There’s a movement happening online that asks cinéastes to commit to watching one film per week, for one year, made by a woman. The #52FilmsByWomen pledge is encouraging an interactive conversation about the contributions of women directors. According to research by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, the number of women directing the 250 top-grossing films declined by 2% over the past 17 years. The Center also found that 38% of films employed either just one woman or no women at all in behind-the-scenes roles. “We asked one, and she said no,” is the favorite lazy excuse of studio heads who try to posit that there just aren’t that many women making movies right now. With that in mind, we’re supporting the #52FilmsByWomen initiative with a list of movies directed by women that you can watch online right now.
Jane B. par Agnès V. by Agnès Varda
“It’s like an imaginary bio-pic.” —Agnès Varda
At most, it’s interesting to see Birkin just ‘playing’ herself, as it’s a breathy persona of enunciation and magical cheeriness that daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg reconstituted for herself in a more melancholy vein. As the actress discusses different directors’ techniques, Varda abandons a straightforward approach and takes a direct departure into her passion for reflected images (and sticking mirrors in the middle of nature), daring Birkin to look into the camera lens, something the actress isn’t comfortable with, even for photographs. “It could be a trap.”
Meditation on Violence by Maya Deren
“Art actually is based on the notion that if you would really celebrate an idea or a principle, you must think, you must plan, you must put yourself completely in the state of devotion, and not simply give the first thing that comes to your head.” —Maya Deren
From The Third Eye:
Playing out the movements of the Wu Tang ritual, American avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren explores movement and performance in Meditation On Violence. Filmed in 1948, dancer CHAO LI-CHI delivers a performance blurring beauty into violence, the Yin into the Yang, light into darkness. Deren experiments with film time, reversing the film part way through producing a loop. Moving forwards and then backwards, the difference in the Wu Tang movements is almost imperceptible.
Travis by Kelly Reichardt
“My films are just glimpses of people passing through.” —Kelly Reichardt
A chilling and hypnotic study of loss, appropriated from an NPR radio interview with a mother whose son was killed in Iraq.
US Go Home by Claire Denis
“For me, film-making is a journey into the impossible. When I make a film I have to be like a military commander, in charge of every strategy and tactic, but I never really know where we are going.” —Claire Denis
From Next Projection:
U.S. Go Home’s emphasis on the corporeal and contemplative to represent adolescent longing, understanding and disillusionment, and forging a sense of responsibility also continues in Nénette and Boni. The film begins with fragments of Nénette and Boni’s separate yet equally diaphanous lives, she first presented floating face-up in a swimming pool, shot from overhead, calm and unstressed, and he in the passenger seat of a car that races around in a circle, kinetic and senseless. Such scenes betray their youth, and subsequent scenes betray their lack of responsibility.
Letter from Venice by Susan Sontag
“Things I like: fires, Venice, tequila, sunsets, babies, silent films, heights, coarse salt, top hats, large long-haired dogs, ship models, cinnamon, goose down quilts, pocket watches, the smell of newly mown grass, linen, Bach, Louis XIII furniture, sushi, microscopes, large rooms, boots, drinking water, maple sugar candy.” —Susan Sontag
Unguided Tour, Susan Sontag’s fourth and final film, was based on her short story of the same title. Also known as “Letter from Venice,” the film features Lucinda Childs and Claudio Cassinelli and tells of a relationship that is fragmenting as they tour the decaying ruins of a hallucinatory Venice.
Why I Never Became a Dancer by Tracey Emin
“Why I Never Became a Dancer is like a metaphor for why I didn’t do everything I ever wanted to do in my life.” —Tracey Emin
From Greg Wilson:
I was deeply moved by ‘Why I Never Became A Dancer’. It’s the story of a teenage girl living in a seaside town, which happened to be Margate in the 70’s. Having grown up in a seaside town myself, I could perfectly relate to the setting, which offered adventure and exploration to a wide-eyed youngster. It outlines her sexual awakening with older boys and predatory men, her youthful promiscuity a byproduct of living in this environment and the freedom she experienced. But there’d be a price to pay, which she discovered in 1978 on entering a local heat of the grandly titled EMI sponsored World Disco Dancin’ Championship, organised following the colossal success of the movie ‘Saturday Night Fever’, one of the biggest box office hits of the period.
