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July 16, 2008

Women and New German Cinema: The Institutional Marginalising of Women

Women and New German Cinema:

The Institutional Marginalisation of Women Film Makers

Margarethe von Trotta

Margarethe von Trotta: Perhaps the most internationally well known
woman director emerging from New German Cinema

Return to New German Cinema Directors


The history of women directors in Germany is not only interesting for its own sake but because for a time there many more women directors working than in other European countries they lead by example and many are still active in cinema today. This is a brief overview of their trials, tribulations and achievements. Individual entries will be developed in due course. It is important that this history does not become "hidden"  as Sheila Rowbotham a feminist historian pointed out in her social historiography of the exclusion and / or marginalisation of women from much history. As will be seen these women film makers still had severe difficulty accessing the funding to make full length feature films. Arguably this institutionalised sexism still exists today across all nations with women film directors still being very much in the minority of directors. This phenomenon needs continous study to examine the factors at work vitiating the success of women film directors. Only then can policies be developed which ensure that this institutionalised sexism ceases.

Much of what follows is based upon the seminal book on this subject by Julia Knight Women and the New German Cinema (1992) which is still in print. By 1979 the rebuilding of a national German cinema which amounted to what is described as New German Cinema had reached another turning point since the Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962. This was expressed in the Hamburg Declaration a manifesto produced at the Hamburg Film Festival of that year. Knight comments that it was a s though the directors had wanted to declare a new National cinema existed finally which was a cinema marked by diversity in both style, form and content. Despite this assertion, Knight points out, German cinema had been largely forced down the path og traditional narrative structures in a feature film format.

Even more tellingly despite the assertions of solidarity amongst film makers there was a marked sexist split between a mainstream cinema that was predominantly male and a marginalised but very active feminist film culture. The names of directors evoked by the term New German Cinema mean for many of us in the UK at least Fassbinder, Herzog, Kluge,Reitz, Schlöndorff and Wenders. Having produced several films each by the early 1970s they had become established both at home and on the art cinema circuit in the rest of Europe at least. Knight points out that under the Kuratorium funding system from its beginning to 1973 it funded 46 films, however of these only 8 were made by women and of these 8 only one was a full length feature film. This was despite the fact that many women were working in both the film and TV sectors at this time. women filmamkers didn't really start to come to the fore in feature film making until after 1976.

The Hamburg Declaration fudged over this marginalisation of women film makers. The feeling of dissatisfaction at this marginalisation lead to a group of women film makers establishing an Association of Women Filmworkers (Verband die filmarbeiterinnen) to promote the work of women film and TV makers.

Some Institutional difficulties Facing Women Film Makers

For women there was another difficulty to overcome which was that there were few role models of women film makers from the past in Germany. Many of these male directors such as Lang, Lubitsch, Murnau and Siodmak had made successful careers in both Germany and Hollywood. Although there were exceptions such as Lotte Reiniger who made animations in the silent period and of course Leni Riefenstahl of Mountain film and Nazi propaganda infamy. There was also Leontine Sagan who was Austrian and made only one highly controversial film Mädchen in Uniform / Maidens in Uniform (1931).

Film maker Helke Sander certainly argued that this was a significant disadvantage. Many women who became film makers at this time entered into it via acting or else originally having ambitions to act. This included Helmer-Sanders Brahms, Margarethe von Trotta, Doris Dörrie, Elfi Mikesch, May Spils, Dorothea Neunkirchen and Marianne Lüdcke.

Helke Sander in her film All round Reduced Personality

Helke Sander starring in her own film All Round Reduced Personality / Redupers 1977. Her films are available on DVD from her own website with English subtitles at : Helke Sander

At a more general cultural level it wasn't recognised that women wanted and had a right to proper full-time careers. As a parent Helke Sander also pointed out that childcare still remained largely the responsibility of women. for single parents this problem was of course exacerbated as Heidi Genée pointed out:

...but if the film does not turn out the way it should, I cannot apologise because I had my three children with me during the shoot. (cited Knight 1992 p 44)

Of course these were problems common to women filmmakers in all countries and many German women film makers felt an international solidarity with other women film makers rather than with their male German counterparts. This led to them promoting a new femist film culture rather than prioritising a new national cinema. Not only was the more informal working culture and set of associated work expectations male dominated in its thinking but the funding regimes were also patriarchal. women had an extra level of distrust to overcome.

The Insitutional Structures Restrictions Upon Women Film Makers

There was a reliance upon public money to be invested in New German Cinema and this restricted all the directors both male and female however, it acted in a disproportionate way by limiting the oppportunities for women film makers far more by 'virtually excluding women directors from feature film production during its first ten years'. (Knight 1992 p 45)

Women were always being confronted with their lack of technical abilities even though none of the original signatories to the Oberhausen manifesto all of whom were male had directed a full feature film. Yet the ability of these men to create a new cinema was accepted unquestioningly despite the fact that they had only ever directed short films. However when women who had a similar history of film making in shorts came to apply for feature film funding they were rejected on the self-fulfilling prophetic grounds that they needed to have experience first. Women film makers like Heidi Genée who had alreadyextablished themselves as editors and who found the transition to film making relatively straightforward always felt that they were being expected to prove themselves "with women of course we have to be twice as good. That's the way it is." (Genee cited Knight 1992 p 45).

Jutta Brückner was given a lot of criticism for choosing a woman cameraperson for her film Laufen Lernen / Learning to Run (1980). She was accused of making an ideological decision to employ a woman cameraperson rather than an artistic decision. This patriarchal structure acted like another level of censorship on women's film making throughout the 1970s.

Jutta Bruckner 1

Dr. Jutta Brückner film maker and lecturer at the Berlin Art Academy

This patriarchal approach had effects upon the types of films being made and a restriction upon artistic development. Sander for example has stated that she wanted to work in an essayistic form which would have blurred the boundaries between documentary and fiction film. But trying to workoutside of traditional formats and generic boundaries proved impossible to fund. This was partially due to a very defensive attitude from documentary traditionalists like Klaus Wildenhahn who also taught at the Berlin film school. Men like this were in a position to influence funders. Overall then women film makers of the 1970s were operating in a very hostile environment.

