"I hope I never become, horror, in such a normal and ruthless animal, in that deformed monstrosity: the virtuous woman, whatever, Diablo, except that."
Much was said about the Canadian writer Mary MacLane (1881-1929) in the early twentieth century and very soon disappeared after his death, premature, enigmatic and, as he had wished, little virtuous, in a boarding house in Chicago at 48 years of age. The documentary Between My Flesh and the World's Fingers, which is projected in the Montreal documentary film festival RIDM, translates into images the confessional literary debut of the teenager who opened the way to Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, when the word feminist was still a neologism.
Talena Sanders, director of the film, is not very enthusiastic about the nickname of "the first blogger in history" that has been imposed on MacLane in recent years. "It is understandable that you hang that label, writing so directly in the first person, but it is a term that underestimates his literary achievements and poetic depth. He managed to publish a book as a teenager and living in deep America, "defends the filmmaker in the Canadian city, where he presents his documentary.
With only 19 years old, Mary McLane left the masses in shock with the personal notes of her boring life in a mining town in the United States to which she had moved years before with her family. With I wish the devil comes (1901), his testimony in the first person, forced that the egocentric and ambitious adjectives were pronounced almost for the first time in feminine. He thus managed to break that image of purity with which, more than a hundred years later, women continue to be oppressed in many societies around the world.
In his text, the inner life was imposed on the anodyne environment. When he managed to publish his literary self-portrait, his editors preferred to rename it as The story of Mary MacLane. He became a sales success since his first week and inspired several female groups, the MacLane clubs, in honor of its author.
For several decades, the work of the writer is in the spotlight of feminism and in 2015 Seix Barral edited the book in Spain respecting its original title. This documentary by Talena Sanders adds to the recovery of her figure and with it fits another piece of that puzzle lost in time that many other equally forgotten women artists make up.
"Mary knew how to give voice to something that many women felt and that nobody had named before and did not hide that she had couples of both sexes. Things like that made her an uncomfortable element, "recalls Sanders.
After her early success, the Canadian moved to New York, where she collaborated regularly with several newspapers and filmed in 1918 a film as a screenwriter and lead actress with George Kirke Spoor, the producer who helped Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin to become stars
Cover of the book, published in 2015 by Seix Barral
The name of the project gives good account of its experimental nature and its null commercial possibilities: Men Who Have Made Love to Me (Men who have made love to me). In addition to her thematic agitator – "she was always very aware of her provocation and the power that it granted her to be", says Sanders – she dared to break the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly.
At the present time there is not even a copy of the film, which enlarges the mysterious legend of MacLane and shows that, despite her declaration of intentions, she did not become a free artist. "She was undoubtedly oppressed in her career. He never received a payment proportional to his initial success. Many of the letters he wrote in the last years of his life were directed to his editors, begging to be paid what they owed him, "says the director.
As a woman, however, I do achieve greater freedom in exchange for paying a price for it: he decided never to marry, showed naturally his bisexuality and pursued to the end the success he longed for without asking for forgiveness for it. "He died with his partner, a black woman, and his obituaries referred to her as his housekeeper, when no one in the modest neighborhood of Chicago in which he lived could afford to have service. They tried to erase that aspect of their life from the map, "laments Sanders.