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Sarah Palin And Feminism's Rightward Path

Some feminists have had a hard time accepting Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as a symbol of women's empowerment. But political science professor Ronnee Schreiber argues that conservatism and feminism are not mutually exclusive ideologies.

20:50

Other segments from the episode on October 9, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 9, 2008: Interview with Ronnee Schreiber; Interview with Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet.

Transcript

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Sarah Palin And Feminism's Rightward Path

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. Sarah Palin's candidacy has turned our assumptions about women and politics on their head, says my guest Ronnee Schreiber. Her new book is about the conservative women's movement and how its goals differ from the feminist movement. Her book, "Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics," focuses on the two most prominent conservative women's groups, Concerned Women for America and Independent Women's Forum. Schreiber is an assistant professor of political science at San Diego State University.

Ronnee Schreiber, welcome to Fresh Air. What are some of the things you think feminists find most confusing about what Sarah Palin represents?

Dr. RONNEE SCHREIBER (Department of Political Science, San Diego State University): I think what feminists find most confusing, or maybe even frustrating is the right term, is that they have called for quite some time for the significance of women in politics, for getting more women elected to public office, and making the argument that that will matter in part because women overall - women in elected office in general tend to support women's rights, women's feminist interest, and so on.

And so, I think, when Sarah Palin came on the scene, the frustrating thing for feminists is that, frankly, she's conservative. They were having a hard time trying to figure out how to deal with this. I think the other thing that was difficult for feminists is that conservatives were using Sarah Palin to basically call attention to sexism in the media and so on, things that feminists have long called for.

GROSS: You've said that, by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain is playing femball. This is a word that was coined by a co-founder of the conservative women's group, the Independent Women's Forum. What does femball mean?

Dr. SCHREIBER: Essentially, femball means using feminist strategies to promote conservative women or conservative causes. So, in this particular case, she was referring to - I asked her a question, why did you form into a women's organization? Why did conservative women think they had to form specifically into a women's organization? And she said, well, feminists for quite some time had been speaking on behalf of women, as women, for women's interests, and they have been promoting feminism through that tactic. And so we're going to do the same thing. We formed a women's group. We speak as women. We frame things in terms of women's interests to basically take feminists on on their own playing field.

GROSS: And how do you see John McCain as playing femball?

Dr. SCHREIBER: Well, I think, essentially, one of the things that John McCain was doing was seeking to show that the Republican Party cares about women, and the Republican Party's interests are ones that can speak to women. And what better way to do that than have a woman be actually making those claims? And so picking Sarah Palin was a perfect example of that. You know, basically, having this woman, you know, talking about Republican issues and conservative issues is basically - and then framing them occasionally in terms of women's interest is basically playing femball.

GROSS: Your new book is all about the fact that there's a conservative women's movement with different values than the feminist movement. I'd like you to give us brief profile sketches of each of the two groups that you write about. Let's start with Concerned Women for America.

Dr. SCHREIBER: Sure. It was founded in 1979 by a woman named Beverly LaHaye, and she was married - she is married to Tim LaHaye, who is very actively involved in the Moral Majority and wrote the "Left Behind" series, which is a very - a bestselling series. And she essentially founded the organization during the Equal Rights Amendment debates, making the argument that - or she said she was frustrated that feminists were talking about the Equal Rights Amendment as something that was in women's interest.

And she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, so she founded this organization. It's now a national organization that has - claims 500,000 members. It's what I would call a Christian right organization. It's composed of conservative evangelicals. They have groups in every state, so they're pretty large and prominent, and they've been around now for almost 30 years. Essentially, they have, you know, a platform of issues, like opposition to abortion, opposition to same-sex marriage, trying to promote prayer in schools, and so on, things that are consistent with the Christian right agenda.

The Independent Women's Forum, conversely, was founded in 1992, interestingly, by a group of women who came about because they were supporting the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and they called themselves Women for Judge Thomas. Well, once that ended, and Clarence Thomas was put on to the Supreme Court, they decided that they were still in need for an organization like themselves.

I call them economic conservatives. Another way to think about them is probably Libertarian. So essentially, they don't really take on issues like abortion or same-sex marriage, but they do talk a lot about things like taxes and the role of government and social programs and so on. They're more like a think tank. They don't have grassroots members, but, like other think tanks, they do a lot of research. They are very savvy in getting their members on television and promoting themselves on the media and so on.

GROSS: Well, you mentioned the media. Michelle Bernard, who is the current president of the Independent Womens Forum, is often on the cable news channels, you know, analyzing the news, you know, analyzing the campaign, in fact. Lynne Cheney was a founding board member of the group, and Nancy Pfotenhauer, who is a former president of the group, is a senior policy adviser for John McCain and is also frequently on TV talking about the campaign.

