The Female Conductor's Back (For sixpackfilm)

Andrea B. Braidt, film theorist, vice dean at the academy of fine arts Vienna


Marion Porten’s film comprises largely one single take, which on the surface shows precisely the opposite of what the title promises Marion Porten’s film is largly carried by one single take, which on the surface shows precisely the opposite of what the title promises:: from the perspective of the orchestra, we see the half-length portrait of a director leading a rehearsal of Hector Berlioz’s Le Corsaire. The artist is hard at work, fully concentrated, using precise gestures to literally evoke the music from off screen. This impression is reinforced by the lack of other visible sources of music: no instruments, no record player, all that we can see is the top of a violin bow pressing into the lower left picture border here and there. This detail mediates a strange bit of documentary evidence, lends context to the loneliness of this music worker.

In her intense, minimal, and formally impressive work, the artist grapples with the gendering of that function within the classical music industry considered the most difficult, intellectual, and authoritarian one. Naturally, it is a function that has been reserved almost exclusively for men: until now. Porten lets conducting students and music studies scholars provide insight into conducting from various perspectives; quotes as though etched in stone, perform the practice of perpetuating the seemingly incontrovertible male musical genius. Yet with a committed and likewise playful lightness, the filmmaker is able to thwart and deconstruct this cliché: the gestural simulation of conducting directions, which look like cutting patterns from sewing magazines, situates the conductor somewhere between a board game and pantomime.  

A very specific gender battle has been carried out on the backs of women conductors, who for centuries have not been allowed to step up to the rostrum. Porten succeeds in providing a glimpse of a possible end to this battle.