Episode 110: Silent Cinema’s Nasty Women with Maggie Hennefeld

Our guest today is Maggie Hennefeld, McKnight Presidential Fellow and Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who has co-curated a dvd set of the medium’s early female comedians titled Cinema’s First Nasty Women. Maggie talks us through the current resurgence in interest in silent cinema and the global landscape of festivals, supporters and restoration projects, as well as her own journey of scholarship in the field that led to her collaborating on this important project. All this interest seems long overdue considering the fantastically experimental and entertaining material, which is raucous, varied and vast, often making radical social commentary that still resonates today. Maggie vividly describes several highlights in this comprehensive collection, and the women who were behind and in front of the camera. In addition to assembling, restoring and annotating the films, the team also engaged over 45 mostly female composers to write and perform both traditional and avant-garde scores for each film, and she talks extensively about that process. We also discuss the erasure of this material from the silent film canon, and women from comedy (among many other fields) in general, and how these films both give us a new understanding of comedy in this era, even as they inform our on-going struggles with sexism and racism today, by showing us images of women that are simultaneously empowering and troubling. All films are contextualized with expert commentary, allowing them to be used in classrooms or otherwise as jumping-off points for deeper conversation. Finally, Maggie shares some thoughts from the book she’s currently working on about the notion of “hysterical laughter” and its supposed danger to women.

Here are some of the references from this episode, for those who want to dig a little deeper:

Cinema’s First Nasty Women
DVD Booklet Insert

Maggie Hennefeld’s other publications:
Death from Laughter, Female Hysteria and Early Cinema
Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes

Other Curators of the set:
Laura HorakGirls Will Be Boys
Elif Rongen-KaynakçiEYE filmmuseum

Other Curators of the set:
Laura HorakGirls Will Be Boys
Elif Rongen-KaynakçiEYE filmmuseum

Henry Jenkins, What Made Pistachio Nuts?: Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic
Charlotte Greenwood
Fanny Brice
Lupe Vélez
Winnie Lightner
Ali Wong
Sarah Silverman
Wanda Sykes

James Agee – “Comedy’s Greatest Era”
Charlie Chaplin in Mable’s Strange Predicament

Silent Film Culture
Women and the Silent Screen
Silent London
Edward Everett Horton
Steve Massa and Ben Model silent comedy Watch Party

Silent Film Festivals
Pordenone Film Festival
Bologna Film Festival
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
El Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México 
Hippodrome film festival

Trump – “Nasty Women”

Film Scholars
Arigon Starr
Liza Black
Shelley Stamp 

Female Filmmakers, Producers, and Comedians
Alice Guy-Blaché
Bertha Regustus
Dorothy Arzner
Fay Tincher
Ida Lupino
Lois Weber
Mabel Normand
Minnie Devereaux – “Fatty and Minnie He-Haw
Sarah Duhamel
Texas Guinan

Silent Film Music
Dana ReasonScore
Dreamland Faces
Gonca Feride Varol
Guenter Buchwald
José María Serralde Ruiz
Meg Morley
Neil Brand
Steven Horne
Terri Lyne Carrington

Nasty Women team on Nitrateville Radio
Our previous Episode 30: The forgotten women of early filmmaking

History of the Tom Boy
Nancy Walker
Peg Bracken – The I Hate to Housekeep Book / I Hate to Cook Book


The Unknown

Arrest Warrant – Ukranian silent cinema

What’s Up Doc?

Undercrank Productions (silent film restoration)

Online screenings from the Bologna and Pordenone film festivals

Ziegfeld Follies
Hal Roach Studios

Share your thoughts via Twitter with Henry, Colin and the How Do You Like It So Far? account! You can also email us at [email protected].

“In Time” by Dylan Emmett and “Spaceship” by Lesion X.
In Time (Instrumental) by Dylan Emmet  https://soundcloud.com/dylanemmet
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