Hollywood abuses actresses, says director

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One of Britain's leading film makers has launched a scathing attack on Hollywood's depiction of women, accusing the major studios of "abusing" actresses.

One of Britain's leading film makers has launched a scathing attack on Hollywood's depiction of women, accusing the major studios of "abusing" actresses.

In an exclusive interview with the Independent on Sunday, Mike Figgis claims the industry is permeated by a "laddish" culture that demeans women and is totally incapable of differentiating between sex and pornography.

The Newcastle-born film-maker, who has both Time Code and the highly-acclaimed Miss Julie on current release, believes actresses are being scarred by the constant, titillating demands of the major studios.

Figgis,who has worked with Nastassja Kinski, Elisabeth Shue, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Melanie Griffith, said: "I find film in general very unhealthy towards women. It has become a laddish art form which controls women, particularly when it comes to sex scenes."

In his best-known film, Leaving Las Vegas, Elisabeth Shue plays the part of a prostitute who falls hopelessly in love with the film's hero, an alcoholic ex-screenwriter Ben, played by Nicolas Cage. In one of the film's most distressing scenes she is raped by a group of boys. The critics, however, praised Figgis's sensitive, non-exploitative direction.

"Most actresses are now going to films knowing that parts of them are going to be robbed. Directors tell them they need a nude scene and assure them that nothing will be shown but something always is," said Figgis. "Women become obsessed with their bodies because if they are going to have their bum or their nipples stolen then they think they'd better look good. It's really unhealthy."

Figgis said that in his experience many actresses were emotionally damaged because they felt they were being judged on their appearance - often in the nude.

"When I was making Time Code I found that many of the actresses, as a result of these sort of experiences - abuse I'd call it - were really insecure. Even though they knew they were under none of that pressure with me they felt that they had to look good because they'd be judged in terms of their next mainstream movie.

"It would be hard not to make any of these women look good and so I ended up having conversations with them about specifics: 'OK. I won't shoot you in bad light or up your nose'.

"The thing is it's not only harmful for them but it has profound effects on society. A young girl growing up having her first sexual experience will impersonate screen sex, which is really just a bad impersonation of porn sex which has nothing to do with real sex."

Figgis, whose partner Saffron Burrows appears in both Time Code and Miss Julie, also talked of the difficulties of sustaining a relationship in the industry.

"The film business is so volatile and time consuming you end up spending a lot of time apart. It's important to work together. Unless you do I think it's impossible to sustain a relationship."

The 52-year-old turned his back on Hollywood's big-budget studio system after making the films Mr Jones and his 1994 remake of The Browning Version. He went on to make the award-winning Leaving Las Vegas with Cage. Now Figgis says he and Cage will never work together again.

"Nic has always been very comfortable in films that weren't as brilliant as him and that's why we'll never work together again. Leaving Las Vegas was as strong as him. When we finished it there was all this 'Hey man we must work together again' and all that blah blah blah and I took him at his word.

"I got this dreadful script for One Night Stand and re-wrote it especially for him and then he said he didn't want to do it.

"He said, 'I've just married Patricia and it's about infidelity and you know we have this pact that if either of us is unfaithful we can shoot each other so you know I don't want to go into that area'.

"I said, 'Nic you're an actor, what are you talking about?' I also offered him Miss Julie and he was 'Wow this is great' but getting the guy to commit to a date was impossible so we'll probably never work again.

"It's not a shame. There are plenty of great actors out there and I'd really like to work with some unknown actors. I've got my eye on some East Europeans who I think could be really good. Unknowns are always the best."

Indeed Figgis is already preparing his next film for which he will use the same live-time technique he employs in Time Code. It's called Hotel and centres on 93 minutes in the life of a hotel in Venice. He hopes the new technique will help to break the "destructive mould" of the studio system.

"The fact is digital systems are about to become brilliant and extremely cheap. Five years down the line any little film club or film buff will be able to afford the equipment to make and put on their own stuff. I pray it goes in that direction."