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Kathryn Bigelow.

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Amid the heated controversy over the lack of diversity in the 2016 Academy Award nominations, it would seem that the time is ripe to reassess the career of Kathryn Bigelow, who remains the only woman to have won a Best Director Oscar. Indeed, no woman has been nominated in that category since Bigelow's win. While most of the criticism of the 2016 awards has been rightfully levelled at the lack of non-white nominees, it is also worth noting that Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (2008) is still the only him directed by a woman to win the coveted Best Picture award. The Hurt Locker represents the culmination of the kind of relentless, fast-paced action cinema that Bigelow has honed for much of her directorial career, but she began her life on a very different path, pursuing an early interest in the visual arts. Bigelow studied at San Francisco Art Institute and New York's Whitney Museum, and completed her Master's at Columbia University's School of Arts. Various sources list an impressive array of instructors: visual artist Vito Acconci, cultural theorists Susan Sontag and Peter Wollen, and influential film critic Andrew Sarris. (1)

Bigelow's first completed short film, The Set-Up (1978), is a deconstruction of a fight sequence: while two men fight (one of the performers is Gary Busey, who would later appear in Bigelow's 1991 hit Point Break), Columbia University semioticians Sylvere Lotringer and Marshall Blonsky discuss on the voiceover track the nature of violence on screen. (2) All of this is to say that, given her early grounding in such heavyweight critical theory, it would be foolish to dismiss the intellectual rigour of Bigelow's films on the basis of their adherence to the conventions of the much-maligned action genre. Beyond her ability to stage exhilarating action set pieces, Bigelow's output demonstrates a strong degree of thematic coherence, from the stylised, intermittently sexualised violence of her early films, to the moral ambiguity of her later works. Bigelow remains one of the most provocative filmmakers working in Hollywood, as the furore around the contentious depiction of torture in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) proves.

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FILMS

The Loveless and Near Dark

Bigelow's first feature film, The Loveless (1981), was co-written and co-directed by Monty Montgomery, who is probably best known for his brief but unforgettable role as The Cowboy in Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001). Coming in the wake of the stylised nostalgia of The Wanderers (Philip Kaufman, 1979), and anticipating the similar Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983), The Loveless borrows the leather-clad biker iconography of The Wild One (Laszlo Benedek, 1953) via its considerably more eroticised imprint in Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1963) --the glimpse of a swastika hand tattoo is likely a nod to Anger's loving evocation of the first-generation bikers' predilection for appropriating Third Reich insignia. In The Loveless, biker Vance (Willem Dafoe), newly released from prison, descends with his gang on a small-town diner, and proceeds to hang around and do a whole lot of nothing. Vance has a brief romantic dalliance with fellow drifter Telena (Marin Kanter), before violent retribution comes to town. While The Loveless has more of a boldly primitivist aesthetic approach than Bigelow's later hyperkinetic action films, mostly unfolding in long takes, its climactic shootout is something of a dry run for the far more elaborate set piece of barroom bloodletting that defines her subsequent film, Near Dark (1987).

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Near Dark trades in The Loveless' biker iconography for punk and western signifiers. Indeed, Bigelow originally conceived of the project as a western, but found it difficult to secure financing given the unpopularity of that genre in the 1980s. Bigelow then asked herself,

'Okay, how can we subvert the genre? Let's do a [w]estern but disguise it in such a way that it gets sold as something else' [...] So it became a wonderful meld of two mythologies: the [w]estern and the vampire movie. (3)

Near Dark is the tale of a naive young ranch hand, Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), who falls in with a roving gang of vampires after being bitten by Mae (Jenny Wright). The film employs many of the hallmarks of the western genre: shootouts, sieges, horseback chases. Bigelow took care to remove 'all the gothic aspects' traditionally associated with vampire fiction; for Bigelow, 'Ours are modern vampires, American vampires, on the road.' (4) Despite never openly invoking vampirism by name, the film doubtless invites comparisons with similarly glossy high-concept 1980s visions of vampirism such as The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983) and The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987), which was released mere months before Near Dark to considerably stronger box office. Near Dark is the first film in which Bigelow begins to employ the visual stylisation that would become synonymous with her mid-career period, visible here in the film's poetic landscapes and aestheticised violence. As with The Loveless, Near Dark can be taken as a knowing exercise in genre pastiche, and the film's references to Dracula and classic westerns could be examined as examples of postmodern textual appropriation and recontextualisation.

