• As viewers of her autobiographical breakthrough comedy Tiny Furniture know, writer-director-actor Lena Dunham doesnt hold back when it comes to sharing. Now, in a series currently at BAMCinematek in Brooklyn, she is sharing something other than the details of her personal life: movies that have inspired her as a filmmaker. We had an email conversation with Dunham about her choices for Hey, Girlfriend! Lena Dunham Selects.

    Your selections for the BAM retrospective are all films about female relationships that influenced or moved you—and they run the gamut from chummy (Career Girls) to catty (The Last Days of Disco) to maternal (This Is My Life) to sexual (Mulholland Drive). Were any of these films particularly influential when you set out to make Tiny Furniture?

    It’s funny, because I could only really absorb the influence these films had after the fact of making my film. Nora Ephron’s movie This Is My Life has really clear parallels—single creative mom, two warring daughters at different stages of their development—and Career Girls is also closely linked, but it wasn’t until I finished Tiny Furniture and rewatched them that I understood how much I had gotten through osmosis. And Girlfriends is a movie I didn’t see until after making my features, yet I felt like I had stolen ideas directly from it.


    Speaking of Girlfriends (primarily known these days as a Stanley Kubrick favorite, which is awesome but also sort of too bad that its cachet is based on a male director’s stamp of approval), how did you discover this rarely screened 1978 American independent by Claudia Weill?

    As I mentioned, this movie feels like my oldest influence, yet I saw it for the first time less than a year ago. I was dragged (because I was tired, not skeptical) to a screening at 92Y by a friend well versed in lost classics who said this was truly my kind of movie. And she was right—from the first shot, I was transfixed. By the complex relationships, the subtlety, the odd comedy that was awkward long before awkward was cool. It was the 1970s of my mother’s youth, which I discuss in Tiny Furniture through her journal entries. Claudia was at the screening for a Q&A, and I found her stories and general manner (tough but sensitive; third woman admitted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; great effortless hair) really transfixing. We became friends, which has been a real gift. As for Kubrick, I’m just glad someone got it, but he’s never the first thing (or even the third thing) that I mention when discussing this film.


    Do you think there’s been a drop-off in intelligent female-centered American film and TV? It wasn’t that long ago—the nineties—that many of your defining films (The Craft, The Last Days of Disco, Clueless, Career Girls, all showing in this series) were produced . . .

    Not to sound like an old curmudgeon, but it does feel like intelligent films are harder to find than ever (I am speaking as a viewer) and we must often reach back to see examples of what we want to make (speaking as a filmmaker, and that’s part of the reason Criterion is so meaningful to me). I couldn’t begin to diagnose the problems with the marketplace, but I do know that it’s taking many baby steps for women to be considered a viable paying audience, and many of the films aimed at this audience don’t respect their intelligence. What I love about these films from the nineties we’re showing is that they have strong female characters at the center but aren’t chick flicks per se. No one calls a film with a guy protagonist a “movie for men,” right?

19 comments

  • By Alexander
    April 03, 2012
    04:40 PM

    "it does feel like intelligent films are harder to find than ever (I am speaking as a viewer)" Lena, I'd argue things are better than ever. Check it out: Alonso, Tsai, Costa, Gomes, Hou, Diaz, Benning, Weerasethakul, Hong, Jia, Bing, Tarr, Guerin, Martin, Serra, Sokurov, Van Sant, Denis, Dumont, Reygadas, Kiarostami, Godard, Ceylan etc etc etc. We're living in a golden era.
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    • By Joseph Garza Medina
      April 04, 2012
      08:31 PM

      She'll get better as she digs deeper into cinema. Right now she just has the wit and charm of early Woody Allen (note the word early), but she has the potential to be a great talent if she only developed cinephila.
    • By Linda
      April 04, 2012
      11:16 PM

      @Joseph Oh please! She's made one trite low budget indie film...don't even compare her to a young Woody Allen. I'm convinced she has relatives at Criterion.
  • By Adam
    April 03, 2012
    04:44 PM

    Dear Criterion, What is your obsession with this girl? Her work is hipster crap. You could be send your time and money on much more worthy titles and projects.
    Reply
  • By valerie solanas
    April 03, 2012
    08:06 PM

    There is a fascinating tale here somewhere. This chick is somehow super-connected. Her shtik is not original or interesting enough to merit the barrage of goodies that have come her way. Not to mention that massive tattoo on her flabby flesh is a deal-closer.
    Reply
  • By James
    April 03, 2012
    09:19 PM

