Razor’s Edge: the Legacy of Iranian Actresses at Iranian Film Festival in San Francisco

By Moira Sullivan

Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou is an Iranian historian, filmmaker, scholar film critic and producer. His most recent film Razor’s Edge: the Legacy of Iranian Actresses, (2016) is about the role of women in the Iranian film industry before the Islamic revolution (1979) The film was shown at the recent Iranian Film Festival in San Francisco in September ( Bahman, who lives in New York,  was able to take questions from the public via Skype.)

Magsoudlou's films have been selected for more than 100 major film festivals. The documentary begins with information about the history of the Iranian film industry which employed 10, 000 workers including 100 actresses before the revolution. After this, the government banned 90% of pre-revolutionary actors – especially women. The devastation to the film industry and to the actors was far-reaching including loss of employment benefits and housing. Were it not for this important film by Bahman Maghsoudlou, these actresses would vanish into obscurity and it is the strongest point of his film to remember them and pay tribute to their achievements.

Interviews with Iranian actress were conducted between 2002-2015 in Iran, Europe and the US and they are a strong testimony to the accomplishments of women in film. Maghsoudlou’s focus is on 21 actresses who had leading roles in more than 463 films.

The film begins with the History of Iranian Cinema from 1900 – 1979.  We learn that in the first feature length films of the 1930’s it was hard to recruit Muslim women. The first silent Iranian film and the first sound film,  Lor Girl, by Abdol Hossein Sepanta (1932), brought attention to the problems of Muslim women. In this film Sedigheh Saminejad (1916-1997) - screen name Rouhangiz Kermani - plays a gypsy girl in a film that was a box office success.

Kermani, who was the first Muslim woman to act in a film, was ostracized for not wearing her veil in public, for entertaining ‘strangers’ and she finally quit the acting business. Her family, friends and the Iranian public insulted her and she died in obscurity.  In a rare interview shown in the documentary Rouhangiz Kermani says she had to have three bodyguards because she was in pictures.

Lor Girl was a film for Iranians made in India. Encouraged by the success of Lor Girl, the producer "Imperial Film, Bombay India" advertised for more Iranian actresses to act in India.  Silent film star Fakhr-ol-Zaman Jabbar Viziri (Fakhri Viziri) is the first woman shown in Razors Edge who starred in three of the first five talkies. She answered the flyer from "Imperial Film" and went to India.

Not until the 1960s did Iranian actresses made their presence known on screen. Even then their presence was met with hostility from friends, relatives and the public. The women in this documentary film speak about death threats, isolation, and ostracization. Most Iranian actors and actresses fled Iran after the 1979 revolution, especially if they had acted in sexy films before the revolution. The interviews in this film are rich documents of historical as well as contemporary actresses still working in films, some living in other countries like Susan Taslimi who lives in Sweden.

In November, Bahman will be back with us at MMI speaking about his latest book, Grass: Untold Stories published in 2008 on the making of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, a silent documentary filmed by Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison made in Iran in 1924. Marguerite Harrison was the inspiration to Ann Darrow in King Kong (1933) made by Cooper and Shoedsack.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/25/17
Movie Magazine International