Women film makers at this time were more successful in persuading funders in the documantary field as well as shorts and TV work. Where there was much lower financial risk there was more equality. Funding for more ambitious feature film projects was a different matter. The Kuratorium when it first started was able to award up to 300,000 Deutsch Marks (The pre Euro currency in Germany). Many complained that this was a totally inadequate sum however when Ulrike Ottinger received an award to make her first feature it only amounted to DM 80,000 to make Madame X - eine absolut Herrsherin / Madam X an Absolute Ruler. This was ten years after the fund was started and therefore the figure was eroded by inflation. This continual underfunding lead to the creation of a DIY culture for women film makers who were forced to be very adaptive as Dagmar Beiesdorf director of die Wolfsbraut / The Wolf Girl (1985), recalls:

We were a small team of six people. No production manager, no extra people for make-up and costumes. So, one is, of course responsible for the bulk of the work oneself. For instance I needed a piano for three days but had no properties manager...when I eventually got something agreed, it was 'but you have to collect and load yourself'. So at five in the morning....I set off...collected two sleepy friends...When we unloaded the thing where we were filming shortly before nine o'clock we were of course completely worn out...If I hadn't had such a patient and helpful team several days filming would have fallen through. (Cited Knight 1992 p 47)

Other issues which emerged were problems of editorial interference as Jütta Brückner found after being commissioned to make a series of films on women in mid-life crisis:

The producer and TV editor - both men - had their own ideas about how a film about a woman, written and directed by a woman, should look. Their interference began with the script and became even worse. (Cited Knight 1992 p 48)

This kind of attitude lead to self-censorship in order for women to increase their opportunities for gaining work.

Going Commercial

Given the partriarchal structures of the film industry in general in Germany at the time male directors woring within New German Cinema had the opportunity to 'go commercial'. Some Oberhausen signatories like Peter Schamoni were able to make commercially oriented films in order to trigger state subsidies for projects they were personally interested in. some such as Schamoni headed production companies making sexploitation films to do this. (What is new about that you might ask!)

Women, Work & the Mass Media

The institutional sexism of the German mass media at the time meant that women often had long periods of unemployment. This was even more demoralising in an industry which was skewed against women furthermore this excluded them from developing their skills just as thier confidence in their existing ones was beginning to wane. The story of Ula Stöckl is a case in point. When the critic Renate Mörhmann was interviewing Stöckl about her work in the 1970s Mörhmann had assumed that Stöckl who had many productions under her belt had no difficulties in finding work. In fact Stöckl burst into tears of frustration at this point reporting that she had had no work for months and felt she was '...vegetating. I've simply been forgotten' (Knight , p 49).

Ula Stoeckl 1

Ula Stöckl now a film professor & film maker

When women film makers resorted to working in video and other cheaper mediums such as 16mm film the work didn't have such high production values and this was then turned against the women who were accused of making 'shabbier' products and not capable of making better products - yet another Catch 22. This catch 22 also translated into criticism and journalism and public perception. Despite their heroic efforts to participate in the new developments in German cinema women by the end of the decade of the 1970s largely considered as working in peripheral areas of moving image production and making little contribution to mainstream developments.


More work will be developed on New German Cinema and the relationship of women to this national rebirth of cinema and the gender issues arising from this. hopefully this will encourage and stimulate readers to do their own research as well.

Return to New German Cinema Directors


The German Sisters. Lisa DiCaprio. Jump Cut

Helke Sander. The All-Round Reduced Personality - Redupers. Review  Lisa Katzman

Helke Sander. Redupers: Contradictory reality. Review by Uta Berg-Ganschow translated by Ramona Curry

Sing Iris Sing. Review Gretchen Else-Sommer. Jump Cut

The Association of Women Film Workers. Jump Cut.

July 15, 2008

New German Cinema Directors

New German Cinema Directors

Under Construction

Return to Women and New Geman Cinema: the Marginalisation of Women Film Makers


I recall some of the most exciting cinema of the 1970s being what became described as New German Cinema. This was the cinematic new wave which had broken at various times over much of Europe with most remembering France as being associated with the Nouvelle Vague, and the directors Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rivette, Malle and several others being the cool people to talk about. Britain too had had its changes, as had  the then Czechoslovakia.  Germany too had had its new  wave. The build up for these  cultural moments and movements are of  course uneven however the same fundamentals were driving  these waves although each country had its cultural specificities.

In Germany the key defining moment or turning point can be seen as the Oberhausen Manifesto of 28th February 1962. The Oberhausen Film Festival was then in its eigth year. Young directors had been coming together at Oberhausen to celebrate their work in this small Ruhr town. The work itself comprised of shorts but there was a determination to make full- length feature films. The Oberhausen Manifesto was signed by 26 young directors overall. Undoubtedly their mood and their frustrations woring within a moribund German cinema of the time was intense. In reality the situation of the national cinemas in Britain, France and Italy was far more interesting by 1962. The directors declared their object to be no less than "...the creation of the new German Feature Film" (Cited Sandford p 12):

We have a concrete notion of the production of the new German cinema at the intellectual, formal and economic levels. We are collectively prepared to take economic risks. The old cinema is dead. We believe in the new one. (Oberhausen Manifesto 1962 cited Sandford p 13)

Women Directors in New German Cinema

It will be quickly be noticed that a significant number of the directors mentioned are women. It is interesting to note that two of the books on the current bibliography below were criticised by Julia Knight (1994) - also in the bibliography - because of their treatment (or lack of it) of women directors within New German Cinema. Knight cites Anton Kaes on page 14 who criticises Sandford's book:

such accomplished directors such as Helke Sander, Helma Sanders-Brahms, or Margarethe von Trotta are not represented as major directors but merely as illustrations of the women's film.

Corrigan's book published three years later focuses upon six case studies  which are all on male directors which :

...can inevitably come to be considered in some way representative. this futher reinforces the marginalisation of women's film-making. (Knight, 1992 p 14)

Knight is of course quite right becuase academic contributions help to construct the dominant discourse so it is as well a corrective was put into place, albeit some ten years later! Knight continued her survey of academic contributions which will be summarised in a later posting suffice it to say here this linked (where possible) overview has been constructed to recognise this critical gap in academic output. Where there are no links to external comments considered of worth this acts as an identification of a critical gap, and proffers a research opportunity to Germanists at least. (See also Women's Cinema in Germany)

Researcher Warning

For those visitors using this as a research reference point in Women and Film please cite the page referencing the date of access. This is very important as this page will be a dynamic one for some time as new links are researched and added.

