Women and Film archive
Jump Cut is proud to host the archive of Women and Film, facilitated by the work of Bill Nichols in making the PDFs. We have on this page an introduction by film historian Clarissa Jacob, links to an online version of each issue, and information about PDFs of the issues available for downloads.
Women & Film magazine first appeared on a small number of newsstands and alternative bookstores across Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley in early 1972. It was the result of a collaborative effort of two young women: Siew Hwa Beh and Saundra Salyer.
Both had been steeped in the counterculture of the 1960s and deeply affected by its politics. Both were also fascinated by film and filmmaking, like so many of their generation. This fascination intersected with their feminist and politically radical perspectives on the world.
These influences are clearly visible in Women & Film’s first couple of issues. Many of its early articles take a look at the day’s biggest film auteurs from Europe, as well as classic Hollywood film, and ask questions about the women on screen, as well as the men behind the camera.
The magazine was the first publication of its kind; a space dedicated to the discussion of film from a feminist perspective. But it emerged at a time during which film scholarship was feeling the effects of the women’s movement, with many US and Canadian journals like Film Library Quarterly, Velvet Light Trap and Take One featuring special women’s movement editions.
Articles were submitted from near, and eventually far, and interestingly, unlike many feminist arts publications of the period, men were also allowed to contribute. Taken together, the contributions testify to the eclecticism and dynamism of film studies at the time. It was still very much in its developmental phase,and seeking a legitimate foothold in universities and colleges across the US, Canada and western Europe.
With no official distributor, its editors and friends circulated the magazine by hand – at times by VW van – across LA and its environs. As well as subscriptions, issues sometimes travelled from person to person, or indeed on one occasion, strapped to Salyer’s back as she hitchhiked east to attend the First International Festival of Women’s Films in New York in summer 1972.
By the magazine’s third installment, published 1973, contributions from Beh, Salyer and their colleagues Bill Nichols and Mike Shedlin were joined by early writings from future Jump Cut co-founders, Chuck Kleinhans and Julia Lesage. Another new contingent of contributors joined the magazine at this stage: Constance Penley, Janet Bergstrom, Liz Lyons and Sandy Flitterman, who would later go on the found the feminist film journal Camera Obscura in 1976.
By this point, the magazine had moved from its original home in Santa Monica to Berkeley, specifically the Pacific Film Archive, then under the supervision of Sheldon Renan and Tom Luddy.
The magazine’s interest in European film continued, with the added influence of European literary criticism and theory, particularly semiotics.
A new emphasis on work made by women is also apparent in later issues. This almost certainly reflects the influence of the growing number of women’s film festivals, many of which received coverage in the magazine. This coverage revealed thousands of films made by hundreds of women filmmakers who had been lost, forgotten or simply excluded from cinema history.
Between 1973 and 1974, Women & Film published only two issues. Both were doubles, consisting of over 45 articles between them, that considered hundreds of films, an increasing number of them by women. Issue 3-4 featured an excerpt from Sharon Smith’s then forthcoming book, Women Who Make Movies that listed the filmographies of 170 women filmmakers from 25 countries: a huge contribution to the emerging field of women’s film history as well as shining a spotlight on many contemporary female filmmakers. The magazine also began to feature interviews with women directors: Nelly Kaplan, Agnès Varda, Lina Wertmuller, Barbara Loden, Sarah Maldoror and Jill Godmillow to name a few.
In the run up to issue seven, conflicts arose between the editorial group about the magazine’s future direction. The disagreement centered on ideological disputes over its working methods, with future Camera Obscura editors Penley, Bergstrom, Flitterman and Lyons pushing for the group to become a collective, thus doing away with founders’ Salyer and Beh’s final authority as editors-in-chief.
In addition to this, conflicting opinions about the emerging approaches to film criticism informed by semiotic and other theories gained ground in film scholarship, and the question of reader accessibility further split the group. Despite attempts to resolve the dispute using a mediator, Penley et al decided to found their own journal, and announced their resignation from Women & Film in a letter to West Coast feminist newspaper Plexus in February 1975. The first issue of Camera Obscura appeared in 1976.
Although several further issues were planned (including one focused on film, feminism and dance) issue 7, published in 1975, would be the magazine’s last. Ultimately, the magazine fell victim to several ills that afflicted many alternative and underground publications of that era, primarily a lack of funds.
The editors’ radical political stance meant advertising revenue was limited, and subscriptions failed to cover running costs. While the magazine did receive a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1975, for the most part the magazine was run and written on a volunteer basis, and the labor-of-love model for running a magazine inevitably led to financial and emotional burn-out for many volunteers.
While its life as a publication was short-lived, Women & Film’s contribution to women’s cinema history and feminist film criticism and theory was nonetheless extremely significant. It s coverage of the many women’s film festivals of the era, and writing on recently discovered female directors, showcased a body of work that had largely been ignored by mainstream film critics and audiences.
As a space dedicated to feminist analyses of cinema, it provided one of the first forums for highlighting gender inequality in the film industry, as well as women’s role on screen and early attempts to deploy semiotic film theory in the discussion of women and the screen.For many students encountering feminist film theory and criticism for the first time, their journey begins in 1975 with the British theorist Laura Mulvey’s groundbreaking article, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.’ With these issues of Women & Film now available to all online, this fascinating and important earlier chapter in film history can be explored, studied and celebrated once again.
Online issues of Women and Film:
A PDF of each issue is available for download and printing. See link below table of contents on introductory page for each issue.