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The Films of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen: A Conversation with Laura Mulvey and Oliver Fuke

From Film Quarterly, Summer 2023, Volume 76, Number 4

Bruno Guaraná

The first film directed by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen opens with a mime staging of the German Romantic poet Heinrich von Kleist’s tragedy Penthesilea. The nearly bare stage is shot by a fixed camera in an uninterrupted take that lasts over fifteen minutes, culminating in the suicide of Penthesilea, the Amazon warrior-queen, immediately after she kills her lover, Achilles. Then, in the next of the film’s five sequences, Wollen appears on-screen to address the viewer. He speaks to a camera that continually moves in two long takes, initially in tilts and pans, and finally following him as he walks around the house he’s in.

His is a curious monologue, not only because it is shot in a style divergent from that of the first sequence, but also because it discusses the film itself in the form of a lecture outside of the classroom. As he says, “We wanted to make a film without editing,” but not one that purports itself to offer an unmediated slice of reality. To the contrary, this is a film that, in his words, “avoids conventional cuts, but not discontinuities and breaks.” Both this reflexive discussion of the film’s segmented structure and its own formal qualities reject the traditional narrative function of editing in cinema. The film attempts to build a new, radical film language as it connects Greek mythology to media representation and to feminist politics of its time.

Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons (Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen, 1974) was the first of six cinematic collaborations that the noted film theorists (at the time, husband and wife) would make together over the next decade, all of them transgressive and innovative in their own right. Although a challenging and relatively little-seen film, the daring and radical strategies adopted in Penthesilea present a sort of prelude to the films Mulvey and Wollen would make thereafter. Given their enduring stature as scholars, it is perhaps unsurprising that Mulvey and Wollen’s films are overshadowed today. Yet the films offer another version of their contributions to film and media studies, complementing their rigorous approach to scholarship with an engagement in visual and linguistic experimentation. What they manifest is a push for a countercinema that does away with the binding pleasures and coercive gaze of mainstream cinema—key concerns that Mulvey and Wollen had already explored in each of their landmark published works: Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1973) and Wollen’s book Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (1969).

Edited by Oliver Fuke, the new book The Films of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen: Scripts, Working Documents, Interpretations compiles the scripts of all six films that Mulvey and Wollen made in one volume for the first time. The scripts, in turn, are interspersed with and helpfully contextualized and unpacked by analytical essays by several scholars, including Mulvey herself, who has also provided a second introduction that complements Fuke’s. In addition to those scripts, other primary sources printed in the book include outlines for two unmade films (Possible Worlds and Chess Fever), Wollen’s short story “Friendship’s Death” and its screenplay adaptation, scripts for two films Mulvey directed with other collaborators, and dozens of working documents ranging from brainstorming scraps to shot-planning diagrams.

This noble and overdue compilation serves as a much-needed affirmation of their powerful cinematic oeuvre. It also makes ever more apparent how these films—some much better known than others—put side by side, establish and maintain a cross-dialogue that underscores the pair’s deliberate, consistent, and innovative approach to film and filmmaking. With the aid of the analytical essays that accompany them and address their enduring relevance, the book puts these films and working documents in dialogue with the present time. Mulvey is the connecting thread here, bridging past and present, praxis and theory, object of study and studying subject, filmmaker and scholar. A well-deserved homage to the important work of these filmmakers, the book also serves as a memorial to Wollen, who died in 2019. If Mulvey’s marks are more directly imprinted in the book (as one of its contributors), Wollen’s presence is felt throughout, not only in the primary documents that bear his penmanship, but also in the words of these scholars and those of Mulvey herself.

All the scripts, as Mulvey writes in her introduction, needed careful and patient reconstruction. Putting together these materials reminded her of the centrality of language in the films she made with Wollen—a centrality that, amid other visual, aural, and intellectual stimuli, may not get the attention it deserves from film viewers. The juxtaposition of these scripts, whether new or familiar, with scholarly essays that help guide the readers’ and viewers’ appreciation for the material makes this a superb account of the cinematic work of these two filmmakers. Both the scripts and essays also offer great insight into the filmmakers’ methods, from the moment of conception through distribution strategies, accounting for the different modes of production under which Mulvey and Wollen worked in their decade-long collaboration in filmmaking.

