This essay explores the breadth of feminist writing on film in Ms. magazine in the 1970s. It begins by analyzing and demonstrating the potential reading practices that this archive of writing invites and then turns to recurrent points of focus in the magazine regarding women's emerging attempts to author or authorize film production. It concludes by considering both the magazine's ruptures and intersections with academic feminist writings on film in the same period, with a focus on brief samples of work in the journals Screen and Camera Obscura. Overall, the author takes the position of a feminist historian in the not-so-distant future who turns to Ms. as the material evidence of 1970s film culture in order to query: What does this archive reveal about the history of feminist cultural production? What does it say about historical and contemporary blind spots in the feminist academy? And how might our understanding of this archive direct historical and theoretical work for feminist media scholars today?
In the February 1975 issue of Ms. magazine, Lee Israel imagines a group of future creatures called “anthropological cineasts” trying to understand human life on Earth. In their report, Israel conjectures, they would devote “Paragraph XL” to the “Whatness of Women,” gathering information from two hundred films produced between 1968 and 1974 in the United States. The satirical report she goes on to “transcribe” includes the following findings:
She (woman) was almost never permitted to participate in the creation of these artistic events, as evidenced by the rarity of feminine gender names in screen credits: writer, producer, director;
Woman constituted 20 percent of the humanoid population, certainly no more and probably less;
Without a doubt, she had a far briefer real life span than man. We calculate that the average earthly woman lived to be 25 or 30 years old;
There was an exultant transcendence in the ways of man…. That transcendence was manifested hardly ever in Earth's woman;
Earth's man showed an enormous capacity to love members of his own sex…. Woman showed no such capacity [for her own sex];
Woman was an extraordinarily sexual creature; and
We find little evidence in the films we saw to indicate what this banal creature “woman” did when she was alone.1
For a feminist film historian looking at the Ms. magazine archives some forty years later, Israel's piece alone is a find, a tiny treasure uncovered by this anthropological cineast of another future. Israel's sketch of the future, after all, is particularly trenchant when I look back on it now, both because of her imaginative approach and because her claims are based on a review of contemporary films and material conditions of production. Is it not highly appropriate, after all, to take on the form of sociological fantasy when writing about a narrative medium that so commonly drives ideological fantasies? Add to this the period during which Israel's piece was published (the mid-1970s in the United States, when feminist film theory began to invigorate academic studies of the medium, mainly attending, on the one hand, to classical Hollywood cinema and, on the other, to feminist experimental and documentary film), and her focus on the contemporary industry is a revelation, both in the ways that it reviews the state of mainstream film culture at the moment and in how it imagines, at the end of 1974, this culture on the cusp of change (fig. 1).
Thus, while Israel's piece begins with this incisive satire of the conditions of mainstream U.S. film for women in terms of both production and representation, it then shifts into the voice of the present, offering a series of profiles, based on interviews, of actresses and writers who are attempting to move behind the scenes of production. Following Israel's essay but set as a kind of extension of her work is the “Hollywood Hotlist,” compiled by L. M. Kit Carson, a lengthy list of where women can be found throughout the arenas of mainstream and independent production in contemporary and historical filmmaking practice. Along with Carson's substantial list of women in the business, however disheartening it is in relation to the numbers of men in parallel positions, Israel gives us then-current enrollment numbers in various industry unions: of the 2,366 members of the Directors Guild of America, 23 are women; of the 3,076 members of the Producers Guild of America, 8 are women; and of the 2,976 members of the Writers Guild of America, 148 are women. Through these numbers and narratives, she at once describes a sad state of affairs in which “there is a desperate need for redefinition of women by women, [as] the business of making movies remains an almost exclusively male domain,” and offers a hopeful note about potential change. Quoting Eleanor Perry, she ends the piece: “When a woman director makes a blockbuster, the industry will explode…. [L]et women be human—let them have their chance.”2
Aside from its futuristic anthropological fantasy, Israel's piece is representative of many articles published in Ms. in the 1970s, which devoted a breadth of writing to issues concerning women in film and television (figs. 2–5). I take a page from Lee Israel here: as a feminist historian from the not-so-distant future who turns to Ms. as my own material evidence of 1970s film culture, I ask: What does this archive reveal about the history of feminist cultural production? After all, here is a publication that came into being during a decade that was unquestionably formative for feminist film scholars and media studies overall and one that was foundational both for alternative feminist film production and for massive changes in U.S. industrial filmmaking practices. Ms., in effect, was positioned somewhere between these various movements; though not integrated into academic studies, the magazine published work by pioneering 1970s film feminists Molly Haskell and Marjorie Rosen (including a condensed version of Rosen's Popcorn Venus), and it looked at mainstream and alternative film culture alike. Indeed, its very position between academic and popular feminist film culture itself productively points toward historical and contemporary blind spots in the feminist academy. In returning to this archive, I want to alleviate some of these blind spots. In so doing, I will also suggest how a better understanding of Ms.'s early archive might direct historical and theoretical work for feminist media scholars today, first in our understanding of 1970s feminist film culture and, second, in potential methodological approaches that can arise from reconnecting these wider contributions to that period.
Ms. debuted as a forty-page insert in New York Magazine on December 20, 1971.3 It appeared independently in January and in spring 1972, and it began its official monthly publication in July 1972. During the 1970s, the magazine dedicated space to a feature essay, review, and/or cover story on film in almost every issue it printed. These writings, set within the first mainstream feminist magazine in the United States, invariably focused on women; its coverage of women and moving-image media, however, remained fairly broad from the beginning, as demonstrated in its first several issues alone. A quick glance at these issues shows this breadth.
The very first independent publication in Ms. included a short article by Margaret Sloan reviewing works with black female leads (Sloan was the first chairwoman of the National Black Feminist Organization), as well as a review of two television adaptations of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, one starring Jane Fonda and the other starring Claire Bloom.4 The first regularized issue featured comic-book heroine Wonder Woman (a visual icon, if not a film star) on its cover, with an extensive story by Joanne Edgar that revisits the author's childhood ambivalence toward the comics, considers Wonder Woman's origins, and wonders, on the eve of the iconic comic's renewed publication at the hands of her first woman editor, Dorothy Woolfolk, if Woolfolk would “return our heroine to the feminism of her birth.”5 The second cover displayed the visage of Marilyn Monroe; inside the issue was Gloria Steinem's account of the star, “The Woman Who Died Too Soon,” a compendium of some of Monroe's statements from interviews (in order to offer her own voice in the magazine), and a critical review penned by Molly Haskell of the film Stand Up and Be Counted.6 Two months later, the October issue reprinted a story by Elenore Lester from the New York Times on the sixteen-day First International Festival of Women's Films, which opens with a series of “scenes” from the festival inclusive not just of what took place on screen, but, just as importantly, how the audience responded. As one might say in regard to Ms. itself, Lester writes of the festival: “The films keyed to new feminist concepts created the most excitement among the largely feminist audience at the festival. This audience had a gut reaction to scenes … in which women seemed to come out from under the sexual war.”7
How, then, might this archive reintroduce us to 1970s film feminism? These early issues alone suggest an interest in an array of film genres, as well as an exploration of both lowbrow and highbrow culture. Here, too, is an investment in history and a commitment to taking stock of the present moment. This archive also imagines a range of identities for women: social, economic, racial, emotional. And, importantly, it demands that women find authority and control behind the scenes of production as well as on the screens of movie houses. These four issues, as I've noted, also represent the larger “slice” of the material archive I look at here: the compendium of writings on film throughout the 1970s in Ms. Overall, this is indeed a “material” archive—a collection made up of a series of issues of a mainstream feminist magazine produced and consumed monthly for and by women—which itself explored material conditions of film culture in the United States. It is therefore a set of writings open to the historian of the future for renewed exploration, both because it did not seem pertinent to the scholar of its own present day (those academic feminists who shared some of the same material conditions with the magazine writers and its readers) and because now is the time, given historical and theoretical distance—and at the dawn of a new journal devoted to feminist media histories—to bring these writings into view.
