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B. Ruby Rich is a noted American film writer and critic, identified with a number of film movements; visiting Australia for the first time, she explores issues that go to the heart of filmmaking, women in filmmaking and film criticism. She also tells ANDREW L. URBAN what the B stands for.

If you are planning to attend any of Richís presentations (peppered with good jokes, she promises), you are probably interested in what she has to say about Film After Gender, or how The F Word could be replaced with some other word when describing feminist filmmaking. Well, donít expect to get all the answers; "Iím always better with the questions than with the answers," she says in her trademark style of energised eloquence.

In her Film After Gender presentation, Rich explores the issues of those women filmmakers who, never mind feminist, donít even want to be identified as women. "Iím talking my way through the questions and issues involved there. . ." She has called it Film After Gender because she hates the phrase post feminist.

In her lecture, The F Word, Rich plays with the concepts that "if feminist film is to succeed, it will have to do so under a different word. Feminism is the F word, and itís become dirty, nobody wants to be labelled by it, itís a passe, unloved word. But I think the absence of ideological structure is causing some women [filmmakers] a few problemsÖ"

As a teacher, curator and film culture commentator, Rich decries the lack of a middle ground in American film criticism. "Part of the problem with American film criticism is that itís either thumbs up and thumbs down type of star rating style, which is purely a consumer guide, or at the other end, it is academic, arcane discourse, and you need to go to college to you read it." Rich hates Ďthe thumbs thingí, so much so that when she was invited to be a guest critic beside Roger Ebert following the death of Gene Siskel, she had a freak accident with a suitcase which ripped her thumb open. "I had to bandage it up but they made me take off the bandage so I could do a thumbs up or down without looking awful," she recounts, still smarting (not from the pain, but from having to use her thumbs as critical appraisal instruments).

Ebert is clearly a fan of Ruby Rich, or at least her book Chick Flicks, of which he said: "Ruby Rich reinvents both herself and her approach to film criticism, in a fascinating book that alternates autobiography and theory. She is wise and funny at the same time, never dogmatic, always allowing her discovery process to remain in clear view."

[A brief excerpt:
{The 60s was the last decade in which it was possible to discover the movies, not merely as a medium, but as a primer in ow to live, how to love, how to think or smoke or lie. It was in the sixties . . . that a whole generation discovered the power of films. The decade started inauspiciously. I was in the seventh grade in 1960 when I walked to the neighborhood movie theatre with a classmate, unwarned and unaccompanied, to see Psycho. We spent much of the film with our coats over our heads.† I didn't take a shower for the next eight years.(Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement, Duke University Press, October 1998)]

But Rich also writes for journals like the esteemed Sight & Sound in England, "which has tried to carve out a middle ground." Her rationale for the use of film criticism is well shaped by now: "Film critics should help the general audience to form opinions that are independent of marketing. Itís important," she believes, "to provide a different perspective, perhaps even an opposite perspective, and to help people to appreciate films. People need these tools; also, film criticism helps to draw attention sometimes to films without the marketing muscle." She is of the opinion that there are no small films, only small marketing budgets.

And more than ever, Rich believes optimistically, film does influence our lives. "I also think that video has created a new generation and a new type of cinephiles. Video has given us access to film history that was never before possible. It has also helped globalise it: you can go into your Chinatown video store and take out the latest Chow Yun-fat movie, or read a film book and get the films it talks about . . .I think video has democratised cinephilia," she concludes, developing her theories in front of your very eyes. This is perhaps what makes her fascinating and engaging, and what Ebert refers to above ("always allowing her discovery process to remain in clear view").

And now for the B: it stands for Barbara, a name Rich discarded in her teens, when every Jewish American princess was called Barbara in an attempt to assimilate by nomenclature. The irony deepens: she discovered some time later that she was in fact named after Barbara Stanwyck, whose real name had been . . . .Ruby.

Lethal Lesbians
Scanning the 90s, Rich examines the emergence of a new genre of "lethal lesbian" movies in which couples of women team up for murder and mayhem. Rich shares her startlingly original theories regarding bloodshed, queer culture, the popular imaginary, and the 90s zeitgeist. Rich travels all the way back to Russ Meyer's infamous Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill for inspiration, then fast forwards to Thelma and Louise and Basic Instinct to create a foundation of formulas. Stay tuned for links between Heavenly Creatures, for example, and the infamous U.S. "serial killer" Aileen Wuornos. Come along for a ride that reaches from Claude Chabrol's soignee La Ceremonie to the camp hit Bound.

Film After Gender:
Does feminism have any relevance for cinema today? Edged out of the limelight by queer studies, cultural studies, and multiculturalism, feminist film studies in the U.S. have never been more stagnant nor more necessary. Rich charts the current state of the film world at a time when ideologies have been ruled defunct and women filmmakers prefer to disregard gender as a factor.

The F Word:
Rich surveys the current cinema to determine whether the worn-out, disowned term "feminism" has any relevance for today's filmmakers or audiences. Drawing on her recent television experience with the Sundance Channel's "She Said Cinema" series, as well as responses to her new book's exploration of feminists film's past, Rich locates pessimism and optimism in equal parts. What's a girl to do? Reconnecting with old pleasures from the more nuanced position of the present, Rich discovers new points of inquiry, synergy, and excitement.

B. Ruby Rich:
Rich started her career in film exhibition, as founder of the Woods Hole Film society in 1972 and then as associate director of the Film Centre at the Art Institute of Chicago. After a stint as film critic for the Chicago Reader, she moved to New York City to become the director of the film program for the New York State Council on the Arts for its decade-long golden age prior to disastrous budget cuts.

Since 1992, Rich has lived in San Francisco and taught documentary film and queer studies during Spring semesters at the University of California, Berkeley. Her other projects include curating the tribute to Argentine cinema for the Sundance Film Festival and the Documentary Matters series for the opening season of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; she is also a consultant to numerous U.S. philanthropic foundations. In 1995-96, she was a Rockefeller Scholar in the Humanities at NYU's Centre for Media,

Culture and History and has published in such journals as the Village Voice, Sight And Sound, The New York Times, OUT, The Advocate, and The San Francisco Bay Guardian.

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Ruby Rich


Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct


Heavenly Creatures


"Lethal Lesbians"
Monday, August 16, 1999
Venue: Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
Time: 6:30-8:30PM
Admission: $15.00 non-members/$10.00 MCA & AFI members

"Film After Gender"
Tuesday, August 17, 1999
Venue: University of NSW, Sydney
School of Theatre & Film Studies
Time: 6:00-7:00pm
Admission: Free

"Lethal Lesbians"
Thursday, August 19, 1999
Venue: RMIT, Melbourne
Time: 6:00 Ė 7:00
Admission: Free

"The F-Word"
Saturday, August 21, 1999
Event: The Age Melbourne Writers' Festival, AFI Writers on film
Venue: The Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre, Sturt Street, Southbank
Time: 8.00pm
Cost: $10.00/$8.00 concessions includes AFI members


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