This article examines the origin myth of the feminist film journal Close Up, namely, an excursion by its founders Bryher and H.D. to see G. W. Pabst’s Die freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street, 1925) in a small cinema in Montreux, Switzerland. Throughout the essay, I use Joyless Street as a case study to analyze the ways in which theories of trauma can be effectively brought to bear on melodramas of the post–World War I era and, in the process, demonstrate the appeal Pabst’s works held for the Close Up editors, who shared his interest in trauma, psychoanalysis, and healing. By analyzing Joyless Street through the lens of Close Up, I demonstrate how Bryher and H.D. anticipate the development of trauma theory, which emerged in the early 1990s. Unlike traditional, often totalizing, applications of psychoanalysis (which emphasize notions of spectator desire and lack), the Close Up writers’ engagement of psychoanalysis focuses on issues of history, memory, and the response of spectators to historically specific situations. Their theory further suggests that in addition to surrogate fantasy fulfillment, film—in its recurring representation of trauma—might aid in mastering shared cultural symptoms, which women often experienced in isolation. Through their sustained analysis of film melodrama, the Close Up writers demonstrate that the war, beyond its devastating effects on combatants, also impacted the (female) civilian population—resulting in Close Up’s call for a critical film culture that speaks to that experience.
Jenelle Troxell; “Light Filtering through Those Shutters”: Joyless Streets, Mnemic Symbols, and the Beginnings of Feminist Film Criticism. Camera Obscura 1 December 2019; 34 (3): 63–95. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-7772387
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