Taking a close look at the first decade of Ms., I find this missing piece from feminist film scholarship troubling yet not surprising, for Ms. represents at once the commonalities between activist and academic feminist interests and the lines that scholars have frequently drawn between the two in “theoretical” and “historical” arenas in particular. Here was a movement that was dependent on collectivity and collaboration yet was ruptured by an often false sense of universalism and essentialism. Notably, this essentialism is commonly understood in terms of race; in the case of Ms. and its counterparts in the academy and outside its readership, this understanding should extend to class and education as well. Indeed, as I've noted, two of the first authors of book-length feminist studies of film, Molly Haskell and Marjorie Rosen, were both frequent contributors to Ms., and Haskell's and Rosen's works would come to stand as the antithesis of the form of feminist analysis that began to develop in the academy in the same period. These various spheres of “difference,” then, between feminists within or across academic and popular arenas, have historically left “feminism” itself too loosely or perhaps too narrowly defined. In the arena of film production and film criticism, B. Ruby Rich recognizes such fissures as borne from a lack of a proper name—in effect, too much weight was put on the singular name of “feminism.”8 Certainly, naming was responsible for the fracture between popular and academic feminist writings on film during this era; in other words, writings such as those in Ms. were split from the academy in the name of “theory.”
In attempting to define this complex archive of writings, however, I ultimately want to demonstrate a range of intersections and conversations evident both within the magazine and in the broader context of feminist writings on film in the 1970s. In so doing, I also want to trace certain lineages in feminist writings about film, both in Ms. and in academic film criticism, drawing on some of the work in Ms. as a model. This issue of Feminist Media Histories, “Materialisms,” with my own focus on Ms., allows me to sketch trajectories across popular and scholarly work to explore different materialities of feminist critical practices. It is often through these materialities that these veins of feminist work meet.
MAGAZINE MATERIALITY AND VECTORS OF READING
I have suggested that the issues of Ms. produced in the 1970s constitute a material archive. We may today interact with these magazines via electronic and digital platforms, but even then, when we have each issue in its entirety at our disposal, our reading practice shares certain basic similarities with reading paper-based magazines. In short, we have the option to stay with individual articles or to move across a variety of pieces at any given moment: repeatedly, we are met with a heterogeneity of choices of where to look and when to shift our focus between works, thus inherently creating a pattern of connections as we read or browse. Typically, each issue of Ms. in the ’70s included features (which covered politics, arts, social issues, etc.), a section called “The Ms. Gazette” (including, for instance, “News from All Over”), departments (“Letters from Readers” fell here), “Ms. on the Arts” (reviews of film, theater, books, and, increasingly, television), and “Fiction/Poetry.” Writings on film fell largely into the features category (including profiles of various directors or stars and articles devoted to the state of production), “Ms. on the Arts” (with reviews of mainstream films as well as documentaries, occasional experimental and art-house films, and women's film festivals), the “Ms. Gazette” (for notes on festivals and resources), and sometimes follow-up commentary in letters from readers (fig. 6).
Given this heterogeneity of material—a multitude of kinds of writings across twelve issues a year, over approximately eight years—how does one (that is, how do I) write about this magazine? In reviewing these writings for months, I repeatedly worried over the best way to organize this material. I could break it into categories, I thought: by reviews or by writers, by genres of films, by women-directed work, by profiles or themes, and so on. I could present it chronologically, issue by issue. I could simply attempt to summarize it descriptively, offering a few key case studies. Ultimately, I determined that I want to reveal the magazine's heterogeneity via my own presentation of it, to demonstrate its dynamism, its optimism, and its overlapping concerns. This approach, after all, is ideally definitive of the women's movement of the period, even as it may also show its fissures, blind spots, and sense of chaos.
But let me at least start with the beginning, and that is Margaret Sloan's review essay in the first stand-alone issue (January 1972). Sloan's article is significant for a number of reasons, not merely because it was the first piece in the pages of the magazine to consider film, but also, certainly, because it inaugurates an immediate concern with race as part of the magazine's emphasis. Sloan begins: “Until very recently, I had stopped going to the movies.”9 She notes, “I didn't want my space cluttered with those images that I could see on the streets for free,” but increasingly she became “hungry” for realistic portrayals of black people on screen. Finding the potential seeds of change in representations of black women in three films, Black Girl, Coffy, and Cleopatra Jones, Sloan declares, “I think that it is no accident that as more and more black women take deeper looks into themselves and realize that they are stigmatized for being black and female, movies are coming along to reflect a black female consciousness.”10 Sloan ends her review with a claim that will become central to the demands of Ms. over the ensuing decade—and which is, sadly, still relevant over forty years later—“It is not enough to be up there on the screen. We have to have black women throughout the film industry, because not even black men can produce, direct, photograph, or edit our experience.”11
From Sloan's article, we can follow at least four vectors:
a concern with accurate and compassionate representations of black women;
a demand for black women's control of black women's images on screen;
an overarching concern that women take a place behind the camera;
and a concern for black women's authorship in the pages of the magazine.
These vectors form a blueprint for understanding Ms.'s broader approach to film during its first eight years, particularly in its parallel and intersecting interests in women's representation on screen, the control of images, and women's authorship. In the case of Sloan's early essay, the second and fourth vectors together can direct us forward several years to Alice Walker's review of Countdown at Kusini, “Black Sorority Bankrolls Action Film,” so that we can trace the lineages of black women writing in Ms. on film and the repeated concerns regarding black women's roles in film production.12 Here Walker tells the story of the film's narrative and, briefly, its fascinating production:
With a history of political activism that includes participation in the feminist and suffragist demonstrations of 1913, the 85,000 members of American-based Delta Sigma Theta, the largest black sorority in the world, decided they would no longer accept the degraded images of black people—and especially black women—being foisted on them from the movie screen. Instead they would raise the money themselves, from among themselves, to make the kind of movie they wanted: one that reflected contemporary values and concerns of black people, and the ungilded magnificence and political activism of black women.13
Describing this film about an African American man who travels to Africa and becomes involved in revolutionary struggle against foreign domination, Walker proclaims that “one leaves the theater ready to join the next revolutionary battle, not in dejection over how much there is to be done, but in awe of the possibilities for change once an oppressed people decide to rise.”14 She ends her review, in parallel with so many writers in Ms. on women and film, with the hope that more films will be produced by women (in this case, the Delta Sigma Theta sorority) (fig. 7).
