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Feminizing the Western

With 1979’s My Brilliant Career, her acclaimed adaptation of a beloved Australian coming-of-age novel, Gillian Armstrong deftly bucked genre traditions, making a frontier western in which the central rugged individual is not a man, and a turn-of-the-twentieth-century romance that pointedly doesn’t conclude with a marriage. In the latest episode of the Criterion Channel’s monthly series Observations on Film Art, scholar Jeff Smith closely examines the way that Armstrong tells the absorbing and amusing tale of rebellious aspiring author Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis), identifying some of the visual motifs and subtleties of framing, lighting, and decor that the director uses to accentuate her protagonist’s bold defiance of the patriarchal society in which she lives, and creative autonomy as a writer. For a glimpse of the episode, watch the teaser above, then drop by the Channel, where you can watch the whole thing, as well as My Brilliant Career itself.

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