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Review: Who Does She Think She Is?

Director Pamela Taner Boll, perhaps inadvertently, presents an unnecessarily restrictive definition of what an artist is and what she does.

Who Does She Think She Is?
Photo: Artistic License Films

At some point during the gently censorious documentary Who Does She Think She Is?, a woman samples the vox populi to see if anyone can name five female artists. No one, at least of those whose responses were included in the documentary, could even go beyond one or two. Case closed. So, while I and most other cinephiles could quickly name five female film directors generally regarded to be among the great cinematic artists of all time (Akerman, Varda, Lupino, Deren, Riefenstahl), I trust that by “artist” the filmmakers generally mean those working in paints, clays, and other tactiles. A niggling point, probably, but one which suggests this documentary has its own strangely self-defeating self-imposed limitation—namely, that in arguing for gender parity in the art world, director Pamela Taner Boll (perhaps inadvertently) presents an unnecessarily restrictive definition of what an artist is and what she does—and who she does it with, for that matter. Of the five women profiled in the doc, only one works in a non-visual medium, so to speak. Musical theater performer Angela Williams is shown trying to balance her auditions and rehearsals with spending time at home with her increasingly weary husband. The other four women generally work closer to home, which isn’t to say that they don’t feel a palpable pull between their creative pursuits and their domestic responsibilities. They do, and their stories (including one apparently nasty custody battle) are compelling on their own. But I question (with the admitted cultural leverage unnecessarily accorded me over the fact that I wield a wang) whether opting to put a few subjects under the microscope as anecdotal evidence on behalf of a larger phenomenon doesn’t evade the issue of how women’s work is viewed culturally, as opposed to how women artists are viewed socially. That personal, private creation (i.e. painting, sculpture) is held up as the standard for artistic expression over collaboration (i.e. film directing) smacks of art-as-onanism.

Cast: Angela Williams, Camille Musser, Janis Wunderlich, Maye Torres, Mayumi Oda Director: Pamela Tanner Boll Distributor: Artistic License Films Running Time: 84 min Rating: NR Year: 2008 Buy: Video

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