Suffragettes? Yarmouth Pier And Pavillon Burnt Down 7 April 1914
Prod.: Eclair 35mm. L.: 13 M. D.: 37” A 18 F/S. Bn
As Bonsoir: Tilly Bébé, the Famous Lion Tamer in a ruffled frock with an excessive display of female devotion: she does not dominate so much as she cuddles and snuggles. And after the presentation of the gigantic lion’s maw, Tilly swivels her derrière in the beast’s face in a suggestion of a cancan.
In the early twentieth century, the cause of women’s suffrage and the suffragette movement became a cinematic topic. Something seemingly untameable had appeared on the city streets, provoking a good deal of anxiety: women, often sheltered ladies of the bourgeoisie, were organising and even demanding participation in democratic processes. By 1913 more than 1,000 suffragettes had already gone to prison for their political actions. In addition to cartoons in the print media, newsreels and melodramas were produced along with countless comedies that referred – in all their ambivalence of subversion and affirmation – to the movement. They told the audience that women belonged at home and not at the ballot box, that these unleashed furies who now appeared in the streets en masse were growing mannish, neglecting their families and even setting public buildings ablaze.
In the (anti-) suffragette films, women’s rights activists were often misguided souls who needed to be brought back to their proper calling. They also left plenty of room for nod-and-wink voyeurism on all sides. Men, too, masqueraded as suffragettes – to illustrate how inappropriate and grotesque it was for women to overstep their roles, or to act out against the prevailing order more wildly still? Little Lily schools herself in the ways of femininity and the tomboys swing their lanky legs over the fence that the fraternity of men have built around themselves, full of the breezy and pleasurable joy of not being tamed after all.