Monday, 20 November 2006

Berlinale Retrospective 2007: City Girls. Images of Women in Silent Film

A bobbed hairdo, a bold gaze, confident manners and an active working life, all traits defining the stereotyped image of women whose myth persists in the term “New Woman”. This shift in the role of women in society is also the expression of political upheaval and social changes at the beginning of the 20th century. City Girls. Images of Women in Silent Film, the Retrospective of the 57th Berlin International Film Festival reflects the portrayal of this new type of woman on the screen.
“The ‘little shopgirls’ who belonged to the salaried masses mentioned by Siegfried Kracauer, were a new social phenomenon – although their existence was by no means more secure than that of their blue-collar counterparts. True, for the most part, the cinema romanticized their lives; nonetheless, it focused on them with astonishing frequency. The films promised a blissful marriage with a wealthy man – while also depicting day-to-day life prior to the inevitable happy end”, comments Dr. Rainer Rother, head of the Retrospective and artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen.
The setting of such female independence, mobility and libertinage is the big city. In its bright lights, these early films reflect different forms of changing values. Through the cinema, role models and clichés of the “New Woman” spread quickly: the demonic seductress of the turn of the century gradually gives way to the jaunty looking modern girl. An Eton crop, narrow hips and a flat chest are en vogue; ladies’ choice and Charleston, à la mode. Flappers flirt to the rhythms of jazz – the city girl takes over screens.

The Retrospective introduces a total of 30 silent films devided in 4 programs titled Working Girls, Flaming Youth, Husbands and Wives, and Fate and Passion. Working Girls features popular actresses playing roles of young salesgirls or office girls: Norma Talmadge is The Social Secretary (John Emerson, USA 1916); Clara Bow, the It-Girl (Clarence Badger, USA 1926/27) with that certain something.

The program Flaming Youth means to depict the radiant lightheartedness that was the theme of many films of the silent era: in Ernst Lubitsch’s turbulent comedy I Don’t Want to Be a Man (Germany 1918) Ossi Oswalda couldn’t care less about social conventions and he's just as impulsively capricious as are the two British serial heroines Alma Taylor and Chrissie White in Tilly’s Party (Lewin Fitzhamon, 1911).

The social changes mirrored in the era's role models mixed things up at the very heart of society: gender roles and the family, pictured in the program Husbands and Wives. The issue is deepened with the screening of films such as Abram Room’s social study Tretya Meshchanskaya (Bed and Sofa, USSR 1927) Carl Theodor Dreyer’s drama about a marriage Du skal ære din hustru (Master of the House, Denmark 1925).

Fate and Passion program brings together films portraying independent City girls, seductive, smart and glamorous. Yet these women are surrounded by the distinctive "fin de siècle" decadence. On screen are Vera Chernova in Yevgeni Bauer’s Sumerki zenskoi dushi (Twilight of a Woman’s Soul, Russia 1913) and Francesca Bertini in Assunta Spina by Gustavo Serena (Italy 1914).

On worldwide screens, the silent era propagated a new type of woman, one which still stands for modernity. In today’s debate of gender roles, many parallels can be drawn to the discussion of emancipation in this era, says Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick.

The Retrospective films will be screened at the CinemaxX on Potsdamer Platz and at the Zeughauskino. Two publications will accompany the series: The book City Girls: Frauenbilder im Stummfilm (Women’s Pictures in Silent Film), with essays by Daniela Sannwald, Annette Brauerhoch, Heike-Melba Fendel, and Fabienne Liptay, and the journal FilmHeft 11, which offers contemporary reviews (in German and English), and detailed information on the Retrospective screenings.

related links: what is "New Woman"?what is the "Flapper"?Sigfried Kracauer on bookClara Bow on wikipediaErnst Lubitsch on wikipediaCarl Theodor Dreyer on wikipediaFrancesca Bertini on

VIDEO: Norma Talmadge The Helpful (?) Sisterhood; Clara Bow It; Ernst Lubitsch To Be or Not To Be, more E.L. on youtube; Carl Theodor Dreyer Vampyr Der Traum des Allan Grey (whole film), more C.T.D. on youtube; Francesca Bertini Il Mercante di Venezia

Love Among Millionaires (1930) by Frank Tuttle, starring Clara Bow

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