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

Courtesy of Film-Makers’ Cooperative

money.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. and attention would be as well. of encountering other human beings — whether intimately or at an unreachable distance — with which this footage and the finished films are filled. Volume 21. Number 3 doi 10. For it was the banal and evanescent routines of life in the home and the garden. 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 . The images themselves are records of both what and how women saw when they were unenCamera Obscura 63. of raising children and preparing food. The immediacy of the process of filming and the ability of film to suggest repetition. to name just two — reveal the vision and the thinking of women encountering a particularly felicitous medium for the representation of their experience. and varieties of pace were ideal for representing the heightened awareness of daily life spurred by feminism. lacunae. The completed films would surely be included. but the fragments never used in finished works due to shortages of time.

Keller. are films that I do not want to lose. its aesthetic qualities could not have been further from the clarity of image and linearity of story that narrative filmmaking esteemed. which was by definition ephemeral and not to be saved as art. as filmmakers were in earlier days of 8mm and 16mm film production. As if distracted by the apparent ineptitude and perceived opacity of the films. 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. experimental in form and profoundly evocative. In addition. and the often abbreviated length found in the films of Gunvor Nelson. and many others often assemble these loose records into pieces that capture experience through elaborate formal play. the products of women’s hands seemed literally to fall into the category of craftwork. while she was forgotten and her films allowed to disappear. 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. The resulting documents. The actual films by Menken.154 • Camera Obscura cumbered by fast rules of how films should be made and look. 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. feminist film theorists who focused on deconstructing classical Hollywood cinema made only limited attempts to understand the films that women were making. the disjunctive editing.1 The pleasure and satisfaction derived from elaborating the neat fit between the- . despite all that the films express about what it meant to be human in a given time and place. At the simplest level. Historians of industrial cinema can be excused for not acknowledging this work. The reasons that these films are so little known and literally in need of finding an archival home are myriad. the haphazard framing. 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.

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

Notes 1. .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 cinema. and Alexandra Juhasz. Scholars who have attended to a broader range of women in the avant-garde include Sandy FlittermanLewis. Sally Potter. whose concerns coincided with those of feminist film theory. 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). or Chantal Akerman. The Women’s Film Preservation Fund’s Web site is www. When feminist scholars considered experimental work. 2.nywift .aspx?id=21 (accessed June 2006). it tended to be by such filmmakers as Yvonne Rainer. Robin Blaetz is an associate professor and chair of the Film Studies Program at Mount Holyoke College. Lauren Rabinovitz.org/article.

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