Free for U of M students; ticket required.

Curated by Maggie Hennefeld (UMN, Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature)

Hands give us metaphors for the urgency of collective labor, but they also appeared as surreal and uncanny images across the silent film archive. In this playful program, laboring limbs fall in love, catch fire, metamorphose into toy animals, chop wood, cut films, smoke pipes (while pregnant!), hypnotize circus dancers, and build zoomorphic shelters from the storm—all accompanied by Dreamland Faces’ live original score that includes Northrop’s historic pipe organ.

The seven films in this program include Stella Simon's rhythmic choreography of disembodied hands, Zora Neale Hurston's fieldwork footage shot in the 1920s, Alice Guy-Blaché's voracious comedy of maternity cravings, Ladislaw Starewicz's stop-motion fable starring dead bugs, Segundo de Chomón's phantasmagoric animation, a grotesque German puppet film, and a social satire about gendered labor and the disastrous results of editing film newsreels on a too-tight deadline! 

Immediately following the event, a panel discussion moderated by University of Minnesota Associate Professor and author Maggie Hennefeld will explore themes and images raised by the screening, from the history of gender, race, labor and technology to the political aesthetics of popular moving images. She will be joined by labor and civil rights historian Professor William Jones (History, UMN) and film studies scholar Professor Mary Hennessy (University of Wisconsin, Madison) to place these films in their historical contexts and discuss their resonances for today.

William P. Jones is Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches about race and class in the modern United States. He is author of two award-winning books, The Tribe of Black Ulysses: African American Lumber Workers in the Jim Crow South, and The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights, and has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, The Nation, and other publications.

Mary Hennessy is assistant professor of German at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research examines women’s multiple (often hidden) roles in the production of media to retheorize relationships between gender, labor, and technology in modern Germany. Her current book project focuses on women typists, telephone operators, and film editors in the Weimar Republic.


Learn More - Explore These Themes

The content below derives from the Northrop Across Campus Program that supports Northrop's mission towards intersections between performing arts and education for the benefit of all participants now and for generations to come.

Find ways to make thematic connections to these suggested topics:

  • African American & African Studies 
  • American Studies
  • Art: Film, Video
  • Comparative Literature & Cultural Studies
  • Theatre Arts
  • Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies
  • History
  • Moving Image Studies
  • Music

Start a conversation about the performance, or encourage reflection, using these questions as inspiration.

In her interview with the How do you like it so far? podcast, University of Minnesota professor and silent film curator Maggie Hennefeld references the “historical amnesia” that excludes women from our collective memory of silent cinema. She says modern audiences are often surprised to find out how many women were involved in film, and how radically they behave on-screen. 

  • How can preserving and screening little known films change the way we understand history? 
  • Why do you think women were so eager to embrace silent film as a medium? 
  • How might creating silent films have allowed them to subvert gender expectations?

One film in this collection, The Dragonfly and the Ant, is considered a pioneer of stop motion animation. According to Vox, the filmmaker, Vladislaw Starewicz’s animation of real bugs was a “combination of wild invention and obsessive detail (that) created a new art form.”

  • Why might a filmmaker decide to create a stop motion animation film?
  • How have stop motion animation and other special effects changed over time?
  • How do you think it felt to watch these films when they were first released?

Dreamland Faces, who will be providing music for this event, have a history of composing live accompaniment for silent cinema. In a list the duo created of reasons modern composers should consider scoring silent films, they note, “like a poem, silent films don’t typically have ‘official’ scores and can be re-scored over and over.” 

  • How do you think a different score could impact the viewing experience? 
  • How might music change the tone/message of a film?
  • How do you think the relationship between music and film has changed over the years? Do you have favorite movie soundtracks?


Minnesota State Arts Board - logos

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.