Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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How to Research the Exception. The Power of the Unknown, Women and the Spanish Silent Cinema
Begoña Soto Vázquez

Last modified: 2010-05-12


Research on the contribution of women to the development of Spanish Silent Cinema draws attention to vital problems about historiography. The main problem is how to attempt a primary biographical study without appealing to how rare, atypical, exotic or unique the sources—data, films, women, works, books or references—are. Without a doubt finding any women in the History of Spanish Cinema is very extraordinary but the point is not to make of this strangeness the main objective and the guide of the researching work. Spanish Cinema is a strange and atypical object in itself, so most of the time to speak about Spanish Cinema is always between the necessary explanation and justification of its own peculiarity and the constant vindication of its originality and exceptions. Thus, to insert women on this state of things in a natural way is difficult. Trying not to become just a fashionable publishing/academic attraction is a nearly impossible objective but is vital.

After two years researching the (general and specialized) press to find references about women working on Spanish and Portuguese[1] cinema of the silent period (1896-1930) we can raise some questions, but the project is still in progress.

First of all, to go deeper into some conclusions made at IV Women and Silent Screen (Guadalajara, México) I can point out that women in Spanish and Portuguese Cinema broke in some way with the traditions of working in theatre. Women in the theatrical business used to have a significant roll, as the theater had traditionally be a family business. Women that gained importance in theatre were not interested in cinema at all, at least, during the first decade of the cinematograph. Women working on cinema hardly had any relation, professionally or artistically, with the previous show business, this fact made it really difficult to find a place for women in the new business. Women that joined cinema practiced activities with an indirect relationship with film production. They were not involved in the production of films. Some of them were owners of cinema projectors or venues, some were in different technical work at distribution firms (checking and editing copies or translating and making intertitles) and the majority of them worked as film critics, journalist or reporters. To find women involved in a more direct way in films production we have to look for pre-production tasks as writers or "executive producers" or for post-production tasks, mainly film editors.

Second, what seems to be most interesting in researching women on Spanish and Portuguese is that the traces of those working women in cinema press between 1896 and 1930 aren't unusual. Obviously they are only traces, but they are enough to point out that their invisibility is, in some way, constructed by the subsequent historiography. They were visible in the daily press: photographs, signed articles, references, advertisements...

More important than developing these two brief hypotheses at the conference, the main aim of my attendance is to share the current advances in our research project on women and silent cinema in Spain and Portugal, research that allowed us to reach the conclusion that women’s involvement in the first decades of cinema in both countries is a much more complex question than the non-existence we have alwayes assumed.

[1] A researching project funded by Comunidad Autónoma de Madrid and Universidad Rey Juan Carlos during 2009 and 2010, with the contribution of António Loja Neves as independent researcher in Lisbon (Portugal).

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