giovedì 30 giugno 2016

Et la femme créa Hollywood

Have you ever heard about Lois Weber, Frances Marion or Dorothy Arzner?
I guess not. Well, me neither, and I’m a total cinema freak, so there’s something wrong.
I stumbled upon their names for the first time in my life reading an article on Télérama about a movie presented at this year Cannes Film Festival in the section Cannes Classics: Et la femme créa Hollywood by sisters Clara and Julia Kuperberg.
This documentary tells a story kept almost secret until today: between 1910 and 1925, Hollywood was run by women. There was a majority of female film-makers, producers, screen-players, editors, even directors of the studios in all those years before the arrival of Talking Movies and the Great Depression. And before Hollywood became a mere business affair. Full of material coming from unknown archives and enriched by interviews to few specialists of this field like Ally Acker and Cari Beauchamp, the documentary is the story of an indecent descent: the only role for women in Hollywood, from the ‘30s until the ‘80s, has been the one represented by actresses, film-stars, sexual objects of (male) desire.
Nothing more.  


We have to wait until 2008 for having a woman winning the Oscar for Best Movie (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker) and only very recently actresses have started to complain about the pay-difference between them and their male counter-parts. It was the case for Patricia Arquette and her fabulous Oscar winning speech in 2015 and in many statements made by rising star Jennifer Lawrence, who pretends to be payed as she should, since audience go to see the movies she plays in because of her.
Patricia Arquette - Academy awards 2015

The sisters Kuperberg declared to have read the names of these pioneers while researching for other stories. Surprised by the fact they never heard about them before, they started to dig a bit, finding two books dedicated to these Hollywood women and written just in the late ‘80s. Among other stories there was the one of Mary Pickford, that everybody remembers as an actress, but in fact was also a producer and a very smart business woman, the one of Lois Weber, who directed no less than 300 movies per year, and especially the incredible one of pioneer Alice Guy, a French woman who moved to Hollywood in 1910 (after being the first female film-maker and producer in the whole world for Gaumont) and created her own studio, Solax.
Mary Pickford
Lois Weber
Alice Guy
In 25 years of activity she made or supervised hundreds of films, of all genres, launched many new directors and even tried sound techniques long before the invention of the sound system. The most outrageous thing is that for her, as well as for many other of these women, the descent has been cruel and pitiless. While they had a big freedom at the time cinema was considered just a simple entertainment, and men weren’t much interested in it (even because they were very often at war somewhere), after 1930 things drastically changed. Female film-makers were capable of making movies of all kind, touching different subjects, even political, on civil rights and many other controversial issues, but when the Great Depression broke out, audience wanted to see lighter movies, comedies, or musicals. That is the time of Hollywood industrialization: big studios are settled in and they immediately eat the small studios created by women. Syndicates show up, starting to make the law, and since women can’t be part of it, they are immediately marginalized.
Obliged to be in shadow of men, relegated in minor roles, some of them decided to quit, some others went desperate and ended their days in poverty and solitude (it was the case of Alice guy).
Studies on early Hollywood era tend to focus only on stories starting from 1930, ignoring the tremendous amount of work made by these incredible women decades before.
Once again, this is so unfair.
I do hope that this documentary will give birth to other studies about this period and that these incredible Hollywood female figures will be acknowledged and recognized by official cinema institutions all over the world.
Once again, girlspower!
The road is still very long.

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