Kathryn Ann Bigelow
November 27, 1951
San Carlos, California, U.S.
|Education||San Francisco Art Institute (BFA)|
Columbia University (MFA)
(m. 1989; div. 1991)
Kathryn Ann Bigelow (//; born November 27, 1951) is an American filmmaker. Covering a wide range of genres, her films include Near Dark (1987), Point Break (1991), Strange Days (1995), K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), The Hurt Locker (2008), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), and Detroit (2017).
Bigelow was the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director with The Hurt Locker, the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing, and the BAFTA Award for Best Direction. She was also the first woman to win the Saturn Award for Best Director, with Strange Days.
Early life and education
Bigelow was born in San Carlos, California, the only child of Gertrude Kathryn (née Larson; 1917–1994), a librarian, and Ronald Elliot Bigelow (1915–1992), a paint factory manager. Her mother was of Norwegian descent. She attended Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California.
Bigelow's early creative endeavors were as a student of painting. She enrolled at San Francisco Art Institute in the fall of 1970 and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in December 1972. While enrolled at SFAI, she was accepted into the Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program in New York City. For a while, Bigelow lived as an impoverished artist, staying with painter Julian Schnabel in performance artist Vito Acconci's loft. She had a minor role in Richard Serra's video Prisoner's Dilemma (1974). Bigelow teamed up with Philip Glass on a real-estate venture in which they renovated distressed apartments downtown and sold them for a profit.
Bigelow entered the graduate film program at Columbia University, where she studied theory and criticism and earned her master's degree. Her professors included Vito Acconci, Sylvère Lotringer, and Susan Sontag, as well as Andrew Sarris and Edward W. Said, and she worked with the Art & Language collective and Lawrence Weiner. She also taught at the California Institute of the Arts. While working with Art & Language Bigelow published an article, "Not on the Development of Contradiction," in the short-lived Art & Language magazine The Fox, and began a short film, The Set-Up (1978), which found favor with director Miloš Forman, then teaching at Columbia University, and which Bigelow later submitted as part of her MFA at Columbia.
If there's specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can't change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It's irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don't. There should be more women directing; I think there's just not the awareness that it's really possible. It is.— Kathryn Bigelow in 1990
Bigelow's short The Set-Up is a 20-minute deconstruction of violence in film. The film portrays "two men fighting each other as the semioticians Sylvère Lotringer and Marshall Blonsky deconstruct the images in voice-over." Bigelow asked her actors to actually beat and bludgeon each other throughout the film's all-night shoot.
Next, she directed Near Dark (1987), which she co-scripted with Eric Red. With this film, she began her lifelong fascination with manipulating movie conventions and genre. The main cast included three actors who had appeared in the film Aliens. In the same year, she directed a music video for the New Order song "Touched by the Hand of God"; the video is a spoof of glam metal imagery.
Bigelow's subsequent films, Blue Steel, Point Break, and Strange Days, merged her philosophically minded manipulation of pace with the market demands of mainstream film-making. In the process, Bigelow became recognizable as both a Hollywood brand and an auteur. All three films rethink the conventions of action cinema while exploring gendered and racial politics.
Blue Steel starred Jamie Lee Curtis as a rookie police officer who is stalked by a psychopathic killer, played by Ron Silver. As with Near Dark, Eric Red co-wrote the screenplay. The film, originally bankrolled for $10 million, was shot on location in New York due to financial considerations and because Bigelow doesn't "like movies where you see a welfare apartment and it's the size of two football fields."
Bigelow followed Blue Steel with the cult classic Point Break (1991), which starred Keanu Reeves as an FBI agent who poses as a surfer to catch the "Ex-Presidents", a team of surfing armed robbers led by Patrick Swayze who wear Reagan, Nixon, LBJ and Jimmy Carter masks when they hold up banks. Point Break was Bigelow's most profitable 'studio' film, taking approximately $80 million at the global box office during the year of its release, and yet it remains one of her lowest rated films, both in commercial reviews and academic analysis. Critics argued that it conformed to some of the clichés and tired stereotypes of the action genre and that it abandoned much of the stylistic substance and subtext of Bigelow's other work.
In 1993, she directed an episode of the TV series Wild Palms and appeared in one episode as Mazie Woiwode (uncredited).
I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about what my aptitude is, and I really think it's to explore and push the medium. It's not about breaking gender roles or genre traditions.— Kathryn Bigelow in 2009
Bigelow's 1995 film Strange Days was written and produced by her ex-husband James Cameron. Despite some positive reviews, the film was a commercial failure. Furthermore, many attributed the creative vision to Cameron, diminishing Bigelow's perceived influence on the film.
