I enjoy educating others about film history and the early years of cinema.
1. Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Not only is Mädchen in Uniform (1931) the earliest-known example of a female-dominated film, but it’s also an early example of LGBT cinema.
This German film centers on a rebellious teenager named Manuela who is sent to an all-girls Catholic school and develops a crush on one of her teachers, Fräulein von Bernburg. The feelings are shown to be mutual when the teacher gives her students goodnight kisses on the forehead, and Manuela receives one on the lips.
The film was remade in 1958, during the Hays Code era. Surprisingly, though depictions of sexuality were severely restricted at the time, teacher and student share a kiss while running lines for Romeo and Juliet.
Most recently, Loving Annabelle (2006) was based on Mädchen in Uniform. Directed by Katherine Brooks, this film was more explicit in its portrayal of a teacher and student falling in love and even contains a sex scene.
2. Club de femmes (1936)
The French film Club de femmes (1936), the title of which translates to Women’s Club, was a dark comedy that was so heavily censored in its time that few audiences saw the complete version.
In a Parisian boarding house full of young, unwed women, chaperones are tasked with keeping men out of the rooms. But a dancer named Claire disguises her boyfriend as a woman to sneak him in, and ends up getting pregnant. Meanwhile, a worker at the boarding house secretly runs a prostitution ring, while a lesbian named Alice pursues potential lovers.
Club de femmes was later remade as Club of Women (1956) but went largely forgotten until its rediscovery in the 1980s. The lead actress, Danielle Darrieux, went on to become one of France’s most beloved movie stars, with a career spanning over eighty years.
3. The Women (1939)
Based on a play written by Clare Boothe Luce, The Women (1939) was set in high-society Manhattan and featured some of the era’s biggest stars, including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine.
As a comedy of manners, The Women satirized the pampered, privileged lives of rich women and the malignant effects of gossip. Though men are never seen on screen, the plots revolve around the women’s marriages, affairs, divorces, and rivalries.
The film was written by Anita Loos, whose successful screenwriting career spanned from 1912 to 1961. She was also a playwright and author, having written the bestselling novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and its Broadway musical and film adaptations. She even became the very first staff screenwriter when she was put on the payroll at Triangle Film Corporation.
The Women's costume designer, Adrian Greenburg, designed over 200 gowns for the actresses involved. Though it was mostly filmed black and white, the film contains a ten-minute Technicolor fashion montage, featuring the designs that didn’t make the cut.
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4. Venusberg (1963)
In Germanic mythology, Venusberg is a place of worship for the goddess Venus, located in a mountain forbidden to mortal men. Expanding on that theme, the West German comedy-drama film Venusberg (1963) involves seven women who are invited to a holiday villa on a snow-covered hill by a doctor they have all been romantically involved with.
One of the women is three-months pregnant; another is waiting for the doctor to divorce his wife; one is a model from Paris; and two of them are in a same-sex relationship. The doctor is conspicuously absent and never appears on screen, leaving the women to get to know each other.
Though at one point a man enters the villa and sleeps with one of them, he is never shown, only heard, and voiced by actor Oskar Werner. The women swim in the pool, discuss philosophy, read erotic literature out loud, and eventually leave one-by-one, realizing they have all been conned by a dishonest man.
5. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972)
German director, actor, playwright, and theater director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was known for his surreal, avant-garde films. He adapted several of his own plays to film, including The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972).
Petra von Kant is an arrogant fashion designer who has been unlucky in love, and takes her bitterness out on her long-suffering assistant, Marlene. A beautiful young model named Karin enters her life, having fled her abusive husband, and Petra is immediately enamored with her. They begin a romantic relationship, which soon becomes toxic.
Fassbinder’s work was never without controversy. Some critics claimed Bitter Tears was sexist and homophobic. His other works have spurred accusations of misogyny and anti-Semitism.
Nonetheless, Bitter Tears was successful with critics and won three German Film Awards for Best Leading Actress, Best Overall Acting Performance, and Best Cinematography.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on January 16, 2020:
Nice article. Interesting information.