Cinema’s First Nasty Women
Cinema’s First Nasty Women is a 4-disc DVD/Blu-ray set featuring rarely-seen silent films about feminist protest, anarchic slapstick destruction, and suggestive gender play. The collection includes 98 European and American silent films, produced from 1896 to 1926, sourced from 10 international film archives, and spotlighting slapstick comediennes and cross-dressing women of the silent screen. The women included are indeed very “nasty”—they organize labor strikes, bake (and weaponize) inedible desserts, explode out of the chimney, electrocute the police force, and assume a range of identities that gleefully dismantle traditional gender norms and sexual decorum. The films span a range of genres including slapstick comedy, genteel farce, the trick film, Western drama, and adventure thriller.
The expected release date by Kino Lorber is early 2022.
Co-Curators: Laura Horak, Maggie Hennefeld, Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi
Producer: Bret Wood (Kino Lorber)
Music Supervisor: Dana Reason (Oregon State University)
Project Coordinator: Kate Higginson (Carleton University)
Agreements Officer: Asli Eran (Carleton University)
Research Assistants and Translators: Daniel Aufmann (University of Minnesota), Vanessa Cambier (University of Minnesota), Enrique Moreno Ceballos (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México), Gabriela Llerena (University of Minnesota), Aurore Spiers (University of Chicago)
Participating Archives: Eye Filmmuseum, Library of Congress, Jérome Seydoux Pathé Foundation, British Film Institute, Blackhawk Films, George Eastman Museum, Library and Archives Canada, National Library of Norway, Swedish Film Institute, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Museum of Modern Art, Harvard Film Archive, Princeton University Library
Musicians and Composers: TBD
Project Partners: Jay Weissberg (Giornate del Cinema Muto), Kate Saccone and Jane Gaines (Women Film Pioneers Project), Carleton University (Ottawa), Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México
Anti-Racism Advisory Panel: Renée Baker (The Chicago Modern Orchestra Project), Liza Black (Cherokee / Indiana University), Charlene Regester (University of North Carolina), Jan Looking Wolf Reibach (Kalapuya / Oregon State University), Enrique Ceballos (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México), Ceci Ramírez (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México)
“Cinema’s First Nasty Women” is supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Disc 1: Disastrous Domestics & Anarchic Tomboys
Vengeful kitchen maids and rambunctious teenagers conspire to leave the domestic sphere in total shambles. Housemaids combust through the chimney, fiancées weaponize their inedible baked goods against the patriarchy, while recalcitrant daughters flood and incinerate their family homes. This disc also spotlights the forgotten films of Léontine, an internationally popular French comedienne character and star of a Pathé Comica series that produced over 21 titles from 1910-1912. (But her identity remains unknown to this day!) It also features anarchic, hilarious performances by Lea Giunchi, Bertha Regustus, Laura Bayley, Florence Lawrence, Berthe Dagmar, Gilbert Saroni, and Lili Zeidner.
Disc 2: Queens of Destruction
Queens of Destruction are not a far cry from their anarchic teen forebears. They demolish the home, tyrannize their spouses, and wage feminist revolution in the streets. This disc features three French comedienne characters, Cunégonde (Little Chrysia) and Rosalie and Pétronille (both played by Sarah Duhamel). The actress who appeared as Cunégonde was recently identified by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi as Little Chrysia, a traveling stage performer and prolific film comedienne who also starred in the Cunégonde spinoff series Arabellaand Zoé. Duhamel’s films likewise embrace the hilarity of social protest and anarchic physical destruction, exemplified by Rosalie Has Sleeping Sickness, Rosalie and Her Phonograph, and Pétronille Wins the Big Race. Duhamel’s body is a force of nature and absolutely anything is possible in the world of her films. This disc also features a curated section on “Tyranny at Home,” giving pride of place to the hell-raising antics of Florence Turner, Alma Taylor, Chrissie White, and Indigenous actress Minnie Devereau.
Disc 3: Gender Rebels
Gender Rebels explores the porousness of gender in American silent film, from cross-dressing girl spies to the gender hijinks of the wild West and frozen North. This disc includes the surviving films from writer/director/actor Gene Gauntier’s girl spy series and the best of Edna “Billy” Foster’s work at Biograph, where the young assigned-female actor played almost exclusively male roles. On the Western frontier, young women disguise themselves as boys to seek their fortune; other films show the rambunctious gun-toting femininity cultivated out West. This disc also includes performances by actor-producer Texas Guinan, Indigenous star Lillian St. Cyr (Winnebago), lesbian comedian Fay Tincher, and Japanese-American sensation Tsuru Aoki.
Disc 4: Female Tricksters
This disc sets out the perils and pleasures of boyish and boisterous young women in urban and modern spaces. Cross-dressing provides myriad opportunities for accidental same-sex attraction, and women look to male attire to brave the mean streets of the early 20th century metropolis. Evelyn Greeley moonlights as both Sapphic dancer and male Latin professor in Phil-for-Short, while theater star Mabel Taliaferro plays a headstrong society girl who disguises herself as a boy to win her father’s land from a “woman-hating” French trapper in the frontier BDSM fantasy, Snowbird. The final set of films plays with the rapid changes to gender and sexuality unfolding at this time, from a topsy-turvy comedy set 100 years in the future when “men are like women” and “women are like men” to the disorienting rituals, masquerades, and mistaken identities unleashed by a sorority initiation in She’s A Prince. Also includes hilarious performances by Renée Sylvaire, Dorothy Bernard, Louise Glaum, and Alice Ardell.
Nasty Women panel, Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México (Puebla, Mexico), Tuesday, November 23, 2021.
Curators Laura Horak, Maggie Hennefeld, and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi will join via Zoom.
“Nasty Women 3,” Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone, Italy), October 2-9, 2021.
“Nasty Women: A Comic Tribute,” British Film Institute, Sept. 26, 2021.
“Cinema’s First Nasty Women,” Sneak Peek Online Film Program, Beykoz Kundura (İstanbul, Turkey) March 8-28, 2021.
“Feminist Laughter,” Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México (Puebla, Mexico), November 2019.
“Nasty Women,” Day of Silent Cinema (Indiana University Cinema), October 2019.
“Nasty Women 2,” Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone, Italy), October 2019.
“Nasty Women,” Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone, Italy), October 2017.
“Girls Will Be Boys,”Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone, Italy), October 2015.
Hennefeld, Maggie, Laura Horak, and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi. “Feminist Catastrophe Against Disaster Patriarchy: Curating Cinema’s First Nasty Women.” Modernism/modernity, July 28, 2021.
For related scholarship and further resources see the Nasty Women Bibliography!
Related Media Coverage
For online articles and interviews about our project and related events see our expanding list of Nasty Women press coverage.