It’s hard to imagine how many movies and albums Mike Mills watched and listened to during the making of 20th Century Women.
But he did us a solid and narrowed it down to his six essential films and records. Here's that shortlist filled with punk vibes and plenty of rebellious women.
Daisies (1966) dir. Věra Chytilová
This is one of my favorite films. Two women run amok, in a film that’s running amok, political like getting drunk can be political in that there’s some liberation, some powerful rejection of power in unsobriety. Visually kinetic, non-plot-centric, gorgeous, and infused with a female rebellion and female anger and power in the best way. The color “smears” in my film are not a 60’s reference, they’re a little letter of appreciation to Věra Chytilová. Released in 1966, two years before the Prague Spring, the film was labeled as "depicting the wanton" by the Czech authorities and banned. Director Chytilová was forbidden to work in her homeland until 1975.
Amarcord (1973) dir. Federico Fellini
This influenced me a lot for 20th, as did his epic 8 1/2, but Amarcord, with its group portrait within a place portrait within a time portrait very much influenced the shape of my film. And it features a wonderful trading of narrators, sometimes very minor characters narrate for a brief moment unexpectedly, this all influenced me very much. And in general, Fellini’s Roman spirit, taking you by the shoulder and pushing you through his story, blending fable and reality, warm, inviting, entertaining, not afraid to be delicious while at the same time not being easy or saccharine. This was never one of my favorites of one of my big hero’s work, but then when I began thinking of 20th, it just kept coming to me in my mind…
Stage Door (1937) dir. Gregory La Cava
An all-women film from the 1930’s—a group of subversive, wise-talking frustrated actors trying to get by in Depression-era America. This so helped me fill in my real mother's voice—she was born in the 20’s and had all of these women’s anti-authoritarian panache. Amazing performances by Ginger Rogers (who would make a great punk rock character), a very young Lucille Ball before she figured out her schtick, and Gail Patrick—one of my favorites from this period.
Suicide: Suicide (1977)
Alan Vega and Martin Rev’s amazing, influential, just so before-its-time-they-got-punished-for-being-so-ahead kind of electro-punk album. It features the very beautiful song "Cheree," which we use in Abbie’s bio section—and it’s a testament to my love for Greta Gerwig that she got this song in the film. If you want something feral, but without so many punk tropes, something powerful by men but not heteronormative, if you want something that’s so its own voice, so its own soul and energy, this record is for you.
Talking Heads: 77 (1977)
Just gonna stick with this amazing year, 1977, though my film is set in 1979. Our movie begins with the song “Don’t Worry About The Government," which in its subversive funk vibes, its strange whimsical lyrics and voicing, its spaciousness, reminds me so much of the end of the 70’s, which to me is both the beginning of “now” (hence the Talking Heads continued relevance) and the end of post-war America; the beginning of the end of the car, the power of the middle class, the end of the 60’s counter culture, and the real last moment of pre-digital life in America. If you think about the Heads' first 4 records; 77 (in '77), More Songs About Buildings and Food ('78), Fear of Music ('79), and Remain In Light ('80)... holy shit what a streak, what growth and change, how inventive, what an amazing accomplishment.
The Raincoats: The Raincoats (1979)
I’m so proud we have their song, "Fairytale in the Supermarket" in our film. If I could, I’d just like to connect you with Greil Marcus’ amazing little essay on them, which I call “The Process of Punk” but is actually something else. It is a very beautiful perspective on punk in general, and describes what The Raincoats do so perfectly.