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Moving Image Section--Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division



Motion Pictures
The Silent Era
The Studio Era
arrow graphicThe Post-Studio Era
Readings, Lectures, and the Performing Arts
PATHFINDER: Barbara Jordan




The Post-Studio Era

From the late 1940s, Hollywood faced two threats to its hegemony: the court-ordered breakup of the studios' exhibition monopoly and the steady loss of audiences to television. With fewer ticket sales, the studios made fewer movies. By the 1960s, the studio system with its huge production facilities and long-term contract personnel came to an end. Films addressing women's concerns continued to be made, but they were often harder to fund, distribute, and exhibit within the changing Hollywood economy. When the eroding Production Code was replaced by the ratings system, however, filmmakers were given the freedom to treat social and political themes in more mature and original ways.

Depictions of Women

The Library's collections of American feature films received through copyright deposit are exceptionally strong for this period. Movies that could be classified as women's pictures—such as Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974, FGC 8517-8522), Norma Rae (1979) [catalog record], Terms of Endearment (1983) [catalog record], Places in the Heart (1984) [catalog record], Sleepless in Seattle (1993) [catalog record], and The First Wives Club (1996) [catalog record]—are well represented in the division's holdings. Harkening back to the days of silent serials, women appropriated the role of action heroes in many contemporary films, among them Alien (1979) [catalog record], The Terminator (1984) [catalog record], and Thelma and Louise (1991) [catalog record], but more often they appeared as appendages to male stars.

Women's advances in contemporary America have not meant the end of their formulaic representations through blatant stereotypes in motion pictures. As recently as Pretty Woman (1990) [catalog record], Mighty Aphrodite (1995, DAA 3270), and Leaving Las Vegas (1995) [catalog record], the cliché of the “hooker with a heart of gold” has been a central characterization. Unlike those of previous generations of women from Lillian Gish to Katharine Hepburn, the careers of contemporary women stars suffer in comparison to their male counterparts'. Today's actresses are generally paid less, find fewer challenging roles, and find their lifespans as romantic leads fading long before those of such aging lotharios as Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson.

Women Directors

With the breakdown of the studio system, however, women were able to forge careers as directors once again. Ranging from exploitation films to independent productions to Hollywood extravaganzas, the Library's holdings include works from such women feature film directors as Stephanie Rothman (b. 1936), Joan Micklin Silver (b. 1935), Joan Tewkesbury (b. 1936), Claudia Weill (b. 1947), Joyce Chopra (b. 1938), Amy Heckerling (b. 1954), Martha Coolidge (b. 1946), Barbra Streisand (b. 1942), Susan Seidelman (b. 1952), Penny Marshall (b. 1942), Nancy Savoca (b. 1959), Tamra Davis (n.d.), Penelope Spheeris (b. 1945), Julie Dash (b. 1952), Allison Anders (b. 1954), Nora Ephron (b. 1941), Jodie Foster (b. 1962), Mimi Leder (b. 1952), and Betty Thomas (b. 1947). Records for films by these directors are available in the Library's online catalog.

Documentary Filmmakers

Documentary filmmaking was and continues to be an important outlet for women directors, as these examples suggest.

  • Liane Brandon (b. 1939) explores the concepts of beauty and self-image in her film Betty Tells Her Story (1972, FBB 7142).
  • Barbara Kopple (b. 1946) spent four years in the coalfields of Kentucky covering the events surrounding a miner's strike in the Academy Award-winning documentary Harlan County, U.S.A (1976) [catalog record].
  • Director Lee Grant (b. 1927) documents the case of eight women in Willmar, Minnesota, who went on strike because of job discrimination in The Willmar 8 (1982, FDA 6917).
  • Greta Schiller (b. 1954) and Andrea Weiss (b. 1956) made International Sweethearts of Rhythm, America's Hottest All-Girl Band (1986) [catalog record], which examines the roles of women and minorities through the story of a multiracial all-girl band formed during World War II.

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