Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41

As the Bird’s Eye View Film Festival reminds us every year, there is still only a ridiculously small proportion of female directors working in the film industry. But while filmmaking remains a male-dominated world, there have been numerous opportunities within the movies themselves for women to get even. In a list where exploitation meets feminism, we look at ten of the sassiest, sexiest, baddest girls in the history of cinema.

1- Irma Vep (Les Vampires, 1915)
Played by Mademoiselle Musidora, Irma Vep was the first film villainess to don a catsuit to commit her dastardly deeds. Part of a gang of thieves and murderers called Les Vampires (her name is an anagram), she is indeed one of the original vampy heroines of cinema in more ways than one. Her carnal curves molded by an almost indecent, slightly see-through black fabric (latex was still decades away from being invented), a mask hiding all but her eyes adding to the kinkiness of the whole outfit, she prowls the rooftops of Paris like the repressed desires of the corseted middle-class incarnated. She is the bourgeoisie’s most scandalous and delicious nightmare, both the temptress that no man can resist, and the low-class criminal who threatens the social order.

2- Lulu (Pandora’s Box, 1929)
What makes Pandora’s Box truly exceptional is the union of Louise Brooks’ unique beauty, fiercely independent spirit and devil-may-care attitude with the character of Lulu, the childlike femme fatale, the guileless siren who causes ruin and death around her simply for following her desires. In Georg W. Pabst’s brilliantly ambiguous film, Lulu’s free spirit is punished at the end in a remarkable encounter with the ultimate woman-hater, Jack the Ripper. She remains, however, the subversive primitive force that cannot be controlled by social rules, and whose ability to live in absolute freedom can only cause chaos and disorder.

3- Gilda (Gilda, 1946)
The femme fatale of film noir is a feverish, paranoid creation that sprang up from post-WWII male unease. Beautiful but treacherous, calculating and selfish, she irresistibly drives men to self-destruction, using her charms to get what she wants. Too threatening for the male ego, she is brutally punished – often by death – for her provocative freedom and confident manner. But while male anxiety demanded the destruction of the femme fatale, it also magnified her power, creating some magnificent, unforgettable female characters. In Gilda, the ex-lover Johnny Farrell and the new husband Ballin Mundson do all they can to reign in Gilda’s devastating sensuality. Both uncomfortable about her dangerous allure and her free ways, they take refuge in what can only be described as a homoerotic friendship. But no matter how controlling Mundson is or how much Johnny denigrates her as sluttish, Gilda, played by a sublime Rita Hayworth, remains irrepressible, and the famous scene of the glove strip-tease only shows off the two men’s impotence. Treated as the ultimate object of desire, the femme fatale‘s only weapon is sex, and she doesn’t hesitate to wield it for power, doing what she must to survive in a man’s world.

4- Varla (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965)
‘Russ Meyer’s ode to the violence in women’, proclaims the subtitle, and never before had audiences seen a female character beat the crap out of preppy idiots and dodgy cowboys with such spunk and vigour. Tura Satana cuts a formidable figure as the spectacularly bosomed, raven-haired, black-clad and thoroughly evil-looking vixen who can kill with her bare hands. The film may be labelled ‘exploitation’, but this is as much about female fantasies as male ones. Satana’s spectacular cleavage is no sign of availability and she is more likely to use brute force than charm to get what she wants. There had been dangerous females in cinema before but until this women had never been able to compete with a man in hand-to-hand combat (although Attack of the 50 Foot Woman introduced the idea, the ‘attack’ only takes up a short section of the movie and is explained as the result of a freak accident involving aliens). That’s why the fact that Satana is so physically powerful is insanely exhilarating to female audiences, used to seeing women depicted as weak, as well as encumbered by dresses, long nails and high heels for so long. Some may see this as a simplistic reversal of roles, but as the mainstream cinema of the time favoured frail, painfully thin actresses (Mia Farrow being the most glaring example) who looked ready to be slapped around and victimised at the first opportunity, and as this trend would only get worse in the following decade (see almost any film by Sam Peckinpah, Clint Eastwood, etc), the kind of primitive retribution that Satana metes out to men is all the more satisfying.

