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Excerpt 1: Excerpted from Chapter 2: "Film in the Sixties" (1991)

The sixties were the last of the pre-retro decades, the last time in which it was still possible to live in the moment without worrying that it was actually somebody else's reappropriated moment. The sixties were fundamentally themselves: people lived, not only in an absolute sense of present, but in an equally absolute sense of living out a historic present.

It was also the last decade in which it was possible to discover the movies, not merely as a medium, but as a primer in how to live, how to love, how to think or smoke or lie. It was in the sixties (and the early seventies as well, since everyone knows that the decades never divided neatly across the cusp anyway) that a whole generation discovered the power of films.

The decade started inauspiciously. I was in the seventh grade in 1960 when I walked to the neighborhood movie theatre with a classmate, unwarned and unaccompanied, to see Psycho. We spent much of the film with our coats over our heads.

I didn't take a shower for the next eight years.

The experience initiated my lifelong affection for baths and my lifelong aversion to horror movies. It's commonly said that cinema was never the same after Psycho but, girl-child on the verge of puberty, neither was I.

My real relationship to movies started in my high school English class. To understand the context fully, keep in mind that English teachers in that period were consumed by a fearful paranoia regarding film and television. In the popular version of history, Krushchev banged his shoe at the U.N. and threatened capitalism with impending extinction in the famous statement of confidence: "We will bury you" (today we know he got the sentence right, but the pronouns wrong).

The Cold War between book-learning and image-watching was equally heated, even if carried out in the less flamboyant forums of educational classrooms and halls of higher learning. Throughout theU.S., teachers of English literature quaked before their students' new viewing habits. They denounced television as a pernicious influence on young minds and cursed movies as mindless entertainment seducing a generation away from the morally-uplifting rigors of reading.

In Annette Busse's class at Brookline High School, however, films were recommended alongside books, and we were expected to improve ourselves by paying attention to both. A knowledge of European films was as necessary a badge of sophistication, in adolescent circles those days, as the ability to quote Jean-Paul Sartre, Thomas Pynchon, or Jack Kerouac.

In the summer of 1965, when I was sent to stay with my father's family in St. Louis as a belated sixteenth birthday gift, I managed to effect a change from high school egghead to the sort of smooth sophisticate eligible for double dates and riverboat rides, simply because I wore a tennis sweater, spoke in my usual Boston accent, and could effortlessly interpret Richard Lester's The Knack, And How To Get It, a briefly emblemmatic film that had just brought Rita Tushingham to Missouri as the very embodiment of cool.

Its director was already famous for putting the Beatles onto film the year before. However, its title could just as easily have referred to our motivations for flocking to movies like this. The next year would bring Blow-Up, the movie that sent college boys all over the U.S. shopping for Nikons and for girls who'd take their clothes off in front of one.

Could it be any plainer?

If you went to British films, you'd learn the slang, the mores, what was euphemistically called the "knack." If you couldn't actually get laid by going to the right movie theatre, you could at least learn how other people did. And you'd also, incidentally, notice that there was a new way of cutting film and setting up the camera and creating characters.

In the free will versus predestination sweepstakes, all the bets were on free will and the movies were a means to an end. Sometimes, though, they threw a wrench in the works. After all, gender did not yet figure into the picture. I remember walking through Harvard Square after seeing Unefemme est une femme, despondent and existentially depressed, confessing to a friend over cappuccino in a Cambridge coffee house that now I was convinced that I would never be a "real" woman.

And while it's true that I never did grow up to be Anna Karina, or anybody else French, I was saved by the times. My friend Ruth Kaplan invited me over to hear someone named Betty Friedan speak to her mother's friends about a new idea regarding women; we sat in the kitchen and watched the working wives react angrily. Another friend lent me someone's circulating copy of Simone de Beauvoir.

