by Elizabeth Stoddard
I first heard about the 1973 art film/documentary/sci-fi fantasy Year of the Woman some years back when The Guardian interviewed director and poet Sandra Hochman. Flanked by a crew including future directors Barbara Koppel (Harlan County USA, Shut Up & Sing), Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl, Real Genius) and Claudia Weill (Girlfriends), Hochman traversed the floor of the 1972 Democratic convention. This long-assumed-lost film also contains footage from the first meeting of the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Along with a small group of feminists, Hochman loudly berates newsmen — I recognized Dan Rather, Mike Wallace, and David Brinkley — for the media’s treatment of Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s presidential campaign. This is an especially galling thing to note during these early months of the 2016 campaign when some view Trump as a viable candidate. Rep. Chisholm actually had legislative experience and accomplishments, but because of her race and gender was considered a long shot in the 1972 election.
The director rebelliously invites congenial stripper/actress Liz Renay to an evening at the convention. The two women try to make their way around the floor, but drooling male reporters and politicians impede their progress. One reporter even sticks a mic up to Ms. Renay and asks about her measurements. The next day, Renay and Hochman crack wise about the experience, as Hochman points out that no man would have been treated similarly in that situation.
Hochman interviews celebrities such as Shirley Maclaine and Warren Beatty for her movie, and confronts the casual sexism of politicians in attendance. Year of the Woman is so refreshingly candid and relevant, but some of the terminology used is cringe-worthy. White feminist Hochman talks to a black Southern mayor about his sexism, using the n-word as she describes how women are treated. It is, frankly, a terribly awkward moment for the interviewee and for us as viewers in 2015. Feminist Flo Kennedy, a caustic, fierce woman I am determined to learn more about, is the first to use the n-word in the film’s discussion of how women have been treated historically. In a way, the use of this term in this second-wave context reminds the viewer that even by 2015, mainstream feminism has not moved close enough towards true intersectionality.
Amidst the historical moments and bits of speeches from such heroines as Rep. Chisholm and Betty Friedan, Hochman weaves a trippy fantastical element. Her slow, biting narration speaks of an alternate future. She even gets political humorist Art Buchwald to participate in a futuristic bit of improvisation — although he doesn’t always respond as she would prefer. Still, his moments with the director contribute to the cutting humor endemic to Year of the Woman.
The edits may tend towards awkward and the structure may be a little messy, but Hochman’s film is brutally incisive. Year of the Woman is a must-see for any aficionado of feminist film, or anyone interested in the history of women in politics.
Year of the Woman is exclusively available for rental or purchase on Vimeo.