Review: The Heretics

The women interviewed here deserve a movie that does more than take them at their word.

The Heretics
Photo: No More Nice Girls Productions

In the 1970s, filmmaker Joan Braderman fell in with a group of “anarchopagan postsituationalist Democratic feminists” working on a magazine called Heresies, named after a Susan Sontag line, publishing pieces about art and politics (contributors included Alice Walker, Leslie Thornton, and Adrienne Rich). The Heretics consists mainly of interviews with 28 different former Heresies contributors, nearly all of them artists, as they discuss the feminist movement that led them to seek each other out. The magazine was truly a joint effort: By rule, editors changed from issue to issue. Perhaps in keeping with the group’s collective nature, Braderman opts not to focus on any one of the women, making her story about a movement rather than about one particular protagonist. This strategy, though theoretically intriguing, ultimately makes for an unfocused final product, with general statements about how hard it is for women to succeed in a man’s world in lieu of a narrative pushing forward. Many grounding details are also lacking: We hear about a few special Heresies issues (the lesbian issue, the abortion issue), but to my knowledge Braderman never actually gives up excerpts from any of the articles, nor does she say why the magazine ended its run. We understand that it was important; whether it was good is left open. The best that we get is an interview subject saying that the journal’s art “was all about life,” one of the emptiest statements found in a movie this year. Braderman could have stepped in more forcefully as a narrator to provide context and direction for this material, yet fails even to provide The Feminine Mystique’s publication date when an interview subject can’t remember. The women interviewed seem thoughtful and searching. They deserve a movie that does more than take them at their word.

 Cast: Elizabeth Hess, Emma Amos, Su Friedrich, Carolee Schneemann, Ida Applebroog, Pat Steir, Joan Snyder, Marty Pottenger, Patsy Beckert, Harmoney Hammond, Sue Heinemann, Mary Miss, Sabra Moore, Miriam Schapiro, Elke Solomon, Cecilia Vicuña, Sally Webster  Director: Joan Braderman  Screenwriter: Joan Braderman  Running Time: 95 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2009

Aaron Cutler

Aaron Cutler lives in São Paulo and runs the film criticism site The Moviegoer.

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