- Never Done: A History of Women's Work in Media Production by Erin Hill
Never Done: A History of Women's Work in Media Production by Erin Hill. Rutgers University Press. 2016. $99.95 hardcover; $26.55 paper; also available in e-book. 283 pages.
How many of us, while conducting research on a film, television program, filmmaker, producer, or studio, riffle through seemingly endless boxes filled with memos, time sheets, and correspondence in the hopeful search for some scrap of paper with notations relevant to the limited scope of our projects, never considering the context and scale of the labor that went into producing such documents? Of the many contributions Never Done: A History of Women's Work in Media Production makes to the field of cinema and media studies, one of its subtle assertions is that, in our obsession to historicize and contextualize the work of Hollywood studio-era films, stars, studios, and filmmakers, we too often ignore the specific origin points of the vast quantities of paperwork we sort through in the course of our archival pursuits. More pointedly, Erin Hill amply demonstrates that we have failed to take into account the mass scale of feminized "movie makers" who were necessary to the production of all of that paperwork.
Hill acknowledges that, after a brief moment in the early history of Hollywood production, women increasingly struggled to attain work in substantial numbers as directors and producers in that industry, but she also avers that both industry insiders and film historians tend to decry the few roles available for women while ignoring the long history of "women's work" in Hollywood. She contends, "Women were never absent from film history; they often simply weren't documented as part of it because they did 'women's work,' which was—by definition—insignificant, tedious, low status, and noncreative."1 Hill's monograph is more than a well-crafted, pioneering, necessary attempt to fill that great void. She also accomplishes this daunting task by placing film studies in dialogue with interdisciplinary historical research from labor [End Page 194] studies on the efficiency movement of the early twentieth century. In doing so, Never Done pushes production studies beyond the divide of above and below the line and into a critical evaluation of the division of clerical and managerial labor. Hill also expands the more common conceptions of primary source material to include studio promotional tour films, studio house organs, studio maps, anecdotes from oral history projects, and interviews. Hill calls attention to "subjects in peripheral ephemera documents and in the footnotes and margins of other people's histories" through her use of these resources.2 By taking what Hill refers to as a "transhistorical" approach, the book links the contemporary gendered division of labor in Hollywood to the gendered nature of "creative service" in the studio era, the effect of which is to open seemingly endless avenues for new scholarship.3 She explains that this project is transhistorical in that it attempts to reconcile the current expectations and career paths for women working in Hollywood today by examining key turning points and the types of work assigned to women across 120 years without attempting a comprehensive history of that period.
Never Done accounts for the historical consequences and the motives leading to the feminization of labor from the late 1910s to the 1960s in studio-era Hollywood, and in so doing, it challenges the assumption that women rarely worked in the industry during this period. Hill links the growth of women's work in Hollywood to Taylorist trends in business at large in the United States; the massive cheap clerical labor forces in planning, overhead, and production departments that these "efficient" managerial systems necessitated; and gendered assumptions about women's roles in the workforce and their relationship to (and as) technologies of efficiency. Chapter 1 begins with an examination of "pre-efficient Hollywood," in which the flexibility of more loosely structured production and business models made...