Art History: The Girlfriend Film: Affection and Affiliation – School of Literature, Art and Media Art History: The Girlfriend Film: Affection and Affiliation – School of Literature, Art and Media

Art History: The Girlfriend Film: Affection and Affiliation

The Girlfriend Film: Affection and Affiliation

Presenter: Melissa Hardie

Abstract: This paper considers two films of the nineteen-seventies to think about historically specific ways in which affection between women was visually possible and narratively explained. Long before the Bechdel Test codified and implicitly critiqued the failure of films to make female interaction the focal point of narrative activity, Fred Zinnemann’s 1977 Julia and Claudia Weill’s 1978 Girlfriends both described the difficulty of conceptualising female affiliation in narrative and visual sequences.  Within widely different industrial and political contexts, they each narrated the ways in which explicit interdiction and other forms of “sororophobia,” to use Helena Michie’s phrase, arise as forms of plot advancement and affective dislocation in the lives of paired female friends.  In Julia, the adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s memoir foreshadows as public historical and political allegory this separation or dislocation; in Girlfriends the focus is personal and intimate although the premise of the plot is also that this interdiction is a political and aesthetic matter.  In both, an endeavour to separate affection from desire is gestured at as a condition of affection between girlfriends.  This lecture will argue that rather than conditioning and facilitating the love between girlfriends this separation causes an affective impasse to arise.  Its negotiation in each film is quite different, and the lecture will explore the ways in which women, in historical fact or imaginative revision, can be brought together as girlfriends.

Melissa Hardie divides her time at the University of Sydney between the English Department and the Office of the DVC E, where she is serving as the Academic Director for Student Life. Her recent publications include articles on Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? in Film Quarterly, on Charlie’s Angels (most versions) and blockchain in Australian Humanities Review, and on the 1996 Ivana Trump telemovie For Love Alone in Textual Practice; with Meaghan Morris and Kane Race she is editing a collection on Showgirls.

This event will be held online via Zoom.

Art History Seminar Programme going forward:

7 October – Kaitlin Lake, “Sartrean Nothingness and the Aposiopetic Film as Existential Philosophy”

14 October – Louise Marshall, “Coping with the Black Death: Giovanni Del Biondo’s St Sebastian Altarpiece for Florence Cathedral”

21 October – Yvette Hamilton, “Looking through a black hole: Photography at the limits.” & Nina Stromqvist,Marja Helander, Christian Bumbarra Thompson and the ‘border’ in contemporary art from Scandinavia and Australia.”

4 November – Peter McNeil, “Fashion beyond clothing: the visual culture of Eurasian porcelain, glass and painted mirrors, 1500-1800”

11 November – Bruce Isaacs, “Literary and Cinematic Archi-Textualities: Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue


Sep 23 2021


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

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