Double Takes: A Series of Short Video Essays
Author: Sarah Atkinson
Format: A Series of Short Video Essays
Published: January 2023
Access the video showcase here. Links to each video (to date), plus a brief description and a link to its descriptive transcript and be found in the research statement below.
The aim of the Double Takes series is to both individually and collectively examine the experiences of women film actors who have endured demanding directorial approaches where their safety has been endangered, and their wellbeing compromised. In doing so, the work seeks to examine the following questions:
– How can the video essay generate new insights into women’s experiences of working in the film industry and the challenges and inequities that they face?
– How have women’s experiences and their representation changed over time, what patterns, similarities and exceptions emerge through a comparative analysis?
Double Takes draws from three different areas of media industry studies, the first of which is concerned with women’s participation in the film industry, including the Calling the Shots (Cobbs and Williams) and the Women Film Pioneers Project (Gaines et al.), the second of which examines the representation of women in film (such as Fiasconaro, 2013), and the third of which conducts contemporary feminist analysis of the post-MeToo movement (Hope and Coontz, 2018) and associated phenomenon such as ‘auteur apologism’ (Marghitu, 2018).
The research approach is a combination of industry studies, textual analysis, and discourse analysis. The video essay is also a methodological approach – a form of interrogative critique – weaving together the source film with authorised testimony and verified accounts. Each clip is slowed down to enable the time needed for the account to be heard. In most cases the clips are but seconds in duration. The slow-motion treatment of the audio creates a haunting and unsettling soundtrack against which the troubling aural accounts are heard. The title ‘Double Takes’ encourages a second and much closer viewing of these texts, whilst also alluding to the dual register that the videos engender – acknowledging them as both aesthetic objects within a fictional context and as material documentation of the performers’ mistreatment.
The approach is also historiographic – each individual video provides a unique vignette into the production cultures, working practices, directorial approaches, and film industry contexts through a temporal lens which spans the 1930’s to the present day.
Double Take #001 features The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming) and the scene in which the Wicked Witch of the West played by Margaret Hamilton, departs Munchkin Land through a plume of orange smoke and a dramatic burst of flames. Hamilton recounts her experience in an interview 42 years after the event. The first take of this scene is the one that was subsequently chosen for the final cut of the film, however Fleming insisted upon a further take during which the trap door system that Hamilton describes failed, and she sustained a second degree burn to her face and a third degree burn to her hand (The Making of the Wizard of Oz, 1979), which took six weeks to recover from (Harmetz, 2013).
Descriptive Transcript #001
Double Take #002 shows the scene from Summertime (1955, David Lean) in which the character of Jane Hudson played by Katharine ‘Kate’ Hepburn, falls backward into the Venice canal. The account of the incident, in which multiple takes were required is relayed in a subsequent biographical text written 30 years later (Edwards, 1985).
Descriptive Transcript #002
Double Take #003 is focussed upon the climactic scene of The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock) in which the actress Tippi Hedren, playing the character of Melanie Daniels is relentlessly attacked by live birds over a five-day period. Hedren’s autobiographical account, written over 50 years later, details the event and reveals the extent of the mistreatment that she experienced at the hands of Hitchcock. After Hedren’s refusal of an unwanted and aggressive sexual advance, Hitchcock subsequently threatened to ‘ruin her career.’ Following the incident, Hitchcock reportedly never spoke to Hedren again and turned down numerous high-profile roles on her behalf whilst she was still working under his contract (Hedren, 2016).
Descriptive Transcript #003
Double Take #004 shows one of many infamous sequences from The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin). In this instance, we see the child actress Linda Blair, playing Regan MacNeil, being thrashed back and forth on the bed by the demon which possesses her. Blair recounts the process in an interview 45 years later, although numerous accounts of her experience already exist in the form of behind-the-scenes stories which sought to scare and sensationalize. Whilst Blair sustained a spinal fracture and developed scoliosis in later life, she was also subject to tabloid press harassment in which ‘they wrote all these articles about how deranged I was and the psychiatric problems I was supposed to have’ (Blair, 1989 in Kermode, 1997: 73).
Descriptive Transcript #004
Double Take #005 features the actress Ellen Burstyn playing Chris MacNeil, Regan’s mother in The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin). In this clip, we see her character being violently thrown to the floor by the demon who has embodied her daughter. In the accompanying account, we hear how it is the stunt coordinator who enacts the violent throw, without any crash mats or protection. Burstyn sustained an injury to her coccyx and has suffered life-long back pain.
