The history of Jump Cut:
2013 interview with Julia Lesage and Chuck Kleinhans
by Rox Samer
Eugene, OR, July 2013. Conducted as a part of Rox Samer's dissertation research. Transcribed and edited by Julia Lesage, May 2020.
Rox: I've got a lot of questions. I'd like to start by getting the Jump Cut origins story.
Chuck: Julia and I and John Hess and John's then-wife, Judith Hess, met in graduate school in Comparative Literature at Indiana University. Julia, John and Judy were all interested in film. I was working in a related area with my dissertation on theater and drama. Toward the end of our stay in Bloomington, we thought about starting our publication. Although John had published at least one article in Film Quarterly, he felt he hadn’t been able to be as radical as he wanted. Julia had written a couple of things for Cineaste, which was gratifying. But at the same time as that journal was interested in a more activist perspective and good in covering international film, the editors were also skeptical about semiotics and theoretical approaches. Also, Julia had been involved with Women and Film but they covered a specific topic area and weren’t open to doing other things. So, given the array of what was out there at the time, we thought that it appropriate to start another film publication.
In terms of experience, we knew about inexpensive offset printing and what you could do in a tabloid format. I had worked on the Underground Press throughout graduate school, and I had a publication and graphics background before that from high school journalism. Julia had been involved in one of the underground papers in Bloomington.
Julia: Tabloid printing produces something like a grocery store flyer. It’s really the bargain basement of printing, and in the 70s it was flourishing. The Underground Press used offset tabloid printing because it was relatively inexpensive and let alternative publication flourish in the late 60s early 70s as a vibrant movement. That was what we turned to. But as a result of our use of tabloid paper, in the early history of Jump Cut, it wasn't esteemed as a publication. To counter that and to make the issues more durable, we finally upgraded to photo offset paper for a while. Then we went back to having a sturdy glossy cover but with tabloid pages on the inside. All of those production decisions expose a really interesting aspect of printing and prestige.
We were all opposed to the Vietnam War and active in the early antiwar movement. I was active in the early Women's Liberation movement, which had had an important early beginning in the Midwest before I arrived in Bloomington. One of the women from Chicago who had been a founder of Women's Liberation there, Marlene Dixon, visited Bloomington, after which the local women formed different activist organizations. These women were socialists, which meant that Women’s Liberation there had a socialist feminist orientation more than anything else.
C: These women decided that their most important project should be abortion counseling, and so they provided that as a service. Essentially a group of the most activist women lived in a house together and for 24/7 they’d answer the phone to counsel women who needed abortions. This was before Roe v Wade. The basic solution was to fly someone to the East Coast where they could get abortion services in New York. That also meant coming up with the money to pay for the flight and for the abortion itself. Usually women faculty or women in the community would put up money to subsidize this.
In addition, there was a politically progressive group of dealers who tithed their marijuana. Out of each bag they sold, they would add a two-dollar surcharge that went to the woman's abortion fund, from which these guys actually were the direct beneficiaries. They'd gotten enough women pregnant! It was in their interest.
J: Among the early ideas we had for Jump Cut, in addition to radical film making, we wanted to cover political documentaries and international cinema and a new kind of film was being made in the United States, for example, Sugarland Express.
C: In the 70s Hollywood, there was a breakdown of official norms. You know, with the 70s maverick Hollywood directors. At that time anyway, it was Scorsese, even Spielberg, people like that.
Another person who was on the editorial board or and wrote for us was Bill Van Wert. He wasn't one of the founders of Jump Cut but he was close to us. He'd been at Indiana and then he went to Temple, so he was part of it.
As we started in Chicago, we gathered around us some people who were volunteers. We ended up calling ourselves a collective, which meant on Saturdays we'd get together at our house. People would read manuscripts and evaluate them, work on the physical parts of layout, and have a meal together. The meetings became a gathering spot. A similar thing started on the West Coast.
Judy Hess was teaching at Sonoma State and Julia got a job at the University of Illinois at Chicago. So, John and I were both trailing spouses. Out there John and Judy split up after about six months. After his divorce, John moved down to the Bay Area and as an ABD started teaching at San Francisco State. I had a PhD but no academic job. I was doing fundraising for a community organization and driving a school bus and did some other odd jobs. Because we lived off a a really bare bones budget, tabloid is what we could do. At the same time, we were inspired by thinking that we really wanted to put out our own product and initiate the kind of project that could be sustained.
In fact, the Movement that we had experienced in the 60s was one based around this cycle: "It's fall. In September you have to start organizing." Then there's a big march in May against the war. Then everything dies over the summer and you have to start all over again. Having gone through that in terms of the anti-war movement and in terms of the student movement, I think we were looking for something more long-term. We wanted to create a political project that was also intellectually challenging and would call on our own skill sets and talents and interests.