Dr. SCHREIBER: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that I note is that the Independent Women's Forum, even more so than the Concerned Women for America, are very well-connected to the current Bush administration and to other conservative networks, as you mentioned, media networks and so on. And they're, you know, they're very savvy in placing conservative women in the public's eye. And I think, you know, that's part of the agenda, basically, is to have these women speaking about issues that basically are - in a conservative way that challenged feminists interpretations of them.

GROSS: Now, here's one of the things that's so confusing to so many women about the Sarah Palin candidacy and aspects of the conservative women's movement. You take Concerned Women for America, the Christian women's group. They formed in opposition to the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment, so you have this group that forms an opposition to equal rights for women, and now, they're applauding the fact that there's a woman running for vice president, and, like, isn't that part of equal rights for women?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SCHREIBER: Yeah.

GROSS: Isn't that part of what the Equal Rights Amendments was for, the opportunities that will allow women to reach that level. So it gets - it just gets a little confusing. Help us understand that.

Dr. SCHREIBER: Sure. It is a little confusing and, I think, in part, because there are moments where these activists are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. So it's justifiably confusing. I'll explain to you, though, how they actually try to, you know, negotiate those kinds of tensions. For the Concerned Women for America, their opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment was essentially that women who - they were concerned about women losing their status as homemakers, as being valued as mothers. They were concerned that women would get thrown into the draft, for example, and, of course, the Equal Rights Amendments was happening around the, you know, the tail end of the Vietnam War. So they played on a lot of anxiety about that.

And so, it wasn't that they necessarily were opposed to women having equal opportunity, but they were opposed to the government - again this is from their point of view - the government essentially saying that, in the Constitution, from their point of view, equality means that men and women behave the same kind of way. And to them, they see that as a challenge to either God's Will or the nature of men and women and so on.

Now, having said that, most of the women that I interviewed from the Concerned Women for America were working women, some of whom had children, so they recognize the importance of having women like themselves out there making claims like Sarah Palin, and they also recognize that there are a lot of women who have chosen to work outside the home for whatever reason. So they have to grapple with that.

They have to recognize that not all women want to be stay-at-home moms. I mean, some do, and this, you know, from their point of view, they're basically saying, women should have choices. If you choose to work outside the home, the best thing to do then would be to make sure that your children are cared for by another family member or perhaps a close friend or something along those lines.

So they would carry the argument out a little further and say, if choose to work outside the home, that's wonderful. Try your best to basically keep the kids within the family, and, of course, we don't support any kind of government funding for day care because that runs in - flies in the face of the other things that they believe in.

GROSS: Yeah, why? What?

Dr. SCHREIBER: So...

GROSS: Why would they oppose government funding for day care?

Dr. SCHREIBER: Well, from the Concerned Women for America's point of view, they basically see it as kind of a way for the government to impose a socialist form of child rearing. For the Independent Women's Forum, it's a little bit of that and a little of - it flies in the face of their economic principles that the government should not be funding these things. We should be encouraging businesses through tax incentives and so on to provide it for families, but that the government should not have role in doing that kind of thing.

GROSS: The Independent Women's Forum doesn't officially take a stand on abortion, but Concerned Women for America, which is the conservative Christian women's group, does. They oppose abortion, which, of course, you'd expect them to do as a Christian group, you know, conservative Christian group, but they have positioned their opposition in a way that is in support of women's health, that abortion is bad for women's health. Would you explain their stand on that?

Dr. SCHREIBER: Sure. And I think it's an incredibly savvy tactic on their part. So, like other organizations, conservative evangelical organizations, they do oppose abortion, making claims about fetal life and so on, but one of the things that they have done - and again, I think this is incredibly savvy - is to start talking about abortion as a women's health interest.

And what they basically say is, for example, abortions, using some data that, I should say, has been disputed in other areas, that abortions can cause breast cancer, that having an abortion, for a woman, can cause the equivalent of post traumatic stress disorder, that some abortions may actually physically harm a woman, and so they frame abortion and basically say that abortions will harm women's mental and physical health.

And I think it's, you know, an interesting tactic, in part because I think it's an area that the pro-choice movement hasn't really grappled with well. They, you know, abortions are difficult for women to have for a variety of reasons, both social and psychological, and I think, from the pro-choice women's point of view, the movement's point of view, to basically focus on that would seem to be sort of a detriment to them.

So I think the Concerned Women for America has been very smart in saying, it's not just about fetal life; it's a women's issue. They're basically reclaiming from the pro-choice movement, who is saying that abortion is a women's issue, and saying yes, it's a women's issue, but it's a women's issue to oppose abortion. And so they're trying to basically hit the pro-choice movement on their own terms.

