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Missing parts: the 2002 film.
Guest Writer

'Searching For Debra Winger' and then some ...
Glorious artifice and women artists
by Eva Lake

friend recommended I see "Searching for Debra Winger" and so I checked it out. Rosanna Arquette produced this 2002 film and in it, she wonders what happened to so many of the actresses she worked with or loved. Often they were her contemporaries. Whatever happened to that hot actress Debra Winger – and so many others?

She goes on a search and eventually various actresses visit her. You haven't seen Teri Garr lately, have you? How about even Daryl Hannah? Many once-hot-now-nots gathered together.

Antique Ford: a 1942 model.

But why no longer hot? Most of these women are still much younger than Harrison Ford. The women, often seated around a table drinking wine, described the meetings that major Hollywood producers have when they decide casting: "She was good, right? Would you do her?" And they go around the room, around the big board table and it must be pretty much a unanimous vote that they would all fuck her. If they would all fuck her, then she gets the part.

Based on this kind of casting, parts written for those built for other things are rarely made. The women ask themselves when and where it will be that parts are designed for all those aging audiences (or at least the females – no small demographic).

It was very revealing to see the actresses and how they could accept their fate. It was written, literally written, right on their faces.

Meg Ryan pleaded over and over again how this was the best time of her life and it was "not about men at all." But you could see this strange, even, flat quality to her forehead that nature does not make, even in an 18 year old. Plus, her lips were bigger than in "When Harry Met Sally." Do these women look back on their old films at all?

If so, how can poor Melanie Griffith stand what she is doing to herself? She hardly spoke and yet the camera kept returning to her. Somehow, I felt the camera and Rosanna were betraying her in showing her face at all, this face blown to nothing resembling the once-engaging Melanie Griffith.

Griffith: post production.

I can see in my mind's eye how the real older Melanie Griffith might age, how she might look, and I like what I see. This film broke my heart in that way.

Eventually we meet up with Debra Winger. I read one review of this film which stated that Winger was notable because she left the film industry during her prime.


She left before her prime – that is the situation to be explored in this film. Often these actresses reflect on how it took them years to learn the ropes and once they do, they are no longer needed. Skill is not prized. Even Gwyneth Paltrow is there, observing that she just worked like crazy in her 20s because that is when you are in demand.

The future? Who knows.

You could say that the art world works in almost the complete opposite way. The more de-sexualized you can become as a woman (i.e. getting older, flabbier, growing a mustache, shaving your head), the more likely you might be taken seriously.

Looking like a babe is almost a guarantee that you will be dismissed as only that. (With the exception of Cecily Brown, who is hot as a woman and a painter. But, being the daughter of David Sylvester, she never walks into a room as just that.)

The art world prides itself on The Mind (though God knows it is so often closed). Somehow, having heavy thoughts would preclude interest in your own presentation. Makeup (which is paint, after all), glamour, artifice – all these things that are practically mandatory for Hollywood – are often seen as indications of a mind which must think of nothing else.

Until age has had its way: a 2002 photo of Louise Bourgeois by Michel Comte.

Why should this specific type of artifice be dismissed in a world that revolves around just about every other kind? In the right hands, surface can be substance (see Bowie and Madonna and Dave Hickey for details).

You can look good and be good (and a badass, too) if you want, and all at the same time.

Like with so many businesses, a lot in the art world weighs on who you know and how you are perceived. The perceptions may be subtle and rarely spoken but they are there. You've got a right to be a female in the art world, sure. But while men get to be artists, women might have to be Women Artists.

This is changing, but it's rarely a fun distinction and hardly profitable. The Guerilla Girls can give you all the statistical dirt. A Woman Artist makes a dime to a male artist's dollar, and she does it later in life.

So you really can't blame the females who take the road of least glamour but surely High Concept – and whatever else it would take to convince everyone that they are capable of deep thoughts.

They don't want to wait till age has had its way to get a crack at the list of great artists. You know, the Louise Bourgeois/Agnes Martin route, as in "The Top Ten Living Artists" listed by ArtNews.

Get old enough and it might happen. (And don't tell me how old Gerhard Richter is – with his hot young wife and baby! Wonder what she's painting?) No, they would like it sooner, thank you, and if they have to shave their heads and wear a sack to get there, so be it.

Somehow there is something not to be trusted about the frankly frisky female in the art world. She seems to be taken so much more seriously when most of her friskiness has dried up.

Heavy thinkers: getting back to polish.

As a woman who has fun with style, I am asked about it more than just about anything else I do. It would seem that there's enough to talk about but no, let's get back to the nail polish.

Those questions, by the way, often come from the "heaviest thinkers" in the art world. But me, I won't name names. Now, why would I do something like that?

See more from Eva in our archives.

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