In the book’s first critical essay, Nicolas Helm-Grovas argues for Mulvey and Wollen’s first film, Penthesilea, as an attempt to reroute cinema away from its dominant forms. A structuralist film par excellence, Penthesilea centers each of its five segments on a different iteration of the myth of Penthesilea, in order to explore, in Helm-Grovas’s words, “the history of women’s silences” and their endurance (68). In the pair’s second and best-known film, Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), Volker Pantenburg detects the appeal of films as theoretical instruments in their own right. He shows how the film’s combination of 360-degree pans and theoretical references disrupts classical cinematic conventions, re-encodes scopic regimes, and highlights the autonomous mechanics of the cinematic apparatus. For Pantenburg, Riddles pushes beyond the rhetorical function of montage in demonstrating “the extent to which camera movement also has the potential to ‘theorise’” (96).

In 1980, Mulvey and Wollen found a source of inspiration in British aviator Amy Johnson, whose own life story was heavily produced by media discourses that celebrated her achievements as exceptional without challenging the patriarchal structures that made similar paths nearly impossible for most women. As Griselda Pollock notes, AMY! (1980) demonstrates how the public acclaim won by Johnson produced a spectral, fabricated image of her, distinguishing her from other women by her ability to transit in traditionally male spaces. The film is thus less a portrait than a deconstruction of this character, who, in Johnson’s own words as quoted in the film, had “become a nightmare and an abomination” to herself. In Pollock’s reading of the film, AMY! destabilizes this history, peeling away the layers of Johnson’s mythical status to reveal the complexities of the feminine experience in the 1930s and the 1980s—and beyond.

Esther Leslie’s analysis of Mulvey and Wollen’s least formalist film, Crystal Gazing (1982), highlights the film’s confrontation with the Thatcherism permeating British culture and politics at the time. Noting its clairvoyance, Leslie suggests that the “crystal” in the title announces an emerging future, a new phase of “global capitalism, of globalisation, of precarity, of extending mediatisation, of new conditions in a world of flows and borders” (156) that soon came to affect Mulvey and Wollen’s own filmmaking endeavors.

B. Ruby Rich adopts a diachronic approach to Mulvey and Wollen’s Frida Kahlo & Tina Modotti (1983), returning to the catalogue for the 1982 Whitechapel Art Gallery exhibition of paintings and photographs by Kahlo and Modotti curated by Mulvey and Wollen, which included their short documentary. Rich aptly observes that, from a time in which Kahlo and Modotti were “equally known and equally forgotten” (168) through the release of the film and now, Kahlo has become a ubiquitous figure while Modotti has fallen into obscurity. That the memories of these two women went separate—one may even say opposite—ways is but a confirmation of the film’s permanence and import, insofar as it highlights, in its pairing of the two artists, the intersectionality of their lives. It presents “an archive of our time as well as theirs,” as Rich writes (172).

Sukhdev Sandhu addresses the unique history and conditions of production of Mulvey and Wollen’s The Bad Sister (1983), which make it perhaps the most contradictory of their films. Financed by British television’s “newfoundland of Channel 4 and its state-sponsored avant-gardism” (211), the film remains unreleased on VHS and DVD. Although shot on video, it was their most expensive film; its televisual format required a stricter division of labor and led to certain limitations that proved challenging for Mulvey and Wollen’s more fluid mode of collaboration. That the film would be screened on Channel 4 in a prime-time slot targeting a broad audience and interrupted by two commercial breaks made the filmmakers reassess strategies employed in earlier films. Broadcast only once, in June 1983—about thirty years ago today—The Bad Sister is now a difficult film to access. It would also be Mulvey and Wollen’s last film together.

