There is nothing connected with the staging of a motion picture that a woman cannot do as easily as a man.
– Alice Guy-Blaché, 1913
As editors of the Special Women’s Issue of Senses of Cinema, we could not have expressed it more eloquently. This special issue was conceived as an opportunity to highlight how women have in fact played a pivotal role in all aspects of the staging of motion pictures throughout the history of filmmaking. The extensive contribution to cinema that women have made and continue to make has, as with many other historical accounts of the visual arts, not always received adequate acknowledgment.
Women have been involved in the history of cinema from its earliest beginnings. Notable figures include our own trailblazer, Australia’s first female producer Kate Howarde (profiled in Ina Bertrand’s essay) and the pioneering French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché (the world’s first woman director and according to many accounts, the first director of a fiction film, The Cabbage Fairy, 1896). Women have sometimes worked in tandem with their male filmmaker partners, as Jan Chapman notes in her Longford Lyell Lecture in relation to the Australian examples of Elsa Chauvel and Lottie Lyell, and as Susan Buchan also observes in her history of Swiss women filmmakers. Equally, women have been independently and impressively at forefront of cinematic movements, from the avant-garde filmmakers of earlier periods, Germaine Dulac and Maya Deren, to the precociously talented work of young Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf (see Adrian Danks’ The House that Mohsen Built).
Women have been everywhere in the cinema, behind and in front of the camera, in supporting and starring roles, writing, critiquing and documenting the medium. In some cases, they have combined many of these roles in one brief, fascinating career, as with the maverick figure of the late actor, writer and director Zoë Lund, featured in Adrian Martin’s Special Dossier.
The broad topic of women writing their own history and giving expression to their feelings, desires and experience is broached in Bérénice Reynaud’s landmark essay on the overlooked, Wanda, Barbara Loden’s only film. Loden’s story is archetypal: as an actress and wife, she was ‘read’ and defined by men as an object of desire. She fought these constraints to find her own voice and means of expression. This issue celebrates women who have not only contributed to the history of cinema but who have fought dominant stereotypes and expectations.
In terms of debates regarding ’70s feminist film theory and the question of female desire, Patricia MacCormack, in a fascinating piece that combines cinephilia with theory, outlines a notion of cinesexuality and desire that is beyond gender and specific to the cinema as a realm of affects. In the approach she advocates, cinema is less a medium of “representation” and more a complex and multi-faceted encounter between spectator and image in which meanings of gender and propriety are problematised.
We have been impressed with the level of interest and range of proposals to our call for contributions. As a result, we have decided to extend the focus on women over two consecutive issues. We hope, with this first instalment, to give an indication of the extraordinary breadth, diversity and talent of women working with celluloid.
Special thanks for this issue go to Jodi Brooks, William D. Routt, Chris Howard, Kent Jones and Ray Privett.
Rose Capp and Fiona A. Villella
Special Women’s Issue
This issue marks the commencement of Michelle Carey as Great Directors Editor and Albert Fung as Great Directors Web Designer. Senses of Cinema acknowledges and thanks Jan Chandler and Mairead Phillips for their contributions as Senses of Cinema Manager. In particular, it thanks Mairead Phillips for her invaluable contribution, expertise and tireless support as editorial assistant to the journal since December 2000 and wishes her all the very best for the future.
At the start of August, Special Dossiers Editor Adrian Martin,
Special Dossiers Editorial Assistant Grant McDonald
and Great Directors/Top Tens/Founding Editor Bill Mousoulis
resigned from the production team of Senses of Cinema.