The Deadman by Peggy Ahwesh
Originally I cast the film with completely different people, who were older and gnarlier, and much more difficult people. Kurt Kren was supposed to play the Count. The other people were San Francisco Art Institute grads and had been in Kuchar movies. You might recognize them. The Deadman was the first film I shot in 16mm. We did have a script, which is unlike my early films, and everybody read the script once, then tossed it away, and we never referred to it again. The Deadman was a hybrid of my Super-8 movies, and this well-known literary source, which to me felt very foreign. I don’t think anyone in Dead Man was trying to be outrageous. These are people who would have done anything for fun; they are transgressive people, but if it looks as if they’re trying to be outrageous, then the film is not working: it’s supposed to read as a-day-in-the-life in some ironic sense. I was trying to use the woman and sexuality and the body to make a philosophical point.
From Jonathan Rosenbaum:
Made in collaboration with Keith Sanborn, The Deadman is based on a story by Bataille, charting ‘the adventures of a near-naked heroine who sets in motion a scabrous free-from orgy before returning to the house to die — a combination of elegance, raunchy defilement and barbaric splendor.’
Black Girl as a Landscape by Sondra Perry
“I’ve always been really interested in dimensionality in relationship to identity, so thinking about fluidity in that way. Recently I like the language of dimensionality and thinking of people as existing in-between spaces as ghosts or apparitions, or existing in a paraspace or a space that is kind of undefined—or at least trying to access an undefined space.” —Sondra Perry
From Huffington Post:
In ‘Black Girl As A Landscape,’ the camera pans slowly and obsessively back and forth across a horizontally framed figure (performed by Dionne Lee) who seems to be reclining or floating sideways. The patterns in her dress, her subtle movements, her breathing, and her blinking eyes are all tremendous events in this black and white silent video, which is as much a digital abstraction at times as it is representational. (Perry has said that she explores the possibilities of abstraction as a way of creating dimensionality and autonomy for marginalized bodies.)
Crooked Moon by Dawn L. Hall
From Dawn L. Hall: “Crooked Moon is visual poetry about our divine wholeness transcending our present imperfection; Realizing love within the crux of one self through the analogous illuminated phases of the moon.”
Phyllis by Zina Saro-Wiwa
“There is this idea of evil being represented with these wigs, and they’re kind of appalling to look at. I’m kind of attracted to things that are appalling, and I knew I had to do something with that.” —Zina Saro-Wiwa
From ZSW Studio:
Phyllis is a moving and atmospheric portrait of a ‘psychic’ vampire, a woman obsessed with synthetic Nollywood dramas, that lives alone in Lagos, Nigeria. The central idea of this short experimental film is the practise and significance of wig-wearing in Nollywood film; a practise the director has invested with deeper psychological as well as science-fiction layers. Underpinning this central idea however is a critique of the unforgiving treatment of single women in Nollywood and Nigeria. The film is an example of what the director, Zina Saro-Wiwa, has termed “alt-Nollywood”, a genre that plays with and reworks certain narrative, stylistic and visual conventions of Nollywood. Phyllis explores the gothic possibilities of the Nollywood aesthetic creating a new kind of low-budget atmospheric film that is very much of Nollywood and yet subverts the genre. Using Nollywood to subvert Nollywood.
“When I was in middle school, for men the stories that are out there for when they come of age, it’s them being interested in sex. But for women, they become the sex objects. I wanted to explore what that’s like for women, your body becoming a sex object.” —Stefani Saintonge
From IMDb: “Everyone is growing up except Patrice. But when a raunchy rumor threatens her best friend Laura’s reputation, she’s forced to join the party and embrace adolescence.”
I Can’t Make You Love Me by Breda Beban
“I make different kinds of works, but the work that is based on where I come from tends to come across well. Does this say something about me or about the audience’s expectations? I certainly am not in charge of this game. I’m willing to ask myself whether I’m better, whether what I do communicates better when based on the part of the world where I come from. But then where am I from?” —Breda Beban
Breda Beban encapsulates the intimate upheavals and double-edged emotions of being in love. In the twin-screen projection that gives the exhibition its name, Beban anatomises the end of an affair. In a starkly staged set-piece, the increasingly anguished figure of the artist and an actor playing the part of a former lover rake over the coals of their unmistakably terminal but palpably smouldering relationship, reliving past events and re-opening old wounds. The rising tensions and frustrated passions of the duo’s interaction are contrasted with the mechanical glide of the tracking camera that passes serenely and inexorably between them – its disinterested motion occasionally coinciding with an especially poignant moment, but frequently leaving any lingering personal sentiment trailing blankly in its wake.