Key Films
Achternbusch, Herbert

Federal Film Prize 1982 das letze  Loch (The Last Hole) 1981
Ackeren, Robert van

Federal film Prize 1973  Harlis (1972/3)
Alemann, Claudia von 1943-

Bohm, Hark 1939-

Brückner Jutta 1941-

Brustellin, Alf

Costard, Hellmuth

Deppe, Gardi

Dörrie, Doris

Engström, Ingemo

Harun, Farocki

Fassbinder, Rainer Werner

Fassbinder Volume 1

Fassbinder  Volume 2

Fechner, Eberhard

Fleischmann, Peter 1937-

Geissendörfer, Hans W.

Gremm, Wolf

Genée, Heidi

Hauff, Reinhard

Herzog, Werner

Huillet, Danièle + Jump Cut interview

Jungmann, Recha

Kasper, Barbara

Keusch, Erwin

Klick, Roland

Kluge, Alexander 1932-

Special Prize Venice 1966 Abschied von Getstern (Yesterday Girl) 1965/66

Venice Grand Prix 1968 Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos (Artistes at the Top of the Big Top : Disorientated) 1967

Federal Film Prizes in 1967 / 1969 /1979

Kotulla, Theodor

Kubach, Gabi

Kückelmann, Norbert

Lemke, Klaus

Lilienthal, Peter

Lüdcke, Marianne

Meerapfel, Jeanine

Mikesch, Elfi

Nekes, Werner

Ottinger, Ulrike

Perincioli, Christina (Swiss national)

Petersen, Wolfgang

Praunheim, Rosa von

Reich, Uschi

Reidemeister, Helga + Jump Cut



Reitz, Edgar

Rischert, Christian

Runge, Erika

Runze, Ottokar

Salles, Sohrab Shahid

Sander, Helke

+ Sander Feminism & Film


Sanders-Brahms, Helma 1940-

Schaff, Johannes

Schilling, Nicklaus

Schlöndorff, Völker 1939-

Schmid, Daniel

Schmidt, Eckhart

Schroeter, Werner

Sinkel, Bernhard

Spils, May

Stöckl, Ula 1938-

Straub, Jean-Marie

Syberberg, Hans Jürgen 1935-

Thome, Rudolf

Trotta, Margarethe von+ Jump Cut


Tuchtenhagen, Gisela

Vogler, Volker

Wenders, Wim 1945-

Wildenhahn, Klaus

Ziewer, Christian

Return to Women and New German Cinema: the Marginalisation of Women Film Makers


Useful page at Queens University Belfast: The New German Cinema


Corrigan, Timothy. 1983. New German Film: The Displaced Image. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Elsaesser, Thomas. 1989. New German cinema: A History. London: British Film Institute

Knight, Julia. 1992. German Women and the New German Cinema. London: Verso

Sandford John. 1980. The New German Cinema. London: Eyre Methuen

April 27, 2008

Women and Film: Research Findings Essay

Women and Film: Research Findings Essay

Uma Thurman Kill Bill 1

Powerful woman in control or eroticised male fantasy? Whose gaze is it ?


You should by now have finished off your  research methods essay on 'Women and Film'. you should have discussed the different methods you employed on your project and how effective you thought they were. You should now be ready to write up your research findings

Research Driven by Your Findings  

You will need to make it clear in your introduction that you research was driven by what you found out as you went along (the process). For example you needed to do secondary research in order to start to map the field of knowledge and relate to what has already been found out. 

In doing so you should have engaged a little with the ideas of researchers such as Laura Mulvey, Jackie Stacey and Richard Dyer amongst others. They are dealing with the representation of women in film and how audiences engage with these representations. You should have then chosen your extracts to show audiences informed by some of these theories. Part of what you are trying to find out is how well these theories actually relate to the experiences of real live audiences. This live experience of the audiences is the core of your research findings and your conclusion should be relating how your research findings relate back to the theories and other findings of those who have already been researching in this area.  

Plan of the research findings essay

Introduction - summary of what you will be writing about

Summary of scondary research findings

  • Mulvey & the 'Male Gaze'
  • Stacey & negotiated readings by the audience
  • Dyer & the importance of Stars and Star Theory
  • Secondary research can also involve looking at the cultural reception of a cultural icon. A brief 'google' of 'Lara Croft' Images shows a mass of eroticised images presumably the products of male fantasists which is an intersting area in itself to research
Lare Croft 2

Powerful representation of woman or eroticised male fantasy? Who's gaze is it?

Choice of extracts

How the theories helped you choose specific extracts

  • Explain in some detail how cinematic conventions like camera movement and camera angles might have contributed to the construction of a 'male gaze' by creating the woman as an object of a voyeuristic gaze
  • The extract might also have been a woman in a powerful position. Powerful women action adventure heroes as in Kill Bill or tomb raider could be contradictory offering both a voyeuristic eroticised view and at the same time portrayed a powerful female figure.  One object of your research might have been to see if the male audiences you are using for research read the representation of the women differently to  your female  research audiences.

Results of the Focus Group Research

Here you should be writing up the responses of your focus group (qualitative research) to the extracts which you showed them. Remember to remind the reader about whether these were mixed sex or single sex focus groups. You should have noted if there were different responses from different sexes and genders (some people may have been gendered gay).  You should have noted down responses  which were informal. (Perhaps focus group memebrs shouted comments during the screening which may also have influenced responses).

When you write up the responses you should draw attention to whether these responses fit into the theories and discussions you used in your secondary research.  If they didn't then this is worth commenting upon. It might be an area for further research. (That is how knowledge becomes created). 

You should then say whether these results will influence your questionnaires being used for quantitative research.

Quantitative Research Results

Here remind the reader how many questionnaires you gave out and to whom. If it was in your media class then it was a 'knowing' audience who would have been more aware of cinematic codes and conventions whereas an untutored class may have had different responses.

Summarise your findings and use some basic statistics. You should know what percentage of your sample were male and female for example. You are allowed to take the statistical findings in with you in note form so you don't have to remember them. Accuracy not memory is being assessed here. 

Comparing Results

You should be able to make a comparison of your findings to see if the responses a re tending to agree or whther they tending to diverge.  Your qualitative results might have been very different from the quantitative results for example.


