With all the hype that initially surrounded the most expensive motion picture film ever made, James Cameron’s “Avatar”, there was little coverage of his former wife and fellow director, Kathryn Bigelow. While there has been some talk about her due to her directing the film entitled “Hurt Locker”, which inevitably beat out Cameron’s Avatar for best director at the Oscars( the first female director to do so), and also earned her the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film ( also the first time a woman has ever earned that honor). Born in San Carlos, California, Bigelow was originally a painter early in her life. So her love for the creative arts was evident even at a young age, when she worked for conceptual art pioneer, Lawrence Weiner. She attended the Columbia graduate film program where she studied theory and criticism while earning her Masters Degree. These years of studying theory and criticism would be beneficial to Bigelow in her novel role as director of films.
Although her recent work, since she returned from her 5 year hyadus in 2000, has yielded her much recognition and respect as a director, some of her earlier works were not as well received. These include such features as “Blue Steel”, which stars Jamie Lee Curtis as a rookie cop stalked by a psychopathic killer, and “The Weight of Water”, about two women trapped in suffocating relationships. Several important social injustice issues and gender issues were raised in these two films, but these films are the only ones that do so in depth. As Bigelow later said in an interview about Blue Steel and her style in general, the messages in her movies are not premeditated. Nor does she give any credence to an issue because it affects women. She says when talking about Blue Steel, “The film is about a woman cop, so obviously there's a feminist statement in it simply by the nature of there being a woman cop. I never make a decision about a role with feminism as a criterion. I read the story and thought it was very exciting. The fact that [the main character] was a woman cop was interesting -- I don't look for feminist messages.”
With these statements one could say that Bigelow is technically not a true auteur. However there is no doubt that her use of narrative and her innovational accomplishments make her likely one of the best auteurs in film. Her uncanny ability to take a mediocre film script and make it into an appealing motion picture was evident in her 2002 film “K-19:Widowmaker”. While Bigelow had always made pictures exposing film violence, the aspect of her work that was illustrated in K-19 was her knack to make a great action film, with unique narratives and plots. As a New York Times review for K-19, by A.O Scott, reads: “Kathryn Bigelow, one of the best pure action directors around, turns a sturdy, conventional-a hybrid of “Alien” and “Mutiny on The Bounty,” with many nods to submarine movies of the past- into a swift, tense drama of dueling egos and mechanical catastrophe.” But the movie tanked at the box office and, while receiving some great reviews, received mainly mixed reviews at best.
Mixed reviews were sometimes given to Bigelow’s works, by her critics. But this did not deter her from continuing to make films (her way), eventually making her way to the crème of the crop, and proving all of her naysayer’s wrong. Even in the last decade of the twentieth century, when as the Feminist in Film article says “feminist literary theory is extensive and reflective, receptive to all those nuances of framing, inflection and particularly authorial viewpoint which intensively concern critics of women’s films,” Bigelow had little trouble finding her own success among a field of testosterone driven male directors. While many people like to infer that her rise to prominence during this time was due to her marriage to James Cameron, and their public split which gained her exposure. This however is inherently untrue, for her work in the film festival world preceded her union with Cameron. Not to mention she already had various documentaries and films under her belt.
But as a recent Newsweek article chronicles, Bigelow does not let past box office letdowns or societal perceptions of her, as a woman or ex-spouse of a prominent Hollywood director, get in the way of her work. Talking with Bigelow, journalist Jennie Yabroff states, “At this point in her career, Bigelow is weary of the notion that being a woman affects how she works. Critics can't seem to get over the idea that a female director could devote herself to making adrenaline-charged films that owe more to Ridley Scott than Nora Ephron.” This devotion has been evident in Bigelow’s work even in her early career, with titles such as Near Dark (a suspenseful horror thriller), and the cult classic Point Break (a surfer/bank robbery picture). While not afraid to go outside her comfort zone in the types of films she has made throughout her career, her niche as a director of socially oriented action films is clear with the powerful story portrayed in The Hurt Locker.
New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica, who usually reserves his commentary for political or sports related topics of conversation, had nothing but the highest praise for Bigelow in the weeks leading up to the Academy had their night and gave away their Oscars. Lupica talks about how Bigelow is the hands down favorite in his opinion for Best Director and Picture, despite international success for Avatar and The Blind Side’s emotional message, because she has done what a director is supposed to do. Not only that but she did it for a usually forgotten minority in the U.S, those troops as well as their families who are suffering and fighting this nations wars all around the globe. Lupica says, “The job of the director, ultimately, is to make you feel as if you’re there “the gifted screenwriter/director David Koepp was saying the other day. Anyone who’s seen this movie knows Kathryn Bigelow puts you in the boots of these characters. You walk out of the theater thinking she must have served three tours in Iraq herself.” Lupica went on to sum up his article by making a sports analogy, and saying how David would once again beat Goliath. He says “With what she spent to make her movie and what Cameron spent to make his, it is as if she is going up against the Yankees Sunday night at the Academy Awards. She should still win. When and if you finally see “The Hurt Locker”, you’ll understand. In all the important ways, Bigelow has won already. This isn’t about the power of special effects. Just the movies.”
This is something that Kathryn Bigelow has done a great job of doing over her career, and that is just making movies.