The Fall by Carrie Mae Weems
“Even in the midst of the great social changes we’ve experienced just in the last year with the election of Barack Obama, for the most part African Americans and our lives remain invisible. Black people are to be turned away from, not turned toward — we bear the mark of Cain. It’s an aesthetic thing; blackness is an affront to the persistence of whiteness.” —Carrie Mae Weems
Narrative and storytelling is in the blood,” declares Carrie Mae Weems. Through a mixture of archival personal photos and the artist’s first major photo-documentary series, “Family Pictures and Stories,” Weems takes the viewer on a personal journey through her childhood in the 1950s to a broader examination of “the history of black subjects in photography” in the series “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried.” Continually innovating, Weems has since adopted new strategies of picture making in the series “Constructing History: A Requiem to Mark the Moment” in which students at the Savannah College of Art and Design reenact pivotal Civil Rights and new moments from the past forty years. The segment follows the artist back to her home in Syracuse, New York, where she is seen staging the second chapter of the project in an ornate hotel ballroom, focusing on the drama of the 2008 presidential campaign.
Touch by Jen McGowan
“I love the short film format. It’s a great to place to experiment as a filmmaker and it is a different type of storytelling than any other form. You need to engage your audience right away with little time for development — that’s a unique challenge.” —Jen McGowan
Touch is an eleven minute drama starring Lily Knight (Changeling, Secretary) and Rachel Kanouse. An ode to city life, Touch, explores the universal themes of isolation and need for community when two strangers make the most important connect of their lives while waiting for a train.
Daughters of Chaos by Marjorie Keller
The footage of the wedding is of my niece’s wedding. I had shot it from outside the church looking through the windows. I wanted to use the wedding to form a kind of continuity in the film. It’s the one stable narrative element. I used it as the back-board for the different adolescent fantasies and experiences to playoff against, and also as a way for me to retrospectively look at adolescence. I had four older sisters who married, and I went to a lot of weddings and participated in many. I thought it was the greatest thing that could ever happen—that it would be the culmination of life experience. Yet there was a way in which I remembered and observed the kind of cynicism of pre-teenage girls about this event which they knew to be basically disgusting: that what was going to happen when these people got married was that they were going to have sex. And why anybody would ever do it—they just couldn’t fathom.
La captive by Chantal Akerman
“The music also adds to the tension, an effect I was very conscious of achieving when selecting it. I also went back to look at Godard’s Contempt.” —Chantal Akerman
From J. Hoberman: “Another sort of psycho-epistemological inquiry that asks: How can we know another? . . . An intractable, object-like movie with many pleasing symmetries.”
The Second Awakening of Christa Klages by Margarethe von Trotta
“When you create a work of art, you don’t do everything consciously. So many things come up to you and then only afterwards you understand perhaps why you did it or you can find an interpretation. It’s not good to have an interpretation before you start.” —Margarethe von Trotta
From Scott Tobias:
While her solo directorial debut, The Second Awakening Of Christa Klages (1978), lacks the polish and insight of her later films, it’s still an acutely observed reflection on her favorite theme: the powerful (and often mysterious) psychic bond among women. In the film’s most fascinating subplot, a strange kinship is struck over a brief glance between a desperate young bank robber (Tina Engel) and the quiet teller (Katharina Thalbach) she holds at gunpoint.
Muta by Lucrecia Martel
“I cannot say my films are naturalism.” —Lucrecia Martel
From fashion brand Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales film series: “Martel’s singular film is a mesmerizing personal reflection on the transformative power of femininity.”
Peel by Jane Campion
Peel was Campion’s first short film. It won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, making the filmmaker the first woman to receive the award.
From the New York Times: “Peel is curiously mysterious in that Campion offers the viewer no clues as to what to think of it all. Herself averse to being told what to feel, she claims a corresponding reluctance to tell an audience what to feel.”
