- Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries? by Jane M. Gaines, and: Bad Film Histories: Ethnography and the Early Archive by Katherine Groo, and: The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History ed. by Daniel Biltereyst, Richard Maltby and Philippe Meers
by Jane M. Gaines.
University of Illinois Press.
2018. 328 pages.
$99.00 hardcover; $29.95 paper; also available in e-book.
by Katherine Groo.
University of Minnesota Press.
2019. 376 pages.
$112.00 hardcover; $28.00 paper; also available in e-book.
edited by Daniel Biltereyst, Richard Maltby, and Philippe Meers.
2019. 434 pages.$250.00 hardcover; $52.95 paper; also available in e-book.
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Any cinema scholars researching in the last twenty years have realized that film history and film theory have often been at odds. As a film historian, I have always found film theory fascinating and engaging but located my strengths in researching and writing history. Film history itself has been theorized by scholars like Philip Rosen, who argues that a film historian must work to fill the “gap between sources and synthesis” and find a way to place themselves “out of time” while also taking into consideration the philosophy of market-driven mass culture such as that posited by Adorno’s culture industry.1 Rosen’s influential musings on historiography bridge history and theory, giving film scholars much to consider.
Current film history scholarship demonstrates the increased accessibility to primary sources since Rosen’s book came out in 2001. As noted by the editors of The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History, Daniel Biltereyst, Richard Maltby, and Philippe Meers, the “growing amount of fine-grained data will enable a profound renewal of the field as it reconstructs older, less securely evidence-based narratives.”2 Rosen therefore reminds us to continue considering both why and how we write cinema history.
In the digital era, access has changed significantly for many archival collections. One can scour databases for period-specific coverage in a trade journal, quickly communicate with archivists around the globe about physical collections, and search through digitally indexed databases. Because of the increasing accessibility afforded by digital archives, film studies is seeing what we can, perhaps, call another historical turn. Previously accepted history can be revisited, questioned, expanded, and, when necessary, corrected thanks to regular and convenient connection to digital archives.
One perspective on this new approach to film historiography can be found in Jane M. Gaines’s Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries? Much of her text details how shifting ideologies impacted views of women’s place in film history. Gaines’s challenge to past narratives of feminist film theory is essential reading for historians and theorists working on women and film. In answering the question posed by her title, Gaines, in her own words, “examines the apparent incompatibilities these [theoretical and empirical] approaches yield: the theoretical position that there were ‘no women’ as opposed to the evidence of empirical ‘women’ or women theoretically ‘absent’ and then empirically ‘present’ in abundance.”3 Understanding that the digital era has made previously accepted narratives less reliable, Gaines acknowledges the digital archive and its positive impact on verifiable evidence that can more effectively inform film theory.
Gaines finds a through line between history and theory, which both appreciates historical research but cautions historians about the pressures [End Page 210] of bending a narrative to fit popular theory of the day, a concern she shares with Rosen. Certainly, discussion of the abundance of women in early cinema would have been both a historical corrective and timely for second-wave feminist film theorists. However, as Gaines points out, such discussions were passed over even after the organization Women and Film, founded in 1973, explored the abundance of women writers, directors, and producers in early cinema. Such missed opportunities exemplify why continued empirical research is important. In this case, the outdated “no women” narrative that fit the politics of 1970s feminist film theory has been replaced...