Blu-ray Review – Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology

Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology

Director: Various 

Screenwriter: Various

Year: 1902-1943

Running Time: 652

This release is a prime example of how important Flicker Alley should be to any and all film fans. What we have here is nearly eleven hours of films from around the world all directed by women. When I was telling my aunt about this set she had no idea that women were allowed to direct films back then.

From Flicker Alley:

More women worked in film during its first two decades than at any time since. Unfortunately, many early women filmmakers have been largely written out of film history, their contributions undervalued. This necessary and timely collection highlights the work of 14 of early cinema’s most innovative and influential women directors, re-writing and celebrating their rightful place in film history. [MORE]

There is a whole lot to unpack here but I want to take a relatively high level look at this set so that you can discover the films within without me blathering about them all. My average score is 5.86 which doesn’t read as a satisfying release but that score is effected by quantity. The five films I am going to highlight here have an average score of 7.6; and that does not include one of the most important films of all time, Mabel’s Strange Predicament, which is the first appearance of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp. Nor does it include a short film by the finest Nazi director.

These five films knocked me off my chair and I hope they do for you as well. Before I get into it I VERY HIGHLY RECOMMEND this set. I want everyone to order it and proudly tell their pals. I do want to note all of the films look mostly great. Not perfect. Keep in mind that some of them are very old and even the best efforts cannot fix everything. There are also a few gate-hairs here and there but nothing which will distract you. So, again, buy it. Now let me tell you why.


Director: Lois Weber

Screenplay: Lois Weber

Minutes: 10

Year: 1913

Score: 7.20

From Flicker Alley:

Weber stars as a young mother who is home alone when a tramp enters her house in this visually captivating and stylistically advanced thriller. The chase scene, the use of split-screen, and the shots of the tramp ascending into the house are all powerful visuals that proclaim Lois Weber’s skill as a film director. Music by Frederick Hodges.

I have a strong desire to just say, “Hitchcock probably learned from this film” and call it a day. Now, sure, it may not be difficult to create a film which consistently ratchets up the suspense when it is packed into a paltry 10 minutes, but to do so more than 100 years ago using incredibly skillful editing and split-screen shots is something that few could have accomplished at the time. The only note I made directly after watching the film was, “This is really something special and needs to be widely seen!!!!” (Four exclamation points and I try to limit myself to three a day.)

I could happily rest and say that this film, alone, is worth the money, but this isn’t even my favorite film in the set.

Director: 9 – Cinematography: 9 –  Edit: 10 – Parity: 1 – Main performance: 8 – Else performance: 6 – Score: 9 – Sound: NA – Story: 9 – Script: 8 – Effects: 10 – Design: 5 – Costumes: 5 – Keeps interest: 9 – Lasting: 10

Stolen Heart

Director: Lotte Reiniger 

Screenplay: Ernst Keinenburg

Minutes: 11

Year: 1934

Score: 7.33

From Flicker Alley:

Based on a fable by Ernst Keienburg, this short drama exhibits an entrancing sense of space. As a story about a monstrous man who steals a town’s musical instruments, scholars argue that this is an anti-Nazi allegory. When the musical instruments come to life, Reiniger’s playful silhouette animation celebrates the power of music as joy overcomes evil.

Through my friends over at Criterioncast I have become a big fan of early animation and thanks to my friends at Flicker Alley I have my hands on some new, magnificent, old, cartoons. Lotte Reiniger’s Stolen Heart is a breath of fresh air and, maybe, the source of a certain Dr. Seuss story about a green furry with hate in his heart.

The animation, when if you mentally put yourself in 1934, it quite remarkable and you can see it reflected in various art forms since. Learning that the film is considered an anti-Nazi allegory makes this an interesting double feature with Leni Riefenstahl’s Day of Freedom (also in this set) which is Nazi propaganda.

Director: 10 – Cinematography: 7 –  Edit: 5 – Parity: 5 – Main performance: 8 – Else performance: NA – Score: 7 – Sound: NA – Story: 7 – Script: 5 – Effects: 10 – Design: 7 – Costumes: NA – Keeps interest: 7 – Lasting: 10

Spook Sport

Director: Mary Ellen Bute

Minutes: 8

Year: 1939

Score: 7.4

From Flicker Alley:

Spook Sport announces itself as a new kind of film ballet comprised of “color, music, and movement” and is a lively interpretation of a night at a graveyard where colored shapes representing bats, ghosts, and spooks jump, shimmy, bounce, glide, and spiral across the frame. Bute hired animator Norman McLaren to draw these forms directly onto the filmstrip.  Filmed in two-color Cinecolor.

This film is just tremendous. I can easily see many careers growing off of this film including: Tim Burton, Saul Bass, animators from Looney Tunes and Nobuhiko Obayashi, the director of Hausu. This is spooky musical perfectly marries music and animation with some practical film effects.

Director: 10 – Cinematography: 7 –  Edit: 5 – Parity: NA – Main performance: NA – Else performance: NA – Score: 8 – Sound: NA – Story: 6 – Script: 5 – Effects: 8 – Design: 5 – Costumes: NA – Keeps interest: 10 – Lasting: 10

Meshes of the Afternoon

Director: Maya Deren 

Minutes: 14

Year: 1943

Score: 7.75

From Flicker Alley:

This avant-garde classic, made in collaboration with husband Alexander Hammid, is an important piece of feminist filmmaking. Of the film, with its subjective camera movement, jump cuts, and visual repetition, Deren wrote, “[it] is concerned with the inner realities of the individual and the way in which the subconscious will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and causal occurrence into a critical emotional experience.”[3] Here in its original version, it is presented intentionally silent.

This is a very bold choice with which our friends at Flicker Alley close out this set. It is an absolutely silent avant-garde film which will, undoubtedly, alienate some viewers. But I love avant-garde films. Much like Spook Sport I can see this film as having influenced several filmmakers, including Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, and Ingmar Bergman.

I was entranced with the strong suspense and sexuality through the film and think that Deren had a masterful control over lights and shadows. The film is a beautifully hypnotic and marvelous film and I am sad I did not know that the film existed before now.

Director: 10 – Cinematography: 9 –  Edit: 8 – Parity: 8 – Main performance: 6 – Else performance: NA – Score: NA – Sound: NA – Story: 6 – Script: 7 – Effects: 10 – Design: 5 – Costumes: 4 – Keeps interest: 10 – Lasting: 10


A Night on Bald Mountain

Director: Claire Parker

Minutes: 9

Year: 1933

Score: 8.3

From Flicker Alley:

Taking 18 months to complete, this dizzyingly surreal pinscreen animation interprets music by Mussorgsky as interplay between shadow/light, permanence/impermanence, motion/stillness, human/animal, and night/day. Parker and Alexeieff slowly created the imagery for this dream-like world by constantly adjusting the pins on the board and then filming what their shadows generated.

I am not sure that I can competently explain what it is about this film which scores it so highly. Aside from the fact that this is museum-grade filmmaking and animation. But, I think it may be easy for people outside of my own tastes to somehow miss what I see. Though, I have it playing right now and…

{ten minutes later} goodness, I love this. I want you to love it too. Please.

Director: 10 – Cinematography: 10 –  Edit: 5 – Parity: NA – Main performance: NA – Else performance: NA – Score: 8 – Sound: NA – Story: 5 – Script: 7 – Effects: 10 – Design: 8 – Costumes: NA – Keeps interest: 10 – Lasting: 10