Fire by Deepa Mehta
“Fire is about choices, the choices we make in life which may lead to alienation. By the bisexuality theme in the film, I have just shown an extreme choice. But the end result is that you cannot have everything in your life. Happiness does not fall into your lap; in fact, happiness is too ephemeral a word.” —Deepa Mehta
From Keith Phipps:
Fire openly questions Indian tradition, and it loads the dice in its favor. Dramatically simple, Fire has only two sympathetic characters: the two lovers whose relationship, while portrayed in sympathetic, romantic terms, never seems plausible. . . . Its far richer portrayal of a culture torn between its past and its post-colonial Western drift makes it more involving than it might have otherwise been.
This Won’t Hurt a Bit by Mary Harron
Watch a short interview with Harron about the film:
Bitch-Beauty by M.M. Serra
From M.M. Serra:
Bitch-Beauty is an experimental documentary profiling the life of Anne Hanavan, whose experiences as part of the underground scene in the East Village of the 1980s paralleled those of now-deceased Zoe Tamerlis Lund. Lund was the actor and screenwriter of Bad Lieutenant, who died of a heart failure due to extended cocaine use in 1999. Using Hanavan’s films, performances, readings, and music as well as footage from Lund’s work, Bitch-Beauty is an intense 7-minute time capsule of addiction, the perils of street prostitution, and subsequent renewal or revival through cathartic self-expression.
Selected Video Works (1975-1978) by Francesca Woodman
“Am I in the picture? Am I getting in or out of it? I could be a ghost, an animal or a dead body, not just this girl standing on the corner…?” —Francesca Woodman
From UbuWeb: “These extremely rare videos have only recently been compiled by the estate and shown only occasionally. The videos reveal a singular glimpse into the working process of this extraordinary young artist.”
Never Fear by Ida Lupino
“I’d love to see more women working as directors and producers.” —Ida Lupino
It’s difficult to define precisely, but there is an unusually physical, tactile quality to the way the film’s characters relate to one another. So although it would be hard to argue that the film has a conventionally feminist sensibility, it would also be hard to imagine it having been directed by a man. Never Fear must have had a special resonance for Lupino (who co-scripted it with then-husband Collier Young), since she had, like her heroine, experienced polio as an adolescent. The fact that she had to direct the film from a wheelchair (due to an injury) must have been a constant reminder of how close she came to a grim early fate. Instead, she recovered and, as Anne Morra has written, her work “remains singular, a vital contribution to the evolution of women in cinema and of American independent film production in general.”
Lick the Star by Sofia Coppola
“There’s something about being a teenager that’s so sincere. Everything is more epic, like your first crush. I feel that it’s not always portrayed very accurately. It bugs me when they have people my age [then 28] playing teenagers.” —Sofia Coppola
From Focus Features:
Made just a year before The Virgin Suicides, the stylish, black-and-white short Lick the Star acts as a companion piece to Coppola’s first feature film. Like The Virgin Suicides, it looks at death from the perspective of teenage girls: it’s about a group of 7th grade girls who, inspired by V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, hatch a plot to slowly poison the boys at their school with arsenic. Musically, Lick the Star sources female pop punk with tracks by The Amps (headed by Kim Deal, formerly of The Pixies and The Breeders), Belinda Carlisle’s seminal girl rockers The Go-Go’s, and Free Kitten, featuring Pussy Galore’s Julia Cafritz and Sonic Youth’s singer-guitarist Kim Gordon.
Pelo malo by Mariana Rondón
The expression “bad hair” is one of the most common in Venezuela. Around 90% of the population has “bad hair,” and in a family it’s absolutely common. Straightening hair is one of the most profitable businesses in Venezuela. On every block, there’s a place that can straighten your hair. It’s important that if something is that pervasive, you can still identify and love yourself as well as others. The original idea of the movie, that of respect, opens from several different topics: from hair, sexuality, and politics. It’s like a big canopy that encompasses everything.
Initiation by Nadine Truong
“My thoughts go very much into the darkness.” —Nadine Truong
At Five in the Afternoon by Samira Makhmalbaf
“When I make a movie, I don’t try to make a statement; I think of a question and I go to find why it is so.” —Samira Makhmalbaf
From The Digital Fix:
At Five In The Afternoon looks at the harm that has been done to a generation of young women under a brutal regime, damage that has been compounded by the subsequent destruction of the country during the war, and questions what can be done to rectify the damage. Written by Samira, based on a novel by her father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar), with assistant direction from his wife Marzieh Meshkini (The Day I Became A Woman), the film is a typically accomplished piece of work from the Makhmalbaf Film House in every respect. The film is beautifully photographed with an amazing eye for the colour of life that stands out from the barren backgrounds and ruins of Afghanistan. Samira Makhmalbaf directs with her customary directness with not a superfluous scene or even a single shot wasted – everything is purposeful and in service of the film’s message.