The first vector (concerning representation) coupled with the fourth (regarding black women writers in Ms.) in Sloan's original article, on the other hand, might take us to Toni Morrison's review of Sounder, “Film Find: A Really Good Movie about Blacks,” published in December 1972. Applauding the attention to quotidian details of the Morgan family's lives, novelist and essayist Morrison sets Sounder apart from contemporaneous Blaxploitation films. She writes:
Sounder assumes a posture about black life that is clearly anathema to filmmakers into the current black thing: apparently there are (or were) black people who are not a white man's version of Super Thug; who do have relationships with each other that are neither parasitic nor sadomasochistic; who think conversations are superior to raps; and who have a concept of themselves as somehow more worthy than their enemies. The Morgans, a black sharecropping family in the Deep South, like each other—it never occurs to them to regard white society's view of them as accurate.15
Importantly, Morrison's regard for the portrayal of the Morgan family echoes Sloan's praise for Tamara Dobson's role in Cleopatra Jones, in which “she defends against attack and aggression without becoming brutal or violent.”16 Both writers demand not a simple form of “accuracy” in cinematic representations of African Americans, but rather an “emotional range” in films that tell stories of black women and men.
In linking these articles by Sloan, Walker, and Morrison through this reading practice, we can uncover potential objects of inquiry for the present day. In Black Girl and Countdown in particular, we might find films for further historical research and theoretical analysis. Beginning with these articles and writers themselves, we can trace black women's writings on film in the formative years of popular feminism and film theory (and the latter's early inattention to issues of race). And through the range of films that the authors together review, we can consider intersections among genres, mainstream movies, and independent productions, bridged by common rubrics of concern. These articles collectively, in other words, design a set of interrelations among film production, reception, and criticism for renewed feminist attention to the era, and they also potentially complicate, if only to a degree, conventional accusations of essentialism leveled against Ms. and the movement.
Sounder is designed for a family audience, and its eponymous character is the family dog. Thus Morrison's review might in turn produce another direction in our reading of the magazine, this time to a review of the animated children's film Charlotte's Web. With the charming title “At Last: A Non-Chauvinist Pig,” Letty Cottin Pogrebin's review emphasizes E. B. White's sense of compassion among his characters, which is faithfully reproduced in the film adaptation. Her affective concerns, then, are not unlike Morrison's with Sounder, though Pogrebin tends to punctuate gendered relations between and among people as well as animals: Charlotte is “the calm, loving, and inventive spider who becomes the second female to save Wilbur from slaughter”17 and “the gosling's adoration and the pig's talent for nurturing send out powerful, healthy messages about maleness and loving.”18 In both such examples, Pogrebin suggests, “we and our children gain a vision of humanity at peace with its diversity.”19
From Sounder and Charlotte's Web, I extend this new vector in a slightly different direction, turning to two reviews not of children's films, but of youth in films of the period. Both were penned by Susan Braudy, a regular contributor to the magazine. Hardly displays of “humanity at peace” (and certainly not targeted to families), Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973) and Pretty Baby (Louis Malle, 1978) offer two conflicting views of girlhood. In Badlands, writes Braudy, “Malick gives us one of the most telling interior portraits of a teenage girl that I have ever seen in the movies.”20 As with Walker's praise of Sounder and Sloan's appreciation of Black Girl, Braudy applauds Malick's ability to reveal “realistic texture” in his film:
What gives drama to Holly's sweetly catatonic narrative are the film's interwoven layers of banal realism and poetry. Ultimately it is this textured portrait of the murderer and his girlfriend as ordinary kids that gets to my psyche…. Once early in their romance, when Holly and Kit are necking under some football bleachers, she tells him with a hint of a whine in her voice, “My stomach's growling.”21
On the other hand, Louis Malle foregoes the ordinary in Pretty Baby to offer instead the self-avowed “weird love story” between a child prostitute, Violet, and an adult photographer, “Papa” Bellocq.22 At the outset, Braudy asks, “But can such a relationship merely be called ‘weird’?” and shortly thereafter declares, “By depicting the mating of an adult male with a powerless female child, Malle tells a story as old as patriarchy.”23 Braudy therefore resists, via a Brechtian turn, reading Violet's direct address to the camera: she poses Violet, rather than the audience or photographer Bellocq, as a voyeur: “Malle says he means these stares to tell us that it is Violet and not the audience who is the voyeur…. Yet her effect is not indicting but enticing. Her face is so sullenly sexual that in these Brechtian stares she simply appears to be burlesquing the come-hither looks of the prostitutes around her.”24 Ultimately, Braudy finds Violet “unconvincing”: “It is impossible to imagine such a cheerful, brave, and true child emerging from the experiences of her life. Violet may be realistic as a 1978 urban tomboy, but as a deserted, illegitimate child prostitute, she is a fantasy, a male fantasy—an innocent, beautiful kid who also puts out for money.”25 Linking Braudy back to Morrison, we can see how each feminist writer is concerned with the analysis of fantasy writ large in commercial film—the fantasy of the sexualized child, the fantasy of the sadomasochistic “Super Thug.”
Here, as in, frankly, any other moment, we could branch backward or forward into different directions of reading. For instance, we might continue to follow the line of the analysis of sexualized girls in mainstream films, or we could follow Braudy's reviews for the magazine. Going with the former would take us to Molly Haskell's excoriation of the trend as displayed by the skyrocketing stardom of Jodie Foster and Tatum O'Neal as evidence of “an ingenious solution by moviemakers to complaints about the shortage of women in films.”26 Certainly Haskell's essay on child actresses is fascinating; her remarks on The Exorcist are especially trenchant when she declares: “Could The Exorcist also be read as a subliminal warning from Hollywood directed at the Women's Movement? Are they trying to tell us that the Devil has gotten into us, that we want and know too much, that if we don't behave like sweet little girls we're in for big trouble?” And she goes on, “One doesn't have to be paranoid or in the conspiracy market to see a connection between the child's affliction and her mother's status as a divorced career woman.”27 But it's to Braudy's work that I return, as, even within the heterogeneity of the work in the magazine, it takes us to a through-line that Haskell also touches upon and that appears across Sloan's and Walker's work as well: the “Devil” had indeed gotten into those women in the ’70s who sought to control their own images on screen.
