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Allison Anders

Allison Anders

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: November 16, 1954 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Ashland, Kentucky, USA Profession: director, screenwriter, barmaid, waitress

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Described by one writer as a cross between a 60s earth mother and a Hell's Angels biker chick, indie filmmaker Allison Anders weathered a rough childhood and young adult life that not only encouraged an escapist penchant for making up characters but also an insider's sympathy for the strong but put-upon women who have peopled her films. Abandoned by her father at age five, sexually abused by a number of different men while growing up and gang-raped at the age of 12, she eventually retreated into a fantasy relationship with "dead Paul" (McCartney), a flight of fancy which helped get her admitted to a mental hospital at 15. Anders, who had written prior to being institutionalized, rediscovered her voice with the help of a poet she met "inside" and learned "to make people who aren't there really stand up and talk." At 17, she dropped out of high school in Los Angeles and ventured back to the rural Kentucky of her birth, moving soon afterwards to London to live with the man who would father her first child.Upon her return to the USA, Anders finally began to pick up the pieces of her life. Despite not having a high school diploma, she attended junior college and later the UCLA film school, managing to...

Described by one writer as a cross between a 60s earth mother and a Hell's Angels biker chick, indie filmmaker Allison Anders weathered a rough childhood and young adult life that not only encouraged an escapist penchant for making up characters but also an insider's sympathy for the strong but put-upon women who have peopled her films. Abandoned by her father at age five, sexually abused by a number of different men while growing up and gang-raped at the age of 12, she eventually retreated into a fantasy relationship with "dead Paul" (McCartney), a flight of fancy which helped get her admitted to a mental hospital at 15. Anders, who had written prior to being institutionalized, rediscovered her voice with the help of a poet she met "inside" and learned "to make people who aren't there really stand up and talk." At 17, she dropped out of high school in Los Angeles and ventured back to the rural Kentucky of her birth, moving soon afterwards to London to live with the man who would father her first child.

Upon her return to the USA, Anders finally began to pick up the pieces of her life. Despite not having a high school diploma, she attended junior college and later the UCLA film school, managing to stick to her dreams when a second daughter came along. Enchanted with Wim Wenders' films, the welfare mother so deluged the filmmaker with correspondence that he gave her a job as a production assistant on "Paris, Texas" (1984). Afterwards, with fellow UCLA colleagues Dean Lent (who also worked as a production assistant on "Paris, Texas") and then-lover Kurt Voss, Anders made her feature co-writing and co-directing debut with the cult hit "Border Radio" (1988), a black-and-white 16mm study of the L.A. punk scene, revealing the "artistic" sensibilities of the trio who expressed their difficulties getting the film made in its final credit - "Many Curses on: Those Who Tried To Thwart Us." Anders reteamed with Lent (this time as cinematographer) for her first solo effort, "Gas Food Lodging" (1992), drawing from her own personal life to tell the compelling, multilevel story of a single mother (Brooke Adams) and her two teenage daughters (Fairuza Balk and Ione Skye).

Set in the milieu of a southwestern hardscrabble life, "Gas Food and Lodging" was tour de force filmmaking, its tone of poignant hope amidst disappointment starkly convincing. Like Anders' 1994 follow-up, "Mi Vida Loca/My Crazy Life," which depicted girl gangs in the Echo Park neighborhood of L.A. where she lived, it showcased her ability to capture on camera a genuineness that made audiences feel they were watching real people, not actors. In "Mi Vida Loca," they actually were watching real Latina gang members sprinkled in with the actors (some of whom were Spanish soap opera stars). Anders had won their trust over time ("At first . . . they thought I was a cop") by approaching them without judgment, and in addition to appearing in the film, they worked closely with the director, advising her on script changes and characterizations and serving as consultants on costumes, language, music and location. The strength of both films lies in the emotionally rich portrayals of women battling the odds (i.e., dead-end jobs, vanishing men) to bond with one another, but "Mi Vida Loca," in its attempt to develop too many characters, provided a too frequently shifting point-of-view that worked to undermine the picture's power.

