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Documentary film looks at women in Mirror Mirror
STANFORD -- Listen to women assessing their bodies:
"My breasts are too large."
"I like my breasts just before my period, when they are bigger."
"I think my arms are a little long -- the gorilla look."
"My hips are too big."
"My hips have always been too small."
"My thighs are bigger than they should be."
As one woman sums it up: "It's just that I want to be different than
who I am."
This female chorus is featured in Jan Krawitz's documentary film,
Mirror Mirror, which will be shown on the Public Broadcasting System's
"Point of View" series the week of Aug. 25. (In the San Francisco Bay Area,
public station KQED plans to air the program at 11:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30.)
Krawitz, a teaching professor of communication in Stanford's
documentary film program, said she got the idea for Mirror Mirror "by
being a woman in the culture for the last 38 years."
More specifically, she swims for exercise and so has spent a lot of
time in locker rooms listening to women talk about their bodies. In
addition to the ubiquitous "I wish I were five pounds thinner," she said,
she has also noticed "an incredible attention to body parts: 'I wish my hips
were this,' 'I wish my thighs were that.' It struck me how we perceive
ourselves as a composite of separate parts."
Krawitz shot the film while she was teaching at the University of
Texas, and included women of varied ages and ethnic groups. However, she
tried to keep away from extremes of fat or thin and concentrate instead
on "Jane Doe."
Throughout most of the film, the women wear masks, which they
remove at the end. She used the masks, Krawitz said, because she wanted
the film to convey "the collective voice of women. I didn't want the
audience to be distracted by the individual faces." In addition, she said,
the masks focus attention on bodies, the subject of the film.
Some viewers have objected to the masks, Krawitz said, feeling that
the women are stripped of their individuality.
Others have told Krawitz that the masks were very effective and
made them realize that they would have perceived the women differently
if they had seen their faces from the beginning.
To put women's obsession with their bodies in a historic context,
Mirror Mirror includes newsreel footage from the 1930s showing contests
for "the girl with the most beautiful gams" and for "the form divine
displayed by modern Venuses" at New York's Coney Island.
Krawitz recalls that when she "was dragged to the movies" as a
youngster, she was always most interested in the newsreel.
She was introduced to filmmaking when she got the chance to
produce 8-millimeter films in a high-school graphic arts class. At Cornell
University, she was considering a career in social work when she realized
that making documentary films would fuse her interests in film and in
social issues. After completing an independent major in film and
photography, she went on to earn a master of fine arts degree in film from
Temple University in Philadelphia.
She finds the combination of teaching and producing films a
satisfying one and believes she is more valuable to her students because
of her continuous involvement in making films.
Her first film, Styx, released in 1976, looks at the subterranean
world of a metropolitan subway system. Her documentaries cover topics
ranging from the history and current status of the drive-in movie theater
(Drive-In Blues) to dwarfs struggling toward equal opportunity and
enhanced self-esteem (Little People).
Her next work, she said, will focus on socialization of girls in the
1950s, examining how the perceptions and worldview of young women
growing up in that decade were formed. She has gotten a $1,000 grant for
the work from the Marilyn Yalom Research Fund administered by Stanford's
Institute for Research on Women and Gender.
Financing her films is a constant struggle. She received five grants,
totalling $12,000, for Mirror Mirror. Often the modest proceeds from her
previous films support current projects, she said. To save money, she does
her own sound recording and editing.
The process has taught her lessons that she passes on to her
"I tell them: 'You don't have to wait for that $25,000 grant. Just
jump in, feet first.'"
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