Les Blank’s GAP-TOOTHED WOMEN (1987) – One of the most life-affirming movies you’ve never seen

I’ll be very surprised if you’ve even heard of this movie, much less seen it. But it’s worth blogging about, and it’s worth seeking out. I saw it at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles in 1987, and I was mesmerized.

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Most people give me one of those “You’re kidding” looks when I recommend Les Blank’s documentary¬†Gap-Toothed Women to them. It’s barely available on video (though you can find it for sale online at http://www.lesblank.com), and the only place I’ve seen it on TV was years ago on The Learning Channel. This is a great pity, because it’s one of the most charming, life-affirming movies I’ve ever seen.

Film critic Roger Ebert believed that the best documentary subjects are the simplest. Here, famed documentarian Blank takes a look at 30 of the title subjects. Some of the interviewees are definite notables, such as actress-model Lauren Hutton and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. But most of them are “regular” folk who tell tales about growing up with a complex in their minds over the gap in their mouths. One woman tells how she went to bed every night wearing a rubber band across her mouth, trying to “stretch” her mouth back into place. Another gap-toothed woman became an artist who explored the use of such women as seductresses in art.

The movie is quietly witty, never less than fascinating, and in its own modest way, it says a lot about the expectations our society puts on women whose forms are less than “perfect,” though it’s that very lack of perfection that shows these women at their most charming. The final interviewee is a belly dancer who subtly but movingly tells how she overcame cancer, and now even her worst day is something to look forward to.

As per usual with motion pictures, the best films are usually the most overlooked. Gap-Toothed Women is one of the most unjustly underrated movies in all of cinema. It’s short and sweet, and it would be a perfect companion piece to Steve Martin’s Cyrano de Bergerac update Roxanne (released in the same year as this movie). Inferiority complexes work both ways, after all.

Here’s three minutes from the start of the film:

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