5- Otsuya (Irezumi, 1966))
Although there is an undeniable ambivalence on the part of Yasuzo Masumura towards his female characters, they are always the most individualistic, unconstrained and alive figures in his films. They are the ones most likely to rebel against society and challenge its oppressive rules and traditions. Otsuya, the young girl sold into prostitution who becomes a fearsome geisha after an artist tattoes a spider on her back, is one of Masumura’s most stunning creations. A complex, captivating character, she is a cruel, selfish, manipulative, murderous man-eater as well as a strong, independent woman who lives by her own rules.

6- Bonnie Parker (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967)
Bonnie and Clyde may have been inspired by the French new wave, but while Godard & co.’s women were often whiny, silly, misogynistic creations, Arthur Penn dreamt up a true action woman capable of wielding a gun with her chic beret still perfectly in place. Bonnie is not simply Clyde’s sidekick but is a true outlaw in her own right, fully and fearlessly embracing crime. What’s more, Bonnie is an unusual female character for the period in that she is the sexually confident, experienced one in the relationship, while Clyde, bold and gutsy as the gang leader, is nervous and uneasy whenever it comes to sexual intimacy.

7- Sasori (Female Convict Scorpion, 1972-73)
In the late 60s, Japanese cinema developed a taste for vicious female yakuzas and delinquent gang leaders. The mixture of violence and nudity was meant to boost a declining audience, but as in the case of Faster Pussycat and Foxy Brown, what was meant as exploitation cinema allowed new types of subversive female characters to appear. Of all the ‘pinky violence’ anti-heroines, the laconic Sasori (Scorpion), played by Meiko Kaji, remains the most interesting. The combination of her dark beauty and Shunya Ito’s inspired direction bring mystery and charisma to the character of a female prisoner intent on revenge against the male authority figures who have wronged her. As in Masumura’s films, the central female character is the ultimate rebel, and represents absolute freedom against the male-imposed rules of society. Meiko Kaji followed the role of Sasori with Lady Snowblood, another female avenger striking down male villains in early twentieth-century Japan. The line between female exploitation and female empowerment in ‘pinky violence’ is a fine one, and while Female Convict Scorpion and Lady Snowblood work because they contain very little nudity and focus instead on conjuring up a strong central character, other films such as Female Yakuza veer too much towards sexploitation. Reiko Ike does her energetic best in the title role to create a spirited, rebellious gambler, but the film is so crammed with gratuitous scenes of naked fighting girls that, while female audiences can appreciate the deranged excess of the film, Female Yakuza can never be a leader in the bad girls’ pack.

8- Foxy Brown (Foxy Brown, 1974)
Women had a lot of avenging to do in the 70s… In this blaxploitation classic, Pam Grier plays a woman who goes after the drug pushers responsible for the deaths of her boyfriend and her brother, inflicting an eye-popping, brutal revenge on them. Drug gangs are also the villains in Grier’s earlier film Coffy and in Cleopatra Jones (starring Tamara Dobson in the title role): the women of blaxploitation not only hit back at the evil men in power but also perform a public service by ridding the black community of the criminals that have oppressed it for too long. Just like Tura Satana, Pam Grier and the 6-foot-2 Tamara Dobson are both spectacular women and can compete with men on an immediate, primitive, physical level. These films may have been part of Hollywood’s cynical attempt to cash in on black audiences’ new-found appetite for the movies, but with the rest of the blaxploitation crop peddling ultra-sexist views (see Shaft or Superfly), films such as Foxy Brown and Coffy offered a rare empowering view of African-American women.