Following Braudy's authored works leads us to essays on Robert Altman's Nashville (1975) and Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), two films that were made possible by women's work behind the scenes. Braudy's “The Woman behind ‘Nashville’” is both a review of that movie (written by Joan Tewkesbury) and a profile of Tewkesbury herself, a modern and mod woman who previously “decided to be normal” (married with children) but who now declares “I live my life like a man.”28 In so doing, however, she is dedicated to writing and making movies about women's lives—including her proposed After Ever After, an autobiographical tale about the breakup of a marriage, and another future project called Diane and Rose and Red, about women's friendships, which she planned for Geneviève Bujold and Julie Christie.29 Describing Bujold's proposed character, Tewkesbury tells Braudy, “She will meet these women who have solved certain problems about being alone women in the world.”30 Following this double vector—of Braudy's writings and women's friendships—takes us to her piece on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, in which relationships between women on screen and behind the camera are also prominent. As Braudy points out, Alice was made possible through the labor of women: most importantly Ellen Burstyn, who discovered Robert Getchell's script and got the development of the picture underway, but also editor Marcia Lucas, art director Toby Rafelson, associate producer Sandy Weintraub (director Martin Scorsese's partner at the time), and coproducer Audrey Maas.
Maintaining a sense of heterogeneity in the piece itself, Braudy's piece offers insight into both “realism” and Scorsese's misogyny. After describing the basic plot of the film, Braudy notes that it was actress Burstyn who found the project and the director:
Ellen Burstyn had good reasons for choosing Scorsese to direct Robert Getchell's script. “I had my choice of almost anybody for director,” she explains. “I did consider Barbara Loden, who directed Wanda. But I chose Marty because the actors in Mean Streets were not working in movie reality but in life reality. Mean Streets was rough and real. Some scripts need polish. Alice needed roughing up…. Marty encouraged us to think and improvise, and it worked.”31
In turn, Braudy cites Scorsese on working with women:
Scorsese calls the film the most draining he's ever made. “I was determined to make a movie about women screaming and laughing and being real together,” he says today. “But I had to come to terms with what I can only call my own hatred of women. Growing up, I got this Sicilian thing of treating women like rags or furniture. Mean Streets shows the violence I was brought up to feel toward women.”32
Scorsese's admission to Braudy is itself a kind of exposure of the reality of film production—and film authorship—that we rarely see. In her foundational analysis of women's cinema, published around the same time as Burstyn and Scorsese's film, Claire Johnston emphasizes the complexity of cinematic signs, arguing, “What the camera in fact grasps is the ‘natural’ world of the dominant ideology.”33 Granted, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore attempts to construct a realist style to lay bare that ideology, either in spite of the director's own position or via his (temporary) coming to consciousness through his work on the film. Yet I can't help but wonder what the film might have looked like in Loden's hands, given how Wanda openly displays that ideology in form and content.
Though theorists such as Johnston might have taken her to task for it, in both of these articles Braudy does focus on the contributions of both women and men in the service of creating more “realistic” portrayals of women. However, I don't think Braudy's understanding of “realism” or “reality” is necessarily a simple one. That is, in the overall context of her work, including the interviews with women such as Tewkesbury and Burstyn as well as her reviews of films such as Badlands and Pretty Baby, I suggest that she is posing a counter to dominant ideological fantasies—which, in other contexts, might also be read psychoanalytically and/or semiotically—of women (and girls) so prevalent on movie screens. She is seeking stories (which we might call “fantasies” or “realities” or something in between) of women as agents and subjects, women who form friendships with one another, women who, in Tewkesbury's words, “show the audience something more subtle, let them inspect it, and draw their own conclusions.”34
As I noted at the beginning of this section, looking at a magazine such as Ms. over the 1970s invites a complex reading process, which I've only begun to map here. Threads are dropped and picked up again, or they might reappear in new forms, or at other moments, or in other areas of the magazine. And the complexity of this structural map also poses a difficulty in summarizing such a range of work—in terms of content, theme, or methodology—beyond the overtly feminist commitment that defines the magazine overall. Ultimately, I think the reading practice it invites might show its readers something more subtle than they would expect, let them inspect it, and allow them to draw their own conclusions. This “something” might be a subtlety in our understanding of both the history and theory of the period, or it might be a slight shift in a methodological practice that deepens material and theoretical connections precisely by reconsidering what constitutes textual analysis in this period. In the next section, then, I turn to a particular recurring theme that is conjoined to one that was central to emerging feminist film scholarship of the time, in order to begin to query how we might resituate work such as Ms. in the academic feminist tradition.
WOMEN, CAMERAS, AND ICON-AUTHORS
Ms. was obviously not the first site to call for more women behind the camera. In fact, more than a century ago, the world's first woman filmmaker, Alice Guy-Blaché, declared:
The technique of the drama has been mastered by so many women that it is considered to be as much her field as a man's and its adaptation to picture work in no way removes it from her sphere. The technique of motion-picture photography, like the technique of the drama, is fitted to women's activities…. It has long been a source of wonder to me that many women have not seized upon the wonderful opportunities offered to them by the motion-picture art to make their way to fame and fortune as producers of photodramas. Of all the arts there is probably none in which they can make such splendid use of talents so much more natural to a woman than to a man and so necessary to its perfection.35
Given the difficulties Guy-Blaché experienced both in emerging film industries and ultimately in her attempts to retain and regain her position in history, as documented in her memoirs, I wonder if this short piece in the Moving Picture World of 1914 is not a kind of cri de coeur.36 After all, Guy-Blaché had to fight for her position at her first studio, Gaumont, when the work of producing (or directing) films became lucrative; she saw her entire oeuvre lost in her lifetime; and then she had to battle the historian Georges Sadoul to be included in his history of French cinema. Her memoirs themselves were an act of retrieval, thankfully helping to set in motion not just the restoration of her reputation in history, but also the collection of her films in archives around the world. At the same time, her call in 1914 for more women to join her as film directors is also significant, in that it has been repeated again and again for over a century. In the 1970s, writers in Ms. joined this movement, repeatedly decrying women's absence behind the camera, and, as Guy-Blaché also attempted to do, pointing to places where women were finding authority in the production of films.
In this section, I look at some instances of this refrain, first considering accounts of alternative resources for women filmmakers and their forms of nonmainstream production, and then ending with cases of women who were attempting to produce and/or “author” films in which they also starred. I turn to these concerns in order to create a longer lineage not just between Ms. and those artists and writers who preceded the magazine, but also among those who were working contemporaneously, if not collaboratively, with it.
