The First Digital Revolution: Lesbian-Directed 'Hysteria' Hits Theaters
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
May 18 2012 12:24 PM ET UPDATED: May 19 2012 2:53 PM ET
It’s no surprise that a lesbian made this film. Wexler, as a filmmaker, is a bit of a firebrand herself with an oeuvre that’s small but impressive. Years ago she directed Ball in the House and the acclaimed film, Finding North (in which a woman gets fired, follows a random suicidal man to Texas, and discovers he’s despondent over the death of his ex-boyfriend). Then she did something that Hollywood frowns on: she took 10 years off from filmmaking to help raise her kids with her partner of 17 years, actress Amy Zimmerman.
Zimmerman isn’t the only name that Wexler could drop in Tinseltown circles. She’s from a family of American legends: at one time her late father, Jerrold Wexler, owned many of New York City’s top skyscrapers, including the World Trade Center; her uncle Haskell Wexler has been called one of film history's ten most influential cinematographers; and ‘80s film icon turned eco warrior Daryl Hannah is her half sister. She’s even related, via an in-law, to Lou Adler, the music legend who owns The Roxy in Los Angeles. But from talking with her you’d know none of that.
Wexler, a disarmingly attractive brunette with a wicked grin and an even more devilish sense of wit, doesn’t rely on that lofty familial pedigree; her talent speaks for itself. But, she admits that being a lesbian did help her understand the material in Hysteria. “I have been on both sides of table so to speak,” she says. “So I know the situation from both the doctor and patients' point of view.”
The hardest part was making sure that it was a “thoroughly British” film: “I was interested in the fact that in what can be a very proper — some would say repressed —culture, such ideas and inventions [as the vibrator] were possible. I think that is where the comedy comes from, that contrast. So, in many ways, the more authentically British this movie felt, the funnier!”
Wexler does right, too, by the often-miscast gay actor Rupert Everett, who adds whimsy to this film as the eccentric and wealthy Edmund St. John Smythe, who is so passionate about new technology that he has a telephone installed before Buckingham Palace does. As Smythe, Everett (below, right, with Dancy) is a brilliant and tenacious inventor, charming and aloof, curious about the way things work and how to make them better. Though he’s clearly enamored of his friend Dr. Granville, the wealthy inventor is a bit detached from fellow man, a bit too flip and disorderly in his approach to others (is it affluence, brilliance, or Asperger Syndrome? Who knows?). He comes across as an aloof pre-Internet tech genius, the Victorian England version of Mark Zuckerburg.
In fact, Smythe is more than Granville’s occasional benefactor; the doctor is Smythe’s sounding board for inspiration. So when Granville comes home from work, tired from eight hours of “manually stimulating” lady parts, he tries out Smythe’s latest invention, a mechanical feather duster thingy, on his hand. Immediately, Granville realizes that vibration might have a better purpose. And well, history is made on screen and off.
The vibrator, in fact, was one of the earliest patents. The San Francisco premier of Hysteria was held last week in conjunction with the grand opening of Good Vibrations’ Antique Vibrator Museum. Showcasing collectibles from the 1800s and onward, the Vibrator Museum tells a fascinating story of history, health, and sexuality. Curator and staff sexologist Dr. Carol Queen said the new exhibit (see ad below) “contextualizes the vibrators’ role in society and highlights how our attitudes around sex and female pleasure have evolved. It really gives us an appreciation for how far both society and technology have come, and it’s fitting to house the exhibit in the original female-friendly adult retail store.”
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