In the Red Velvet Seat

Red Velvet Seat

Following on from yesterday’s post on women silent filmmakers in Britain, today I came across Red Velvet Seat: Women’s Writings on the First Fifty Years Of Cinema, edited by Antonia Lant and Ingrid Periz. I really should have noted it before now. It is an excellent, huge (872 pages) compilation of contemporary texts by women on film in the first half of the twentieth century. These come from women filmmakers, actresses, social reformers, journalists, critics, sociologists, poets, and spectators, many from the silent period.

The texts are divided into sections, which demonstrate the range: Seeing or Being Seen; Touring the Audience; Why We Go to the Movies; The Spectatrix; Film Aesthetics and the Other Arts; Futurology; Captive Minds; Enlightment without Tears; Means of Control; Naming the Onject; Reviewing; The Star; Film as the National Barometer; In the Shadow of War; The Limits of Criticism; A Job for Whom?; The Actress and Adventuress; The Screenwriter; The Director; Working in the Autiorium.

Among the more familar names are Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Dorothy Richardson, C.A. Lejeune, Iris Barry, Lotte Reiniger, Betty Balfour, Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Gish, H.D., Maya Deren, Marie Stopes, Anita Loos, Germaine Dulac, Rebecca West, Dilys Powell, Zelda Fitzgerald, Winifred Holtby and Elizabeth Bowen. What is so impressive, apart from the range of writers and themes, is the choice of some little-known yet hugely interesting rarities alongside the expected ‘classics’. How did they find the 1918 piece by Marie Stopes on the purpose on cinema in a Tokyo journal? There are two pieces by female spectators of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons boxing film of 1897. There are many riches here for anyone interested in the first decades of cinema, quite apart from the special emphasis on women’s roles in cinema and women’s view of the medium.

It’s a real treasure trove.