Mary Harron (born January 12, 1953) is a Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter. She is known for writing and directing several independent films, including I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), American Psycho (2000), and The Notorious Bettie Page (2005).
January 12, 1953|
Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter|
|Spouse(s)||John C. Walsh|
Gloria Fisher (mother)|
Don Harron (father, deceased)
Born in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada, Harron grew up with a family that was entrenched in the world of film and theater. She is the daughter of Gloria Fisher and Don Harron, a Canadian actor, comedian, author, and director. Harron's first stepmother, Virginia Leith, was discovered by Stanley Kubrick and acted in his first film, Fear and Desire. Leith's brief acting career partly inspired Harron's interest in making The Notorious Bettie Page. Harron's stepfather is the novelist Stephen Vizinczey best known for his internationally successful book In Praise of Older Women. Harron's second stepmother is the Canadian singer Catherine McKinnon. Harron's sister, Kelley Harron, is an actor and producer.
Harron moved to England when she was thirteen and later attended St Anne's College, Oxford University. While in England, she dated Tony Blair, later the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She then moved to New York City and was part of its 1970s punk scene.
In New York, Harron helped start and write for Punk magazine as a music journalist; she was the first journalist to interview the Sex Pistols for an American publication. During the 1980s, she was a drama critic for The Observer in London for a time, as well as working as a music critic for The Guardian and the New Statesman.
During the 1990s, Harron moved back to New York where she worked as a producer for PBS's Edge, a program dedicated to exploring American pop culture. It was at this time that Harron became interested in the life of Valerie Solanas, the woman who attempted to kill Andy Warhol. Harron suggested making a documentary about Solanas to her producers, who in turn encouraged her to develop the project into what would be her first feature film.
Harron's feature film directorial debut, I Shot Andy Warhol, released in 1996, is the partially imagined story of Valerie Solanas' failed assassination attempt on Andy Warhol. She explains her interest in Solanas' life:
For Solanas, there was this fierce, outsider quality to her unhappiness and frustration. That was a time in my life when I was frustrated myself in my work. I wanted to direct. I had the idea years before I got to direct myself. So I think there were elements of my own frustration and elements of what it was like growing up with an unfair attitude towards women ... and Valerie was an extreme example of that. There was also the intellectual interest of how someone can be so brilliant and her life goes so wrong, and also, that she was so forgotten and misunderstood. In both cases, I felt like Valerie had been consigned to history as this lunatic, almost nothing written about her.
While Solanas was never able to produce her play, Harron was able to make her movie and was able to tell Solanas' story. I Shot Andy Warhol does not glorify Valerie Solanas; it pleads her case by showing that she was the product of a larger system of cruelty, and was not a lunatic, but a frustrated member of society.
Harron's second film, American Psycho, released in 2000, is based on the book of the same title by Bret Easton Ellis, which is notorious for its graphic descriptions of torture and murder. The protagonist, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), is an investment banker working at the fictional mergers and acquisitions firm Pierce & Pierce, a nod to the name of Sherman McCoy's employer in Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. The New York Times' Stephen Holden wrote of the film:
From the opening credits, in which drops of blood are confused with red berry sauce drizzled on an exquisitely arranged plate of nouvelle cuisine, the movie establishes its insidious balance of humor and aestheticized gore.
Though the film had several high-profile male filmmakers interested in directing, the producers opted for a female director, hoping to avoid public outcry regarding the depictions of violence against women. Despite signing Harron to the project, the film was mired in controversy before production began, due in large part to the legacy of the book's release. As Harron began production, the crew had to contend with threats of protest, as the issue of violence in the media became crystallized by the Columbine shootings. Campaigns against the film continued throughout production, the Feminist Majority Foundation condemning the film as misogynist, and the Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment (C-CAVE) convincing restaurant owners to deny Harron permission to film in their establishments.
In the years following its release, the film has achieved cult status; the controversy surrounding it, to some, gave way to an appreciation of the film's satirical qualities, while many others remain critical of its violence and depiction of 1980s decadence.
The Notorious Bettie Page, released in 2005, is about the 1950s pinup model who became a cult icon of sexuality and who helped popularize pornography. Harron shows Page as the daughter of religious and conservative parents, as well as the fetish symbol who became a target of a Senate investigation of pornography. For this film, Harron did historical character research, and interviewed several of Page's friends as well as her first husband. Page was legally bound to another project and was thus unable to do an interview, but not being attached to Page meant that Harron was free to create a subjective representation of her. Harron saw Page as an unwitting feminist figure who represented a movement for women's sexual liberation, with some similarities to and differences from Solanas. About the film, Harron says in an interview:
Clearly Bettie is a very inspiring figure to young women because she had a strong independent streak. She did what she wanted to do and she wasn't just doing it for men. . . But I think it's a huge mistake to think of her as a conscious feminist heroine. As far as I can see, she didn't have an agenda, ever. She just followed her own path unconsciously. I don't think she thought of herself as a rebel in any way. She was kind of in her own world of dress-up.
Like Page, Harron also does not follow a strict feminist ideology, but has instead openly explored issues, instead of tying herself to a single perspective on gender. She is not aiming to create political films, but may end up doing so anyway, in her attempt to express a woman's point of view. In an interview, she said:
I feel that without feminism, I wouldn't be doing this. So I feel very grateful. Without it, God knows what my life would be. I don't make feminist films in the sense that I don't make anything ideological. But I do find that women get my films better. Women and gay men. Maybe because they're less threatened by it, or they see what I'm trying to say better.
The Moth Diaries, Harron's fourth feature film, is an adaptation of Rachel Klein's 2002 novel of the same name. The film follows the story of a group of girls living together at a boarding school. A new student arrives, and the girls begin to suspect that she is a vampire. Harron has described the film as a "gothic coming-of-age story" that explores the nuanced friendships of teenage girls as they are repeatedly confronted with the prospect of adulthood.
In February 2018, it was announced that Harron plans to direct an independent film about three of Charles Manson's followers titled Charlie Says, with The Crown actor Matt Smith as Manson and Suki Waterhouse cast as Mary Brunner. The film, which is now in post-production, is being produced by John Frank Rosenblum and Cindi Rice through their company Epic Level Entertainment.
In addition to her films, Harron was also the executive producer of The Weather Underground, a documentary looking at the political terrorists of the 1970s. She has also worked in television, directing episodes of Oz, Six Feet Under, Homicide: Life on the Street, The L Word and Big Love. She is currently developing a film based on the book Please Kill Me which details the 1970s New York punk scene of which she was so much a part.
Harron lives in New York with her husband, filmmaker John C. Walsh, and their two daughters.
In 2005, Mary Harron was honored with the Filmmaker on the Edge Award at the Provincetown International Film Festival.