Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino was seen as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival
In the history of film, there have only been 3 women who have won the Oscar for best director. Only 3, and all of those have been within the last 12 years. This isn’t shocking when you realise that, due to rampant sexism, women haven’t really been able to get a chance to be directors since pretty much the invention of the studio system. Indeed there was a period in the 40s and 50s where there was precisely 1 female director who was a part of the directors’ guild, that singular sensation being the legendary Ida Lupino, the woman who is the central focus of the documentary Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino (the film taking it’s subtitle from the greeting given at the start of directors’ guild meetings because the room would be full of hundreds of male directors and Ida Lupino)
Coming in at just under an hour, Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino covers a lot of ground in the short time that it has. Using a basic framework of exploring her directorial biography, it uses that to explore the many elements that made up the career of this icon. It explores the studio system that Ida found herself having to work within, how she was able to maneuver within an industry that was almost designed to keep her out of work and how her films went against what was expected for major motion pictures released in the 40s and 50s.
Using a cast of historians and biographers, along with excerpts from Lupino’s autobiography, the film goes to great lengths to paint a picture of what it was like to be the only woman director working. The insight into the methods that Ida used in order to get her films made is fascinating, basically using the stereotypes that people associated with her as an older woman in order to get everyone on her side in a way that might be unthinkable now, but for the time was absolutely brilliant.
Not only does Ida Lupino: Gentlemen & Miss Lupino explore how she got her work made, but we get a very clear idea of just how great a director Ida truly was. Her work has influenced many in the years since, notably, people like Scorsese have referenced her as a major figure they look up to and this film makes it very clear why she holds such esteem. It shows the visual style she effectively pioneered, the glorious imagery and performances she got on screen and the dark and powerful stories she told when no one else would. She made films that featured abortion, rape, teen pregnancy and bigamy at a time when you couldn’t even use most of those words in the actual film, and the film shows how essential that was to the history of cinema.
It also explores the post-film period for Ida, her work in television that gave her enough credits where she can still credibly be called the most prolific female director of all time… a title that hasn’t been usurped in almost 70 years, which is in itself an indictment of the film industry. You could say this entire documentary is an indictment of the industry, showing the hoops that had to be jumped through in order for a woman to get behind a camera makes it kind of clear why it’s been so hard to get many more since then. We could’ve had a thousand Ida Lupinos by now and this film makes you wish that we had.
The only real downside to this film is that it’s only an hour long. You inevitably end up wanting to explore more about this fascinating woman, go further into her film work, her TV work, her status as the only female director in the guild. Even though what’s here is fantastic, well presented and easy to understand it’s hard to deny that it would’ve been nice to learn more about Ida Lupino from the people who put this together. It’s a good foundation, a way for newcomers to get to learn the basics about Ida Lupino’s career and if you like what you see then you can go off and explore on your own to get to know this brilliant woman.
Ida Lupino: Gentlemen and Miss Lupino is a quick and informative trip through the career of an important figure in history who we honestly should talk about more often. Ida’s impact on culture is huge and we should remember that. This is an essential documentary for anyone interested in film (and if you read my bullshit, then you’re at least somewhat interested) and would also make a great companion to the Be Kind Rewind episode that also touches on Ida Lupino’s career. Just go look up as much as you can about Ida Lupino, and hope that at some point in the future female directors will be so prolific that we can look at Ida as the start of something and not one of the few exceptions.