She directed three episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street in 1997 and 1998.
In 2002, she directed K-19: The Widowmaker, starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, about a group of men aboard the Soviet Union's first nuclear-powered submarine. The film fared poorly at the box office and was received with mixed reactions by critics.
Bigelow next directed The Hurt Locker, which was first shown at the Venice Film Festival in September 2008, was the Closing Night selection for Maryland Film Festival in May 2009, and theatrically released in the US in June 2009. It qualified for the 2010 Oscars as it did not premiere in an Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles until mid-2009. Set in post-invasion Iraq, the film received "universal acclaim" (according to Metacritic) and a 97% "fresh" rating from the critics aggregated by Rotten Tomatoes. The film stars Jeremy Renner, Brian Geraghty and Anthony Mackie, with cameos by Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes. She won the Directors Guild of America award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures (becoming the first woman to win the award) and also received a Golden Globe nomination for her direction. In 2010, she won the award for Best Director and The Hurt Locker won Best Picture at the 63rd British Academy Film Awards. She became the first woman to receive an Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker. She was the fourth woman in history to be nominated for the honor, and only the second American woman. A competitor in the category was her ex-husband, James Cameron, who directed the sci-fi film Avatar.
In her acceptance speech for her Academy Award, Bigelow surprised many audience members when she didn't mention her status as the first woman to ever receive an Oscar for Best Director. In the past, Bigelow has refused to identify herself as a "woman filmmaker" or a "feminist filmmaker." She has been criticized for the violence in her films by writers like Mark Salisbury, who asked in The Guardian, "Why does she make the kind of movie she makes?" and by Marcia Froelke Coburn, who asked in the Chicago Tribune, "What's a nice woman like Bigelow doing making erotic, violent vampire movies?"
Bigelow's next film was Zero Dark Thirty, a dramatization of American efforts to find Osama bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty was acclaimed by film critics but also attracted controversy and strong criticism for its allegedly pro-torture stance. Bigelow won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director for the film, making her the first woman to win the award twice. She had already won previously for directing The Hurt Locker. She was also the first woman to receive the National Board of Review Award for Best Director.
Bigelow collaborated with Mark Boal for the third time on the film Detroit, set during the 1967 Detroit riots. Detroit began filming in the summer of 2016 and was released in July 2017, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the riots, and on the anniversary day of the Algiers Motel incident, which is depicted in the film. John Boyega, Hannah Murray, Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, Anthony Mackie, and Joseph David-Jones starred in the film.
Bigelow also directs commercials. She is represented internationally by commercial production company SMUGGLER, where she has directed commercials for the Army National Guard, Budweiser and AT&T, some of which were broadcast during the Super Bowl. In 2022, Bigelow was nominated by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials for Apple's "Hollywood In Your Pocket".
In 2014, Bigelow announced plans to direct two movies: an adaptation of Anand Giridharadas's non-fiction book The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas starring Tom Hardy and a feature based on the life of Bowe Bergdahl written by Mark Boal.
Bigelow is known for her shifting relationship with Hollywood and its conventional film standards and techniques. Her work "both satisfies and transcends the demands of formula to create cinema that's ideologically complex, viscerally thrilling, and highly personal". She has had success both ascribing to conventional Hollywood cinema techniques as well as creating her own unique style that pushes against mainstream conventions. She is also known for entrenching social issues of gender, race, and politics into her work of all genres.
While her films are often categorized in the action genre, she describes her own style as an exploration of "film's potential to be kinetic". Her frequent and notable action sequences are unique because of her use of "purpose-built" camera equipment to create unique mobile shots that are very distinctive and indicative of the physicality of her work. In many of her films, such as The Hurt Locker, Point Break, and Strange Days, she has used utilized mobile and hand-held cameras.
Perhaps what Bigelow is most well known for is her use of extensive violence in her films. Most of her films include violent sequences and many of them revolve around the theme of violence. Violence has been a staple in her films from the beginning of her career. In her first short film The Set-Up (1978), two professors deconstruct two men beating each other up and reflect on the "fascistic appeal of screen violence". For this film Bigelow asked the two actors, including a then unknown Gary Busey, to actually beat each other up in the film's all-night shoot. This interest in violence seeped its way into her first full-length feature film The Loveless, starring Willem Dafoe, which follows a 1950s motorcycle gang's visit to a small town and the ensuing violence that occurs. Her next film, Near Dark, follows a young boy who falls in love with a vampire after being bitten by her. The film was originally conceived of as a Western but the genre was so unpopular at the time that Bigelow had to adjust her script and invert the genres conventions. She still used the violent staples of the genre including sieges, shoot-outs, and horseback chases. It is regarded for its combination of the Western and horror genre and its exploration of "homosexuality and 'white America's illusion of safety and control'". The film became a cult classic within the horror genre community. Bigelow herself saw a screening of it in Greenwich Village with a horror genre crowd.
