Prod.: Pathé 35mm. L.: 90m. D.: 5′ a 16 f/s. Bn
Popular Opposites: Women and Men (1)
‘Do we really need to say it? Women have always worked’, the historian Michelle Perrot noted laconically in 1978. They have also always worked in film. Some of them, like Alice Guy and Julienne Mathieu (as a presenter in numerous scènes à trucs), are known by name, but most are not. We are surprised by how diverse and matter-of-fact women’s presence in the cinema of this time is – as labourers and tradeswomen in the nonfictions, as dancers and male impersonators in the féeries, as courageous little girl heroines in the adventure films. In the comic scenes, wives beat their scrawny husbands, hordes of wet-nurses (or housemaids or cooks or suffragettes) engage in street battles with the police, mothers-in-law indulge in high-spirited races – think of the unforgettable “Course des belle-meres” of 1907 – and the lady of the house fills film after film, for Madame has Her Moods (Madame a ses vapeurs), Madame has Cravings (Madame a des envies), Madame Wears the Trousers (Madame porte la culotte), Madame Takes Revenge (Madame se venge). And sometimes women appear as we expect them to in Victorian times, as downtrodden daughters trapped in the middle-class ‘domestic sphere’ of the industrial age or portraying (under medical instruction and direction) the male fantasy of the hysteric woman wracked by her uncontrolled sexuality.
If we subtract from all of this a) the old popular tradition of the ‘world turned upside down’ (the battle over the trousers, wife beats husband) and b) the gender ideology (of manly men and womanly women) heightened and homogenized by two word wars, we are stili left with a good deal of substance and quite a few surprises. In this cinematography there is a lively give-and-take between men and women, and children and adults, cheerier and fiercer, more grown-up and sillier, realer and more utopian than at any time since. And from the screen a projection light streams in the opposite direction, into the auditorium, revealing the mixed company who sat there in 1908, the women and men and boys and girls of all social strata.