GROSS: Do either of the groups that you write about, the conservative women's groups, talk about sexism? Do they use that word much?

Dr. SCHREIBER: They don't very much. Although I have noticed that because I've been doing now lots of reading of conservative women's responses to Sarah Palin, and they've started to use it since Sarah Palin was nominated. But they don't talk much about sexism. When they do, their - essentially, their, you know, line of attack is mostly to critique feminism but - and they have said that, you know, some parts of the feminist movement have been successful in eradicating forms of discrimination against women, but essentially, most of what we know as feminism today has just gone too far.

GROSS: Have you heard conservative women's groups use the word sexism in describing reactions to Sarah Palin?

Dr. SCHREIBER: Well, essentially, they're using it to attack what they call either leftist feminists or the establishment feminism or, you know, there are various ways that they term feminism. But they're essentially using it to attack both the feminist movement and the Democratic Party, to say that critiques of Sarah Palin, both her presence during the debates and her presence on these various interviews that she's done, that those critiques have been sexist, and that she's basically - the language that's used to describe her are, expectations of her being low as sexist and so on.

So they're basically turning feminist critiques of media sexism on their head, you know, their feminist movement, and lots of women were critical of the way the media dealt with Hillary Clinton. And essentially, these women are basically making the same arguments about the way the media have treated Sarah Palin.

GROSS: And you're saying that these conservative groups are also using the feminist critique against feminists?

Dr. SCHREIBER: Yes, absolutely. Which is, if you know, a wonderful tactic. I mean, it's quite interesting, and so they're - a lot of the stuff that I've read now from, particularly from these two groups, but there are few other women who have been posting on the National Review online, which is a conservative website, have been, you know, taking about Sarah Palin to this effect and basically making the argument that, you know, why haven't feminists supported her? They're hypocritical. They're not calling the media on sexism and so on. So they're using Sarah Palin to continue their attacks on what they call feminists or establishment feminism, which are basically groups like the National Organization for Women and nationally organized feminist groups.

GROSS: I want to quote something that Steve Schmidt, John McCain's campaign manager, said when he was asked if Sarah Palin might have trouble juggling the responsibilities of vice president and her family responsibilities, and he said, frankly, I can't imagine that question being asked of a man. I think it's offensive, and I think a lot of women will find it offensive. What was your reaction hearing that?

Dr. SCHREIBER: Well, he's right. First of all, I think he's absolutely right about that. Nobody asked that of Obama. Second of all, my second reaction is, well, I guess he's, you know, been paying attention to the feminist movement for the past 30 years because that's what feminists would say. So, essentially, they have basically co-opted feminist language and strategy to promote Sarah Palin's nomination.

GROSS: You know, I think it's interesting that two conservative women's groups that you've studied, the Concerned Women for America and the Independent Women's Forum, neither of them have the word conservative in their title, and Concerned Women for America, which is the Christian group, doesn't have the word Christian in its title. So when you see their name on the crawl when a speaker from that group is on television...

Dr. SCHREIBER: Yeah.

GROSS: You wouldn't know from the title that it's a conservative group, or, in the case of Concerned Women for America, that it's a Christian group.

Dr. SCHREIBER: Absolutely, and I think that's clearly intentional on their part. Basically, when they talk about representing women, what they make their argument is that, we represent the majority of women. That feminists have claimed for years and years that they represent women, but feminists only represents some kind of radical minority of women, and we're really the people who are in touch with what most women believe.

So, in fact, right after Sarah Palin was nominated, Michelle Bernard, again, the head of the Independent Women's Forum, published an article, and the title was something to the effect that Sarah Palin is every woman and then sort of making the connection between her and what the Independent Women's Forum does. So, you know, absolutely right that they don't identify themselves as conservative because they want to be speaking to a broader audience, and that they're also wanting to connect women and men to other conservative causes.

GROSS: My guest is Ronnee Schreiber, author of the new book, "Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics." We'll talk more after a break. This is Fresh Air.

My guest is Ronnee Schreiber, she's the author of the new book, "Righting Feminism," and that's righting as in the R-I-G-H-T, and it's subtitled, "Conservative Women and American Politics." On the very first page of your book, there's a poster from 2001 that was - it's actually an advertisement from 2001 that was taken up by the Independent Women's Forum, and it's headlined, "Take Back the Campus. Combat the Radical Feminist Assault on the Truth." And it reads, campus feminism is a kind of cult. Students are inculcated with bizarre conspiracy theories about the, quote, "capitalist patriarchal hegemony." As early as freshmen orientation, gender scholars begin dispensing false and reckless propaganda. Join the Independent Women's Forum and our efforts to restore reason, common sense, and sanity to the campus. Is that kind of language still used by the Independent Women's Forum?