Blue Steel was her first venture into the action film genre, with which she has stayed throughout her career and has found most success. The film revolves around a female cop who is falsely accused of a murder and who in the process of clearing her name investigates a killing spree connected to the original murder. Similarly to Near Dark, Bigelow inverts the typical action genre conventions by placing a female protagonist at the center. The film digs deeply into feminist issues and is often taught and studied by feminist film scholars. Her next film Point Break, starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, was her breakout film in terms of mainstream success. The film follows a detective who goes undercover in a suspected criminal gang of surfers who primarily rob banks. It marks the first time that Bigelow used lengthy Steadicam tracking shots. It was also her biggest financial success yet, grossing $83.5 million worldwide with a budget of $24 million. Although her next film, Strange Days, which ruminates on the relationships between media, sex, race, class, and technology, had a budget of $42 million, it only grossed just under $8 million. Although the film flopped, it led Bigelow and her team to spend over a year developing a camera that intended to approximate human vision. Sequences filmed by this camera are widely regarded as innovative and startling regardless of the film's success.
The commercial failure of Strange Days was followed by a stream of commercial and critical flops for Bigelow. Her films The Weight of Water and K-19: The Widowmaker received negative reviews from critics and little attention from the general public. With her independently produced film The Hurt Locker she made a commercial and critical comeback. This film was her transition into political and historical film. The Hurt Locker, which follows members of a bomb squad serving in the Iraq War, was Bigelow's first venture into pseudo-documentary style film, abandoning the aesthetic stylization found in Strange Days and Near Dark. The film utilizes the genre's tendency to use quick cuts, shaky camera, and rapid zooms. It also breaks with the conventional narrative structures of her previous films, following a more unorganized and experimental narrative structure. Her next film, Zero Dark Thirty, is widely seen as a direct extension of The Hurt Locker, going further in-depth of historical analysis and addressing issues of geopolitics and American foreign policy. The film is her most controversial to date, with heavy criticism on the depiction of the CIA's torture practices.
Throughout her career, Bigelow has been known for her tendency to go to extremes for her films. In Point Break, while filming the skydiving scene, Bigelow was on the airplane with a parachute on, as she filmed Patrick Swayze throw himself into the sky. During surfing scenes in the same film, she would either paddle on a longboard or lean over a nearby boat as far as possible to get shots of Keanu Reeves surfing. For the opening of Strange Days she controlled a crane that dropped a camera man off the edge of a tall building. For The Hurt Locker, Bigelow filmed in Jordan in up to 130 °F (54 °C) heat.
In 1975, Bigelow published an article in the third and final issue of the Art & Language Foundation magazine The Fox entitled "Not on the Development of Contradiction." In it, Bigelow argued that the magazine's function was "the unintelligible manifestation of contradiction" (p. 38) and that it was connected to "a mode of socialization reproducing bourgeois-liberal thinking" (p. 39). The article quotes from writings by Jurgen Habermas and Mao Tse-Tung to substantiate this proposition.
In the early 1980s, Bigelow modeled for a Gap advertisement.
Her acting credits include Lizzie Borden's 1983 film Born in Flames as a feminist newspaper editor, and as the leader of a cowgirl gang in the 1988 music video of Martini Ranch's "Reach", which was directed by James Cameron.
