Fearless and peerless: adventurous women of the silent screen

“Adventurous women”, or where we continue on our journey of discovery of women’s expression in silent cinema. After examining the work of women film pioneers in early Italian cinema, and the “irresistible force” of comic actresses and suffragettes (successfully released, just in these days, thanks to the Cineteca di Bologna, as a beautiful DVD), we keep investigating women’s representations and female subjectivity in early cinema, by focusing, this time, on the motifs of courage and adventure.

The outset of the last century saw women’s adventurous spirit come to the fore. Having just escaped their domestic restraints and conquered the possibility of inhabiting the public sphere, the New Women of early 20th century were animated by great curiosity and a strong desire for autonomy and experience outside the home. As women joined the workforce, they discovered new levels of competency and productive capacity, and learnt how to explore the unprecedented potential now conquered by the feminine body, through the love of movement, travelling and sports: a physical dimensions of life previously reserved exclusively for men.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this development is the way it reverberated throughout the globe, from Western Europe to Russia, from the United States to China (and here we would like to evoke, at least in spirit: Red Heroine, one of the many female action films that were made in Shanghai during the Twenties, this year an impossible title for many reasons, but certainly a candidate for future retrospectives). Quick-changing spies and athletic thieves, amazons, acrobats, and muscle women are the leading heroines of this program. The product of an exemplary collaboration between work groups of DMS-Università di Bologna, Cineteca di Bologna, and Women and Film History International), the program offers a kaleidoscopic representation of early 20th century adventurous women such as was never seen before. Filmic images of a femininity in movement, in transition from the order and conventions of the older world to the promise of a modernity yet to be invented.

(Monica Dall’Asta)

Section curated by Monica Dall’Asta and Mariann Lewinsky