Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Trippy Canonical Feminist Film

Rhyne and Dara were joking before the Light Industry screening of Riddles of the Sphinx (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, 16mm, 1977, 90 mins) that we were about to watch the feminist Avatar, because the film has a reputation for being cutting edge and trippy. Or maybe there were other reasons. But it was certainly cutting edge and trippy. I suppose it was too organized and logical to be considered truly trippy, but it was indeed a trip of feminist nostalgia that I, for one, sorely needed.

Trippier, actually, was Gunvor Nelson and Dorothy Wiley's 1966 Schmeerguntz, which preceded Riddles in this program, with its inspiring collage of babies, crap and beauty pageants. Schmeerguntz set the stage perfectly, complete with pageant soundbites to put Miss South Carolina to shame. ("I'll always let my boyfriend think he's the best. Because I think that's the way it should be.")

Mulvey's structure for Riddles of the Sphinx is calculated and complex. But the main thing I took from it was pretty simple and definitely resting on my historically placed reading of it- we've gone backwards in our feminist evolution as a society. Why does this happen? All the right questions are in this film, literally in the narrative of Louise and her questions about motherhood and patriarchy. She poses riddles such as, "Is exploitation outside the home better than oppression in it?" and "In the workplace, should men and women organize differently?" Her questions of gender are so basic, yet we may never have the answers.

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