|1981||The Loveless||Yes||No||Yes||Co-written and co-directed with Monty Montgomery|
|1987||Near Dark||Yes||No||Yes||Co-written with Eric Red|
|1991||Point Break||Yes||No||Uncredited||Co-written with W. Peter Iliff and James Cameron (uncredited)|
|1996||Undertow||No||No||Yes||Co-written with Eric Red|
|2000||The Weight of Water||Yes||No||No|
|2002||K-19: The Widowmaker||Yes||Yes||No|
|2008||The Hurt Locker||Yes||Yes||No||Academy Award for Best Director |
Academy Award for Best Picture
|2012||Zero Dark Thirty||Yes||Yes||No||Nominated — Academy Award for Best Picture|
- Triple Frontier (2019)
- Wild Palms: "Rising Sons" (1993) miniseries
- Homicide: Life on the Street: "Fallen Heroes" Parts 1 & 2 (1998)
- Homicide: Life on the Street: "Lines of Fire" (1999)
- Karen Sisco: "He Was a Friend of Mine" (2004)
|1978||The Set-Up||Director||Short film|
|1983||Born in Flames||Actress||Role: Kathy Larson|
|1987||"Touched by the Hand of God" – New Order||Director||Music video|
|1988||"Reach" – Martini Ranch||Actress||Music video|
|1995||"Selling Jesus" – Skunk Anansie||Director||Music video|
|2014||Last Days||Director||Short film / PSA|
Awards and nominations
- List of Academy Award records
- List of female film and television directors
- List of accolades received by Zero Dark Thirty
- List of accolades received by The Hurt Locker
- Vulgar auteurism
- Arthouse action film
- Cult film
- "Bigelow, Kathryn". Current Biography Yearbook 2010. Ipswich, MA: H.W. Wilson. 2010. pp. 38–42. ISBN 9780824211134.
- "'Hurt Locker' wins best picture, director". Today.msnbc.msn.com. March 8, 2010. Archived from the original on July 22, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2010.
- "First woman to win top Guild's award". Gulf Times. January 31, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2010.
- "Kathryn Bigelow wins best director BAFTA for 'Hurt Locker'". New York: NY Daily News. Reuters. February 21, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2010.
- Stone, Oliver (April 29, 2010), "Kathryn Bigelow", TIME, The 2010 TIME 100, archived from the original on May 2, 2010, retrieved May 7, 2010
- "Kathryn Bigelow Biography". yahoo.com. Retrieved June 26, 2010.
- "Early praise for 'Hurt Locker': Narrative on war in Iraq may be Oscar-worthy".
- "Kathryn Bigelow: Road Warrior" – an interview published June 2009 in Newsweek magazine
- Keough, Peter (2013). Kathryn Bigelow: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. pp. ix–xii.
- Duray, Dan (6 February 2013). "Point Break: As Oscar Calls, a Look at Kathryn Bigelow's Decade in the NYC Art World". Observer.
- Hollywood Flashback: When Kathryn Bigelow Made Oscar History as the First Woman to Win Best Director|Hollywood Reporter
- Dargis, Manohla, "Action!", New York Times, June 18, 2009. Access date: June 27, 2009
- Hond, Paul, ,Columbia Magazine, Winter 2009-10. Access date: Sept. 10, 2015
- Rapold, Nicolas, "Interview: Kathryn Bigelow Goes Where the Action Is", Village Voice, June 23, 2009. Access date: June 27, 2009.
- "Kathryn Bigelow – Filmmaking at the Dark Edge of Exhilaration" Archived 2011-11-21 at the Wayback Machine, Harvard Film Archive, July 1, 2009. Access date: December 17, 2009.
- Filkins, Dexter (December 17, 2012). "Bin Laden, The Movie". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
- Benson-Allott, Caetlin. "Undoing Violence: Politics, Genre, and Duration in Kathryn Bigelow's Cinema" (preview/paywall), Film Quarterly 64.2 (Winter 2010), pp. 33–43. University of California Press; link via JSTOR. "Abstract: Kathryn Bigelow's eight feature films all seek a balance between progressive representations of gender and race and the demands of commercial filmmaking. Close attention to the filmmaker's experiments with duration and camera technology reveals her interest in reworking Hollywood conventions to critique conventionally masculinist genres."
- Perry, Michelle P., "Kathryn Bigelow discusses role of 'seductive violence' in her films", The Tech (MIT), March 16, 1990. An interview with the star (Jamie Lee Curtis) and writer-director (Bigelow) of Blue Steel.
- Simmons, Amy (July 2019). "Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)". Senses of Cinema.
- Kelleher, Ed (April 1990). "Kathryn Bigelow: Twisting Movie Conventions". The Film Journal. 93: 2 – via ProQuest.
- Jermyn, Deborah, and Sean Redmond. "Chapter Six – All That Is Male Melts into Air: Bigelow on the Edge of Point Break." The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor. London: Wallflower, 2003. 106–7. Print.
- The Hurt Locker at Metacritic
- "The Hurt Locker (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. December 15, 2009. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- Roberts, Soraya (February 22, 2010). "Prince William becomes President at 2010 BAFTA awards; Kathryn Bigelow wins best director". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
- Weaver, Matthew (March 8, 2010). "Kathryn Bigelow makes history as first woman to win best director Oscar". The Guardian. London. Retrieved March 8, 2010.