    I loved Tiny Furniture, but it's very unfortunate when feminism strikes out against the very males that have supported it, as in the case with Stanley Kubrick being the poor bystander to feminist rage just because he dared to like a movie and have a penis. Maybe its the men who ignored the film because it was by a women director who should be seen as the real enemies here.
    Reply
  • By AFN
    April 04, 2012
    12:05 AM

    "doesn't hold back when it comes to sharing." maybe she should?
    Reply
  • By Eric
    April 04, 2012
    11:05 AM

    James, I hardly think that anyone involved in this interview "struck out against" Stanley Kubrick, or any males in general. The question says that his support of the movie is "awesome," and Dunham says that she's "glad someone got it." Not wanting to let his affinity for the film overshadow the power of its original (female) creator is not saying anything negative about him or males. As you suggest, male support is absolutely necessary for feminism to thrive and be successful, but if the male support becomes the point of the movement, then the movement has lost its point altogether. Also, for anyone out there who might argue for the futility and lack of necessity for such a movement, the immature and tawdry barrage of comments (insults) about Dunham's appearance and/or weight are ample evidence.
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    • By James
      April 05, 2012
      07:48 PM

      I agree that a valid point is made, but I thought I detected a dismissiveness in Dunham's response, which one might imagine stems from Kubrick conceivably being Public Enemy #1 to feminist filmmakers, given his phallocentric genius and success. I would imagine that there would be many filmmakers (hopefully not ALL male) who would more than proudly list Kubrick as having loved their film.
  • By Michael W.
    April 04, 2012
    11:44 AM

    Oh, come on. It's a good movie. It's very well written and acted, and people who complain that it is about the problems of upper/middle class white kids don't see the satire on that genre that she's pulling off. She's funny and talented, and just because she makes a really good movie for little money and gets put on the Criterion label doesn't make her work "hipster crap". I say good for her. She also has a new HBO show produced by Judd Apatow that's only been getting glowing reviews, so clearly Criterion aren't the only ones who see her actual talent.
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    • By Adam
      April 04, 2012
      11:03 PM

      I don't know what movie you were watching. Hmm lets look at her work...upper/middle class white 20 somethings, living in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, from liberal arts colleges, sporting ironic tattoos and "unique" fashion sense, and having boring egocentric conversations on how "difficult" their lives are. Looks like a duck, walks like a duck....
  • By sirnathanu
    April 04, 2012
    01:09 PM

    Gee whiz, guys! She's probably gonna read these comments! Lena, fwiw, I think you're a very pretty girl! :)
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    • By sirnathanu
      April 10, 2012
      12:36 PM

      Thanks, Baron.
  • By Jake Gallo
    April 04, 2012
    04:25 PM

    All you bitches bawwwing about Dunham can suck a fat one. Tiny Furniture was hilarious and managed to break through its supposed 'mumblecore' (vomits a little in mouth) trappings. There were several scenes that made me think this young woman might just be our next Woody Allen. Not to mention that wonderful cinematography! Seriously. It's like the boy who cried hipster on this bloody page. Also-- I can't say this enough-- CRITERION, WHERE IS OUR GREENAWAY BOX SET? (Cook/Thief, Zed/Noughts, Prospero, Baby of Macon, Draughtsman, The Falls)
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    • By Daxton Norton
      April 05, 2012
      05:31 PM

      Yes, on the Greenaway box set, Jake. I've been saying that for a while now.
  • By Aaron
    April 05, 2012
    02:26 AM

    Tiny Furniture, at times, acted as a mirror. I saw a lot of myself in Lena's struggle...it seems that many of my friends are stuck in this purgatory of having too much information and too many resources and too many ideas that distillation becomes the most difficult task one could attend to. I don't know if the sentiment is universal, but I had a strong organic, aesthetic response to the movie.
    Reply
  • By Jordan
    April 05, 2012
    09:48 AM

    Yeah, Lena, don't listen to these fools! Oh, and please remember to get a carton of eggs on your way home tonight!
    Reply
  • By Corey Caudill
    April 08, 2012
    04:06 PM

    I'm very excited to see what Lena Dunham does in the future. Tiny Furniture is suffering from people talking about it without actually seeing it. Give it a chance! However, when she was talking about Girlfriends, I thought she was talking about the UPN series.
    Reply
  • By Patrick
    April 11, 2012
    10:20 AM

    Guess who's appearing on Conan tonight?
    Reply

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