Chick Flicks

Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement

Chick Flicks

Book Pages: 448 Illustrations: 22 b&w photographs Published: September 1998

Author: B. Ruby Rich

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, LGBTQ Studies, Media Studies > Film

If there was a moment during the sixties, seventies, or eighties that changed the history of the women’s film movement, B. Ruby Rich was there. Part journalistic chronicle, part memoir, and 100% pure cultural historical odyssey, Chick Flicks—with its definitive, the-way-it-was collection of essays—captures the birth and growth of feminist film as no other book has done.

For over three decades Rich has been one of the most important voices in feminist film criticism. Her presence at film festivals (such as Sundance, where she is a member of the selection committee), her film reviews in the Village Voice, Elle, Out, and the Advocate, and her commentaries on the public radio program “The World” have secured her a place as a central figure in the remarkable history of what she deems “cinefeminism.” In the hope that a new generation of feminist film culture might be revitalized by reclaiming its own history, Rich introduces each essay with an autobiographical prologue that describes the intellectual, political, and personal moments from which the work arose. Travel, softball, sex, and voodoo all somehow fit into a book that includes classic Rich articles covering such topics as the antiporn movement, the films of Yvonne Rainer, a Julie Christie visit to Washington, and the historically evocative film Maedchen in Uniform. The result is a volume that traces the development not only of women’s involvement in cinema but of one of its key players as well.

The first book-length work from Rich—whose stature and influence in the world of film criticism and theory continue to grow—Chick Flicks exposes unexplored routes and forgotten byways of a past that’s recent enough to be remembered and far away enough to be memorable.


“[Chick Flicks] delivers a timely sense of a feminist tradition of cultural, political, and intellectual engagement. And, in a very practical vein, the book does an invaluable service to that tradition by collecting ephemera, by putting between covers many inaccessible because never-before-republished articles which originally appeared in newspapers and catalogues.” — Susan Lord, Canadian Journal of Film Studies

“[A] wonderful piece of autobiography, with each chapter introduced with personal stories about the intersections between her life, relationships, and the events around the feminist movement.” — Simon Hunt, Sydney Star Observer

“Gossipy [and] smart. . . Chick Flicks showcases some of Rich’s most important work. . . . [It] is not just another book of feminist film criticism: it is one woman’s account of how feminism changed her life both intellectually and personally, and why the history of the cine-feminism must continue to haunt and instruct us today.” — Annalee Newitz, Cineaste

“[Rich’s] personal history is a chart of the development of gender-related film theory . . . It is also a demonstration of the passionate subjective involvement which impelled women to participate in its struggles (with institutional ideology) and internecine rows (with each other). . . . Powerfully explanatory and evocative. . . .” — Susan Purdie, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“For those who’ve been closely guarding their dog-eared copies of feminist critic Ruby Rich’s articles, this collection is a long-awaited gift. . . . Rich writes with an elegance whose accents range from the somber to the sassy. Her memoir segments are both purposeful and intimate.” — Pat Aufderheide, The Independent

“Rich writes in a fiercely independent style that rejects the conventions of the institutions that shelter most critical writers: the academy and journalism. She is unafraid to mix analysis, appreciation, and reporting in a work that is didactic in the best sense.” — Patricia Aufderheide, Feminist Studies

“Rich’s book is required reading. . . . [She] has written on virtually everything and everyone in feminist film culture worth writing on. . . . Rich provides more, however than intellectual and cinematic history. In the prefaces to each of the previously published essays that make up this book, she, . . . offers a kind of autobiographical prose cum ‘critical inventory’ . . . . If recirculating the original essays performs a service for those of us who refer to them frequently, the real gift of Chick Flicks lies in these introductions, wherein we can relish something of the person teaching us, and wherein we learn something of the political struggles for alternative pedagogies.” — Amy Villarejo, GLQ

"Advocate columnist B. Ruby Rich re-creates the days when feminism met film and hatched a new movement whose sexiness and cool are now only dimly remembered. Samples of her own film writings from the ’70s and ’80s alternate with juicy dish on the doings (in and out of bed) of a generation of wild women and their pals." — The Advocate

