The death of female action heroes is a perennial subject of film bloggers (most of whom are male) all over the Web. A number of those fanboy posts read like veiled mash notes to Angelina Jolie, who convincingly flexed her pecs in Tomb Raider and brings the muscle in Salt a few Fridays hence. But, seriously, how essential is it for adolescent girls to have distaff role models that are as tough, independent and freakily costumed as Batman, Spider-Man and Rambo? Especially, I might add, after Hilary Clinton ran for President (and may do so again in six years). East Bay filmmaker Kristy Guevara-Flanagan has been rooting through pop culture and serious commentary alike for the last year and a half, asking the same questions for her forthcoming documentary feature, The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman.
Guevara-Flanagan’s Web site touts the film as “the untold story of fiction’s most powerful female,” and you could read that as both tongue in cheek and inviting high-level sociological discussion. She’s aiming for a tone that encompasses a range of entry points.
“It’s fun in that it is more of an essay approach, and you can have a sense of dialogue—different people talking about different ideas from a variety of lenses: social scientists, feminists, comic-book collectors and the artists themselves,” Guevara-Flanagan explains.
With interviewees such as Valerie Perez, who regularly dons the Wonder Woman duds (albeit for charity and other causes), and obsessive WW collector and champion Andy Mangels (a gay man, if you must know), the doc is bound to take some strange and funny turns.
“There’s a lot of camp, particularly when it comes to the TV show and the people who embrace Wonder Woman today,” says Guevara-Flanagan, who teaches film and video at Diablo Valley College in Contra Costa County. “We follow people who dress up as Wonder Woman at conventions, and are collectors, and so that’s a whole world. But it’s also a marginal world. So our job is to bring it back to relevance.”
That’s not a stretch in California, at least, where two women are duking it out for a Senate seat and another is running for governor. Of course, perceptions of strength and femininity extend beyond a single election cycle.
“The larger question is how do we present images and stories of powerful women,” Guevara-Flanagan asserts. “And there are a lot of contradictions in that. [In the film] I would like to draw the parallels of how we choose to look at political female leaders and how we choose to represent our more cartoon-y female action heroes, in the sense that their power is mitigated in certain ways, most obviously by the emphasis on how they look.”
Guevara-Flanagan and her New York-based producer Kelcey Edwards have shot in NYC, Florida, Portland and San Francisco, where the path-breaking comic-book author and self-described herstorian Trina Robbins resides. “We’re really interested in interviewing Joss Whedon as a person writing, directing and producing contemporary stories with strong female heroes,” the filmmaker adds. Ah, but what about Lynda Carter, you ask? The iconic TV actress is scheduled to sit for Guevara-Flanagan’s camera in Washington, D.C. in August.
In fact, Guevara-Flanagan is aiming to finish the bulk of the shooting in the next couple of months so she can dive into the editing phase in the fall. Meanwhile, she’s meeting with animators, although she and Edwards haven’t settled on anyone yet. “Because it’s partly a historical film, it’ll be fun to use different animation styles to visualize different eras,” Guevara-Flanagan explains, going on to cite Jessica Yu’s doc about artist Henry Darger, In the Realms of the Unreal, as an influence. (Wonder Woman’s origins aren’t quite as bizarre as Darger’s, although creator William Moulton Marston was a Harvard psychologist who invented the modern lie detector and was one of the first comic book writers to be previously published.)
Along with the Golden Gate Award-winning short El Corrido de Cecilia Rios, Guevara-Flanagan directed (with Dawn Valadez) the 2008 doc Going on 13, which followed four East Bay girls for four years. Did hanging out with adolescents, even if they didn’t know Wonder Woman from Zatanna, lead to her current project?
“There was no direct link,” she muses, “but it definitely made me interested in what it’s like to sift through popular culture when everybody is constantly plugged in now—[especially] really, really, really young people. It’s so heavily influential, if you’re looking and absorbing all the time. I see college-age students [at Diablo Valley] and what they bring to filmmaking are very mainstream Hollywood films. I’ll often be shocked by what’s inspiring them, how violent and how few female leads and female directors there are, no matter the genre. And I can see how that shapes their thoughts about the kind of stories they want to tell, and the images they want to make.”
Guevara-Flanagan is targeting the summer of 2011 to finish The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman. Check out the kick-ass trailer at vaquerafilms.com/wonderwoman/
Notes from the Underground
The Peaches Christ/All About Evil tour begins July 10 at the Vista in L.A. and rolls on to 15 other cities (at this writing), including a frenzied weekend at the Sunshine Cinema in NYC July 30-31. The Bay Area theatrical premiere is Oct. 21-24 at the Victoria Theatre, where the horror comedy was shot. … David Lee Miller’s My Suicide (SFIFF ‘09) has been penciled in for a September theatrical release. … M.T. Silvia (covered March 31, 2010 in this space) broke the news that her first-person doc Atomic Mom will have its world premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October. … The 80th birthday salute to Clint Eastwood continues July 9-27 at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater (in New York, of course) with a retrospective of the flicks he’s directed plus a few of his influences. A live Q&A via Skype is lined up for July 10.
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