9- Perdita Durango (Perdita Durango, 1997)
Perdita Durango snarls and spits out menacing one-liners like she’s Tura Satana’s little sister (smaller, but certainly no less fierce). A true wildcat, she is no mere sidekick to her demonic sorcerer/criminal lover Romeo (played by Javier Bardem, sporting a pre-No Country For Old Men outrageous haircut), but is the one who suggests kidnapping a couple of hapless American teenagers with the view of torturing and killing them – for fun. Perdita and Romeo are fascinating monsters, characters of excess who know no limits and are beyond the rules and morals of conventional society. For all the comic book quality of the story, Perdita is a surprisingly rounded character, made more complex by her relationship to Romeo and by the flashbacks that reveal the hard-knock life she’s been leading. In the end, while Romeo is doomed by his superstitions and his inflexible code of honour, Perdita proves she’s a tough-skinned survivor.

10- Lee Geum-Ja (Lady Vengeance, 2005)
After completing the first two films in his revenge trilogy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Oldboy, director Park Chan-wook decided to focus on a female character in the final instalment. Just out of prison, Lee Geum-ja is intent on revenge against the man who had her convicted of murder and ruined her life. But while revenge in Sympathy and Oldboy was complex and multilateral, with characters that came in all shades of grey, Lady Vengeance is a somewhat simplistic, black-and-white portrait of a half-angelic, half-evil figure. In fact, she is more white than black as we soon find out that she’s not even guilty of the crime of which she was convicted. Did Park Chan-wook have trouble imagining a woman who could be as radically amoral, angry and cruel as his male characters? Lady Vengeance should have been the direct successor to Female Convict Scorpion and Lady Snowblood but, disappointingly, she’s just not quite bad enough.

Virginie Sélavy


Harmony Korine

For much of the 1990s, writer-director Harmony Korine was readily identifiable as the enfant terrible of the American indie scene, a twisted prodigy with a penchant for drugs, drama and artful rebellion. Now, after a lengthy hiatus, he returns with his most surprising work yet: the tender, warm-hearted Mister Lonely, a comic parable of love, loss and the importance of faith.

Tom Huddleston: The writing of Mister Lonely coincided with you pulling yourself out of a long dark period. Can you talk about how you ended up there?

Harmony Korine: Well, I guess about ten years ago, during my last movie, something happened to me. I was living in New York and I wasn’t very happy. I started to feel disconnected, it’s no secret I was very much into narcotics at the time, and it started to fall apart. I started to feel like most of the people around me were phonies, crooks and idiots. And then I began to question myself, like, if these are the people that are around me, I must be putting off that as well. So then I wanted to do nothing but disappear, just get out of that world. Basically I just kind of more or less disintegrated.

TH: Did you honestly consider quitting the movie business?

HK: Definitely. Absolutely. And it wasn’t just quitting. I mean, I’ve had fantasies about quitting almost since I began. It was a weird thing, because all I ever wanted to do was make movies, and then when I started making movies all I wanted to do was quit making movies. It wasn’t the films, I loved making the films. It was everything that came before and after.

TH: Mister Lonely is about a character rediscovering companionship and happiness. In that sense is it a very personal story?

HK: Definitely. There are all these ideas about faith and hope, wanting to be someone other than who you are. Being in beautiful places and feeling awful. A lot of searching, inventing your own reality.

TH: There seems to be more of a sense of joy here than in any of your other movies.

HK: Well, the truth is… It’s no secret I’m not a big fan of plots in films. I mean, I love stories and I love characters, but with anything I’ve done I’ve wanted to create a mood, a tone, and a feeling. I felt this movie would succeed or fail based on me getting across this sense of hope and happiness. Or at least the idea that in amongst all the horror there’s still some beauty, there’s still a kind of poetry to it all. The film before, Julien (Donkey-Boy), in some ways was very bleak, like a dark hole, and it reflected my mental state at the time. But I was feeling differently with this, and I wanted to make people laugh, and do something different.

TH: You seem to have a poet’s ability to encapsulate very distinct feelings in single shots or brief scenes.

