Welcome to Auteuse Theory


Welcome to Auteuse Theory. The purpose of this blog is to allow us to think about and write about a range of films made by women, from silent re-discoveries to the latest releases, from activist documentaries to mainstream Hollywood features, taking in examples from across the globe, whether famous or obscure. We have no desire to force ham-fisted links between very different films and very different filmmakers, to insist that they fit some pre-designated template of women’s cinema. Quite the opposite; we want to explore the diversity of forms taken by women’s filmmaking across different nations and eras. So why focus on women as a separate category at all? Why isolate their films from those of their male peers and think about them as some kind of exceptional or special case? Well, there’s still the matter of persistent inequality of opportunity within certain key authorial roles in the film industries. We all know the stats: even now, post-Bigelow Oscar win, women only constitute 10% of directors globally, and 15% of screenwriters. This is an improvement on previous years but it’s still (obviously!) a very minor proportion of the whole. As the British director Lynne Ramsay has commented, it’s ‘a bit like a country not being filmed – and that country not having a voice. It really does matter.’ And although we are very reluctant to make simple equations between the fact of there being a woman being at the helm of a film and that film offering a more complex picture of femininity (there have always been battalions of male directors who are very good at telling female-focussed stories), there is nonetheless plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is often true.

Our main subject is film but we will inevitably make forays into television and other media from time to time. We will be focussing predominantly on films directed by women, but we’re also interested in including films which demonstrate female authorship in other ways (writing, producing or performance). And we won’t be thinking about those films solely as women’s films. We don’t want to ghettoise them, so we’ll be connecting them to the time and place of their production, or their place within a genre or a movement, as much as we connect them to each other. There will be no rhyme or reason to the films that we discuss or the order in which they appear, instead we’ll be hoping for serendipitous connections, unexpected correspondences, sharp contrasts, strange juxtapositions; in other words, a blog that aims to be perpetually different and surprising. Most of the writing will be undertaken by the two main authors but interspersed with guest reviews from others who will each bring a fresh perspective.

And, finally, why the title Auteuse Theory? We were scouting around for a name that indicated a response to the old-fashioned auteur theory, and its insistence on ‘virility’ as a marker of directorial quality (all that Hawks and Ford worship). Women hadn’t only been marginalised in the making of films but the select few who had managed to break through were often given short shrift in the founding critical histories of film (with the exception of the highly problematic case of Leni Riefenstahl), until feminist scholars put Arzner, Weber, Guy-Blache, Lupino and Varda back into the picture. And this work of excavation and rediscovery continues – see the Women Film Pioneers and Women and Silent British Cinema websites for ongoing examples. We are aware of the problems of using the French feminised form of a professional name, drawing a gendered distinction between male and female practitioners (just as some publications reject the word actress in favour of actor for both men and women), but in the spirit of subversion, we wanted to occupy and feminise a word - auteur - which still sits at the heart of so much film scholarship and film appreciation. And although the blog is called Auteuse Theory, it might be more appropriate to think in terms of 'theories', the more intellectually generous plural form. These are some theories and thoughts and ideas arising from watching these films made by women. We hope you enjoy reading them…


Friday, 6 April 2012

A note on Vendetta Song (Eylem Kaftan, 2005)


Eylem Atakav

In Eylem Kaftan’s 2005 bio-documentary Vendetta Song a group of men are asked what honour means and one answers: “Honour is everything for Muslims. It is everything in Islam.” Vendetta Song is a significant film that calls for an analysis for its exploration of honour killings, gender inequalities, the traditional practice of arranged marriages and the semi-feudal social structure in Eastern Turkey within the context of Islamic tradition. The film problematizes the relations of the West to the East (both within and outside Turkey) as the narrative is structured as a travelogue of a woman travelling from Canada to Istanbul and then from Western to Eastern Turkey.
Religious values are significant determinants in cultural practices and customs in Turkey: honour crimes may not be religious but they are certainly religiously practiced. Indeed, violence shapes gender relations in various ways: both in reality and at the level of representation it resonates at different levels: verbal, physical, emotional. I raise three main questions here about the relationship between cinema and religion. The first question is: what can be said about the nature of the relationship between religion and tradition at the level of filmic representation? The second question is: why and how are honour crimes regarded as a customary practice of ‘the East’? And finally: how does Vendetta Song as a film which takes the previous two questions as its focus represent these complex links between the concepts of honour crimes, religion, patriarchal tradition, and ‘the East’? Honour crimes are generally associated with Islam and the East. However, there is in fact no intrinsic or necessary link between them.
Vendetta Song problematises the concepts of Islam and tradition whilst at the same time positioning honour crimes within an Eastern context. The film, on one hand, critiques gender politics through its feminist discourse and, on the other, attempts to deconstruct this misperceived connection between Islam and violence against women. Whilst doing so it also places emphasis on tradition rather than religion. The two are distinguished, and whilst it is accepted that they might intertwine, or that one might be overlaid on the other in practice, by thus distinguishing them, space is opened up for the possibility of critique. The tradition is a patriarchal tradition – and this is what the film focuses on. However, there is a serious issue whether the film, although it appears to want to draw this distinction between tradition and religion, succeeds in doing so clearly or consistently. Whether this is because of the aesthetic choices made in the film or whether it is a consequence of the self understanding of those filmed is another issue which needs to be carefully considered. Members of a society can subjectively (but falsely) believe that things which are not intrinsically linked are thus linked. The point, then, is that religion and culture or tradition are different categories and should be distinguished as such. The fact that a certain tradition or culture is largely based on religious practice in fact does not obscure this point. To conclude, I argue that tradition should not be thought of as justification to practices including honour crimes. To invoke tradition to justify a (violent) practice is not sufficient. Instead, institutional practices must be targeted to think about the reasons behind patriarchal discourses and violent practices.

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