I just finished watching "No Such Thing", a film by independent director Hal Hartley that was often so strange that it seemed as if it was an experiment with no particular conclusion. Next, I find myself watching Bruce Wagner's "Women In Film", a deceptive title, in a way. I had no idea what this was, at first - and thought it was a documentary about women in film. Maybe Kathryn Bigelow and Penny Marshall would be profiled. Nope. "Women in Film" is something different altogether - an experiemental little picture that may have a few instances of sharp dialogue, but also boasts characters occasionally very cold and an visual style so ridiculously "arty" that most viewers will quickly be turned off to the entire picture. Although "No Such Thing" was a mess, I sensed that it at least had some ambitions and goals it just didn't achieve.
The plot? The film really doesn't have one. Three characters somehow involved in Hollywood goings-on (played by Beverly D'Angelo, Portia De Rossi and Marianne Jean-Baptiste) sit and talk to the camera about their "lives" - which include dealings with real, named people, for 86 minutes. They don't talk to other characters, anything - they just stare at the camera and read Wagner's writings. This certainly may have worked quite well on-stage (although probably not, on second thought), but it makes for a very long 86 minutes on film. I swear, a good 5-or-so minutes of this film are padded out with shots of De Rossi or D'Angelo dancing around for no particular reason.
The film jumps from character-to-character randomly, where they get to talk more and more about their strange lives. They talk in an overlong, unrealistic and rather theatrical manner that seems in no way like most people talk. However, I will admit that a few sharply funny "in-jokes" occasionally fall out. The film seems to attack "Sex and the City" quite a bit, but I'm not sure it knows why, aside from the fact that it thinks it's hip to do so.
Wagner's visual style also leaves a lot to be desired. The way most of these characters are filmed resembles what I would call bad home movies. Slow motion, strange zooms, odd filters, title cards and more are used. Aside from a few amusing bits, I wondered what the point of it all was and why should I care?
I also wondered how Wagner managed to get three talented actresses (two of whom, Beverly D'Angelo and Portia De Rossi, even get naked at random points throughout the movie) to star in such a strange experiment of little interest, point or purpose. I must say that I was truly impressed with the enthusiasm all three give this absurd material.
Those who have seen "America's Sweethearts", where a director (Christopher Walken) reveals the horrible experimental picture he's chosen to make rather than the studio-financed picture he was originally going to do might be reminded of that picture-within-a-picture while watching "Women in Film". I know I was.
VIDEO: The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and appears to either have been shot on digital video or 16mm - I'm guessing digital video. Sharpness and detail are lackluster, although inconsistently so - a few shots here and there appear somewhat crisp, but others appear noticably soft and hazy.
Slight edge enhancement, grain and pixelation are spotted at a few points throughout the picture. Of equal irritation are some instances where filters are used for seemingly no particular point, making flesh tones appear off. Colors could also appear slightly smeary. I was in no way impressed.
SOUND: The audio quality is worse than the image quality. The dialogue is captured inconsistently - there are times when it's fairly crisp and clear and there are other moments where it sounds as if it was recorded on an answering machine.
MENUS: Slightly animated main menu.
EXTRAS: The red-band R-rated trailer, showing De Rossi nude, is hidden under Lion's Gate logo.
Final Thoughts: About the only thing I was impressed with was the three actresses, who give this material far more energy than it deserves. Otherwise, "Women in Film" is a failed experiment that quickly wore out its welcome. Lion's Gate seems to have done as well as they can with the presentation of the no-budget material, but audio/video quality remain mediocre. Not recommended.