Regulars to the site know of my tendency to discuss the roles of women in cinema, and the classic film era simultaneously marginalized and provided opportunities for women in Hollywood. Frances Marion is one of the preeminent female screenwriters of cinema, past and present, specifically in creating magic with Mary Pickford. Bridget Terry’s 2000 documentary is a worthy exploration of the screenwriter alongside the long-term ramifications of how Marion’s inspired other women to take up the pen for cinema.
Marion’s voice is omnipresent whether it’s Uma Thurman narrating or Kathy Bates reading letters and other correspondence from the screenwriter. In its brief 56-minutes we watch Marion’s life unfold. Her prolific output is remarkable, over 200 films written and the winner of two Oscars. Marion grew up well-to-do in a house of intellectuals, far from the glittering world of Hollywood. When she finally came into her own as a screenwriter she commanded respect, and yet is all but forgotten to most people.
Her strongest collaborator was Pickford, who worked on several of her most beloved films including A Little Princess. Their friendship was so strong the two were able to finish each other’s sentences and lived two blocks away from each other. In a world where female friendships are negative in movies, Marion and Pickford proved women could definitely be lifelong friends away from the klieg lights. The various celebrity interviewers, predominately the new generation of female screenwriters, have all been inspired by Marion and focus on the positivity she provided the industry, as well as mentioning the continued marginalization of women in the screenwriting game.
For such a brief documentary, Terry’s doc is mainly a message film about the need for women in entertainment through Marion by proxy. The other female screenwriters discuss their experiences as well as how Marion’s inspired them to soldier on, a new crop of proteges; the women of Hollywood today still refuse to lie down. There’s a universal connection between women filmmakers/screenwriters of today and yesteryear, which is easily apparent in the film and resonates with audiences. I would have appreciated a full-length documentary. This feels more like a bonus feature to a DVD; this actually comes on DVD with several Pickford films. If Without Lying Down is on, take the 56-minutes out of your day and experience it. Marion’s story is fascinating and continues to inspire!