Perhaps inevitably, a January 1977 profile of twelve European women directors refers to Guy-Blaché, noting, “In 1896, she directed and wrote La feé aux choux (The Good Fairy of the Cabbage Patch), the first narrative film in the history of the movies,” a claim that may well have been taken from Guy-Blaché's own memoirs.37 This profile is itself a companion to a follow-up review by Amy Stone of the Second International Women's Film Festival. Both Stone's review and the profile include the refrain that echoes Guy-Blaché's call of 1914. Writes Stone:
Perhaps the one thing shared by almost all women making films is the frustration of trying to get their films, feature scripts, or ideas accepted by the male powers-that-be. Although some women, including a few Hollywood stars, have started their own production companies, there's still a long way to go before it will be as easy to see a film made by a woman as by a man. That remains the crucial step for women reaching other women and men with movies reflecting what's on women's minds.38
What's apparently not on women's minds, Stone suggests, are films “with two male leads, plenty of violence, and women who remain part of the scenery.”39 Rather, she notes, “one of the most important results of more women making films is that they are seeking out other women as subjects”;40 at the same time, however, these filmmakers are largely “on the young side of middle age, mostly white and mostly middle class,” so the next step is for “old women, black, Puerto Rican, and other women who don't get counted, to move from subject matter to filmmaker.”41 The twelve European women profiled in the same issue all fall into Stone's description of female filmmakers: mostly young, white, and middle-class. Yet, not surprisingly, many of those profiled make the same kinds of claims about the overall lack of women filmmakers in the world. Thus, while writers Elizabeth Lennard and Nicole Lise Bernheim note that the twelve filmmakers they have profiled represent over a hundred European artists like them, they cite Swedish filmmaker Mai Zetterling on the struggles of women filmmakers: “We are still prisoners of a world that doesn't belong to us, of which we don't speak the language…. We must find our own language as quickly as possible!”42 In effect, Lennard and Bernheim are not on the same page as Stone here, begging that readers—and writers, as well as programmers and funders—move across these pages to maintain the demands that Stone articulates.
In issues preceding and following this one, we see the same concerns over the development and expression of women's voices via film, along with potential resources for making and viewing independent films. That emphasis is central, certainly, to Elenore Lester's reprinted 1972 New York Times review of the first International Festival of Women's Films, which screened fourteen narrative films, three feature-length documentaries, and one hundred shorts, all made by women. The “Gazette” section of Ms.'s August 1973 issue goes a step further by including a summary of twenty-seven films from the same festival, with information on how to order the films screened there.43 In the “Gazette” section of Ms. in April 1975 (an issue that also included a piece on Shirley Clarke by Marjorie Rosen), Wendy Appel offers a how-to guide on alternative video and television production, highlighting a series of grassroots and local companies producing work across the United States. As Appel writes, “Many people are working with video in many different contexts. They are presenting old realities in new ways. And they are recording people, events, and ideas which have never been aired before.”44 Cable television, her article also suggests, can be like a telephone, in that it can create dialogue in communities through public-access stations.
Two years after Appel's piece (as well as two years after Lee Israel's “Women in Film”), Marjorie Rosen contributed “From the Folks Who Are Taking over Hollywood,” a feature story for the December 1977 “Arts Explosion” issue.45 She opens with a roll call of mainstream films about women and female “big guns” emerging in the industry. She then discusses the American Film Institute's (AFI) Directing Workshop for Women and reviews several planned projects by women, some of whom are associated with the AFI workshop (such as Dyan Cannon and Lee Grant), a space that has been criticized as elitist itself (as classist). The piece includes an inset of comments by women working in major studios, which is frankly disheartening in the attitude of both men and women toward women in the field. More optimistic, though, is the lengthy discussion of independent filmmakers across a range of genres and forms, from autobiographical documentary to animation (featuring women such as Yvonne Rainer, Chick Strand, Debra Franco, and many more). Rosen herself was the most prolific writer on film for Ms., penning more than a dozen reviews alone for the magazine, with a tenacious feminist eye; she also focused on more independent and experimental work than did most writers for the magazine, including the films of Chantal Akerman, John Cassavetes, and early work by Martha Coolidge.
The tension between celebrity and independent filmmakers in Rosen's “From the Folks Who Are Taking over Hollywood” neatly represents the ongoing attempt to balance resources for the everyday potential artist and the emerging industrial icon-author that repeatedly comes into play across the issues of the magazine. The industrial author or celebrity deserves some attention, as she represents an overall emphasis of the magazine on iconic women—whether they are newly claimed, reclaimed, or already known as feminist—from the first issues profiling Wonder Woman, Marilyn Monroe, and Angela Davis to the iconic Gloria Steinem herself.46 For instance, actresses such as Ellen Burstyn, represented as responsible for setting the production of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore in motion, appear as examples of women who seek to move from being objects on screen to subjects responsible for how their images appear. Featured in Israel's 1975 piece, for instance, Burstyn claimed she was inspired by Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) and Moby Dick and had plans to write a screenplay for Silence of the North.47 In other Ms. pieces I've previously cited, Dyan Cannon and Shirley MacLaine variably come across as other actresses concerned with control over the representation of women; Israel notes that MacLaine had plans to make a film on Amelia Earhart, while Rosen reports that Cannon was in the process of scripting three original works.48 As with Joan Tewkesbury's imagined projects of the same period, however, most of their planned films were not made.
Rather than read such unmade films as failures, however, I'd rather see these actresses’ appearances in the magazine and their planned projects as models for future filmmakers. These films are, moreover, examples of what Claire Johnston contemporaneously imagined as “counter-cinema” in the ways that they combine entertainment and political cinema. Johnston concludes her 1975 essay “Women's Cinema as Counter-Cinema” with the following proclamation:
At this point in time, a strategy should be developed which embraces both the notion of films as a political tool and film as entertainment…. In order to counter our objectification in the cinema, our collective fantasies must be released: women's cinema must embody the working through of desire: such an objective demands the use of the entertainment film. Ideas derived from the entertainment film, then, should inform the political film, and political ideas should inform the entertainment cinema: a two-way process.49
Figures such as Burstyn and Tewkesbury, along with the women of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority who developed Countdown at Kusini, were indeed imagining such a two-way process for film production. Though perhaps not collectively organized, these projects were at least collectively reported in the pages of Ms.
To close this section, I will pause briefly on three other instructional cases of iconic figures. Along with Monroe, who appeared on the second issue of the official run of the magazine, and Burstyn and MacLaine together with Eleanor Perry on the February 1975 issue, Ms. featured three other significant film stars on its covers in the 1970s: Pam Grier, Cicely Tyson, and Jane Fonda. The profiles accompanying each of these covers, drawn in part from interviews with the actresses, revealed their determination to achieve greater control over their film roles.