The women's movement came along in the nick of time to rescue me from enforced femininity... I went to Europe for the first time the summer after I dropped out of college, fully equipped with a student charter-flight ticket, a backpack, and a head full of visions from all the movies I'd ever seen. But I ended up ignoring the movie theatres for the streets. I never even got to any Italian films, unless you count the screening in a small town in northern Greece of reels 2, 4 and 6 of Fellini's Satyricon.

No, the closest I got to the movies was a black and white television in a public square in Florence, Italy. I was one pair of eyes in that crowd of thousands that watched, transfixed, as a U.S. astronaut landed on the moon. The time was 1969 and, with one "small step," the sixties would be over.

The movies continued, of course, but they were different. They are no longer quite the transformative experience they used to be. American films came of age, Italian films declined, Sweden eventually gave way to Japan as the epitome of cool, and the gender and race politics that the "counterculture" had neglected finally got center stage.

I came of age as well. I went back to college and, inspired by a stint selling popcorn at the college film society, I turned my passion into a profession, with all the pros and cons that turn implies. I don't get epiphanies at the movies much these days. Nor, I suspect, do the astronauts on the moon. But I still maintain my same tie to the cinema, not just as a subject of analysis or a repository of codes and genres, but as a way to live, a place to connect, a passion worth fighting over. The sixties are long gone, but the heritage, the memories, and the movies linger on.


Excerpt 2: Excerpted from Chapter 3 Prologue: Hippie Chick in the Art World

In the fall of 1972, I found myself sharing a makeshift loft with my friend Warner Wada and a whole community of would-be art boys on one half of the sixth floor of a downtown industrial building in Chicago: it was the very beginning of Chicago's loft era and we were pretending it was just our working studio.

Lacking the carpentry skills of my roommates, I set up camp, literally, in a parachute that I pitched like a circus tent around a wooden column in the middle of the space. It was hung inside with flowered cloths, had bed and pillows on the floor and an overall decor that drew its inspiration half from my idea of a New Orleans bordello, half from the better known aesthetic of the seventies crash pad.

The whole loft was fantastical: we invented it much as we were inventing our lives. There were dinner parties by candlelight, which were served on the Oriental-carpet-covered floor of the freight elevator as we took turns pulling the manual-powered ropes that hauled us up and down in our vertical imitation of a cruise line. We had shining-copper radiators, transformed by purloined paint from the metallic-paint company that did business upstairs but conveniently stored its paints in the basement, thus accessing a fortune in pigment to be splashed luxuriously over the antiquated delivery system of our inadequate hand-shovelled coal furnace (no heat on weekends or evenings).

The School's graduate division would use our loft for its periodic student bashes, thereby allowing us to meet our rent payments and hold onto the place, which in the process witnessed performances by most of Chicago's blues legends in the two years of our residence.

Between alternating jobs as a bicycle messenger, bookstore clerk, and ad-agency secretary, I began to work nights running the box-office for the Film Center then getting underway at the Art Institute. I sold tickets and typed programs, Warner manned the projection booth, and finally Camille got a grant from the Illinois Arts Council and hired me on as her full-time assistant. There I received an amazing apprenticeship, on the job training of the highest order, reading every film magazine that came into the office and meeting every filmmaker.

On weekends, I'd sneak into the darkrooms and print my images of Chicago's industrial netherlands explored daytimes on my bike or flash-photos of my friends' night-life, explored the rest of the time. Somehow my youthful combination of lifestyle and real estate made me the ideal candidate to host the school's party for Carolee Schneemann, the filmmaker who was coming to the Art Institute to show her work that winter, and I was duly approached and eagerly agreed.

The event was my introduction to Chicago art society--and to radical feminism, early seventies style. No sooner had the screening begun than the tension in the Art Institute of Chicago's 400-seat auditorium became palpable. This was no small, cozy "womyn's" screening. This was a big event, promoted and anticipated, claiming one woman's sexuality up there on the big screen.

Is there any way to convey the sense of risk and courage that accompanied those early screenings, back when scarcely any films by women had ever been seen, received, or apprehended as such?

