Sunday, May 02, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 117: Girl 27

Late Friday, I received an invitation to a website called Snagfilms, a remarkable repository of documentary features available for free viewing.

The Snagfilms library includes Oscar winners, documentaries of immense historical importance and films that have been banned, languished undistributed or have simply not travelled beyond their country of manufacture.

They touch every imaginable topic from an inner city high school that fights gangs with its marching band, to talent scouts riding the Trans-Siberian Express in search of the next Supermodel to exploding offshore oil rigs.

There’s a study of Norman Corwin, the prolific screenwriter about to be honored by the Writers Guild of America on his 100th birthday. There are Richard Dawkins’ profoundly challenging “Atheism Tapes”. There is even the story of the Moscow Cat Theatre.

I couldn’t believe what I’d discovered and couldn’t wait to introduce you all to such a vast and rewarding collection.

And then I found “Girl 27”.


I pride myself on knowing a lot about Hollywood, the inside stories, the untold stories, those bits of trivia that help some people win small fortunes on “Jeopardy”. But I had never heard of “Girl 27” and her story utterly stunned me.

In 1937, MGM, the world’s most powerful studio, tricked 120 underage chorus girls and extras into attending a stag party for its top salesmen. They attended costume fittings and received performance instructions, thinking they had been hired for a movie shoot. But, in reality, they were literally being thrown to the wolves.

When dancer Patricia Douglas tried to escape, she was brutally raped; and then defied the studio’s demand for silence, filing charges as MGM fought back with the biggest cover-up in Hollywood history. A cover-up that has continued for more than 70 years.

Among the many moving moments in “Girl 27” is a shot of the elderly son of another MGM victim hearing his mother sing for the first time. But we see only his emotional reaction and not the performance he’s witnessing. For MGM forbid the use of any of its footage when it discovered what “Girl 27” was about.

Frequently, some of us in the Canadian showbiz blogosphere bemoan the professional dread of retribution that silences so many in our community.

As recently as this week, I learned crewmembers on a new Canadian film were being careful about sharing their first hand knowledge that the movie was little more than a well-polished turd. It had been made clear to them that any negative comments would curtail future employment.

Interesting the kind of people who get your tax dollars to make movies around here, isn’t it?

And while that kind of self-censorship is troubling. What happens in “Girl 27” is unbelievably worse. It is a chilling example of how silence destroys everyone but the guilty.

You can see the story of “Girl 27” in HD, high quality audio and in its entirety here courtesy of Snagfilms.

It’s a hard film to watch. But you need to. And then you need to ask yourself why you keep quiet about things that matter.

And then try to Enjoy your Sunday.


Mac said...

In this documentary, filmmaker David Stenn won Patricia Douglas's trust enough that she was finally able to tell her story. (She had become a recluse and would speak to no-one about what had happened to her.) For that he should be commended. However, I found the film oddly exploitative of Douglas's suffering and in a way, it was as though Stenn was deceiving and using Douglas for what he thought was a film that would elevate him and please those he sought to impress (his book editor, Jackie Kennedy, for one). Perhaps Stenn didn't exploit Douglas to the degree MGM did but I still got the creepies watched him dance on her grave.

jimhenshaw said...


I'm sorry if the film disturbed or confused you.

But rather than elevating the filmmaker, bringing a disturbing story to light was its purpose.

And no matter how gentle you are with the subject matter, it is almost impossible to make a film like this without "re-victimizing" the victim in the sense that they once more have to relive the experience.

That happens in courtrooms all the time. It's the only way anyone else can uncover the truth.

I don't believe anyone "danced on her grave" if you meant that metaphorically. In a literal sense it never happened at all.

The only grave visited in the film is that of her attacker.

And if you ask me, there should be a permanent dance floor constructed over that one as well as those of some of the other people involved.

Mac said...

I'll admit I'm a bit too close to this subject in general. Especially the whole cultural attitude that rape only applies to a nun or an infant. But since I read your comment about the grave scene I was scratching my head and thinking "Am I going senile? I'm not that old - yet." So I asked around and here's a bit of interesting trivia. You are right that it was David Ross's (the rapist's) grave that Stenn goes to. But indeed he did dance on the grave. I'm not senile, after all ;) just got my graves messed up. Here's the odd thing. That scene is only in the cut that was made for Sundance. Since I'd seen the film about 3 years ago, it must have been that cut. Subsequently, the film was recut and that scene was either revised or removed (and this must be the version on Snagfilms). Maybe some other scenes have been altered as well.

Susan Anderson said...

Sad, what women had to go through, really not so very long ago. I am glad sombody finaly brought this out. Interesting movie, well written and played....but I was horrified that Stenn let Pat Douglases Daughter's sick review of her mothers funeral and how much she hated her end the movie...what was the point?? If he really wanted to vindicate this woman he would have left that out! The woman has suffered enough...and she's dead and can't respond. Bad Bad, ending.....

Anonymous said...

I agree that her daughter should have been left out of the movie. She was so callus, and unsympathetic to what her mother experienced.

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about the daughter's contribution too. I end up thinking that her daughter's love (or lack there of) was part of the price she paid for having been raped. He took her innocence, her career, her life, her ability to feel, to love. And then her mother (by selling her out) took her feeling of self worth.

If she can't/won't forgive her mother, you'd think her daughter would at least mourn for the mother she never had.

Anonymous said...

Just finished watching the documentary. How sad that Patricia was not only victimized by her rapist, but also her mother, lawyer, studio, the police, parking attendant, etc. Worst of all was the comments made by the daughter who couldn't even get a decent receptacle to keep her mother's ashes in. The "cardboard box" comment is, hopefully, something she looks back on with shame. Patricia Douglas, for all her faults, was a ballsy woman. What other woman, in the 1930s, would have done what she did to pursue justice. The rape was the defining moment in her life, made her mistrustful, frigid and emotionally distant from everyone. After finally knowing the truth, you'd think that her daughter would've been more forgiving, especially after her mother's death.