Despite the unwieldy episodic structure, Anders had successfully captured the frustrations, social rituals and violence affecting her "Girlz 'N the Hood." She also got to work out some of her own frustrations by killing-off former love-who-broke-her-heart John Taylor (guitarist of Duran Duran) in the guise of the fictional character El Duran (Taylor, who had actually remained friends with the director, survived to provide the music for "Mi Vida Loca" and headline 1999's "Sugar Town"). When one of her extras/consultants died of a drug overdose shortly after filming wrapped, Anders began caring for the woman's young son (eventually adopting him) and dedicated the film to the deceased, establishing a scholarship fund in her name through a community service group in Echo Park, to which she donated the proceeds from the movie's Los Angeles premiere. Anders next directed the "Strange Brew" episode of the omnibus "Four Rooms" (1995), which starred Madonna as a lesbian witch and Alicia Witt as her love-slave. The embarrassing compilation wasted the talents of all involved (including the directors of the other segments--Quentin Tarantino, Alexandre Rockwell and Robert Rodriguez), with the sole point of interest being "Which one is the worst?"

"Grace of My Heart" (1996), a project teaming her with Martin Scorsese (executive producer) and his then-girlfriend Illeana Douglas (as a Carole King-like songwriter-singer), was Anders' first attempt at a period piece. Set against the backdrop of the pop music world centered around NYC's Brill Building during the 50s and 60s, it featured some pleasant sound-alike songs from the period, plus one showstopper, "God Give Me Strength," which inaugurated the collaboration between Elvis Costello and pop veteran Burt Bacharach. Anders may have compromised this fabulous idea by again trying to cover too much, but the predictable structure of scene-song-scene-song also exacerbated the film's superficiality. Fortunately, the score and a wonderful performance by John Turturro as a Jewish record company owner helped save what must be considered Anders-lite compared to her previous work. "Sugar Time" then reunited her with ex-beaux Voss (as co-director and co-writer) and Taylor making his feature debut in the art-imitating-life role of a rock musician suffering through a mid-life crisis. An amusing, polished look at L.A.'s rock'n'roll subculture, it did not, however, mark a return to the hard-hitting substance of either "Gas Food Lodging" or "Mi Vida Loca."

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
2.
  Strutter (2012)
3.
4.
  Things Behind The Sun (2001) Director
5.
  Sugar Town (1999) Director
6.
  Grace of My Heart (1996) Director
7.
  Four Rooms (1995) Director ("Strange Brew")
8.
9.
  Gas Food Lodging (1991) Director
10.
  Border Radio (1987) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Lie, The (2011)
2.
5.
 Sundance20 (2001) Herself
6.
7.
 Indie Sex: Taboos (2001) Interviewee
8.
 Intimate Portrait: Ally Sheedy (1999) Interviewee
9.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Kentucky until father left family when Anders was five; mother moved her around a great deal thereafter
1967:
Was gang-raped at age 12 (date approximate)
1970:
Family settled in Los Angeles when Anders was 15; stepfather at one point pulled a gun on her (date approximate)
1970:
Was placed in a mental hospital in Los Angeles at age 15 because of suicidal feelings and a retreat into a fantasy world; depression exacerbated by, among other things, the widely circulated rumors of the death of her favorite Beatle, Paul McCartney
1972:
Dropped out of high school at age 17; headed back to Kentucky by bus to live with other relatives (date approximate)
1973:
Moved to London at age 18 to live with an English-born philosophy student she had met on the Greyhound she took to move back to Kentucky (date approximate)
1973:
Worked as a barmaid in London until she got pregnant; when lover did not want her to have baby, moved back to Los Angeles alone and supported herself and child with welfare and with work as a waitress
:
Attended junior college (dates approximate)
:
Returned to junior college for another two years after the birth of her second daughter (dates approximate)
:
Was accepted by, and attended, UCLA's film school, beginning in the early 1980s
:
Became fascinated with the films of Wim Wenders; sent the filmmaker dozens of letters, some of which were as long as 60 pages, as well as audiocassettes of music she liked; Wenders only wrote back a few times, but the two began to communicate by telephone
1984:
First feature film credit, as a production assistant on Wim Wenders' film, "Paris, Texas"
1986:
Moved to the Echo Park section of Los Angeles shortly after graduating from UCLA; supported herself and her daughters for a time with money from a screenwriting grant she had received
1987:
Feature film directorial and screenwriting debut, "Border Radio" (b&w, 16mm), co-directed and co-written with fellow UCLA film students Kurt Voss and Dean Lent
1992:
First solo directorial effort, "Gas Food Lodging", for which she also wrote the screenplay, based on a novel by Richard Peck; Lent served as director of photography
1994:
Actor Hugh Grant backed out of Anders' "Paul Is Dead" project a scant month before shooting was to start, and funding disappeared with him
1994:
Won praise for "Mi Vida Loca/My Crazy Life", her authentic picture about Latina gang members; shot film only a month after the Los Angeles riots of 1992
1995:
Awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant ($255,000)
1995:
Signed two-year deal with Miramax Films to write, produce and direct features
1995:
Helmed and scripted the "Strange Brew" segment of "Four Rooms"
1996:
Wrote and directed "Grace of My Heart", about a female singer struggling to make it in the music business in the 1950s and 1960s; executive produced by Martin Scorsese
1997:
Executive produced "Lover Girl", on which Lent was director of photography
1999:
Reteamed with Voss to co-write and co-direct the comedy-drama "Sugar Town", about a group of aging musicians; premiered at the Sundance Film Festival
2001:
With Voss, co-wrote "Things Behind the Sun", a drama about a young female rock musician coping with a rape; also directed; premiered at Sundance Film Festival; sold to Showtime; inspired by events from Anders' own life
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

