体育投注平台One of the stranger things about the history of moviemaking is that women have been there all along, periodically exercising real power behind the camera, yet their names and contributions keep disappearing, as though security had been called, again and again, to escort them from the set. In the early years of the twentieth century, women worked in virtually every aspect of silent-film-making, as directors, writers, producers, editors, and even camera operators. The industry—new, ad hoc, making up its own rules as it went along—had not yet locked in a strict division of labor by gender. Women came to Los Angeles from all over the country, impelled not so much by dreams of stardom as by the prospect of interesting work in a freewheeling enterprise that valued them. “Of all the different industries that have offered opportunities to women,” the screenwriter Clara Beranger told an interviewer in 1919, “none have given them the chance that motion pictures have.”
Some scholars estimate that half of all film scenarios in the silent era were written by women, and contemporaries made the case, sometimes with old stereotypes, sometimes with fresh and canny arguments, that women were especially suited to motion-picture storytelling. In a 1925 essay, a screenwriter named Marion Fairfax argued that since women predominated in movie audiences—one reason that domestic melodramas, adventure serials featuring acts of female derring-do, and sexy sheikh movies all did well—female screenwriters enjoyed an advantage over their male counterparts. They were more imaginatively attuned to the vagaries of romantic and family life, yet they could write for and about men, too. After all, men “habitually confide in women when in need either of encouragement or comfort,” Fairfax wrote. “For countless ages woman’s very existence—certainly her safety and comfort—hinged upon her ability to please or influence men. Naturally, she has almost unconsciously made an intensive study of them.” Alice Blaché, the French-born director behind some six hundred short films, including “The Cabbage Fairy” (1896), one of the first movies to tell a fictional story, was one of many women to head a profitable production company. She founded hers, in 1910, with her husband and another business partner, in Flushing, New York, and moved it to Fort Lee, New Jersey, the pre-Hollywood filmmaking capital. Blaché wrote in 1914, “There is nothing connected with the staging of a motion picture that a woman cannot do as easily as a man, and there is no reason why she cannot completely master every technicality of the art.”
In a way, the early women filmmakers became victims of the economic success that they had done so much to create. As the film industry became an increasingly modern, capitalist enterprise, consolidated around a small number of leading studios, each with specialized departments, it grew harder for women, especially newcomers, to slip into nascent cinematic ventures, find something that needed doing, and do it. “By the 1930s,” Antonia Lant, who has co-edited a book of women’s writing in early cinema, observes, “we find a powerful case of forgetting, forgetting that so many women had even held the posts of director and producer.” It wasn’t until a wave of scholarship arrived in the nineteen-nineties—the meticulous research done by the Women Film Pioneers Project, at Columbia, has been particularly important—that women’s outsized role in the origins of moviemaking came into focus again.
Now we are in the midst of a new round of rediscoveries—this time of women’s behind-the-camera roles well into the golden age of Hollywood. There’s a romance to ushering lost women back into the light. Second-wave feminism has made a particular mission of doing so, starting with poets and novelists, who were in some ways the easiest to find again. There were so many of them, their work had (mostly) survived in libraries, and feminist scholars soon began pumping out theories on how to rethink the canon based on such rediscoveries. Sometimes the work was itself a revelation. Zora Neale Hurston had been well and truly forgotten until Alice Walker published her article “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” in Ms., in 1975. And sometimes the fascination lay in the sheer unlikelihood of such an author existing at all, amid the most inauspicious circumstances: a houseful of children, a ne’er-do-well husband, a spindly desk in a drafty hallway.
The challenges of tracking down lost female moviemakers, on the other hand, have been both material and theoretical. Only a small portion of the movies made in the silent era, when women were particularly active behind the camera, still exist. Many silent films were allowed to disintegrate or were purposefully discarded or destroyed, sometimes by the very studios that had produced them. Fires took others—silver nitrate, the compound in early film stock which makes the images shimmer, is so flammable that a tightly wound roll of such film can burn even submerged in water. As the film historian David Pierce writes, the industry considered “new pictures always better than the old ones,” which had very little commercial value, and so many films “simply did not last long enough for anyone to be interested in preserving them.”
Trying to figure out who actually worked on films is not as easy as you might think. Credits were assigned haphazardly in the early days of filmmaking. Then, too, the first generation of feminist film scholars, in the nineteen-seventies, didn’t tend to look for evidence of women exercising creative or administrative authority in Hollywood, because they wouldn’t have expected to find it: they were preoccupied with theorizing the male gaze. And auteur theory had little time for creative figures other than the director.
体育投注平台In the tendentious but mostly persuasive book “” (Oxford), J. E. Smyth, a film historian at the University of Warwick, documents the movie-production jobs that women succeeded in, even after the silent era. In fact, she argues, they held such jobs in greater numbers between 1930 and 1950 than they would for decades after. Although there were few women directors left at the height of the studio system (you can basically count them on two fingers: Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino), Smyth tots up an impressive array of women film editors, costume designers, talent agents, screenwriters, producers, Hollywood union heads, and behind-the-scenes machers whose titles—executive secretary to a studio head, for instance—belied their influence. It’s little wonder that studios of the era catered to female audiences, with scripts built around the commanding presence of such actresses as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and with stories thought to reflect women’s prevailing concerns. Smyth quotes Davis, who pulled enough weight in Hollywood to have been dubbed the Fourth Warner: “Women owned Hollywood for twenty years,” she said in a 1977 interview, so “we must not be bitter.” Smyth may have a point when she says that academics and media critics, intently depicting “the industry as monolithically male and hell-bent on disempowering women,” sometimes overlooked the women who thrived there.
Smyth burrows enthusiastically into humble sources that, she suggests, other scholars have looked down on: studio phone directories, in-house newsletters. Researchers on similar quests have come upon evidence in still more unlikely forms and places. Reels of film forgotten or lost sometimes turn up randomly—interred in an archive in New Zealand, or sealed into a swimming pool in a remote town in the Yukon. Esther Eng was a Cantonese-American director who lived openly as a lesbian and, in the nineteen-thirties and forties, made Chinese-language films with titles like “Golden Gate Girl” and “It’s a Women’s World” (the latter of which had an all-female cast of thirty-six). Sadly, very little of Eng’s cinematic work still exists, but her photo albums, discovered in a San Francisco dumpster in 2006, became the basis of a documentary by the filmmaker S. Louisa Wei. Pamela B. Green, the director of the 2018 documentary “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché,” tracked down photos and letters of the director’s that distant relatives had stashed in cardboard boxes in garages and basements, on the hunch that Tante Alice had been an extraordinary person.