In your overall conclusion you should whther you think that you findings tend to agree with or challenge the previous research work you used in your secondary research. whereever there is a divergence either within your comparison of your own results or these results set against others you need to come up with a possible explanation. It might have been that you didn't organise your focus group very well therefore the results weren't as good as you had hoped for.

Finally in your conclusion you should comment about what you have learned about the whole process of doing social research and how you might improve it in the future.  

April 06, 2008

Jill Craigie (1911–1999)

Jill Craigie (1911-1999)

Return to British Women Directors page


Jill Craigie seems to have been Britain's second woman film maker after Kay Mander and has a cinema named after her at Plymouth University. This is the city where she made her post-war planning film The Way We live (1946). As well as being a film maker and screenwriter she was also a researcher into the Suffragettes and wrote an introduction to Emeline Pankhurst's autobiography My Own Story published by Virago in  1979. Jill Craigie was also an alumni at Indiana University although they forgot to put in the fact that she was a documentary filmmaker(!): "Alumni of the Institute of Advanced Study (Academic Fellows, Distinguished Citizen Fellows and Visiting Scholars) - 1982-2007":

Jill Craigie, Historian of women's movement, journalist, screenwriter. (Distinguished Citizen Fellow in September of 1991)

The Way We Live was backed by Fillipo del Guidice of Two Cities films which was a brave decision backing a young woman with little experience as a filmmaker. Craigie made another film concerned with planning and post-war redevelopment in Middlesborough called Picture Paper. The only evidence I can find about this is present on the website below:  

Over 10,000 people saw the exhibition in one week. The Picture Post articles stimulated a documentary film made by Jill Craigie - Picture Paper - a story of the photographer / reporter who come to Middlesbrough to see and interview the Group at work and was shown in cinemas all over the country. (History of Max Lock Group)

A biopic of Emmeline Pankhurst an uncompleted film project 

Carl Rollyson author of the 2005 biography of Craigie To Be A Woman has commented upon this in the Virginia Quarterly Review of Spring 2003 which I have cited at length as it is a good example of what a film maker must overcome when trying to make documentaries about controversial figures:

So influential has Sylvia's narrative become that when former Labor Party cabinet minister Barbara Castle published a short study of the Pankhursts she blithely relied on Sylvia's The Suffragette Movement without noting any of its numerous inconsistencies and biases, flaws that June Purvis identifies. Jill Craigie (1911—1999), a lifelong student of the suffragettes, and wife of former Labor Party leader Michael Foot, was so outraged at Castle's ignorance that she called her up and threatened to "flatten her." Craigie, a staunch Socialist and Labor Party loyalist, nevertheless knew from firsthand experience how brutal Sylvia had been in her quest to superimpose her narrative of Votes for Women on the memory of her mother. In 1940, Craigie had read Sylvia's The Suffragette Movement and had been captivated by its "rich" writing. Sylvia saw history, Craigie commented, with the "eyes of an artist." But in 1943, when Craigie decided to write and direct a documentary on the suffragettes, she found herself pitted against Sylvia and other suffragettes who fought over who would act as advisor to the film and thus control the master narrative of their story. The film never got made because of this internecine warfare, and Craigie spent the next several decades of her life assembling a massive collection of material and writing a book (left incomplete at her death) that exposes how Sylvia distorted her mother's legacy. As I will show in a forthcoming biography of Craigie, she is the missing link between West and Purvis. Craigie is partly responsible for the rediscovery and reprinting of West's work in the 1970's and is the key transitional figure who leads to Purvis' brilliant demonstration that during and after the war Emmeline Pankhurst not only did not abandon her principles, but saw the war and its aftermath as a way to implement them. Although there are many reasons why Craigie did not complete her epic work (a substantial manuscript of over 200,000 well-polished words), one consideration surely is the massive criticism she would have endured in her own party for putting one of Britain's Socialist icons on the rack.

Sadly this kind of wrangling led to the film about Emmeline Pankhurst never being made.  Below are a list of relevant links following a Google search down to page 20. I have now ordered the biography of her by Rollyson which should enable a deeper introduction to her role in the film world to be written. In the meantime there are a range of useful links provided below. 


A full list of credits for Jill Craigie is available at the Screenonline database. (It does miss out Paper Picture)

Two Hours from London (1995) [Self funded Documentary screened on BBC2]

To Be a Woman (1951) Jill Craigie

Blue Scar (1949)  Jill Craigie [Blue Scar, a film exploring the implications of coal industry nationalisation in 1947, is a considerable achievement.]

Children of the Ruins (1948) Jill Craigie [Documentary]

The Way We Live (1946) Jill Craigie [Postwar Planning] YouTube extract can be viewed here sorry not embeddable):

Picture Paper (1946) Jill Craigie [The evidence for the existence of this film is History of Max Lock Group]

Out of Chaos (1944) Jill Craigie

As Screenwriter 

Windom's Way (1957), screenwriter

Trouble in Store (1953), uncredited screenwriter

The Million Pound Note (1953), screenwriter

The Flemish Farm (1943), screenwriter (credited as "Jill Dell")


Screenonline Biography of Jill Craigie

Blair joins tributes to Jill Craigie BBC 1999

UK Women force removal of Koestler bust. BBC story on Koestler'ws sexual violence

Camden New Journal (March 2003) report on biography of Jill Craigie

The British Documentary Website Jill Craigie  

Wikipedia Entry on Jill Craigie

Synopsis of To Be a Woman @ Politicos Bookshop

The tracking down of Craigie's Middlesborough documentary

There is an interview of Jill Craigie avaible from the UEA BECTU website but you will need to have formal access 


  • Macnab, Geoffrey (1993). J. Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-07272-7.
  • Rollyson, Carl (2005). To Be A Woman: The Life Of Jill Craigie. Aurum Press. ISBN 1-85410-935-9.
  • Dr Gwenno Ffrancon published ‘The same old firm dressed up in a new suit’: Blue Scar (Craigie, 1949) and the portrayal of the nationalisation of the coal industry in Media History. This article examines how a film, Blue Scar, made in 1949 by Jill Craigie, the filmmaker, feminist and wife of Michael Foot, portrays the changes brought about by nationalisation in the South Wales coalfield in the late 1940s.
  • Entiknap, Leo. 2001. Postwar Urban Redevelopment, the British Film industry and The Way We Live. In Shiel, Mark and Fitzmaurice Tony eds. Cinema and The City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context. Oxford: Blackwell
  • Leo Entiknap's PhD thesis is available including work on Cragie's film The Way We Live can be downloaded here.
  • Two articles may be downloaded without cost from Women's History Review, Volume 9 Issue 1 2000 on Jill Craigie. One by June Purvis and the other by Ursual Owen.