Dr. SCHREIBER: Essentially yes. They - yes, it is still used by the Independent Women's Forum to other means and into other ends. Although one of the things that the Independent Women's Forum has been doing, and I think is smart strategically for an organization like themselves, is to try and work more with women on college campuses, so they have a college essay writing contest, for example, and so on. And so, this kind of language is absolutely consistent with what they're doing now and consistent with other conservative groups who have tried to make the claim that, you know, in the university environment, most of the professors are liberal; they're trying to indoctrinate students. Students - people aren't getting a fair education. Critical thinking isn't being taught and so on.

So one of the points that I make in the book, and I think this advertisement is a great example of that, is that these two women's organizations that I talk about are also very closely connected to and work closely with other conservative organizations. And in that way, they can help bridge women to conservative issues, generally speaking. Essentially, they're trying to make these arguments that feminism has basically permeated all institutions of our life in a way that's negative, and the university environment is one of those institutions where feminism has been able to take a stronghold. However, now, we're here, and we can help you basically combat that.

GROSS: You end your book by saying that women shouldn't dismiss these conservative women's groups as pawns and victims of false consciousness or pawn of men.

Dr. SCHREIBER: Absolutely, that we recognize them on their own terms and recognize that they have agency. Now, they also recognize that it's important to have women speaking on behalf of conservative issues, but that doesn't mean that they are pawns of women who - of men who would agree with that tactic. It means that they think that that's an essential tactic, too. And I think it does the feminist movement a disservice to also dismiss them as pawns because then we don't recognize, you know, as a fan, I say we because I identify as a feminist, that we don't recognize, for example, where women may oppose certain issues.

We don't recognize the success of feminism in some ways because what these groups are doing is speaking for women, is framing things as women's health interest, for example, is showing that the feminist movement has been very successful in making women matter to politics, in making women's issues matter to politics, and so they've been successful in doing that. And now, these conservative women want to do that as well.

GROSS: Ronnee Schreiber, thank you so much for talking with us.

Dr. SCHREIBER: Thank you so much for having me on.

GROSS: Ronnee Schreiber is the author of the new book, "Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics." She's an assistant professor of political science at San Diego State University. I'm Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Air.
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Demme, Lumet on Getting 'Rachel' Married

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. While some filmmakers become known for a particular style or genre, the work of director Jonathan Demme is striking in its sheer eclecticism. His films range from comedies like "Married to the Mob," to an exploration of AIDs discrimination in the film "Philadelphia," to the thriller, "The Silence of the Lambs," which won five Oscars in 1992. He also directed the documentary "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains," and the concert films "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" and "Stop Making Sense" featuring the Talking Heads.

Demme's new film, "Rachel Getting Married" is a family drama shot in documentary style. The screenplay was written by Jenny Lumet, daughter of director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne. The film centers around Kym, a young woman played by Anne Hathaway, who's coming home from a drug rehab center to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. She's trying to deal with seeing her family while musicians, caterers, and friends buzz around the house. Her family is trying to get the wedding together, hoping Kym doesn't cause any drama. At the same time, the whole family is still dealing with a tragedy from years ago.

Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies spoke to Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet. He started by asking Lumet how she came up with the concept for the film.

DAVE DAVIES: Well, Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet, welcome to Fresh Air. This film, "Rachel Getting Married," is a wedding movie, but it's not exactly just a wedding movie. And let me direct this to you, Jenny Lument, who wrote the screen play. You know, the center of this story is the sister of the bride coming home out of a drug rehab center and comes home to a house which is full of musicians and caterers and family and friends all in the whirl and buzz of getting a weekend wedding ready. And she's trying to cope with getting back to the jarring reality of life outside of rehab. And it's just a fascinating concept. Where did it come from?

Ms. JENNY LUMET (Screenwriter, "Rachel Getting Married"): I had an image of a bride getting ready for this big moment, and she's in a room by herself and her wedding gown, and then her sister bursts in the room, either destroying a moment or creating a moment. And those women lived in my head for, I guess, months, and then I started listening very carefully to what they were saying to each other.

And I've been a bridesmaid, and I think, honestly, preparing the bride is actually quite beautiful. And I think it's been going on for thousands of years, women preparing this young woman to go out and, you know, take this step in her life. And it actually kind of resonates for me. Having said that, I've also had to wear a really stupid, poufy dress and, you know, like run around trying to find eyelashes and mascara, stuff like that, too. So it's not all historical reference.

I think it was just that idea. Of course, I know people, and, of course, the characters in this movie are amalgamations of people that I know. And some of them I made up out of (unintelligible) and some of them Jonathan made up. But I think it was from that one moment.

