March into the archives : Feeling Sexy

The following interview with Davida Allen appeared in BMA Magazine on 24 December 1999.

Feeling Sexy is the directorial debut of Davida Allen, a painter from Queensland who won the 1986 Archibald Prize for Portraiture. The film follows on from Allen’s two books about Vicki Myers, the semi-fictional/semi-autobiographical character of an artist struggling to transcend the roles of mother and wife. The conflict between these occupations is exasperated by Vicki’s belief that marriage needn’t limit her desire for passion, life and that feeling of butterflies in her stomach. It’s essentially the plight of the modern woman attempting to juggle her career alongside the expectations of motherhood whilst maintaining a satisfying sexual relationship. On the page this reads like chick flick material but Allen proves to be a stylish storyteller who uses humour to connect with her audience.

Critics who emphasise comparisons between Davida Allen and the character of Vicki have often overlooked these skills. Allen acknowledges her experiences contributed to the character of Vicki and has explained in a previous interview that “It’s hard to paint snow if you’ve never seen snow.” When the question was raised recently she answered: “Yes but, interestingly enough, I think the reason it strikes a chord with people is because I am, coincidentally, human and most people who are watching the film are also human. I think the film works because of its humanity. Sure I’m a woman and have had kids and have been there but I wonder if I could make films about stories I haven’t experienced.”

Glenys Rowe, the producer of Feeling Sexy, believes the story is successful because audiences respond “to the warmth in the film and because it is about real people’s lives. It’s interesting to talk about sex and it’s place in the world because we are surrounded by a sea of information about sex and so little of it is helpful. Y’know, I read all that Cosmo stuff and it doesn’t look anything like my life. I feel sorry for kids growing up in an era where - if you’ll pardon the expression - sex is thrust down their throats. Sex is sold as a commodity but that’s not what it’s about.”

One of the most striking features that Davida Allen brings to Feeling Sexy is the perspective of an artist. She describes the film as a fairytale and, like paintings, believes the imagery can be interpreted on a metaphorical level. One example is the dog that becomes a family pet after Vicki tells her husband Greg that she has been unfaithful. Allen describes the dog as “the metaphor of punishment. It represents the notion of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. In fairytales metaphors mean different things to different people so it is open for interpretation. There’s no one road to go down to get to the end of the story and I’m the last person to want to tell the whole story in the nutshell of a newspaper headline. I want people to discuss, to walk out of the cinema and be talking about the film. There are so few films where people will want to talk about the experience a week later. That’s exciting. I love intellectual debate and there’s not enough of it.”

Allen is certainly a filmmaker with a message about the role of fantasy within everyday life. This had been the original theme in the series of paintings which caught producer Glenys Rowe’s eye more than a decade ago. The process of translating Davida Allen’s material from one medium to another may have taken a long time but it hasn’t lost any of its poignancy. (Allen attributes the delay to the success of the film Babe that was directed by Glenys Rowe’s husband Chris Noonan). Producer Rowe describes that Allen “knew exactly what she wanted to say and it was a complete joy, [I’ve] never had such a fantastic creative experience working with anyone.” This raises the question as to whether Davida Allen will direct another film. Rowe says “She’s got the bug now” and Allen answers “I definitely hope so. It would be a great thing now that I’ve got the hang of it.”