Jamaica Kincaid's profile of Pam Grier focused largely on Grier's success in relation to her racial identity. Thus Kincaid begins her piece stating that “Pam Grier is one of three ‘bankable’ movie actresses in Hollywood,” alongside Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand, and in the paragraph that follows, she notes that her success “remains very marginal,” for “you would most likely have to be black or regularly read such publications as Black Stars or Right-On to know of her.”50 Immediately Kincaid points to a series of seeming contradictions, without naming them as such: Grier is bankable yet marginal, known but unknown. For the black writer Kincaid, the “you” to whom she writes in the pages of Ms. may be white or may be black, but the implication is that Grier is of another “class” than Ms. readers—Grier is of the popular but lowbrow art form, pitched to a black audience and therefore featured not, say, in Ebony but in Right-On. Such alternating examples structure most of the piece: we learn that “Pam Grier is the most winning example of a miscegenated person I have ever seen,” a puzzling and disconcerting phrase, which Kincaid doesn't resolve, though she does follow it with the precise make-up of Grier's mother's and father's heritage. Next, too, we find details of Grier's “very large house” that “conveys a kind of modernness the newly rich are fond of.”51 As the story closes, Kincaid comments on Grier's attempts to capitalize on her bankability by forming her own production company, called Brown Sun Productions after her grandmother's pet name for her. Writes Kincaid, “Her immediate motive isn't to change the image of women in films so much as it is to change the image of Pam Grier in films,” and this is followed by Grier's complaint about the ways in which American International Pictures has packaged and treated her: “They don't like me but they want to work with me because I make them money…. They think I am being ungrateful because they discovered me and made me a star.”52 In effect, Kincaid's portrait is one of ambivalence, though the magazine's central placement of Grier on its cover suggests otherwise—offering, as with Monroe or Wonder Woman, populist support.
Grier's story is a common one for actresses in the era, but it's particularly historically relevant for black women. The (single-named) poet Yvonne offers at once a complex portrait of Cicely Tyson and a trenchant critique of the history of Hollywood's representation of black women in film. Bound, of course, to the issue of representation is the very availability of roles for black actresses such as Tyson. Yvonne asserts, “She has developed an artistic identity that does not ignore, but actively changes the two major stereotypes of the black woman in film and drama: the rolypoly, desexed black mamma and the ‘high yaller’ femme fatale.”53 Tyson challenges this history of representation when she “start[s] a trend toward humanized black mothers” in Sounder and then further develops this role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, for which she won an Emmy (fig. 8).
Yvonne's poignant writing matches her claims about Tyson's skills as an actress. And she goes further in her own assertions concerning the intersection between history and representation when she suggests that filmmakers might seek more models of black women in the past to return “to black women the historical identity that films have helped to destroy.”54 In outlining the need for better parts for black women, Yvonne professes:
Personally, I have always needed heroines who were women of power, worldliness, and intelligence. Women who gambled, even when they were wrong. Women who could not help but fight—and not just themselves—when they knew they were going to lose…. Successful black women do exist, but the patented contours of their frustrations and aggressions are deliberately ignored or minimized, or even vilified (lest they inspire).55
Significantly, neither Tyson nor Yvonne argue that Tyson needs to become a producer to control her image on screen; Yvonne argues that Tyson is a highly controlled actress, whose talents themselves should allow her to continue to have parts worthy of her. Thus her piece ends optimistically, as do so many in the magazine: “Perhaps the Seventies will bring her recognition and greater opportunities. She deserves them all.”56
Jane Fonda is the most emphatically feminist of these three profiled actresses; she also has the longest duration of attention in the pages of the magazine. Indeed, she appears in the very first independent issue via Aljean Harmetz's review of the two versions of A Doll's House, one of which starred Fonda and the other of which starred Claire Bloom. Harmetz even cites Fonda as saying, “I saw A Doll's House as a feminist statement. I don't think Claire saw it that way. And yet my film is perhaps less of a feminist statement than hers.”57 What accounts for this difference, Harmetz argues, is that Fonda had less control over her production than Bloom did over hers. Bloom made her television adaptation with her husband, Hillard Elkins, whereas Fonda worked with British producer-director Joseph Losey.
This emphasis over control of production comes to bear in two subsequent pieces on Fonda, alongside discussions of her politics that, of course, includes feminist politics—professionally, personally, and nationally. Novelist Margaret Drabble's profile of Fonda appeared in 1977, in tandem with the release of Julia. On the occasion of this film, which narrates a long-term friendship between two women before and during Nazi rule and the Holocaust, Drabble focuses in part on Fonda's admiration for her women costars. She quotes Fonda as saying, “It's the first time I've been given a role in which I'm allowed to feel and express friendship for another woman,” and then Drabble goes on to cite Fonda quoting Virginia Woolf concerning how “stereotypical women in fiction are not allowed to like one another.”58 Fonda's costar and primary object of her admiration is Vanessa Redgrave, a long-time friend who inspired Fonda to take political action as part of her work.59 Fonda's politics, in turn, influenced her approach to film itself as an entertainment and educational form that can “move” people. “But how,” Drabble asks, “to provoke the kind of anger that creates change, rather than the sort that feeds indulgently on its own pleasurable outrage?” She continues, “Determined to find an answer, Fonda has formed a film company, IPC Films, Inc (IPC stands for the Indochina Peace Campaign). She is hoping to make films with stories that move, educate, and provide positive female roles.”60 As is footnoted in Drabble's article, Coming Home is the first film to be produced by Fonda's company.
Julia was reviewed in the same issue as the profile of Fonda, with praise for the representation of the friendship between the two women characters but criticism for the director Fred Zinnemann. Coming Home was reviewed the following year by Gloria Emerson, who reported on the Vietnam War for the New York Times.61 Emerson opens by saying, “I went to see Coming Home determined to be the coldest of critics, to note clearly all its defects and not to be swayed by my immense respect for Jane Fonda, who so much wanted this film to be made.”62 But despite some minor weaknesses that she observes, Emerson claims the film “never fails.” And, despite her respect for Fonda, she also admits that Coming Home is—one might say arguably—“Voight's film.”63 As she writes, “Coming Home shows us the horror of the ordeal” of severely wounded men coming home “with no idea how to recognize what their lives had become” (fig. 9).64 These two films display a range of Fonda's political commitment in her work—again, at personal, professional, and national levels. These are works that attempt to tease out (if not resolve) complex personal relationships, and they are films that hold nations accountable for the traumatic effects of wars. Professionally speaking, they are also films that Fonda advocated for: not only to gain good roles for herself (though I would actually say the role of Lillian in Julia is hardly her best), but also to gain roles for other actresses and actors and for those figures they portrayed. But then the fact that Fonda herself appears across more issues of Ms. than do Grier or Tyson demonstrates that, as a white woman, she structurally had the power, however relative in the sexist arena of Hollywood, to command a variety of roles and even to advocate for people other than herself.
Considering these women—and these profiles—alongside one another, we can see a set of parallel lines, ones that didn't often intersect. These relatively isolated parallels, here in the form of Grier, Tyson, and Fonda, share at least a structural pattern with the often isolated parallel lines of mainstream and academic film feminisms of the period. It is hard—in fact impossible—for me to resist returning to Fonda's citation of Woolf's concern that “stereotypical women in fiction are not allowed to like one another.” In effect, this dictum is not true only of fiction. Though I would not politically contend (however much I might want to personally and even professionally) that women do simply “like one another,” I think we certainly can coexist historically and contemporaneously as artists and thinkers. For me, Ms. is a potential model that can both hold a range of differences and enable a reopening of these structural lines of inquiry.