University of California at Los Angeles' School of Theater, Film and Television: Los Angeles , California -

Notes

Received a Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science in 1986.

According to Elle (July 1996), Anders once "did phone sex to finance a project and could do it again."

"When I was a teen-ager, everybody told me being an unwed mother was going to ruin my life. And in fact it was my opportunity." --Allison Anders to The New York Times, July 26, 1992.

"There's a certain kind of feminist who doesn't like my stuff. And there's enough of 'em to to, you know, bum me out. But I always felt like feminism was about empowering yourself by knowing yourself. And that means not just exploring work, but also relationships and desire. But for some reason, there's this attitude--which is changing a little bit--that if you're looking for intimacy with a man, that's like selling out your feminism, which I think is so bizarre. In Hollywood, you can do two types of women characters: the objectified female, who's always saying something smart, or the butch female. I feel like we encountered that a couple times making this film ('Grace of My Heart')--people wanted Denise to behave more like a guy. You know, being bitter and aggressive, as though somehow that's strength that's very male." --Allison Anders in Time Out New York, September 11-18, 1996.

"The first record I bought was 'Johnny Get Angry' by Joanie Sommers, a good start for a feminist: 'I want a brave man/I want a cave man' . . . I learned to write female characters from Paul McCartney's songwriting. I'm amazed at how he gets into women's minds: a young woman going her own way in 'She's Leaving Home', or a lonely old woman in 'Eleanor Rigby'--and 'For No One', the most incredible example, where the guy being dumped chooses to get inside her feelings, writing the song from her point of view. My other favourites were The Shangri-Las: those amazing narrative songs about rebellious teenagers. I love the voiceover on 'I Can Never Go Home Any More', it's so melodramatic, pure Douglas Sirk. I'd study the sleeves of my favourite records for hours and wonder who these people (Barry-Greenwich, Goffin-King) were. When Carole King's 'Tapestry' came out, you could suddenly connect her to the writer of 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow'." --Anders to Sight and Sound, April 1997.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
John Taylor. Rock musician. Member of the band Duran Duran; had relationship with Anders in the 1980s and stayed friends after they broke up; supplied the music for Anders' film "Mi Vida Loca" (1994) and starred in "Sugar Town" (1999).
companion:
Quentin Tarantino. Screenwriter, director. No longer together.
companion:
Kurt Voss. Screenwriter, director. Involved with Anders in the 1980s; classmate of Anders at the UCLA film school; co-wrote and co-directed (with Anders and Dean Lent), "Border Radio" (1987) and "Sugar Town" (1999).

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Rachel Anders. Secretary, songwriter.
sister:
Luanna Anders. Actor, musician. Born c. 1957; not to be confused with actress Luana Anders who died in 1996.
half-sister:
Dominique. Born c. 1969.
daughter:
Tiffany Anders. Singer, musician, songwriter. Born in August 1974.
daughter:
Devon Anders. Production assistant. Born in July 1977.
son:
Reuben Goodbear Anders. Adopted; born c. 1990; mother Nica Rogers was a Latina gang member who had played a small role and served as one of Anders' advisors on "Mi Vida Loca" (1994) when she died of a drug overdose at age 19 before movie's completion; Anders brought home the motherless child and eventually began adoption procedures.
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