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Blue Steel

Bigelow's next film, Blue Steel (1989), would be her first foray into the action genre, in which she would find her metier. Coming at the tail end of the 1980s, in many ways Blue Steel is a capstone for the action cinema of that decade. Bigelow regards Blue Steel's nocturnal urban environs through the long lens that is so typical of 1980s Hollywood action movies. Its themes place it in the tradition of 1980s psychosexual action thrillers like Tightrope (Richard Tuggle, 1984) and Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987). However, the very typicality of its adherence to these generic conventions is subverted by Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red's decision to place a female protagonist at the film's centre. Bigelow has described this creative decision as the origin point of the project:

It all began with the idea of doing a woman action him. Not only has no woman ever done an action thriller, no woman has ever been at the center of one as the central character. Obviously I was fascinated by that because I'm a woman watching all these action films and there's always a man at the center. (5)

This inversion of the typical gender dynamic of the masculine-coded action movie means that the film's stereotypical set pieces and narrative cliches generate different responses to issues like the depiction of screen violence. Blue Steel begins with Jamie Lee Curtis' police officer Megan Turner intervening in a domestic violence incident in an apartment building. This quickly escalates into a gun battle, before it is revealed that the entire scenario was a staged training exercise. Shortly afterwards, Megan finds herself embroiled in a similar confrontation for real, foiling a supermarket hold-up and fatally shooting the armed robber (a set-up that recalls similar sequences in James Fargo's 1976 Dirty Harry film The Enforcer and George P Cosmatos' 1986 Stallone vehicle Cobra--a device so familiar it would be parodied in the opening sequence of National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1, Gene Quintano, 1993). Megan's use of deadly force comes into question after a bystander, Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver), pockets the offender's revolver and promptly leaves the crime scene, meaning that Megan is unable to substantiate her claim that the perpetrator was armed. As a result, Megan is disciplined, while Eugene experiences some kind of awakening in the presence of his new firearm, which he carries with the air of a compulsive masturbator.

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An intense commodities trader, Eugene embodies the cliche of the sweaty, coked-out eighties business guy, and begins killing impulsively. Seemingly obsessed with Megan, he engraves her name on each bullet casing before he strikes, which causes her to become a suspect in the hunt for the serial killer. Further complicating matters, Eugene manages to locate and court Megan. She becomes increasingly dubious about her newfound suitor, and eventually apprehends him on suspicion that he is the serial killer. However, in a twist that resembles the similar narrative turning point midway through Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971), Eugene's slimy lawyer (Richard Jenkins) secures his client's release. Protected by his privilege as one of society's elites, Eugene regresses to an increasingly primal state, and it is up to Megan to defy a disbelieving police bureaucracy and stop the killer before he strikes again.

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Despite its formulaic adherence to genre convention, Blue Steel adds a subversive element not only in the presence of a female protagonist, but in the casting of Curtis, who brings to the film her iconic status as the 'Final Girl' of early slasher movies Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), Prom Night (Paul Lynch, 1980) and Terror Train (Roger Spottiswoode, 1980). As do her characters in those films, Curtis' Megan must endure numerous ordeals before finally overcoming her twisted adversary through sheer force of will. Megan also becomes embroiled in a bizarre love triangle with Eugene and Detective Nick Mann (Clancy Brown), and while Bigelow occasionally touches on voyeurism and sadomasochism, the film's truly fetishistic edge comes in its depiction of firearms. Reprising the leather fixation of The Loveless, Blue Steel's title sequence intercuts several close-ups of a gun and a leather holster with shots of Megan donning her police uniform. As the film goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the unhinged Eugene has formed a sexualised link between guns and violence. These narrative elements add considerable moral complexity to what otherwise appears to be a fairly conventional action thriller. For viewers who are prepared to dig into the material, Blue Steel may offer a useful starting point for a discussion on the pervasiveness of violence in society, its depiction on screen, and issues of gun control.

