The films of Allison Anders

Allison Anders’ characters have high inspirations in order to cement their identity.

Allison Anders’ characters have high inspirations in order to cement their identity.

And as a filmmaker Anders has forged her own impressive reputation through a series of award-winning independent films, among them a collaborative project with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

But why am I writing about her? Well, as of today, Anders is on campus as this year’s Director in Residence for the theater arts department’s film degree program. She will be participating in numerous events on campus, as well as showing two of her films at the Portland Women’s Film Festival. As a way of introduction, the Vanguard thought it appropriate to offer an abbreviated guide to the films of our nationally known guest.

Gas Food Lodging

Nora, the socially main character in Gas Food Lodging, is looking for a man.

But she wants to make it clear that he isn’t for her–he’s for her single mother. The 1992 drama is Anders’ second film, a study of three women searching for male companionship in a small town where the pickings are slim, and often consist of slime balls.

Gas Food Lodging shows a family struggling to survive without a male figure. Nora makes the decision to find a father figure during her favorite, and apparently only, pastime available in Laramie, N.M.: watching old Spanish-speaking films starring an actress named Elvia (who is her greatest role-model).

Her intentions are good, but the best guy she can come up with is a married man whom her mother already had an affair with. Ah, the joys of small-town living. The shots of the landscape are nearly perfect and provide one of the most memorable aspects of the film.

Nora’s older sister, Trudi, is also searching for a male figure. But her search is less healthy, and she looks for companionship in all the wrong places-namely, in lifted trucks owned by the local riffraff.

Despite her troubles, Trudi counsels Nora to aggressively pursue a boy she likes. He seems perfect in every way. And he, unlike most other male characters in the film, believes in the power of women, likening the story of Adam and Eve to a woman’s natural drive for adventure and knowledge. The problem? He’s gay. But Nora doesn’t realize his sexual preference is an obstacle. Just as her sister and mother before her, she becomes disillusioned with love.

Four Rooms

In a way, the themes from Gas Food Lodging mirror the ideas of Anders’ contribution to the multi-directed film, Four Rooms, which presents four interlocking stories that follow a bellboy’s (Tim Roth) first day at a Hollywood hotel on New Years Eve. The movie is best known for Quentin Tarantino’s involvement.

Anders’ part of the story is like an adult version of Bewitched on psychotropic drugs. A group of sexy witches (including Madonna) come to the hotel to perform a ritual to unlock a curse put upon their leader. Each witch is supposed to bring her own ingredient. But there is a problem: one witch swallowed hers. Such as in Gas Food Lodging, this sought-after ingredient has to do with men. The missing portion? Semen.

Sugar Town

Sugar Town, Anders’ 1999 ensemble drama, is also a story of a group of people trying to fill an empty void in their life. But instead of just companionship, they are also looking for fame in a place where it is a prized commodity: Los Angeles. Like in Gas Food Lodging you’ll be hard-pressed to find a likeable character. There is the aging, ego-blown rockers, the conniving starlet trying to find her break and the sleazy record producer who is more than happy to accept her advancements.

What is most tragic about Sugar Town is seeing it in context of Anders’ other films. It is easy to see how Trudi, the boy-troubled sister in Gas Food Lodging, could turn into one of these vapid Los Angelites. When she speaks about why she seeks out sex, she says, “I never want to do it but I do. I figure if I say ‘no,’ the man will do it anyway.'”

And it’s that specter of rape that haunts Anders’ characters, and forces them to seek out unhealthy situations. It’s an insight that makes Anders’ films worth watching.