Wollen would, in 1987, go on to adapt his short story “Friendship’s Death” into a film of the same title starring Bill Patterson and Tilda Swinton. Kodwo Eshun uncovers the relationship between these two different texts—short story and film—and how Wollen’s own travel to Jordan inspired their focus on the Jordanian civil war in 1970, otherwise known as Black September. Mulvey would not return to filmmaking until more than a decade after her final collaboration with Wollen, codirecting two more films. Nora M. Alter analyzes the earlier of the films, Disgraced Monuments (Mark Lewis and Laura Mulvey, 1994), which recovers and documents monuments in Russia following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in order to expose the deliberately constructed and self-serving nature of state-sanctioned historical narratives. Mulvey herself writes the essay that accompanies the script of her last film: 23 rd August 2008 (Faysal Abdullah, Mark Lewis, and Laura Mulvey, 2013). In both works, the dialectics of her earlier collaborations with Wollen are still prevalent: the tension between aesthetics and politics, permanence and ephemerality, art and propaganda, theory and praxis, memory and erasure.

In their analyses, the book’s contributors echo the films’ strategies of collage, multivocality, and transmediality, underscoring the force and generative nature of Mulvey and Wollen’s work. When Alter writes that Mulvey and codirector Mark Lewis demonstrate in Disgraced Monuments “that ideological conditions are far more significant than environmental ones in determining the fate of monuments,” her observation may well apply to the entire volume (302). The films referenced in these pages are monuments of film history that remain monumental in aesthetic, political, and intellectual terms, even as and precisely because they show the marks of their time and of its passing.

Fuke’s work in putting these films next to one another is akin to the labor put forth by Mulvey, Wollen, and their collaborators throughout the decades—compiling a text that is, by nature and force, palimpsestic, multireferential, segmented, and open. If these films have not fallen into disgrace or disrepair, it is certainly due not to their environmental conditions, but rather to the value they still retain for filmmakers, scholars, and programmers alike. The Films of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen is yet another pillar erected to support the legacy of these two key thinkers, scholars, and filmmakers, and to keep their films, as they were, alive.

In the exchange that follows, I talk with the two forces behind this volume—Fuke and Mulvey—about these films and their collaborative project of compiling these scripts and essays in a book format.

Bruno Guaraná: How did this project come into being?

Oliver Fuke: The project was informed by a film retrospective that I curated, “Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen: Beyond the Scorched Earth of Counter-Cinema,” which started at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2016 and traveled to Manchester before being staged at New York University with Sukhdev Sandhu’s Colloquium for Unpopular Culture. At these retrospectives, it became apparent that there was a real desire to engage critically with Mulvey and Wollen’s independent and collaborative films, as well as their work in film and art theory more generally.

The book was also informed by an exhibition I co-curated with Nicolas Helm-Grovas, Art at the Frontier of Film Theory, that looked at how film theory, particularly feminist film theory, became an important discourse for many politicized and experimental artists working in the UK from the 1970s onward. Mulvey and Wollen’s independent and collaborative work, in theory and film, was an important part of this discourse.

Guaraná: When did Laura Mulvey get involved, and what was the nature of your collaboration with each other for this book?

Fuke: Laura was involved from the beginning. It is a very collaborative endeavor, the result of many years of discussion and working together on different projects. I proposed the idea of gathering her and Wollen’s individual and collaborative scripts and combining them with a multiauthored collection of essays offering new interpretations of each film. I wanted it to be a book that was polyphonic and disharmonic. I also thought it was important to place equal emphasis on the writing and interpretation of the films. Then, when it came to editing the scripts, Laura and I discussed and debated every decision.

Guaraná: Laura, how did you and Peter Wollen first get involved in filmmaking? What were your goals then?

Laura Mulvey: The early 1970s saw a radical change in our contemporary film culture. During the 1960s, Peter and I had both been absorbed in Hollywood. The films we loved came from far away, from a totally different world to ours. As the studio system came, quite surprisingly abruptly, to an end, that world and its cinema collapsed, drifting into history and irrelevance.

