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Seidelman Follows Her Own Path

With `She-Devil,' director tackles a topic Hollywood has neglected: the politics of femininity. FILM: INTERVIEW

By David SterrittStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 19, 1989


SUSAN SEIDELMAN knows all about New York women. She's one herself, and her movies have been full of them - from the offbeat ``Smithereens'' to the hit ``Desperately Seeking Susan,'' the recent ``Cookie,'' and the brand-new ``She-Devil,'' starring Roseanne Barr as a vengeful homemaker and Meryl Streep as a glamourous rival for her husband's affections. ``She-Devil'' had its world premi`ere in ``Projections of the New York Woman,'' an exhibition on-screen recently at the American Museum of the Moving Image here [see article at left]. Several women have invaded the male-dominated world of movie directing in recent years, and Ms. Seidelman is the most active and successful of them all. During a recent interview at the museum, I asked her if it is difficult to work in such a gender-skewed environment. In response, she pointed out that her position has always been a little removed from the filmmaking mainstream.

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``I tend to be slightly outside the industry,'' she says. ``I choose to live in New York instead of Hollywood; so I don't have to play the game. I started out as an independent; in other words, I gave myself my own opportunity. I decided no one was going to hire me; [so] I'm not going to even waste my time knocking on doors. If I don't do it for myself, it's not going to happen. I didn't even attempt to try the `normal' route. I think a lot of women who have ended up being directors have gone a circuitous route, because - let's face it - most of the studios are still run by men.''

How can Seidelman claim to be an ``outsider'' when most of her films are full-scale Hollywood productions?

``I do get my funding from Hollywood studios,'' she admits, ``but I tend to see myself as riding that thin line: I am not really part of the system, but I can't pretend to be totally outside the system. ... I make only films I want to make. Thus far, I don't really consider myself a director for hire. I am not attached to a studio where they say, `You have got to do this movie.' So I still consider myself pretty independent.''

Why did she want to make ``She-Devil?''

``I actually think it's sort of a political film,'' she says of the comedy. ``That's what it's about, and [that's] the reason it was cast with two incredibly different types of women. It's really about the politics of femininity, and about how one's looks affect the kind of power that you have. There are certain ways a woman is supposed to look and behave. And I think that's an issue that hasn't been discussed much on film.''

Why has Hollywood dodged this subject?

``Most directors of films about women have been men,'' Seidelman answers. ``They have shown a very glamourized version of what women are like. The whole purpose of this movie is that one of the characters is very glamourous, and the other is very deglamourized. I think people are going to be surprised by the housewife character, the Roseanne Barr character, because she really is very different from a lot of the women we've seen on screen.''