Archival montage, science fiction, and an homage to 70s feminist filmmaking are woven together to form this haunting and lyrical essay film excavating hidden histories of childbirth in the twentieth century. Assembling an extraordinary archive of over 100 educational, industrial, and medical training films (including newly rediscovered Soviet and French childbirth films) THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES (2013, 91 min.) inventively untangles the complex, sometimes surprising genealogies of maternal education. From the first use of anesthetic ether in the 19th century to the postmodern 21st century hospital birthing suite, THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES charts a fascinating course through the cultural history of pain, the history of obstetric anesthesia, and the little-known international history of the natural childbirth and Lamaze movements. Revealing a world of intensive training, rehearsal, and performative preparation for the unknown that is ultimately incommensurate with experience, THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES is a meditation on the maternal body as a site of institutional control, ideological surveillance, medical knowledge, and nationalist state intervention. Finally, the film works as a feminist recuperation of obsolete maternal histories, as a visual analysis of the persistent disciplining of the pregnant / laboring body, and as a new, contemporary counter-archive of women’s experiential narratives.
Stream film on Kanopy (available by institutional subscription through university and public libraries)
“THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES is a provocative exploration of societal ideals around successful childbearing and how women have been historically manipulated to accept that there is only ever one correct way to have a baby. The visually stunning footage curated from a century’s worth of birthing movements will inspire impassioned discussion and debates about the changing political and social economy of motherhood. An excellent teaching tool.” – Kristen Ghodsee, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, Bowdoin College
“A must-see film for feminists teaching or thinking about motherhood today, as well as its representational legacy, THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES makes critical inroads into subjects that feminism (or women) have always, somehow looked past…” – Alexandra Juhasz, Professor of Media Studies, Pitzer College
“Through the masterful integration of archival footage and historical interpretation, Lusztig’s film catalogs the changing attitudes towards pregnancy, labor, and delivery. “THE MOTHERHOOD ARCHIVES emphasizes the paradox and tensions between the natural and pathological interpretations of birth. This film is perfect for students taking Women’s History or History of Medicine; actually, anyone planning a pregnancy should see this movie.” – Elizabeth Reis, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Oregon
“Irene Lusztig’s fearless and riveting investigation into motherhood and the unfree maternal body shows how a skilled filmmaker can wring both eloquence and entertainment from archival material. Daylighting long-ignored ephemera, building a fascinating essay that far exceeds the sum of its components, she exposes how lies flourish as long as histories are hidden.” – Rick Prelinger, archivist and founder, Prelinger Archives & Prelinger Library