Around the same time, new kinds of specifically political cinemas began to circulate, bringing with them new kinds of critical perspectives but also, importantly, new horizons of possibility. For instance, the smaller scale of 16 mm synch-sound cameras made it possible to think and imagine a new kind of cinema, especially when illuminated theoretically by essays such as Julio García Espinosa’s “For an Imperfect Cinema.” 1 New European experimental films began to reach the UK and even the more geographically distant cinema, such as from Latin America, contributed to a new environment in which mutual political and cinematic concerns could flourish and be exchanged. As I became more and more influenced by the women’s liberation movement and incipient feminism, I found that my accustomed ways of watching films no longer worked. And then, at a season of new international experimental cinema in London in 1974, I first saw works, for instance, by Chantal Akerman, Yvonne Rainer, Joyce Wieland, and Valie Export. I realized that a feminist countercinema was beginning to materialize, transforming spectatorship, and challenging the male-dominated past in every kind of way.

To sum up: Peter and I began to discover new avant-garde and feminist experimental films—cinema as critique, film as a radical aesthetic for a radical politics. This was a film culture to which we could belong and in which we could even, we gradually realized, participate practically as well as theoretically. But these personal intellectual and political shifts would not, as such, have enabled us to make films ourselves. It was the wider intellectual context in the UK in the seventies, backed institutionally by new funding sources, that brought a new movement of radical experimental film into existence.

Our first filmmaking venture came about almost by chance. Peter was working at Northwestern University [in Evanston, Illinois], and he and I were encouraged by the chair of the department, our old friend Paddy Whannel, to make use of the [university’s] 16 mm equipment during [our break]. It’s hard to think about that moment in terms of conscious goals. On the other hand, there was a distinct continuity of ideas between the essays Peter and I had been writing and the kind of cinema we wanted to make.

Guaraná: What was your collaboration with Wollen like throughout the filmmaking process, from the script to the final cut?

Mulvey: In the first instance, our collaboration developed out of shared aspirations about the kind of films we wanted to make both in form and content. As Peter put it, we thought of them as “theory” films. I now recognize an overlap with the “essay film,” but “theory” emphasized the continuum with our recent writing. Psychoanalytic theory was a key point of reference. It was a kind of pivot from which our ideas could then move to the more specific, such as myth, exploring founding legends, stories of powerful women that told of celebration and defeat, and ultimately their relegation to the outside of patriarchal culture, society, and law. But there was also, always, the cinema itself. How would our ideas materialize as sounds and images on the screen?

Our first “scorched earth” principle had been the elimination of editing, and so, in response to the absence of that key cinematic convention, we evolved complicated and elongated camera movements, involving extended duration and choreography. In our early films, these strategies meant that the final cut, by and large, involved joining together large chunks of film in which editing, as conventionally understood, played little part. Usually the music had been part of the original concept, or had been specially composed and is of inextricable relevance.

Our actual collaboration process always began with research and conversation: reading and discussion around—for instance, in the case of our first film—Amazons in ancient Greek culture and beyond, the psychoanalytic implications of the Amazon figure and Kleist’s rewriting of the Penthesilea legend, an interweaving of myth and the historical realities of women in struggle… all producing endless notes, charts, and conversations. The process of making Penthesilea did not involve writing a script as such, but, in keeping with Peter’s and my tendency to think through diagrams and patterns, the words grew out of the film’s evolution, through its various planning stages.

Our working principles indicate hybrid influences as well as a commitment to an aesthetic of hybridity. The films should be heterogeneous, broken into chapters, made up of very different kinds of material that had to include found footage, direct address to camera, and a foregrounding of medium specificity. The films had to be hybrid in their citation of other arts, quoting, for instance, visual arts and including music, but also, probably most importantly, incorporating words and language, as image and voice. They also had to include some element of storytelling and performance.