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Point Break

Point Break was Bigelow's breakout film, and the first to elevate Keanu Reeves from the cult stardom of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989) to the blockbuster action stardom that he would subsequently consolidate with Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994)- In Point Break, Reeves plays Johnny Utah, a former college football star whose quarterbacking career was curtailed by a knee injury, prompting an unlikely transition into the ranks of the FBI. Partnered with the salty Pappas (Gary Busey), Johnny's first assignment is to investigate the 'Ex-Presidents', a precise criminal gang that robs banks while wearing tuxedos and rubber masks styled after former US presidents (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Lyndon B Johnson). The presence of surf wax on the counter at one of the crime scenes leads Pappas to suspect that the gang may be surfers, so Johnny goes undercover and immerses himself in the Los Angeles surf scene. After being saved from drowning by the no-nonsense Tyler (Lori Petty), Johnny falls in with the mysterious Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), a mystically inclined surfer in search of 'the ultimate ride', who is first glimpsed from afar executing vicious cutbacks on an enormous wave.

For the most part, the range of knowledge in the film's narration is restricted to Johnny's point of view, so we don't find out until relatively late whether or not Bodhi's crew are actually perpetrating robberies. In the meantime, Johnny has become progressively enmeshed within the bonds of Bodhi's surfing fraternity, not to mention romantically involved with Tyler. Reeves' Johnny is a perpetual outsider who becomes afflicted by the classic dilemma of the undercover operative: his relationship with Tyler is based entirely on subterfuge, while his deepening friendship with Bodhi is contrasted with the macho antagonism that permeates the halls of the FBI, personified in the foul-mouthed superior Ben Harp (John McGinley). Ultimately, the film questions where Johnny's loyalties lie, particularly as the body count mounts and he becomes increasingly complicit in Bodhi's gang activities. Still, Bigelow is never interested in probing her characters' psychological anguish in much detail: she is far more concerned with the mechanics of action, and the film expertly conflates the rush of surfing and skydiving with the rapidly cut bank heists, and an equally tense raid sequence that concludes with Johnny almost having his face forced into the blades of a lawnmower. For the most part, Bigelow has by this point discarded the glossy stylisation of her early films, although Point Break's propulsive vision of Los Angeles as a hotbed of daylight crime recalls the similarly morally compromised To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985).

One new major stylistic development for Bigelow is the use of lengthy Steadicam tracking shots, which follow Johnny through the hallways of the FBI, or race with heedless abandon through backstreets, yards and apartments in a footrace that evokes the similar centrepiece of Raising Arizona (the Coen brothers, 1987). Elsewhere, Bigelow nods again to Dirty Harry, when Johnny's attempt to buy a sandwich for lunch is interrupted by a bank robbery, and in the film's conclusion, in which Johnny discards his police badge in a pointed gesture of refusal. Like Siegel's film, Point Break comes to centre on the obsessive yet strangely symbiotic relationship between the police officer and his quarry. Bodhi and Johnny's terminal state of one-upmanship most clearly comes to the fore in the film's climactic skydiving sequence in which, locked in a death dive with only one parachute, each challenges the other to pull the ripcord first.

When teaching Point Break, it may be useful to consider Johnny's duties and responsibilities, and whether or not his obligations to upholding the safety of the community are challenged by his complicity with the Ex-Presidents' criminal activities. It may also be interesting to explore the anti-capitalist underpinnings of the Ex-Presidents' modus operandi. A comparison with the recent remake (Ericson Core, 2015) may prove illustrative as well. Core's film ups the quasi-spiritualist anti-consumer rhetoric, and expands its scope into a positively globetrotting theatre of extreme sports. The remake's European shooting locations and Chinese co-production point to the increasingly globalised nature of Hollywood production when compared to the LA-bound original. The shifting status of extreme sports is evident in the transition from Bigelow's depiction of an autonomous and self-contained surfing milieu, to the remake's evocation of an international jet set in the age of GoPro, energy-drink sponsorships and shadowy Martin Shkrelistyle benefactors.