Consciousness-raising groups had proliferated all over Chicago, women's liberation had already exploded. And now there stood Carolee Schneemann, survivor of years of patronizing by the avant-garde boys' club, heir to a new era: she was about to be savaged by the girls.

There was trouble before the screening even finished. One audience member assailed Carolee over why a man was projecting, instead of a sister. To this day, Warner remembers that Carolee stood up for him: he's the projectionist here, she answered, and he's good. Then, her defense over and the vibes in the house audibly worsening, Carolee locked herself into the projection booth with Warner, the film, and a bottle of vodka, awaiting the fury to come. (She once confessed to me that things got so bad later in the decade that she began using the cover of darkness to sneak out of her own screenings, on hands and knees, while the show was still in progress and the audience verbally hostile.)

The lights came up and the accusations began. Think back to the years prior to the feminist reclamation of pornography. The only models for open female sexuality in the early seventies were the boyfuck orgies of hippie culture, the Living Theatre gangbang model, the porn movies to which all cool girls had to accompany their boyfriends, and the great crossover film of the time, Emmanuelle.

Despite the absence of sex-positive images, there was plenty of renegotiation going on at a theoretical level. Two years before, in 1970, Shulamith Firestone published The Dialectics of Sex and Anne Koedt published "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm" in Voices from Women's Liberation. Old tropes were being debunked but not yet reclaimed or remystified.

Penetration, needless to say, was up for debate as a politically correct sexual practice (still is, today, in the Dworkin universe) and heterosexuality itself was a bit on the defensive. Intercourse was believed by some to enforce, automatically, a position of subservience for women. That night, the sex cops were out in force and were outraged by what was, after all, a "hippie" movie, celebrating sex as Dionysian elixir, a luxurious connection back to nature and the pantheism of sensuality.

I still remember the attack on poor Carolee for giving head to her by-then ex-boyfriend up there on the screen. The practice was ruled subservient and anti-feminist. A woman, any woman, presenting a blow job, bigger than life, on film yet, was not acceptable. (Back then, issues of consent were not paramount; at least Schneemann would have scored a passing grade on that one.)

The fact that Carolee was simultaneously "actor" and director was lost on a crowd not notable for its grasp of issues of representation--a crowd still, to this day, not noted for any ability to distinguish between filmic acts of representation and the enactment of practices off-screen. Never mind that the film had been shot with an old hand-wound Bolex, which meant that she'd had to jump up literally every thirty seconds to wind the damn thing, in between stage-managing the sex and enacting it!

In retrospect, the event was probably an early public expression, at least in part, of the developing hetero-lesbian splits within the women's movements of the time, but I'm afraid I was too much of a novice to notice such things. I did learn what a Stalinist show trial must have felt like, though I didn't yet know its name. Not that they didn't have a point. It was old-fashioned political correctness, of course, back when the word was an in-house joke and movements tried to police themselves for ideological excess as well as deficiency.

Neither an artist nor a radical feminist, I was curious about both sides of the debate, unclear as to sources for these positions, eager to figure it out in between playing hostess.


Excerpt 3: Excerpted from Chapter 10 Prologue: "Knocke-Heist & The Fury That Was Edinburgh"

In 1979, I was invited to speak at Edinburgh's Feminism and Film conference, as organized by the same four women (Angela Martin, Laura Mulvey, Lynda Myles, and the late Claire Johnston) who had delivered Edinburgh's women's festival five years before. My friend Laura Mulvey would deliver the opening address, expanding on "Feminism and the Avant-Garde," which she'd published in Framework that spring.

My talk started by summarizing points about aesthetics and politics, then charted Akerman's movement of lesbianism off-screen between her first and third features. I termed this her move "from hypoglycemia to anorexia nervosa" in homage both to the prominent food scenes in Akerman's work and the prominent psychoanalytic proclivities of so many of her admirers.

