Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cluj women-only restaurant

Cluj women-only restaurant (1969)
Cluj women-only restaurant

Location: Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Opened/Closed: c. 1969

I quite literally know nothing about this restaurant--except for this snippet of film that shows up at British Pathe. I tried to download it directly onto the site here, but no such luck. So you'll have to go to the British Pathe link above to see it for yourself.

Since I started the Lost Womyn's Space project, I have found very few films of historic women's spaces--apart from a few YouTube videos of more recent lesbian bars. Which is unfortunate, because in many ways, film can give us a keen insight into what these places may have been like. As you watch this film clip, it is easy to find yourself seduced into the scene. The charming ambience of the restaurant itself. All the fashionable ladies with bouffant hair-do's. The diners exchanging tender glances. The Turkish-style coffee, lovingly prepared by a woman's capable hands.

SPOILER ALERT: And then we realize that the movie camera is not a neutral observer. That we are not mere visitors, innocently peeking into this intimate women's dining room from two generations past.

On the contrary, we find at the very end--much to our shock and disgust--that the filmmaker was a man who disguised himself as a woman in order to record this scene. That all this is basic male voyeurism, no different in kind from the dudes who plant video cameras in women's restrooms. Or the men who are seemingly compelled to invade, infiltrate, or spy on women's space in any way they can.

It is particularly sickening to realize that what is probably the only documentary film preserving anything of this women's restaurant was made by this particular voyeur, and that we have been lured into unwitting participation in this filmmaker's trespassing and deceit. And that, sadly, we have no choice in the matter if we are to "see" this place at all.

Regulars at the Gateways (1968)
Then it occurred to me that this is also true for one of the very few films showing a lesbian bar from this era. Back in June of 1968, the film director Robert Aldrich used the Gateways Club--a famous lesbian bar in London--as "local color" in The Killing of Sister George. All of the women in the background are actual club regulars, they are not professional actresses or hired extras. Even Smithy the bartender was the real-life club bartender.

See clip here.

In Kelly Hankin's The Girls in the Backroom: Looking at the Lesbian Bar we discover all the ways that Aldrich exploited and endangered the Gateways Club and its customers--all while exposing and redefining these women as "genuine" (if scary) objects of titilation and surveillance for a male heterosexual movie audience. Among other things, it turns out that many of the lesbians used in these scenes did NOT sign any forms authorizing the use of their images, and as a result, faced catastrophic personal consequences upon the film's release. As Hankin argues, "it was heterosexuals, rather than lesbians, who orchestrated the use and vision of authentic lesbian space and real lesbians in The Killing of Sister George. The lesbian extras were effectively voiceless and nameless in the production and credits of this film."

But then we know that the male obsession with moving into and "directing" women's space is at least as old as ancient Greece. In fact, Aristophanes himself addressed the subject in a play called Thesmophoriazusae. The plot? A man disguises himself as a woman, so he can crash the festival of the Thesmophoria (an annual woman-only fertility celebration dedicated to the goddess Demeter) and spy on the women's doings there.

So not much is new under the patriarchal sun....

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