"Even Emily Dickenson got her period."
-- from In Search of Juan Colorado

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Bloodbaths: Menstrual Blood and the Blood of Violence

1. In "Need: A Chorale for Black Woman Voices" (1), Audre Lourde writes:

"...as women we were meant to bleed/but not this useless blood/each month a memorial/to my unspoken sisters fallen/red drops upon asphalt."

Introduce into the films(s) you watched, a scene in which a character perceives her menstrual blood as "...a memorial/to my unspoken sisters fallen..." (and/or unspoken brothers, as the case may be). Or: A scene in which a male character perceives menstrual blood as "a memorial..."

2. It is interesting that most of these films contain some kind of "shower scene." In the film In Search of Juan Colorado (ISOJC), a character tenderly bids goodbye to her menstrual blood as it runs down the bathtub drain "to the sea." Introduce a similar scene into the films you viewed, and decide whether it should go at the beginning, the end, or be repeated throughout, as commentary on the main plot line.

3. What's your opinion: If menarchal rituals, such as that depicted in ISOJC, were to become a cultural norm, would there be less of the violence as portrayed in the other films? How do you feel about elements of menarchal rituals being introduced into programs for at-risk teen males, or for convicted male batterers, or for teen men in general?

4. Imagine that in one of the scenes depicting violence against a woman, the female victim has her period at the time. Does this change the meaning of the scene for you? Keep in mind that violence directed at pregnant women is not an uncommon plot element in "action thrillers."

5. Give one of the female characters in the films you viewed PMS, some of the symptoms you may experience (not that every woman experiences PMS!), or that you have observed in someone else. In which scenes does PMS "fit" as a motivation for the character's behavior? Introduce a scene in which a female character gets very angry or violent, and then discovers the next morning her period has started.

Fatal Attraction..............1987, Adrian Lyne

Leaving Las Vegas.............1995, Mike Figgis

Schindler's List..............1993, Steven Spielberg

Psycho........................1960, Alfred Hitchcock

Psycho........................1998, Gus Van Sant

Warrior Marks.................1993, Pratibha Parmar/Alice Walker (available through
Women Make Movies)

In Search of Juan Colorado....1994, Molly Strange (available through
Strange Productions).

(1) Undersong, Chosen Poems Old and New, 1992, Audre Lourde, pps. 199-206

The Fine Art of Female Bonding

1. In Alma's Rainbow, Alma's daughter Rainbow unknowingly gets her period while dancing, is ridiculed, and then another woman helps her to "hide the evidence." Instead, rewrite the scene so that once she is aware that she's bleeding, she dances even more exuberantly, and the other women join in with her. Introduce similar scenes of "menstrual dancing" for the other movies you viewed. Also try creating a scene where two female characters are arguing the question: Is it better to lie in bed with a hot water bottle when you have cramps, or to get up and dance?

2. In Muriel's Wedding, the best friend has some kind of cancer that leaves her in a wheelchair. Change this plot element (cancer diagnosis) to that of severe PMS, extremely heavy bleeding, and/or cramps. Introduce menstrual health issues as a major plot element in the other films you viewed, and show them being resolved (happily or not) by the end of the film.

3. All of the films in this grouping have some kind of party in them, though only in ISOJC is the "party" menstrually-related. Transform the other films' parties into menstrual parties (see Ksenija Olmer's Red Party for ideas), and make it so that by virtue of this different kind of party, some element of the plot is changed; that is, a character chooses differently in a particular scene, the film has a different ending, etc.

4. In Alma's Rainbow, Alma's sister is "Aunt Ruby" to Rainbow. How well does this character work as a personification (or perdaughterification, if you will) of "that friend come to visit?" How well does "Juan Colorado" in ISOJC work as such a personification? Transform a character from one of the other movies into a symbol of menstruation, changing whatever you need to about the character or the plot to make it work.

5. The definition of menstrutivity is: (men'stroo tiv'eti) 1. Spontaneous outpouring of creative and/or collaborative energy. 2. To give and/or recieve more than was bargained for. 3. An embarrassment of riches. Have one of the characters explain this concept to other characters, and have them decide on a course of action in order to express their "menstrutivity," using either a plot element already present, or creating a new one. Try to come up with something that will benefit them economically throughout their adult lives.

A Woman Waiting For Her Period....1993, Wei-Ssu Chien

Alma's Rainbow......................1993, Ayoka Chenzira

Muriel's Wedding....................1995, P. J. Hogan

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T......1993, Leslie Harris (II)

The Craft...........................1996, Andrew Fleming

Chantilly Lace......................1993, Linda Yellen

In Search of Juan Colorado..........1994, Molly Strange (available through Strange Productions).

