Town Bloody Hall

On April 30th, 1971, a young D.A. Pennebaker shot a panel on the subject of Women’s Liberation. A curious, second-wave era format was put forth: the panel would consist of ringleader Norman Mailer (hot on the tails of the publication of his incendiary The Prisoner of Sex) and four female, feminist (though not necessarily like-minded) panelists: president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Jacqueline Ceballos, the beguiling and whip-smart author Germaine Greer, literary critic Diana Trilling (Mailer’s clear favorite), and writer and critic Jill Johnston (who puts forth the panel’s most theatrical component: a poetic, lesbian manifesto). What begins as a “panel” quickly devolves into a farcical trial of the stubborn, bravado-y Mailer, who can’t seem to stop himself from throwing out winners like “you’re all singularly without wit!” and “be a lady!”, his face filling Pennebaker’s patient frame. And the stars of the moment aren’t just on stage—they’re in the audience too; the panel fields questions from the likes of Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag, and Elizabeth Hardwick. Despite the event’s high profile, high energy, high voltage status, Pennebaker stashed the footage away—that is, until he met Hegedus several years later. At her urging, Town Bloody Hall became the first film the duo completed together, reminding us—in the era of twitter-quips and declarations of the lost art of debate—that the competition between wit and furor has always raged, in foolish and brilliant minds alike.

Dir Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, 1979, Digibeta, 85 min.