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Women’s film history: Unfinished but not forgotten

4 July 2023

Image Works celebrates lost queen of slapstick Léontine and sees launch of field-defining book on women’s unfinished film

The latest outing from the public platform exploring images of all kinds has highlighted the fragmentary remains of a lost and unknown queen of slapstick on the silent screen – and celebrated a new book reimagining women’s unfinished film history.

The Image Works event showcased a selection of short slapstick comedies featuring the hilarious Léontine, with insightful introductions from a leading expert of feminist comedy and popular culture.

Following the Unfinished film festival held in 2022, Looking for Léontine forms part of an ongoing partnership with Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff.

Take a sneak peek at Léontine in action in this silent film.

While the names of early film stars such as Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are still familiar today, one of the era’s most important comedians has fallen out of public knowledge – and out of the history books.

On the cusp of the First World War, Léontine was a rising star, appearing in dozens of films from 1910 to 1912 before vanishing seemingly overnight from the big screen and cultural memory. Now, we don’t even know the real name of the woman who played the character Léontine.

Who was Léontine? And why are her surviving films so irresistibly hilarious?

Event curator, Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota Dr Maggie Hennefeld, explored in her opening remarks what it means to resurrect the French film star in the context of contemporary politics, media culture, and feminist comedy. She appeared in discussion with Image Works co-lead, Dr Alix Beeston.

The event delved deeper into the lost and unfinished work of women filmmakers with the launch of Incomplete: The Feminist Possibilities of the Unfinished Film, a new collection published by the University of California Press. Incomplete is co-edited by Senior Lecturer in English Literature Dr Beeston and includes an essay on the search for Léontine by Dr Hennefeld.

Whether abandoned, interrupted, lost or open-ended, Incomplete establishes unfinished film projects as underappreciated resources for feminist film and media studies, with scholars and film practitioners revealing the experiences, conditions and institutional realities of women’s film production across history and national borders.

Image Works: Research and Practice in Visual Culture sponsored the free event and its post-screening drinks reception on Sunday 18 June. The interdisciplinary public platform brings together academics, arts practitioners, and audiences. Check out their latest updates on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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