It is often noted that men and women inhabit space very differently, as evidenced by the popular Tumblr account, Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train. Photo after photo show male passengers with legs maximally splayed and arms raised to grasp a Very Important Newspaper, while women demurely cross their arms and legs with visible signs of discomfort. It doesn’t take a professional philosopher or sociologist to realize that this stark contrast between spatial expansion and contraction is not a fact of biology but a set of learned behaviors. For most women, something has broken in the unifying chain of consciousness/body/world; an institutionalized double standard ensures that men enjoy the lion’s share of free, unhindered, fluid movement in space. The films in this program demonstrate various ways in which women filmmakers have sought to engage more fully with their world, oscillating between the savage critique of social norms and the affirmation of new powers and pleasures. It goes without saying that cinema, with its disjuncture of image and sound, its capacity for metamorphosis and even the grotesque, is one of the most powerful tools we have for the reconfiguration of body and voice.
Body/Voice is screened in conjunction with the Feminist and Women’s Media Festival. More information available at http://feministwomensmediafestival.tumblr.com/.
FEATURING: She/Va by Marjorie Keller, Marasmus by Betzy Bromberg & Laura Ewig, Schmeerguntz by Gunvor Nelson, Roseblood by Sharon Couzin, Not a Jealous Bone by Cecelia Condit, Aberrant Motion #1 by Cathy Sisler, Iris by Maria Lassnig, SHARONY! by Jennet Thomas, Headache by Aneta Grzeszykowska.
TRT: approx. 104 mins.
Marjorie Keller, She/Va, 1973, 3 mins, color/silent, 16mm
“A young dancer rechoreographed through film editing. This film was originally made in standard 8mm, from a home movie” (Filmmakers Coop).
Betzy Bromberg & Laura Ewig, Marasmus, 1981, 24 mins, color/sound, 16mm
“If there are certain iconic images that represent the obscure history of the American avant-garde cinema, one of them has to be from Marasmus… The image is of a woman’s face pressed flat, white and distorted against glass, two hands splayed on each side. She could be pushing against an invisible boundary, or easing through a clear membrane as if being born; either way, the image exemplifies L.A.-based Bromberg’s uncanny ability for uniting a philosophical perspective and an almost mythically emotional sensitivity. Like some of the best feminist experimental work of the 1980s and ’90s, Bromberg’s films invariably reverberate in this space in between, refusing both the cheerless material analysis of one strand of experimental production and the politically disengaged poetic investigation advocated in other camps of the avant-garde. Instead, her films play on multiple levels, merging politics and poetry, and reveling in the resultant tensions. With Marasmus, Bromberg merges strange and abject images of confinement and escape with a coldly technological environment, and she pits the desire for continuity and coherence against the pure pleasure of drifting through images” (Holly Willis, LA Weekly).
Gunvor Nelson, Schmeerguntz, 1966, 14 mins, b&w/sound, 16mm
“Schmeerguntz is one long raucous belch in the face of the American Home. A society which hides its animal functions beneath a shiny public surface deserves to have such films as Schmeerguntz shown everywhere—in every PTA, every Rotary Club, every club in the land. For it is brash enough, brazen enough and funny enough to purge the soul of every harried American married woman” (Ernest Callenbach, Film Quarterly).
Sharon Couzin, Roseblood, 1974, 8 mins, color/sound, 16mm
“Probably more than any other Couzin film, Roseblood is influenced by that tradition in which Maya Deren worked. Couzin makes concrete the fleeting images of subjective experience. Like Deren, she uses a dancer’s body to create dream-like impressions, explore a woman’s movements in space, and make physical an ethereal world. Also like Deren, Couzin explores dream states, studies the stylized movements of ritual, and symbolically evokes myth. Roseblood focuses on the sensuality of the female body and on the artist’s vision of the relation between women and nature. Consciousness of the external world of nature leads to a quest for self-awareness. Exploring nature becomes a metaphor for exploring the self and the unconscious. As in a dream, links are formed through the juxtaposition of the body with the imagery of our cultural mythology about female sexuality, forming the basis of Roseblood’s meditation on women, nature, physical movement, and dream” (Gina Marchetti and Carol Slingo, Jump Cut).