In terms of collaboration, we discussed all our ideas and the strategies with which to translate the ideas into film form. But Peter was the actual writer of the texts that appear in all the films. In the first three, the most theoretical, the question of language was central to our ideas. In the first instance, “language” meant the lack of it, suggesting an in-between space in which to reflect on how muteness, women’s silences, might be made apparent or find a mode of expression. But crucially, the theoretical question of language then extended to an experimental use of language itself in the various voice-overs and commentaries that Peter wrote and that so characterize the films. In a sense, Peter contributed his particular skill as writer, just as Diane Tammes contributed her skills as cinematographer or as Mike Ratledge contributed his musical compositions.

Guaraná: What does the written format of these scripts, published side by side, reveal about these films?

Fuke: Lots of things. First, perhaps obviously, how diverse all these films are. They range from what Wollen once called “theory films,” via documentary, to experimental narrative films. As Laura articulates in her introduction, the striking differences in the films evidence her and Wollen’s commitment to pursuing a feminist project through changing political and economic circumstances. Second, it reveals their changing relationship to narrative. Contrary to what people say, all Mulvey and Wollen’s collaborative films have some relation to narrative. This commitment is nevertheless negotiated in different ways, and I think the scripts show this clearly. Third, it reveals the particular attention Mulvey and Wollen paid to verbal language, which represents in some respects, as Wollen himself argued, “interrogations of language itself.” In the first three films, the best examples of Mulvey and Wollen’s feminist countercinema, one can find experiments with what Wollen called “counter-language.” 2 Publishing the scripts side by side allows the reader to spend time with these early investigations of verbal language and to consider how concerns and counterstrategies were reconfigured in later films.

Guaraná: Was there much room for improvisation and spontaneity in the films’ production process?

Mulvey: Peter and I never worked spontaneously. Collaboration really necessitated careful planning in advance so there would be no moments of indecision between us when the cameras were actually rolling. This emphasis on planning also affected postproduction. Although there were details that needed to be put into place, by and large the major aesthetic issues and structuring frameworks were already there.

Guaraná: Why is it important to collect and publish primary sources related to the production and conception of these films, including those that never came to completion?

Fuke: I think it’s interesting to publish working documents because they evoke process. It’s important to understand that films are something made rather than falling from the sky onto the projection screen. In this case, the majority of Mulvey and Wollen’s collaborative films were made in a very experimental way, and involved engaging with all aspects of film production. The nature of their early collaboration also produced, as Laura explains in her introduction [to the book], lots of notes, charts, and conversations.

I really wanted this exchange of ideas and dialogue to be present in the book. The working documents also offer a unique way to consider how Mulvey and Wollen’s theoretical work influenced their approach to filmmaking. For example, they treated cinematography as a form of inscription, a form of writing, rather than a neutral reproduction of the world. It’s therefore interesting to look at diagrams and charts that show how they designed things like camera movement and camera position, whether the famous 360-degree pans in Riddles of the Sphinx or the arabesque in the second section of Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons. These were groundbreaking gestures! Mulvey and Wollen’s films also have this kind of modular construction, in which individual shots are treated as tableaux. I think it’s fascinating to consider how all of this was conceived, the strategic ways in which music and voice-over were deployed, how Peircean semiotics was used to think practically about making a film like AMY!

Finally, I thought it would be interesting to have these working documents alongside the scripts, to demonstrate the difference between the two. Published scripts are never the documents used in production, which are often modified as the film is being made. This largely holds for both industry and more-experimental or avant-garde films. In this book, I like the contrast between the index cards for Laura’s address to audience in section two of Riddles of the Sphinx, which were obviously being reworked right up to the point of shooting, and the script that was published in Screen in 1977. There is a sort of contrast between the contingency of the working document and the finality of the printed page.

