Babette Mangolte Interview

Article excerpt

This interview took place in New York City, March 29, 2003.

BP: What was it like to be the first woman admitted into L'Ecole Nationale de la Photographie et de la Cinematographies

BM: Actually, it started even before I was admitted to the school, because I applied to the two films schools in Paris, I.D.H.E.C. [Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques] and Vaugirard, the nickname for E.N.P.C. [L'Ecole Nationale de la Photographie et de la Cinematographie]-and I was accepted to both schools. But I was refused at I.D.H.E.C. in the section cinematography, although I was accepted in other sections like editing, or scriptwriting or directing in which I had no interest at the time. That was the first sense of the strangeness of being a woman and not being able to do what I wanted to do, which was totally new for me. It was not what my mother had demonstrated to me in her life, because she was working, exactly like my father. They had gone to the same university; they were equal in the household. And so it was really very strange to discover that woman and man weren't equal in certain workplaces. So instead of I.D.H.E.C, I went to the other school, Vaugirard, because it was a state school, and they couldn't prevent my getting in, although the school advised me not to, telling me that I would never find jobs in the field. You see, when you apply, you apply anonymously and when you pass the written exam they don't know your name or your gender. But in I.D.H.E.C. there was an oral exam. I.D.H.E.C. was structured on the idea of different specializations. And they were taking about 25 people each year-four or five in every category basically-and at the oral exam, they refused me entry in cinematography. I think I was second or third at the written exam so I could pick the section I wanted. I couldn't decide which other sections I should do. I was just interested in cinematography. In the other school, Vaugirard, I had applied only to the cinematography section, so there was no ambiguity. We were thirty people that year [1964-1965], and only two women. I was one of the women. The other one, named Noëlle Boisson, immediately announced that she did not want to become a cinematographer but an editor. And actually she became a very good editor in France-she had several Cesars for editing. So I was the only one and in a way I lacked support. The twenty-eight guys there felt that I had no chance to ever become a director of photography basically. Noëlle and I we were their misfits. But there was a big difference between Noëlle and me. It's part of what life is made of. I was always a bit heavy and strong, with a lot of muscle and bushy, unkempt hair. But I had authority. I was making a living since my father died, when I was nineteen. I knew how to fight, somehow. Unlike me, Noëlle was absolutely gorgeous looking. She was blonde, you know; she was skinny; she was beautiful; every guy wanted to sleep with her. I wear glasses. So we were a total opposition between two images of womanhood, Noëlle the "nana" the girl you dreamt about and the other one, the ugly one. When I left school two years later, it was a two-year school, I could not hold on to any jobs. I got jobs for one day, but the camera people I was working for were unable to cope with a woman that had to carry camera suitcases and do menial tasks, basically, which is what an assistant camera does. Clearly, in these cameramen's lives, the women were pretty women, who were staying at home, looking after their makeup and their clothes. So they could not cope with somebody like me. While in school I had not understood the importance of male bonding in work situation. I think the people I tried to work for, I could do it for one day, but they felt I didn't fit with anything else than the job like going to the bordello with them and saying dirty jokes. They could not unwind with me. They did not feel comfortable and they were embarrassed because they had doubted my physical stamina. …