Agatha and the Limitless Readings by Marguerite Duras
From Mubi: “One of Duras’ most fascinating treatments of the dialectical relationship between sound & image, what is spoken & what is left unsaid, is an evocative “adaptation” of her then unperformed play, Agatha. Featuring Bulle Ogier & Yann Andréa as the wandering protagonists.”
Blood Sign by Ana Mendieta
From Huffington Post:
Her haunting imagery explores the relationship between earth and spirit while tackling the eternally plaguing questions of love, death and rebirth. Like an ancient cave drawing, Mendieta’s art gets as close as possible to her subject matter allowing no excess, using primal and visceral means to navigate her themes.
There’s also a selection of films by Mendieta on UbuWeb.
Metaal en melancholie by Heddy Honigmann
“There is a lot of advice I could give, but the most important probably is: what you film has to have necessity.” —Heddy Honigmann
From the New York Times:
A series of bumpy cab rides during which the Dutch film maker interviews well over a dozen drivers. The view that emerges is of a city of seven million in deep trouble, gritting its teeth and refusing to despair. The drivers include a teacher, an economist, an actor and a policeman. What is remarkable is their attitude of almost cheerful resignation to a situation that doesn’t seem likely to improve any time soon. The film’s title refers to the mixture of resilience and soulfulness that one observer suggests is the essence of the Peruvian character.
Teenie Weenie Boppie by Kim Gordon (with Chris Habib)
“Kim’s nieces shot this video and Kim and I put it together for kill rock stars’ first VHS video comp. I guess we made it in the mid/late 90s. Always reminded me of a ‘Sympathy for the Devil’/Le gai savoir take on Tony Oursler’s EVOL or something. Our master was on S-VHS. It’s all we could afford.” —Chris Habib
Clip by Maja Miloš
“If you don’t show sex it’s as if you’re embarrassed about it.” —Maja Miloš
Clip is a raw, sophisticated, and stomach-turning look at what it means to be a young woman in Serbia, what it means to be a woman tout court. It follows the travails of Jasna (Isidora Simijonovic), a teenage girl trapped in the hopelessness of a Belgrade suburb and the deceptive hopefulness of digital technology, begging to be loved in a world that, at best, can only desire her. Filmmaker Maja Milos unveils the workings of a youth so lost in the sexual possibilities of its digital devices (Jasna’s cellphone camera is often the peephole through which we enter her intimacy), so transfixed by their masturbatory qualities, they become horny automatons.
Sotto… sotto by Lina Wertmüller
“I am passionate about liberty. I’m by nature an anarchist, an individualist.” —Lina Wertmüller
From Harvard Film Archive:
Wertmüller uses lesbianism to deflate Italian machismo in this rarely seen comedy of (bad) manners. Ester (Lario) finds herself sexually attracted to her newly divorced friend Adele (De Santis). When Ester admits another love to her hot-headed husband, he searches manically for the rival, who he never suspects is a woman. With the discovery of the truth, the farce turns tragicomic as Wertmüller focuses upon the husband’s unraveling. Rather than on an examination of lesbianism in an Italian context, Wertmüller uses sex as a metaphor for self-discovery.
Phantom Love by Nina Menkes
The script for Phantom Love emerged while I was living in Jerusalem in 2005. I spent seven months working with, for lack of a better word, a shaman, who was an Iraqi Jewess. I did this work, with her, meeting three times a week and doing active-lucid dreaming in a light trance state. It was a descent into my own inner darkness, and it was not easy. I was quite ill, physically, for much of the seven months. A lot of images emerged for me and these images became the basis of Phantom Love. People who are willing to watch the film and endure the duration, the pain and the darkness, will themselves experience a sort of mini-version of my process – the film will “vibrate” with the areas in the viewer that are blocked and painful and the viewer can then work with that in himself, or not. I do believe that working on ourselves relentlessly, and without a shred of self pity, is the only way out.
