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Über dieses Buch

A lively discussion of costume dramas to women's films, Shelley Cobb investigates the practice of adaptation in contemporary films made by women. The figure of the woman author comes to the fore as a key site for the representation of women's agency and the authority of the woman filmmaker.



Introduction: Agency, Adaptation, and Authorship

This book examines contemporary film adaptations directed by women (often working with women screenwriters, producers, and sometimes editors) that foreground the figure of the woman author. All but one are adapted from novels by women writers. The woman author in the film does not always correspond to a figure of the woman author in the novel; and in two films, the figure of the woman author is tangential to the characters’ fantasy of an historical woman author. Mary Eagleton, in her book, Figuring the Woman Author in Contemporary Fiction, argues ‘the need for women to claim cultural legitimacy through authorizing themselves in various ways is indisputable’ (2005: 2). In all the films examined in this book, I see the figure of the woman author in the text functioning as both a representative of female agency and as a vehicle for representing the authorizing of the woman filmmaker, thereby making a claim for the cultural legitimacy of female film authorship. As such, I am following, to an extent, Timothy Corrigan’s argument that ‘Authors on films are only … metaphoric displacements of the real agents of film: sometimes actors but, usually and more effectively, auteurs’ (166). Where I differ with Corrigan is with his unqualified use of the term auteur. Though I am sympathetic to his desire to disrupt the traditional weighting of literary authorship over film authorship in adaptation studies, auteurism is still an exclusionary model of authorship.
Shelley Cobb

1. Envisioning Judith Shakespeare: Collaboration and the Woman Author

Judith Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf tells us, ‘died young and … never wrote a word’ (A Room of One’s Own, 13). As the figure of the woman author who was not allowed to express her creativity, her vision, or herself because of the patriarchal world she lived in, Judith still haunts us to this day. We know, of course, that cultural restrictions on the ideals of femininity have always been (and continue to be) used to hold back women’s ambitions. In the 1920 version of Careers for Women, the screenwriter and film director Ida May Park declared, ‘Unless you are hardy and determined … the director’s role is not for you … When the time comes I believe that women will find no finer calling’ (Filene, 335). Though feminist film historians of early cinema are continually discovering women working in key roles behind the camera much like Ida May Park, there is no doubt that cinema history is full of Judiths. We only have to look so far as the Annual Celluloid Ceiling Report to see that the contemporary period is little better; we might have hoped for more by now. The two directors of the films in this chapter have spoken, recently, about the absence of women filmmakers in interviews with Melissa Silverstein of the Women and Hollywood blog. In response to questions about the status of women directors in contemporary cinema, Sally Potter says, ‘Things have changed since I started.
Shelley Cobb

2. Adapt or Die: The Dangers of Women’s Authorship

To date, Jane Campion is the only woman to have won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to have won the Best Director Oscar at the Academy Awards. They are two of the best known female directors in English-language cinema, and both have careers that span more than 30 years, a testament to their survival in an industry that, as I noted in the introduction, makes little room for women’s authorship. What they have to say about the status of women in filmmaking is worth taking into account. In a short piece in the Guardian, Campion declares,
My advice to young female filmmakers is: please do not play the lady card. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Just do your work and let someone else deal with the politics … But we should mandate that 50% of films produced are made by women. That would be possible with public money. Instantly the culture would change. It can be done. (Wiseman, 2013)
Shelley Cobb

3. Authorizing the Mother: Sisterhoods in America

‘Sisterhood’, of course, has long been an important term for feminism, and from the beginning it was meant to be inclusive, reaching across racial, sexual, cultural, and national boundaries between women, despite feminism’s tendencies toward privileging white, middle class women.1 It has been criticized for being ‘an emotional appeal masking the opportunism of manipulative bourgeois white women. It was seen as a cover-up hiding the fact that many women exploit and oppress other women’ (hooks, 1984: 44). Contemporary postfeminist media culture has co-opted ‘sisterhood’ in ways that both evoke its originally intended meaning and undermine it. On the one hand, Hannah Sanders suggests that representations of sisterhood can ‘deny … the postfeminist ethic of individualized feminism’, and consequently, unlike other postfeminist images, ‘feminism is not discredited as an outmoded totalizing academic or activist discourse’ (92). On the other, however, since the always-heterosexual postfeminist subject is ‘white and middle-class by default’, postfeminist representations of sisterhood marginalize ‘women of colour [who] are either absent or are situated in a position of subordination’ (Tasker and Negra, 2007: 2; Winch, 2013: 3). In postfeminist media culture, sisterhood is a popular concept because of its gestures towards solidarity within femininity.
Shelley Cobb

4. Postfeminist Austen: By Women, for Women, about Women

In the ITV television serial Lost in Austen (Dan Zeff, UK, 2008, ITV), Amanda Price, whose favourite book is Pride and Prejudice (which she knows so well that ‘the words just say themselves’) finds a door in her bathroom that opens into the Bennett’s house, allowing Elizabeth Bennett into the contemporary world and Amanda into the world of the Bennett sisters, Darcy, and Wickham. It might seem that the world of Pride and Prejudice has become a magical place like Narnia, but it is Amanda who is enchanted, as Elizabeth says to her, ‘it is your need that opens the door’. With a healthy dose of postmodern irony, the serial presents Amanda’s need to escape her life as great: she deals with difficult customers in her job at a bank; her mother pressures her to marry her laddish boyfriend who cheated on her; and she would rather stay in her flat reading her favourite novel than go out with her friends or meet her boyfriend for a date. She explains her obsession with Pride and Prejudice to her mother, declaring ‘I love the manners and the language and the courtesy’. Amanda’s presence in place of Elizabeth dramatically alters the plot of the novel and several characters’ destinies. She tries desperately to be the devoted and knowledgeable reader that she is by attempting to stem these changes and force events to follow the novel’s narrative that she knows so well.
Shelley Cobb

Conclusion: The Secret Life of Bees and Authorial Subversion

I concluded the last two chapters by pointing to the ubiquity of the textual, industrial, and cultural whiteness of authorship. Paula Masood points out that
of the African-American women directors who released feature films in the 1990s – Julie Dash, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Kasi Lemmons, Darnell Martin and Cheryl Dune – only Martin and Lemmons have secured financing and successfully completed second features, Prison Song (2001) and The Caveman’s Valentine (2002). (Masood, 2012: 249, fn. 27)
Shelley Cobb


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