Recommended Reading

"Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema

Edited by Melody Bridges and Cheryl Robson (Aurora Metro Books, 2016. 272 pages)

What makes"Silent Women" a special book is its freshness in giving us insight into territory that hasn't been generally found in silent movie history books. It makes no apologies for its primary purpose - and that is to bring the justly deserved, and heretofore ignored, attention to the many women who contributed so much to those early formative years of cinema history. For example, where have you seen any credit given to "Early African-American Female Filmmakers" in movie histories?? Chapter 2 of "Silent Women" explores this topic, but, unfortunately points out that all too little has been uncovered and found to be extant today. The book obviously doesn't overlook the female filmmakers who have finally garnered some attention in recent years such as Alice Guy Blache and Lois Weber, but have you heard of June Crawford Ivers? Maybe you know June Mathis as the "discoverer" of Rudolph Valentino and her contributions as a screenwriter, but did you know she was a production supervisor and editorial director? At a young 27 years old, she wa appointed head of Metro's scenario department - quite a position of stature for a woman of that time (see Chapters 3 "The Silent Producer" and Chapter 7 "Women Directors from the Dawn of Hollywood." Kevin Brownlow's interview with director Dorothy Arzner also give valuable insight into the female perspective of filmmaking in Chapter 8). Nell Shipman stands out as one of the most progressive women of her time - in charge of her destiny and making the kind of films she wanted (usually outdoor dramas) - writing, producing and starring in over 70 features during the silent era. The chapter on her alone is worth the price of the book. We know about screenwriters such as June Mathis and Frances Marion, but Chapter 4 "Women Were Writing: Beyond Melodrama and Hot House Romances" enlarges our knowledge of the contribution women made to those wonderful stories that were brought to life on film. And there's more absorbing reading that sheds light on areas of contribution that has not been addressed before such as Chapter 9 on female editors, or Chapter 10 discussing women cinematographers. Chapter 12 "Critics, Reformers and Educators: Film Culture as a Feminine Sphere" is one of our favorites and shows the impact the women writers had as they "defined the landscape of American movie culture." The fact that the book is composed of articles by a variety of respected writers is at the essence of its appeal offering a menu of topics related to women in silent film with names, facts, anecdotes and contributions that make for fresh, new and engrossing reading. We have only one qualm with the choice of articles. The final chapter, "U.S. Women Directors: The Road Ahead" brings attention to a commendable effort to address what is described as discrimination toward women in the film industry - surprisingly in this day and time. The chapter notes that "sexism" and "racism" "are currently the subject of both state and federal investigations. This chapter explores how and why this investigation came about." Although we laud the effort - and it is interesting and enlightening information - it does not have a place in a book on the silent era. That being said, "Silent Women" will provide the reader a broad array of new ideas and insights on the silent era, enhance the reader's respect for women in the early days of filmmaking, and whet the reader's appetite to learn more about the legacy of "silent women."

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Foreword by Bryony Dixon, Curator of Silent Film, BFI National Archive

Introduction by Melody Bridges and Cheryl Robson

1. Girl From God's Country: The History of Women in Film and Other War Stories by Karen Day
2. Early African-American Female Filmmakers by Aimee Dixon Anthony
3. The Silent Producer: Women Filmmakers Who Creatively Controlled the Silent Era of Cinema by Pieter Aquilia
4. Women Were Writing: Beyond Melodrama and Hot House Romances by Patricia Di Risio
5. Doing It All: Women's On and Off-Screen Contributions To European Silent Film by Julie K Allen
6. Female Legends of the Silver Screen by Melody Bridges
7. Women Directors from the Dawn of Hollywood by Francesca Stephens
8. Interview with Director Dorothy Arzner by Kevin Brownlow
9. Women Film Editors from Silent to Sound by Tania Field
10. Who Was The First Female Cinematographer in the World? by Ellen Cheshire
11. When the Woman Shoots: Ladies Behind the Silent Horror Film Camera by K. Charlie Oughton
12. Critics, Reformers, and Educators: Film Culture as a Feminine Sphere by Shelley Stamp
13. US Women Directors: The Road Ahead by Maria Giese


". . . a lively collection, opening up an increasingly vibrant field, which promises to raise a diversity of questions for viewers, makers and teachers of film about women's role world-wide in the emergence of cinema." Christine Gledhill

"This book is inspirational reading for any woman who dreams to express her vision through film in any direction this industry takes us. Only by understanding our past can we embrace our greatest future." Gayle Nachlis, Senior Director of Education, Women In Film Los Angeles

"This book shows how women's voices were heard and helped create the golden age of silent cinema, how those voices were almost eradicated by the male-dominated film industry, and perhaps points the way to an all-inclusive future for global cinema." Paul Duncan, Film Historian

"Inspirational and informative, Silent Women will challenge many people's ideas about the beginnings of film history. This fascinating book roams widely across the era and the diverse achievements and voices of women in the film industry. These are the stories of pioneers, trailblazers and collaborators - hugely enjoyable to read and vitally important to publish." Pamela Hutchinson, Silent London

"A timely and urgently needed collection of essays by a definitive group of scholars on the subject, Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema utilizes the time-honored feminist concept of the silence and voicelessness at the heart of female oppression as its central motivation. The essays in this collection demonstrate how the film industry kept women from certain opportunities in the early years, but also provided them a particular agency to make their marks outside more traditional boundaries. A must-read!" Lisa Stein Haven, author of Syd Chaplin: A Biography (2010) and editor of Charlie Chaplin's A Comedian Sees the World (2014)

'This book confirms what an exciting time it is for women's cinema history. Every chapter opens tantalising new windows into the fascinating but forgotten or overlooked lives and careers of women working in the early film industry. Every page begs the question - how on earth did these amazing women vanish from history in the first place? I defy anyone interested in cinema history not to find this valuable compendium a must-read. It's also a 'call to arms' for more research into women's contribution and an affirmation of just how rewarding the detective work can be' Laraine Porter, Senior Lecturer in Film, De Montfort University and Co-Artistic Director of British Silent Film Festival

"In a climate in which the equality that exists within film has become an increasingly visible focus of debate, Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema offers a timely reminder of the historical contribution women have made to the medium. An authoritative and illuminating work, it also lends a pervasive voice to the argument that discrimination and not talent is the barrier to so few women occupying the most prominent roles within the industry." Jason Wood, Artistic Director of Film at HOME, Author and Visiting Professor at MMU

"Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema' is an inspiring and refreshing set of well written essays on a subject often forgotten, discussing the fabulous variety of women in film over the years. A must for any fan of cinema/film, or anyone that has an interest in women's history" Hayley Foster da Silva, The F-Word

"A long overdue compendium of insightful essays highlighting the oft-forgotten women and the vital roles they played in both the birth of cinema and it's evolution. I was amazed to discover just how crucially they were involved from not just in front of the camera but in producing, directing, editing and much, much more. An essential read." Neil McGlone. The Criterion Collection

"Silent Women honors the women in cinema who actively paved the way for future women in this industry, and brought attention to the issue of gender bias in media, a problem we are still fighting today." Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

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