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Strange Days

Point Break was an enormous financial success, taking US$83.5 million worldwide on its US$24 million budget. (6) This enabled Bigelow to graduate to a new scale of blockbuster production. Her next feature film, Strange Days (1995), commanded a US$42 million budget, and Bigelow and her production crew were tasked with retrofitting an entire near-future world--Los Angeles on the cusp of the millennial shift into the year 2000. In this gritty metropolis, which is at once a culturally inclusive melting pot and seething hotbed ready to erupt in violence at any moment, the newest drug of choice is not chemical but technological: a device known as a SQUID, or Superconducting Quantum Interference Device. The SQUID records an individual's experience, and then allows other users to play back these events, inhabiting the original participant's visual point of view. A black-market trade emerges around these illicit recordings, and former LAPD officer Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is drawn into the city's criminal underbelly of shady music promoters and corrupt officials.

Bigelow's team spent a year developing a special camera for SQUID sequences that believingly approximated human vision, (7) and these sequences remain startling to this day. Simultaneously Bigelow's most overblown and visually engaging film, Strange Days performed catastrophically at the box office, taking just under US$8 million domestically, despite largely prefiguring the more sawily marketed The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999). (8) In a useful history of Strange Days' production, Romi Stepovich claims that given the film's hybrid generic status, studio 20th Century Fox was uncertain how to market it, and decided to emphasise its sexual content with the misguided tagline 'You know you want it'. This 'confusing marketing campaign' resolutely failed to resonate with American audiences. (9) Nevertheless, in its depiction of new technologies permitting the compulsive consumption of visual entertainment laden with sex and violence, not to mention a subplot concerning the police killing of a politically engaged African-American hip-hop artist, Strange Days now looks distinctly less science fiction, and decidedly prescient and progressive.

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The Hurt Locker

The commercial failure of Strange Days left Bigelow in the wilderness for some years. Her timeline-scrambling mystery drama The Weight of Water (2000) failed to win over critics and audiences alike, and the Cold War submarine thriller K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) similarly sank without a trace in the wake of the more successful U-571 (Jonathan Mostow, 2000). This string of failures led Bigelow to helm her next production independently, without the financing of a major studio. Bigelow co-produced The Hurt Locker with its writer, Mark Boal, along with Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro.

Boal based his screenplay on his observations while he was embedded as a freelance journalist in Iraq during the war, and the film hinges on its aspiration to realism. Bigelow discards the slick stylisation of Near Dark and Strange Days, employing instead the hallmarks of pseudo-documentary authenticity: shaky camera, rapid zooms and quick cuts abound. Gone, too, is the tight adherence to generic narrative convention of Blue Steel. The Hurt Locker is an ambling and episodic account of the experiences of a US bomb disposal unit in Iraq, following the arrival of Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner). James quickly comes into conflict with his fellow company members and superiors due to his unconventional approach. He's a cowboy--at one point he removes his protective armour before defusing a bomb so he can 'die comfortable'. Later, he casually reveals that he has successfully defused 873 bombs. The secret to his success, seemingly, is that he is completely unafraid to die. James alternately bonds with and antagonises his two closest compatriots, green soldier Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) and the unflappable Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), but it becomes clear that James is detached from his surroundings and his fellow soldiers.

The film juxtaposes the strange stillness of urban-centres-turned-combat-zones with the sudden outbreak of hostilities. At one point in a moment of downtime, Colonel John Cambridge (Christian Camargo) tells the inexperienced Eldridge, 'Going to war is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It could be fun.' And while this line is delivered with an air of condescension from a superior who presumably hasn't seen a great deal of firsthand combat, the film counterpoints this with Eldridge playing Gears of War on an Xbox, suggesting that war itself is a game. Cambridge is later killed by an improvised explosive device after fraternising with the locals in a combat zone.

