USA | 1993 | 122 minutes | R
After becoming pregnant outside marriage, Josephine (Suzy Amis) is thrown out by her embarrassed upper-class family. With no money, she gives up the baby and travels west, where she constantly fears for her safety against predatory men. Josephine begins to masquerade as a man named Jo, and eventually settles down in a small town where she is employed as a sheepherder for Frank Badger (Bo Hopkins). Jo hides the truth until worker Tinman Wong (David Chung) is forced to move in with her.
Director: Maggie Greenwald
Cast: Suzy Amis, Ian McKellen, Heather Graham
NEW 4K RESTORATION! 30th ANNIVERSARY SCREENING!
A Benchmark Feminist Western
4K Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative, supervised by director Maggie Greenwald and director of photography Declan Quinn.
Ostracized from 19th-century society when she gives birth to a child out of wedlock, Josephine Monaghan (Suzy Amis) decides to disappear into the American West and create a new life for herself. After befriending an educated Englishman (Sir Ian McKellan), Josephine comes to realize that the frontier is no place for a young, attractive woman, traveling alone. And so she crops her hair, dons male attire, and transforms herself into a young man. As “Jo,” she not only survives in the rugged world of miners and ranchers, she flourishes. Freed from societal restraints, she pursues true independence, acquiring a homestead and embarking on a relationship with a Chinese laborer (David Chung). But Jo comes to realize that even in the wilderness, there are certain rigid social mores from which one can never escape.
Reminiscent of McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Heaven’s Gate, THE BALLAD OF LITTLE JO is a resplendent film that offers an allegorical critique of sex and power in America, even as it remains loyal to the spirit of the Western. The film features sharp-edged performances by Bo Hopkins, Rene Auberjonois and Cathy Haase, as well as early appearances by Melissa Leo and Heather Graham. (KINO LORBER)
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