I ended by expressing concern that her work was becoming less radical and more aestheticized as her budget size increased. I had spent two years by then celebrating Akerman's work everywhere on earth I'd had the chance: I naively thought that in this setting a more critical debate would be possible, where misgivings or questions could be raised. But I didn't stop there. Having taken on Akerman's own work, I decided to take on the work of those writing about her.

Here's exactly what I said next, quoted verbatim from my archaic handwritten text: "It is fascinating to look at what has gone un-named in the film theory built upon Akerman's work. We find an extreme mystification of the artist, an emphasis on her avant-garde strategies at the expense of others, a reluctance to confront the issues of sexuality in any straightforwardly honest way, and a complete silence regarding how directly Akerman has moved away from her early connection to women's-movement concerns and processes toward a system of representation coded specifically to cinema itself as its major referrent."

And that wasn't the end of my talk. It was what I said next that really caused the trouble--but to understand why, you need to understand the conference's structures of authority. First, debate had been mandated to follow the formal presentations strictly: any issues or questions not raised by the speaker could not be addressed from the floor in the discussion period that followed. Second, all conference participants had been assigned to one of several groups, according to which format we adjourned after the plenaries for intensive small-group discussion.

This structure was a noble attempt to hold on to the ideal of intimate talk within a large public event. But there was a catch: there were a few men in attendance (less than a dozen among 100+ women) and the conference organizers had carefully assigned a man to each of the discussion groups. A number of women made strenuous objections to this arrangement and ultimately set up a "women-only" discussion group.

This quickly became the largest discussion group of all, even though a hastily-drawn regulation prohibited our changing between it and our assigned group: we were supposed to choose (though I didn't, preferring to be a scofflaw and move at will between the two, comparing the sanctioned and stigmatized discourses). In fact, the best discussions I heard at the conference took place within that charmed circle of the women-only discussion group.

My favorite was one filmmaker's memorable statement that echoed in my brain for years afterward: "I want to learn to make films that will be infinitely pleasurable for women and profoundly threatening to men." I would think of those words in the ensuing years, especially at those moments when Born In Flames, Question of Silence, or Thelma And Louise were attacked and defended. I'd smile to myself, thinking of her ambition realized by these other directors.

Full of loyalty to this affinity group and cognizant of the rule that would prohibit its concerns from ever surfacing in the main sessions, I decided to close my talk with a direct address to the conference's organizational dynamic. Here's how its rhetoric went, again quoting from my archival slips of paper: "I love the Edinburgh festival. I have the greatest respect for many of the women running it. But I must raise the question of how women have been put on the defensive here: we've been forced to sort ourselves out according to our degree of "separation," when in fact the men are a tiny minority who, by their very presence, have succeeded in fragmenting the women. Not wanting to make a fuss, we've gone along with the estrangement from other women. Whereas, in fact, we could have kept our group dynamics (modeled, after all, on women's consciousness-raising groups), by simply placing them all together in a "men's" discussion group and going on our way. My experience in the all-women's group was my best here: not a 'lesbian' discussion at all, but simply the most political debates I've yet had."

Well, all hell broke loose, over my bad manners if not my substance. "I can't believe she's saying this," gasped one of the Camera Obscura editors to her neighbor. I immediately made a lot of enemies, and a lot of new friends as well--for this conference, so fractured and fractious, was actually one of the very last events to permit the mingling of women from all sectors of film activity. Filmmakers, distribution collectives, journalists, scholars, festival committee members, film editors and composers, even would-be filmmakers had come from all over Europe. The festival roster identified women as "technician" or "student" as well as "theorist," as simply "interested in women and film" or, in one case, even "filmmaker, unemployed. "

Daniela Trastulli was there scouting films for a women's film festival in Florence, Italy, with a number of women from Milan. A corps of women from Cinemien, the well-funded Dutch distribution collective, had come from Amsterdam. Mandy Merck and Helen MacKintosh came to report for Time Out, subsequently entitled Rendezvous D'Edinburgh. Also there from the U. K. were Lindsay Cooper, Elizabeth Cowie, Rose English, Sylvia Harvey, Tina Keane, Caroline Sheldon, Carolyn Spry, the late Jo Spence, the conference organizers and speakers, and too many more to name.

