As I have mentioned time and time again, the essence and importance of women filmmakers continues to be taken for granted. It is really a damn shame, because women have excellent ability to make their own films about life, love, and everything in-between. And fortunately, director Allison Anders is definitely one of them. With her stunning 1992 landmark, Gas Food Lodging, she elevates familiar territory while adding her own distinctive flair for women in emotional peril.
Based on a novel by Richard Peck, the film takes place in a small New Mexico town where Nora (Brooke Adams), a single mother who waitresses to keep her sanity intact while raising two polar-opposite daughters Trudi (Ione Skye) and Shade (Fairzua Balk). Trudi, beautiful and highly rebellious, quits school and works alongside her mother, while Shade, dreamy and imaginative, spends most of her time watching old-movie matinees. Their lives are turned upside down when Trudi ends up pregnant after a series of promiscious encounters, which compels her to leave town. Complications ensue even more when the absent father (James Brolin) comes back into the picture in hopes of mending the relationships he destroyed when he left. But love does come back into their lives as Nora falls in love with a TV installation man (David Lansbury), and Shade finds romance with film projectionist Javier (Jacob Vargas). Told from her point-of-view, Shade learns to grow up and accept the way that life is, with warts-and-all.
Anders had already made a name for herself with her 1987 debut, Border Radio, but with Gas Food Lodging, she really cemented herself and her singular filmmaking abilities into film history as a force to be reckoned with. Her cinema is one that honestly portrays women who are strong, tough, smart, and independent. Her work should be re-evaluated for the brilliance it obviously is. She also got amazing performances from not just Adams, Skye, and Balk, but also from Lansbury, Vargas, Robert Knepper, Donovan Leitch, and Brolin (even in a brief cameo appearance). With this, Anders deftly showcased modern women's lives without becoming anti-male.
Arrow's restoration gives this indie classic the treatment it richly deserves. Although the special features are rather slim, they are still interesting enough to make this overall release a must-have for movie collectors. They consist of: The Road to Laramie: A Look Back at Gas Food Lodging, a brand-new interview with Anders and screenwriter Josh Olson; Cinefile: Reel Women, a 1995 documentary by Chris Rodley, looks at the challenges women face in the film industry from independent to studio filmmaking and includes interviews with Anders, Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion, Penny Marshall, Gale Anne Hurd, and others. It also has an image galley with some great behind-the-scenes pics. The release concludes with reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Matthew Griffin, and a short story by Davy Rothbart.
In closing, I really did enjoy this moving study of women on their own terms, by women with their own creative eye for story and honesty. This is one of the many, many reasons why female filmmaking should be taken seriously and embraced more, because Cinema would be lost without it.