HK: Sometimes I don’t really know where they come from. I try not to question it too much, it’s good when it becomes an intuitive thing. Certain images speak. I can say more in images and music than I can in actual conversation.

TH: What made you want to tell a story about celebrity impersonators?

HK: Visually, it was interesting to me. I like the way they look. And I like obsessive characters. It seems such an odd way to make your way in the world, this bizarre existence. Living as someone else, living as an icon. But at the same time I thought it would be interesting to see, you know, Sammy Davis Jr. mow the yard, or Abe (Lincoln) tending sheep, or James Dean washing clothes. Those were just things I wanted to see.

TH: Were you concerned that it could become kitsch, or seem to be making fun?

HK: Definitely, that was something I was always aware of. Obviously, I didn’t want it seem like a joke. I didn’t want people to be doing impersonations the whole time, you’d get tired of them. I was more interested in the human underneath.

TH: Your father was a tap dancer, and there’s always this vaudeville influence in your films. What do you think it is about that era that fascinates you?

HK: More than anything, I’ve always admired show-people. I always had a great affinity for people who can walk on stage and do a little performance, give their blood, sweat and tears for the people out there, make ’em laugh, change the mood. People that live by their wits and their creativity. So I think I’ve always just loved those elements of performance and show-people, that carnival nature.

TH: It seems in your films that dancing, or any unconscious movement, signifies happiness and release.

HK: Man, it’s fun watching people dance. Sometimes I just sit on YouTube… you get a lot of these almost novelty dancers, with hip-hop and stuff, you get a lot of these strange dances that I really love.

TH: Conversely, do you think you mistrust intellectualism?

HK: It’s like what Herzog says, it’s false currency. I would rather you feel something than for me to have to explain it to you, intellectualise it. It’s not the way I work. It’s why I love Cassavetes’ films, because they just are, you just feel it. You sit through a movie like Husbands and it’s more than a movie, it’s like a life experience that you’ve just shared with these characters. And that’s not to say that all films should be like that, because I also really enjoy movies like Knocked Up, really debased comedies I enjoy as well, those just aren’t the kinds of movies that I make.

TH: You seem closer, more sympathetic to your characters here than in either Kids or Gummo, do you think that’s fair? There doesn’t seem to be any artistic distance between the camera and the subjects. You’re with them all the way.

HK: Yeah, I think so. But I think, in Gummo, at the time I didn’t feel that far away from some of those people either, I just think maybe they were more extreme, so it was more of a provocation. With this, I guess that some of the characters are maybe less sadistic.

TH: Do you think that’s a sign of growing confidence as an artist?

HK: (laughs) I hope not. I don’t know, as soon as people start saying things like that I start to get nervous. I don’t ever want to get that confident, or too mellow. But with this movie, after going through so much shit in my life, I really wanted to push myself. I wanted to do things I never thought I would do, and express ideas and feelings that I hadn’t before. I think it was important for me to try that.

TH:Do you feel like it’s perhaps more traditional as well, in terms of its character development and narrative?

HK:Yes, without question. Those movies were more deconstructed, they were more about breaking down image and language. Julien and especially Gummo were more about how I wanted to see films, in a kind of fragmented, random, chaotic order. With this story, I didn’t feel like it needed that. It needed something simpler.

TH:Obviously the key eccentricity in Mister Lonely is the parallel story. What do you think the importance was of telling these two stories simultaneously?

HK:Even though they never intersect, I thought that they both spoke to the same ideas, the same philosophy. This idea of wanting to be someone other than who you are, change and faith and obsession and identity. And in some ways I thought that the nuns’ story served as a kind of poetic punctuation, or an allegory of sorts.

TH:Did you at any point consider cutting the secondary narrative, issuing it as a short, or as a prelude to the main narrative?

HK:Definitely. Because they started out as two separate ideas, but I thought they’re very similar, they’re both saying something very close.

