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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

“how women were written out of film history”

Women are invisible even when they do groundbreaking, historic work. From Monika Bartyzel’s Girls on Film column at The Week:

The same year that Georges Méliès was inspired by the Lumière brothers, Alice Guy-Blaché fell for the form. She was the secretary of famed inventor Léon Gaumont, and was able to gain access to a camera to shoot one of the first narrative films, La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy). She crafted numerous films and spent 10 years as the Head of Production at Gaumont Film Company before men like D.W. Griffith even flirted with the format, and created her own studio, Solax, soon after. Over her career, she helmed over 1,000 films, and was one of the first to use cutting-edge techniques like split screen, double exposure, and film linked with sound decades before the release of the “first talkie,” The Jazz Singer. Unfortunately, like many women, she was forgotten and written out of history — even by Gaumont, who published a history of his company that began after her 10-year reign.

Please take special note of that last bit: Even the men who see women doing significant work right in front of them don’t think it’s important enough to mention. What the fuck? What the actual fuck?

But wait. There’s more:

But Guy-Blaché isn’t alone. As a graduate film history student, Jane Gaines discovered that for seven years (1916-1923), women were more powerful in cinema than any other American business — to the point that more women than men owned independent production companies in 1923. In the May 1917 issue of Photoplay magazine, it was dubbed the “her own company epidemic.”

A century ago, women had more power in Hollywood than they do today. Of course, Hollywood itself was nowhere near as powerful as it is today. And women got pushed out as Hollywood became big business, and men didn’t want to share the power and the wealth.

I have this theory of history that I call the FTS Theory. FTS stands for “Fuck This Shit,” and it explains the motivation for great movements of people and shifts in ideology. The English nobles put up with shit until it was at last no longer put-up-with-able, and then they said, “Fuck this shit,” and forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. The Pilgrims finally had to say, “Fuck this shit,” and headed off to the New World. George Washington and his friends gave up and said, “Fuck this shit,” and broke from England. Abolitionists and suffragettes, after years of asking nicely, at last had to throw up their hands and say, “Fuck this shit,” and got loudly angry. At some point, a group of people is gonna say “Fuck this shit” and head off to Mars to start their own thing.

And I’m really feeling like the underlying misogyny of all human cultures must soon reach a Fuck This Shit moment, and women are gonna get all up in your faces, men. If you would like to forestall that, maybe you guys need to start saying “Fuck this shit” and getting onboard with helping women fix this shit.

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