DAVIES: Jonathan Demme, in the director statement that came with the production notes we received for this film, "Rachel Getting Married," you described an enthusiastic reaction when you first read Jenny Lumet's script, and you said you saw a film that could be made from a script that would mirror your reaction to reading it. What did you mean by your reaction and recreating it on film?

Mr. JONATHAN DEMME (Director, "Rachel Getting Married"): Well, I read the script, and two things happened that sort of never happen. This script made me laugh out loud so much that family members were going, what's going on in there. And I was like, I'm reading - I'm just reading this script. And then, at a certain point in the picture, and it has to do when the sisters kind of are suddenly together, and one of them has been hurt, and the other one is ministering to her, and I'm sitting there reading the script, and tears start going down my face.

And I am tough, you know. I never cry. But I cried then, and I thought, wow, what if we could capture all the fun, the tremendous edge, the heartbreak, the emotion of this piece in a movie. Wouldn't that be one heck of an hour and a half spent in a movie theater? So that made me kind of go for it because, you know, to me, Jenny had - she achieved all these things in her script by leaving the formula, not by pursuing the security of a formulaic movie.

DAVIES: You know, one of the things that I liked about the film was, just like real life, you have these little moments where these confrontations between the sisters and the family erupt at unpredictable times and at moments where there are distractions which they want to get out of the way and which various family members are there uncomfortably observing it, participating. And I thought we'd listen to one little moment of this.

And I think I can set this up. This is after a very - after the wedding rehearsal dinner at which Kym, the sister who's come out of rehab, has given a very inappropriate, probably, and awkward toast in which she is going through one of the 12 steps, which is to apologize and ask forgiveness for those she has offended. And she takes the moment of her toast at her sister's wedding to go on and on about her experiences in rehab and apologize to other people and then give a blanket thank you to her sister and apology, in which she says, you know, I've been a nightmare. You've been a saint. And scene we're going to hear is, they're coming back into the house after the rehearsal dinner unloading stuff. Packages are dropping, and we hear the sister who's getting married, that is to say, Rachel, begin the conversation. Let's listen.

Ms. ROSEMARIE DEWITT: (As Rachel) Well, you've never said anything to me that's remotely apologetic. Yet, all of a sudden, at my wedding dinner, in front of everybody, you decided to grace us all with your development.

Ms. ANNE HATHAWAY: (As Kym) I just got home.

Ms. DEWITT: (As Rachel) Geeze, hey everybody, and yes - just in case you might be thinking about something else for five minutes, like I don't know, my sister's wedding, they just cut me loose. A loose cannon, hey! Anybody up for some rehab humor? Because I'm really, really fine with acknowledging my disease. Hey, and now, watch me be really selfless and leave a lovely blanket apology to my sister for being so tad out of the loose?

Ms. HATHAWAY: (As Kym) You are so cynical.

Mr. MATHER ZICKEL: (As Kieran) Rachel, enough, please. Rachel, she is making an effort here.

Ms. DEWITT: (As Rachel) Oh, an effort? Is that what that was? Because I think she presumes this since everything has always revolved around her disease, that everything else is going to revolve around her recovery. That's what I think.

Mr. BILL IRWIN: (As Paul) Rachel, she just got home.

Ms. DEWITT: (As Rachel) Again.

DAVIES: And that's Rosemarie DeWitt and Anne Hathaway from "Rachel Getting Married," the film written by our guest, Jenny Lumet, and directed by our other guest, Jonathan Demme. Jonathan Demme, this film is shot in a documentary style. I mean, we see a lot of handheld cameras in which, you know, the camera follows dialogue from one to another. Explain your approach in shooting this film.

Mr. DEMME: Well, I think two things probably more than anything else. One is that, over the years, I put a lot of energy in trying to find the most time-honored way of bringing the audience into a scene through a very sort of, you know, with an eye on Hitchcock techniques and stuff like that and really kind of, I think, sort of on my own terms, quote unquote, "perfecting it." And I reached a point where I felt that it was working, that the intent of this rather formal kind of quasi-Hitchcockian style was effective.

And then, at a certain point, I started feeling like, well, I know how I'm going to shoot that scene before I even get there. I know what it's going to look like before I even get there and looks fine. And I guess I kind of got bored with that caused (unintelligible) to shoot. And if you start getting bored with the way you're working, it's time to change.