September 23, 2007

Women & Film: The Representation of Women in the World Today

Women & Film: the Representation of Women Today

The Three Rs of Media Studies 


Each year, two million girls aged from 5 to 16 join the commercial sex market


Why is this film not more widely shown at the sixth form level?


I sometimes think that educational work up to and including sixth form work has a tendency to infantilise students and that this can happen especially within the world of media. Justified by the thinking that "the kids can identify more easily with this" type of approach, difficult content at an emotional and ethical level is ignored, yet the world is fraught with difficulties even in more advanced countries. To avoid this sort of thing in terms of content seems to me to be avoiding educational responsibilities. This is not to say that one should not teach about action-adventure films or soap operas, it is to say that by the time students enter year 13 they are a short distance away from voting and adult responsibilities. This means that a more sophisticated world view needs to be developed. Until there is more emphasis on this Media Studies - rightly but sadly in my opinion - will continue to be considered as a "soft" A Level.

In terms of media education this means that certain issues need to be prioritised because as educationalists we have a task to prepare our students for active and responsible citizenship which needs to be understood in a global context. Currently many students can go through OCR A2 media managing to avoid anything much to do with social reality. Even in a research choice like women and film this is still possible by focusing - as many of my students do - on say 'the changing representation of women in action adventure films' building on their AS experiences of action adventure movies. Why not do textual analysis on documentaries for example?  Combine action adventure with making a music video and there is little room left. A focus on rom-coms in contemporary British cinema and a bit about the invidious difficulties of competition with Hollywood, and most real world stuff is carefully avoided. 

As a lecturer at this level one can of course take a more socially responsible attitude. I take the opportunity to show Lucas Moodysson's Lilya 4-Ever  - a film which is most undeserving of an 18 certificate by the way. Some lecturers who know the film are a little surprised, however there are always some students who take it very seriously.  This year one of my students went straight out to buy a copy and several other ones are including in their research projects. Clearly many students are far more able to respond to difficult content than we often allow for. 

Kandahar 1

"Over two thirds of the World's 800 million illiterate adults are women, since girls in many parts of the World are not seen as being worth the investment"

Images from the film Kandahar. Amongst other things this film is representing the issues which real women in the real world face when it comes to be deliberately excluded from education. Shouldn't Media teachers be focusing more on these issues?  

Kandahar 2

Because our centre focuses on the issue of women and film for the Critical Research Project  I have included below a few facts and figures on the position of women in the World from the latest edition of the Open University publication "Society Matters". These facts and figures  show the vast gap between the quotidian social reality of tens of millions of people in the World and the World as represented in most facets of the media. My questions for Media Studies are "Why?" and "What are we going to do about it?" To think in any other way and to fail to act on this situation is to abrogate our ethical responsibilities.

Women's Inequality in the World is Increasing 

women Fighting Global Poverty 2

Women Fighting Global Poverty

Facts and Figures

During the last year British Government and independent Human Rights Groups have brought out a series of reports on the worsening conditions of women in the World reports Society Matters (Issue No 10 "2007-2008). The findings include the following:

  • Seventy per cent of the world's 1 billion poorest inhabitants are women
  • Women produce half the World's food but own less than 2 per cent of the World's land
  • Over two thirds of the World's 800 million illiterate adults are women, since girls in many parts of the World are not seen as being worth the investment
  • Domestic violence where women are predominently the victim, kills and injures more people in the develoing World than war, traffic accidents or cancer
  • Each year, two million girls aged from 5 to 16 join the commercial sex market
  • A third of the World's women are homeless or live in adequate housing
  • Women work two thirds of the World's working hours, but earn only a tenth of the world's income.

So much for "Reality TV"!

Let's put some reality into media instead


Endemol, the TV production which was responsible for the racism on Big Brother, has brought out a live organ transplant programme on Netherlands TV.  This is to appeal to the ghoulsih appetities of the lowest common denominator and has nothing to do with the remit of public service broadcasting which is to educate and inform as well as to entertain. 

"The scenario portrayed in this programme is ethically totally unacceptable," said Professor John Feehally, who has just ended his term as president of the UK's Renal Association.

"The show will not further understanding of transplants," he added. "Instead it will cause confusion and anxiety."

TV critics in the UK have expressed horror at the programme, but said such a show would be unlikely in Britain.

"My first reaction, probably everyone's reaction, is that this is as dangerously near as we've got to a TV programme playing God," said Julia Raeside of the Guardian newspaper.

"People may live or die on the result of a game show. It's a step too far.

The growth of such entertainment forms as "reality" TV is a direct subversion of everyday lived reality. Whilst it is worthwhile academics studying these forms to provide ongoing ideology critique for younger students it is more appropriate to study the reality of the world and its representation. arguably to engage too closely with populist forms promulgated by middle class parasites feeding off fantasy generation schemes exploiting the working classes at a low level in the educational hierarchy is to collude with the forms before the cognitive skills and life experience necessary to understand the workings of ideology and discourse have developed. 

The Three Rs of Media Studies

The opportunity to research Women and Film is also an opportunity to research the real conditions of  vast numbers of women worldwide and to ask why is it that entertainment forms manage to screen out reality so effectively with so little complaint.  Representation is recognisable by its absence from reality as it becomes increasingly focused upon an onanistic, narcississtic  world of "celebrity". Both text and context msut count equally in Media studies if this situation is to change. The social theorist Nancy Fraser has argued for Recognition (of identity), Redistribution (of wealth) to which I would add Representation (of social reality) thus creating the three Rs of Media Studies. 

September 09, 2007

Sally Potter Webliography

Sally Potter Independent Film Maker

Who is Sally Potter Video 


Along with many other British director entries this entry is 'work in progress' nevertheless it will provide a basic signposting to other available resources on the web in the first instance until I'm able to make a fuller evaluation.

