Bad girls at BAM: Film series celebrates vengeance-seeking anti-heroines

Bad girls at BAM: Film series celebrates vengeance-seeking anti-heroines
Brooklyn Academy of Music

Revenge is a dish best served in a movie theater.

An upcoming film series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinematek features a slew of beloved leading ladies who have graced the screen as high-powered lawyers, country singers, and well-meaning mothers — but the only thing uniting them this time is cutthroat characters with one goal: retribution.

“There are great feminist films that deal in vengeance,” said BAMcinematek curator Nellie Killian.

“Vengeance is Hers,” beginning Feb. 7, compiles 17 films from countries such as China, France, Japan, and the US, all of which revolve around women who have been wronged by their respective oppressive societies — or just want to take part in some good old-fashioned revenge.

Selections include Preston Sturges’s “The Lady Eve,” in which the mischievous Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) tries to wrangle a millionaire card shark into falling in love with her; Abel Ferrara’s “Ms. 45,” chronicling a garment district worker who murders Manhattan men while donning a nun’s habit; and Kaneto Shindo’s “Kuoneko,” a ghost story about an undead mother who goes after the samurai who brutally raped and murdered her.

Some of the films in the series fit the category of “exploitation” films — low-budget movies that capitalize on trends or hot-button issues — but several female-focused revenge flicks did not make the cut because Killian and her co-curator Thomas Beard considered them a little too exploitative. For instance, the 1978 cult classic “I Spit on Your Grave,” following a writer who seeks revenge on four townies who rape her, was considered too extreme, she said.

The most important selection criteria was that each film have a feminist bent, and that the series showcased a diverse range of female directors from around the world who have portrayed women in an atypical light.

“We were just trying for the broadest group of films possible,” Killian said. “People self-select into different types of film fandom —— whether they are genre movie people or whatever — and I think putting all these movies into the series serves for good cross-pollination.”

And if anyone has a problem with radical women, they can buzz off, Killian declared.

“I would not even want to take that kind of position into consideration,” she said. “You have to be open.”

“Vengeance is Hers” at BAM Rose Cinemas [30 Lafayette Ave. near Ashland Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Feb. 7–18 at various times. $13, $8 for members.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.