Int.: Norma Talmadge, Florence Radinoff; Prod. Vitagraph 35mm. L.: 263 M. D.: 13′ A 18 F/S. Bn.
Let us revisit the idea that cinema and comedy (already) revealed the (as yet) inconceivable. Mes Filles portent la jupe-culotte! (France, 1911) shows the utopia of a reciprocal emancipation from gender roles: ‘If THEY are going to wear OUR trousers, WE are going to wear THEIR skirts!’ Utopian even today, this jolly battle of the sexes is about the playful appropriation of new opportunities. Everybody smokes, parties, dances and even knocks each other about a bit, just for fun, of course, and the film is fun. (In other films all people do is knock each other about, and that is fun too!)
In Pickpocket (Usa, 1913) with John Bunny (fat) and Flora Finch (thin) – Finch and Bunny were an extremely popular pair of comics in the years 1910-1915 who made some 160 films for Vitagraph – in contrast, the point is to prevent change: violence and blackmail are used to force the wife to abandon the women’s suffrage movement so that her husband can have his dinner on time again. This comedy follows the well-worn pattern of punishing women and pushing them back into the kitchen, and Flora Finch embodies the cliché of the ugly suffragette. Women’s striving for independence was obstructed not just concretely, but also by such terrifying spectres as the threat of ending up unfeminine and unloved.
In her book on early German film, Heide Schlupmann describes the secret complicity between pre-World War I cinema and women’s emancipation. This solidarity in film comedy becomes evident in the wide variety of female characters, the diversity of relationships, unexpected solutions and getaway strategies. Thus even the following happy ending is possible: housemaid and mistress join forces to begin a new life, refusing the dubious amorous propositions of men (A Lady and Her Maid, Usa 1913). Beauty and love – what role do they play in the prevailing notions that habitually aim to belittle women, thereby securing male dominance?