Sensorial intelligence

When women filmmakers took the optical printer

The optical printer, a device consisting of one or more projectors mechanically linked to a camera for copying film or creating special effects, is historically associated with industrial cinema. In experimental cinema, a series of women filmmakers appropriated this traditionally masculine tool to explore its relationship with the body, imagination and memory. This session includes an introductory talk on the use and history of the optical printer in experimental cinema by the researcher Julia Cortegana.

Invented in Hollywood in the 1920s and developed in the 1930s, the optical printer was used by US photographic units during World War II, as well as in educational projects and photochemical restoration. The film to be copied was controlled by the projector, and the copied film by the camera. In the film industry they were later replaced by digital composition tools, but experimental cinema explored various creative possibilities by manipulating them and reflecting on filmic materiality. In the films in this session, the optical printer is used for fade-ins, loops, superpositions, repeats, speeding up, slowing down, stopping, reframing, cutting and rescaling. Women filmmakers of different generations directed these resources towards personal and political, pictorial and tactile, sensual and dreamlike relationships with the device, clearly shown in the programme presented here.

In Loose Corner, Anita Thacher works with the unreal proportions of people and objects using boxing-in and trompe-l’oeil. Time perception is associated with play and childhood, an issue also present in Sea Travels, a meditation on vision, dreams and distorted memory. In Wind/Water/Wings, Barbara Klutinis establishes an analogy between the fragility of the inner and outer environments: her uncertainty in the face of menopause and her concerns about threatened nature. While tactile sensitivity leads to ecstasy in Barbara Hammer’s work, in Place Mattes, made with travelling mattes of the filmmaker’s torso, legs or hands, nature becomes untouchable due to the flattening of figure and background. Sharon Couzin dedicated Roseblood to the dancer Carolyn Chave Kaplan. Initially made in 8 mm, it isolates elements and applies an infinite number of techniques typical of collage and animation. It also proposes an equivalence between a series of dissonant motifs (flowers, blood, shells, the sun, crystals, trees) and the cultural mythology of female sexuality, as well as circular shapes and movements, all evoking the cycles of life and the seasons. In Introspection, the first abstract dance film in history, Sara Kathryn Arledge also uses dance as the expression of a three-dimensional, ethereal, dreamlike inner world. Using coloured gels or multiple exposures, it is the filmmaker—not the dancer—who creates the musical rhythms by joining gestures and shapes with the help of the optical printer. Finally, in Grain Graphics visual waves replicate the sound of a gamelan. Dana Plays uses image enlargement and multiplication to magnify gestures. At the same time, dozens of small refilmed frames crowd the screen, like a figurative zoom-out.

Loose Corner, Anita Thacher, 1986, 16 mm, 12’; Sea Travels, Anita Thacher, 1978, 16 mm, 11’; Wind/Water/Wings, Barbara Klutinis, 1995, 16 mm, 22’; Place Mattes, Barbara Hammer, 1987, 16 mm, 9’; Roseblood, Sharon Couzin, 1974, 16 mm, 8’; Introspection, Sara Kathryn Arledge, 1941, 16 mm, 7’; Grain Graphics, Dana Plays, 1978, 16 mm, 6’

16 mm screening. Copies of Loose Corner, Sea Travels, Wind/Water/Wings and Place Mattes courtesy of Light Cone. Copies of Roseblood, Introspection and Grain Graphics courtesy of Canyon Cinema.

27 April 2023


The Auditorium
Admission fee

€ 4 / € 3 Concessions
5-session pass: € 15 / € 12 Concessions
Friends of the CCCB: free of charge

Tickets on sale at the CCCB ticket offices ( / 933064100) and online.
Passes are only available from the ticket desk.

Buy tickets