Descriptive Transcript #005
Double Take #006 is a scene from The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick) which took a gruelling 127 takes to shoot over a three-week period. Actress Shelley Duvall, playing Wendy Torrance latterly recounts: “It was very hard, Jack [Nicholson] was so good — so damn scary. I can only imagine how many women go through this kind of thing” (in Abramovitch, 2021). Although Duvall has not reported any ongoing issue because of her experience, her treatment by film critics, and the reception that she received was highly critical and derogatory. Stephen King reportedly stated: “Shelley Duvall as Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film, she’s basically just there to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman that I wrote about…” (in Shoard, 2013). “It’s so misogynistic. I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag” (in Greene, 2016).
Descriptive Transcript #006
Double Take #007 Ah Kam – The Stunt Woman (1996, Ann Hui) is a notable exception in the Double Takes series – it is a film by a woman director and the actress Michelle Yeoh is a trained and qualified stunt performer. This clip uses split screen to show two sequences from the film: in the top frame is the scene in which Yeoh’s character jumps from the bridge showing a seamless execution of the stunt, in the bottom frame is the end sequence of the film which shows the uncut footage of the stunt and the accident itself, as Yeoh is carried from the scene. Yeoh suffered a fractured vertebra and was in traction for a month. In the accompanying interview, the television interviewer talks and jokes over her account.
Descriptive Transcript #007
Double Take #008 juxtaposes two clips: the bottom frame shows a scene from Kill Bill II (2003, Quentin Tarantino) in which actress Uma Thurman, playing the character Beatrix Kiddo, drives a car down a lane – the camera is mounted to the rear of the vehicle. The top clip plays the original uncut take – the footage of which was published by Thurman herself on her Instagram feed 15 years later. This footage reveals that Thurman careered off the road and crashed into a tree. Her own testimony is presented as text taken from a press interview and her own Instagram post. The press article reveals the harassment and sexual assault Thurman was subjected to by Harvey Weinstein (an executive producer on Kill Bill) and the toxic working culture which Thurman suffered.
Descriptive Transcript #008
Double Take #009 is based on a scene from The Green Inferno (2013, Eli Roth) in which the actress Lorenza Izzo, playing the character of Justine, struggles to cling for safety in a raging river torrent – some of the original footage of which remains in the film. In the interview audio, we hear Izzo reveal the lack of resources and scant safety measures in place whilst filming in a hazardous location.
Descriptive Transcript #009
Double Take #010 shows a clip from Now You See Me (2013, Louis Leterrier) where the actress Isla Fisher, playing escapologist Henley Reeves is seen submerged in a tank of water, struggling to break free from the chains which tether her. This final double take provides a fitting end to the series in which we see an audience look on at the character’s dilemma – unable to breath, and clearly in distress, reminding us of our own subjectivity as onlookers, complicit in acts of voyeurism and scopophilia.
Descriptive Transcript #010
Viewed in temporal order, a formulaic pattern of mistreatment, misrepresentation and often outright misogyny emerges: a woman is required by the director (often celebrated for their ‘method’) to undertake their own stunt, even after expressing concern about their own safety; they are often subjected to multiple takes upon the director’s insistence, they sustain an injury and/or a life-long impact to their health and wellbeing. Some or all of the footage often remains in the final cut of the film. The subsequent accounts of their experiences very often serve as promotion for the film, raising interest and intrigue, and their stories become part of the film’s lore in the surrounding marketing machine, sensationalising or trivialising their experiences, concealing their impacts, and at worst representing them in the media as unstable, unbalanced, and unwell. As the timeline of examples progresses, the proximity to the film’s release and the availability of these accounts shorten to the point where they accompany the films’ release – in the latter two examples, the accounts are retold in the context of press junkets – designed specifically to promote the release of the film. Where we were initially horrified to hear about on-set accidents, injuries, and the problematic working contexts which the performers were subjected to, the latter accounts appear to normalise the experiences, and become an expected part of the everyday working life of the performers.
Finally, the essays should function as tributes to the lives, work, and careers of the women they feature and pay homage to their resilience as performers in the challenges that they have endured, and the long and successful careers that they have sustained.
Double Takes furnishes the disciplinary fields outlined in the context section above, with illustrative examples which aim to inform and sustain conversations about inequality, mistreatment, exploitation, and misogyny in the screen industries. Whilst researching this project, many more examples emerged beyond those assembled here. This work should be seen as part of a longer-term, ongoing endeavour to chronicle these incidents and bring them to light. Future Double Takes might include accounts of the harm suffered by women film performers in Souls for Sale (1923), Flower on the Stone (1962), Four Frightened People (1934) and Last Tango in Paris (1972).
The impact of this work lies in the contribution it can make to wider ongoing debates related to on-set safety, particularly following the tragic events of October 2021, in which Alec Baldwin shot a loaded firearm fatally wounding cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film Rust (unfinished); and of February 2014, when Sarah Jones, a Camera Assistant on The Vampire Diaries TV series, was killed on the set of Midnight Rider (unfinished) as a result of the director’s and producer’s negligence which resulted in widespread industry protest, lobbying to improve the working conditions for below-the-line workers.
