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

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

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.