From Entomology to Ethnography, All Hands on Deck for These Surreal Cinema Sensations! 

November 6, 2023
An ensemble of 7 musicians dressed in black perform onstage with a projection of a film above them. The screen shows a black and white film still of a person wearing a striped top, drinking a glass of wine with one hand held to their chest and their eyebrows raised.

Check out these featured facts surrounding the All Hands on Deck: Dance, Metamorphosis, and Surreal Labor in Silent Cinema with Live Music featuring Dreamland Faces screening and panel discussion on Nov 14 at Northrop, on-demand through Nov 26.

Maggie Hennefeld

Photo © Jayme Halbritter Photography.

Spotlighting Cinema Pioneers

All Hands on Deck: Dance, Metamorphosis, and Surreal Labor in Silent Cinema features seven rarely seen international silent films spotlighting many of the earliest pioneers of cinema history, including overlooked figures whose work has been recently rediscovered and brought to the public's eye. 

The playful program is curated by Maggie Hennefeld—an associate professor of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. In 2022, Hennefeld was recognized for her silent film collection co-curated with Laura Horak and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Cinema's First Nasty Women. Northrop audiences may know Hennefeld from her work as a curator in past film series programs highlighting rarely seen silent films: Hysteria, Hypnosis, and Hallucination and Cinema's First Nasty Women.

An ensemble of 7 musicians including a drum player, violinist, bassist, cellist, horn player, pianist, accordionist, and pipe organist dressed in black perform onstage with a dark background and pink lighting.

Photo © Jayme Halbritter Photography.

Matching Music to Metaphors

Dreamland Faces, a duo of musicians Karen Majewicz and Andy McCormick, will provide live music set to each silent film. Majewicz and McCormick are no strangers to this setting—they have composed and performed dozens of scores for silent films for nearly two decades, filling out spaces and building mystery with the sounds of accordion and organ. For this performance, audiences will hear Northrop’s bold, expansive historic pipe organ. Always happy to pull others into the fun, Dreamland Faces’ collaborators for this event include Ryan Billig (percussive elements), Julie Johnson (flute), Philip Potyondy (“twisted” brass instruments), and Molly Raben (Aeolian-Skinner organ).

Alice Guy-Blaché

Photo Apeda Studio New York, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Woman Behind the Scene

Madame's Cravings (France, 1906), a raucous comedy following a pregnant woman's unusual food cravings, was directed by pioneering and prolific female filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché. The film is an early example of how women directors used the new medium to represent gendered stories, including scenes of pregnancy and childbirth. She went on to produce or supervise hundreds of movies and was celebrated for her risk-taking and notable energy within her work, paving the way for female directors and breaking down gender barriers within the film industry.

Photo courtesy of Archives on Screen, Twin Cities.

The Bug Trainer

Ladislaw Starewicz was a Russian-Polish filmmaker known for his work in stop-motion animation. The Dragonfly and the Ant (Russia, 1913), based on Ivan Krylov's fable, is a whimsical tale that combines live-action footage with meticulously crafted animated insects. Starewicz's innovative technique stemmed from his two passions, entomology and visual arts, making him a key figure in early animation history.

A black and white image shows multiple hands reaching toward one another in various directions, some in focus and others blurred.

Photo courtesy of Archives on Screen, Twin Cities.

The Language of Hands

Stella Simon's Hands: The Life and Love of a Gentle Sex (Germany, 1929) is an experimental feminist film that explores a love story depicted by a rhythmic choreography of disembodied hands. With a background and expertise in photography, Simon drew influences from American and European modernist photography movements and early avant-garde film traditions to craft this mesmerizing, abstract narrative that challenges conventional storytelling.

A black and white image shows 4 figures wearing hats, coats, and pants grouped within the left of the frame. They stand outside with trees surrounding them.

Photo courtesy of Archives on Screen, Twin Cities.

The Power of Ethnographic Film

Better known as a writer and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston, director of Fieldwork Footage (US, 1928), found an interest in capturing Black lives in her work. A graduate of Barnard College and a Guggenheim fellow, Hurston traveled to the Southern U.S. throughout 1928-29 and shot 16mm film of rural Black people, culture, and customs, amassing 85 minutes of footage. The films reflect a focus on folklorists of that period. 

Hurston's Barracoonpublished eight decades after it was written—and a reissue of her essays You Don't Know Us Negroes have brought attention to her work in recent years. She is widely seen as a trailblazer of Black feminism, and one of the few African American women filmmakers working in the silent film industry whose work still survives.

A black and white image tinted blue shows a person wearing a dress and a hairband, standing outside with their body facing to the left and arm extended outward.

Photo courtesy of Archives on Screen, Twin Cities.

A Twisted Puppetry Fable

Chicago-born German director Alfred Zeisler's Die große Liebe einer kleinen Tänzerin (The Great Love of a Little Dancer) (Germany, 1924) is a grotesque puppet film about an alluring circus dancer who is cursed by a rival magician named Dr. Larifari to turn the head of any man who approaches her. This dark, twisted fable weaves together themes of jealousy, self-sacrifice, and dislodged appendages with intricately crafted and operated puppet characters. 48 Hills notes, "It's hard to imagine this obscurity did not somehow get seen by Jan Svankmajer, or even Tim Burton—the bug-eyed villain is rather a ringer for figures in the latter's animated films."


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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.