TH:Inasmuch as this is a film about faith, you seem in the end to be saying that such faith is essentially misguided, that it all turns bad. Do you think that’s fair?

HK:I think there’s a few ways to look at it. I don’t really have an intention, so maybe that is what it says, I don’t really know. Sometimes, to me, it seems like the people who are the biggest dreamers, and the most pure in heart, in the end get hurt the worst. Society and the real world, I’ve noticed, have a way of kicking your ass at the end. But I also think that, for me, there’s nothing more important than the dream. The dream sustains us. It’s not about a person’s individual successes or failures it’s about the dream. At least for me, it’s the dream that always helps me make it through the day.

TH:Do you yourself have faith in anything?

HK:Of course. I think it’d be awful to walk these streets without it. But, you know, faith in anything. I have faith in the trees. I have faith in the belly-dancers.

TH:Did you ever consider giving the movie a happy ending?

HK:I think it does have one.

TH:Not for the nuns.

HK:Right, right, right. Yeah, maybe not, but who knows? Maybe they’re in some other world right now.

TH:How has the film been received so far?

HK:So far, so good. With my movies, in some ways, I’m delusional. In the back of my mind I always think it’s going to be, you know, a sequel to The Shawshank Redemption, or that I’m going to have these massive commercial successes. Then when the film is shown people tell me how insane that is, and how misguided I am.

The conversation then turned to Harmony’s earlier career, where the success and notoriety he earned writing Larry Clark’s infamous Kids quickly translated into mainstream fame, late night talk-show appearances and his own debut directing gig, Gummo.

TH:How was it being thrown into the spotlight so young? I saw you on Letterman (look on YouTube for these ridiculous interviews). You seemed to be playing with him a little.

HK:I was a kid, I was having fun. Making it up as I was going. I didn’t get in it for a lot of the reasons that most people get in it, so I figured if I was going to do it, I was going to make it my own. It was fun. I did a lot of stuff that caused me problems later in life, but I was enjoying it.

TH:Is it fair to say you were something of a nihilist as a young man? Life seems pretty bleak for most of your characters, even if they do have a little fun along the way.

HK:Sure. I’m sure there’s a lot of that in there.

TH:How much of Gummo came from personal experience?

HK:A lot of that movie was filmed with people and friends that I knew growing up, in locations that I was very familiar with. But it was kind of both, it was things that I was making up and manipulating, mixed in with straight documentary. That movie was really just trying to get images from all directions, wanting to create a tapestry.

TH:Do you think it’s fair to say you had a tendency at that stage to pick the most grotesque aspects of the world you were exploring?

HK:I don’t know. Those are things I’m interested in, those were the types of pictures that I wanted to take, and those were the types of people and characters. It’s what I loved, those were people that I loved, and found interesting. Some of them, yes, you could say that they were bizarre, you could refer to some of that as grotesque, but for me that’s what I loved, that’s what was exciting to me. Those were the types of images that I hadn’t seen on screen. And I still love it. It’s still what it is.

TH:We know what happened to the principal cast of Kids, but what happened to the cast of Gummo? Are you still in touch with any of them?

HK:A lot of them didn’t fare so well. A lot of my friends are in prison, a few of them died from, you know, sniffing paint. It was a rougher road for those guys.

TH:How was it directing Werner Herzog the first time on Julien Donkey-Boy?

HK:It was great. When you see him, that’s how he is. He’s always exciting to work with. When you explain the character, when he gets in and understands it, you kind of just let him go. Yeah, Werner is a real performer.

TH:How much improvisation did you do?

HK:Improv is based on ideas. Improvising, for me, comes with the script, and letting the characters, actors leave their lines and take it in some other direction. With someone like Werner you can do a lot, but there are some people who are horrible at it.

TH:You talked a lot at the time of Julien Donkey-Boy about finding a new cinema, about finding new narrative directions in film. Do you still harbour those kinds of ambitions?

