Journal Issue 2.2
Edited by Agatha Beins, Deanna Utroske, Julie Ann Salthouse, Jillian Hernandez, and Karen Alexander
Editorial Assistant: Julie Chatzinoff
Period Piece. Directed by Jennifer Frame and Jay Rosenblatt. Harriman, NY: Jay Rosenblatt Films, 1996.
Period: The End of Menstruation? Directed by Giovanna Chesler. New York: The Cinema Guild, 2006.
What does menstruation mean? The documentaries Period Piece and Period: The End of Menstruation, debuting ten years apart, address this question. Both find that it is not so easily answered.
Period Piece focuses upon first periods — menarche — to create a narrative about how puberty is negotiated in the United Studies in the mid- to late-twentieth century. Co-directors Jennifer Frame and Jay Rosenblatt arranged for girls, teens, adult women, and post-menopausal women to be interviewed on-camera, the pink backdrop behind the interviewees stylistic of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The women represent a fairly diverse set of ethnic backgrounds, though regional representation is not evident. The women’s various ages and cultures offer nice attention to multiple perspectives, delivering both retrospective accounts of first periods and prospective anticipation of upcoming bodily changes.
At its best, this short thirty-minute film provides examples of the various manners in which girls are acculturated and come to learn about menstruation, from detailed conversations with their mothers to general denial and neglect of the whole subject by trusted adults. The event of menstruation marks a shift in the body from child to adult, but more is at stake in the transition from girl to woman. The interviewees reflect on a gamut of emotions that they confronted at the time of their first periods, ranging from happiness to sheer dread. One woman remarked that she was elated and felt like saying “I am a woman!” upon getting her period, but her excitement quickly dissipated with the more onerous realization of limitations that were now hers to embody.
The film reveals the real social pressures to look and be similar to other girls, including the travails of menstruating early as an eight-year-old, the anxiety of not menstruating and faking it by cutting skin to draw blood and wearing a pad anyway, and the challenge of forging a different kind of relationship with female caregivers and mothers. In the less poignant moments, the film inserts clips from historical menstrual education films, which often trivialize the very things that the film seeks to legitimate. The historical footage requires far more contextualization than the documentary is able to provide, and seems to lend a campy feel to an otherwise tender treatment of women and their first periods.
Period: The End of Menstruation? (54 min.) pays less attention to menarche and more to the incessant medicalization of menstruation through various interventions. Inherent to the approach of the film are the underlying but unstated questions: What are the consequences of this medicalization? What does it mean? And, who is resisting and how? This film, coupled with its accompanying Web site (http://www.periodthemovie.com/), provides insight to these questions.