CONCLUSIONS: FEMINIST FILM THEORY AT FORTY
As Ms. was hitting its stride in popular feminist film criticism in the mid-1970s, academic feminist film theory began to emerge in other venues. In 1976, the by-now longest-standing feminist journal of media and culture, Camera Obscura, was founded (in part out of the earlier journal Women and Film, which was periodically published from 1972 to 1975).65 The editorial collective celebrated Camera Obscura's thirtieth “anniversary” as a journal in 2006; as a member of the collective, I helped to develop a series of short pieces collected from a number of the journal's volumes under the rubric of “an archive for the future of feminism, culture and media.” After all, here was an opportunity to think at once about the journal's history and about directions for its future.66 And because this “archive” was to be inscribed in the pages of the journal rather than housed in a physical space, it allowed scholars to think about those ways in which material and theoretical practices might intersect and cohere. As we wrote in our call: “We have invited feminist scholars to fantasize about what they would place in this imaginary archive existing in print rather than in a material space: a word, a text, an image, an object, a space, a methodology, a mode of contemplating the present and future.”67 Granted, that means of imagining an archive could well be why Israel's fantasy of the future “anthropological cineast” appeals to me, both because she seemed to plant a treasure to be discovered decades later in my own perusal of the magazine and because she was, it seemed, a kindred spirit back in the day.
In response to our own call for an imaginary material archive, many scholars and filmmakers wrote autobiographically, particularly about those early days of the founding—or their own discovery—of Camera Obscura, feminism, and/or media practice in the 1970s. History and experience were therefore inscribed in many of those pages, from scholars recounting their everyday lives at the movies and on university campuses to film and videomakers chronicling their everyday experiences in women's film screenings and at video editing decks. I turn to this project here for a few reasons. First, I suppose, is to state what is already “known” about the 1970s and film feminism: that it was a period in the academy during which “theory” took hold. Second, while theory took hold in the pages of journals such as Camera Obscura, the journal was also committed to exploring feminist practice in film production. And third, now almost a decade since the Camera Obscura “archives” project, my purpose is to think again about the history of the development of feminist film studies in and outside the academy. In order to close this piece, let's consider how these very different terrains of the academic and journalistic—like theory and history, the conceptual and material—meet.
To kick off the thirtieth-anniversary celebration and series of short contributions, the editorial collective members collaboratively wrote an essay about the history and the present of the journal. Embodying the journal's history and its practice, this project was therefore modeled after three key works: an editorial collectively produced for the first issue; the “Spectatrix” issue of 1989, which included sixty contributions from feminist film and media scholars; and the early “Women Working” section of the journal, which detailed various ongoing practices by women filmmakers and scholars. This history was evident in both the form and the content of the “archives”: the short-form format resembled both the “Women Working” sections of the 1970s and the “Spectatrix” double issue of the late 1980s, while the long essay by the current editorial collective was modeled after the original editorial of the first issue (in the structure and the questions it asked and attempted to answer). History, too, is inscribed in the 2006 essay, as in some of the contributions to the “archives,” when the editor-authors note the ways in which Camera Obscura, like its U.K. counterpart Screen, was grounded in defining film theory in the 1970s:
Camera Obscura emerged as a collective feminist response to a paradoxical tension between the presence of the image of women on screen in mainstream film and the absence of women in both the fields of mainstream film production and the emerging disciplinary production of film theory.68
As founding collective member Sandy Flitterman-Lewis writes in her own contribution, “That feminism had been understood, particularly in the United States, as a largely pragmatic form of activism, made its partner term, film theory, equally important in the description of Camera Obscura's critical terrain.”69
To close the “archive,” Mandy Merck contributed an essay entitled “Mulvey's Manifesto,” which details the history of the production and reception of Laura Mulvey's essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Merck writes:
The most influential publication in contemporary film studies is not an academic essay. It was written by a feminist activist, part-time filmmaker, occasional bookshop worker, housewife, and mother who had never attended graduate school or held a teaching post.70
Merck offered three particularly significant points of context for a renewed historical understanding of the production and publication of Mulvey's essay. As her title avows, Mulvey's piece is a manifesto first and foremost; Merck sets it in the tradition of other film manifestos recognized in Screen, especially Modernist works. Secondly, Screen editors were themselves not academics but “intellectuals and cinephiles”; the journal was part of a burgeoning film studies community that was not centered purely in universities. And finally, Mulvey's “manifesto” and its particular claims were enabled by the women's movement and its call to arms.71
In the same issue of Screen in which “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” appeared, Claire Johnston published a review essay concerning three books of feminist film criticism: Marjorie Rosen's Popcorn Venus, Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape, and Joan Mellen's Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film. As Mulvey's essay (however humble its origins) does, Johnston's review reflects the thrust to redefine film theory in the 1970s. Consistent with her arguments in other work of the period, Johnston's primary complaints about these works has to do with the intersections of ideology, history, and authorship. She levels these charges particularly against Rosen and Haskell, frequent contributors to Ms., regarding first their accounts of history (e.g., their “Romantic conception of historical development”) and, second, their emphases on films as “reflections” of the world. But undergirding both these concerns is a much larger one: each book she reviewed has “no sense of film theory.”72 Thus, declares Johnson:
All three books reflect a particular stage in the feminist intervention in film criticism which has by now been superseded, although their intervention at the level of journalistic practice itself may still have some function. It is therefore particularly important that, whatever their journalistic merits, they should not be inscribed into curricula dealing with women's studies.73
Johnston did not alone deliver the blow to Haskell, Rosen, and their cohort in Ms.; her position represents a wider academic approach that has dismissed “journalistic” writings from the period.74 The fact remains that these writers are neither regularly anthologized nor widely referenced in scholarly work, whereas Mulvey's “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” is the most commonly anthologized critical essay in contemporary film theory anthologies.
Within Johnston's insistence on a theoretical foundation is also, as within the pages of Camera Obscura, a commitment to close textual analysis: “The foregrounding of the problem of reading and text construction in relation to ‘classic Hollywood cinema’ is based on the assumption that only through an analysis of text construction, of representation and of how meaning is produced in the film text, can the possible foundation of a genuinely revolutionary feminist cinema be laid.”75 In a discussion of an approach to filmmaker Dorothy Arzner's work, she goes on to suggest:
The task of proving her historical importance does not primarily lie with situating her work in time. To adapt Brecht's dictum about the re-presentation of texts written in the past: it is only against the background of our time (ie the politics of the Women's Movement and the present state of theoretical knowledge which place all texts) that their shape emerges: and without this background they probably would have no shape at all. The shape of these film texts consists of the intra- and inter-textual relations at work in any given film, a network within which the ideologies (eg a form of patriarchal ideology) are produced.76
Thus, while the critiques that Johnston wages against the book-length studies by Haskell and Rosen concerning their historical sweeps and analysis are useful ones, I'd like to take advantage of the claims that she makes about Arzner above, particularly the notion of the “shape” that emerges out of its re-presentation in the background of a contemporary moment, in order to make a claim for the inclusion of the study of writings such as those in Ms. in our curricula and our research. That is, I believe that a “shape” emerges through an intra- and intertextual reading practice between the writings in Ms. and those in academic circles that precisely enables a widening of the name and the meaning of 1970s feminist film criticism.