HK:I guess it depends. With this movie, it wasn’t about that. It was because the story seemed, to me, like it needed to be told in a simple way. And so I think it changes with each film. I have no interest in doing straight movies, I just don’t care about it, it’s not my thing. I don’t think like that, so I think my movies will always have something to offer in the form of non-narrative or, you know, something different. But I’m not staying up at night trying to discover new forms of cinema. It’s not like a science project. It’s not a math equation.

Interview by Tom Huddleston


Darling International

I worked as a cinema usherette for a while. One of the great things about the job was being able to observe the audience’s response to film. I would sit on my fold-down usherette’s chair, at the perfect angle to watch the audience watching the screen. One of the most striking responses occurred at a screening of Jane Campion’s The Piano. The film opens with a close-up of a girl’s face, looking out from behind her fingers, watching and shielding her gaze at the same time. Once the plot of the film is under way, it seems a throwaway image, almost incidental. But later in the film, when the husband violently acts out his revenge on his wife, I saw all the women in the audience holding their hands up over their faces in the same gesture. What was obvious was the gender division in this reaction. The men just looked, the women looked and hid. When I think of anything to do with women and film, I think of this unconscious gesture. It suggested to me that there was a distinct female way of seeing and that good female directors, like Campion, knew very well what they were doing when they exploited this.

The trouble is that The Piano came out over ten years ago. It was already the product of more than two decades of feminist experimentation in cinema. It did what very few feminist films had done before: it won acceptance in the mainstream. It won Oscars. With acceptance, however, came a full stop. The decade since has seen an emptying out of politics from popular culture, post-modern irony replacing it. The need for a critique of this and for an alternative space to accommodate an alternative way of seeing has never been more vital.

Last summer at Club Des Femmes we revisited Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames: a razor-sharp, political, edgy film, it effortlessly creates a new storytelling shape, a very female narrative shape that truly explores a democratic point of view through a communal narrative structure and an anti-heroic plot. The final section of the film sees a terrorist blow up the Twin Towers. I knew the scene was coming, I knew what it would mean to see this after September 11, and I felt the impact of watching premonition with hindsight.

Visionary art depends on freedom. With commerce dominating cinema programming we lose space for radical vision and our mass media narratives are led by consensus. There are a lot of vital fights to be waged about the position of women in film. Bird’s Eye View importantly takes on the mainstream, pointing out that women make up only 7% of film directors and 12% of screenwriters. It’s an appalling statistic. What we try to do at Club des Femmes is give space to the many women whose politics and aesthetics do not fit in the mainstream. We look for the alternative, we look for politics and dialogue and experimentation. Here is where cinema is alive. Godard suggested that ‘all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun’. It’s a cynical understanding of genre formalism that he exploits and subverts in all his work. At Club des Femmes we look for filmmakers who wield their cameras with force, because in the proper expression of vision comes liberation.

Sarah Wood


Kathy Acker

Fifteen years ago the Spice Girls flogged the concept of Girl Power, or ‘feminism with a Wonderbra’, as they described it. Shortly before her death ten years ago Kathy Acker – the pro-sex feminist writer – interviewed the group for The Guardian. She was bewildered by their political naïveté but charmed by the positivity and bravery with which they took on the music industry without a thesis to their names.

So what would Acker think about the showcase of films either written, directed, produced or featuring women shown during the London Short Film Festival, a few miles away from the O2 Arena where the Spice Girls are playing one of their reunion shows? Certainly the films chosen by Sarah Wood and Selina Robertson of Club des Femmes would have received her thumbs up. After all, they included Fuses, the sexually incendiary film depicting Acker’s friend and ally Carolee Schneemann having graphic, loving sex with her then partner.

The amazing thing about Fuses is that it still has the power to shock, embarrass and delight. Not for any Nuts or Loaded wet dream could a woman look so content in a carnal setting. Not only that, but shots spliced into the sex scenes reveal she’s in a happy relationship which extends out of the bedroom. This woman has it all – both the feminism and the Wonderbra.

