Feminism and Documentary

By Griffin, Patrick H. | Journal of American & Comparative Cultures, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Feminism and Documentary


Griffin, Patrick H., Journal of American & Comparative Cultures


Feminism and Documentary. Janet Walker and Diane Waldeman. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

Few intellectual movements have had as much impact on post-modernist social and behavioral studies as feminism. This especially is the case with its impact on film studies. Right from the start 30+ years ago, with the street-wise beginnings of feminist writing, an academic tradition of feminism and film was shaped and has steadily pushed the boundaries of understanding film theory and experience. The exploration has looped with the post-modernist work of Lacan, Barthes, Derain, and Foucault, both nourishing them and being nourished by them. Along the way, feminist approaches have made major contributions to the discussion of film issues such as the question of putative and pro-filmic, direct cinema, voice, reflectivity, and power and victim in documentary.

Feminism and Documentary is a survey of this achievement. A part of a series on feminist thought ("Visible Evidence"), this collection is an updated representation of feminist writing which explores the "thin crust of historical reality" (as the editors put it in the "Introduction") in documentary and historical studies.

The "Introduction" is well worth the price of admission. In an essay richly footnoted, editors Diane Waldman and Janet Walker trace the issues and changing images of feminist thought and documentary. It includes a balanced pro and con of documentary issues raised by feminist concern with film.

The pace of the introduction is pretty well maintained in the essays that follow. The articles are not solely a discussion of feminist theory, although each proceeds from a feminist perspective. They open up broad issues in historical studies such as the role of the documentary film seminar as a record of documentary thought, the sentimentalizing of the labor movement, rockamentary, sexuality and modern cultural studies, the reconstruction of memory in historical studies and film, African American documentary, taboos, and fetish in historical studies-to isolate several of the issues.

In the first section, "Historicizing the Documentary," there is an engaging dialogue between documentary and feminism. Paula Rabinowitz's "Sentimental Contracts" uses the works of Michael Moore (Roger and Me) and Barbara Kopple (esp. American Dream) to explore a labor movement which has lost its guts in genderized dreams of sentimentality. Alexandra Juhasz's "Bad Girls Come and Go" is about the borders and "danger places" of sexuality in contemporary times, the shaping of anger and desire in transgression "video," and the "taboo" areas of historical situation (popularized by Camille Paglia, among others).

The collection of articles under "Filmmaker and Subject: Self/Other" includes essays on African American feminist documentary, rockamentary, and a cross-cultural filmmaker's account of making a documentary in feminist and ethnic space. …

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