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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

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This issue goes beyond films into real life, Seidelman adds. ``I was looking at a magazine article,'' she recalls. ``I think it was about Malcolm Forbes's birthday party. And I was struck by the number of couples where you see a successful, powerful, 60- or 70-year-old man with a beautiful 25-year-old model on his arm. So often, men are thought of in terms of power and success and money. But women are thought of, and valued, in terms of their physical appearance.''

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Seidelman feels women have a different approach from men when it comes to depicting female characters. ``Women making movies about other women have a kind of insiders' point-of-view,'' she muses. ``It's a less romanticized point-of-view, because we know the flip side. When men make movies about women, they are often slightly romanticized. Also, women get the little details of womanhood.''

Have movies tended to help or hurt the progress of women in society? ``It would be hard to answer that,'' Seidelman says, ``but I do think they have reflected something about the journey that women have gone on over the past 30 years. When I think about movies of the '50s, the main concern seemed to be ..., if it was a career women, how is she going to snag a husband? The relationships between girlfriends in those films are often very competitive, fighting over some guy.''

By contrast, she continues, ``When you look at the films of the late '60s and early '70s, which reflect something about the women's movement, the protagonist had changed.'' The characters played by Diane Keaton in ``Annie Hall'' or Jill Clayburgh in ``An Unmarried Woman,'' for example, ``are a lot different from the Marilyn Monroe character of the '50s.

``Then, if you extend it to the '80s,'' Seidelman goes on, ``you have the working women, like Sigourney Weaver and Melanie Griffith, and that again says something about the time we're living in - where women are very much in the workplace and are very ambitious and are trying to figure out how to deal with a personal life and a professional life at the same time.''

These characters and movies notwithstanding, many people feel American society has become more traditional in recent years. How does this affect Seideleman's theory that things have been improving in films?

``The times we're living in have gotten a little more conservative,'' she acknowledges. ``In a way, the movies have reflected that, too. For example, `Working Girl' is probably a slightly more conservative movie than one like `A Woman Under the Influence''' (1974).

This doesn't stop her from putting a social and political subtext into her pictures, however. ``It certainly is there ... in all the movies I have made,'' she says with conviction. ``All have to do with a woman who comes from a certain milieu and is trying to break out of it. ... In each case, they come from an environment where they feel a little bit stifled, and by the end they've liberated themselves in some way. I have an optimistic view, definitely. [But] I think the issue of identity has been a theme in every movie I have made: Who am I, and how do I fit in?''