Women′s Experimental Cinema

Critical Frameworks

Women′s Experimental Cinema

Book Pages: 432 Illustrations: 62 illustrations Published: October 2007

Art and Visual Culture > Feminist Art, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > Film

Women’s Experimental Cinema provides lively introductions to the work of fifteen avant-garde women filmmakers, some of whom worked as early as the 1950s and many of whom are still working today. In each essay in this collection, a leading film scholar considers a single filmmaker, supplying biographical information, analyzing various influences on her work, examining the development of her corpus, and interpreting a significant number of individual films. The essays rescue the work of critically neglected but influential women filmmakers for teaching, further study, and, hopefully, restoration and preservation. Just as importantly, they enrich the understanding of feminism in cinema and expand the terrain of film history, particularly the history of the American avant-garde.

The contributors examine the work of Marie Menken, Joyce Wieland, Gunvor Nelson, Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Rubin, Amy Greenfield, Barbara Hammer, Chick Strand, Marjorie Keller, Leslie Thornton, Abigail Child, Peggy Ahwesh, Su Friedrich, and Cheryl Dunye. The essays highlight the diversity in these filmmakers’ forms and methods, covering topics such as how Menken used film as a way to rethink the transition from abstract expressionism to Pop Art in the 1950s and 1960s, how Rubin both objectified the body and investigated the filmic apparatus that enabled that objectification in her film Christmas on Earth (1963), and how Dunye uses film to explore her own identity as a black lesbian artist. At the same time, the essays reveal commonalities, including a tendency toward documentary rather than fiction and a commitment to nonhierarchical, collaborative production practices. The volume’s final essay focuses explicitly on teaching women’s experimental films, addressing logistical concerns (how to acquire the films and secure proper viewing spaces) and extending the range of the book by suggesting alternative films for classroom use.

Contributors. Paul Arthur, Robin Blaetz, Noël Carroll, Janet Cutler, Mary Ann Doane, Robert A. Haller, Chris Holmlund, Chuck Kleinhans, Scott MacDonald, Kathleen McHugh, Ara Osterweil, Maria Pramaggiore, Melissa Ragona, Kathryn Ramey, M. M. Serra, Maureen Turim, William C. Wees


Women’s Experimental Cinema is a valuable and much needed contribution to a neglected area of scholarship in experimental film-making.” — M. Carmen Gomez-Galisteo, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

“[T]he collection presents very good essays on important figures ranging from the canonical Marie Menken to the exhilarating Chick Strand and the protean Leslie Thornton, ending with Cheryl Dunye’s continuing ‘experimental sitcom of black lesbian life’ and a concluding article by Scott MacDonald on using films like these in the classroom. Every [essay] is thoughtful and lucid.” — David Sterritt, Cineaste

“A truly remarkable collection on feminist independent cinema, this is one of the most comprehensive and well thought out books on the subject to appear to date. . . . [T]he book moves from strength to strength to create a collection that is as cohesive as it is authoritative. . . . Well illustrated with behind-the-scenes production shots and frame blow ups from the films themselves, and written by some of the most gifted critics working in the field today, this collection is both deeply felt and rigorously detailed. Essential. All readers, all levels.” — W. W. Dixon, Choice

“I would recommend Women’s Experimental Cinema as a worthy omnibus for students of film or gender studies, and fans of experimental filmmaking. It provides an interesting insight for all filmmakers in understanding the innovations, motivations and objectives of the genre.” — Phoebe Hart, M/C Reviews

“In an era in which we are used to recovering access to material thought to have been lost to us, Blaetz is right to promote the extremely interesting work of this group of undeservedly unfamiliar women artists. They were controversial in their time, and their work remains challenging. Let us hope that Blaetz and her contributors will achieve their goal of making a larger public aware of this neglected body of work by a group of pioneering women who challenged social, sexual, and professional artistic expectations of women in their day.” — Harriet Margolis, NWSA Journal

“The sidelining of women in discussions of avant-garde film is not a new fact, but what makes this book groundbreaking is that it provides a critical analysis of the conditions that produced women’s invisibility within the cinematic avantgarde. . . . This book provides a convincing case for attending to the complexities of women’s experimental film.” — Jane Simon, Media International Australia

Women’s Experimental Cinema is an invaluable resource for students and devotees of experimental cinema and feminist film, fields defined by remarkable films and a dearth of critical attention. It brings to light the social and political roots and cultural impact of women’s experimental film, and the specific female, feminine, and feminist practices of an exceptional group of women artists.” — Alexandra Juhasz, editor of Women of Vision: Histories in Feminist Film and Video

“This definitive volume on U.S. women’s experimental cinema fills a significant and long-lamented gap within film studies, and in feminist film studies in particular. Together, these essays offer us a richly nuanced picture not only of women’s experimental film but of avant-garde filmmaking in general from the 1940s to the present.” — Sharon Willis, author of High Contrast: Race and Gender in Contemporary Hollywood Film


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Robin Blaetz is Associate Professor and Chair of the Film Studies Program at Mount Holyoke College. She is the author of Visions of the Maid: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Women’s Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks / Robin Blaetz 1

Swing and Sway: Marie Menken’s Filmic Events / Melissa Ragona 20

Different/Same/Both/Neither: The Polycentric Cinema of Joyce Wieland / Paul Arthur 45

Evacuating Visual Fields, Layering Auditory Frames: Signature, Translation, Resonance, and Gunvor Nelson’s Films / Chris Holmlund 67

Moving and Moving: From Minimalism to Lives of Performers / Noel Carroll 89

Eye/Body: The Cinematic Paintings of Carolee Schneemann / M.M. Serra and Kathryn Ramey 103

“Absently Enchanted”: The Apocryphal, Ecstatic Cinema of Barbara Rubin / Ara Osterweil 127

Amy Greenfield: Film, Dynamic Movement, and Transformation / Robert A. Haller 152

Barbara Hammer: Lyrics and History / Chuck Kleinhans 167

Chick Strand’s Experimental Ethnography / Maria Pramaggiore 188

Amnesis Time: The Films of Marjorie Keller / Robin Blaetz 211

In the Ruins of the Image: The Work of Leslie Thornton / Mary Ann Doane 239

Sounds, Intervals, and Startling Images in the Films of Abigail Child / Maureen Turim 263

Peggy’s Playhouse: Contesting the Modernist Paradigm / William C. Wees 290

Su Friedrich: Breaking the Rules / Janet Cutler 312

The Experimental “Dunyementary”: A Cinematic Signature Effect / Kathleen McHugh 339

Women’s Experimental Cinema: Some Pedgogical Challenges / Scott Macdonald 360

Appendix: Film Distribution 383

Bibliography 385

Contributors 401

Index 405
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4044-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4023-2
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