Meanwhile, I just - you know, "Mean Streets" was the first time where I really kind of went, wow, and saw, gosh, look at the way this picture has been shot. You know, the immediacy of that handheld camera and stuff. And, you know, handheld cameras have been around before Martin Scorsese showed up, especially in, you know, the Nouvelle Vague and films of John Cassavetes. But there was this urgency, and I felt myself feeling like, wow, this is really happening the way Scorsese used it. So I've kind of admired that, and I was trying to get a little handheld into the movie. And then more recently, I've been shooting a lot of documentaries with Declan Quinn.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. DEMME: One of the really great cinematographers of all time. And after we did a documentary together about Jimmy Carter, "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains," about a year and a half ago, and coming off of that, the way that Declan is able to make what's really going on in real life feel so incredibly immediate and cinematic made me think, well gosh, let's shoot "Rachel Getting Married" like that. Let's pretend we're making a documentary. In fact, we won't even rehearse, and we had to cast actors who were willing to not rehearse, to not know when the camera was going to be on them. And we went forth with that. We had a blast, and I love the way this picture looks. I'm so excited about it.

DAVIES: What's interesting to me about the documentary style was that there were moments that I was very aware of it - but in these really intense family discussions, and we heard one of them a moment ago, when I thought about it later, I thought, wait, I think, in that case, he wasn't doing it documentary style. I think those were carefully blocked with stationary cameras. And then, when I went back and looked at the movie notes, indeed, those were also shot with handheld cameras. Why, Jonathan Demme, did it seem so convincing and immediate and I forgot all about - why was that effective in a way that I was - it made me forget about the documentary style?

Mr. DEMME: Well, we started out when we began filming, we started immediately with the rehearsal dinner because we wanted to - that was something that we really didn't require any quote unquote, "direction or blocking" because we just bring the actors into the room, and we tried very hard to prevent as many people as possible from knowing, getting to know each other beforehand, so we could actually even film people kind of in a situation getting to know each other in addition to providing the content of the scene. But we were able to shoot pure documentary style, just pure. In that situation, that meant that the family members who we will later focus on, we focus on in the scene in the living room.

By the time we got to the scene in the living room, they were used to the documentary style. They were used to ignoring the camera. They were used to not necessarily being in any given shot and then find themselves in the next shot. And the kind of feedback we were getting there from the actors was they were really, really excited about working this way, that it really helped keep the spontaneity factor in full effect, that by not having blocked out shots and then repeated blocked out shots as we would try to perfect every angle, it kept them feeling as much as possible that this was really going on.

And, you know, one thing that Declan and I thought would be great, one thing he really wanted to do was operating on the premise that almost every single scene here, in theory, someone could have had a little home movie camera with them, including the family arguments. And if one was perverse enough, they could film these little arguments. And that's just the way it went forth.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet. Jenny Lumet wrote the screenplay for "Rachel Getting Married." Jonathan Demme is the director. We'll talk more after our break. This is Fresh Air.

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Jenny Lumet, who wrote the screenplay for the new film, "Rachel Getting Married," and Jonathan Demme, who directed the film. You know, Jenny Lumet, when I prepared for the interview, I don't know if I've ever spoken to someone who'd written a well-received screenplay who I could find less information about in the media. I mean, you're, of course, the daughter of Sidney Lumet, the director, who's done all this tremendous work and still working, right?

Ms. LUMET: Yeah.

DAVIES: All I knew about...

Mr. DEMME: Better than ever.

DAVIES: Yeah, you're described as a seventh and eighth grade teacher and the drama lady at an independent school in Manhattan. You have a black belt in tae kwon do, two kids. And you have some acting credits over the years, and you've done some acting.

Ms. LUMET: One, yeah.

DAVIES: But is - I don't know - how did you get in to writing? Have you written stuff before that didn't get published? Tell us a little bit about it.

Ms. LUMET: Yeah. I mean, this is probably my fourth or fifth screenplay. The other two before got option, but they didn't go - I personally thought they were hysterically funny, but I think that I'm the only one, and they didn't go anywhere.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I started writing. And there's no - it wasn't like a lightbulb went on in my head. You know, a-ha, now is the time. I couldn't tell you why I started. I love teaching, I love teaching the seventh and eighth grade. I'm the drama teacher. I'm a better writer when I'm teaching. And that's what I've been doing in raising my kids. That's what I've been doing.

DAVIES: Why do you think you're a better writer when you're teaching?

Ms. LUMET: Oh, because if you can, you know, get up in front of a room of freakin 12 and 13-year-old kids, you can do anything. There's no way I would have chased down and stalked Jonathan Demme had I not had, you know, can I say, balls? Had I not have those from facing down rooms of 12 and 13-year-old children because if you are a melon-head, they will let you know.

DAVIES: This film has something which is unique in cinema, as far as I know, which is a duel on who can best load a dishwasher, which is a funny moment in which Rachel's dad and, I guess, the groom in the wedding get in this argument about who knows how to better load a dishwasher. Jenny Lumet, where does that come from?