Lesley Stern, who'd travelled all the way from Australia, would eventually write the report for Screen (and warn me, ahead of time, of her negative view of the "Jump Cut position"). From Germany, there were Hildegard Westbeld, who at that time had just started Chaos Film to distribute women's films; Helge Heberle, representing frauen und film, and several others. From the United States came Teresa De Lauretis, Bette Gordon, Karyn Kay, Michelle Citron, and dozens more. (Even today, I find new names.)

All of us had very different aesthetic, political and theoretical positions. And from the UK came came a younger generation of filmmakers, composers, and others with an economic critique, complaining about the registration fees and the lack of subsidy for those without economic clout or institutional posts. There were many conflicting dynamics at the festival, some in open contradition with others, but few were acknowledged or discussed.

The Time Out report summarized the debates as follows: "Neither the varying theoretical perspectives nor the films themselves went undisputed. Indeed 'heterogeneity' became the watchword of the week, as successive arguments over the place of 'theory and practice,' formal experiment and accessibility, filmmaking, film watching and film criticism were enthusiastically (if not vehemently) aired. Employing or discarding labels, however, cannot obscure the fact that there was indeed a deeply-rooted division within the Edinburgh conference."

My realization today, looking back at the event, its participants, and my own notes and statements, is that the division was most fundamentally sexual in nature, though never acknowledged as such to my knowledge. A significant percentage of the women at Edinburgh were lesbian, many of us then just forming attachments to women for the first time. We were full of our newfound sexuality, thrilled to be meeting up with others of our kind across all kinds of borders, energized by the films and discussions, and flirting like mad (indeed, a roll call of future relationships could easily be derived from the guest list, my own included).

For some of us, then, the conference was an eroticized zone. Most of the time, though, it was a battle zone in which we occupied a particularly schizophrenic position. While we were increasingly powerful and plentiful, running key feminist film organizations, making films, and reporting on the scene, the emergent feminist theory that held the high ground was determinedly heterosexual and heterosexist, relegating us to a second-class position of symbolic marginality.

Gay-straight splits within feminist communities were as much a reality in 1979 as before or after, unless you exempt our current postmodern stance of pseudo-identification, bordering on appropriation as everyone rushes to declare herself "queer." Only since the late eighties has work by Sue-Ellen Case, Judith Mayne, Teresa De Lauretis, and younger scholars like Rhona Berenstein, Cynthia Fuchs, Judith Halberstam, Chris Straayer, and Patricia White begun to address directly and explicitly the long standing homophobia of orthodox feminist film theory.

At the end of the conference, a half dozen of the U.S. participants that included both lesbians and heterosexuals, decided to hold a "women's party" in our shared flat, and invited all the women at the conference. Is it surprising that a convincing chart of "theoretical" differences could be drawn by tallying those who did or didn't attend? Or that "women's" had become a code word for both "separatist" and "lesbian," incurring contamination by association? Or that those who did come to that party abandoned debate and stayed late to dance, get drunk, act out?

I went to bed alone. I woke up the next morning with an auburn-haired Scottish lassie in bed with me: she swore she'd just got up drunk in the night and stumbled back into the wrong bedroom, unaware, but the story quickly made the rounds, as fitting an emblem as any other of one Edinburgh Spirit of '79.


Excerpt 4: Excerpted from: Chapter 10: "In the Name of Feminist Film Criticism" (1978, revised in 1980 and 1991)

"Anti-Climax: The Names"

Without new names, we run the danger of losing title to films that we sorely need. "Feminist," if it is to make a comeback from the loss of meaning caused by its all-encompassing overuse, requires new legions of names to preserve for us the inner strengths, the not-yet-visible qualities of these films still lacking in definition. I here offer an experimental glossary of names as an aid to initiating a new stage of feminist criticism.

