Deracination, disembowelling and scorched earth aesthetics: Feminist cinemas, No Wave and the Punk Avant Garde

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This article discusses a culture of cinematic extremes in the work of several women directors closely associated with the underground film culture of downtown New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Taking into account on-screen sex and violence but also extremes of grain and texture and production cultures, the article considers Bette Gordon’s feature debut Variety (1983) and the preceding short Anybody’s Woman (1981), along with the short films and music videos of Beth B. (in particular G-Man, 1978 with Scott B, and “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight”, 1984) and Vivienne Dick’s early films She Had Her Gun All Ready (1978) and Beauty Becomes the Beast (1979). To varying degrees the three filmmakers are all associated with New York’s ‘No Wave’ creative milieu which formed an important part of the nascent punk/post-punk music scenes in North America and as such they are indebted to punk’s prevailing aesthetic and political dogmas (and economic pragmatism). Equally the films are shaped by the feminist discourse of the day - both touchstone scholarly texts by writers like Laura Mulvey, as well as the wider ‘pro-sex’ / ‘anti-porn’ debates taking place. They are films, says Joan Hawkins, that live “somewhere between official academic theory and a theory-savvy, streetwise ‘lay’ avant-garde style” (2015, xv). The article considers how these films mashed up punk’s ‘rip it up’ approach with the ‘scorched earth’ aesthetics of feminist counter-cinema. More broadly though, the article is interested in figuring out why this particular downtown scene (and the aesthetic playbook that underpinned it) was, briefly, such a fertile space for feminist filmmaking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalSenses of Cinema
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016


  • No Wave
  • Experimental Film
  • Punk Music
  • Bette Gordon
  • Beth B
  • Vivienne Dick
  • Feminist Film Theory

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