About Cinema's First Nasty Women: Doubles and Doppelgangers

Entitled “Doubles and Doppelgangers,” this 97-minute Silent Movie Day program is a love letter to the rebelliousness, humor, and magic of the women behind and in front of the camera during the early years of filmmaking. All films are part of Kino Lorber’s upcoming boxset Cinema’s First Nasty Women, which also features Jon Vickers Scoring Award winner Daniel Whitworth's new score for the film Phil-for-Short after its world premiere at IU Cinema in February 2022.

Daisy Doodad’s Dial (1914, UK, 9 min.) | Directed by Florence Turner: A bored housewife, Daisy (Florence Turner), trains day and night to compete in an amateur face-making competition. When she injures her mimetic muscles, her spouse showboats his way to glory. Another opportunity presents itself and Daisy will stop at nothing to win the prize. Co-directed by Florence Turner, America’s first movie star (aka “The Vitagraph Girl”), Turner continued to appear in films through the 1940s.

Léa bambola (Lea as a Doll) (1913, Italy, 6 min.): Not wishing to marry the woman his father has chosen for him, Louis convinces the girl he loves, Lea, to impersonate a mechanical doll to trick his parents into allowing her to sign the marriage certificate instead.

Zoé et la parapluie miraculeux (Zoé and the Miraculous Umbrella) (1913, France, 4 min.) | Directed by Roméo Bosetti: Zoé the kitchen maid (Little Chrysia) steals a magic umbrella from a stage performer that will abundantly reproduce any good or commodity one wishes. Altruist that she is, Zoé wields the umbrella to compensate for her own clumsy mistakes, conjuring more water for the gardener and new chairs for her employers (to replace the one that she broke). Too many things quickly create total disaster.

Le Rembrandt de la rue Lepic (The Rembrandt in Rue Lepic) (1911, France, 6 min.) | Directed by Jean Durand: In Montmartre, a couple buys what they think is a real painting by Rembrandt. But in atypical fashion for Jean Durand and his troupe of acrobats, the film soon turns into a destructive chase of unbelievable proportions. Often called the “Pouittes,” Durand’s troupe included circus performers and was featured in dozens of comedies shot in and around Paris between 1911 and 1914.

Onésime et la toilette de mademoiselle Badinois (Onésime and Mademoiselle Badinois’ Outfit) (1912, France, 8 min.) | Directed by Jean Durand: Mlle. Badinois eagerly awaits the delivery of a new party dress and instructs her maid Petronella to receive it during her absence. But Petronella cannot resist borrowing the elegant dress for a rendezvous with her lover, Onésime. Here is a film that pretends to be about a man, but the driving force throughout is Petronella (Ellen Lowe). The real title should be Petronella and Ms. Badinois’ Elegant Dress. This pattern of assigning the action to the perhaps better-known male comedian, while the actress in the film does all the heavy-lifting, is a recurring one in silent comedy series, but it is completely misleading, especially when the films remain lost.

La peur des ombres (Fear of Shadows) (1911, France, 4 min.): In a playful, reflexive take on the familiar “last-minute rescue” formula, a woman and her housekeeper misread shadows projected from the street outside and fear a violent assault. Male police officers dispatched to rescue them correctly diagnose the situation, with hilarious results, including a late gender reveal.

Amour et science (Love and Science) (1912, France, 14 min.): A delightful comedy about the confrontation between a scientist preoccupied with a futuristic video telephone and a shrewd, vengeful heroine. Daisy (Renée Sylvaire) forces her inattentive fiancé Max to witness a rendezvous with a fictitious rival (played by her female friend in drag) over his newly invented video telephone. As a result, Max is deeply traumatized. Fortunately, Daisy succeeds in healing him with the help of a film production company and a gender reveal. Amour et science celebrates female agency, while raising fascinating questions about the nature of moving images that remain topical in today’s media environment.

The Death Mask (1914, USA, 21 min.) | Directed by Jay Hunt: Running Wolf (Sessue Hayakawa) refuses to marry within his tribe, focusing instead on a mysterious woman (Tsuru Aoki) from his dreams. He sets out to find a fierce northern tribe ruled by three brothers (one of whom wears a terrifying mask) and a beautiful sister. The intertribal melodrama imagines a schematic binary between primitive and civilized, for example contrasting Running Wolf’s ornamented clothing with the skins worn by the far north tribe. Tsuru Aoki and Sessue Hayakawa (Japanese-American actors in redface) perform the heterosexual romance as a bridge between these tribes, while many of the supporting players appear to be Lakota actors from Thomas Ince’s Bison 101 company.

She’s a Prince (1926, USA, 27 min.) | Directed by Marcel Perez: Alice Ardell, a Parisian comedienne who made masculine-styled clothing part of her stock-in-trade, plays Alice, an initiate to “Fi Delta Pie, a Flapper’s secret society.” The initiation provides an opportunity for a succession of disorienting rituals, masquerades, and mistaken identities (including two racist blackening gags) when Alice is magically put into men’s clothing, then instructed to go to the Palace Hotel, where she and visiting fashion icon Prince Ferdinany are repeatedly mistaken for one other. A series of chases, misunderstandings, and accidental same-sex flirtations ensue.

Curated by Laura Horak, Maggie Hennefeld, and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi.

Cinema's First Nasty Women is a 4-disc DVD/Blu-ray set featuring rarely-seen silent films about feminist protest, anarchic slapstick destruction, and suggestive gender play. The collection includes 99 European and American silent films, produced from 1898 to 1926, sourced from 13 international film archives and libraries, and spotlighting slapstick comediennes and cross-dressing women of the silent screen. The women included are indeed very “nasty”—they organize labor strikes, bake (and weaponize) inedible desserts, explode out of the chimney, electrocute the police force, and assume a range of identities that gleefully dismantle traditional gender norms and sexual constraints. The films span a range of genres including slapstick comedy, genteel farce, the trick film, cowboy melodrama, and adventure thriller. The release date for this set is December 20, 2022.

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