This series is an unabashed feminist love letter to a cluster of Hollywood films from the 1940s that deploy a woman's voice in complex ways, making the viewer aware of the consciousness and deeply felt internality of the female characters even as we appreciate the trap of gorgeous surfaces.
The voices in films such as Letter from an Unknown Woman and Secret Beyond the Door are pervasive, pronounced, guiding us throughout the film, whispering in our privileged ear. In I Walked with a Zombie, Humoresque, and The Locket the voice-overs are fleeting aural connections that trouble the narrative's coherence, undermine male privilege, and bring dissonance to the image. Many of these films foreground the connection between voice and speech; letters written by scandalous women speak unspeakable secrets, declaim repressed passion, or mock patriarchy. Other works open onto a voice outside of language-the annihilating excess of a woman's scream, sublime invocations of a vision that sees “beyond” sight, the delirious traverse of separation between lovers, or the vortexical narrative structure that defies conventional causality and linear resolution. Often the point of view that we share with the principal character is not hers alone-it binds and flexes with that of others, evoking duality, difference, and contradiction.
A number of the films are canonical in the “woman's film” category, others are obscure or cult gems; all have much to tell us about voice and sound in film, and how crucially these elements figure in representing female subjectivity. Settle in for summer nights of not-as-guilty-as-we-thought pleasure!
Britta Sjogren is a filmmaker and professor of cinema at San Francisco State University. Her films include Jo-Jo at the Gate of Lions (winner of Best Narrative Feature at the Atlanta Film Festival), A Small Domain (Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film, Sundance), and In This Short Life (Best Director, Rio FEMINA; Best Feature, Bend International).
Sjogren will introduce the series on July 15 and sign copies of her book Into the Vortex: Female Voice and Paradox in Film, on sale at the screenings-where everyone receives the members' 10 percent discount-and at the Museum Store for $20, paperback. She will also appear in person to present Jo-Jo at the Gate of Lions on August 26.
Of Related Interest
Secret Beyond the Door is presented as part of the series Treasures from the UCLA Festival of Preservation. A special screening of Vertigo offers a counterpoint to this series.