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Death or Betrayal?

Journey Among Women
Journey Among Women
Jane Mills is Associate Professor in Communication at Charles Sturt University, honorary Senior Research Associate at AFTRS, Editor of Australian Screen Classics and a member of the Sydney Film Festival Board. Her most recent book is Loving & Hating Hollywood: Reframing Global and Local Cinemas (Allen & Unwin, 2009).

Historically, this was a moment when women became aware of being mocked, ignored, infantilised, marginalised and yes, hated in male-dominated society. Misogyny had the effect of making many women band together in a 'united we stand' stance against patriarchy and so they papered over their differences. Not to do so was seen as a betrayal, perhaps the worst word in the feminist lexicon.

What gets repressed, of course, tends to return - and we can see it resurface in the film. At one point two escaped convict women discuss the problem of having the wealthy aristocratic Elizabeth Harrington in their midst. One argues that Elizabeth should be murdered before she kills them. The second, wiser, woman responds by introducing a spectre worse than death: "she won't kill us, she'll betray us."

  Journey Among Women
Betrayal is the theme that keeps rising to the surface in this extraordinary film. Did the director, producer and cinematographer betray the women cast and crew members? Were the women divided amongst themselves, as was rumoured, with the lesbian and radical separatist and the non-separatist women each feeling themselves betrayed by the other group or by women who crossed from one group to another? If you look closely you can see all these questions as well as the answers. By placing betrayal at the centre of concern, Journey Among Women reveals the diversity of ideas and opinions among the cast and crew. What is fascinating is that these fissures can all be seen inside the film's frames.

Eventually, the completely committed and dedicated director raised the money to carry on by mortgaging his house, and most of the cast and crew agreed to return to the bush camp to finish filming. The fairly serious problems for continuity were solved (or not) in the edit by constructing a narrative in which some of the women rematerialise after they had supposedly died, thus creating a film more inventive and mystical than it might otherwise have been.

Journey Among Women
The film was a critical triumph at the Cannes Film Festival and a success among domestic audiences so director Tom Cowan was able to pay off his mortgage. But the predictions of the women who had argued long and loud against a betraying camera came true: the film proved a big hit among drive-in audiences less interested in feminist politics and utopian dreams than in perving at naked lesbian women making love in the bush.

This is an extract from the article Journey Among Women - Special and Electric by Jane Mills, written to accompany the DVD release of the film on November 11, 2009.
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