Moving forward in time, Acker’s own screenplay for Variety shows how, despite the ardent women’s movement of the previous two decades, the 1980s could still be an oppressive place for women. The female characters are forced to make a living as strippers and barmaids for lack of work, the photographer having to graft in a bar full of lecherous men while waiting for a sale, while lead character Christine is looking for a job that doesn’t list having a big bust as its main requirement.

Variety is beautifully shot as should be expected from a film starring cult photographer Nan Goldin. But while the supporting female characters are sharply drawn, in particular through their discussions of their lives and loves, the depiction of Christine remains blurred. She somnambulates through life, aimlessly smoking cigarettes in the foyer of the porn cinema in which she begins to work, having an answerphone relationship with her mother and a nonchalantly half-hearted relationship with a man who couldn’t care less about her personal development.

As she becomes more involved with her new job and the mysterious businessman who frequents the cinema, her feelings and desires become clearer but more problematic. She begins to follow him around the dark underworld of the city in which he works, watching him from afar. Stalking him as far as Staten Island, which he visits for a shady business trip, she takes the motel room next to his and goes through his things while he’s out. Rifling through his bag she finds a hardcore porn rag and is amazed by the pictures she sees.

In this way, Acker questions the male gaze of cinematic tradition: Christine is the woman looking at the man looking at the woman. In the same way, she begins to compose erotic prose which she recites to her distant boyfriend. But it isn’t until she trusses herself up in a sexy outfit and admires herself in the mirror that the gaze comes full circle and she controls both the gaze and the reflection. Or in other words, the feminism and the Wonderbra.

Go forward twenty years and the short films showcasing either female characters or females behind the camera show a drastically different world. Screened as part of Dazzle Short Film Label’s programme ‘Lipstick Cherry’, 100th of a Second depicts a front-line war photographer winning a prize for a shot showing the horrific killing of a child. It is a chilling look at the media’s representation of war zones and the conflict between the need to document and the temptation to exploit. Is it her female sensitivities that riddle her with guilt or the pure horror of the memories that haunt her? Things twenty years on are not so clear-cut.

In ‘Femmes Fantastique’ – a programme of new shorts depicting women with attitude, collected by Wood and Robertson – A Short Collection of Hilary Flamingo’s Dream Vocations shows a woman at work. She escapes the factory where she works by thinking of other jobs she would like to do. A wig designer, painter of men’s bare bottoms or showgirl are just some of the colourful ‘moving photos’ of Hilary’s imagination. Not anchored in the viewer’s mind by her marital status or sexual availability she is free to play out her fantasies without being judged as silly or childish. Hilary is a lovable, flamboyant character, proving LSFF organiser Kate Taylor’s belief that ‘interesting female characters on screen are as important as those behind the cameras’.

Similarly the character in When the Telescope Came – which won the Club des Femmes award – lets herself be taken away by her imagination in a beautifully rendered animation. Elsewhere, New Love depicts a world where beautiful women pay to court and have sex with beautiful men – a helpful set-up for the protagonist whose short memory makes it nearly impossible for her to form lasting relationships. The last couple of years have seen a growth in the number of artistic depictions of women who pay for sex and this was an interesting development of the trend as the woman in question was not fulfilling an emotional need but a practical one.

From a feminist point of view there is still more fighting to be done for and on behalf of women. It was disappointing not to see any films tackling things like sex trade trafficking, the appallingly low conviction rate for rape, and the disregard for women needing to work while bringing up children. But having said that, the overwhelming majority of films made by women shown during the festival were bold, thoughtful and entertaining. They showed that the emancipated women of today don’t have to choose between active feminism and Wonderbras. Now women can concentrate on what interests and excites them – be that astrology, sex, war or cupcakes. Acker certainly would be proud.

