Movieline printed an interview with author Bret Easton Ellis, whose most famous work is probably American Psycho, which director Mary Harron translated into a bizarre little film starring Christian Bale in 2000.
Ellis’s books are infinitely dark, angry, and sometimes downright shocking. They are about the gritty, hideous underbelly of human emotion. Movie adaptations of his work, which include Less Than Zero (1987), The Rules of Attraction (2002), and The Informers (2008), along with American Psycho, are generally hit-or-miss. To be fair, the material’s often difficult to adapt, but Harron managed it brilliantly with American Psycho.
For some reason, Ellis puts his in two cents to Movieline regarding female directors. He says,
“…There’s something about the medium of film itself that I think requires the male gaze.”
What would that be?
We’re watching, and we’re aroused by looking, whereas I don’t think women respond that way to films, just because of how they’re built. [emphasis mine]
You don’t think they have an overt level of arousal?
[They have one] that’s not so stimulated by the visual. I think, to a degree, all the women I named aren’t particularly visual directors. You could argue that Lost in Translation is beautiful, but is that [cinematographer Lance Acord]? I don’t know. Regardless of the business aspect of things, is there a reason that there isn’t a female Hitchcock or a female Scorsese or a female Spielberg? I don’t know. I think it’s a medium that really is built for the male gaze and for a male sensibility. I mean, the best art is made under not an indifference to, but a neutrality [toward] the kind of emotionalism that I think can be a trap for women directors.
Mr. Ellis, this is why Hollywood is still a boys’ club. It’s why women like me, who focus their lives on viewing and critiquing and above all, loving film, encounter obstacles every step of the way. Throughout college, I idolized my female professors because, well, there aren’t very many women who take a serious interest in film. This is a chicken-or-the-egg situation, to be sure. Women’s roles behind the camera are historically small and unimportant, and perhaps this is because the men who still head the studios figure women can’t do it, we aren’t genetically equipped with the ability to be visually stimulated. Ellis mentions that he enjoys the films of Sofia Coppola, Floria Sigismondi (he loved The Runaways), and Fish Tank‘s Andrea Arnold, but goes on to say female directors don’t have much to do with the visual composition of their films. What about women cinematographers?
After Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, which is a movie about men, masculinity, and one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, why are people still debating women’s merits as filmmakers? Sigismondi’s The Runaways would not have been the same movie had a male director made it. Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers, whose movies focus on “women’s” subject matter, may have been the most prominent female directors in the last few years, but a massive sea change is occurring in Hollywood and outside of it. Women are no longer relegated to the sidelines on set, nor are they expected to just look pretty in front of the camera.
I’d love to know how Mary Harron feels about Ellis’s comments. Considering the popularity of the movie and the cult following it drew to the book, Ellis should be grateful for her faithful and quite brilliant adaptation.