WOMEN FILM PIONEERS
American Museum of the Moving Image, April 11-26, 1998
Guest curator, Jennifer Parchesky.
Challenging the assumption that filmmaking has been a male-dominated industry in
which women have only recently made their mark, this series demonstrates that women played a
crucial role from the earliest days of film history both in developing the classical narrative
cinema and in pioneering alternatives to it. There were more than a hundred women film
directors during the silent era, making films that spanned the full range of genres and styles.
Women pioneers around the world participated in avant-garde movements, worked for major
studios, and headed their own production companies. Many became auteurs in the truest sense:
writing, directing, producing, editing, and even starring in their own films.
Their careers are tales of remarkable ingenuity and astounding success. Dorothy
Davenport parlayed the publicity surrounding her actor-husband's drug-related death into a
career as a producer of social reform melodramas. Lois Weber rose from a street-corner
evangelist to become one of the best-known and highest-paid directors in Hollywood. Despite
the backlash against powerful women that accompanied the consolidation of the studio system,
these pioneers left a lasting legacy through the techniques they innovated, the young people they
trained, and the remarkable body of work they left behind. Every year, films long lost or
forgotten are being recovered, preserved, and restored, and in the process we learn more about
the creative role of women in film history.
This series looks at some of the most innovative and influential work by women
directors, featuring rare prints from American and European archives. The films disclose
remarkable insight into the complexity of women's lives. The work of the first woman
filmmaker, Alice Guy-Blach, includes cross-dressing comedies and westerns with lasso-twirling
heroines. Germaine Dulac and Marie Epstein use innovative avant-garde techniques to delve into
women's subjective experiences of sexuality, maternity, and intimacy. Other films explore the
plight of "fallen women" and the conflicts between women's sexual desires and the social
imperatives they confront.
A lecture series accompanying the screenings explores these innovations and discusses
the ongoing efforts to preserve the legacy of these women film pioneers.
This program is made possible with the support of the Women Film Pioneers Project
(Jane Gaines, Chair), the Duke University Film and Video Program, Kristin Bishop
MacDermott, and the Lucille S. Thompson Family Foundation.
All silent films will be presented with live musical accompaniment.
SATURDAY, APRIL 11
2:00 p.m. THE LOST GARDEN: THE LIFE AND CINEMA OF ALICE GUY BLACHE
Directed by Marquise LePage, 1995, 53 mins. This accomplished documentary features rare
footage of and by the world's first woman filmmaker.
Discussion with Anthony Slide (author of Lois Weber: The Director Who Lost Her Way
in History and The Silent Feminists) and Alison McMahan (University of Amsterdam, The
Netherlands) about the current state of research and preservation of early women's films.
4:30 p.m. FILMS BY ALICE GUY-BLACHE:
THE CABBAGE FAIRY, 1899, 1 min.
MADAME HAS HER CRAVINGS, 1906, 4 mins.
CUPID AND THE COMET, 1911, 13 mins.
ALGIE THE MINER, 1912, 13 mins.
OFFICE HENDERSON, 1913, 13 mins.
TWO LITTLE RANGERS, 1913, 14 mins.
A HOUSE DIVIDED, 1913, 13 mins.
This sampling of early one- and two-reelers by Guy-Blach made in France and the
United States focuses on her most explicitly feminist and gender-themed work, from the strange
cravings of a pregnant woman to cross-dressing detectives.
Talk by Alison McMahan.
SUNDAY, APRIL 12 FILMS BY LOIS WEBER
The most important woman director in early cinema, Lois Weber put her distinctive
stamp on social reform melodramas combining moralism with sensationalism, and visual realism
with startling special effects. This afternoon's programs feature some of her finest and rarest
2:00 p.m. HYPOCRITES, 1914. Feature film. Preceded by SUSPENSE, 1913, 10 mins.
The early feature Hypocrites scandalized audiences with its use of a nude woman to
portray the allegorical figure of "The Naked Truth." The short is a classic rescue thriller that uses
innovative split screen techniques.
Talk by Anthony Slide.
4:30 p.m. THE BLOT, 1921, 104 min.
Using on-location shooting and subtle characterization, this story of an underpaid
professor's family and their immigrant neighbors dramatizes the significance of domestic details
and little moments in women's lives.
Talk by Jennifer Parchesky.
SATURDAY, APRIL 18 MELODRAMAS BY DOROTHY DAVENPORT (MRS. WALLACE REID)
2:00 p.m. LINDA, 1928, 70 min.
Forced to marry against her will, a young woman is torn between her rugged husband, the
doctor she loves, and her own career as a teacher.
Talk by Gwendolyn Foster. (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, author of Women Film
Directors: an International Bio-Critical Dictionary and Women Filmmakers of the African and
4:30 p.m. THE RED KIMONA, 1925, 101 min.
Based on the true story of a young woman sold into prostitution by her lover, this
sensational melodrama exposes the horrors of "white slavery" and critiques the barriers society
raises against a fallen woman's attempts to reform.
Talk by Gwendolyn Foster.
SUNDAY, APRIL 19 WOMEN ON THE VANGUARD: GERMAINE DULAC AND MARIE EPSTEIN
2:00 p.m. LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI, Directed by Germaine Dulac, 1920, 88 mins.
Preceded by ARABESQUE, 1928, 7 mins., DISQUE 957, 1929, 5 mins., THEME ET
VARIATIONS, 1929, 9 mins.
Dulac explores the subjective aspects of love and intimacy in the archival treasure La
Belle Dame Sans Merci, an oblique story of adultery. The shorts are abstract visual equivalents to
the music of Chopin and Debussy.
Talk by Sandy Flittermann-Lewis (Rutger University; author of To Desire Differently).
4:30 p.m. MATERNITE, Directed by Marie Epstein and Jean Beinoet-Lvy,
1929, 83 mins.
A childless woman discovers other ways of nurturing in this lyrical exploration of the
complex relationship between women's desires and the social imperatives of motherhood.
Talk by Sandy Flittermann-Lewis.
(Note: On Saturday, April 25, there is no program in the Women Film Pioneers series. There will
be a Pinewood Digital Dialogue. Details to be announced.)
SUNDAY, APRIL 26
2:00 p.m. THE LOVE LIGHT, Directed by Frances Marion, 1921, 73 mins.
One of only three films directed as well as written by Marion, this film stars Mary
Pickford in an unusually dramatic role as a young Italian villager who becomes entangled in the
conflicts of love and war.
4:30 p.m. THE FALL OF THE ROMANOV DYNASTY, Directed by Esther Shub, 1927, 101
Shub's legendary experiment in film editing combines newsreel footage of World War I
and the Czar's home movies to create a dramatic chronicle of this period.
AMERICAN MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE, 35 Avenue at 36 Street, Astoria, New
PROGRAM INFORMATION 718-784-0077
TRAVEL DIRECTIONS 718-784-4777
MUSEUM ADMISSION Adults: $8.00. Senior Citizens and College Students with I.D.: $5.00
Children: $4.00. AMMI members: free
Film and video programs are free with Museum admission unless otherwise noted.
Children under twelve must be accompanied by an adult. No strollers are permitted. The
Museum is wheelchair accessible. Reservation privileges are available only to members.
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