Lisa Williams


Ladyfest London

Ladyfest London is an arts festival which celebrates female creativity in all its forms. There have been Ladyfests all over the world and this year it’s London’s turn to host this exciting event. Showcasing women’s talents in music, art, comedy, photography, film and spoken word, Ladyfest London will be taking place on May 9-11, 2008. The ladies are currently seeking submissions from filmmakers and musicians. If you want to get involved, visit their MySpace. Upcoming events include a Samanthan Morton double bill at the Rio Cinema on March 16 and a Ladyfest-sponsored shorts programme at the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival on March 30. Below, organisers Kanchi Wichmann and Josefeen Foxter tell us about their favourite films.


1- Mi vida loca (My Crazy Life, 1993)
I was a teenager sharing a house with five guys who liked action, sci-fi, etc, and this is the first film I remember watching ‘cos it had a female director. It’s about a Hispanic girl ‘gang’ living in the Echo Park area of LA, but the film avoids all those clichéd ways of portraying people in gangs as a menace to society. I was a big Love and Rockets fan (the comic not the band) so it was really cool to see this world I knew from the comic books on screen.

2- Daisies (1966)
I was a film student bored by the French new wave when I discovered the Czech new wave! Vera Chytilová was the only female director in this movement and this film is amazing. I had never seen a feature film using such artistic techniques with no linear narrative, but still using actors, dialogue, etc. This film opened up a whole new world to me of arty/abstract/non-linear narrative cinema and I realised that there are actually loads of women making really cool films. I started working at the London Filmmakers Coop and discovered Tanya Syed, Alia Syed, Su Friedrich, Maya Deren, Abigail Child, Barbara Hammer, Chantal Ackerman’s first feature Je, tu, il, elle and many many more.

3- I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)
Lili Taylor is so cool as Valerie. And this is such a well-made film. The Scum Manifesto changed my life. This film helped to bring Valerie to the masses. I heart Valerie Solanas.

4- By Hook or by Crook (2001)
I was so glad that this film existed and luckily the directors Silas Howard and Harriet Dodge were at the screening I attended so I could tell them so afterwards. It is a great film, a butch lesbian buddy movie, and I also liked the fact that they wrote, directed and acted in it. I also love Tribe 8 (The band Silas plays in) and the film Rise Above – The Tribe 8 Story. It is totally inspiring to see (queer) women like this up on screen.

5- Cecil B. DeMented (2000)
I was working in a cinema and we showed this as a late show. Loads of us came in especially and it was such fun, this film was us (except for the guns in the popcorn)… And it’s got Harriet Dodge (see above) in it. John Waters is one of my favourite filmmakers.


6- Fire (1996)
I saw this film just after I got back from six months in India. It had got right under my skin but I was deeply struck by the appalling position of women in Indian society and the use of religious mythology to perpetuate this. Fire is such a sensuous, evocative work, addressing deeply taboo issues. The fact that on its opening day in India Hindu fundamentalists attacked theatres and that this film about love was eventually banned for religious insensitivity are indications of its significance.

7- Orlando (1992)
‘The longest and most charming love-letter in literature’ from Virginia Woolf to (and about) Vita Sackville West was adapted for the screen by Sally Potter. The luminous Tilda Swinton slips through transgenerational, transgendered gorgeousness exploring the transient nature of power, culture and love.

8- Ma vie en rose (1997)
A sweet look at gender identity in children as experienced by Ludovic, who knows instinctively he is a girl and trusts that a supernatural force will bring a natural resolution to the erroneous circumstance of him being in the wrong body. His endearing hopefulness and optimism permeate the film right to the end.

9- Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
You know it’s never going to end in anything but grief when you start watching this powerful film about sexual transgression and retribution in the Midwest ‘burbs. Hilary Swank’s Teena Brandon is a compelling blend of contradictions… the search for one’s authentic self and having the courage to live it out is an endlessly fascinating subject.

10- Herstory of Porn (1999)
I love Annie Sprinkle, she’s one of the first sex-positive artists who called herself a feminist as well.