About Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers with DJ MADDØG

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Year Released:
Silent/Live Accompaniment, Silent

In the early decades of cinema, some of the most innovative and celebrated filmmakers in America were women. Alice Guy-Blaché helped establish the basics of cinematic language, while others boldly continued its development: slapstick queen Mabel Normand (who taught Charlie Chaplin the craft of directing), action star Grace Cunard, and LGBTQ icon Alla Nazimova. Unafraid of controversy, filmmakers such as Lois Weber and Dorothy Davenport Reid tackled explosive issues such as birth control, abortion, and prostitution. This crucial chapter of film history comes alive through the presentation of a wide assortment of films which have been carefully curated and meticulously restored in 2K and 4K from archival sources. Silent films with English intertitles. Films in this program were curated from Kino Lorber's Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers collection.


Films in this program:


Lost By a Hair (fragment) (1914), Directed by Lois Weber, 4 min

In this comedy about female fandom and desire, young women at a summer hotel are transfixed by the arrival of a famous tenor, much to the chagrin of their male companions. Later, in footage that does not survive, the men conspire to lift the tenor’s wig via fishing pole, thereby exposing his artifice. Mastered in 2K from a 35mm fragment from the AFI/Oregon Historical Society, Robert McCoy Collec­tion.


A Fool and His Money (1912), Directed by Alice Guy-Blaché, 11 min

One of the earliest surviving all-Black-cast films, A Fool and His Money ex­plores social mobility and fantasies of instant wealth amongst African Americans. The “fool” is a young man unlucky in love, rejected by his sweetheart in favor of a more prosperous beau. After finding a large sum of money on the sidewalk, he buys fine clothes and a fancy automobile, hoping to win her back. Successful at first, he loses all his new-found money in a rigged poker game staged by his romantic rival—and his fickle sweetheart tosses him out once again. Guy-Blaché’s own home and car were used in making this film. Mastered in 2K from a 35mm nitrate print from the AFI/David and Margot Navone Collection, preserved by the Library of Congress, with support from the Women’s Film Preservation Fund.


Fieldwork Footage: Ethnographic Films (1928–29), Directed by Zora Neale Hurston, 13 min

Zora Neale Hurston’s ethnographic films, part of her effort to collect folklore of Black communities in the rural south, provide a rare glimpse of African American life in central and southern Florida in the late 1920s, when few were documenting these communities. Hurston’s footage is remarkable not only for the way it docu­ments these subjects, but for the way it engages with their lives. 

“[Hurston] used the loan of a camera to photograph fifteen reels of film preserving the heritage of southern African-American culture. Of these reels, only nine are known to have survived and contain black & white, occasionally grainy footage capturing children at play, a baptism in a river, a logging camp, and footage of octogenarian Cudjo Lewis, the final survivor from The Clotilde, the last arriving slave ship to America (in 1859)” (Harlem World). 

Mastered in 2K by the Library of Congress from 16mm preservation dupe negatives made in 1995. All are part of the Margaret Mead Collection received in 1995: Children’s Games and Baptism, August 1929; Children Play and Man With Axe, April 1928; Children Dancing and Girl Rocking, January/February 1929; Baseball Crowd and Dancing Capers, January/February 1929.


Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingle with the West (fragment) (1916), Directed by Marion E. Wong, 35 min

The first feature film made with an all-Chinese American cast and an all-Chinese American company, The Curse of Quon Gwon was written and directed by Marion E. Wong at her own Mandarin Film Company, based in Oakland, Calif. In 2004, during his research for the documentary Hollywood Chinese, film­maker Arthur Dong was led to the only known existing material from The Curse of Quon Gwon. He discovered two surviving nitrate reels in the possession of the daugh­ters of Violet Wong, lead actress in the film. Dong was authorized to bring the material to the Academy Film Archive for preservation, returning this rare glimpse of early 20th-century cinematic work to its place in film history.

The restored print of The Curse of Quon Gwon is incomplete. The original may have been seven or eight reels in length, as the surviving two nitrate reels were numbered reels four and seven. There are no existing intertitles in the original neg­ative, but frames with sequential numbers indicate where the intertitles might have been inserted. So far no existing script has been located. However, according to the July 17, 1917, issue of The Motion Picture World, the film “deals with the curse of a Chinese god that follows his people because of the influence of western civilization. The first part takes place in California, showing the intrigues of the Chinese who are living in this country on behalf of the Chinese mo­narchical government, and those who are working for the revolutionists in fa­vor of a Chinese republic. A love story begins here and is carried through the rest of the production.”

Offering an important counterpoint to racist depictions of Asian characters in other films of the period, the film explores western influence on traditional Chinese soci­ety and amongst Chinese American communities, suggesting Wong’s keen awareness of early 20th-century transnational identity, as film scholar Jenny Kwok Wah Lau has observed. Photochemical restoration (2004) supervised by Ar­thur Dong, Deepfocus Productions, Inc. Mastered in 2K (2018) from 35mm and 16mm preservation ele­ments held by the Academy Film Archive (scanning provided by Fotokem).


That Ice Ticket (1923), Directed by Angela Murray Gibson, 10 min

An important example of amateur filmmaking during this era, That Ice Ticket was made by Angela Murray Gibson, who ran Gibson Studios in the small community of Casselton, N.D. Gibson cast community members in her productions, taking on multiple roles herself—writing, directing and acting in the films, operating the camera during filming, then processing the footage and editing the finished pic­ture together. Here she plays a young woman managing multiple male suitors with the “help” of her mischievous kid brother. Mastered in 2K by Colorlab, from 16mm material preserved by the State Historical Society of North Da­kota, through a preservation grant from the NYWIFT Women’s Film Preservation Fund and Kino Lorber


The Risky Road (fragment) (1918), Directed by Ida May Park, 2 min

A brief fragment of Ida May Park’s The Risky Road, the only known elements to survive.The film’s protagonist is a young stenographer who agrees to be a “kept woman” for a former employer, inciting the ire of her hometown sweetheart. In these surviving scenes we see her alone, penniless and freezing in her New York apartment. While the English intertitles have been replaced for Swedish distribution, one can still glimpse the novel use of superimposed titles, describing the protago­nist’s hardships: “Loneliness,” “Humiliation,” “Starvation.” Mastered in 2K from a 35mm preservation element from the Svenska Filminstitutet, derived from a col­or-tinted 35mm nitrate fragment, released in 1918 in Sweden as När livet lockar (When Life Attracts).


Suspense (1913), Directed by Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley, 11 min

In Suspense, Weber takes up the familiar “last-minute rescue” formula pop­ularized by her contemporary D.W. Griffith who made countless films about vul­nerable young women left alone in remote houses beset by intruders. By giving her film a generic name like Suspense, Weber calls attention to the fact that she’s playing with this well-known formula—and beating the master at his own game. Historian Charlie Keil calls this “one of the most stylistically outré” films of the period. Mastered in 4K from two 35mm film elements preserved by the British Film Archive.


Hazards of Helen, Ep. 09: Leap From the Water Tower (1915), Directed by Helen Holmes, 11 min

Released in 119 different installments, episodes of The Hazards of Helen chronicle the adventures of a telegraph operator stationed in a remote post who repeatedly foils bandits and saves lives in daring adventures. Star Helen Holmes often directed episodes of the serial, saying, “If I want really thrilly action, I have to write it myself.” Mastered in 2K from 16mm print purchased by the Library of Congress in 2000.


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