Pause for reflection 

I think I may have had one of those epiphanic moments caused (surprisingly) by reading a recent book on Feminist Film Studies (McCabe 2004) which I will review shortly. Covering  the developments and twists and turns in feminist film theory over the last 40 years I found it clear, fascinating and informative. But it also started to trigger cultural memory. Remembering back to the 1970s the desire of many of those involved in alternative politics including the Women's movement was the desire to have alternative representations made by people themselves, allied to alternative distribution systems and different spaces to experience these alternatives. Elsewhere on this blog I have listed the women filmmakers in the history of the UK that I could find any reference to. The list is gradually developing links to entries about these filmmakers. The list is pitifully short!

McCabe Feminist Film Studies

Whilst not decrying the importance of criticism and theory it is interesting that a body of theory which  was  politically motivated in a non-party way has so signally failed to develop through Feminist Films Studies a deeper engagement with production. Yet as a lecturer in a tertiary college the Media Studies course promotes production.  In the AS level it has been interesting over a few years to see what women students have chosen to  make an advertising campaign about. Some have certainly expressed concerns which young women in social reality face such as drink spiking and harrassement through mobile phones. What will the young women do for their Advanced  Production Unit which is moving image based? This unit provides opportunities for young women to become more involved in the production side thus challenging the predominance of having men behind the camera.  At a rhetorical level what happens to these young women film makers, because there are still very few out there making it? This posting will start to create a virtual hub from what is available on the web dealing with this gap between women film makers and feminist film studies. At the end of the day it is the current industrial and institutional structures which need to be taken on and a different policy framework created if the situation is going to change. Sally Potter's enthusiasm energy and committment provide a beacon but she can also be seen as  an exception which proves the rule.    

In her conclusion Janet McCabe makes a swift reference to German women film makers in the early 1970s. Although she doesn't dwell on this I had remembered earlier whilst reading her book how dynamic that period of New German Cinema had been. Julia Knight has written a good book about the period and the sudden emergence of women filmmakers often theoretically well informed. Sadly the films are currently unavailable in the UK. The role of TV as a commissioning body was important in ennabling this upsurge of women's film making to develop. There are lessons there for Feminist Film Studies which sadly seems only tangentially engaged in the important area of film policy which is where much of the power lies

Knight Women in New German Cinema Cover

Sally Potter  is the UKs most well known woman film maker and what follows is a webliography. When time allows more analytic and critical discussion about her work will be posted.

Sally Potter Webliography 

Sally Potter Official Website

Wikipedia Sally Potter entry

Kristy Mckim Senses of Cinema article 

The Tango Lesson (Sony site)

Yes (Sony site) 

Sally Potter's own notes on her adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando

Sally Potter directs Carmen. Here Sally Potter is directing Carmen with English National Opera. The facts that Potter moves across different performance genres is rather like Visconti. Admirable!

Interview by Sophie Mayer with Sally Potter on Carmen. (Please note Mayer is bringing out a book on sally Potter with Wallflower Press in 2008)

BBC Review of The Man Who Cried

BBC Interview with Sally Potter

Rose Capp Senses of Cinema article on The Man Who Cried

Film Freak Central Interview with Sally Potter

Reverse Shot interview with Potter on Yes

June 16, 2007

British Women Film directors

British Women Film Directors

Return to British Cinema Hub Page


Whilst of general interest to those dealing with issues of gender and cinema this posting should prove useful to those studying Women and Film within the current OCR specification.

Given the large number of British films and the very small number of Women directors the average rocket scientist can swiftly work out that there is a serious gender imbalance within the industry in the UK.  

The Directors

This list of directors is taken from the BFI list of Directors in British and Irish Cinema
plus some additions. Sue Clayton isn't in the list although appears elsewhereon the site. Nor does Andrea Arnold feature in the list. Arnold recently made the film Red Road (2006) and has won at the Oscars and at Cannes. The list amounts to 11 women film directors in the history of British cinema. Not a good record over the last 100 years. Of these several are active film makers and can be included in the specification for OCR Contemporary British Cinema. Of these 11 directors five are currently active and include: Andrea Arnold, Antonia Bird, Gurinder Chadha, Sally Potter, Lynne Ramsey.

Adler, Carine (1948-)

Arnold Andrea (1961 -)

Bird, Antonia (1959 -)

Box Muriel (1905 - 1991) 

Chadha, Gurinder (1960 -)

Clayton Sue (? )

Craigie, Jill (1911 - 1999)

Grierson, Ruby (1904-1940) 

Mander, Kay (1915 - ) 

Mulvey, Laura (1941 - )

Potter, Sally (1949 - ) 

Ramsey Lynne ( 1969 -)

Toye, Wendy (1917 - )


Guardian feature on the 'Celluloid Ceiling'

Kate Kellaway Guardian blog: Why is that film-making continues to be the most gender inequitable career in the arts?

Rachel Millward Guardian blog: Kate Kellaway asked what could be done to encourage more women into film-making. Here are my suggestions.

Birds Eye View Women

Rachel Millward is the organiser for the Bird's Eye View Women's Film Festival. It is solely to celebrate women film makers and started in 2005 in venues across London.

Return to British Cinema Hub Page

April 18, 2007

Laura Mulvey and The Male Gaze

Laura Mulvey and The Male Gaze in Cinema


This entry is primarily targeted at those doing A Level Media / film Studies and those doing film theory for the first time.


Many A Level students are now introduced to Laura Mulvey's theories of the 'Male Gaze' especially if they have opted to do an option on Women and Film. Mulvey's ideas were first expressed in an article written in Screen in 1975. It was then a highly theoretical cinema journal. The article which became a seminal one is called "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (Some extracts here).

The levels of difficulty for those setting out in the world of thinking should not be underestimated. To be able to debate this article at higher levels requires a good knowledge of both Freudian and Lacanian theories of psychoanalysis. Much of the work done by Jacques Lacan is notoriously difficult and is not necessary for this level of analysis.

Key points of Mulvey's original article

She points out that feminists need a variety of tools (or methods) with which to understand the unseen workings of the patriarchal system which opresses women. Mulvey is concerned to argue that psychoanalysis is an important tool whilst recognising the need for many others.