Validative: One of feminist filmmaking's greatest contributions is the body of films about women's lives, political struggles, organizing, and so on. These films have been vaguely classified under the cinema verit banner, where they reside in decidedly mixed company. Since they function as a validation and legitimation of women's culture and individual lives, the name "validative" would be a better choice.

It has the added advantage of aligning the work with products of oppressed peoples (with the filmmaker as insider), whereas the cinema verit label represents the oppressors, who make films as superior outsiders documenting alien, implicitly inferior cultures, often from a position of condescension. The feminist films of the early Seventies were validative, and validative films continue to be an important component of feminist filmmaking. They may be ethnographic, documenting the evolution of women's lives and issues (as in We're Alive, 1975, a portrait and analysis of women in prison) or archaeological, uncovering women's hidden past (as in Union Maids,1977, with its recovery of women's role in the labor movement, or Sylvia Morales' Chicana, 1978, the first film history of the Mexican-American woman's struggle). The form is well established, yet the constantly evolving issues require new films, such as We Will Not Be Beaten (1981), a film on domestic violence culled from videotaped interviews with women.

Correspondence: An entirely different name is necessary for more avant-garde films, like those of Yvonne Rainer, Chantal Akerman, Helke Sander or Laura Mulvey/Peter Wollen. Looking to literary history, we find a concern with the role played by letters ("personal" discourse) as a sustaining mode for women's writing during times of literary repression.

The publication of historical letters by famous and ordinary women has been a major component of the feminist publishing renaissance, just as the long standing denigration of the genre as not "real" writing (that is, not certified by either a publishing house or monetary exchange) has been an additional goad for the creation of feminist alternatives to the literary establishment. A cinema of "correspondence" is a fitting homage to this tradition of introspective missives sent out into the world. What distinguishes such films of correspondence from formally similar films by male avant-garde filmmakers is their inclusion of the author within the text. Film About A Woman Who corresponds to very clear experiences and emotional concerns in Rainer's life, whereas Michael Snow's Rameau's Nephew (1974) uses the form to suppress the author's presence.

Similarly, Helke Sander in The All Around Reduced Personality (1977) revises the ironic, distanced narration of modernist German cinema to include the filmmaker in a shared first-person-plural with her characters, unlike her compatriot Alexander Kluge, who always remains external and superior to his characters.

It is this resolute correspondence between form and content, to put it bluntly, that distinguishes the films of correspondence. Such films are essential to the development of new structures and forms for the creation and communication of feminist works and values; they are laying the groundwork of a feminist cinematic vocabulary.

Reconstructive: Several recent films suggest another name, located midway between the two described above, and dealing directly with issues of form posed by the political and emotional concerns of the work. One such film is Sally Potter's Thriller (1979), a feminist murder mystery related as a first-person inquiry by the victim: Mimi, the seamstress of Puccini's "La Boheme," investigates the cause of her death and the manner of her life, uncovering in the process the contradictions hidden by the bourgeois male artist.

Michelle Citron's Daughter Rite (1978) probes relations between women in the family, using dramatic jump-cut sequences to critique cinema verit and optical printing to re-examine home movies, that North American index to domestic history. Both Thriller and Daughter Rite are reconstructive in their rebuilding of other forms, whether grand opera or soap opera, according to feminist specifications. By reconstructing forms in a constructive manner, these films build bridges between the needs of women and the goals of art.

Medusan: Humor should not be overlooked as a weapon of great power. Comedy requires further cultivation for its revolutionary potential as a deflator of the patriarchal order and an extraordinary leveller and reinventor of dramatic structure. An acknowledgement of the subversive power of humor, the name "Medusan" is taken from Helene Cixous' "The Laugh of the Medusa," in which she celebrates the potential of feminist texts "to blow up the law, to break up the 'truth' with laughter."