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For the most part, the film denies any psychological development to its Iraqi characters. As the narration is restricted entirely to the US perspective, Iraqi bystanders are frequently regarded as a lurking potential menace. The sole exception is the character of Beckham (Christopher Sayegh), 'like the soccer player', a young kid who hustles like a gangsta, attempting to sell James pirated DVDs. Titles on screen periodically announce how many days are left in the company's rotation, and late in the film James finds himself truly dazed and disoriented for the first time, overwhelmed by the dizzying array of consumer choices in the supermarket once he has returned home. These late stateside scenes are comparatively anaemic compared to the visceral combat sequences; the thematically comparable American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014) employs similar juxtapositions to more sustained effect. As with that film, The Hurt Locker offers an ambiguous vision of the Iraq War. By restricting her focus to the ground-level experience of individual participants, and excluding altogether any kind of broader geopolitical context, Bigelow risks enraging the sensibilities of both pro- and anti-war camps in her refusal to provide a clarifying moral stance on her subject matter. This makes The Hurt Locker a useful starting point for a discussion of the moral complexities encountered by the participants of war, and the human cost of US foreign policy in the twenty-first century. These narrative strategies would also become the central point of contention with Bigelow's subsequent film, the considerably more controversial Zero Dark Thirty.

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Zero Dark Thirty

While Bigelow has typically shifted genre from project to project, Zero Dark Thirty is a clear companion piece to The Hurt Locker. Most specifically, it answers the criticisms that the earlier film shied away from geopolitics by taking a more heavily historicised narrative approach to recent US foreign policy in the Middle East. While Jessica Chastain's CIA analyst Maya is a fictional character, Bigelow and screenwriter Boal nonetheless meticulously researched that intelligence organisation's decade-spanning hunt for Osama bin Laden. A taut procedural that refines the pseudo-documentary stylistic flourishes of The Hurt Locker, but retains its headlong narrative momentum, Zero Dark Thirty nonetheless elicited much stronger responses than the earlier film. Many critics and pundits found the film's depiction of CIA-sanctioned torture to be highly problematic. This issue raises a number of extremely salient points. Does the fact that the film depicts torture mean that it tacitly condones it? By the mere fact of its depiction, without any countervailing moral consideration, is the film suggesting that torture is a necessary act? Writing in The Guardian, Slavoj Zizek accused the film of complicity in 'the normalisation of torture' by refusing to take a more condemnatory position on the subject. (10) This line of argument is further complicated when one considers that the film never shows instances in which torture yields false information, and torture ultimately reveals the location of bin Laden's whereabouts. Does this represent an ethical shortcoming on the part of the filmmakers? Or is it merely a pragmatic case of narrative streamlining in what remains a very fast-paced film? There are no easy answers to these questions, but what is irrefutable is that the film resolutely denies subjectivity to the victims of torture, as it firmly inhabits the CIA perspective of events.

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The broader question here is to do with what responsibility the historical film has to veracity in its depiction of its subject matter. And when dealing with current events that still carry a very strong emotional charge, Bigelow and Boal inevitably provoke polarised responses from both ends of the political spectrum, raising fears about how imagined audiences might respond to what for many observers was an ideologically repugnant and ethically irresponsible piece of filmmaking. But it is always dangerous to write prescriptively about how any audience member might interpret a given text. Whether the film is an open text on which individuals might project their political views, or whether it is a more insidious ideological Trojan horse, as Zizek suggests, is debatable. Of the film's affect, Andrew O'Hehir puts it best when he writes that the film is

profoundly disorienting for many viewers, especially those used to the clear-cut moral polarities of a Hollywood movie (which Bigelow's films have always resisted), in which the protagonist is assumed to represent the essential virtues and values of the audience. (11)

In the absence of a clearly articulated moral stance, the film may in fact transcend partisan dialectics, and open up space for discussion around some of the uglier aspects of intelligence-gathering, national security, American imperialism and, indeed, what degree of responsibility the artist should exercise when depicting these very thorny subjects.

