Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sandra Hochman's YEAR OF THE WOMAN -- way ahead of its time and still reverberating

What a delicious time capsule is YEAR OF THE WOMAN, a combo documentary/fantasy (with the accent on the former) by poet/novelist/filmmaker Sandra Hochman. This is one of those "lost films" we often hear about, but -- unlike so many of them that, once viewed in the light of modern day, don't hold up -- this one absolutely strums with excitement, intelligence, humor and surprise. The biggest surprise in fact, is how poetic and prescient it turns out to be.

Ms. Hochman was certainly feeling her oats at the time -- 1972 -- that the film was made. At one point along the way she confesses, "I've never had so much fun as when I'm making trouble." And, boy, do we believe it -- whether she's cornering a very young and beautiful Warren Beatty or getting fabled humorist Art Buchwald to confess to his male-chauvinist-pig tendencies. She's in heaven all right, and the guys seem to enjoy being bullied almost as much as Hochman loves doing it.

She's more than merely angry, however, and her movie demonstrates this is spades, as it weaves together her poetry, her passion for feminism and her amusing occasional animation with the many interviews she conducts at and around the political conventions of the day -- trying to get men to understand the place and predicament of the "modern woman."

Do they get it? Hardly. The movie's funniest and most outrageous scene involves Hochman (in a crocodile costume) along with a small group of women who face down the male press at the convention (including an oh-so-young Mike Wallace) with demands to be heard and accepted. And sure, these women are annoying as hell. But their point is a perfectly valid one, which, being constantly shunted side, is now getting the in-your-face treatment bound to stir up anger and discussion. If the film were only proselytizing, it would still be worthwhile. But it is so much more: funny and poetic and full of folk who -- more than four decades later -- are still worth seeing and hearing.

Best of all, maybe, is a woman named Liz Renay (above), a writer, actress and stripper who's happy to share her life and thoughts with Hochman. (She's a Republican, too! Of course, that political party, ever an arm of the rich and entitled, was a lot more mainstream and intelligent in olden days). Ms Renay's appearance (in a skin-tight, va-va-voom dress) at the political convention brings out the usual male prerogative. The question she is most asked? "What are your measurements?"

We encounter the usual suspects of the day -- from Bella Abzug and Pierre Salinger (remember him, below?) to the smart and funny Flo Kennedy (above, left, and what a woman!) -- and get snippets of interviews with the likes of Edmund Muskie and John Kenneth Galbraith (at bottom).

But the heart of the film involves the fine poetry Hochman delivers, along with a lovely flair for visuals, music and the kind of confrontation that refuses to let us men so easily off the hook, whether we be the incipient politically-inclined Beatty, the poet Ed Skellings or activist Charles Evers (all of whom the filmmaker forces to confront their own MCP tendencies).

When this one-of-a-kind documentary first debuted in 1973, it played only a handful of performances in New York, the capital of culture, where it was considered too radical and weird. But no: It was simply ahead of it time, and time is now catching up with it. The film works as both a wonderful trip down memory lane and as a ever-current call to arms.

As the choice song we hear sung (to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic), "Move on Over, or We'll Move on Over You," makes clear, women had a long way to go back then. They still do. But when you get the chance to see something possessing this much art, smarts and sass, you realize how necessary and worth it the struggle for equal rights was and is. (The final "fantasy" scene -- with Hochman and Buchwald in an observatory, supposedly looking down on an earth where equality has at last triumphed -- is a knockout punch, delivered with a lovely combination of humor, simplicity, imagination and grace.)

After a 42-year hiatus, Year of the Woman is finally back with us again, thanks to a combination of The Huffington Post and the digital streaming service, Vimeo -- on which you can watch it now, via either purchase or rental. Just click here for details and acccess. 

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