America was a symbol of Modernism throughout the entire 20th century yet it was only after World War II that it practically acquired a monopoly on this, particularly in occupied Germany. In the same post-war period America forged a new image of womanhood. It no longer had any use for the wartime message that had emphasised women’s independence. Patriarchy and the new prosperity now invented ‘the perfect housewife’s world’. In reality none but a few wealthy households could get by without a woman’s wage. Interestingly, documentaries on the subject were rare, but countless educational films, feature films and advertising campaigns blazoned this ideal worldwide, which perhaps also explains why it has proved so stubbornly persistent.
As a ‘melting pot’ of vastly different cultures, the USA has historically been hard put to develop a sense of national identity. Its symbols accordingly became all the more important. The hand-coloured film, Three American Beauties from 1906 presents in touchingly naive fashion first, the propagation of a red rose named ‘American Beauty’, then a woman in a yellow dress and finally, the American flag. Unusually, national identity is here defined by feminine points of reference. The film used to run as the finale of black/white cinema programmes (just as an image of the flag was later to round off the night’s TV). Here, it opens the Festival.
Jede Frau kann zaubern is a typical re-education film. Whilst American housewives were recommended to buy a completely new fitted kitchen, impoverished post-war Germans had to make do with creatively re-designing their old ones.
Peter Roehr, sadly deceased at a very young age, worked almost exclusively with series, on paper as well as in film. For Filmmontage III he – like most of the German found-footage filmmakers who were to follow – used American source material, in this case adverts featuring idealized takes on feminine beauty, minute details of which he clipped and collaged so as to subvert them.
One of the strangest dramas ever in American media politics was the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, which for months riveted the eyes of the world on a brief affair between the US president and his lowly intern. As a man, and one who wields power to boot, Clinton ultimately emerged unscathed from the affair. However, powerless dame Monika Lewinsky will bear its stigma for a lifetime. Time Flies describes her vain attempts to regain a foothold on the social ladder as a test-run for the drama’s next thrilling instalment.
Norwegian video artist Ane Lan presents himself as a woman in various cultural contexts. In America he turns up in Oriental guise and ambiance to put the musical question, “America, where are you now?”
The way men look at women is turned around in YES by Abbey Williams, who randomly filmed men in the Underground, then added the caption ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Maybe’ to each image. This reversal addresses not only the media’s usual regard for women but also the brutality inherent in constant exposure to social selection. The judgements ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Maybe’ accompany people at every turn and are decisive throughout their lives.
1 For a description of the genre see the programme The Problem Now is Future Peace: That Is Your Job in Germany.