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Post-'60s Spotlights Give Feminists Their Close-Ups

A still from Rebecca Horn's Performances II, featured in PS1's exhibition Wack! ART and the Feminist Revolution

By Miriam Bale

The ongoing series at Lincoln Center 1968: An International Perspective is an act of inspired programming: Instead of a geographically or director-based series, it's based on political events from that year and, even more interestingly, their aftermath, with a high concentration of films from the early '70s. Featuring work from the US, France, Germany, Japan, Hungary and elsewhere, the breadth is remarkable. It is especially conspicuous, then, that only 15 minutes' worth of the series' 30 selections are directed by a woman filmmaker: Joyce Weiland's Rat Life and Diet in North America.

From this unfortunate omission of points-of-view from one half of the world, one might miss the direct connection of the student rebellions of 1968 -- among other events from that year -- and the development of the second wave of feminism. Thankfully, PS1 and Anthology Film Archives are there to more than pick up the slack.

At PS1, this weekend marks the end of the exhibit Wack! ART and the Feminist Revolution. The show includes at least 75 film and video works by women, including essential films like Fly by Yoko Ono, Dyketactics by Barbara Hammer, Woman House by Mako Idemitsu, Performances II by Rebecca Horn, and Martha Rosler's Semiotics in the Kitchen. Representing a very specific moment, what's featured seems based as much on historical curatorial decisions as anything art historical: Images of quilted blankets at kitchen consciousness raising gatherings, nude bodies in the golden sunlight and the ubiquitous used tampon seem particularly of their time, a nostalgic look at a brief time in the '70 when feminism was in the forefront of conversations. The exhibit is a celebration of that era as well as an elegy; as Peggy Phelan wrote in the exhibition catalog, "It is often said that we are living in a post-feminist age, a description that paradoxically suggests that feminism is both passé because it has been fully assimilated and somehow irrelevant because it has failed to eradicate sexism."

As comprehensive as the PS1 exhibit is, Anthology Film Archives is screening short films by Marie-Christine Questerbert that were overlooked, but could have easily been included in WACK! or 1968. One of her films, The Endless Ride, is a bright and funny Western with Tati-like exaggerated squeaks and stomps on the soundtrack, about a group of geometry-obsessed, ineffectual cowboys who get raided by an all-female group of bandits. These ladies gleefully throw cabbages and quote Valerie Solanas's SCUM Manifesto. (Solanas's document, published in 1968 after her attempted assassination of Andy Warhol, is in fact included in the WACK! exhibit, and was was considered one of the earliest and most radical acts of the Second Wave.) The connections between the films being screened at all three venues are not explicitly made, but a weekend of active filmgoing will render them obvious.

Seduced and Abandoned is a recurring feature about repertory cinema highlights in New York. Miriam Bale programs the monthly series The Movie Night Disco at Frank's Lounge in Fort Greene. Read her previous columns here.

Posted at May 9, 2008 9:01 AM

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