Greenwald, Maggie 1955-
GREENWALD, Maggie 1955-
Born June 23, 1955.
Agent—Sloss Law Office, 170 5th Ave., No. 800, New York, NY 10010; fax: 212-627-9498.
Director and author. During early career, worked as an actress and dancer; director of television films, including What Makes a Family, Columbia TriStar Television, 2001, Get a Clue, Flagstaff Pictures, 2002, Comfort and Joy, Paramount Pictures, 2003, Returning Lily, Von Zerneck Sertner Films, 2003, and Tempted, Von Zerneck Sertner Films 2003. Director for television series episodes, including The Adventures of Pete and Pete (episode "Sick Day"), The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, and Wildfire (episode "The Party"). Columbia University School of the Arts, New York, NY, adjunct associate professor. Has worked as a picture editor and sound editor in the film industry.
Best Director Award, Turin Film Festival, 1989, for The Kill-Off; Special Jury Award, Rome-Florence Film Festival, 1994, for The Ballad of Little Jo; Audience Award, Deauville Film Festival, 2000, for Songcatcher; Feature Film Prize in Science and Technology, Hamptons International Film Festival, 2000, for Songcatcher; Dorothy Arzner Award, Director's View Film Festival, 2002, for Songcatcher.
SCREENPLAYS; AND DIRECTOR
Home Remedy, Xero Film Associates, 1987.
The Kill-Off (adapted from the novel by Jim Thompson), Palace Pictures, 1988.
The Ballad of Little Jo, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 1993.
Songcatcher, Independent Film Channel Productions, 2000.
Contributor to periodicals such as Sight and Sound.
Best known for the cross-dressing, revisionist Western The Ballad of Little Jo, Maggie Greenwald began her artistic career as a dancer and actor before embarking on a career in the film industry. She made several short films before gaining experience as a picture editor and sound editor. Her first feature as a director was the 1987 film Home Remedy, which is a "workmanlike expansion of a satiric idea," remarked Caryn James in the New York Times. It is about perpetually bored Richie, a dull and moribund single man whose job in a copy shop and home in a boxlike New Jersey suburb sustain his ennui. To combat his intense boredom, however, Richie learns to love his lot in life. Yet the film encounters what James found to be "a classic problem: How does a story about boredom avoid becoming a boring story?" Involvement with quirky neighbor Nancy, a pleasant but oddball forty-something homemaker, promises a possible end to Richie's crisis. The fury of Nancy's jealous husband ensures that Richie's boredom will come to an end, offering "inadvertent salvation for the characters" and a release from their emotional torpor, James reported.
Home Remedy was followed by The Kill-Off, an adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel of the same name. Her first two films had short commercial lives, with neither film making much of an impression on critics. The Kill-Off represents Greenwald's first foray into a traditionally male genre, the film noir.
Greenwald is also one of the few women film directors to work in the traditionally male Western genre. Greenwald's 1993 film, The Ballad of Little Jo, is based on the life of a real woman, Joseph Monaghan, who sought her fortune in the American West but was compelled by circumstances to assume and perpetuate the identity of a man. Cineaste critic Karen Backstein remarked that "the film is a meditation on what might have made her don her disguise, and how she could have avoided detection" throughout a lifetime of living as a male in a male-dominated, rough-and-tumble environment. In a Film Quarterly interview, Tania Modleski remarked that The Ballad of Little Jo is the "first Western written and directed by a woman since the silent era."
Josephine Monaghan, a nineteenth-century East Coast society woman is ostracized from her community after she gives birth to an illegitimate child. The character ends up in the frontier of the American West. There, she encounters poverty and the hardships of frontier life. An attempted rape convinces her that the only way to survive in the West is to pass herself off as a man. Eventually, Jo becomes a miner, then a sheepherder. She intervenes to save the life of Tinman, a Chinese man slated for hanging, by agreeing to take him on as a household servant. Tinman soon discovers Jo's secret, and the two eventually fall in love. Although they privately live as man and woman, the rest of the world believes Jo to be a man until her secret is discovered after her death. Backstein commented that "the real Little Jos of the West—for she was not alone—might have made their choice not as the result of a direct act of aggression but as a means of escaping the more quiet violence of their restricted lives." New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden further observed that the film "offers a stinging rebuke to the traditional Hollywood myth of the Old West. In Ms. Greenwald's countermyth, the outsiders—a cross-dressed woman and an Asian man—are the enlightened ones, and the frontiersmen rapacious pillagers and barbarians." Entertainment Weekly reviewer Ty Burr called the film "an unvarnished winner."
