Dir: Rosanna Arquette. US. 2001. 97mins. Special Screening
Billed as a "Rosanna Arquette Experience", this documentary portrait of the pressures faced by actresses in the film business is modestly described by its first-time director as "like a home movie. Very simple'. She's right: with its from-the-hip camerawork, some shot by Arquette herself with a home camcorder, rough-and-ready technical quality and some undisciplined editing, the result is as rambling, indulgent and, on occasions, as frankly tedious as any other home movie. But the film's amateurish quality is also rather endearing and, in the end, crucial to its appeal, enabling it to offer a uniquely intimate and candid look at some top stars. Television buyers will snap this one up, and it should also get further play at specialist film festivals and possibly in educational contexts.
The title refers to the idea that triggered the movie, when Arquette wondered whatever happened to Debra Winger, who after nearly 20 years in movies and three Oscar nominations, retired in 1996 to devote herself to her family. This led to wider questions, born partly of Arquette's own experience: sustaining a long-term career in an industry obsessed with youth and beauty, juggling a demanding job with motherhood, relationship difficulties, the sexist attitudes of studio heads and the predatory attentions of the media.
Shooting over 10 months and in Los Angeles, New York and at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Arquette used her professional and personal connections to gain direct access to friends and colleagues, without the controlling (and homogenising) influence of the Hollywood PR machine. In some scenes she drops informally by their hotel rooms; in others, she gets a group of them together over lunch and champagne and leaves the camera rolling.
Charlotte Rampling and Katrin Cartlidge turn up for what they think is a casual drink and end up as interviewees. Among the other 35 contributors are Sharon Stone, Jane Fonda, Meg Ryan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vanessa Redgrave, Holly Hunter, Salma Hayek, Melanie Griffith, Emmanuelle Beart, Whoopi Goldberg, Arquette's sister Patricia and Winger herself.
The overall picture which emerges contains few surprises, but the details are extraordinary. Fonda reveals how her now ex-husband Ted Turner urged her to quit acting on their second date. Others talk openly of having their tits sized up in auditions or being fed water retention pills to reduce that unattractive premenstrual bloated look. Goldberg offers a very funny riff on the physical ravages of age ("My ass got bigger. I'm being stalked by my ass.") and Fonda contributes a brilliant sustained monologue on the terror and thrill of preparing and shooting a demanding scene.
Arquette's interview technique is reassuring rather than aggressive, and certain scenes resemble a single mothers' support group. But the point is that these aren't any old single mums. There's an inbuilt fascination in seeing screen icons looking ordinary and, in some cases, downright unglamorous (though others are sleekly groomed and the film's credits include somebody rejoicing in the job title of "on-site beauty doctor"). Above all, it's salutary to be reminded that even the buffer of fame doesn't stop stars facing much the same problems as all working women
Prod cos: Immortal Entertainment, Flower Child
Int'l sales: Creative Union Entertainment
Exec prods: Mark Cuban, Todd Wagner
Prod: Happy Walters, Rosanna Arquette, Matthew Weaver, David Codikow
Cinematography: Jean-Marc Barr, Olivier Boucreux, Cort Fey, Joey Forsyte, Nathan Hope, Michael Wojciechowsky
Ed: Gail Yasunaga