Cecelia Condit, Not a Jealous Bone, 1987, 11 mins, color/sound, DVD
“A magical bone that promises eternal life propels the story of Not a Jealous Bone, a post-Freudian fairy tale in the guise of a musical narrative. An eighty-two-year-old woman in search of her mother and a beautiful young woman struggle over the life-extending magic bone. Condit holds an unflinching mirror to subconscious fears of mortality and the cultural stigma of aging for women, as she manifests dark fantasies of physical deterioration and the primal conflicts between mother and daughter. Tongue-in-cheek candor and ironic pop references are tempered with poignancy. Accompanied by a woman’s disarming musical narration, this whimsical psychological melodrama of vanity, jealousy and loss unmasks the trauma of the aging body, and posits a resolution in a reassertion of the female self” (EAI).
Cathy Sisler, Aberrant Motion #1, 1993, 11 mins, b&w/sound, DVD
“In a series of four short, arresting videos entitled Aberrant Motion, Sisler explores the powers and dangers of deviant movement as interruption. Sisler’s videos record performances where she uses her (lesbian) body as an intervention in the everyday flow of ‘normal’ traffic, pedestrians, thought. Aberrant Motion #1 begins with a figure of a spinning woman (the artist) at a busy Montreal intersection. The degraded video image, strangely arresting, documents the pedestrians’ responses to Sisler’s large body clothed in an oversized man’s coat, her short haircut and ‘aberrant motion’… For Sisler, walking/staggering is more than a metaphor—an ontology, the deployment of the (deviant) body in space, a series of unpredictable, awkward and beautiful, sometimes hostile interactions” (Julianne Pidduck, “New Queer Cinema and Experimental Video”).
Maria Lassnig, Iris, 1971, 10 mins, color/sound, 16mm on DVD
“Women’s bodies are presented as ambiguous erotic landscapes, sometimes classically baroque, sometimes cubistic visions in a distorted reflection, depending on the camera angle and shot size. Finally the female flesh frees itself to the accompaniment of electronic smacking noises and, ignoring all gender borderlines, unites with itself in Cronenbergesque growths” (Maya McKechneay).
Jennet Thomas, SHARONY!, 2000, 11 mins, color/sound, DVD
“This is the story of two young girls who dig up a tiny woman from the back garden. They incubate her in their mouths, in their bed, they lock her in a dolls house wallpapered with pornography to make her grow up faster, feeding her through a tube in the door. When she is life-sized and ready to play they take her to the disco. A dark, comic, experimental fantasy on the implications of Little Girls Toys—with the existential melancholy of Frankenstein’s monster” (JT). “… as sly and loving an evocation of formative fantasies and rituals as Todd Haynes’s Dottie Gets Spanked… Commissioned by an English art gallery, Sharony! was subsequently uninvited by a distressed curator” (Dennis Lim, Village Voice).
Aneta Grzeszykowska, Headache, 2008, 12 mins, b&w/sound, digital video
“The film Headache is an attempt to put life in order again, a sophisticated, existential choreography, which at each moment strikes a different stylistic tone: grotesque animation, surrealistic phantasmagoria, corporal play reminding us of experiments in body art. In time with music—which is a variation of chosen fragments of Krzysztof Penderecki’s pieces from the 60’s—the dance pantomime is taking place and tells us the story of self-destructive impulses of the body, the story that reaches its conclusion with a deceptive happy end… Headache begins with a take where we stand face to face with the artist holding a stick of dynamite in her mouth and igniting the fuse. After the explosion, her body returns as a disjointed set of fragments—legs, arms, torso, head—which begin a life of their own; a life autonomous to the extent that at some point they ‘rebel’ against the head. They attack it violently, hitting and kicking, and finally compose a new Aneta, with legs in the place of arms and arms in the place of legs—quasi goddess, quasi monster” (Museum of Modern Art Poland