Menopause, or, Where's the Mom?

1. Identify if there are any mother/daughter relationships portrayed in the film(s) you viewed. If there are, is the mother anybody you'd like to be? Can you see parts of yourself in the mother character? If you find the mother character unappealing, rewrite the character so she'd be somebody you'd like to be at that age. If there is no mother/daughter relationship portrayed in the film, introduce a mother character and give here a large role in the film.

2. Gail Noonan's Menopause Song is a humorous celebration of menopause. Pick an older female character (either one in the film or one you'd created) and show her "humorously celebrating" her own menopause, either alone or with women friends of the same age.

3. Heavy bleeding sometimes accompanies menopause. Introduce heavy menopausal bleeding as a plot element in the film(s) you viewed, read Bloodbath for ideas. Actually try and show the blood on clothing, furniture, etc.

4. Restructure the film(s) you viewed so that they followed the "menopausal trajectory" of one of the older female characters -- from perimenopausal, to actually menopausal, and finally postmenopausal.

5. Create a scene in which an older female character starts talking about some specific aspects of menopause, and then widens out to some of the larger philosophical questions addressed in the film. If the film you watched didn't really have any "larger philosophical questions," introduce them through this character's monologue, beginning with some menopausal specifics.

Contact.......................................1997, Robert Zemeckis

Little Vera...................................1989, Vasili Pichul

Waiting to Exhale.............................1995, Forest Whitaker

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.....1989, Pedro Almodovar

Rosemary's Baby...............................1968, Roman Polanski

The Joy Luck Club.............................1993, Wayne Wang

Menopause Song................................1996, Gail Noonan


1. In a 1998 review, Valerie Nielsen does NOT recommend “Under Wraps” (now “Menstruation: Breaking the Silence”) for high school classroom viewing; Nielson describes the film as “far too sophisticated, too graphic” for “adolescents and pre-adolescents.” Nielsen suggests “Perhaps the film might be useful for Grade 11 or 12 students as a resource for research or debate on feminist topics.” Discuss how a menstrumentary aimed at a “adolescent and pre-adolescent” audience should differ from one aimed at adults. Who was the intended audience for the menstrumentaries you viewed? Was it hard to tell? Click here to read Valerie Nielsen's review of “Under Wraps” (now “Menstruation: Breaking the Silence”).

2. In general, there are two sets of “creatives” involved in the production and distribution of menstrual imagery and narratives: 1) Artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and so on, who are NOT funded by the menstrual product industry, and who receive income through sale of their books, film, art, CD's, DVD's, teaching positions, etc., and whose names appear on the work produced, and 2) Those generally anonymous writers, graphic designers, filmmakers, musicians, and so on, who work for advertising agencies hired by the menstrual product industry (or work for the menstrual product industry directly), and who receive income from the anonymous work they produce. How was the relationship between these two sets of “creatives” portrayed (if at all) in the menstrumentaries you viewed? Did the menstrumentary show and critique menstrual product advertising without naming or showing the people who actually created it? Use your imagination, and write a few paragraphs as to the kinds of things that would be said, if a meeting were held between the two sets of “creatives.”

3. What would be the male equivalent of the “menstrumentary?” Think about the assumptions underlying the creation of menstrumentaries in the first place, and what it is the filmmaker(s) wanted their audiences to take away with them. Can similar films be made around sperm, semen and ejaculation, condom advertising, and so on?

4. Look forward 50 years. Do you anticipate that future menstrumentaries will be essentially the same as those currently available, and focus on the tension between taboo-maintenance and taboo-breaking? If you were recommending ONE currently-available menstrumentary for viewing 50 years from now, which one would it be, and why?

5. How entertaining were the menstrumentaries you viewed? Would you recommend any of them to your friends: “You've GOT to see this film, it is so funny,” or: “Wait til you see this, you've never seen anything like it!” Is it possible for a menstrumentary to have mass appeal, and generate positive word of mouth? Or is the subject matter simply too “narrow?”

Period: The End of Menstruation?..............2005, Giovanna Chesler (available through g6pictures)
Period Piece.............1996, Jennifer Frame and Jay Rosenblatt (available through Jay Rosenblatt Films)
Menstruation: Breaking the Silence (formerly Under Wraps)..............1996, Teresa MacInnes and Penny Wheelwright (available through Films for the Humanities and Sciences)
On Becoming a Woman: Mothers and Daughters Talking to Each Other........1987, Cheryl Chisholm (available through Women Make Movies)
A Friend Comes to Visit........................1998, Lorena David (available through Kingsize Entertainment)

Go to In Search of Menarche: An Interview with Filmmaker Molly Strange

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