Lina Wertmüller: Female Trouble

“[Wertmüller’s] pictures were funny and frighteningly harrowing and big and emotional and over-the-top and popular. And within that register, she was able to do things that nobody else was doing… This was a very special artistic vision.”—Martin Scorsese

In the 1970s, Lina Wertmüller was a certifiable international phenomenon—a lively firebrand behind white glasses who became one of the decade’s marquee-name filmmakers. Her hot-button, epically-titled movies—erotic and polemical and provocative all at once—became must-see conversation pieces and smashed American box-office records for foreign-language films. New York magazine put her on the cover, emblazoned with the headline “The Most Important Film Director Since Ingmar Bergman.” Laraine Newman memorably impersonated her on Saturday Night Live. Her notorious Seven Beauties earned four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Director, making her the first woman ever nominated for the award. (And one of only four, still.)

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Pauline Kael, Molly Haskell, and Ellen Willis, meanwhile, savaged her politics. (Misogynist? Genius?) She vexed countless interviewers with her mischievously contradictory proclamations, frustrating even fans like Vincent Canby. (“She successfully sabotaged her supporters and confirmed the opinions of the worst of her detractors,” he said.) By her own estimation, Wertmüller got herself kicked out of a dozen Catholic schools as a rebellious student; antagonizing people came naturally to her.

For a filmmaker who garnered so much attention, raised so much ire, and inspired so many (including Louis C.K., Jodie Foster, Spike Lee, and Amy Heckerling), it’s remarkable how rarely discussed and seldom screened Wertmüller’s oeuvre is today. But decades removed from the height of her critical and commercial peak (and controversy), her daring, unapologetically politically incorrect films—where sex and politics are always inextricably bound—look more essential than ever before. Wickedly tweaking the conventions of classic commedia dell’arte, Wertmüller formulated a thorny, vulgar, defiantly funny worldview that remains, to borrow the American title of one of her crossover hits, all screwed up.

Wertmüller was a longtime favorite of the Quad’s audiences (Swept Away and Seven Beauties both played here for nearly five months back in the day), and so we’re thrilled to relaunch our theater with the most extensive Wertmüller retrospective ever seen in New York. With world premieres of new restorations of her greatest successes and imported 35mm prints of ultra-rare gems, this series finally offers the opportunity to dive into the history of this extraordinary director, an aesthetic pioneer and a crucial trailblazer in a male-dominated industry.

Organized in collaboration with Gabriele Caroti. Special thanks to Jonathan Hertzberg (Kino Lorber), Luce Cinecittà, and Caterina Corbaz.

Past Screenings