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THEMES

Individuals and institutions

One of the recurring themes of Bigelow's filmmaking is the presence of anti-authoritarian individuals who come into conflict with larger institutions. This is present from Bigelow's debut, The Loveless, in which the aloof outsider Vance is fresh out of prison. In Point Break, Reeves' Johnny has left one heavily codified patriarchal institution--the college football system--for an equally rigid environment in the FBI. Johnny bristles against the confrontational masculine cajoling that permeates the FBI, where insults fly about 'jerking off watching MTV'. Curtis' Megan endures similar interactions with her foul-mouthed colleague Detective Mann in Blue Steel. For Johnny, Bodhi's surf gang seems to offer an alternative to the FBI, but it is still clearly a hierarchical organisation, with Bodhi seated at the head of the table. The surf culture remains defined by territorialism and hazing rituals, and Johnny's initiation is only permitted once he bests Bodhi in an impromptu game of beach football. Such macho bonding rites recur in The Hurt Locker, where the soldiers spend their downtime trading punches to the gut in a lunkheaded scene that resembles some nightmarish hybrid of Jackass and Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999). Tyler's line from Point Break, 'There's too much testosterone here,' immediately comes to mind. Much of the dramatic tension throughout K-19: The Widowmaker comes from Captain Alexei Vostrikov's (Harrison Ford) attempts to ensure the welfare of the men under his command and still fulfil the broader military duties of their mission.

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Adrenaline addiction

Bigelow's films have always been distinguished by their exciting action set pieces. Bigelow often deploys these sequences as sophisticated instances of self-referentiality that interrogate the vicarious thrills of action cinema. This kind of auto-critique is present from her earliest short, The Set-Up, which is an overt deconstruction of on-screen violence. Such compartmentalisation is also evident in Strange Days, in which the film's most memorable moments of spectacle are isolated and consumed addictively via the SQUID technology. The Hurt Locker spells this out literally: its opening quotation from Chris Hedges states, 'The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.' Hedges' invocation of the word 'rush' immediately calls to mind Point Break, in which the thrills of surfing and bank robbery merge confusingly for Johnny. And while Bigelow has always shied away from public self-analysis in interviews, she has stated, 'I do like intensity in movies. I like high-impact movie-making.' (12) Nowhere is this sense of high-velocity inertia better evoked than in Bigelow's trademark breakneck Steadicam shots.

Moral ambiguity

Moral ambiguity has always been a feature of Bigelow's output. Consider, for instance, the extent to which Johnny falls in with Bodhi's gang, and ask: how many deaths is he actually responsible for in the course of Point Break? Or, to what degree is the audience expected to identify with Vance in The Loveless? Zero Dark Thirty was widely criticised for its ambiguous depiction of torture, and the central role it played in the capture of Osama bin Laden, while The Hurt Locker's slick action sequences risk glorifying the violence of war. Bigelow's earliest films reveal her obsession with antiheroes and outsiders, and all of her films refuse to occupy a stable moral landscape. When studying any of her films, it is worth considering whether or not the films condone the actions of their characters, and whether Bigelow is proffering a vision of moral certainty, or something more ambiguous.

