Actress, filmmaker, director Ida Lupino was a force for her time (1940s-1960s). When no other woman in Hollywood was able to get around the discrimination against females in leadership positions Ida Lupino was there! Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino, a documentary which screened at Athena Film Festival reveals the extraordinary work of this actress/writer/director/producer. In their documentary Julia and Clare Kuperberg cobble together interviews, film clips, quotes from Lupino’s autobiography, commentary by Lupino experts, current directors and more to tell Lupino’s story. Their film is a fabulous reminder of how women can forge ahead despite the overwhelming odds against them.
In the creation of the studio system, actors became the chattel of studio bosses. Their dictatorial control siphoned off creative energy and channeled it in one direction, a narrow commercialism based on the proclivities of the bosses. Thus, walls of paternalism and misogyny were thrown up by these weak-willed, desperate and selfish power hungry, who after the 1920s took over Hollywood. Jealous of their power, intent on exploiting and using women, to not compete with them, they prevented and excluded women from being producers, directors, managers in leadership positions in the studio system. The tool of sanctioning and oppression kept women in line so that they wouldn’t consider moving “above” their submission.
Studio bosses perpetuated some of the most damning feminine myths. These psychically abused women actresses highlighting them as sex objects or villainous vamps. Such myths also damned male/female reactions to each other and mentored psychologically warped relationships for decades. Sadly, as housewives and mothers, women characters remained in the background. Only in comedy and musicals did women shine.
As an actress Ida Lupino entered this system and “caging the joint,” she brilliantly decided she had enough of women’s stereotypical roles. She wanted to step out of her “designated” lowly position and direct the types of films that authentically related to women. Thus, looking at Ida Lupino’s films one notes a glorious reality that rounds out the lives of women with authenticity. A maverick, she proved that women’s films could be profitable and popular.
In highlighting that Lupino started as an actress and branched out from there as perhaps the first to establish the genre of Film Noir, the Kuperbergs interview Julie Grossman who penned Ida Lupino Director: Her Art and Resilience in Times of Transition and film historian Tony Maietta. With prodigious examples in their interviews, the Kuperbergs reinforce Lupino’s own comments and reveal her revolutionary approaches to creating films.
Importantly, the Kuperbergs use Lupino’s own biography and film interviews she gave to fashion their entertaining and insightful documentary Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino. With quotes, film clips and commentary by Ida Lupino and quotes from her biography, we learn how this creative genius withstood the discrimination to direct important films related to women’s issues. Cleverly, she navigated the all male technical crews by referring to herself as “Mother,” a benign characterization which engendered a nurturing spirit among the men.
Related to this persona which Lupino wore with pride, the Kuperberg’s also indicate how Lupino learned from working as an actress in the studio system surrounded by men in positions of power behind the camera. With humor Lupino suggests that men hate to be bossed and ordered around. She implies that in getting male cooperation, there’s nothing worse for fragmenting unity than a “controlling” woman. Hence, her mother image worked every time.
Vitally, when the 1300 men in the entertainment industry were predominately concerned with objectifying women and selling them as whores, prostitutes and sex objects, Lupino created films that dealt with women’s issues like abortion, rape, pregnancy and bigamy. And she did this with empathy and depth moving beyond stereotypes and cardboard cut-outs of female and male villains and heroes. As a director, she emphasized the humanity of both the men and women in the revelation of real-life issues. It is no wonder that her films were popular successes.
The only woman with a serious career as a director in the 1950s and 1960s, she headed up her own production company with her husband actor Collier Young. Together they created The Filmmakers Inc. As a Democrat and a Catholic, Lupino’s cinema took on sociological and criminal subjects that male directors either feared dealing with or ignored because men engendered the subject matter (i.e. rape).
Lupino’s film about rape (Outrage-1950) is decades ahead of its time in the way she reveals how the victim suffers PTSD afterward in nightmares and reactions to simple sounds. Also, the cinematography is incredible with tall shadows representing the terror and fear as the rapist stalks his victim. Indeed, this and other Lupino films are superb examples of Film Noir before Lupino’s counterparts dealt adequately with the genre.
In another clip the Kuperbergs interview Martin Scorsese who discusses how Lupino’s cinematography influenced him. Identifying Not Wanted, a film about an unwanted pregnancy, Scorsese comments about the film’s documentary feel and power as a unique and pioneering work. The film shot on location deals with trauma, and the instability of a young woman having a baby with no husband. In dealing with the idea of teenage pregnancy which was against the happy family myths Hollywood perpetuated, again Lupino was a maverick presciently ahead of her time.
Finally, Lupino confronted another taboo related to illness and disease, the one ravaging children at the time: polio. She chronicles how polio sufferers were rejected and treated like lepers. Approaching this subject like no one else did before, Lupino creates empathy and humanity for those who suffered polio and other illness.
Interestingly, Lupino was the brains behind Filmmakers Inc. When Young wanted to go into distribution in addition to production, Lupino disagreed. She attempted to convince him that they knew little about the workings of distribution. Not listening to Lupino, Young tried and failed. They had to shutter Filmmakers Inc. However, Lupino persisted with her directing career after their divorce. Television was burgeoning so she moved to the small screen and directed over 100 works. She contributed her directing efforts to various episodes on “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and many other series. Lupino remains as the most prolific global female director of all time.
No wonder why men have attempted to stomp her from memory. But mother Lupino knows best. The Kuperbergs have resurrected her extraordinary contributions because perhaps the culture is ripe to recognize the genius independent producer-writer-director and learn from her.
Lupino has been out of the Hollywood loop historically. Nevertheless, her films remain timeless treasures where the mass produced typical commercial Hollywood fare have fallen into the garbage heap. Appreciating her brilliance and noting that she was one of the most complete and politically responsible filmmakers of all time, the Kuperberg’s Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino, presents a long overdue focus on her career, themes and achievements. This is a must-see for filmmakers, writers, cinematographers and cinefiles. Check IMBD or your favorite VOD channels for screenings.