J: And we wanted to introduce new ideas.
C: Yes. There was always a teacherly aspect to our project. John had been involved in the East Bay Socialist School, where he taught courses like basic Marxism. People would gather there; they’d show up and then have a class together. But the school would also have music and lots of other events going on during the week. So, it was also a gathering place for leftists. In terms of starting a Jump Cut group, John had made a lot of contacts and may have actually taught a course on third world film there. Through that, he gathered some people around him who then said, “We'd like to work on Jump Cut.”
Logistically our editorial process was an ungainly thing. By that, I mean starting a new publication with editors in two distant places across the country at a time when phone calls were so expensive. We did an enormous amount of work by writing letters back and forth. Eventually phones got cheaper and we could do more by phone, then by Internet. But that wasn't until much later.
J: We finally hired a typist rather than having to type all the manuscripts ourselves. But we did all the layout. And then we ran into a problem. Later, I always asked people who were going to found a magazine about it. I’d say, “What are you going to do about the storage problem?” And by that, I mean that after a printers' run, you have many issues left over. As these stacks of back issues accumulate in your apartments and garage and Chuck's mom's garage and the back porch where we lived, it becomes a huge problem. One of the great advantages of going digital is not to have so much physical stuff. We became burdened with too many back issues everywhere.
R: How many copies were you publishing for an issue?
J: I can't remember.
C: When we started, the press run was about 2,000. Eventually it got up to five or six thousand. Then we would have to ship copies out to the West Coast. John would take them around and put them in bookstores. We'd shift some to New York where Peter Biskind would put Jump Cut in New York City bookstores. But the process was complicated because you'd get something printed, and then you have to bundle it up and send it to the subscribers, and then you also have to send it to bookstores.
At that time bookstore distribution was different. There were a lot more alternative small book stores and film venues that would consider carrying Jump Cut. And some British bookstores wanted to carry it, but the postal process was complicated. Sure, we had an international perspective. But it was almost impossible to get issues abroad to people. Especially in Latin America or Africa. Subscribers or bookstores would have to get U.S. dollars, difficult to obtain in many countries. They’d then have to send the money to us. We then have to send issues out first through U.S. mail and then through their mail system. So the shipment had to go through two different mail systems, and then maybe it’d get to them and maybe it wouldn’t but how would we ever know? We tried. Obviously if somebody wrote us from like Poland, we would send them a copy and but we wouldn't know if they got it. I mean we would even send them a subscription for years, but never quite know what happened to it.
On the other hand, sometimes we’d get these incredible stories. Once, after the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, a Iranian student came and told me, "Oh, you know, I've been I've been reading Jump Cut. In fact, I translated some articles into Farsi and we would distribute them in mimeograph form at the film school, articles on third world film."
R: Did you have a better sense of its readership in English-speaking countries? Like in the UK or Australia?
C: Only the efforts that we made toward distribution, not anything more about what the spread or effect was. It was hard to communicate about that. We might meet people who read Jump Cut and would tell us that, but nothing more. Also, we knew some of the people in England. We had both been to the Screen summer school, and we knew Peter Wollen and Laura Mulvey and Jeffrey Nowell Smith because they had taught in the United States. We’d met different people who knew about Jump Cut, and we would send them copies, so they probably passed the paper on or told other people.
R: A few years into Jump Cut, how did you see it fitting into feminist film discourse, especially of Camera Obscura or Screen or any conversations between various groups.
J: I would say the women who were interested in introducing feminist ideas into film studies, and even into filmmaking, were all close. There weren't a lot of us, plus there was a pioneering person who hasn't been given enough credit. She's an art history teacher, T. Kaori Kitao. Now that person came to a women's meeting at Society for Cinema Studies at the time many years ago, maybe 30 years ago. She said that she was a transsexual, asked if she could join the meeting, and all of the women quickly accepted her. That's never been recognized as a really important moment in film studies, nor has T. Kaori Kitao been recognized as an important academic transsexual. She was certainly by far the first trans person I know who presented herself as a woman and asked to be accepted and was. That was around the time of the Milwaukee conferences, early 80s late 70s. She published in art history publications and was a relatively well-known art historian. I would say in film studies, feminists had different theoretical perspectives, but professionally they felt a huge amount of solidarity.
C: I think there were some differences, too. When we started Jump Cut we were always committed to feminism, but of course Women and Film already existed. As you know, Julia was on their editorial board and I was asked later to be on their editorial board. Their editors ended up having differences with the women that subsequently formed Camera Obscura. We knew all the women in Camera Obscura, and we even had a discussion with some of them at a certain point when they said, we're leaving Women in Film and we're interested in maybe being involved with Jump Cut. We came to an understanding that it was probably better for them to form their own publication. We're all friendly, we all knew each other and respected each other.