Women and power

It is impossible to talk about Bigelow without raising her statu: as a female director in Hollywood. Bigelow herself has always steadfastly disavowed being categorised in this way. On the reception of Point Break, Bigelow has stated:

I had people saying that the audience would never know that this was written and directed by a woman [laughs], I don't think directing is a gender related job. Perceptions that women are better suited to certain types of material are just stereotypes, they're merely limitations. (13)

And while Bigelow's remark raises the question of whether it's useful to categorise genres as inherently masculine or feminine, she nonetheless features extensively in explicitly gendered tomes like Christina Lane's 2000 Feminist Hollywood and Gabrielle Kelly and Cheryl Robson's 2014 Celluloid Ceiling. While Bigelow herself is uninterested in a feminist reading of her work, it is clear that she has never shied away from taking her female characters to very dark places. Confronting rape sequences appear in Strange Days and Blue Steel, and in the latter him Megan is also forced to face domestic violence and a culture of victim-blaming. Megan is no exception: almost all of Bigelow's films feature strong female characters that are constrained by some of the uglier aspects of patriarchal power. In The Loveless, Telena is the only character who can match Vance, yet it is later revealed that she is fleeing her father's abuse, and she ultimately commits suicide at the film's climax.

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More positively, in Near Dark it is Mae's sexual agency that initiates Caleb into the world of vampirism, and Angela Bassett's Mace is undoubtedly the toughest character in Strange Days. Tyler's tutelage provides an entry point into the surfing subculture for the inexperienced Johnny in Point Break--even as the film revels in a gratuitous shot in which Johnny creeps on Tyler with binoculars while she changes at the beach, proving that the male gaze can persist even if it is sanctioned by a female filmmaker. In Zero Dark Thirty, Maya is unscrupulous, ruthless and possesses a determination that comes to outstrip that of her male colleagues. How do these attributes, so commonly coded as masculine in the tacitly sexist Hollywood cinema, come into conflict with her status as a woman? And is this counteracted by the film's coda, in which she is permitted her sole moment of vulnerability and introspection? As ever in Bigelow, there are no clear-cut answers, but plenty of questions that bear further discussion.

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Nicholas Godfrey recently completed his PhD in the Department of Screen and Media at Flinders University. He is a programmer for the Adelaide Film Festival, and a regular contributor to Metro and Screen Education.

Endnotes

(1) Manohla Dargis, 'Action!', The New York Times, 18 June 2009, <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/movies/21darg.html>, accessed 19 February 2016; and Christina Lane, Feminist Hollywood: From Born in Flames to Point Break, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2000, p. 101.

(2) Gavin Smith, '"Momentum and Design": Interview with Kathryn Bigelow', in Deborah Jermyn & Sean Redmond (eds), The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor, Wallflower Press, London, 2003, p. 29.

(3) Kathryn Bigelow, quoted in Ana Maria Bahiana, 'Interview with Kathryn Bigelow', Cinema Papers, January 1992, reprinted in Gabrielle Kelly & Cheryl Robson (eds), Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through, Supernova Books, Twickenham, UK, 2014, p. 157.

(4) ibid.

(5) ibid, p. 156.

(6) 'Point Break', Box Office Mojo, <http://wwrw.boxofficemojo.com/ movies/?id=pointbreak.htm>, accessed 21 February 2016.

(7) Romi Stepovich, 'Strange Days: A Case History of Production and Distribution Practices in Hollywood', in Jermyn & Redmond (eds), op. cit., p. 154.

(8) 'Strange Days', Box Office Mojo, <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=strangedays.htm>, accessed 21 February 2016.

(9) Stepovich, op. cit., p. 156.

(10) Slavoj Zizek, 'Zero Dark Thirty: Hollywood's Gift to American Power', The Guardian, 26 January 2013, <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/25/ zero-dark-thirty-normalises-torture-unjusti&able>, accessed 19 February 2016.

(11) Andrew O'Hehir, 'The Zero Dark Thirty Debate Isn't Really About Torture', Salon, 30 December 2012, <http://wrww.salon. com/2012/12/2g/the_zero_dark_thirty_debate_isnt_really. about_torture/>, accessed 19 February 2016.

(12) Bigelow, quoted in Bahiana, op. cit., p. 158.

(13) ibid., p. 156.

YEAR LEVEL GUIDE

[P] PRIMARY Foundation--Year 6

[MY] MIDDLOE YEARS Years 4-9

[SS] SENIOR SECONDARY Year 10-12
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Publication:Screen Education
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Date:Jul 1, 2016
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