Jun 22, 2017
Flicker Alley--7 Great Flicks From Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology
In the weeks since I participated in the Flicker Alley giveaway for the three disc DVD/Blu-ray set Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology, I've spent a lot of time watching and rewatching the films in this set. Considering there are twenty-five varied entries here, from full-length films and shorts to one legendary outburst from a Dorothy Arzner flick, it's impressive to me how many of them I appreciate not just objectively, but on a personal level.
The overall message here: women do not have a single unifying characteristic as filmmakers except their sex. Their contributions to cinema have been diverse, sometimes pioneering and often worthy of celebration. They created magic in the early years of the industry and they should have been able to do so in larger numbers in the years to follow. Hopefully that will eventually be corrected in our current industry, though it cannot happen fast enough. In the meantime, there are these films to remind us of the great talents in our cinematic past.
There's a lot to unpack in this set, so I thought I'd share some of the titles that stood out for me in this amazing anthology:
Une Histoire Roulante (1906), Alice Guy-Blaché
This short consists of about two minutes of a man inside a barrel, rolling out of control over people, a high railway bridge and anything else unfortunate enough to be in his path. It feels like the birth of screen slapstick.
Suspense (1913), Lois Weber
If Guy-Blaché can be given credit for bringing physical comedy to the screen, Weber should get her laurels for creating a cinematic language for suspense films. This tensely-paced short about a young mother who is terrorized by a home-invading tramp is still terrifying over one hundred years after its debut.
La Souriante Mme. Beaudet (1922), Germaine Dulac
Combining the brutal slap of reality with a dream world of fevered speculation, this tale of a woman who despises her crude, controlling husband is both harsh and beautiful. Presenting feminist before there was a word for it, Dulac bravely presents a vision of female defiance.
The Peasant Women of Ryazan (1927), Olga Preobrazhenskaia
A devastating film of heartbreaking labor, physical abuse, loyalty and lack thereof, among a group of rural women. This Soviet drama is also visually beautiful, with magically composed location photography and an intimate eye on the customs and social life of these hard living people.
The Stolen Heart (1934), Lotte Reiniger
Reiniger specialized in silhouette animation, using stop motion and cut-outs to give life to fairy tales, fables and operas. I've always been amazed how much emotion she can illicit from these cut outs, using the simplest motion and designs. Here a village is terrorized by a sort of demon who steals their musical instruments. The instruments have their own ideas though and do not accept captivity away from their owners.
A Night on Bald Mountain (1933), Claire Parker and Alexandre Alexeieff
Set to Modest Mussorgsky's menacing titular composition, this animated short was made using pinscreen animation. This method, for which Parker became celebrated, uses a screen in which movable pins are inserted to make different patterns. The designs, and the way they are filmed to capture different shadow effects, are unlike any other form of film animation. Here the effect is creepy and fantastical, fitting perfectly with the score.
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Maya Deren
In her most famous work, experimental filmmaker Maya Deren creates a work of beauty and haunting uncertainty. She stars in this exploration of the power of a definitive moment and how it can expand into an obsession.
Many thanks to Flicker Alley for providing a copy of the collection for review.