"Chick Flicks has far more to offer than a backstage glimpse of feminist politics. First, Rich’s essays provide a lively chronicle of independent women filmmakers as well as critical assessments of their work. I can imagine this collection as a useful textbook in a course on women and cinema, but also as a readable narrative for film lovers who would like to know about a marginalized but significant history. . . . A major strength of this collection is its scope. Although her topic is cinema, Rich’s larger concern is women as artists and subjects of visual media. . . . Rich’s observations about the politics of feminist scholarship go far beyond the topic of film studies. . . . Chick Flicks, with its multiple contexts and locations, Sundance to Cuba to Edinburgh, demonstrates how widely spaces of theory can be imagined and how inclusive its visions can be." — Women's Review of Books

"[A] commanding collection of critical writings on the rise and fall of cinefeminist theory and practice in the ’70s and ’80s. . . . Perhaps Chick Flicks’ greatest strength is the number of ways in which it can be read: as a professional retrospective strewn with delicious gossip, a personal diary of hindsight recollections and revisions, a copious document of ’70s and ’80s feminist film culture, a historical memoir and a memoir of history. But more than anything, it is a textbook for the very reeducation Rich has so enthusiastically championed. Split between self-critical ‘prologues’ to some of her most pivotal essays and reviews and the original essays and reviews themselves (written for everything from the Chicago Reader to New German Critique conferences), Chick Flicks is a model of politically rooted, socially conscious, intellectually challenging—but not intellectually alienating—cultural criticism." — Josh Kun, San Francisco Bay Guardian

"[Rich’s] essays are lucid and undogmatic, albeit impassioned; and her reflections—whether on her own lesbianism or on the course of feminist theory and practice—are highly readable and interesting . . . . This is a valuable and interesting work for all undergraduate, graduate, and research film collections." — Choice

"[Rich] frames her essays and reviews with prologues that define the cultural milieu into which each piece was delivered. The pleasure of Chick Flicks lies in these prologues; here Rich is at her best, and the reader is invited to watch as she looks back to consider herself as the writer and thinker she was versus the writer and thinker she is now." — Rain Taxi

"A longtime film curator and critic (for, most notably, The Village Voice and Sight and Sound), [Rich] is in the rare position of having freely crossed usually impermeable boundaries: between mainstream filmmaking and the avant garde, between the academic and the popular press, between lesbian and heterosexual feminists. She seems to have known everybody in the past 25 years who has ever written about, made or professed a serious interest in film. That free-ranging sensibility makes Rich an eminently reasonable guide through this contested ground. She gives all sides their due; her arguments painstakingly avoid the kind of rigid binary thinking that, for example, made the pornography debates so maddeningly irrelevant to most women’s lives. . . . She loves film and believes in its power to change lives—and in her own power to educate audiences about the films she loves." — In These Times

"B. Ruby Rich’s Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement is a necessary, passionate and beautifully written call to arms for the feminist film community to remember that ideas are not imbedded exclusively within our lonely, computer-shackled selves, but demand collective action to imagine a better future. It is without question one of the most significant film books published in the past year, with brilliant deconstructions of legendary feminist films and searing exposés of the events and people who formed the feminist film movement. The importance of this book resides in how it deftly wrenches all of us from the thinking that feminist film theory represents merely a theoretical paradigm, and arcane academic lingo or a bourgeois individual pursuit for tenure and publication. Rich reminds us that feminist film is ‘a discipline that began as a movement’ where ‘the present landscape of feminism and film has been deprived of its own history, substituting a canon of texts for a set of lived experiences.’ . . . In the short time since its publication last fall, Chick Flicks has emerged as an essential text for feminist film activists. It is a rare and momentous book that forces its readers to join something larger than their individual selves. Chick Flicks delivers a feminist film culture of debates, arguments and controversies; a place where cultural practice and theoretical analyses matter, where the stakes are high and where every utterance, every essay, every film wages war against patriarchy and inaction. Rich has managed to create a book of urgency and action, a text that challenges readers to continue the debates, find new fissures, devour new films and videos, cross borders and summon the courage to act collectively. Chick Flicks, then, is not simply a tome of the collected works of one of the fiercest minds of feminist film. It is, in the end, a lexicon for the new vernaculars of the future, a feminist film manual for the new millennium." — Afterimage

