In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Chick Strand
  • Irina Leimbacher (bio)


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Figure 1.

Chick Strand, 1976. Photo: Neon Park.

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Figure 2.

Mujer De Milfuegos, 1976. Production still. Photo: Neon Park.

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Figure 3.

Anselmo and The Women, 1986. Frame enlargement. Photo: Chick Strand.

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Figure 4.

Mujer de Milfuegos, 1976. Photo: Chick Strand.

I had my first encounter with the work of Chick Strand one evening several years ago when a professor at San Francisco State called me into her class to sit in on some films. The films were Mujer de Milfuegos and Anselmo and the Women. Even though I was studying film in the Bay Area—where Strand began her filmmaking career and cofounded, with Bruce Baillie, Canyon Cinema and the San Francisco Cinematheque—I had never heard of Chick Strand.

The two films I saw that evening were inspiring and immensely powerful in their evocation—one fictional, the other documentary—of the deeply emotional and palpably physical dimensions of women’s daily domestic life. Anselmo and the Women particularly struck me in its polyphonic interweaving of the poignant stories of Anselmo (already the subject of two earlier films), his wife Adela, and his lover Cruz. Strand uses a zoom lens and a highly mobile and fluid camera to subjectively explore the details of each of their daily lives. These intimate images are combined with the interwoven non-sync voices of each of them recounting their version of their life ‘together’—a recounting of their love, their disappointments, their anger, their solitude—that they told Chick on condition that the others would not be privy to it. The extreme close-up shots of soapy water being swept over the cement floor by Adela in her bare feet, or of the laundry being pummeled and scrubbed as we hear of her frustrations with Anselmo, the father of her ten children and of two more with Cruz, are unforgettable. In the three concluding sequences, Strand films Anselmo shaving, Cruz combing her hair, and Adela showering—her moving [End Page 139] camera so close that we no longer see but partake of these daily, intimate rituals. As we simultaneously hear their respective voice-overs express the reasons for their deep unhappiness, we cannot simply side with one but shift empathy to feel the world with each of them.

After this first fortuitous encounter with Strand’s work, I needed and wanted to see more. This wasn’t so easy, as her films weren’t particularly popular and were relatively rarely screened. A year later, realizing that sometimes the easiest way to see work is to actually program it, I undertook a curatorial internship at the Pacific Film Archive in order to organize a retrospective of Strand’s eighteen films. The title of the retrospective, “Seeing In Between,” came from a quote by Strand in an interview with Marsha Kinder about Soft Fiction, Chick’s remarkable experimental documentary exploring female sensuality, strength and transformation. The film opens with the sound of a train, then blurred images through a moving window and finally a close-up of the woman traveller who, appearing at various junctures between the five direct address ‘documentary’ sequences that form the body of the film, acts as a surrogate both for Strand and for the female spectator (us) she invokes. Commenting on her opening, Strand said “the idea of riding on a train is somehow linked to women —perhaps because on a train you see everything in between.” For me, this notion of seeing in between embodies what I find most inspiring in her films.

Perhaps Strand’s unique vision is linked to how she came to filmmaking, in the midst of a rich and complex life. Raised in Berkeley, and having studied anthropology at UC, her baptism into experimental cinema came through her friendship with Bruce Baillie, with whom she co-founded Canyon Cinema in the early sixties. Canyon’s eclectic screenings of underground films took place in a variety of venues, including Baillie’s backyard (where the films were projected onto a white sheet), in an...

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