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Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons - Interview

Notes

The film makers:

Laura Mulvey: author of: ‘You don't know what is happening do you, Mr Jones?' (on Allen Jones) in Spare Rib, no 8, 1973; 'The Hole Truth' (on Penelope Slinger) in Spare Rib, no 17, 1973; co-editor of Douglas Sirk (together with Jon Halliday), Edinburgh Film Festival 1972; co-organiser of the Women's Event at the Edinburgh Film- Festival 1972; wrote on film for Seven Days; member of the Family Study Group - Women's Liberation Workshop, London.

Peter Wollen: author of: Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, Cinema One Series, London 1969, revised edition 1972; ‘Notes towards a structural analysis of the films of Samuel Fuller', in Cinema no 1, 1968; co-editor with David Will of Samuel Fuller, Edinburgh Film Festival 1969; 'Hitchcock's Vision', in Cinema no 3, 1969; 'Counter Cinema: Vent d'Est', in After Image no 4, 1972; 'Some thoughts on Stanley Mitchell's article on Marinetti and Mayakovsky', in Screen v 12 no 4; 'Art and Revolution' in Studio International,spring 1971; wrote on film for the New Left Review and Seven Days.

1. Heinrich von Kleist: (1777-1811); Prussian dramatist, poet, novelist and essayist. He stood in an ambiguous relation to the rest of the Romantic movement in Germany and his work remained largely unappreciated. He committed suicide together with his friend Lady Henrjette Vogel. The critic Hermann Bahr wrote in 1927: 'During: my childhood the memory of Kleist had been almost extinguished; in school we barely heard his name....his time came after 1870. But Kleist did not yet become popular. Only during the world war, indeed only after the war did the nation begin to recollect him, about the same time that there was the first glimmering of a Goethe-dawn.’ (quoted by Peter Gay, Weimar Culture, Penguin Books,1974, p 63). Peter Gay goes on to comment: ‘Some readers, found in Kleist the tormented Christian, others the aristocrat out of his time, still others a rebel; Thomas Mann enjoyed the delicious humour of Kleist's neo-classical comedy Amphitryon The Nazis claimed Kleist as the pure, strong German, the George circle the poet of the lonely elite, the Communists as an early revolutionary, while his descendant, Hans Jurgen Kleist...insisted on his ancestor's right to be read as the ' singer of the war of libera- tion'. In 1920, a Kleist-Gesellschaft was founded in Germany, with members such as Gerhat Hauptmann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Walter Hasenclever and Ernst Cassirer. Kleist's main plays:Der zerbrochene Krug (The broken jug), written 1802-06, premiere 1808; Amphitryon, written 1806, premiere 1899;Penthesilea, written 1806-07, premiere 1876. He also wrote a short story on the rebel Michael Kohlhaas (1808).

2.What 80 Million Women Want, a silent film featuring Mrs Pankhurst by the Women's Political Union, in America (1913). Art director was Cedric. Gibbons.

3.Jessie Ashley American feminist Obtained a degree in Law in 1902: In 1911-12 she wrote an irregularly appearing column in the main suffragist paper, The Woman's Journal (Boston) called 'Head- quarters Letters'. In 1912 she submitted an article defending the textile workers' strike at Lawrence (Mass) and protesting against the vicious repression of the strike, but the Woman's Journal saw fit not to publish it. She died prematurely in 1919. The directors of the film gave the following information to the actress who was to speak Jessie Ashley's words: 'Rich, professional, well-educated. Came into contact for the first time with working class women through the women's movement. Saw, both theoretically and emotionally, the need for the suffrage struggle to move beyond its immediate definition and, filled with rather naive but well founded enthusiasm devoted herself to pointing out to bourgeois-based suffragists that they were wrong both in terms of their struggle and where their future lay. Her failure to elicit much more than outraged protests gave her a double disappointment - the fact that her political project was obviously much more complicated than she had first envisaged, and personally in that she failed to convey her own sense of enthusiasm and idealism. And frustration knowing she is right but quite unable to get through to everyone else. Although her style has an old-fashioned ring, women in women's movements in the sixties went through almost identical experiences, some of them coming to the same conclusions as Jessie Ashley, without realising that it had all happened before'

4.Ernest Jones: On Dying Together with special reference to Hein von Kleist's Suicide, inEssays in Applied Psychoanalysis, International Psycho-analytic Library, London, 1951.

5.Johann Jakob Bachofen: (1815-1887); Swiss jurist and historian. Professor of Roman Law at Basle University. Published Das Mutterrecht (Mother-Right) in 1861. F Engels summarises the basic theses of the book in his preface to the 4th edition of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1891 Freud refers to Bachofen in Totem and Taboo (1913) Bachofen was also an influence on Nietzsche.

6. Jacques Derrida wrote an essay on this contemporary French poet: Edmond Jabes et la question du livre (1964), reprinted in L'Ecriture et la Difference, Paris 1967.

7.The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure wrote an analysis of Virgil's poetry and of Lucretius' On the Nature of the Universe (De Rerum Natura) to confirm his hypothesis that 'the poetic, discourse makes obligatory usage of the phonemes of a theme-wordwhich precedes and underpins this discourse...The phonemes of the theme-word are obligatory relays through which the sound chain of the poetic discourse must pass'. (Jean Starobinski). Saussure called these theme-words 'anagrams' or 'hypograms'. In another context he also uses the term 'paragrams'. Eg in Lueretius, the theme-word organising the discourse is the word: Aphrodite. Jean Starobinski published part of Saussure's Anagrams in Mercure de France (1964) and Tel Quel later published the entire remaining text of Saussure's work in issue no 37. In 1967, Julia Kristeva elaborated on Saussure's discovery and published her findings in her Pour une Semiologie des Paragrammes, reprinted in Semiotike Recherches pour une semanalyse, Paris 1969. In 1970, the magazine Change (no 6) denounced Kristeva's work, accusing it of philosophic revisionism, pointing towards Lenin's denunciation of Bogdanov's empiriosymbolism. Kristeva prefaced her essays with a quote from Saussure: 'The basic elements of expression, if they are to exist at all, must be algebraic...One arrives at theorems which are subject to (mathematical) proof'. (1911).

8.The Standard Edition translates Notes upon the Mystic Writing Pad, but the German 'Wunderblock' also translates as 'magic' writing pad. The directors of the film have chosen to avoid the term 'mystic' for obvious reasons.

Claire Johnston and Paul Willemen
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