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Bette Gordon

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Children  Lili Benning
Ex-spouse  James Benning
Bette Gordon Bette Gordon Zimbio
Education  University of Wisconsin-Madison
Movies  Handsome Harry, Variety, Luminous Motion, The Drowning, Seven Women‑‑seven Sins
Similar  Sandy McLeod, Mariann Mayberry, Jamey Sheridan, Nicholas T Proferes, James Benning

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Bette Gordon (born June 22, 1955) is an American filmmaker and professor at Columbia University School of the Arts. She is best known for her films Variety (1983) and Handsome Harry (2009) both of which received critical acclaim in North America and abroad.


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Personal life

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Gordon began making films in the late 1970s. It was upon her move to New York City in 1979 that she became more focused on full length narratives. She cites French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard as a major inspiration to her as an artist and a filmmaker saying, "Having grown up through the '70s, I could not have found a more appropriate mentor. His radical approach to the use of sound and image helped shape me as much as the questions he asked the viewer to consider, most importantly, the relationship between truth and fiction." She also lists Wong Kar Wai's In The Mood for Love, R.W. Fassbinder, John Cassavettes and films like The Last Picture Show and Midnight Cowboy as inspirational for their portrayal of relationships and love. She considers the time she spent in New York in the early 1980s instrumental to her career - collaborating with other artists for the sake of creating art rather than making money was instrumental to her development as a filmmaker. She is a friend of actor Steve Buscemi and cast him in her film Handsome Harry because she felt as though it was a role unlike any he had ever played before.


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Gordon is said to be "known for her bold explorations of themes related to sexuality, violence and power." Her film Variety explores the relationship between women, pornography and voyeurism. The title character of the film "turns the tables on men" by renegotiating the historically exploitative relationship between men and women with respect to pornographic films. She says, "My films have always focused on the visual aspects of storytelling. I've been drawn to stories in which color, texture and mood are as central to the narrative as character and plot." Though much of her work is focused on women and the female experience, some of her recent work - most notably Handsome Harry - examines the social constraints placed on men and tensions between hetero-normative masculinity and homosexuality. In the film, described as "relentless" by a review in the New York Times, the main character is struggling to confront the emotional and physical trauma he and his friends inflicted on a homosexual friend while in the Navy many years prior.


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Gordon holds a BA, MA, and MFA from The University of Wisconsin–Madison and is now a part of the film department of Columbia University School of the Arts. Some of her films are now a part of permanent collections in several different museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Selected filmography

  • 1974: Michigan Avenue (short)
  • 1974: I-94 (short)
  • 1980: Empty Suitcases (short)
  • 1983: Variety
  • 2009: Handsome Harry
  • 2016: The Drowning

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