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Dorothy Arzner: Pioneer, Queer, Feminist

Clara Kuperberg & Julia Kuperberg | 2024 | 53 MINS
Focus on the Documentary

Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979) was simply one of Hollywood's great pioneers in the transition from the silent to the talking era, a woman making it big in the context of a gruesomely male environment.

In Detail

There were other women directors before her, of course: Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Webel, Mabel Normand are some names that come to mind, but Arzner managed to bring complex characterization into otherwise 'typical Hollywood' stories.

Determined and ambitious, she was accepted as a director at Paramount, as the first woman to direct a talking picture for the star Clara Bow. A true pioneer of the cinema, she was the only woman director at a major Hollywood studio in the 1930s and 1940s, openly lesbian, dressed like a man, making movies “avant-gardiste” about women’s condition. She was a mentor for Francis Ford Coppola, who considers her as one of the most important woman directors of Hollywood. This mid-length documentary (53m) manages to put some of her achievements in the spotlight.

Dorothy Arzner was a true original: a gay female director making movies in the Golden Age of Hollywood. She started out in the silent era and transferred to talkies with ease, inventing the boom mic, and directing a series of witty, female-led films in the 1930s and 1940s, with stars including Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball. She worked freelance, making films for several different studios, because she cherished her independence and creative control above all else. She embraced the relative freedoms of the Pre-code era, and made films that offer all the pleasures of classic Hollywood, while challenging conventional ideas about love, marriage, and the traditional happy-ever-after endings of popular American cinema.


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