Cixous's contention that when women confront the figure of Medusa she will be laughing is a rejoinder to Freud's posing the "Medusa's Head" as an incarnation of male castration fears. For Cixous, women are having the last laugh. And, to be sure, all the films in this camp deal with combinations of humor and sexuality.

Vera Chytilova's Daisies (1966) was one of the first films by a woman to move in the direction of anarchic sexuality, though its disruptive humor was received largely as slapstick at the time. Nelly Kaplan's two films, A Very Curious Girl (1971) and Nea (1976), also offer an explosive humor coupled with sexuality to discomfort patriarchal society (even though her fondness for "happy" endings that restore order has discomfited many feminist critics).

Jan Oxenberg's A Comedy in Six Unnatural Acts (1975) is an excellent example of a Medusan film, attacking not just men or sexism but the heterosexually-defined stereotypes of lesbianism; its success has been demonstrated by its raucous cult reception and, more pointedly, by its tendency to polarize a mixed audience along the lines not of class but of sexual preference. It is disruptive of homophobic complacency with a force never approached by analytical films or those defensive of lesbianism.

Corrective Realism: As mentioned earlier, the tradition of realism in the cinema has never done well by women. Indeed, extolling realism to women is rather like praising the criminal to the victim, so thoroughly have women been falsified under its banner. A feminist feature cinema, generally representational, is now developing, with a regular cast of actresses, a story line, aimed at a wide audience and generally accepting of many cinematic conventions.

The women making these films, however, are so thoroughly transforming the characterizations and the narrative workings of traditional realism that they have created a new feminist cinema of "corrective realism." Thus, in Margarethe von Trotta's The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (1977), it is the women's actions that advance the narrative; bonding between women functions to save, not to paralyze or trap the characters; running away brings Christa freedom, while holding ground brings her male lover only death. The film has outrageously inventive character details, an attention to the minutiae of daily life, an endorsement of emotion and intuitive ties, and an infectious humor.

Marta Meszaros's Women (1978) presents a profound reworking of socialist realism in its depiction of the friendship between two women in a Hungarian work hostel. The alternating close-ups and medium shots become a means of social critique, while the more traditional portrayal of the growing intimacy between the two women insistently places emotional concerns at the center of the film. Both films successfully adapt an existing cinematic tradition to feminist purposes, going far beyond a simple "positive role model" in their establishment of a feminist cinematic environment within which to envision female protagonists and their activities.

These, then, are a few of the naming possibilities. However, it is not only the feminist films that demand new names, but also (for clarity) the films being made by men about women.

Projectile: One name resurrected from the fifties by seventies criticism via Molly Haskell's recoining was the "woman's film," the matinee melodramas which, cleared of pejorative connotations, were refitted for relevance to women's cinematic concerns today. Wishful thinking. The name was Hollywood's and there it stays, demonstrated by the new "woman's films" that are pushing actual women's films off the screen, out into the dark. These are male fantasies of women--men's projections of themselves and their fears onto female characters.

The name "projectile" identifies these films' true nature and gives an added awareness of the destructive impact of male illusions in the female audience. It is time the bluff was called on the touted authenticity of these works, which pose as objective while remaining entirely subjective in their conception and execution.

The clearest justification for this name can be found in director Paul Mazursky's description of his An Unmarried Woman (1978): "I don't know if this is a woman's movie or not. I don't know what that means anymore. I wanted to get inside a woman's head. I've felt that all the pictures I've done, I've done with men. I put myself inside a man's head, using myself a lot. I wanted this time to think like a woman. That's one of the reasons there was so much rewriting. There were many things the women I cast in the filmwouldn't say. They'd tell me why, and I'd say, 'Well, what would you say?' and I'd let them say that. I used a real therapist; I wanted a woman, and I had to change what she said based on what she is. In other words, the only thing I could have done was to get a woman to help me write it. I thought about that for a while, but in the end I think it worked out."


Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.