Mulvey then moves onto a section which argues that pleasure needs to be destroyed and that this destruction is a radical weapon. Cinema particuarly Hollywood cinema which is primarily structured upon bringing pleasure raises questions about how the unconscious structures our ways of seeing and understanding of the world and also why we gain pleasure from looking.

roberts Pretty Woman 1

Here Julia Roberts who is actually playing the character of a prostitute fits in with typically anodyne Hollywood fantasies which bear little or no relation to the reality of the sex trade. Compare this representation with that of Lilya in Lilya 4-Ever who is ateenager sold into the sex trade. One challenges the patriarchal status quo and the other doesn't. No prizes for working out which!

Mulvey points out that cinema had changed during the course of the 1960s and early 1970s in a way which afforded opportunities for other filmmakers outside of the mainstream because of technological developments in filming and also exhibition. It is worth noting that this is even more pertinent now because of the rise of relatively cheap digital video cameras (DV), relatively cheap software and with the growth of the internet the possibility of distributing to a global marketplace. YouTube is the perfect example of that.

Arguably it is the realms of the videogame which is beginning to impinge and to change cinema. It is perhaps here that industrial capitalist media will re-establish its headquarters. For just as it has become possible to erode and circumvennt the powerful position of Hollywood through technological advancement that advancement establishes new barriers to skills knowledge and capital, whilst a new media industry is being developed. 

In 2003 David Puttnam on the BBC video Trigger Happy suggests has the potential to replace cinema and even TV as the most important medium. Perhaps it is here that Mulvey's arguments will need to be played out all over again in terms of the representation of women. But Mulvey was writing in a pre-digital era:

The magic of the Hollywood style at its best...arose, not exclusively but in one important aspect from its skilled and satisfying manipulation of visual pleasure. Unchallenged, mainstream film coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order. (Mulvey in Movies & Methods Vol II, p 306)

It is because this pleasure is already idologically encoded upon patriarchal terms that Mulvey wishes to use analysis to start to destroy that pleasure creating mechanism. This she hope will allow a new language of desire to emerge for humanity.

Lilya and Friend in Club

Lilya and her best friend in a nightclub. The 'friend' is out to sell herself for the first time. Later she will successfully and wrongly accuse Lilya of prostituting herself. Her  the camera has pulled the focus to a narrow depth of field to make Lilya the main object of representation. Lilya here is represented as young, näive and vulnerable in a patriarchal world. Although she is in a strappy dress the way the image is filmed is anything but eroticised. 

Mulvey then moves on to explain the term scopophilia which was developed by Freud to describe the pleasure in looking which is associated with sexual drives although nothing whatsoever to do with the erotogenic zones. In Freud's early wor:

...he associated scopophilia with taking other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze.  (ibid p 307).

Mulvey is careful to note that for Freud scopophilia was essentially active, indeed it was an activity which he associated with children who have a voyeuristic curiosity to see the forbidden areas of the body. It is a curiosity which extends to the question of the presence / absence of the penis and ultimately in Freudian method to the question of the primal scene. This pleasure in looking becomes a part of the human subject. At its extreme it can be a perversion in which sexual satisfaction can only come :

...from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other. (ibid p 307)

Mulvey then notes that on the surface little could be further away from the shifty voyeur eying up an unwitting victim than cinema. this is why it is importatn to analyse carefully the workings of the cinema as a system, part of an overall ideological apparatus which structures a particular patriarchal world as 'normal'.

Pretty Woman Publicity

Above this publicity poster for Pretty Woman eroticises and fetishises in 'the nicest posssible way'. Here the use of star theory combined with Mulvey's theory of the gaze shows how Hollywood can make an unpleasant and patriarchally organised undrground busines seem 'OK'. One can pretend that it is 'post-modern irony' interpreted by the knowing subject (really?)


It is in the nature of cinema that the narrative unfurls with total indifference to the audience representing an hermetically sealed world. The darkness of the cinema helps to isolate the spectators from one another while the brilliance of the screen and the play of light and dark upon it contribute to this sense of isolation.  The conditions of screening alongside the narrative and other conventions therefore can be understood to place the spectator in the illusory position of looking in on an abstract world. Here of course it is worth noting that frequently film isn't experienced like this but in the realm of home on a small screen with the possibilities of the external world intruding frequently. 

The constitution of the ego

Importantly for Mulvey the whole of the cinema-going experience creates a structure of fascination which in a seeming paradox allows a forgetting of the ego (position of the subject in the world), yet simulataneously reinforces that ego through a process of identification through ideals "as expressed in particular in the star system" (Mulvey). 

Contradictory model of vision 

Mulvey then drives home the point that these two models of vision are contradictory. Scopophilic viewing requires a strong separation of the viewing subject from the observed object from a form of ego identification with the object on the screen through a process of fascination and and 'recognition of his like'. (Mulvey)

Both models have in common that they:

...pursue aims in indifference to perceptual reality . .. creating...a concept of the World that.... makes a mockery of the empirical reality of the world. (Mulvey ibid p 308).

It is extremely important that this idea of the operations of cinema and the social construction of vision operates at a deeply unconscious level. The theory is therefore one which is hard to prove in a hard "scientific" way through questionnaires etc precisely because the whole system works at a level of the subject which isn't immediately accessible to the conscious subject. We don't understand what it is that attracts us but as Theodor Adorno has pointed out, to be able to discuss  rationality and reason there is clearly an area in which 'unreason' operates in individual subjects. Not all reponses by human beings can simply be measured by charts, questionnaires and statistics. Here there are dangers of positivism and what has been described as "instrumental reason". 

Developing Theories of the Female Spectator

Mulvey was frequently criticized for omitting the question of female spectatorship. Why do women go to the cinema and what kind of pleasure do they gain from it? These  became key questions for feminists and other film theorists and as a result Mulvey strove to address these issues in her article on "Afterthoughts" using Duel in The Sun as a case study. (King Vidor, 1946)

There has been criticism from researchers such as Jackie Stacey who comes from a Cultural Studies background.  Cultural Studies argues that peope from the audiences for films must be approached and questioned about their conscious reactions to films and specifically the represenatiions of women within these films. Her own research suggested that women could gain a lot of satisfaction out of representations of women being powerful and in control of their lives or struggling to remain in control. These research findings supported the idea of the negotiated reading which comes from cultural studies theory and argues that audiences aren't just canvases totally controlled and manipulated by the film texts they have consumed. Rather the individuals within the audience are active and critical subjects capable of engaging with the intended messages emanating from the film but choosing to decode and read them differently. You will find it useful to engage with star theory if you are dealing with better known and high budget films which depend a lot on the promotion of stars to get a larger audience.