- "Zero Dark Thirty". Metacritic. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
- Child, Ben (January 9, 2013). "Zero Dark Thirty premiere sparks anti-torture protest". The Guardian. London. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
- Mayer, Jane. "Zero Conscience in "Zero Dark Thirty"". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
- Polo, Susana, "Kathryn Bigelow Wins New York Film Critics Circle Award Twice; Makes History", The Mary Sue, December 4, 2012.
- "NBR Awards name 'Zero Dark Thirty' best film", boston.com, 2012/12/05.
- Sneider, Jeff (28 January 2016). "Kathryn Bigelow to Direct True Crime Drama About Detroit Riots for Annapurna". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
- Libon, Daniel (August 20, 2016). "Kathryn Bigelow Movie to be Filmed in Dedham". Dedham Patch. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
- Kroll, Justin (2022-03-31). "Kathryn Bigelow To Direct Adaptation Of David Koepp Novel 'Aurora' For Netflix". Deadline. Retrieved 2022-04-01.
- "Kathryn Bigelow Joins Smuggler, Public Record Signs Daisy Zhou". adage.com. 2017-06-30. Retrieved 2021-05-04.
- "DGA Announces Nominees for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television, Commercials and Documentary for 2021". Directors Guild of America. January 26, 2022. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
- Ford, Rebecca (2014-05-14). "Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hardy Tackling Adaptation of 'True American' Book". Retrieved 21 September 2014.
- Fleming, Mike Jr. (16 June 2014). "Todd Field, Searchlight Jump Into Bowe Bergdahl Fray After 'Zero Dark Thirty' Filmmakers Stake Out Pic". Retrieved 21 September 2014.
- Hemphill, Jim (Fall 2004). "Review: The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor". Film Quarterly. 58: 61–63. doi:10.1525/fq.2004.58.1.61.
- Ressner, Jeffrey (Winter 2009). "Kinetic Camera". Directors Guild of America.
- Benson-Allott, Caetlin (Winter 2010). "Undoing Violence: Politics, Genre, and Duration in Kathryn Bigelow's Cinema". Film Quarterly. 64 (2): 33–43. doi:10.1525/FQ.2010.64.2.33.
- "This Short-Lived '70s Magazine Shaped Conceptual Art".
- Angeles, John Harlow in Los. "Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron: Who gets custody of Oscar?". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2020-11-26.
- Feeney, Nolan (December 4, 2014). "Premiere: Watch Kathryn Bigelow's Short Film About Elephant Poaching, Last Days". TIME. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
- "Near Dark (1987) - Awards". IMDB. Retrieved August 3, 2021.
- "Near Dark (1987)". AFI Catalog. Retrieved August 2, 2021.
- "Festival International de Paris du Film Fantastique et de Science Fiction". 4 December 2018. Retrieved August 2, 2021.
- "KCFCC Award Winners – 2000-09". 14 December 2013. Archived from the original on 27 August 2017. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
- "Awards". Oklahoma Film Critics Circle.
- "Kathryn Bigelow". Emmys.com. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
- Kathryn Bigelow at IMDb
- June 2009 Interview with The A.V. Club
- Q&A with Kathryn Bigelow in Men's Journal
- Kathryn Bigelow at Rotten Tomatoes
- Literature on Kathryn Bigelow
- Davidson, Amy, "The Oscar for Torture?", blog, The New Yorker, January 2013. "The problems people have with Zero Dark Thirty are about directorial choices, and it is more than reasonable that Kathryn Bigelow be judged on them."
- Denby, David,"Bigelow's Fact and Fiction", review, The New Yorker, December 2012.
- G. Roger Denson, "Zero Dark Thirty Account of Torture Verified by Media Record of Legislators and CIA Officials", commentary, criticism, "Huffington Post", December 31, 2012.
- G. Roger Denson, "Women Looking at Men Loving: Eve Sussman, Kathryn Bigelow and the Women Writers of Mad Men", cultural criticism, "Huffington Post", March 8, 2013.
- Brockes, Emma, "Kathryn Bigelow: under fire", The Guardian (London), January 11, 2013. "[S]ome say her new thriller, Zero Dark Thirty ... endorses torture".
- The films of Kathryn Bigelow, Hell Is For Hyphenates, December 31, 2013
- Jérôme d'Estais, Kathryn Bigelow, passage de frontières, Editions Rouge profond, 2020, ISBN 979-1097309312