There are two outlines for unmade films in the book: Possible Worlds (1978) and Chess Fever (1984). The latter provides an exciting glimpse of how Mulvey and Wollen’s work might have evolved going forward, how they might have developed experimental narrative forms further had circumstances been different. Possible Worlds shows how an unrealized project prefigures one that was made, Crystal Gazing, in terms of the multiple narrative, character structure, and exploration of a new phase of capitalism. Again, I think that reading the two texts together provides an interesting way to think about the movement of Mulvey and Wollen’s writing for film.

Guaraná: What was it about that moment during the so-called long 1970s that made these films and the theoretical work that motivated them feel so urgent and necessary?

Mulvey: Looking back at the 1970s from the distance of 2023, it seems as though cinema in the UK took a certain direction during the decade, turning toward the political and experimental, and undergoing a kind of “flowering,” as if it were unconsciously celebrating a few last moments before the onset of Thatcherism and neoliberalism. The Independent Film Makers’ Association [IFA] was founded in 1974, and was important for both Peter and me as a context—a movement and a moment. I was part of the original IFA organizing group; Peter was a key figure in the IFA’s campaign to ensure the presence of independent film on the newly envisaged fourth television channel in the UK. That sense of a movement, of belonging, and of shared aspiration for radical cinema brought very different kinds of independent film into dialogue and cooperation, from the artist filmmakers of the London Film-Makers’ Co-op to left documentary and agit-prop film collectives and to the more narrative, but still experimental, filmmakers and groups, such as the Berwick Street film collective or the London Women’s Film Group or Peter and me. Working with and collaborating with Peter was very special, and the dialogue between our ideas and interests, in the context of the politics of the time, was exciting and definitely enabling.

But everything changed after the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. The earlier possibilities for theoretical avant-garde films closed down. Our late films show an attempt to adapt to changing circumstances. But it was a disorienting time. I personally found it hard to make the move, for instance, to working with Channel 4, although for a short time Channel 4 offered a haven for the independent filmmakers of the 1970s. But the shift to television demanded a level of dedication and professionalization that I just didn’t have…. Perhaps this relates to my preference for the dilettantism of the essay—in both writing and filmmaking.

Guaraná: Did these films support or complement your work as a scholar? What possibilities did filmmaking create for your intellectual pursuits?

Mulvey: That’s a very good question and difficult to answer. Looking back, in the first instance, the films and my ideas and interests were inextricably woven together. But in terms of “scholarship” in a more official sense, there’s a historical gap between the two. For most of our filmmaking years I didn’t have an academic position, and then when I did, in the 1980s, everything changed so much. Our moment of seventies filmmaking was quite short, very affected by context, and tied to the “movement” that I have tried to evoke above. Peter and I were still developing projects and ideas in the late seventies and early eighties. Crystal Gazing indicates quite clearly the way in which we had begun to try to think about capitalism as well as narratives in which characters played more of a part.

The unmade films from this time [Chess Fever and Possible Worlds] still mean a lot to me. They indicate ways in which Peter and my collaboration continued through script ideas even when we could no longer make films. But our personal relations were changing just as the whole context for independent film production was also changing. Looking back, in terms of writing, my ideas were moving into new directions from the mid-1980s.

Guaraná: What motivated your return to filmmaking in 1994 with Disgraced Monuments, more than a decade after your last collaboration with Wollen?

Mulvey: Disgraced Monuments came about somewhat by chance. My friend Mark Lewis was living in Toronto at the time and working with an artists’ collective about public art—its history and its contemporary possibilities. This was the time when the old Soviet monuments were beginning to come down and Mark was working on a photographic project around a specific Lenin statue. We were both fascinated by the visual power—whether you liked them or not—of these monstrously large figures and, more conceptually, their personification of the problem of continuity and discontinuity within history, the literal falling of the—even if debased—communist idea. We decided that the project could become an essayistic documentary film.

I got back some of my old enthusiasm for transforming ideas into film images in Disgraced Monuments. In this case, it was interesting to think about the spaces of historical time, how the Soviet monuments both marked and occluded earlier histories. Mark, much more recently [in 2013], worked with me on 23 rd August 2008, in which Faysal Abdullah, in single-shot monologue, talks about Iraqi politics, exile, and the life and death of his brother Kamel. Faysal’s monologue is in the script in the book, and I wrote a short explanatory essay to go with it.

