In Lynn Hershman Leeson’s !Women Art Revolution, stalwart feminist film critic B. Ruby Rich says, “A lot of us who survived those fights, bloodied but relatively unscarred, are kind of like the old C.I.A. and KGB agents that get together for reunions. Who else knows what we’ve been fighting over? Who else is interested in these issues that have really been consigned to a sort of historic scrap pile that people really don’t seem that interested in anymore?” The subject of that hit documentary is its subtitle, A Secret History. At the opening of the film in NYC, I had a chance to speak with Rich so that she could unearth that buried past even further and explain why understanding that moment is particularly relevant now.
So this is a documentary on feminist art, but also the women’s movement. But you’re one of the most renowned feminist film critics. So I’ll start out by asking you about the connection between feminist art and the women’s movement, and also feminist film, during the high time of the feminist movement, the ’70s and early ’80s.
So this triangular relationship that you’d assume would be there? It wasn’t there very much. It was a pretty weak triangle. They tended to be three different routes that women took and there was a kind of shadowing of one upon the other, but there wasn’t much connection. You’d think that there’d be, for instance, a strong connection between the feminist art movement and the feminist film movement. But, in fact, if I think about it, the only people who really crossed over were Carolee Schneemann, who did see herself as very much a feminist, and was very happy to finally have an allegiance to make after so very long of being treated badly by the boys in the art world, and Yvonne Rainer, whose work was shown in some of those very early film festivals, who was just beginning to make film but was coming out of the performance art world. She, at that time, didn’t even really consider herself a feminist. She was coming much more out of that world of the performance art left, in terms of anti-Vietnam organizing in politics and dance.