Short Ends and Leader

'Menschenfrauen' and the Battle of the Sexes

Are women human?


Menschenfrauen

Director: Valie Export
Cast: Renée Felden, Klaus Wildbolz, Susanne Widl
Distributor: Facets
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1980
USDVD release date: 2011-12-28

Director Valie Export and writer Peter Weibel come from Germany's post-1960s avant-garde generation of confrontational performance and video artists. PopMatters reviewed Export's first two features here and we're tempted to summarize this 1980 effort as "third verse, same as the first", though it's not that simple.

This is a highly dialectical film on the topic of the relations between sexes, or more specifically women trying to reconcile motherhood with "personhood." The point of the title is that women/wives (frauen) must be allowed to be human beings (menschen). A central conflict for each woman involves her status as a mother or would-be mother; it's notable that all four women in the film want to have children or keep the ones they have, and the prospect of going childless isn't desirable for any of them.

The premise is that a man (Klaus Wildbolz) has a working wife (Susanne Widl) and a mistress (Christiane von Aster) while pursuing another liaison with a single-mom barmaid (Renée Felden) and occasionally talking with a former college girlfriend who's now a high-school teacher (Maria Martina). These combinations allow him to have arguments in which he's alternately sincere, hypocritical and self-delusional, while the film also presents the women's arguments with various authority figures--bosses, social workers, etc. Women aren't necessarily let off the ideological hook either. For example, the barmaid reaps the rewards of her problematic motherhood. When a boyfriend beats her in front of her grown son, the callow youth observes that she used to beat him too.

This film is more straightforward than the previous two. Export seems to be having less fun with the formal ideas that organize and energize her, although there are nice examples. She uses video-monitor footage for flashbacks and fantasies, and one argument between the husband and wife turns into a split-screen parody with the characters not only repeating each other's lines but swapping clothes. (This is a clever variation on a similar sequence in Export and Weibel's first feature, Invisible Adversaries.) Multiple characters allow for several endings, from high-strung melodrama to escapism, although Export finally seems to give up and just post a dictum onscreen to send us out of the theatre with a clear directive: "We must establish a human society in which motherhood does not restrict a woman in her creativity and determination."

4

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image