Guaraná: What findings were particularly surprising in the curating process?

Fuke: I found out that Mulvey and Wollen’s fifth collaborative film, Frida Kahlo & Tina Modotti, was originally going to be very different. The film that was eventually made is a very interesting documentary about Kahlo and Modotti, their lives and works, which, as B. Ruby Rich argues in the book, posed multiple interventions. The voice-over is detailed, theoretically nuanced, and explicatory. However, working documents reveal that, at one point in the development of the work, Mulvey and Wollen had planned to write a more experimental text for the soundtrack, utilizing quotations from different authors, such as Octavio Paz. It was interesting to think about how such a collage of quotations would have worked with the film’s rigorous structure.

The most surprising finding, however, relates to Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons. When I was reading through the documents used to make the film, I realized that the version that circulates today cuts off the very end of the film’s fourth section, in which an actor reads a selection of the feminist Jessie Ashley’s letters. The only version of this film that my generation has had the opportunity to see appears to be missing the final, short sentence, in which she says: “Voluntarily I hold my peace.” That was a surprise!

Guaraná: What kind of labor was involved in putting these scripts together in their current form?

Fuke: Most of the documents were transcribed from the originals; however, some of the scripts required careful reconstruction. For example, for Mulvey and Wollen’s first film, Penthesilea, it turned out there was no single document, no one script, to which we could turn. Instead, there was a range of working documents. In the end, we decided that the script, or film text, was a structure that provided a kind of conceptual unity to these different instances of writing. So, we set about bringing the text together with this idea, this sense of the project, in mind.

Guaraná: Laura, what was the experience of revisiting these scripts and other materials like for you?

Mulvey: Working with and collaborating with Peter was an extremely special circumstance of its own. And then the dialogue between our ideas and interests, in the context of the politics of the time, being part of that 1970s movement, was exciting and definitely enabling. I realized how unusually fortunate I had been to be involved with both—Peter’s and my collaboration within that wider, independent-film context. The collection of scripts, the working documents, and so on quite obviously brought back the past and vivid memories: working with Peter, the extraordinary excitement that anything to do with filmmaking brings with it, whether exhilaration or despair, the problems we had to solve—some successfully, some less so.

And then there are the collaborations and friendships that are woven into the texture of every minute of each film. I would like to mention Larry Sider, who was sound recordist and editor on all Peter’s and my films [apart from The Bad Sister] and then did sound for Disgraced Monuments; Diane Tammes, our cinematographer from Riddles of the Sphinx onward, without whose extraordinary stamina and cinematic intelligence our ideas would not have been realized; and so many more. Most of all, I have realized, retrospectively and perhaps differently, so much about Peter’s versatility and have revisited his unusual talents. The scripts have also given me a new perspective on him as a writer: how his writing for the films interconnects with his various, and very varied, other writing projects through the seventies. At the time I realized, and deeply appreciated, Peter’s political commitment to feminism, which made our collaboration and our projects possible. But I am now more aware that for a man to take that kind of a stand, at that moment of history, involved a really complex conceptual and affective leap.


  1. See Julio García Espinosa, “For an Imperfect Cinema by Julio García Espinosa,” trans. Julianne Burton, Jump Cut, no. 20 (1979): 24–26,
  2. Peter Wollen, “The Field of Language in Film,” in “The New Talkies,” special issue, October 17 (Summer 1981): 53–60.

BOOK DATA Oliver Fuke, ed., The Films of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen: Scripts, Working Documents, Interpretation. London, New York, and Dublin: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2023. $100 cloth; $34.95 paper; $31.45 e-book. 384 pages.

The introduction to The Films of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen is available here © Oliver Fuke, April 2023, BFI, used by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

© 2023 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.