At the last Teach-In of 2017, Ida Lupino’s career as a woman auteur in the 1950s was the center of a discussion which took in a wide range of topics. Hard, Fast and Beautiful was screened, but Lupino’s vision and the visibility of women filmmakers were under scrutiny.
The glass ceiling in Hollywood for women as directors was only considered shattered in the last decade when Kathryn Bigalow became the first woman to win Best Director at the Academy Awards for The Hurt Locker (2009). Nearly ten years later, Bigalow remains the only women to have won that Oscar. This is the fact of the matter despite the numerous women directing films throughout the history of cinema and across all genres. By way of example, Ida Lupino, the subject of Facets’ last Teach-In of 2017 was a master of the social problem film, an auteur, and dramaturge, yet her work from the middle of the 20th Century is rarely given its due attention. Arguably the only more brazenly hypocritical omission among Best Director winners is that no director of African heritage has won that Oscar.
Therese Grisham has written a new book about Lupino’s life and her films which should draw more than academic attention to the work of this director. She led a spirited discussion of Hard, Fast and Beautiful, Lupino’s 1951 amateur tennis drama. Given the current climate, not to mention the conversation at Facets, there should be little doubt that women throughout the history of film will be getting the attention they deserve. Today, the questions of how audiences understand the significant contributions of filmmakers from Lupino to Bigalow is taken up along with how audiences understood Lupino’s work at the time.
We Only Think We’re More Savvy
When looking at older films in a complex societal position, it’s easy to assume that the modern audience is more receptive and perhaps even superior in reading subtext. This is a slanted perspective on the issue that Grisham is unconvinced by.
In the case of Hard, Fast and Beautiful, there’s a lot of visual subtext particularly around the arrangements of characters in the frame. These almost literary flourishes could hardly be lost on any audience.
Remember the Era
Of course the complexity surrounding audience expectations aside, the context in which Hard, Fast and Beautiful was made is really important to keep in mind.
Part of the melodrama of Hard, Fast and Beautiful depends on an understanding of some realities of life directly after World War II.
Social Problem Films
Grisham points out that Lupino’s attention to problems in society was also taken up by many of the most influential filmmakers of her time.
In this respect Hard, Fast and Beautiful is part of a much wider movement in cinema. Lupino is borrowing from the techniques of well known post-war European filmmakers, styles among her contemporaries which were more popular in her native Britain than in America. This approach to genre is also close to her artistic practice.
Lupino should be seen as something of an auteur. The vision of a thoughtful director in control of every aspect is very evident in Hard, Fast and Beautiful. Nevertheless, Lupino was a highly collaborative director, this is not a typical feature of auteurs.
It might be said that Lupino’s real stamp on a film, rather than indulging German expressionist techniques, or using unknown actors, was ownership of her work.
Facets organizes regular Teach-In. These are free events where the discussion of important topics are led by experts like Therese Grisham. Their insights are paired with some of the most illuminating films in the cannon. You can see the entirety of this Teach-In, conversations with experts, and more on Facets’ YouTube channel.
Author: Jimmy Haley is a film student at DePaul University in Chicago. He works on productions around Chicago and is currently an archival intern at Facets.