Authors: Molly Haskell

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American critic and feminist

Author Works

Nonfiction:

From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, 1973, revised 1987

Love and Other Infectious Diseases: A Memoir, 1990

Holding My Own in No Man’s Land: Women and Men, Films and Feminism, 1997

Drama:

The Last Anniversary, pr. 1990 (one-act)

Biography

Molly Haskell is a leading feminist film critic who explores the changing roles of women in film. She was born September 29, 1939, in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Mary Clark Haskell, a painter, and John Haskell, a mortgage broker. Although she wanted to attend Smith College, her parents sent her to Sweet Briar, a fashionable women’s college in Virginia. There she majored in English, made Phi Beta Kappa, and wrote a great deal. After graduation, she studied at the Sorbonne, sharpening her French skills and attending films at the Cinematheque. She then moved to New York, where, after serving a short stint as a public relations associate with Sperry Rand, she became a publicist for the French Film Office: She did some interpreting and put out a newsletter, which essentially began her career in film criticism.{$I[AN]9810001798}{$I[A]Haskell, Molly}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Haskell, Molly}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Haskell, Molly}{$I[tim]1939;Haskell, Molly}

While she was at the French Film Office in the late 1960’s, she met Andrew Sarris, an established film critic with The Village Voice and the American proponent of the auteur theory. He helped her get her first assignment as a theater critic (as a college student she had been interested in theater and once aspired to be an actress); she reviewed Broadway productions while the more experienced drama critics were covering the more experimental theater produced Off-Broadway. When Sarris expanded the film coverage of The Village Voice, she moved to film criticism. Haskell and Sarris married in 1969.

As a film critic, Haskell has been concerned with the progressively worsening image of women in the cinema. Her first book, From Reverence to Rape, is a historical account of women’s roles as portrayed by actresses from Lillian Gish to the 1970’s. (The focus is on American films, but foreign films receive some attention.) She emphasizes heterosexual relationships and asserts that those relationships were best balanced in the 1940’s and the 1950’s–Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn become the epitome of the ideal couple. Although Marjorie Rosen’s Popcorn Venus, another historical examination of women’s cinematic images, appeared in the same year, Haskell’s book became the standard text (it was updated in 1987). Haskell and Rosen have come to be regarded as the first wave of feminist film criticism; the second wave moved from the historical approach to a psychoanalytic one.

During the 1970’s, Haskell was also the film critic for Vogue and New York magazine, a regular film reviewer for public television’s Special Edition and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and a frequent contributor to national magazines. In the 1980’s, while continuing to review films, her life was dramatically affected by the near death of her husband, Andrew Sarris. In 1984, he contracted an encephalitic virus, and she had to cope not only with his life-threatening illness but also with her own growing awareness of her dependence on him. This was difficult for an avowed feminist, even though she had stated that she was a film critic first and a feminist second. Her subsequent book, Love and Other Infectious Diseases, explores their relationship in the context of his illness and her identity. In a sense, their life together had been a kind of Tracy/Hepburn “Pat and Mike” marriage of two strong egos in the same field. As the book was not published until six years after his illness, Haskell had some time to examine her feelings about the relationship.

Haskell has had a distinguished career as a film critic, a teacher (Barnard College, Columbia University), a popular lecturer on college campuses, and artistic director of the Sarasota French Film Festival. She has received an award from the National Board of Review for Contributions to Film Criticism and was named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts at des Lettres, both in 1989. She continues her work on women and film. She was interviewed on Public Broadcasting Service’s The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful, a 1995 documentary based largely on her pioneering work, and her 1997 book Holding My Own in No Man’s Land: Women and Men, Films and Feminism blends autobiography and film criticism. Haskell is an unusual feminist film critic: Although she has a theoretical background and a political slant, she has a jargon-free style and a rich sense of humor, and she speaks to filmgoers as well as film scholars.

BibliographyHaskell, Molly. “Molly Haskell: Her Husband’s Near-Fatal Disease Prompted an Affirmative Book About Illness and Identity.” Interview by Susan Mernit. Publishers Weekly, April 20, 1990, 55-56. Focuses on the events surrounding Sarris’s illness.Haskell, Molly. “A Separate Peace.” Interview by James Ellison. American Health 9 (May, 1990). Another interview conducted upon the publication of Love and Other Infectious Diseases.Holdstein, Deborah H. “Men and Women: Voices in the Women’s Picture.” In Holding the Vision: Essays on Film, edited by Douglas Radcliff-Umstead. Kent, Ohio: International Film Society, Kent State University, 1983. Presents the proceedings of the First Annual Film Conference of Kent State University on April 21, 1983. Holdstein applies Haskell’s theories to the films Mildred Pierce (1945) and All About Eve (1950).Kay, Karyn, and Gerald Peary, eds. Women and the Cinema: A Critical Anthology. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977. Includes two essays by Haskell and a number of other scholarly works in a similar vein.
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