References and Sources
Abramovitch, S. (2021). ‘Searching for Shelley Duvall: The Reclusive Icon on Fleeing Hollywood and the Scars of Making The Shining’. The Hollywood Reporter, Feb, 11, 2021. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/feature/searching-for-shelley-duvall-the-reclusive-icon-on-fleeing-hollywood-and-the-scars-of-making-the-shining-4130256/
Blair, L. (2018). ‘Linda Blair Interview – on Her Role in The Exorcist.’ Roman Thewes. Nov 23, 2018. YouTube video, 3:45. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7MrLFHxUdg
Burstyn, E. (2016). ‘Ellen Burstyn talks about injury from The Exorcist.’ 194 Fish. Sep 20, 2016. YouTube video, 1:52. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E1dV3YovZo
Cobb, S., & Horeck, T. (2018). ‘Post Weinstein: Gendered power and harassment in the media industries.’ Feminist Media Studies, 18(3), 489-491.
Cobb, S. & Willams, L. R. Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary Film Culture in the UK, 2000-2015. https://callingtheshots138740090.wordpress.com/the-project/
Dowd, M. (2018) ‘This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry: The actress is finally ready to talk about Harvey Weinstein.’ New York Times, Feb. 3, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/03/opinion/sunday/this-is-why-uma-thurman-is-angry.html
Edwards, A. (1985) A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc. 1985
Fiasconaro, D. (2013). ‘The representation of Women in Martin Scorcese films.’ Vimeo video, 8:22. https://player.vimeo.com/video/79439573
Fisher, I. (2013). ‘Isla Fisher and Jesse Eisenberg interview: Isla talks about her near-death experience during filming.’ The Showbiz 411!, Jun 19, 2013. YouTube video, 5:55. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8wGMhFPPyY
Gaines, J., Vatsal, R. & Dall’Asta, M. eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries. https://wfpp.columbia.edu/
Greene, A. (2016). ‘Flashback: Shelley Duvall and Stanley Kubrick battle over The Shining.’ Rolling Stone. November 17, 2016. https://www.rollingstone.com/tv-movies/tv-movie-news/shelley-duvall-and-stanley-kubrick-battle-the-shining-188549/
Hamilton, M. (1981). ‘Movie Mania. Manhattan Cable Public Access, 1981, Margaret (Wicked Witch of the West) Hamilton Episode (1981).’ FilmArchivesNYC, May 16, 2019. YouTube video, 24:53. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNoc3B0p5s0&t=364s
Harmetz, A. (2013). The making of the Wizard of Oz. Chicago Review Press.
Hedren, T. (2016). Tippi: A Memoir. New York: Harper Collins.
Hedren, T. (2009). ‘Tippi Hedren The Birds interviewed by San Francisco Film Museum.’ SFFilmMuseum, Nov 12, 2009. YouTube video, 7:21. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWUTjBk2z70
Izzo, L. (2015). ‘Exclusive Interview: Lorenza Izzo Talks The Green Inferno [HD].’ We Got This Covered, Sep 23, 2015. YouTube video, 5:09. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJe3i5D-vis
Kermode, M. (1998). The Exorcist, Revised 2nd edition. London: BFI.
Marghitu, S. (2018). ‘”It’s Just Art”: Auteur Apologism in the post-Weinstein era.’ Feminist Media Studies. 18 (3), pp. 491-494.
Reese, H., and Coontz, S. (2018). ‘#MeToo is Powerful but Will Fail Unless We Do More.’ In Where Freedom Starts: Sex Power Violence #MeToo A Verso Report, 35–49. London: Verso.
Shoard, C. (2013). ‘Stephen King damns Shelley Duvall’s character in film of The Shining‘. The Guardian. September 13, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/sep/19/stephen-king-shining-shelley-duvall
Yeoh, M. (2022). ‘Michelle Yeoh Attacks Conan | Late Night with Conan O’Brien’, Apr 14, 2022 , Conan Classic YouTube channel (Original airdate: 07/18/96),” YouTube video, 7:45. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tR1-5a-3pCg
Ah Kam – The Stunt Woman (1996, Ann Hui, Hong Kong)
Flower On the Stone (1962, Sergei Parajanov, Soviet Union)
Four Frightened People (1934, Cecil B. DeMille, USA)
Kill Bill II (2003, Quentin Tarantino, USA)
Last Tango in Paris (1972, Bernardo Bertolucci, USA)
Now You See Me (2013, Louis Leterrier, USA)
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001, Jan Harlan, USA)
Summertime (1955, David Lean, UK)
The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock, USA)
The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin, USA)
The Green Inferno (2013, Eli Roth, USA)
The Making of the Wizard of Oz (1979, Bruce Franchini, USA)
The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick, UK)
Souls for Sale (1923, Rupert Hughes USA)
The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939, USA)
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:
Review 1: Accept submission subject to minor revisions of written statement.
