Nº7 2021 (1)

De la femme

Caterina Cucinotta (Universidade NOVA de Lisboa) & Jesús Ramé López (Universidad Rey Juan Carlos) 



When we think about the link between cinema and fashion, figures of sensual actresses who have created mythical characters immediately come to mind, gestures and indelible looks as well and, above all, through the costumes with which they were presented in front of the camera. Audrey Hepburn and other actresses are in fact icons of both styles that have created different trends in fashion. They are stereotypes and female models, who have marked the cornerstone of this link between women and cinema for many years. What if the link between fashion and film really came from much further? What if we place it behind the camera?

With this audiovisual essay we propose an inclusive and unprecedented vision of the links between fashion and cinema by relating the profession of seamstress with that one of editor, giving space to a little-studied figure: Soviet editor Elizaveta Svilova.

By going deep into the technical knowledge ranging from fabric cutting and sewing to film cutting and sewing and its meticulous coloring by hand, for example, we realize, albeit superficially, how to sew and embroider, as well as paint and coloring, were disciplines studied and practiced in professional high schools at the beginning of the last century. Female silent film editors do not appear in film titles, they had no right to the name “editor” and were not considered working artists in the male universe of early cinema: they were recruited for their manual skills and very often moved from the fashion atelier to the editing room, precisely because of their ability to “think with hands.” It is, therefore, a brief but intense period in which the presence of women was completely inserted in the final aesthetic result of the art of cinema, endowing movies with a slow and meticulous process, but systematic and controlled.

Later, in the key step of cinema from “manufacto” to “artifact”, the figure of the editor, as it had been understood until then, changes not only at the work level but also in its terminology: the cutter is transformed into editor, implementing a fundamental passage in the conceptual perception of the profession, from women to men, from the technical and manual to the artistic and technological (Hatch, 2013). Linked to the concept of cinema as an artifact, we find, indissoluble and strong, another concept that accompanies it: that of female technique at the service of cinematographic art (Dall’Asta et al. 2013).

The “materiality turn” in film studies must absolutely address the traditional techniques that shaped early cinema, which differentiated it from photography and press (Mormorio, 1997) and which ultimately led to slow growth, traceable from a simple collective artifact (Bizio & Laffranchi, 2002) to  contemporary media (Grilo, 2007).

The audiovisual essay shows Hepburn and Loren in parallel, making a comparison with the Spanish news of NO-DO: in both cases they are female stereotypes constructed through fashion and also through political standards or aesthetic canons to “manufacture” distorted and macho views of reality. The object woman, the mother woman, the woman who becomes “beautiful” through fascist gymnastics: all are prepackaged models of a femininity constructed by the masculine.

Instead, delving into the history of cinema and taking Svilova as an example, we can see how feminine values in cinema also developed and, most remarkably, behind the camera.

Why is it that when we talk about the importance of editing in the Soviet cinema of the 1920s, we do mention the director Dviga Vertov and not his wife, the professional editor Elisaveta Svilova? Why should fashion in the cinema be labeled through banal and out-of-date female models who only needed to appear in front of the camera?

This audiovisual essay develops a concept that binds together cinema and fashion through the hands and thought they produce. All these matters are settled in the video on a “sound mattress”, which represents that closeness between the noise of a projector and a sewing machine, since these instruments were built with the same mechanism and from the same pieces. Thus, the mechanical sounds in De la femme silence the discourse that sustains the costume tests that will define the female character of Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953), sounds of female practices from the other side of the camera.



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How to cite this article: Cucinotta, C. & Ramé López, J. (2021) De la femme. Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays, 7(1). ISSN: 2659-4269

Other videoessays in this issue:

Staring Back
Sara Delshad (Independent researcher)

Window Diaries
Diego Ginartes & Valentín Via 


Students Showcase

How To Cook When Instant Food Doesn’t Fill You Up
Claudia Bielsa Gómez Tostón Salazar, Nuria de Andrés Masa & Bahía Delgado Manso (UC3M)

Ocho apellidos vascos and Spanish Popular Culture
Milagros Valerio, Claudia Sánchez Mar Muñoz (UC3M)