Books

'Pink Slipped', a Study of Women Working in Silent Film, Questions the Source

Film history is re-written both deliberately and inadvertently, and so the consideration of it as "fact" becomes tricky, as Jane Gaines' work reveals.

Pink Slipped: What Happened to Women in Silent Film
Jane M. Gaines

University of Illinois Press

Mar 2018

Other

Were there, or were there not, women working behind the camera in the silent film industry? The question is heavily debated: some say that the silent film industry was the best time for women working in the film industry, with others disagreeing, considering their role to be marginal. Pink Slipped: What Happened to Women in Silent Film, the new book by Jane Gaines, opens with this question -- but it does not seek to answer it. Instead, Pink Slipped is concerned with the bigger question of what history is, and what we can know about it.

Starting with feminist film research of the '70s, which sought out women in film history, Gaines questions bias and motive. The result is succinct and illuminating. Discussions of how researchers looked to relate contemporary issues to historical ones lead to a more objective appraisal of that history. The example of Alice Guy-Blaché, credited frequently with having made the first narrative film, The Cabbage Fairy, is a fascinatingly deep look at how history is represented.

Providing evidence that what is often labeled as The Cabbage Fairy is actually a later, different cabbage-based short, Gaines suggests that Guy-Blaché's film may not have been made as early as believed. Utilizing interviews with the director, where she seems to avoid questions of dates, mixes up details, and is adamant over the importance of her film rather than the concrete facts of it, Gaines unveils both historical information as well as her point surrounding the fluidity of past in the present. The Cabbage Fairy is the perfect example of Gaines' thesis: history is re-written (by others, who mislabel the film, or by Guy-Blaché, who misremembers details), and so the consideration of it as "fact" becomes tricky under the layers of interpretation that mask it. Though academic, Gaines provides an accessible style in her examination of feminist questions of film. But what seems missing is the counter-point.

When looking to how history is represented and navigated, with mindfulness of biases and prejudices, Gaines seems to overlook why we record a history saturated by the present. Looking largely to feminist scholarship, she questions considerations which rely on heavy interpretation of facts, and how contemporary societal sexism, particularly within the film industry, can mis-direct historical reality. Certain things are diminished, others given more importance: if women are marginalized now, we see them as marginalized in the same way then. What is unspoken is the need to do this kind of critical research. The way women have been erased in film, now or in the past, is being fought, as the interpretation of history is not solely the domain of the marginalized, but part of myth-making for the dominant class. Perhaps the reinsertion of women to stake a claim in film history (or the denial of women, to emphasize the industry's misogyny) distorts facts, but they reveal much about the conditions of women in cinema, today at least -- and there is value in this..

Gaines' focus is on American and European early and silent film, despite her nondescript title suggesting no local specificity, and her lack of intersectional critique echoes through her book. Unfortunately, what is clear is that in a discussion of biases in research, she is not addressing her own. Very rarely (and fairly shallowly) examining the place of women who were not white, rich, or American, she picks the history apart, but does not expand upon it. Despite a rigorous challenge of history that is masked by politics and presumptions, Gaines seems unaware of the lack of scope here, which undercuts her argument further.

Perhaps Gaines assumes an educated reader, who is well-enough versed in feminism to not question the lack of inclusion, or to not be put off by somewhat one-sided critiques of feminist scholarship. But in a book about how interpretations alter history, it seems that Gaines falls into the traps she identifies when she challenges the interpretation of women in film. Despite her research and refreshing skepticism, Pink Slipped is missing something.

7
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Memoir 'Rust' Wrestles with the Myth of the American Dream

Eliese Colette Goldbach's memoir, Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit, is the story of one descending into the depths of The American Dream and emerging with flecks of graphite dust on her cheeks, a master's degree in her hands, and a few new friends.

Books

'Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar' (excerpt)

Ravi Shankar was bemused by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and other bands using the sitar in rock music. Enjoy this excerpt of Indian Sun, by Oliver Craske (who worked with Shankar on his 1997 autobiography), courtesy of Hachette Books.

Oliver Craske
Music

The Strokes Phone It In (Again) on 'The New Abnormal'

The Strokes' The New Abnormal is an unabashedly uninspired promotional item for their upcoming world tour.

Music

"I'm an Audience Member, Playing This Music for Us": An Interview With Keller Williams

Veteran musician Keller Williams discusses his special relationship with the Keels, their third album together, Speed, and what he learned from following the Grateful Dead.

Books

Shintaro Kago's 'Dementia 21' Showcases Surrealist Manga

As much as I admire Shintaro Kago's oddness as a writer, his artistic pen is even sharper (but not without problems) as evident in Dementia 21.

Music

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad Proclaim 'Jazz Is Dead!' Long Live Jazz!

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad bring their live collaborative efforts with jazz veterans to recorded life with Jazz Is Dead 001, a taste of more music to come.

Film

"I'll See You Later": Repetition and Time in Almodóvar's 'All About My Mother'

There are mythical moments in Almodóvar's All About My Mother. We are meant to register repetition in the story as something wonderfully strange, a connection across the chasm of impossibility.

Music

Electropop's CMON Feel the Noise on 'Confusing Mix of Nations'

Pop duo CMON mix and match contemporary and retro influences to craft the dark dance-pop on Confusing Mix of Nations.

Music

'Harmony' Is About As Bill Frisell As a Bill Frisell Recording Can Be

Bill Frisell's debut on Blue Note Records is a gentle recording featuring a few oddball gems, particularly when he digs into the standard repertoire with Petra Haden's voice out front.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 4, James Chance to the Pop Group

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part four with Talking Heads, the Fall, Devo and more.

Music

Raye Zaragoza's "Fight Like a Girl" Shatters the Idea of What Women Can and Can't Do (premiere)

Singer-songwriter and activist Raye Zaragoza's new single, "Fight Like a Girl", is an empowering anthem for intersectional feminism, encouraging resilience amongst all women.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.