Tag Archives: women in Hollywood

The Women Who Built Hollywood – an online lecture

Here I am again, talking about one of my very favourite subjects: women in silent cinema.

In fact, let’s get right into it – on Monday 30 May I am delivering an online lecture on the very subject. It is called “The Women Who Built Hollywood: A Feminist History of Early Cinema” and I would love you to join me. Here’s the official blurb from the website.

Today it looks like Hollywood is run by men, but it was built by women. In fact, there were more women working in Hollywood in its first two decades than there are now, or have been at any time since. If Hollywood is ever to achieve gender parity in its studios and boardrooms, it should look back to its beginnings.

Continue reading The Women Who Built Hollywood – an online lecture

Looking for a female version of Laurel and Hardy?

The release of Stan & Ollie has got a lot of people thinking about comedy. And in the Guardian opinion pages, one of my favourite film writers posed a very interesting question. So why hasn’t there ever been a female version of Laurel and Hardy?

Don’t ever make the mistake of assuming the writer wrote the headline. What Gilbey meant, I think, was why hasn’t there ever been a female comedy duo quite as successful as Laurel and Hardy? You could also ask, why hasn’t there ever been a male comedy duo quite as successful as Laurel and Hardy? But that’s not what Gilbey is getting at, writing very perceptively:

Never underestimate the ingrained sexism of male impresarios, who must have decreed that audiences simply don’t respond to female double acts, explaining away the ones that work as exceptions to the rule. But perhaps there is some deeper reason why the sight of two women performing harmoniously together as heightened versions of themselves has never properly clicked, or never been allowed to …  Male friendship and rivalry is routinely the stuff of comedy. Does the notion of women getting along – or not – make us so uncomfortable that we can’t even bear to laugh at it?

Perhaps there is something in this. A deep-seated distrust of the idea that women can be funny, which doubles when there are two or more women on screen together? It’s very difficult to measure such a response, though. I’m more interested in where Gilbey went looking for his examples. He starts out in the 70s, and moves forward … citing French & Saunders as a prime example (but character comedy doesn’t count, apparently). Gilbey’s point is that female duos have a tougher time getting recommissioned – we, or the powers-that-be, don’t allow them to thrive. He may well be right there. Continue reading Looking for a female version of Laurel and Hardy?

Support the first women filmmakers on Kickstarter

This is a topic close to my heart, and hopefully yours too. After a successful campaign to produce the handsome Pioneers of African-American Cinema box set, Kino Lorber are back on Kickstarter with another project that makes film history a bigger, more inclusive, and more representative space. This time, Kino Lorber is coming for the women, with a set called Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers.

Mabel Normand in Won in a Cupboard (1914) National Film Preservation Foundation
Mabel Normand in Won in a Cupboard (1914) National Film Preservation Foundation

Has someone reminded you recently that more women worked in creative roles in the film industry during the silent era than do today? It’s a boggling fact, but it’s true. And keep repeating it, please. On the one hand, that titbit should spur today’s business into some serious equality action, now. On the other, it means we have a lot (I mean a LOT) of great but neglected work by female directors, screenwriters and producers to look over.


Continue reading Support the first women filmmakers on Kickstarter

The Women of Old Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard (1950)

When the tintypes first galloped westward in the 1910s, what was it like to be a woman working in the film industry? A special event at Conway Hall, part of the Looking In Looking Out festival of film and philosophy, hopes to find out. The evening will take a look at the earliest days of Hollywood, the era of Lois Weber, Frances Marion, June Mathis Mary Pickford, Mabel Normand and Clara Bow.

We’ll be asking questions such as: how much did women contribute to the formation of the cinema as we now know it? Were there more opportunities for women in the then-new industry or did broader social ideas about women’s roles hold them back? Do the films that women made during this period represent a specifically female or even feminist point of view? Have women been written out of cinema history? But we’ll also be celebrating the many fantastic achievements by women both well-known and obscure in silent-era Hollywood.

The LILO event will comprise, first, a panel discussion chaired by Bidisha and featuring Kira Cochrane, Jenny Hammerton and Muriel Zagha as well as um, me. This will be followed by a screening of Billy Wilder’s sublime Sunset Boulevard (1950), with its unforgettable lead performance by Gloria Swanson as the embittered silent film star Norma Desmond.

6.30pm Bidisha leads a high-kicking whirl through Hollywood history and a celebration of the brilliant women who co-founded Hollywood, with film experts, critics, Old Hollywood fans and film lovers Jenny HammertonMuriel ZaghaPamela Hutchinson and Kira Cochrane.

8pm Sunset Boulevard (1950) Gloria Swanson’s career-defining performance in Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett’s Oscar-winning tragic tale of a star in decline. As much a reflection on the idea of Hollywood itself, as it is on love and loss.

So please, come one, come all – this should be fun. The Women of Old Hollywood event takes place at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London on Tuesday 3 July 2012. Doors open at 6pm. Tickets cost £10 and are available here. You can read more on the Conway Hall website, or on Facebook. There’s a Twitter feed too. And if you want more, here’s a very smart feature from the clever chaps at Real|Reel Journal introducing the festival.