discovery of her body – and even here she is spied upon by two guys on scooters who idly consider whether raping her in worth their trouble – Mona encounters a number of people in her last weeks, losing the accoutrements of hippie wandering as she goes. Some offer assistance and care, some have other ideas bordering on depraved indifference and worse. Their impressions of her – much as in Welles’ 1941 Citizen Kane – piece together a sort of portrait, which Varda inserts documentary-like, with some individuals facing the camera, after a narrator (Varda herself) explains early in the film that she sought out their remarks upon the discovery of Mona’s body in a ditch, much as the police search Mona’s pockets.

Vagabond will screen to great fanfare this Saturday in Santa Monica, California, part of American Cinematheque’s major retrospective of Varda’s half-century-plus career (June 24 – July 1). Now 81, Varda has a heavy post-screening talk-back schedule and will also introduce a sneak preview on the retrospective’s last day of her new film. The Beaches of Agnès, which won France’s Cesar award for best documentary, then opens theatrically in Los Angeles on July 3rd (and in New York City on the 1st at Film Forum).

A look-back at her life and work with the through-line of beaches that have been important to her personally and figured in some of her films, The Beaches of Agnès is replete with clips from Varda’s many earlier films. Those from Vagabond are especially telling by their very judicious brevity – a series of moments when Mona kicks a metal door, punches a building and vigorously gives a lecherous truck-driver the universal sign for “Up yours!” as she departs his cab when he throws her out in the middle of nowhere. Sandrine Bonnaire’s Mona – a bravura performance that won awards then and remains fresh and gripping – was neither sentimentalized nor softened, even in her best moments. But the clips from this film that Varda chose for Beaches suggest we should take another look at how deeply angry and alienated such a woman might actually be – whether a female drifter, apparently few in number in mid-80s France (though Varda did research their existence), or those for whom such a figure might stand even now – whether she has a thought-through philosophy to go with his destitution or not.

While containing some of Varda’s most masterful filmmaking innovations, Vagabond also has some of the heftiest performances she’s directed. Besides Bonnaire, there’s a very young Yolande Moreau as a gullible maid (the Belgian comedienne currently stars in the well-received drama Séraphine, just opened here in the US) and Macha Méril as the fastidiously manicured ecologist Mme. Landier, who befriends Mona during a field trip, recounts by phone from her own luxurious bathtub how much the girl stunk, and wakes in the night from tearful guilt at having left her alone in the woods.

Vagabond also displays Varda’s signature use of local non-actors in pivotal supporting roles, often essentially playing themselves. These include the rollicking elderly brandy-drinker Aunt Lydie (Marthe Jarnais), the soulful-eyed Tunisian farm worker Assoun (Assouna Yahiaoui), a drop-out scholar-turned-goat-herder and his wife (Sylvaine and Sabine Berger), a pair of father and son garage mechanics (Pierre and Richard Imbert), and Setina herself, the young drifter upon whom Mona was modeled.

It would be a good idea to get ready for Beaches, and Vagabond is not a bad place to start.

This review also appeared in the June 25, 2009 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly. Vagabond is a 2008 Criterion DVD release, along with several other Varda titles. “Make it Snappy” is a regular film column reviewing DVDs both new and enduring as well as theatrical releases. Reach Nancy at


Offshore: A Corporate Tale Of Cowboys And Indians

The outsourcing satire, Offshore, directed by Detroit based GM worker turned filmmaker, Diane Cheklich, is a stinging reality check during these economic hard times. There have been other films that have tackled the subject of outsourcing. But what is unique about Offshore, is its seamless negotiation of all sides of the issue as the story moves back and forth between workers in India desperate for any job, to the 'wild midwest' Americans here who will not only be displaced as a corporate cost cutting measure, but in some cases are subjected to the additional humiliation of training the overseas visitors as well, who will be replacing them. Then there are the manipulative machinations of the owners, bosses and media that callously kick in too. A rare film about and for the masses, and how workers worldwide are pitted against one another while the factory owners benefit, and are let off the hook.

In my audio conversation with Cheklich by phone to Detroit, she sheds some light on the many issues of outsourcing compounding these economic hard times, and the subheader title of this movie, A Corporate Tale Of Cowboys And Indians....


Prairie Miller


Seraphine: The Discovery Of A Woman Artist

Seraphine: A Beautiful Work Of Art

by Jan Aaron

Awhile back at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City, I stopped admired a portrait of a golden pear. Gently curved it had sensuous qualities of a softly rounded mature woman's back and there was a glow about it. This vivid image came to mind as I watched Seraphine, a striking new French motion picture a movie about an ordinary overweight woman with an extraordinary artistic talents and unconventional beliefs. The movie, directed and co-written by Martin Provost, has won seven Cesars, including best film, best screenplay, best cinematography, and best actress for lead Belgium-born Yolanda Moreau.

What makes this movie unusual is its lack of romanticizing: it is a movie about a real woman, a between-the-wars painter Seraphine de Senlis who works at several grubby domestic jobs by day and paints at night. In her scant spare time, she communes with trees and a bathes in the local pond. She also furtively gathers soil, animal blood, and even the drippings from church candles to mix the paints she otherwise could not afford. When we first encounter Seraphine, she is lumbering along a cobblestone street, in a tent-sized black dress. We see her employers treat her like a piece of furniture, offering her table scraps.

When German art critic Wilhelm Unde (Ulrich Tukur) and his sister Anne Marie (Anne Bennent) move to town, he's amazed to see one of Seraphine's paintings at a dinner party thrown by the town's rich art-lover, Madame Duphot (Genevieve Mnich). He purchases all of her paintings and from this point on the movie focuses on the delicate relationship between the painter and her patron. Like the pear I admired in the outsider art fair, Seraphine's paintings haunt the viewer with their striking shapes and colors.

During World War I, Seraphine stays in the just about empty town, painting while shellings go on around her. She is reunited with Unde in the late 1920's and at that point she is becoming increasing mentally unbalanced, which leads to a sad and tragic conclusion.

Jan Aaron
Education Update


The Baby Formula: Food For Thought

Director: Alison Reid
Writer Richard Beattie
Genre: Comedy

Plot: Two women elect to have babies without insertion of a man's sperm. It is all 'x' chromosomes.

Commentary: When men are not involved in the reproduction of the species, when sperm is artificial then the consequences remain unknown for years, generations to come.

What are we doing messing with the DNA and RNA, the foundation of human life.

This is the frightening question that looms quietly but intensely in this film, with the genre tag of 'Comedy.' All the love displayed, the personalities that support this abnormal construction of human life, is a sad commentary on our collective inability to think of consequences to seemingly banal events.

For me, these women, pregnant without benefit of a man's sperm exemplify science gone awry.

Is this a film worth seeing? You decide. It represents a slim line between the horror film of today and this award wining "comedic" entertainment.

Release date July 10, 2009

Linda Zises
WBAI Women's Collective