I’ll Be Your Mirror by Nan Goldin
“My work continues. It’s never a project. People ask ‘What are you gonna do next?’ I have no idea what will happen when I wake up tomorrow. I don’t have a five-year plan; I have about a five-minute plan — sometimes a five-day plan, if I’m lucky. But the work continues to come out of my heart and out of my eyes and exactly what I’m living at that moment. … I was extremely shy, and I was given a camera. And that’s how I learned to speak.” —Nan Goldin
The Kitchen by Alile Sharon Larkin
From UCLA Film/TV Archive: “An early student work directed at UCLA by Alile Sharon Larkin and submitted as her ‘Project One.’ Larkin visualizes a mental ward as a possible equivalent to prison incarceration for women of color.”
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger by Marie Menken
From John Coulthart:
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (1961) is a short film by artist and filmmaker Marie Menken (1909–1970) available for viewing at Ubuweb. This is a fragmented impression of the Alhambra made as a thank you gift to Anger whose shots of a fountain spout catching the sunlight can’t help but seem like a nod to Anger’s Eaux D’Artifice (1953). Menken had the dubious distinction of being the model for Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, the tempestuous relationship in the play being based on Menken’s equally tempestuous marriage to Willard Maas.
Chocolate by Yasmin Ahmad
“I can’t say for certain if my static camera influence came from the cinema of Japan, Iran, or certain cinematic traditions of Europe. I admire films that uphold real sentiments, and I daresay I don’t much care which country they come from, for as long as they engage me on some human level. In fact, if I had to cite my greatest cinematic hero and influence of all, I would have to say it was Charlie Chaplin.” —Yasmin Ahmad
From Viddsee: “A quiet tale that reminds us that, despite the multifaceted contradiction of Malaysia, life goes on — even if not all of it is sweet.”
LES by Coleen Fitzgibbon
“My first job experience was filming documents of warrants in the New York Supreme Court basement on a 16mm microfilm camera for the court system.” —Coleen Fitzgibbon
From Sandra Gibson: “The story of the collapse of the problematic island of Manhattma, whose inhabitants worshiped the god of mamon, John Doe. Shot in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, NYC circa 1976. Filmed on Super-8mm with sound, summer 1976, shown on 1/4″ videotape 1978 on Manhattan Cable Channel D.”
Thought Crimes by Erin Lee Carr
“While it was, to a certain extent, a thought crime, it was a real crime when it came to these women.” —Erin Lee Carr
From the Guardian:
Carr has a terrific knack for knowing when to cut, just when your sympathies are veering too far in one direction. From a cinematic point of view, there’s definitely added benefit that the “patient zero” for the new thought police, as one civil libertarian puts it, is a guy who is so creepily great on camera. Whether or not he belongs behind bars is far more ambiguous.
The Insectavore by Irene Moon
What I thought of, as experimental back when I was in grade school is not what I think of it now. Although, I still cant really say what it is. I always enjoyed loud and odd music, the culture around it, and sought it out. My original loves were 80s metal like the Scorpions, Def Leopard, and Ratt. I belonged to the Columbia House subscription tape club and would just look at the tape covers to see which might be the coolest to buy. Accidently picking up Sweet Leaf and Diamond Dogs basically changed my life and still remains pivotal inspirations. My father was a Professor of Botany at North Carolina State University, working with the United States Department of Agriculture, so we lived near the university. I saw Punks and Goths and was attracted to whatever zone they were in. Bob Dobbs was big back then. People would wheat paste and spray paint his likeness around town. I would ride around on my pink Schwinn one speed bicycle and see where the images would take me. They would lead me to a club called the Brewery, where I started going to see my first bands and to a record store, Schoolkids on Hillsborough Street, where I started buying more records and tapes. As a teen I would sneak out to Punk clubs and see Goth music, weirder the better. We don’t think of these as experimental now, and perhaps they are not, but at the time I got a taste for music discovery and popular vs. outsider phenomenon.
Wasp by Andrea Arnold
“Every time you get to make a film you get to explore or try something else and I want to keep learning and growing. I want to take risks and try things.” —Andrea Arnold
From Roger Ebert:
A heartbreaking and angering 23-minute drama about a single mother and her four children, one a baby. She fears having the children taken away from her, and with good reason: During a long day and night, she chats up a former boyfriend, claims she is only baby-sitting the children, takes them home and finds only white sugar from a bag to feed them. Then she brings them along to the pub where she’s meeting the boyfriend, parking them outside and rushing out to give them potato chips and a Coke, “to share around.” Hour follows hour as she plays pool and is sweet-talked by her date, while the kids wait outside, sad and hungry. The film is notable above all for not underlining its points, but simply making them: This woman should not be a mother, and these children should not have these lives.