Part of that was that those women who formed Camera Obscura were graduate students thinking in terms of academic theory. Most of them also all went abroad in the Paris Film Program, where they got to study with French scholars like Christian Metz, Raymond Bellour and Thierry Kuntzel. That was the big boost for film semiotics. Linda Williams was part of that program, as were Sandy Flitterman, Mimi White, Judith Mayne. A whole lot of people who became the first group of U.S. feminist academic film scholars had gone on that program.
The situation was a little bit different in the UK. The 70s women film scholars like Claire Johnston, Pam Cook, and Laura Mulvey had to fit into this strange borderline territory. Essentially those women were associated with guys who were powerful or well-placed, but the women didn't have any of the advantages that those guys had. They didn't have academic jobs or regular academic positions. So they often ended up being like secretaries or in some kind of subordinate job. Take Claire Johnson and Pam Cook. For a number of years, the only way that they could get any control to do anything with film was that they ran this side event at the Edinburgh Film Festival. By doing that, they would get a little bit of money, could do their own programming, and then have a little brochure to go with it. So they would program Jacques Tourneur features or Max Ophuls, or they would maybe put together a special program at the National Film Theater. They would get some resources. They might have some money but only a little bit. It was really voluntary work that gave them a way to develop something in terms of feminist criticism or their own interests. So in a certain way they were building up credentials, but they did it in this situation of precarity. It was a common occurrence than that women couldn't get regular jobs in film, they were always in this subordinate position.
J: During this whole period of formation of film studies, people were loose with each other because academic film studies didn't exist in a distinct, formed way. We were coming up as the ones who would then remake the field or establish it. In SCS the women were self-conscious about developing feminist criticism. We often would be together on a panel on women and film or women's issues. And on these panels we were really aware that that we were developing new knowledge. I think we've seen a similar thing happen with gay and queer studies, although it may have moved a little faster with contemporary scholars. After a while, it becomes clear that this kind of knowledge benefits a lot more people than just those who are producing it. And so there's a take up of the outsiders’ ideas within the discipline as a whole.
I’ve found that class issues have always been more stubborn for us to face and to deal with, both class in the academy and class as subject matter. And certainly the academy has dealt with race at an even slower pace. Françoise Pfaff, who wrote for Jump Cut on Xala, was the first black woman in SCS whom I knew.
C: I remember going to the Society for Cinema Studies in '83 in Madison, Wisconsin, and there was the first time that I ever saw a black person at SCS, Mark Reid, a grad student at the University of Iowa. And I met a black woman from the University of Wisconsin in Education. But that was the first time that I ever saw a person of color at SCS, including Asian people. It was just all this white-boys-club before that. I think Ana Lopez and Suzanna Pick were two of the few Latina/o members.
Also in the 70s, people forming film studies came from different disciplines and even professions. For example, Peter Wollen got this job teaching at Northwestern in the early 70s with an appointment split between English and Film. English decided that they really didn't want him around; film wasn't significant for them. So he had to go back to England. But while he was here for three years, Laura Mulvey was here too; they were married and had a child. But Laura was treated exclusively and only as a faculty wife—except in the city of Chicago at large, where she ran the first Chicago Women's Film Festival. Julia and I had met Peter and Laura in London. So we knew Laura as her own intellectual, someone who'd been writing in Spare Rib, the British feminist magazine. We thought of her as a different individual from Peter, but then in the United States, she was never asked to teach a course. She was never asked for her opinion about anything. There would be events at Northwestern, and she would have to speak from the floor asking questions. She wasn't acknowledged as an intellectual. Peter and Laura’s experiences in the United States were the sign of the kinds of way in which the contributions of people to film studies were off center and coming from these marginalized places.
The same thing happened with Ruby Rich. She went to Chicago and started working at the Film Center there. In her writing, Ruby is a powerful intellectual, but she's also someone who was in this position of being the co-director or assistant director at the Film Center. She could program things, bring people together, and get people to write programs notes. She would put together different things like that, but it was always in this kind of marginal way. It wasn't like being a professor with a regular salary, with benefits.
I mention these people’s careers because those were also the kind of people who got involved in Jump Cut. Many were graduate students. For example, at that point Dana Polan was a graduate student at Santa Cruz and in the Jump Cut collective on the West Coast. Other people there were artists like Ernie Larson and Sherry Milner. Kathy Geritz, who now is the head of the Pacific Film Archive, was just an undergraduate at that point in the Bay Area. The same thing in Chicago. Some of the people involved in Chicago were grad students like Jane Gaines or Peter Steven or Russell Campbell, a grad student from New Zealand who was finishing up and was going back to New Zealand. Linda Williams came to Chicago and got involved. We were often a place that attracted people who were just getting started or didn't necessarily fit into an existing academic regime. At that point, even if you were hired buy an English department and you're doing film, you were really a marginal person. Film was specialized knowledge.