Be Pretty And Shut Up (1981)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

Original Title: Sois belle et tais-toi!

, 1981. Cinematography by . Produced by Delphine Seyrig. Film Editing by Carole Roussopoulos, .

Actress Delphine Seyrig formed the “Les Insoumuses” (the “Disobedient Muses”) collective with filmmakers Carole Roussopoulos and Ioana Wieder after meeting at a video editing workshop that Roussopoulos organized in her apartment, and this project was one of a handful that emerged from their partnership. Shot in 1975 and 1976 but not released commercially until 1981, it consists mainly of a series of talking-head interviews with prominent actresses in the Hollywood and French film industries, discussing their experiences as women in an industry dominated by male control and viewership.

Seyrig asks probing, thoughtful questions from behind the camera to the likes of and , beginning with an interesting inquiry into whether or not they would have chosen to be actors if they had been born men; a number of interview subjects believe that, had they not been born women, they would have had different opportunities in education and would very likely have gone into a different field.

Fonda talks about existing in the space between her real self and the constructed image made of her in her earliest days, talks about directors and critics dictating her true self to her based on her performances, and is up front about the toll that her breakthrough performance in Last Tango In Paris had on her.

Sexism in the film industry is a significant topic to tackle in the seventies, when the Ms. Magazine era of the feminist movement has gained a great deal of ground but the movies being made, which once prioritized female stars above male, have suddenly done away with women and movies have turned to an obsession with The Sting-style male pairings. Warhol superstar thinks this is the result of homosexuality having become overtly appealing and acceptable, while , who speaks from file footage of a talk show interview, believes that the breaking down of the Hays Code liberated cinema in general but, with writers no longer forced to keep women out of the bedroom to please the censors, also opened up the floodgates of sexist male fantasies (Viva’s theory is a bit crackpot, MacLaine’s wholly cogent, though I would also add Richard Schickel’s essay on how the film industry’s embracing of television by expensively licensing movies to the small screen meant that the moviegoing audience was suddenly whittled down to mostly men in their late teens, thus changing the focus on what was being produced).

Most of the interview subjects, who also include and come back to same topic despite a variety of personalities, nationalities and experiences, that of the limitations placed on them as women and actors, which won’t be fixed until the gatekeepers are no longer the kinds of guys who can’t connect with them or their stories.

Rosanna Arquette made a similar project to this film in 2002 with Searching For Debra Winger, which also includes terrific moments with Fonda, but her film isn’t as insightful and she doesn’t have Seyrig’s skill for pushing her subjects to go beyond personal anecdotes into deeper introspection of the issues being discussed. It’s a shame that Seyrig includes the possibly chemically influenced presence of , who seems to know nothing and care less, when she could have spent more valuable time interviewing herself. Intelligent and experienced, Seyrig was a strong feminist voice in the cinema who also starred in a number of prominent films and her testimony would have been an invaluable addition to the project. What does stand out, however, is relating her experience of facing her own personal biases, taking advantage of the opportunity to direct when it was handed to her after never having even considered the possibility due to her own ideas of equating masculinity with authority figures.

Made on low grade videotape, the film is unfortunately in very bad shape after all these years, with Seyrig making the unfortunate, headache-inducing choice of having French interpretation speaking over the Anglophones. Don’t let the technical limitations stop you, though, from checking out this powerful, woefully underseen work, as it gives its subjects the opportunity to display aspects of their personas that were sadly untapped in their careers.

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