"In alternating this collection of articles from the 70s and 80s with newer reflective and autobiographical passages, Rich seeks to add the story of her own life to the women’s stories told in the films she explicates. More importantly, she provides a context for her criticism. . . . She often dishes great gossip, and anything that makes me laugh out loud more than once deserves a position on my bookshelf. . . .Ultimately Rich’s book is a moving argument for a newly emerging cinema, a feminist one made largely with women spectators in mind, one that attempts to present the full personal and social contexts that affect their lives." — Chicago Reader

"Like movies? Do you especially like strong feminist movie critique interspersed with journalistic chronicle, a dash of memoir, and heavy on cultural historical perspective? You’ll want to make sure, then, to carry Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement by B. Ruby Rich. Rich is a journalist whose film commentaries are broadcast on NPR. This collection of essays written in accessible, matter-of-fact style captures the growth, history, and ‘gossip’ of feminist film." — Feminist Bookstore News

"Memoir and manifesto, Rich’s incisive collection chronicles how she found it at the movies: ‘It’ being self, feminism, and the contours of a feminine aesthetic and politics. With essays on filmmakers Leni Riefenstahl and Leontine Sagan and her considerations of actress Julie Christie and director Chantal Akerman, Chick Flicks connects filmgoing to feminism to fortitude." — Philadelphia Inquirer

"Passionate about film and an inspired programmer who has written for such varied publications as Elle, The Village Voice, and Sight and Sound, Rich has crafted a fascinating history by innovatively sandwiching a chronological selection of her writings (some of them programme notes, some more formal pieces) with new, context-filling recollections. The unashamed use of autobiography might be sniffed at by more academic readers, but it seems entirely justified here given the personal-is-political spirit of the age covered. Moreover, the almost gossipy tone vividly lights up a period when many really imagined film might overthrow the social order. Lecturers might find that a spoonful of Rich’s honeyed prose will help doses of difficult films (for example Marleen Gorris’ A Question of Silence or Yvonne Rainer’s work) slip down a treat." — Sight & Sound

"Rich is a gifted writer, and her book is an enticing mix of analysis, memoir, history, and dish structured as an anthology of articles published over the last quarter-century and interspersed with updating commentaries. . . . Best of all, Chick Flicks is a highly readable, informal ‘you-are-there’ history of one of the byways of the feminist movement." — Bay Area Reporter

"This extraordinary collection of essays alternates between chronicling the author’s 30 years in feminist film and exploring cinematic theory. B. Ruby Rich, cultural critic extraordinaire, tries her nonsequential chapters together as a ‘cinefeminism’ manifesto. Go with Rich to Cuba to understand the impact of the late director Sarah Gomez (One Way or Another); to Belgium in 1974 for the stunning Knokke-Heist EXPMNTL Film Festival; and to Michigan to learn about Adrienne Rich’s ‘euphoric’ fans and the beginnings of lesbian cinema. Whatever you do , don’t go without her." — Girlfriends

"For the personalities, the passions and the panorama, Chick Flicks is the perfect dinner party guest, with all the stories and the scintillating wit to tell them." — Sophie Mayer, British Film Institute

“This is a remarkable book. Rich has written a memoir that encourages the reader not only to see the original essays in a new context but also and especially to understand the development of an intellectual and political moment with all of its complications and personal investments.” — Judith Mayne, author of Cinema and Spectatorship

“Ruby Rich reinvents both herself and her approach to film criticism, in a fascinating book that alternates autobiography and theory. She is wise and funny at the same time, never dogmatic, always allowing her discovery process to remain in clear view.” — Roger Ebert

“This collection of writings by B. Ruby Rich is sure to become a classic. She has proven herself to be a courageous guide into uncharted aesthetic and political territory and, in describing so eloquently what she finds there, she does what critics aspire to but rarely achieve: she both educates and entertains.” — Sally Potter, director of the films Orlando and The Tango


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B. Ruby Rich is Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has written for scores of publications, from Signs, GLQ, Film Quarterly, and Cinema Journal to The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Nation, and The Guardian (UK). She has served as juror and curator for the Sundance and Toronto International Film Festivals and for major festivals in Germany, Mexico, Australia, and Cuba. The recipient of awards from Yale University, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, and Frameline, Rich is the author of New Queer Cinema: The Director's Cut, also published by Duke University Press.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2121-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2106-4
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