Like many women who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, my encounter with films featuring central female protagonists and focusing on traditional female concerns was largely confined to afternoon reruns of old black and white movies or the occasional Technicolor 1950s melodrama. Although fascinating, and – in the case of the classical 1930s and 1940s productions – often slightly eerie, the form which I later understood as the classical woman’s film bore no relation to the relentless diet of post-classical, blockbuster, horror, sci-fi and action productions which dominated my teenage cinema-going years. Part of the appeal of femaleorientated popular film cycles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s for postclassical female viewers was precisely their status as part of a faded world of popular film culture in which feminine heroism and self-sacrifice were routinely glamourised and celebrated. Studying feminist film criticism in the late 1980s and 1990s helped me to contextualise this strange and distant form. Key texts by critics such as Molly Haskell (1979) Mary-Ann Doane (1987) Christine Gledhill (1987) and Jackie Byars (1991) analysed the thematic concerns and aesthetic codes of what came to be defined as ‘the woman’s film’: a broad critical category which included classical cycles such as the maternal melodrama or gothic woman’s film.
KeywordsPast Form Female Protagonist Female Audience Framing Device Female Viewer
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