Double Takes is a timely and important intervention into a growing body of scholarship on gender and care (or lack thereof) in the media industries. I recently read Sarah Polley’s memoir, Run Towards the Danger: Confrontations with a Body of Memory (2022) in which she discusses the danger she was put in as a child actor on the set of Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) and this set of video essays resonates with that account. The experience of viewing the short Double Takes videos cumulatively is very powerful. Watching a scene from a given film as you hear a female actor talk about the harms experienced in producing the scene is simple yet incredibly effective. I can see this working well in a gallery/installation space as well as online. It also has brilliant pedagogical potential: I plan to use Atkinson’s Double Takes films in my teaching – in particular, on my Classical Hollywood Cinema and Gender and Popular Cinema courses.
It’s very interesting to parse out the similarities – as well as the differences – in how the women talk about their experiences of harm. So, for instance, Ellen Burstyn is much more emphatic about challenging the production processes than Shelley Duvall. I can see the videos generating productive discussions regarding the conditions of possibility for women to speak out against their mistreatment in an industry that has historically worked to silence them. In fact, I found the experience of viewing Double Takes very generative, and it inspired me to want to talk – and write – further about the issues it raises. It’s depressing to think how many more examples come to mind. Indeed, as Atkinson notes in her commentary, there is further scope to include other examples/cases. As the backlash against #MeToo continues to build, there is a political imperative to keep the focus on gendered experiences of harm in the film industry and in this regard the Double Takes project constitutes feminist activism. Part of the important cultural work of Double Takes is to challenge the normalisation of these dangerous working practices as ‘just part of the job.’
In the accompanying written statement, Atkinson situates her project in relation to industry studies, textual analysis, and discourse analysis. She also conceptualizes her video essay as a methodological approach, which she describes as ‘a form of interrogative critique – weaving together the source film with authorised testimony and verified accounts’. In its clever use of voice and image, Double Takes makes a significant new contribution to understanding the possibilities of practice-research and the role of the video essay as critical intervention. Of particular interest is the temporal ordering of the videos and the question of what happens when the videos are watched on their own or in a different order. Watching again after reading the accompanying commentary by Atkinson is interesting and certain questions I had – for example, about how the Michelle Yeoh video related to the others – became clearer. Atkinson refers to the Isla Fisher video as a fitting conclusion to the series and yet upon first viewing I ‘accidentally’ watched that video first and found that it also worked well as an opening video.
To sum up, this is a very valuable and important set of video essays, which makes a significant contribution to #MeToo scholarship and media industry studies.
Review 2: Accept submission subject to minor revisions of written statement.
Double Takes emphasizes the horrific working conditions of women film actors in action- and stunt-heavy roles, justified by the (often male) filmmakers in their search for authenticity or realism. Sarah Atkinson’s piece also draws attention to the ways that safety guidelines on film productions do not adequately take into account the long-term consequences of such practices on the performers’ bodies or the dismissal of women’s pain. Videographically juxtaposing the troublesome footage with the actors’ accounts of their injuries and experiences emphasizes the ongoing nature of these practices and, as Atkinson notes, how temporal distance impacts the tone of these women’s anecdotal recounting. The use of slow motion fixates us on the often permanent consequences of these brief incidents and draws attention to these women’s working conditions as they put their bodies in physical danger, most of whom were not professionally trained stunt performers. Particularly powerful in this regard is the “Double Take #005” of The Exorcist in which we can see the wire used to forcefully pull Ellen Burstyn off her feet and into the wall behind her.
One striking impact of viewing Atkinson’s videos is the dual register they create, forcing us to acknowledge them as both aesthetic objects within a fictional context and material documentation of the performers’ mistreatment. The creator’s statement for Double Takes acknowledges the ways that these videos remind us of our subjectivity, but I would encourage Atkinson to further explore this tension, especially in relation to the use of the videographic format. Connected to this tension is the distinction between the videos of films that include the traumatic on-set moments in the final film (The Exorcist) and those that do not (The Wizard of Oz), as well as the liminal cases that repurpose the on-set accident explicitly into the final film (The Stunt Woman) or address a broader sense of mistreatment (The Shining). By combining these examples, sometimes without clear distinctions in the videos themselves, the line becomes blurred between an actual screen performance of a dangerous situation and the capture of a real danger repurposed as fictionalized harm, albeit both within toxic work conditions. As a result, it would be beneficial for Atkinson to further investigate these tensions and perhaps find videographic or stylistic ways to distinguish between or categorize her chosen examples, especially as the collection of videos continues to grow.
The variety of examples presented in this project, across time periods and film industries, emphasizes the pervasiveness of such practices. Atkinson’s work is an important addition to our understanding of cinema’s ongoing, harmful working conditions and their long-lasting material impacts on women’s bodies.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to the above.