In 1979, at the age of twenty-eight, Gillian Armstrong shot to international prominence with her first feature, My Brilliant Career, a beautifully realized tale, set in the turn-of-the-century Australian bush, about a young woman with ambitions of becoming a writer. An adaptation of a beloved autobiographical novel by Miles Franklin, the film departs considerably from the usual period-romance template, as its free-spirited heroine (played by a marvelous Judy Davis, in her first lead role) finds herself on the fence about settling down with a wealthy suitor (Sam Neill). In the clip above, taken from a supplement on our new edition of My Brilliant Career, Armstrong says that it wasn’t just generic conventions she sought to upend with her debut. She explains her desire to move beyond the portrayals of women typically advanced by the male-dominated movie industry, whose most sensitively drawn films often still betray a circumscribed view of female experience (as a case in point she cites the Katharine Hepburn–starring adaptation of Little Women, streaming on the Criterion Channel starting this weekend in our George Cukor’s Women series). Watch to the end to hear how Armstrong felt compelled, while doing press for her movie—with which she attained a level of success rare for a female director at the time—to put herself forward as a role model for young girls.
Career Women in the Land of Lubitsch
Critics Molly Haskell and Farran Smith Nehme talk about the highly idiosyncratic heroines who populate Ernst Lubitsch’s comedies, including the protagonist of his final film, Cluny Brown.
Ritwik Ghatak’s Pursuit of Truth Beyond Realism
Acclaimed Indian filmmakers Saeed Akhtar Mirza and Kumar Shahani discuss how the Bengali master mixed expressionism and naturalism in his devastating domestic tragedy The Cloud-Capped Star.
A Howl of Defiance from the Italian Sixties
Marco Bellocchio’s subversive debut feature, Fists in the Pocket, emerged out of a period of social unrest, taking aim at both bourgeois values and Catholic hypocrisy.