Experimental women filmmakers

Authored by: Maureen Turim

The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138924956
eBook ISBN: 9781315684062
Adobe ISBN: 9781317408055


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In 2005, an anthology entitled Women and Experimental Filmmaking edited by Jean Petrolle and Virginia Wright Wexman presented a corpus of filmmakers who had made significant contributions to the history of creative, alternative film praxis. Two years later, another anthology, entitled Women’s Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks, edited by Robin Blaetz, presented a group of filmmakers that only overlapped with the previous anthology in the cases of Maya Deren, Abigail Child, Su Friedrich, and Joyce Wieland. In the introductions to each volume, the editors note that the constitution of the corpus could have included many filmmakers they did not finally include. All agreed on the importance of women experimental filmmakers at various periods in the history of avant-garde cinematic expression. Petrolle and Wexman included more filmmakers of color and those more directly addressing social issues in essayist form, while Blaetz concentrated on more formal experimentation with cinematic abstraction and personal poetics, including chapters devoted to Marie Menken, Gunvor Nelson, Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Rubin, Amy Greenfield, Barbara Hammer, Chick Strand, Marjorie Keller, Peggy Ahwesh, and Leslie Thornton. I begin this essay with citation of these two works not only because they represent fine scholarly attention to women working in experimental modes, but also as a prelude to my own remarks on the definition of experimental praxis: if viewed in its most expansive sense, it encompasses a celebration of women creatively innovating in filmic expression, yet this inclusiveness yields a corpus so diverse in expression that it becomes a collection of disparate examples. Ironically, such approaches often end up tied to biography, as they treat the body of work of individuals largely atomized.

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