Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Girl 27 (David Stenn, 2007)

As long as I'm ranting about sexist things that make me angry, I thought I'd make it two days in a row with Girl 27, David Stenn's documentary about Patricia Douglas, who, in 1937, was tricked into "performing" at a party for MGM sales executives from all over the country and was subsequently raped by one of the executives. Although she was bold enough for the time to actually bring civil and federal suits against the man that had raped her, everyone was in MGM's pocket: the sole witness, the judge, the hospital (where they immediately gave her a douche to get rid of all the evidence), Douglas' public defender (who didn't even show up for the trial, three seperate times), the press, even Douglas' own mother, everyone. This is the story of a woman who chose to stand up for herself, and for that, she was deliberately destroyed by a huge corporation that basically owned Los Angeles at the time.

But the movie is as much about Patricia Douglas after the fact as it is about the crime itself. Because this story was buried by the press, never to be heard of again until Stenn brought it into the light, Douglas became a recluse, a woman who had three husbands and a daughter but says she's never been in love. There are several legal experts (including Greta Van Sustern, which is ironic, considering how if Fox News had existed in 1937, they certainly would have been a news outlet trying to defame Douglas) who say they'd never heard of the Douglas case, and considering how, for a short period in the late '30s and early '40s, this case was all the rage, that's considerable evidence for how well oiled MGM's machine-liked control over Los Angeles was.

Many have and will criticize the film for Stenn's placement of himself in a central role in the film; there are some cringeworthily self-lauding scenes, as when Stenn recounts telling Douglas' story to Jackie Onassis and having Jackie tell him he's the only one who could tell her story right (gag). But since the movie is about Douglas' retreat into obscurity, I think it's important and right that Stenn tell his part in the saga, about how he spoke to Douglas on the phone for countless hours before she'd even begin telling him about that night, and how even more time had to be spent slowly but surely convincing Douglas that this is an important story that she has to tell in front of the cameras. In fact, Stenn and Douglas' recountings of the first time they met is one of the most heartwarming moments in the film.

There are some truly heartbreaking moments in the film; Douglas, whose mother was married eight times, was eventually bought out by MGM for her testimony and spent the rest of her life trying to make it up to her daughter. When the daughters of the witness who was bought out by MGM speak about how they want to at least help one woman by speaking out about what their father did, a lump formed in my throat. I haven't even begun talking about the weird, warped relationship between Douglas and her daughter (whom I found rather contemptible, but understandably so).

Douglas died shortly after getting her story recorded for all to her; the final minutes in the film, when she speaks about how she'll be vindicated about the truth, because it always comes out, is heartbreaking, because it's not true. Even with Stenn's documentary, not much has changed. It's as if Douglas was waiting for her chance to speak before she could die. The least we can do is listen to what she had to say, and be glad that times are (at least a little) different today.


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