We Aim to Please: Women's image
The filmmakers draw the title of the film on their naked bodies. By throwing a tomato on the lens, they remind the viewer that all images are constructed. Taking control of their own image, they begin a wild ride into unexplored territory. Summary by Susan Lambert.
The opening of the film sets up the premise of women creating the image of women, in this case the filmmakers. Margot Nash and Robin Laurie use images of themselves looking into the camera as though it is a mirror. They directly confront the viewer by smearing make-up across their own faces. This is saying 'we own this image and we don’t care what you think’. The quote from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972) that follows when they answer an urgent ringing telephone (sync close-ups of lips intercut between the two women) sets up the perspective of the whole film:
Women have been depicted in quite a different way from men, not because the feminine is different from the masculine, but because the ideal spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of woman is designed to flatter him.
In this clip’s final sequence, Robin Laurie hugs a blue body mould from behind while an extract from the soundtrack of Performance (1970, directors Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell) plays. As a female singer keen soulfully, Laurie caresses the dummy’s breasts and emerges painfully from behind its mask. It’s another example of the filmmakers’ creative use of sound in this clip. Compared to the whispering, giggling, drilling and unexpectedly exaggerated noises heard earlier (such as the harsh, scraping sound of marker pen on skin), the eerie soundscape from Performance supports the image on screen in more conventional, albeit arresting, fashion.
We Aim To Please synopsis
We Aim to Please is an experimental feminist film that challenged the way the image of women had been produced by and for men. Made collaboratively by Margot Nash and Robin Laurie, who also appear in it, the film is a humorous and erotically charged pastiche of personal fragments of conversation, political statements, powerful images and improvised performance, all edited together to confront conventional ideas about women and their sexuality.
We Aim to Please curator's notes
We Aim to Please represented the convergence in the 1970s of experimental filmmaking and feminist theory. Made by Robin Laurie and Margot Nash, the film was a bold and exciting break away from narrative films and factual documentaries. The filmmakers literally took the creation of images of themselves into their own hands and made a film that incorporated the experimental and feminist ideas of the time. Both filmmakers had a background in theatre and as such were well versed with Brechtian practices that were influencing live performances of the time.
For instance, they exposed the filmmaking process through recorded conversations while watching rushes of the film. They also spoke directly to the camera and were deliberately conscious of the audience referring to it directly. Writing on the body was also a means of claiming their own images. Sound was very important in expressing feelings of pleasure, anger and fear. According to Nash, 'we wanted a film that was made from a female point of view and had jokes women would enjoy but that male spectators would be challenged by’.
As feminists they were keen to take control of the means of producing images of women and to address the many issues that were central to the women’s liberation movement. They used fragmented images and sound that powerfully conjured up abuse and violence against women. By avoiding the image of women as victims in these scenes the film does not empower the violence but instead goes on to stand up to it and fight back.
Margot and Robin provocatively called themselves AS IF Productions, which stood for Anarcho-Surrealist, Insurrectionary Feminists. In 1989, Margot Nash stated that the film 'was inspired not only by the politics of feminism but by the wild and uncolonised energy of the anarchists and surrealists’. Specifically, the filmmakers were influenced by John Berger’s book Ways of Seeing (1972), the anarchist revolutionary Emma Goldman, beat poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni and Maya Deren. The film reflects this energy through its irreverence, humour and style.
This was their first film but both Margot and Robin have continued to be involved in theatre, live performance and filmmaking. They worked together again on Margot’s next experimental film Shadow Panic in 1989. Margot’s other filmmaking credits include the documentary For Love or Money (1983), feature film Vacant Possession (1994) and the television drama Call Me Mum (2005).
We Aim to Please was first distributed in 1977 by the Melbourne Filmmakers Cooperative. It has since been screened at numerous seasons of short, experimental, feminist and gay films as well as prestigious film festivals. It was awarded the Jury Prize at the 1978 L’Homme Regarde L’Homme Film Festival in Paris.
Notes by Susan Lambert