Ms. LUMET: That is completely pilfered. I grew up how I grew up being, it wasn't like, you know, famous people were crawling out from under the sink when I got home from school. But every now and again, there was a great artist in the house. And one time, the director Bob Fosi was in the house for dinner. And see, you have to - this is a very - Bob Fosi is - I was a little girl. I was 11 or 12, and this is a very languid, long, graceful man and his whole being sort of ends and extends to the cigarette in the fingertips and sort of ends with the cigarette in the fingertips. And even the smoke is graceful around this man. And he was dressed in black, black cashmere sweater over the shoulders, you know, black shirt, black pants, and this beautiful goatee.

And there is my dad, who looks like a cantaloupe, completely spherical with, like, a big tummy wearing a sweat suit with like vinaigrette stains all over him. And there, it's after dinner, and my dad's loading the dishwasher. And Bob Fosi takes a big drag of this Ugal Wass (ph) or whatever it has he was smoking and goes, you know, Sidney, if you put the salad bowls in the upper level, you'll get 10 percent more stuff in your dishwasher. And my dad, who is 5 feet 3, looks up and goes, Bob, go vromp, because I don't - I can't say that on the radio.

And so then there, there we have this, and for the next hour and a half, these guys, who one would think would have something else to talk about other than loading the dishwasher, went at it like two people caught in the grips of the worst OCD on the planet, with Bob Fosi turning the tines on the fork upside down and calling Sidney a barbarian and Sidney saying, oh you're - what do you know, dancer boy? I mean, it was so demented, so demented. And I did not remember it because I am prechant(ph) and thought a ha, I will use this - that, you know, decades later. I remembered it because it was psychotic and disturbing behavior.

DAVIES: Well, Jonathan Demme, you have such a diverse career. I mean, you've done so many different kinds of films. You got started with Roger Corman, who, of course, is known for making lots and lots of successful, like, what would you say, low-budget action, horror, all kinds of stuff. And I think he does a cameo in "Rachel Getting Married," doesn't he? Is he in the wedding?

Mr. DEMME: He does, indeed. In fact, there's a moment in the movie that I loved a lot, which I don't expect anyone else to love. But there's a shot of the couple saying their vows. And just off to the side, there is this incredibly handsome guy in a fabulous suit with a gigantic grin on his face, and he's aiming this little tiny handheld camera at the couple. That's Roger Corman, who I gave the camera to seconds before.

He didn't know he was going to be expected to do that. I mean, he really rose to the occasion, then we cut to Roger's shot, a beautifully composed, fabulous shot of the bride. So that's a - you know, the thing about Roger, he's famously tight-fisted. He's famous for two things, being - three things, brilliant filmmaker in his own right. Second of all is this mogul. Third of all, so tight-fisted. And that the thing about Roger is that, if you offer Roger SAG minimum for a couple of days work in a movie, he shows up, does a great job in the part, and goes away thinking that he's really somehow stuck it to the man.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Jonathan Demme and Jenny Lumet. Jenny Lumet wrote the screenplay for "Rachel Getting Married." Jonathan Demme is the director. We'll talk more after a break, this is Fresh Air.

If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Jenny Lumet who wrote the screenplay for the new film "Rachel Getting Married," and Jonathan Demme, who directed the film. Jonathan Demme, one of the hallmarks of some of your films is, shooting scenes where characters look directly into the camera or almost directly into the camera. And I'm wondering, is there a particular reason or purpose for that technique when you use it. I mean, I saw that in the "Manchurian Candidate," a film you did few years ago.

Mr. DEMME: Yes. That is - the use of subjective camera is an idea that's been around in movies for a long, long time, and it's an idea that was seized on very notably by Sam Fuller and by Alfred Hitchcock in two different very kind of - otherwise very different styles of film making. And the whole point, according to Hitchcock, and it's right, is that, you know, if you go subjective camera, you are for that moment putting the audience in the shoes of the character. You're showing the audience and making the audience share exactly what it's like to see what the character sees.

So Tak Fujimoto and I, when we started getting enough of a budget where we could afford the right lenses because we started out doing low-budget pictures together - we started experimenting with this subjective camera thing, and we kind of fell in love with the idea of using that as we - as our close up, instead of having the camera slightly off to their side. Our thing was, well, maybe by using subjective camera in ordinary dialogue situations, you know, we can bring the audience that deeply into the film that way.

And we were afraid that it might be kind of off-putting or call attention to itself, but we found out - "Married to the Mob" was the first time we did it, and nobody commented. The scenes that we used it went really well. No one found fault with it. So when we did "Silence of the Lambs," we really went to town with it. We just started subjective camera for every dialogue scene, trying to pull the audience deeply - as deeply as you possibly could into the scene. So it was really an aggressive way to pursue intense audience involvement.

