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Riddles of the Sphinx
A film by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen
Great Britain, 1977, 92 minutes, Color, DVD
Order No. W00656
Laura Mulvey, author of the seminal essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema , helped to establish feminist film theory as a legitimate field of study. With Peter Wollen, she directed one of the most visually stimulating, theoretically rigorous films to emerge from the 1970s. RIDDLES OF THE SPHINX is a landmark fusion of feminism and formal experimentation that seeks to create a non-sexist film language. Its title figure, the legendary creature of antiquity, terrorized Thebes and self-destructed only after Oedipus correctly answered her riddle. Invoking and challenging traditional interpretations of the Oedipus story as a movement from matriarchal culture to patriarchal order, the film also probes representation in film itself. The central narrative section, about Louise, a middle-class woman, and her four-year-old daughter Ana, is an inquiry into the arbitrary nature of conventional film techniques that captures Louise's struggles with motherhood in a patriarchal society.



AWARDS, FESTIVALS, & SCREENINGS

  • Women Make Waves Film and Video Festival
  • International House, Philadelphia

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QUOTES

    "Initially the soundtrack is devoted to her rhyming, circular stream of consciousness; only as her husband announces that he is leaving her does it break into synch-sound. Throughout, Louise's oblique progress with motherhood is depicted in a series of thirteen 360-degree panning shots. The effect is to rotate the boundaries of her world in a slow delirium. As its title suggests, 'Riddles of the Sphinx' is meant to raise questions. To that end, it succeeds admirably."
    J. Hoberman
    The Village Voice

    ". . . the film can be grasped from a number of different angles, and each one delivers its quota of interest and pleasure to the spectator. Such openness is a precious quality in the cinema, whether commercial or avant-garde, in both of which coercive strategies have often reigned supreme. To find a film which crosses the frontiers of different audience expectations, which is unassuming and yet rigorous in its intellectual stance, and pleasurable and provocative at the same time, is rare indeed."
    Geoffrey Howell-Smith
    Sight & Sound

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