The first time I can remember thinking specifically that a movie was directed by a woman was in 1992 when Gas, Food Lodging came out. That’s not to say I was unaware of female directors before that – I knew Amy Heckerling had helmed Fast Times at Ridgemont High, that Penny Marshall was active among others – but this came at a time when I was 17 and shoulder-deep in my budding movie education and so was acutely aware of it. So as I was thinking of some way to highlight a movie for Women’s History Month I went back to a movie that was something that opened a new world for me.
The movie, directed by Allison Anders, is set in a small New Mexico town and follows two sisters, Shade and Trudi, (Fairuza Balk and Ione Skye, respectively) who are bumping up against the constraints of their surroundings. They either want to escape into a life of fantasy or just rebel and act out, all while trying to figure out their own lives and where they fit into the world. That includes first loves and everything else that comes with being a young adult, particularly one with few prospects in a small rural town.
The theatrical poster plays up everything that’s good about the movie. Balk and Skye are both featured prominently, standing in the sun while wearing dresses as their long, curly 90’s hair blows in the breeze. In the background we see the truck stop that plays a big role in the story, the hills of New Mexico visible behind it. In addition to the names of the three lead actresses there’s the copy “They’re sisters, but it will take a miracle to make them family,” which nicely plays to the dynamic between the two. What the poster does mainly is convey the look and feel of the movie, which is all brown and washed out, like it’s been in the sun too long, which is appropriate given the setting.
The trailer opens with Shade talking about the life that teems in the desert and how she and her sister were looking to set their mom up with someone following the passing of their father. The whole thing from there on out is about relationships, either romantic or familial as the two sisters explore sex and love with boys in their own tentative or aggressive ways. The whole thing features Shade’s narration, offering her as the way into the story and showing the audience that it’s her point of view we’ll be following.
Beyond the formal campaign, it’s important to put the movie in its historical context. Anders was one of three directors who had big indie breakouts that year along with Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi) and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and so received lots of press attention. But she hasn’t gone on to the renowned success as an trailblazing auteur those other two have. Most of Anders’ directing credits since 1999 have been TV episodes. Is the fact that she’s the missing part of the trifecta because she’s a woman? There’s no direct proof of that, but when you consider that female directors don’t fair, on average, as well as their male counterparts it’s an easy conclusion to come to.
If you’ve never seen Gas, Food Lodging you owe it to yourself to find a copy and check it out to get a look at a major talent making a notable debut.