Mildred Pierce in Kitchen

Mildred from Mildred Pierce a genre hybrid film which crosses over the matinee "woman's film" (melodrama) with a strong film noir sensibility. Here Mildred is represented as the doting mother whose obsession with her favourite daughter Vida destroys the family. After being left by her husband she meets playboy Monty who helps fiance her business. At their first meeting Mildred is painting up a ladder. The camera gradually tracks up her legs from a low angle eroticising her and providing a male gaze which is sexualised rather than seeing woman in 'her place' in the kitchen. The treatment of Mildred by the camera shows that theres is more than one kind of patriarchal gaze. however her status is still above that of an African-American woman who is playing a typical servant role!

Construction of the Male Gaze

The Wikipedia entry currently (17 / 04 / 07) argues the following:  

In considering the way that films are put together, many feminist film critics have pointed to the "male gaze" that predominates in classical Hollywood filmmaking. Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" gave one of the most widely influential versions of this argument. This argument holds that through the use of various film techniques, such as the point of view shot, a typical film's viewer becomes aligned with the point of view of its male protagonist. Notably, women function as objects of this gaze far more often than as proxies for the spectator.

Mildred Pierce and Vida

In Mildred Pierce it is Mildred's daughter who plays the role of femme fatale. The bad woman who uses her sexuality to get her own way. As the film progresses it is Vida who becomes the camera's eroticised object.


Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) - Laura Mulvey abbreviated version.

Biographical notes on Laura Mulvey

Wikipedia Biographical entry on Mulvey

Brief explanation of The Gaze

There are some useful notes on The Gaze by Daniel Chandler from Aberystwyth University including some on Mulvey. Well worth checking out.

A useful Powerpoint presentation on Mulvey is available via Birmingham University Arts Web

April 09, 2007

Women and British Cinema: Some avenues for research

Women and British Cinema: Some avenues for research


Many of you will have studied some history of British films in your AS film Studies. The critical research project in Media Studies offers the opportunity to develop that area of study. Below is a list of British films which could be useful in helping you to establish a research project on the topic of Women and Film. This is not intended to be exclusive. It is possible to take almost any film and link it into the topic of women and film from the major perspectives of film analysis and criticism. There are a range of common critical methodologies currently used to analyse films. Methods and methodologies like anything else are subject to change. Below are some common ways of approaching films. Please note there will be overlaps, categories are not usually discrete! The film industry will try and utilise genres and stars to target a specific audience for example. Common critical approaches to film that you will need to consider include:

· Audience:

o Is a film targeted at an audience which is primarily female? (How can we tell? – issues to explore: gender and genre / stars, gender and genre / representation of women).

o Is a film primarily targeted at men? (How can we tell? – issues to explore: gender and genre / stars gender and genre / representation of women)

· Genre:

o Here you need to focus on genre theory. See Blog entries on genre. You could examine several films from a specific genre perspective. You will need to read up on genre theory and identify how films have been targeted at audiences by gender. Examples of genres which have been traditionally ‘women’s films include:

§ Costume dramas / melodramas / romantic comedies

§ Genres such as Biopics (biographical films may (not will) tend to have a target audience gender bias depending upon the historical person being represented. Examples of biopics include: Hilary and Jackie / Iris / The Queen

Star Theory:

  • See blog entries on stars and theory. Questions you may wish to consider include:
  • Does Britain produce actresses whilst Hollywood produces stars?
  • Have there been shifts in the representation of female stars in relation to shifts in the position of women in wider society? 
  • Does cinema encourage or follow social change in society ?
  • What has been the relationship of British women stars to Hollywood?
  • The recent controversy surrounding Helen Mirren's comments on 'date rape' raise issues about the responsibilites of 'celebrities' and also how audiences react to controversy of that nature.

British women stars you may wish to study can include:

· Auteur / ‘Art House’ Cinema:

o Stephen Hill has suggested that from the 1970s the typical British genre film, often comedy, was squeezed out of the cinemas as American money went back to America and TV took over the function of being the main environment for the exhibition of British films.

o Hill suggests that this stimulated a new model of ‘Art Cinema’ for British film makers targeted at quite specific but relatively stable and known audiences:

§ Some of the films continued the social realist tradition such as Ken Loach & Mike Leigh

§ Others films were self-consciously ‘arty’ experimenting with new forms and ways of dealing with narrative

§ Other films were representations of what are considered as ‘high art’ texts such as re-workings of Shakespeare plays, the books of Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility) or E. M. Forster (Passage to India, Howards End).

· Useful films to consider for women and film critical research unit

o The films below deal with many of the issues of the representation of women, issues of audience, genre, Stars and performance and art house cinema. All of the films have quite developed critical discourses often from a feminist methodological perspective which will help you to develop your research ideas and give you more of a background feel to your chosen topic area.

§ The Wicked Lady. British star, Use of pirate / highwayman film to allow women different cultural space

§ Brief Encounter. Post war re-establishing of women’s ‘traditional’ position in society

§ Taste of Honey. British ‘New Wave’ realism

§ The L-Shaped Room. British ‘New Wave’ realism

§ Darling. The ‘Swinging Sixties’

§ Bahji on the Beach. Woman director / about changing position of women in relation to changing Britain

§ Orlando. Woman director / challenge to gender/ based upon famous woman writer who had at least a second wave feminist consciousness

§ Sense and Sensibility. Role of women historically / woman stars / can male directors be sensitive to women?

§ Secrets and Lies. Male director and representation of women

§ Elizabeth. Male director and representation of women / representation of great historical woman. Comparisons with Kapur’s “Bandit Queen”

§ Ratcatcher. Woman director

§ Bridget Jones’ Diary. Is this a ‘post-feminist? Representation of women? Is it a progressive or regressive representation of women?

§ Bend it Like Beckham. Representation of changing position of women in society / woman director.

§ Charlotte Gray. Woman director / woman as ‘hero’ non passive

§ Vera Drake. Historical representation of women could be compared to British New Wave realist films. Male director representing issues primarily affecting women. Could a woman do this better?

§ Dirty Pretty Things + Last Resort + Ghosts. Representation of women on the margins. (Could also go non-British and look at Moodysson’s Lilya 4-Ever see separate Blog entry)

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