“Just a ‘Woman on the Street'”

I wanted to share with you a response I received a couple of weeks ago to WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?  Mary March is a pharmacist, mother of two teenage boys and wife to Stephen March who is a professor, musician and novelist. They live in a small town in North Carolina. Stephen is my cousin or perhaps it is the second cousin. In any case, he is one of the sons of my Great Aunt Marie who had been a newspaper reporter, photographer, and editor throughout the south between the 1930s through the early 1980s. I’ll devote my next post to Marie, as hearing from Mary has provoked a bunch of wonderful memories, but for now, enjoy Mary’s words:

I loved “Who does she think she is?” Very nicely done, very informative. Unlike some documentaries which are educational, this really was moving to me as a mother. Of course I am not an artist, but all mothers feel a tug and pull between what they have to do (whether from a “calling” or just the need for a paycheck) and what they feel they must do (mother) or should do (constant mothering).

The artists featured are so verbal. I must say some visual artists and musicians I have known over the years are, well, slightly verbally challenged. Their expression is all done in their art. Not only were your ladies verbal; they had beautiful melodious voices! I could listen to Maye all day, and Janis has a lullaby voice.  All of the ladies have strong voices, and words we all need to hear.

I liked the opening, the mix of ancient art, the music, the modern shots of what and who you would be covering: engaging beginning. The historical overview of the importance and vitality of art sets the stage for what these women are doing, what their results will be despite their day-to-day struggles. The soundtrack is perfect; it always goes with the mood of the current discussion– and mostly, is not overpowering. I really get irked at soundtracks that split your eardrums and over-ride dialogue, making the words incomprehensible no matter how many times you rewind and replay.  This is true in many very successful films.  No matter how wonderful the music is, how well-suited the soundtrack, it shouldn’t overpower. Both the soundtrack and the photography are perfect in my layperson’s opinion. The photography is especially dazzling in New Mexico, but the cutting back and forth throughout is smooth and easy to follow visually and mentally. So my compliments on the photography.

As for editing, I like the balance, the back and forth between experts on art, history, feminism, and the artist/mother subjects of the film. It’s a good balance, the didactic and the very personal interspersed. The first mom featured (and I like the symmetry of the film closing with her walking through the gallery) is probably my favorite. Maye Torres. I love her and her boys. I love that her boys are such fans. I so appreciate the youngest one, the PR guy, the one who claims to love eating beans when money is short.  Who insists his mom will be famous before he’s 20. I like that you establish what a good mom she is, how much her boys adore her, how dedicated she is to her art, before you show the seemingly inevitable loss of her marriage and her talk of the bitter custody battle. By then you have us in her court, really pulling for her, and we already know she deserves at least joint if not full custody. And are aghast at what the ex- would put her through, even though she can say, despite her hurt and anger, that he was the person she had loved the most. Wow. That was just heartbreaking.  That the love of her life couldn’t understand her love for her art. Just “to a point.” Like for better or worse… “if not too much trouble.”

I like Janis’s sculptures very much. She is amazing in that she has this very unique and personal art and yet she believes that her neighbors and church family don’t even think of her as an artist, but more as the mom of five. It is interesting that she has to get her art out of her house ASAP to avoid breakage– that she cannot, for that reason, remember all of the pieces. I imagine that she would see a catalog of her work and wonder if she made certain ones in a dream state. Fascinating and so true to her hectic life and work pace. I certainly relate to the “bad head” she puts on some of her sculptures. Most mothers can probably relate to the bad head that sometimes sits on our shoulders and competes with our better instincts, our ideal selves.

The singer Angela Williams was a slight enigma to me. Or maybe it was her husband who was the enigma. He paid lip service to supporting her, even encouraging her when she wasn’t sure at first. Then in the end, I presume, he failed her. She said “trust was lost.” She did, however, land on her feet despite health issues and start the dramatic arts schools. I found her resilience must have everything to do with her absolutely supportive mother. It was the mother who gave life to the supportive words. She not only supported her verbally, but with her presence, at her doctor’s appointments, calling her, really there when the chips were down. Fiercely supportive. “SHE SHOULD NOT STOP,” said her mother. And she didn’t.

The Japanese lady was just something else. Her life choice’s in many ways seemed to be from a reaction TO her mother. She managed to be an artist, a mother, and an activist.

The ladies who had supportive and helpful husbands; well,that was gratifying to see. A couple of the children interviewed seemed a little bemused by their mothers’ passion for their creations. But I think maybe that was mixed with a little pride as well.

The drummer was a good transition into the goddess/artist/feminist subject that follows the piece about her.

I like the strong feminist message of the film. It is not distasteful in any way, or in your face. These ladies are feminists but they are not radicals; they are quiet but strong feminists who also have a soft side (and most could cook it seemed!) They were not anti-male at all, loving their sons and their mates even despite (mates especially) their shortcomings. Why is it that here I am trying to be a feminist apologist? What’s so wrong with feminism in any of its colors?

What I love is that the best men in these ladies’ lives as far as artistic support goes were OLDER MEN. Yes, these older guys who you would think would’ve been from the dark ages of Betty Crocker. They supported and mentored Maye whereas her baby boomer husband had difficulty doing so over the long haul. Interesting, huh? Maybe our generation isn’t as enlightened as it would like to think? Anyway the message of the under-representation of women in the arts, and their unfair pay discrepancies, came through loud and clear. The funniest part of the whole film was when the “man on the street” could only think of one female artist, and I believe it was someone who did lighting (?) for the Grateful Dead. Hilarious. But sad too. And Maye talks about our government cutting back on support for the arts. I don’t know the figures for either our government’s grants or charitable foundation grants for artists, but I suspect that per capita the amounts awarded are much lower than they were in the 1960s and 1970s.

You mentioned awards. Here is my 2 cents worth on that. I don’t know why certain things win certain years. But of course anything like that is highly subjective. Maybe elephants (or whatever subject) are just “in” a certain year. Maybe male judges don’t like too much feminism, even if well done.  It can be a tad uncomfortable.  Why haven’t we come further? We went through all this in the 1970s. Why are we still not where we need to be? (We haven’t solved our fossil fuels problem either; have we just been sleeping?)

I am not an artist, a film maker, not even a “real” critic.  Just a “woman on the street.” And a mom who also struggles with balance, always.

–Mary March


One Response to ““Just a ‘Woman on the Street'””

  1. Hey Pam, this is for you …

    My wife Jane and I just saw your film at our friend Mickey Seligson’s house. We adored it. Completely human.


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