A key reason, I maintain, that there are so few women film directors, is that there have been so few women directors. At the time the ironically-named Alice Guy started, very nearly directing the screen’s first narrative drama and its first comedy, all in one, this wasn’t so. A secretary at Gaumont, she asked if she could make some films for them, once they decided to get into the business of making films, and since the job of director was at that time no more prestigious than that of secretary, nobody had any objection (as long as she made the films on her day off and didn’t expect any extra pay). Many women followed in Alice’s steps, and it was only when the position started to acquire some prestige, on account of the excellent work being done in it by both men and women, that the women found themselves shut out of the job.
After a few years, it was mostly forgotten that there had been women directors, and only Very Extraordinary Persons like Dorothy Arzner were able to take on the job, unless they were men. So a little girl thinking about what she wants to do in life has few examples to look up to in the film business, if she’s thinking of being a director. Not everybody wants to be Leni Riefenstahl, despite the cheekbones. And there are a lot of other women filmmakers, but nothing like the variety of shapes and sizes and temperaments available for a boy to choose from.
So I was thinking, maybe we could retroactively make a few filmmakers female, to even the odds? Despite the good work already done in this department by (according to wild rumour) Larry Wachowski and Michael Cimino, I think we still have a long way to go. Just changing a few names would do it. In fact, Carol Reed, Karen Shakhnazarov and Sandy Mackendrick sound feminine enough already, if we can all just agree to stop talking about their penises all the time.
With slight alterations, we could have Joan Ford, Antonia Mann, Pam Peckinpah, Stephanie Spielberg, Fran Capra, Brianna DePalma, Ruby Mamoulian, Sarah-Jo Leone, Verna Herzog, Keira Kurosawa, Connie Ichikawa, Queen Vidor and Ingrid Bergwoman.
With a little more invention, we could concoct the famous Irish horror director Mhairi O’Bava, the anagrammatic Aldo Lado could become Lala Dodo, and Michelangelo Antonioni could be Micki Aunt. You could fit three more women directors into the space saved by that change alone.
Cynics will argue that this is merely a cosmetic change, but what’s wrong with cosmetics? Women like cosmetics, don’t they. Anyhow, as soon as we’ve got a new generation of young women inspired by the achievements of their predecessors, women like Susan Makavajev and Ann-Lee Kubrick and Louise Bunuel and DW (Doris Wishman) Griffith, we can switch everything back. As long as we remember to leave Dorothy Arzner where she is.