Friday, April 29, 2011

Woman in Hollywood

“Whether we call it “willing suspension of disbelief” or just plain submission, in the darkness of the theatre most audiences choose to give themselves over, if only for a time, to the images depicted and the imaginations that have created those images.” (Hooks 3) When discussing classic, almost cult movies of the ’80’s and ’90’s you would undoubtedly come across a movie or two where the director has done exactly what Hooks mentions; create images using their imagination carrying the audience into submission of their reality.

Amy Heckerling is a director that can accomplish this. In the 80’s she was one of only a handful of American female directors (alongside the likes of Penny Marshall, Martha Coolidge, Susan Seidelman and Penelope Spheeris) that were allowed to direct big budget box office movies. As a matter of fact, Siedelman discusses how there were only 9 women directors at the time she began directing that were making movies in the 80‘s. (Directors on Directing) Heckerling’s first movie, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, became a cult classic as well as becoming the first of what we now call the teen movie genre. Fast Times At Ridgemont High is funny and its characters cover all of the usual High School tropes, but it’s also quite serious about the various meanings and pressures of High School kids “coming of age.” Despite going on to be popular amongst the viewers, the critics panned the movie. Rodger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times, called the movie a “scuz-pit of a movie” in his review. He even went on to say “The makers of ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’ have an absolute gift for taking potentially funny situations and turning them into general embarrassment. They’re tone-deaf.” Despite this, Fast Times went on to gross more than $27 million for Universal Pictures, more than 6 times its original $4.5 million budget.

“Movies not only provide a narrative for specific discourses of race, sex, and class, they provide a shared experience, a common starting point from which diverse audiences can dialogue about these charged issues.” (Hooks 2) Heckerling’s movies brought about much conversation of the realities of High School in the 80’s and they were so realistic, that they transcended into the 90’s and even today. "Few filmmakers are as in touch with their inner teenager as Amy Heckerling, even if her own experience is diametrically opposed to those of the California teens in her best films." (Donadoni) Heckerling was born in the Bronx to working class parents. She attended the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan and went on to College at NYU. Being aware of the stereotypes of women directors in Hollywood, she never let it deter her and even used it to challenge her career choice.

Heckerling went on to make National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985) which grossed $75 million; Look Who’s Talking in (1989) which grossed $297 Million, from an original budget of $7.5 million; and Look Who’s Talking Too (1990) which grossed $47 million. All Of these were critic box office bombs even though they were all profitable movies for the movie houses. As a female director, Heckerling had always found it hard to persuade Hollywood to back her projects. She said her ‘trick’ was to always have one movie in the can so that there was always a question and movie houses were willing to take a chance on her projects. (Directors on Directing)

In 1995, Heckerling went back to what she became known for and directed her biggest critically acclaimed movie to date, Clueless starring then unknown Alicia Silverstone. It was another High School movie filled with teen tropes like the ‘airhead blonde fashion plate teen’ that she made famous. The film became a surprise sleeper hit of 1995 grossing over $11 million its opening week and over $56 million overall. That’s almost 3 times its original $20 million budget. In 2008 Entertainment Weekly named Clueless the 19th best comedy of the past 25 years.

While not nominated for an Oscar in her career to date, Heckerling wrote and directed Look Who’s Talking, winning her a People's Choice Award for Best Comedy in 1982. In 1998, Heckerling received the Franklin J. Shaffner Medal from the American Film Institute (think Planet Of The Apes and Patton) and in 1999, she received the Crystal Award from Women In Film.

Works Cited
Hooks, Bell “Reel to Reel; race, class and sex at the movies”. 1996. Routledge. New York. NY (

Donadoni, Serena. "Hormonal pyrotechnics 101: Amy Heckerling on life, love and other high-school explosives.", Metro Times, July 26, 2000. Accessed February 10, 2008.

"Clueless, Alicia Silverstone, ... | The Comedy 25: The Funniest Movies of the Past 25 Years". Entertainment Weekly. Time.,,20221235_7,00.html. Retrieved 2009-07-03

Reel Women Media. Directors on Directing #5. 2008. Video. (

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