Songcatcher, released in 2000, is "well worth seeing for its celebration of Appalachian mountain music in the early 1900s," commented reviewer Joseph Cunneen in the National Catholic Reporter. Dr. Lily Penleric is a musicologist at a university in the Eastern United States in this movie. Expecting a well-deserved promotion, she is infuriated when the all-male review board once again denies her tenure. Disillusioned and angry, Lily decides to head west to visit her sister, Elna, who has set up a school with fellow teacher Harriet Tolliver in a remote area of the Appalachian Mountains. While there, she discovers that the mountain folk surround themselves with music, and that many of the songs that have survived generations in the mountains are only slightly altered versions of the original English and Scottish folk ballads that came across the ocean with the first settlers. Realizing the musicological importance of her find, she sets about locating and recording as many songs as she can. As she struggles to record and preserve the region's audio heritage, Lily also works to overcome the distrust of the locals, who have been previously cheated by outsiders such as the coal companies that encouraged residents to sell the mineral rights to their property for a fraction of their worth. Local mountain man Tom is particularly incensed at Lily's motives, and he impedes her progress. Lily and Tom, however, find themselves drifting toward mutual attraction while Lily sheds her East Coast contrivances and becomes a welcomed, participating member of the community. Lily also contends with the lesbian relationship between Elna and the older Harriet and the effect its discovery has on the mountain community in which they all live.
Set in 1907 and based in part on the efforts of real-life musicologist Olive Campbell, the movie "is a singing valentine, embracing both the local women who passed on this musical tradition to successive generations and the Olive Campbells who undertook the task of sorting it all for the world to hear," remarked Jan Stuart in the Advocate. "Infused with the twang of Appalachian mountain music and aglow with picture-postcard images of North Carolina's rugged inland landscape, Maggie Greenwald's Songcatcher is a sweet, lyrical ode to rural America in the early 1900's," Holden concluded in the New York Times.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, July 3, 2001, Jan Stuart, review of Song-catcher, p. 47.
American Spectator, November, 1993, James Bowman, review of The Ballad of Little Jo, p. 68.
Cineaste, spring, 1993, Karen Backstein, review of The Ballad of Little Jo, p. 45.
Daily News Magazine, August 27, 1989, Danny Peary, "The Crooked Cue."
Daily Variety, January 22, 2002, "Director's View Film Festival Has Selected Director Maggie Greenwald to Receive the Second Annual Dorothy Arzner Award for Her Film Songcatcher, "p.31.
Entertainment Weekly, September 17, 1993, Ty Burr, review of The Ballad of Little Jo, p. 76; March 25, 1994, Ty Burr, review of The Ballad of Little Jo, p. 60; September 6, 1996, Caren Weiner, review of The Kill-Off, p. 84.
Film Quarterly, winter, 1995, Tania Modleski, "Our Heroes Have Sometimes Been Cowgirls," interview with Maggie Greenwald.
Guardian Weekend (London, England), December 4, 1993, Lizzie Francke, "Western Women."
Montage-IFG/West, November, 1989, Fred Dewey, "The Dark Secret of Jim Thompson and Maggie Greenwald."
National Catholic Reporter, July 27, 2001, Joseph Cunneen, "Off the Path," review of Songcatcher, p. 14.
New York Times, July 22, 1988, Caryn James, "A Story of a Man and His Boredom," review of Home Remedy; October 19, 1990, review of The Kill-Off; August 15, 1993, Linda Lee, "When Men Were Men (and So Were Women)"; August 20, 1993, Stephen Holden, "Feminist Cross-Dresser in the Old West," review of The Ballad of Little Jo; June 15, 2001, Stephen Holden, "A Tender Lady Explores Mountains and Their Music," review of Songcatcher.
People, September 6, 1993, Leah Rozen, review of The Ballad of Little Jo, p. 17.
Rolling Stone, August 19, 1993, Peter Travers, review of The Ballad of Little Jo.
Sight and Sound, November, 1993, B. Ruby Rich, "At Home on the Range."
Texas Triangle, November 10, 1993, Lynn C. Miller, "Rewards High in Cross-Dressing Western."
Time Out (London, England), March 2, 1994, J. Bartlett, "Pistol-Packing Mama."
Variety, February 7, 2000, Dennis Harvey, review of Songcatcher, p. 58.
Village Voice, October 23, 1990, review of The Kill-Off.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (July 14, 2006), brief biography of Maggie Greenwald.
PlanetOut.com, http://www.planetout.com/ (July 14, 2006), Lindsay Marsak, interview with Maggie Greenwald.*