(This was my final paper for my film director's class. Kathryn Bigelow is a powerhouse female director that I greatly admire.)
Kathryn Bigelow started life as an only child on 27 November 1951 in San Carlos, California. Her mother was a librarian and her father a paint factory manager. Her father had aspirations of being a cartoonist but never made it in the business. Ms. Bigelow’s father encouraged her when she began to draw as an outlet for the awkwardness she felt in her own skin while in school. She stands an intimidating five foot eleven, tall even be supermodel standards. As a teenager she became interested in the works of the old European masters of painting, especially Raphael. On canvas she would paint certain details of their works and magnify them, possibly a subconscious response to her own size. She spent two years at the San Francisco Art Institute, until a professor sent a sample of her work to the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program in New York City. The program gave Ms. Bigelow a scholarship to come and study with them for nine months, the length of the program. She moved and spent the next 12 years in New York City.
The year is 1973, just one year after the move from California to New York, and Scorsese’s Mean Streets is released. Why is this an important film in the life of Kathryn Bigelow? She was attending Columbia University’s Graduate Film School on scholarship and saw this film as part of a double feature, with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, when she realized that these films awakened something in her own film consciousness. The films used violence as a language not simply violence for the sake of violence. This realization still forms how she makes films today. Her first short film was shot while she was in attendance at Columbia, The Set Up (1978). In 1979 she graduated Columbia, having earned a masters degree in film criticism and theory.
Ms. Bigelow co-wrote and co-directed The Loveless in 1982 with Monty Montgomery. Willem Dafoe, first screen role, starred. It had mixed reviews. What happened next? Kathryn Bigelow began taking a stand to the usual gender role of female directors and turned down high school comedy scripts. At the time these types of films were considered the only movies women could direct and direct well. She turned to teaching at the California Institute of the Arts to make ends meet and she appeared as a newspaper editor in the Lizzie Borden film Born in Flames. The year was 1983.
After four years of searching for someone to let her direct another feature, which she also co-wrote, Near Dark is a cult vampire classic. Not something anyone in Hollywood would have expected from a girl. But Ms. Bigelow likes to take convention and tell it where to go. It is very difficult to tell what kind of style Ms. Bigelow is developing. She is a strong figure in the action world with Blue Steel, Point Break, The Hurt Locker, and last but certainly not least, her newest collaboration with journalist turned screenwriter Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty. The last two are gritty tales that hold some ounce of truth where, Blue Steel and Point Break, are really good thrillers.
How do you classify a theme when you can take a sci-fi thriller like Strange Days and add it to a growing body of work? It’s another thriller, which Ms. Bigelow excels at creating. In the 2000 film The Weight of Water she tackles her family heritage. She’s Norwegian on her mother’s side, so she takes on The Weight of Water and explores what it meant to be an immigrant in the 1870’s. Another example of the lack of true theme, or perhaps this is a strong example of the beginning of her love for real events, K-19: The Widowmaker.
This is also another shining example that action filled military flicks aren’t just boy toys! She begins the documentary-style feel of both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty right here in K19. Ms. Bigelow brings to the style table an attention to detailed research. Extensive research went into making K19, including trips to Russia meeting the family and crew members of the submarine. Along with Mark Boal, they researched the hunt for Osama bin Laden to ensure that everything was right. Why? Because, it was a story to be told not one to be created by Hollywood. The same detail went into the creation of the environment of Camp Victory and the recreation of the streets of Iraq in Jordan for the filming of The Hurt Locker. She captures the attitudes of military men and women like few others can. In that, she is in good company with Steven Spielberg.
Ms. Bigelow has also shared her immense talent on the big screen with the little screen by directing episodes of Homicide: Life on the Streets, Karen Sisco and The Inside. The Inside was developed, with assistance from Ms. Bigelow, from an article written by Mark Boal and this was the beginning of a fruitful collaborative relationship.
Through all of this, she has leaned on and competed with her ex-spouse, James Cameron. She beat him out for two Oscars in 2010, Best Director and Best Picture, The Hurt Locker. She was married to Cameron from 1989 – 1991 and they had no children. Other than her father, and the occasional creative consultation with Cameron, there seem to be no other influences in the life of Kathryn Bigelow. She continues to show the big boys in Hollywood that girls can be action directors too. She paves the way for all women that want to play in the testosterone fueled sandbox that is the action genre!
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College graduate, Army vet, single mom, Husky mom, Movie lover, writer