Amy! and Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti

Two films by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen

1980 | Color/BW | DVD | Order No. 07918


WMM is pleased to release two early works by renowned film scholar Laura Mulvey, co-written and co-directed with Peter Wollen. Mulvey came to prominence in the early 1970s with her seminal essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. One of the most widely cited and anthologized articles in the field of contemporary film theory, this groundbreaking work investigated questions of spectatorial identification and its relationship to the male gaze. With this essay and other articles, Mulvey helped establish feminist film theory as a legitimate field of study.

AMY! (1980, 30 minutes) Amy Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from Great Britain to Australia. Mulvey and Wollen’s experimental documentary combines newsreel footage of the aviator’s arrival, dramatic recreations of events from her life and contemporary discussions by feminist groups on the subject of heroism in this most unconventional biopic.

FRIDA KAHLO AND TINA MODOTTI (1983, 29 minutes) Originally commissioned for an international art exhibition this short film is an unconventional portrait of painter Frida Kahlo and photographer Tina Modotti. Simple in style but complex in its analysis,FRIDA KAHLO AND TINA MODOTTI explores the divergent themes and styles of two contemporary and radical women artists working in the upheaval of the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution.


“AMY! and FRIDA KHALO AND TINA MODOTTI are fascinating and accessible hybrids of biography and critical essay written in images and sounds. They exemplify the ‘passionate detachment’ Mulvey advocated- their modernist heroines are as texts and presented as women with whom younger feminist generations will connect. The rediscovery of these films will energize discussions of feminist film theory by illustrating the stakes of film practice.”

Patricia White Chair, Film and Media Studies, Swarthmore College

“A fascinating recasting of documentary film as a hybrid of performance art, home movies and animation infused by a postpunk sensibility. The films turn Mulvey’s off-cited ‘gaze’ inside out with powerful subjects…who demand active spectatorship.”

Ted Barron Senior Programmer, Harvard Film Archive


  • Ladyfest, Chicago, IL


Laura Mulvey

Laura Mulvey was born in Oxford on 15 August 1941. After studying history at St. Hilda's, Oxford University, she came to prominence in the early 1970s as a film theorist, writing for periodicals such as Spare Rib and Seven Days. Much of her early critical work investigated questions of spectatorial identification and its relationship to the male gaze, and her writings, particularly the 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, helped establish feminist film theory as a legitimate field of study.
Between 1974 and 1982 Mulvey co-wrote and co-directed with her husband, Peter

Wollen, six projects: theoretical films, dealing in the discourse of feminist theory, semiotics, psychoanalysis and leftist politics. The first of these, PENTHESILEA: QUEEN OF THE AMAZONS (1974) explored concerns central to Mulvey's writings: the position of women in relation to patriarchal myth, symbolic language and male fantasy. PENTHESILEA: QUEEN OF THE AMAZONS represents an experimental British venture into territory pioneered by the likes of Jean-Luc Godard.

The most influential of Mulvey and Wollen's collaborative films, RIDDLES OF THE SPHINX (1977), presented avant-garde film as a space in which female experience could be expressed. Remarkable formalistic innovation, notably 360-degree pans, inform the film's content, describing the mother's loss of and search for identity. The result is a challenging, forceful and intelligent film.

AMY! (1980), a tribute to Amy Johnson, is a more accessible reworking of themes previously covered by Mulvey and Wollen, but it is ponderous and slow. Far from a conventional biopic, the aviator is used as a symbolic figure, her journey exemplifying the transitions between female and male worlds required by women struggling towards achievement in the public sphere.

CRYSTAL GAZING (1982) represented a departure from the emphatic formalism of Mulvey and Wollen's earlier films. It demonstrated more spontaneity than previous works, both in performances and in the storyline, elements of which were left undecided until the moment of filming. Bleak, but with playful touches, this representation of London during the Thatcher recession was generally well received, despite criticism of Mulvey for the lack of a feminist underpinning to the film. She admitted she had been reluctant to incorporate feminist polemics fearing they would unbalance the film.
FRIDA KAHLO AND TINA MODOTTI (1982) and THE BAD SISTER (1982) followed, revisiting feminist film issues. After these, Mulvey did not return to film-making until 1991 when production began on her solo project DISGRACED MONUMENTS, an examination of the fate of revolutionary monuments in the Soviet Union after the fall of communism.

Laura Mulvey is a Professor of Film and Media Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London. (8/14)

Peter Wollen

British screenwriter and filmmaker Peter Wollen began working in films as the co-writer of Antonioni's The Passenger in 1975. From there he helped direct a few experimental features with the support of the British Film Institute, making his solo feature film directorial debut in 1987 with Friendship's Death, a science fiction film about a alien girl who crashes in war-torn Jordan. Wollen first gained attention as a noted British film theorist and author of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema one of the seminal works on structuralist theory. Currently he is a film scholar who teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was co-editor with Jim Hillier, of Howard Hawks: American Artist, published by Indiana. (2/07)


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