First, we might consider those intersections between Ms. and academic feminist writings on film in terms of each milieu's broad concerns. In fact, though writers such as Rosen may not routinely get “theory” right, according to Johnston, many writers (Rosen included) do cover a wider spectrum in the magazine than academic publications do, inclusive of those conditions and areas in Ms. that should be of interest to academics (even if they haven't always been historically, or consistently, so). For instance, the vast majority of Ms. writers on film were women, whose articles encompass mainstream, documentary, experimental, independent, and even children's films. The magazine sought reviews of films that tell stories of black women's lives; it focused on known European women directors; and it championed male directors who told women's stories well. It offered resource guides for producing and exhibiting films and video, and it covered women's film festivals. It often featured reviews of films by women—however few there may have been, the magazine actively sought them out. In other words, Ms. answered the contemporaneous call by feminist scholars to attend not just to issues of representation, but also to film form and to women's authorship, often when feminist scholars were not answering this call themselves.
Setting these arenas together also enables each to fill those gaps that the other left exposed, not merely to “excuse” the gaps, but also to not only consider the gaps purely as gaps. For instance, much theoretical work of 1970s film studies (as in Camera Obscura, Screen, and book-length theoretical works) did not look at contemporary mainstream film, which limited its readings of Hollywood, ideology, and the effects of the Women's Movement on present-day cinema. Perhaps this “gap” had to do with the publishing schedules of academic journals, but, if so, it didn't affect the attention to contemporary feminist and European filmmakers of the period. Taking into consideration the contemporaneous analysis of mainstream and independent narrative production from publications such as Ms. changes the conversation in and about 1970s feminist film culture, as it shows how women stars (Burstyn, Fonda, Grier, etc.) shaped the films in which they appeared, and it also shows the changes to film narratives of the period, even if those were fairly short-lived (as in films about single mothers, such as Norma Rae and An Unmarried Woman). Some of the films Ms. considered, moreover, were of genres that weren't common features of theoretical study during the era—such as children's and family films—while others were targeted to black audiences, which were also not commonly represented in theoretical work of the period. Taking into account the ways in which race was a topic of conversation in the study of film would productively extend our understanding of the decade's production (beyond, say, Blaxploitation and Killer of Sheep as the primary models of the period). But such acknowledgment does not let Ms. off the hook, either; borrowing from the close textual practice of feminist film theory, it's important to recognize structural patterns of publication on black cinema and black female stars in the magazine. All of Ms.'s major reviews and profiles concerning African American women were written by African American women; while this approach appeared to allow writers to focus on areas to which they were personally and politically committed, it also enabled white writers to remain unaccountable for complex studies of race and cinema in the pages of the magazine.
Such considerations take on questions of the material conditions of authorship of film criticism in the 1970s. Certainly this is part of the point of Merck's retrospective history of Mulvey's essay, in which she draws upon the material conditions of Mulvey's own authorship in particular, as well as on the context of publishing in Screen (which makes the blow coming from Johnston in the pages of Screen not without a little irony). Thus, we might now restage feminist media studies curricula through a consideration of material histories: of the experience of feminist publishing collectives such as Women and Film, Camera Obscura, and Ms. magazine, and of the encounters women had as burgeoning writers, scholars, and filmmakers. For instance, in her contribution to the Camera Obscura archive project, Mary Desjardins describes an invitation as a master's student at Berkeley to a meeting to discuss the third issue of Camera Obscura: “The intense passion of the discussion and the rather intimidating sophistication of the women at the meeting were as much responsible for my conflicted response as any philosophical stance regarding the use of theory to analyze movies, desire, or feminism.”77 One seemingly small moment among many, it is also descriptive of a real space and time that affect this scholar's growth. Alongside such an individual account (which might metonymically stand in for other feminists’ transformative experiences), consider here the oral history of Ms. transcribed by Abigail Pogrebin in New York Magazine for its own fortieth anniversary.78 Compiling comments by women who worked for the magazine over its first decade especially, the accounts describe its formation, raising money, selling ads, media response, and internal debates. At one moment, Mary Thom (coeditor 1972–91) says, “It was like a political camp. It really was. People wandered in and took jobs.”79 Suzanne Levine (managing editor 1972–88) is quoted next as saying: “I came in, and Gloria gave me the only chair, and she sat on the floor and offered to get me a cup of coffee. She didn't know what to ask me because she didn't know how to run a magazine.”80 Pogrebin's transcription also includes a passage from Alice Walker's 1986 resignation from the magazine: “I am writing to let you know of the swift alienation from the magazine my daughter and I feel each time it arrives with its determinedly (and to us grim) white cover. It was nice to be a Ms. cover once. But a people of color cover once or twice a year is not enough. In real life, people of color occur with much more frequency.”81 Together these accounts show that experience matters in the feminist histories we write and tell, as do whom and what those histories include or exclude. As we today tell material histories of those who composed 1970s feminist film study, let us include Laura Mulvey as bookseller and housewife, but let us imagine her in a space that also includes historian Emerson, biographer (and fantasist) Israel, critic Rosen, novelist Walker, and poet Yvonne for the intersections—and fissures—that their vectors might reveal.
I am grateful to the collection of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, which holds the Ms. archives, and to the generous assistance of the librarians there. This essay would not have been possible were it not for the intellectual generosity and friendship of two women: Caetlin Benson-Allott, who invited me to contribute to this special issue and who has been a marvelous editor, and Irene Lusztig, who led me to the writings on film in Ms. in the course of her own research toward a moving-image project on the magazine's letters from readers in the 1970s. I am also grateful to fellow contributor Pooja Rangan for her wonderful camaraderie as we wrote our essays in tandem. My research was assisted by Celine Lim, who did an incredible job of organizing the materials I originally gathered from Ms., creating for me my own digital archive. Finally, an additional thank-you to three former students from my spring 2014 course on U.S. film of the 1970s at Amherst College, each of whom are lively, insightful, and committed feminists and who were frequently on my mind as I researched and wrote this essay: Chloe McKenzie, Anna Sutherland, and Gabriela Ulloa. I hope this essay is worthy of all these women, as well as the contributors to Ms. whose work I write about herein.
As feminists undertaking serious film study, we will also have to develop a critical methodology appropriate for our perspective. Or at the very least, be aware of the methodological questions that our approach raises. With the three books on women in film solidly behind us, we should be able to evaluate limitations of the approaches and develop ones that would lead us deeper into the way sexism functions in art and in our society. (21–22)