Now, in this movie, in "Rachel Getting Married," there is no subjective camera. This time, the energy and the effort to draw the audience as deeply as possible into the movie comes from making them feel that what they're seeing actually happened. And in this way, we try to take advantage to that - kind of that truth factor that comes along with looking at your home movies. This really happened. Look how shaky the camera is, or we tried to make it not too shaky, but that's how we tried to really galvanize the audience in to believing what they were seeing and getting as involved as possible.

DAVIES: I wanted to talk just a little bit about the "Silence of the Lambs." It's the film - goes back a few years in your career, 1991, but it swept the Oscars. And I read in an interview at the time that Janet Maslyn said that it was your opinion that every director dreams of making a film more terrifying than anything he has ever seen. Is that true? Was that something you tossed off the time?

Mr. DEMME: Well, I tell you - what I can tell you is that I know, when I saw "Zodiac" and then again, when I saw "No Country for Old Man," there was a moment in each of my viewing experiences like, damn it, this is scarier than "Silence of the Lambs." So I guess, on a certain level, that there's something there. Yes.

DAVIES: You've been topped again.

Mr. DEMME: Yeah.

DAVIES: I read that a lot of producers didn't think that the novel by Thomas Harris could be made into a movie. Partly because the - you know, it's just such a grizzly story. And I'm wondering how you confronted the questions of how much you show of either the actual violence itself or the resulting carnage.

Mr. DEMME: An enormous amount of work went in the - into trying to figure out a way that we could deliver the full maximum power and horror of some of the phenomena contained in that story without grossing people out. And Tak Fujimoto, the director of photography, Christie Ziya, the production designer, and I and others just spent just so much time, how are we going to do this. And Christie, at a certain point, she went to the work of Francis Bacon and started bringing Francis Bacon images in. And saying, what if we did something like this. Maybe we could show it but not necessarily show it. And Tak said, yes. You know we could why...

DAVIES: Clarify Francis Bacon for the audience here.

Mr. DEMME: Francis Bacon, the great modern, disturbing English painter. Yeah. So - and then Tak would say, yes, I can light that. I can see how Francis Bacon is working with light and shadows here, and we can duplicate that, and we can work with that. So we got a lot of inspiration from Francis Bacon, and I hope that his estate doesn't now sue us or something. But so, that was a big, huge part of preparing for the movie.

DAVIES: Of course, that the dark heart of the film is the character of Hannibal Lecter, which is performed so brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins. And maybe we should just listen to a little bit. Do you have a favorite scene that you think captures that performance?

Mr. DEMME: All of them.

DAVIES: All of them. Well, let's listen to just a little.

Ms. JODIE FOSTER: (As Clarice Foster) Doctor Lecter, whose head is in that bottle?

Mr. ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) Why don't you ask me about Buffalo Bill?

Ms. FOSTER: (As Clarice Foster) Well, do you know something about him?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) I might if I still had the case file. You could get that for me.

Ms. FOSTER: (As Clarice Foster) Why don't we talk about Miss Muffin? You want me to find him.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) His real name is Benjamin Raspbell, a former patient of mine whose romantic attachments ran to, shall we say, the exotic. I did not kill him, I assure you, merely tucked him away as I found him after he missed three appointments.

Ms. FOSTER: (As Clarice Foster) But if you didn't kill him, then who did, sir?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) Who can say? Best thing for him, really. His therapy was going nowhere.

DAVIES: Well, you know, you did the horror classic of the generation. And you've done, you know, so many things, and then, of course, this most recent "Rachel Getting Married." What's next for you?

Mr. DEMME: I have begun work on a very special - I now have a very special opportunity to make a very special documentary about Bob Marley, and we are working very closely with the Marley family. And we have discovered hundreds of hours of quote unquote, "never before seen," performance footage, interview footage stuff that was mislabeled in a vault in London decades ago. And I can't tell you the treasure trove of stuff.

So it's going to be a film that really, hopefully is going to be the film that Bob Marley would have us make. It's going to be a film in Marley's words. We're not going to be cutting to people explaining him to us for us. And we're also going to do something which is a little unusual and in port - music portrait documentaries, is that, when we cut to a performance, we're going to let it play. We're not going to do a hot 20 seconds and then have people talk about how great that was. We're just going to let Bob Marley go.

GROSS: Jonathan Demme directed the new film "Rachel Getting Married." Jenny Lumet wrote the screenplay. They spoke with Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies, who's a senior writer for the "Philadelphia Daily News." You can hear our film critic David Edelstein's review of the film on our website freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcast of our show.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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