The Gateway (1929) - A New "Chair" Which a Woman Might Fill
- article: A New "Chair" Which a Woman Might Fill
- author(s): Roger Burford
- illustrator(s): Stella Burford
- journal: The Gateway (for Women at Work) (July 1929)
- issue: volume 1, issue 3, pages 100-103
- journal ISSN:
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Betty Balfour, Blackmail (1929), British International Pictures, Champagne (1928), Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, The Farmer's Wife (1928), The Manxman (1929), The Ring (1927)
A New "Chair" Which a Woman Might Fill
Mr. Burford is an experience scenario writer. He here interviews two famous producers, giving their views on women's chances in the production of films
No profession is quite so exacting as making films : every talent is called for in the film director, and a very severe physical, mental and psychic strain is imposed. Thousands or tens of thousands of pounds are at stake, and the effort is highly concentrated for three or four months, during which there can be no other preoccupation of any sort. Hardly a woman's job, one would think. Yet there are a few women film directors, of whom Dorothy Arzner is the only one to be widely known. She has made about half a dozen effective comedies with a feminine viewpoint. Among these are Ten Modern Commandments and Manhattan Cocktail which have been commercial successes, though not in the highest rank of films.
The prizes in the film industry are glittering, and there is scarcely any prejudice against woman, as woman, in any branch of the cinema, where capacity is the only criterion : it seemed to me that the opinions of two of the best known English film directors would be of the greatest interest, even though there are all the chances against a woman's name reaching the back of one of the canvas chairs of the studio, except in the capacity of actress.
Mr. Alfred Hitchcock's views
Alfred Hitchcock made his name with The Ring, the first English film to compete with the artistic experiments of the German cinema. It was a success everywhere, and he was invited to British International Pictures, at Elstree, at a salary which was a newspaper sensation. Since then he has made The Farmer's Wife, Champagne, with Betty Balfour, and The Manxman. He is now making a talking picture, Blackmail. He is a man of ideas, with a real grasp of the visual medium of the cinema, and a great fertility of invention.
"It is not so much the lack of the necessary physique that would prevent a woman from making a good film director," he told me, "but rather the smaller scope of the life she may be expected to have experienced."
"I think women are less versatile in observation than men, who have more 'angles on life.' And scope of observation is fundamental in creating an impression of reality. The film director is called upon to portray life in all its aspects. The most versatile man can only have a certain amount of experience, and no one should undertake a subject of which he has not first hand knowledge. Of course," he added, "I am thinking of a woman, as a woman, and not of the type who should have been a man."
I suggested that women were specially qualified to treat domestic subjects. "That is so," he admitted, "but I believe my argument still holds good. Diverse experience in other branches of life will still qualify the man to make a truer picture : the more he knows and feels about other things the more complicated, and therefore complete, will be his reactions."
When I reminded him that the larger proportion of the cinema public was feminine and that the first thought of the theatre manager was "Will it appeal to the ladies?" his answer was ready and incisive.
"Would you expect a girls' school to be built by girls?" he asked, with a twinkle. I suggested that it might be profitable to take the opinions of the girls.
"I agree," he hastened to put in. "A woman could very likely produce some scenes even better than a man. I should call her in as an expert to advise, say, on a fashion parade, or on babies. My wife, who, as Alma Reville, writes scenarios and was responsible for the script of The Constant Nymph, has assisted me in certain films. I found that although she was of the utmost value so far as the story, and even the action went, some of the more unwieldy departments of film producing were difficult for her to control : the art department, for instance."
She must Command !
"Novel writing, the easiest form of self-expression, is a more suitable medium for a woman. But supposing that an exceptionally gifted woman had set her mind on becoming a film producer, the qualities she would need are generalship, a masculine strain — for she would have to command men — and the capacity for decision. A film director must know exactly what effect he wants before he goes on the set, and never relax till he has achieved it. Indecision is fatal. A director would lose his grip at once if he had to rely on anyone else's brains for anything. He must have knowledge and experience of all the departments of film production, and he must know his tools so well that he is quite unconscious of them while he is working. A woman would find it difficult not to be self-conscious in the atmosphere of the studio."
"How could she gain the necessary experience and knowledge? Only by several years in a studio. She could begin at the bottom as a typist, and rise, through a position as floor secretary, to be assistant director or scenario writer, or she could begin half way by entering films with an established reputation as an artist, writer or theatre producer. There is no regular method of breaking into films, it is always something of a fluke : but at the same time there is nothing to keep the best man, or woman, from the top."
What Captain Summers says
Captain Walter Summers directs for British Instructional Films, a firm which also sponsors Anthony Asquith and Frank Wells. He produced many of the war films, but his finest work is The Lost Patrol, exceptional in its treatment and sincerity. He recently made a little fantasia, after the German fashion, on the Chamber of Horrors.
His attitude to women is less stern than Hitchcock's. He believes that a woman, if she has the flair and the talent, could make films, not technically better, but with more penetration, more élan, than men. "Her thoughts have more freedom — guided by instinct instead of convention she is more likely to search for, and find, truth, the cornerstone of art."
"There may be something in the idea that a woman not being a man, might therefore be a piquant critic of his behaviour, and thus amuse men, and delight other women. But though she has intuition, her critical faculty, sharp as it is, is often distorted by her instinctive feelings, her likes and dislikes. One could imagine a class of film where this was not without its effect. Again, although a woman would seem to be specially qualified to treat of love, her view of it is likely to be too coloured by the personal."
"It is hard for a woman to achieve directorship : woman is a commercial asset in films only as an actress. Wardour Street would laugh at the idea of a woman making commercially successful films. I think that if you could find a woman capable of film direction, she would be more likely to turn out a masterpiece than a money-maker, but I for one would welcome her into our ranks with open arms."
A Realistic "Accident"
Mrs. Summers once played a plucky part in filming a street accident — a fall under a lorry.
Balks of wood were arranged to prevent the wheels of the lorry from actually touching her, but she still ran a considerable risk. The first two "takes" were no good, and finally she threw herself so violently against the radiator of the oncoming lorry, advancing far out of the safety zone for this purpose, that she was thrown to the ground several yards away. Her acting was so realistic that the ambulance men, who were to appear later, rushed in thinking that she was seriously hurt, and spoiled the take. But Mrs. Summers was ready to repeat it till it was perfect.
- a couple of small typos in the original article have been corrected