The Wild Party by Dorothy Arzner
“I would like the [film] industry to be more aware of what they’re doing to influence people for good and for bad. There’s no doubt that we’re affected by our environment.” —Dorothy Arzner
From the New York Times‘ 1929 review of the film, which stars Clara Bow:
The Wild Party lives up to its title, for during one of the chapters Stella Ames (Miss Bow) and three other companions from Winston’s College for Girls decide to invade a sober dance, garbed in their fur coats and highly embroidered bathing suits. This meets with the disapproval of the conservatives, and subsequently the story gets sillier and sillier. In fact, during the affectionate scenes between Gil Gilmore, a professor, and Stella, the audience, instead of being sympathetic, was, despite Miss Bow’s good looks, moved to mirth.
Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman by Dara Birnbaum
Well, at the beginning, when many of us started to take up video there was a lot of talk like, “Oh, it’s a new medium and women are new to the arts and therefore it’s a good match.” But I’m not sure of that. As someone who has included feminist strategies and statements within my work, why do I constantly mention male artists as forming the basis of my influence? I haven’t gotten at that yet. It might be that the type of mythology and symbology expressed within works by well-known female artists, such as Joan Jonas, had less effect on me than structuralist-oriented work or the exploration of popular culture, as with early works by Dan Graham. That’s what I was most interested in. But it quickly became important for me to express such concerns through role identification with women, therefore a work like Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman emerged.
Music of Regret by Laurie Simmons
“When I came of age, it was important to be quiet and hang back and be mysterious. I knew artists who didn’t even want to show up at their own openings. They never wanted to have their picture taken, didn’t want to autograph a book, didn’t want to answer a question. I came of age in a world where it was ‘Let the work speak for itself.'” —Laurie Simmons
From Salon 94:
This 35mm film grew out of distinct periods in Simmons’s photographic work. Vintage child-craft puppets enact the pain and regret that erupt between two feuding families. A female ventriloquist dummy sings about the failures of attachment and communication to her five dummy suitors. Walking objects (including a gun, house and pocket watch) dance their encumbered hearts out for the privilege of being noticed. A mini-musical in three acts starring Meryl Streep, Adam Guettel and the Alvin Ailey II dancers.
The Seashell and the Clergyman by Germaine Dulac
From Zev Toledano, about Dulac’s 1928 film, written by Antonin Artaud:
A priest sees a couple and is haunted by hallucinations and erotic desires. A free-form stream of surrealism and symbolism ensues, with imagery including a male military figure with a sword, breaking of vessels, synchronized maids, a priest crawling through the streets, the growing tails of the priests robe, and more. Could be considered the first surrealistic short since it predates Chien Andalou and features symbolic imagery which is arguably surrealistic in effect, and it is famous for being banned by a censor who said: “If this film has a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable”. Germaine Dulac was a feminist film-maker who created several early experimental or abstract shorts with dream-sequences, symbolism and abstract imagery, but this one is definitely her most surreal.
The Practice of Love by Valie Export
In the 1960s, our attempts to cultivate a direct and uncontrolled language in art were based upon the idea that the dominant language was a form of manipulation. The plan was to circumvent these forms of social control and to develop other forms of language outside of the system dominated by men. This was the strength of the female body: to be able to express directly and without mediation. Much of the art of the time, from body art to video and direct performance, was concerned with similar issues. And then there was media art, which made it possible to express things directly, without having to rely on the written word, which as you said, was manipulated by men.
Night After Night by Catherine Breillat
Solange is the female version of a womanizing film director who is confident about her conquests and her ability to figure out men. Along comes Bruno, a man she can’t stand. Solange’s faith is put to the test, and in spite of her better judgment, she is undeniably attracted to Bruno. From the director of FAT GIRL and ROMANCE X, comes yet another confrontational tale of sexual conquest.
Suspense by Lois Weber
From Iain Stott about the pioneering Lois Weber’s 1913 film:
When his wife phones him to tell him that a tramp is breaking into their house, putting the well-being of both her and their new-born child at risk, a man steals a car and heads home at high speed, with the police following in hot pursuit, in this intensely yet gracefully kinetic, formally dazzling thriller. Weber & Smalley’s mise en scène — filled with brilliant, inventive touches—remains remarkably fresh.