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Daughters of Chaos (dir. Marjorie Keller, US, 1980).

Courtesy of Film-Makers’ Cooperative

For it was the banal and evanescent routines of life in the home and the garden. to name just two — reveal the vision and the thinking of women encountering a particularly felicitous medium for the representation of their experience. Number 3 doi 10. of encountering other human beings — whether intimately or at an unreachable distance — with which this footage and the finished films are filled.A R C H I V E F O R T H E F U T U R E Rescuing the Fragmentary Evidence of Women’s Experimental Film Robin Blaetz I would take the assignment of forming an archive literally and preserve for the future all of the celluloid and videotape with which women filmmakers have worked outside of the film industry. Volume 21. lacunae. of raising children and preparing food. The images themselves are records of both what and how women saw when they were unenCamera Obscura 63. These bits of film — collected as “notebooks” by Marie Menken and Marjorie Keller.1215/02705346-2006-016 © 2006 by Camera Obscura Published by Duke University Press 153 . and attention would be as well. but the fragments never used in finished works due to shortages of time. The completed films would surely be included. and varieties of pace were ideal for representing the heightened awareness of daily life spurred by feminism. The immediacy of the process of filming and the ability of film to suggest repetition. money.

the haphazard framing. as filmmakers were in earlier days of 8mm and 16mm film production.1 The pleasure and satisfaction derived from elaborating the neat fit between the- . the disjunctive editing. In addition. which was by definition ephemeral and not to be saved as art. experimental in form and profoundly evocative. Keller. feminist film theorists who focused on deconstructing classical Hollywood cinema made only limited attempts to understand the films that women were making.154 • Camera Obscura cumbered by fast rules of how films should be made and look. the products of women’s hands seemed literally to fall into the category of craftwork. The actual films by Menken. while she was forgotten and her films allowed to disappear. and the often abbreviated length found in the films of Gunvor Nelson. its aesthetic qualities could not have been further from the clarity of image and linearity of story that narrative filmmaking esteemed. Chick Strand. the fact that quite a few of these artists were married to men involved in the American avant-garde almost guaranteed that their work would be dismissed as simple home movie – like play with the camera and treated accordingly. despite all that the films express about what it meant to be human in a given time and place. The reasons that these films are so little known and literally in need of finding an archival home are myriad. and others working in the 1960s and beyond were not signs of incompetence but marks of a different vision? It is only in the past several years that Menken has been credited with influencing Stan Brakhage and others. But more relevant to a discussion of film history and feminism is the relative disregard of the work by scholars of both avant-garde cinema and feminist film theory. As if distracted by the apparent ineptitude and perceived opacity of the films. At the simplest level. The resulting documents. Historians of industrial cinema can be excused for not acknowledging this work. and many others often assemble these loose records into pieces that capture experience through elaborate formal play. Yet how shortsighted were the scholars of the avant-garde for not realizing that the play with focus. many of whom have been lionized for half a century for displaying Menken-like qualities. are films that I do not want to lose.

The list of films and fragments that I would save is far too long to enumerate here. Gunvor Nelson. it begins with the work of Menken in the 1950s and would surely include the work of Joyce Wieland. some of the institutions that have ignored women’s cinema to various degrees. Here you will find the unstudied and little-exhibited films made about women’s experiences that will be projectable for only a few more years. But what of the films that sought alternate routes to similar goals? Rather than dismantling the familiar structures of narrative cinema in theory or in theoretical films. Carolee Schneemann. have responded to the increased scholarly consideration of the work with greater attention to preservation. the Museum of Modern Art. Mary Ellen Bute. however. and often simply left literal gaps or unreadable density in places in which language that reflected women’s experiences was lacking. Storm de Hirsch. Anne Severson.Archive for the Future • 155 ories of the gaze and influential popular films were understandably seductive. The fact . some of them are available. 2 In addition. is looking brighter. Yoko Ono. and Storm de Hirsch. And I am not alone in actively seeking to preserve the films that remain and to make them available through digitalization and through projected centers for the study of women’s cinema. as the situation now stands. Just go to the dustiest section of the experimental film distributors Canyon Cinema or Film-Makers’ Cooperative (in San Francisco and New York. respectively) and follow the scent of deteriorating celluloid. and Meredith Monk in recent years. Contributors to my forthcoming anthology of essays. nor did they feel bound to manifest its tenets. While the majority of the films that still exist remain unpreserved and uncataloged. Women’s Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks. these experimental films made an attempt to disregard the norm altogether. and the Pacific Film Archive. the Library of Congress. Barbara Rubin. The films that I want to save did not necessarily repudiate feminist theory. experimented. address the work of some of these filmmakers. Instead it speculated. The future. The Women’s Film Preservation Fund has helped preserve the work of Maya Deren. in addition to those mentioned earlier. including Anthology Film Archives.

. Sally Potter. Lauren Rabinovitz.156 • Camera Obscura that it is too late for everything to be saved — that the record of women’s filmmaking will remain fragmentary — should stand as an emblematic part of the history of the (accessed June 2006).nywift . Robin Blaetz is an associate professor and chair of the Film Studies Program at Mount Holyoke College. it tended to be by such filmmakers as Yvonne Rainer. and Alexandra Juhasz. Scholars who have attended to a broader range of women in the avant-garde include Sandy FlittermanLewis. Notes 1. The Women’s Film Preservation Fund’s Web site is www. or Chantal Akerman. whose concerns coincided with those of feminist film theory. When feminist scholars considered experimental work. 2. She has written Visions of the Maid: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture (2001) and is completing an anthology titled Women’s Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks (forthcoming).