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NOT A PRETTY PICTURE

USA, 1975 (MIFF 1977)

Director: Martha Coolidge

A twenty-eight-year-old woman director, Martha Coolidge, made this film about her own rape twelve years earlier, by Curly, a high-school classmate. Not a Pretty Picture is based on her experience at boarding school in the early sixties, and the actress who plays Martha at sixteen, Michele Manenti, was also raped in high school. The subject is treated in a detached and analytical way by intercutting discussions about the re-enacted scenes from the past.

Adolescent sexual awareness and bravado are suggested in the early scenes: a recital in the school auditorium at which Martha sings 'The First Time'; the girls in the dormitory chattering innocently about sex; and the weekend excursion to New York, cruising about in a borrowed car before ending up at a Greenwich Village loft with mattresses on the floor. There, Curly forces himself on Martha, believing that his friends in the next room expect it, that she expects it as well and would enjoy it, if only she would calm down and loosen up.

Martha Coolidge has commented that the style of the film, in which the characters discuss their roles and the events they are playing, arose from the need to avoid titillation and to allow people to think about the human implications of rape. But she is also interested more broadly in understanding the confusing sexuality of adolescence. She said 'I have felt something missing for me as a woman from the male-made films on the subject that depict adolescence as a fun, indulgent, undirected and rebellious time of life: The Last Picture Show, American Graffiti, Cooley High. Missing are the experiences unique to girls. I wanted to put some of these on the screen, funny and sad'.

The film was first shown at San Diego during a Feminist Film series, and Duncan Shepherd had this to say in the San Diego Reader, — 'The actors' individual comments, the crealive participation which the director allows them in the working-out of the scenes, and the three different versions presented of the rape itself — all combine to give the movie a quality of open discussion ... it is as eye-opening about the art form — the process of movie-making — as it is about the ostensible subject — American sexual behaviour'.

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