VOLUME 7, NUMBER 1
BY ANNE KEYSER
Associate Professor of Film Studies Robin Blaetz, author of
Visions of the Maid: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture.
Hollywood create a movie about Joan of Arc that would bolster
support for the current war against terrorism? Visiting Associate
Professor of Film Studies Robin Blaetz, who has analyzed cultural
references to Joan of Arc, including every film about the fifteenth-century
French heroine made or distributed in the United States, thinks
the answer is yes. In Visions of the Maid: Joan of Arc in American
Film and Culture (University Press of Virginia, 2001), Blaetz
argues that the history and mythology of Joan of Arc have been
used for five hundred years to send all sorts of social and political
messages, especially during wartime.
for example, called upon Joan of Arc during and after World War
II both to recruit women to the war effort and to encourage them
to abandon wartime jobs and return to their roles as full-time
wives and mothers. "Women had to realize that while their efforts
were necessary during the war, these new tasks were not meant
to replace the duties of wife and mother," writes Blaetz, describing
the female personas held up in advertisements, cartoons, posters,
and films of the 1940s and 1950s. The traditional Joan of Arc,
a short-lived war hero who sacrificed herself at the stake, was
appropriate for this task, writes Blaetz, "because the freedom
attained through a job had to be envisioned as temporary."
calls her analysis of Joan of Arc in culture a "close reading"
of the kinds of imagery she believes to be this century’s dominant
text. "We live in an image culture," a culture dominated not by
printed messages but by visual messages conveyed through television
shows, movies, videos, commercials, Game Boys, and advertisements,
the film scholar says. "There is a language being used to send
those messages we’re seeing. If you don’t learn to read it, you’ll
be manipulated by it."
they’re taking Introduction to Film, History of Film, or a course
in avant-garde films or documentaries, Blaetz’s students learn
a language built on a vocabulary of light, arrangement of objects,
sound, camera angles, editing patterns, set design, costume, and
music. "Everyone interprets the images of film," Blaetz says.
"Everyone hears their messages and experiences the feelings they
evoke, but few can tell you how or why the images are seductive
and magical." Her courses take students behind the scenes to reveal
the tricks of the trade, teaching them to experience a film by
"really seeing it."
love film," Blaetz says. "They’re so excited about the medium
that they’re willing to work at learning its forms and developing
critical opinions about it." High enrollments in Blaetz’s classes
seem to prove her point, and she is impressed with her students.
"Mount Holyoke students are extremely serious and attentive,"
says Blaetz, who can compare her students at the College with
those she has taught over her nearly twenty-year career at New
York University, Adelphi University, George Washington University,
and Emory University. Blaetz’s own experiences as a student, and
her time working as an au pair in Paris after graduating from
Ohio University’s Honors College, led to her passion for film
and other art forms.
system at Ohio University allowed Blaetz to focus on the writings
of Virginia Woolf while also exploring dance, theater, French,
and other interests. Free for much of each day in Paris after
completing her duties as an au pair, she spent many hours watching
French films. Her moviegoing was just a pastime until she saw
the work of French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and was transfixed.
"This is it! This is the language of my time," she thought. Immediate
and complex, Godard’s films combined everything Blaetz loved--narrative,
visual effects, movement, theater, and philosophy. She abandoned
plans to study comparative literature and applied to New York
University, where she focused on experimental, documentary, and
European films, completing her doctoral degree in 1989. Her dissertation
was on narrative technique, focusing on all the films ever made
about Joan of Arc.
she’s not writing, teaching, or watching film shoots in Los Angeles
with her husband, a Hollywood production designer, Blaetz focuses
on her favorite genre, experimental films. "The avant-garde is
challenging; it uses images in unusual ways and, unlike Hollywood
films, favors imagery over narrative," she says, but its films
"stay with you," and are often "more about understanding than
information." Blaetz is currently working on an anthology of feminist
avant-garde filmmakers of the 1960s through the 1980s. She hopes
that by teaching how to approach and "read" the language of the
avant-garde, the book will help people move beyond the melodramas
of the 1940s and enter a more exciting period and genre of feminist
filmmaking. "It was the avant-garde filmmaking of the 1970s that
brought film to the university as a serious subject of study,"
says Blaetz, who is striving to make the form more accessible
through her work as a scholar and teacher. In her role as a passionate
champion of avant-garde and other filmmaking genres, Blaetz calls
to mind an array of images--shining armor, a white stallion, and,
of course, an innovative and intelligent heroine. Who says life
does not imitate art?