Dialogues with Madwomen

Dialogues with Madwomen
Directed by Allie Light
Produced by Irving Saraf
Cinematography Irving Saraf
Editing by Irving Saraf
Running time 90 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Dialogues with Madwomen is a 1993 documentary by Allie Light focusing on mental illness in women.

In Dialogues with Madwomen, filmmakers Allie Light and Irving Saraf have coaxed seven "madwomen" — including Light herself — into telling their stories. Using a mixture of home movies, archival footage of psycho wards, re-enactments, and (mostly) interviews with their subjects, Light and Saraf have created a complex, moving portrait of women in whom depression, schizophrenia, and multiple personalities coexist with powerful, sometimes inspired levels of creativity. These women are often dazzling in their verbal facility, talking with honesty, humor, and passion about the most intimate details of their lives. The first interviewee is director Light, who recalls the loss of interest in her domestic life that made her check herself into a hospital for treatment. She tells of her doctor's bizarre attempts at behavior modification: "One weekend he told me I could go home if I promised to bake a turkey. The next weekend I could go home if I promised to mop all the floors." Her depression, which happened in 1963, seems to have been her unconscious mind's way of telling her she could do more than bake turkeys and mop floors. Eventually, against the advice of others, she became a teacher and filmmaker, and it's clear that depression was a key factor in this decision. We also meet R.B., an African-American woman whose frightening exposure to the "sons of the ruling class" at Stanford helped her decide to drop out. After being raped in a hot springs, "I left my body," she says, eventually becoming a bag lady. R.B. cooperated with Light in recreating scenes from her history, including haunting footage of her huddled barefoot in the corner of an airport bathroom, pulling a hood over her face and going to sleep. R.B. is typical of the women in this film, but specifically experiences an unpredictable euphoric state that transforms her into an instrument of powerful self-expression. One scene shows her sitting alone in a stairwell at Stanford, throwing back her head and singing a beautiful, transcendent melody. One of R.B.'s poetic descriptions of her early sense of moving through unknown terrain — "As a child, I'd butterfly up to the ceiling" — is a persuasive metaphor for the power of the interior world to break through social strictures.

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