The Four-Disc set of Irreverent Women-Driven Silents is Available on Blu-ray from Kino


“The past matters, and it matters immensely. Our filmic past matters that much more because film opens a window into the collective mind and perhaps the unconscious mind. Historical films serve as archival materials just as any other primary document from the past. We can mine these artifacts to help understand our collective past, looking especially at the winding road of misogyny and how women have wrestled with it.” –Dr. Liza Black

The box.

Kino Classics has put together a magnificent boxed set of 99 films featuring women in roles which at times transgress and at times subvert gender expectations. Gender-bending and women as the hero instead of as the distressed individual are frequently observed. Because history is for everyone, this boxed set is important viewing for all. Some films in the set come with a disclaimer that reads as follows:

“The following film includes racist images. Racism in popular media has long harmed—and continues to harm—Black and Indigenous people and people of color. It is not our goal to whitewash history, but to learn from it. We hope that bearing witness to the history of racist imagery in popular media contributes to today’s freedom struggles.”

History needs context—it always has needed this context. Title cards like this set the stage for what is about to be viewed and help us to prepare ourselves to question the images we will see in ways that will lead to growth both personally and culturally. One example:

In the film The Red Girl and the Child, a white man in blackface is seen cowering as the rough-tough western men are congregating at the bar in the general store. It’s a short moment and one may wonder today why such an image would be necessary. It was likely played for entertainment since the folks who made these films were trying to make them entertaining. I don’t personally find it funny or entertaining and I think that moment falls flat now. Such a disclaimer as the one above displays before this particular film invites discussion for the viewer that might include (but not be limited to):

  1. What about the cowering “black” person would have seemed funny to the original audience?
  2. What sorts of other “easy laughs” are present in the film I’m watching?
  3. What sorts of “easy laughs” are present in what I watch today on Netflix?
  4. How are these laughs unfair and how would I feel if I were stereotyped on screen?

About 15 years ago, there were a number of ads on TV for things like washers and dryers. The knowledgeable associate was in khakis and a solid polo, something like what you might see at a Best Buy. The wife was a smartly dressed lady, perhaps with children in tow who were well-behaved. The husband might have a hotdog in his hand and mustard on his shirt—a really slovenly fellow who was either in a different frame than her entirely (showing his emotional disconnectedness from the rest of the family) or, when in the same frame, he might be sitting in a recliner while the rest of the family stands. This stereotype of the dumb husband drove me crazy and I stopped watching commercial TV for quite some time. (In fact, I’ve never really picked up the habit again.) I’m not a dad. I do not have a spouse. But that sort of stereotype was enough to make me angry. And this is a very mild stereotype. The frustration a person must feel when something about themselves is always portrayed negatively in art and communication is enormous and questions like the ones above which are invited by the disclaimer allow us, especially who are unfamiliar with such questions, to interrogate ourselves just as much as the art.

These films aren’t only about interrogating ourselves; they’re also about seeing beautiful—if flawed—works of art with musical scores to match. Many of the films have not had a score in many years and silent film, as preserved in archives, is an incomplete performance without music. The producers of this set were zealous to include musical accompaniments from non-male composers and performers and having women’s voices heard both on screen and through the speakers of one’s television makes all the difference in the world. Composers who are male aren’t the only serious people in the business and this boxed set advances that idea wonderfully.

The blushing groom.

One of my all-time favorite comedies is contained in this set: What’s the World Coming To? from 1926. The setting is 2026. There are flying cars and men have become stay-at-home creatures while women are the ones who philander and work all day. [This seems to have been a recurring anxiety for Americans since at least the mid-1800s, but that might be another essay for another time.] The blushing groom (Clyde Cook) is married in a ceremony (to Katherine Grant) complete with crude jokes and wardrobe malfunctions and is a wonderful source for laughs from the father-in-law (James Finlayson) and the ex?-girlfriend (Laura De Cardi). It’s 22 minutes of delight!

A wide range of cultures are represented—white, Indigenous, Black, and Asian women are all included in this set. Different perspectives, life experiences, and expressions of self make this set a strong and useful addition to anyone’s journey of cultural and self discovery.


Official information, courtesy of Kino Lorber…

Product Extras : 

  • “What Is a Nasty Woman?” – Video introduction to the collection, featuring series curators Laura Horak, Maggie Hennefeld, Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, and music supervisor Dana Reason 
  • Eleven short documentaries focused on specific films and performers, including interviews with Liza Black, TJ Cuthand, Maggie Hennefeld, Laura Horak, Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Dana Reason, Arigon Starr, Susan Stryker, and Kyla Wazana Tompkins 
  • QR code featuring access to online booklet with essays, interviews, photos, and detailed film notes
  • Audio commentaries for select films by: Jennifer Bean (University of Washington), Liza Black, Enrique Moreno Ceballos (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México), Liz Clarke (Brock University), Bryony Dixon (British Film Institute), Jane Gaines (Columbia University), Rosa María Licea Garibay (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México), Joanna Hearne (University of Oklahoma), Maggie Hennefeld (University of Minnesota), Laura Horak (Carleton University), Pamela Hutchinson (Silent London), Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (Eye Filmmuseum), Mariann Lewinsky (Cineteca di Bologna), Katharina Loew (University of Massachusetts Boston), Cecilia Ramírez Morales (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México), Ana Belén Recoder (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México), Lluvia Soto Rodríguez (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México), Aurore Spiers, Shelley Stamp (University of California, Santa Cruz), Alejandra Calleja Toxqui (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México), Kristen Anderson Wagner (University of Southern California), Laetitia Vigneron (Festival Internacional de Cine Silente México), and Yiman Wang (University of California, Santa Cruz)