Cinema’s First Nasty Women: Queens of Destruction

Thursday, March 16, 2023

A part of our “Women’s (Film) History Month” movie series at Proctors, this is the first of Kino-Lorber’s extremely popular and critically-acclaimed programs of rarely-seen silent films about feminist protest, slapstick rebellion, and suggestive gender play. These women organize labor strikes, demolish their homes, battle with police, tyrannize their spouses and gleefully dismantle traditional gender constraints.

The program includes European and American silent films produced from 1903 to 1919, all with brand-new commissioned musical scores. To help foster greater equity in the realm of silent film accompaniment, the producers invited primarily women and BIPOC musicians to compose original scores and play the music. They encouraged all composers to resist stereotypical musical styles and avoid supporting racist jokes or other offensive content in their scores.

They have asked us, as presenters, to alert viewers that racist images appear in a couple of the short films, stressing their recognition that racism in popular media has long harmed–and continues to harm–Black and Indigenous people and people of color. Additionally, they note: “It is not our goal to whitewash history, but to learn from it. We hope that bearing witness to the history of racist imagery in popular media contributes to today’s freedom struggles.”

1903-1919, silent with newly commissioned scores), run time: 85 minutes, not rated.
Location GE Theatre.

Léontine’s Boat (France, 1911, 5 min.)
When her parents insist she play indoors, the precocious Léontine cannot resist her desire to sail her new toy boat. She plugs up the drains and turns on the faucets, flooding the house as water rains down through the floorboards and collapses the ceilings. Sadly, despite headling at least 24 films (and co-starring in others), the identity of the actress portraying Léontine remains a mystery

Tilly’s Party (UK, 1911, 7 min.)
This film is part of the “Tilly Girl” series (1910-1915) starring Chrissie White and Alma Taylor. After careening a bicycle into unsuspecting party guests, Tilly and Sally are banished from the party by their father. Not to be put off, the irrepressible sisters wreak havoc throughout the house, roller-skate into a room full of upper-class women, and initiate a high speed, outdoor bicycle chase that ends with the pair feigning innocence as they studiously practice piano in their room just as an angry mob bursts through the door.

The Nursemaids’ Strike (France, 1907, 12 min.)
The nursemaids organize a general strike to protest their deplorable labor conditions. They march in the streets and clash violently with the police, who are no match for their collective anger. Meanwhile, children organize a counter-protest and babies are left to feed directly from cows through long plastic tubes!

Mary Jane’s Mishap (UK, 1903, 4 min.)
A housemaid lights a stove, but combusts through the chimney after knowingly pouring too much paraffin on the fire. Her dismembered limbs rain down over the village skyline allowing her to return as a dancing specter to haunt her own graveside service. Formally innovative for its piecemeal aesthetics, the film stars Laura Bayley, prolific stage performer and energetic participant in the Brighton School of early film pioneers.

Madame Plumette’s Fury (France, 1912, 5.5 min.)
Madame Plumette’s husband goes on a fishing trip every month when she menstruates. Enraged, she foists her furies on any and all in her path. Though the class dynamics are messy as she initially targets workers with less power, she learns to punch up as the gags escalate. In the end, she is tied up and hosed down, but by reviving this film, we hope to unshackle her bones and unbind her anger. The name of the actress playing Mme. Plumette is sadly unknown, but we know that Ellen Lowe plays her saucy maid.

Rosalie and Her Phonograph (France, 1911, 4 min.)
This tragically incomplete film creatively displays the pleasures of the still-new technology of the phonograph. Without any need for synchronized sound, Rosalie (Sarah Duhamel) excitedly demonstrates her new record player to anyone who will listen (including Léontine in a cameo appearance). Bringing joy and chaos in equal measure, even inanimate objects are unable to resist the temptation to get up and dance with Rosalie.

Léontine Gets Carried Away (France, 1911, 6 min.)
Young Léontine is sent airborne by too many helium balloons and takes a catastrophic joyride across town, while her parents and the townsfolk frantically chase after her. Her journey is depicted with dazzling aerial views.

Cunégonde the Nasty Woman (France, 1912, 8.5 mins.)
At first glance, Cunégonde is a sweet middle-class housewife tending to her embroidery. She instantly transforms once her husband attempts to go out without her, throwing a lasso from a window to pull him back inside and performing all kinds of absurd stunts. Declaring their marriage over, her husband locks her in a room, but she climbs out the window, crawls inside his travel trunk, and smuggles herself into his hotel. The actress playing Cunégonde, despite having appeared in dozens of films for multiple film companies, was only recently identified (by the producers of this film series) as having performed throughout Europe for years as “Litte Chrysia.”

Rosalie Moves In (France, 1911, 6 min.)
Rosalie tears down the boundaries of bourgeois domesticity in this witty comedy about the idiosyncrasies of life in an apartment building. While moving into her new space, the she causes no small amount of chaos as she drives railroad spikes through her walls and ceiling (and into neighbors’ apartments) in an attempt to use them as picture hangers and light fixture supports.

Léontine Keeps House (France, 1912, 8.5 min.)
In a last gasp effort to school Léontine in domestic labor, her parents entrust her with housesitting. She executes her obligations with catastrophic aplomb, shattering all the dishes in the gesture of cleaning them, while managing to flood and incinerate her entire home simultaneously. In a futile effort to find her baby brother and pet dog, she also inherits a horde of stray canines and orphaned babies. This was the last episode of the Léontine series and it feels like a fitting conclusion. With her home in shambles and parents evacuated, Léontine becomes custodian to all the misfits of the next generation.

Rowdy Ann (US, 1919, 23.5 min.)
Cowgirl “Rowdy Ann” (Fay Tincher) lassos her dad from the saloon, beats her would-be suitor in boxing, and shows off her gunmanship whenever she gets the chance. Her parents decide to send her to a women’s college “for to larn to be a lady!” and – on the train there – she terrorizes a porter who mistakes her sleeping cabin for his wife’s. At the college, she shows up to an Isadora Duncan-style barefoot dancing class wearing cowboy boots and a gun slung around her waist. Her lasso skills come in handy, however, when she must save a classmate from a dire fate. No heterosexual coupling here—the film ends with a three-way girls’ pillow fight! Tincher, rumored to be a lesbian, worked continuously from 1912 to 1928, appearing in more than 160 films. She ran her own company for a year and a half starting in 1918 and lived to the age of 99.

Personal Responsibility Statement: Proctors prides itself on offering a diverse selection of arts entertainment. Not all productions may appeal to or be appropriate for every person or for all ages. Patrons are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the shows we offer in order to make informed decisions prior to purchasing tickets.

FREE PARKING in the Broadway parking garage is provided by Upstate Ford Dealers. WE ARE IN YOUR AREA.