This article uses AT&T’s 1910s–30s “Weavers of Speech” campaign to read on-screen telegraph and telephone operators as vernacular translators of cinematic syntax and hypervisible avatars for the invisible cutter girls who “knitted the pieces of film together” on studio lots. While operators largely played peripheral roles in classical films, two transitional periods saw them rise to the surface of story en masse, as if temporarily hired to sew over a rupture. A comparative analysis of telephone girls’ enlistment as temp techno-pedagogues during US film’s introduction of crosscutting and European film’s polyglot transition to sound suggests women’s film-weaving labor as an alternative to the surgical rhetoric (suture) and auteur models that dominate theories of film editing. More broadly, the article suggests that the culturally conspicuous feminization of low-level information labor offers feminist film historians a crucial “mediatrix” for uncovering woman workers hidden in the cut of film.
Weavers of Film: The Girl Operator Mends the Cut
Leana Hirschfeld-Kroen is a lecturer in film and media studies at Yale University, where she received her PhD in comparative literature and film and media studies in 2021. Her dissertation, “Rise of the Modern Mediatrix: The Feminization of Media and Mediating Labor, 1865–1945,” assembles a transatlantic archive of fictional telegraph, telephone, and typewriter girls to illustrate how the feminization of low-level information labor shaped modern media. Her research focuses broadly on gender, labor, and technology through modern US and European literature and film.
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Leana Hirschfeld-Kroen; Weavers of Film: The Girl Operator Mends the Cut. Feminist Media Histories 1 July 2021; 7 (3): 104–134. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2021.7.3.104
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