GOLD DIGGERS, THE (director/writer: Sally Potter; screenwriters: Lindsay Cooper/Rose English; cinematographer: Babette Mangolte; editor: Sally Potter; music: Lindsay Cooper; cast: Julie Christie (Ruby), Colette Laffont (Celeste), George Antoni (Stage Manager), Kassandra Colson (Welder), Hilary Westlake (Ruby’s Mother), David Gale (Expert), Tom Osborn (Expert’s assistant), Jacky Lansley (Tap Dancer); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Nita Amy/Donna Grey; BFI PAL DVD form; 1983-UK)

“An amazing watch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The self-taught trained dancer Sally Potter’ (“Orlando”/”Yes”/”The Tango Lesson”)debut as a feature film director is a welcome sight for sore eyes for those yearning for more insightful indie woman’s pictures. The immensely talented, idea-orientated and artistic Potter has followed in the footsteps of Yvonne Rainer to create a groundbreaking experimental feminist film, one that was made with an all-woman crew. It’s co-written in a witty and far-reaching metaphorical manner by Potter, Lindsay Cooper and Rose English.The controversial (received largely negative reviewsupon its release for not being accessible and for its shabby treatment of men), one-of-a-kind, oddity film is a blend of sci-fi fantasy, western, silent melodrama and Klondike adventure tale, that plays out as an anti-capitalist satirical musical extravaganza. It’s an amazing watch because it’s so visually stunning in its bizarre b/w images of such things as ballroom dancers, the Yukon tundra and its horseback escapes. The plotless film makes waves about being an alchemical search for knowledge that’s original, unpredictable and innovative. Yet it’s not without detractions, as the flawed film’s labored attempts to marry the avant-garde with commercial filmmaking leaves awkward and heavy-handed unfulfilled moments. In addition there are too many surreal scenes that keep its theme of the link between gold, money and women cloudy and prevents the viewer from keeping a focus on any one thing. The recipe calling for widely different genres to blend together becomes messy, as the ingredients just don’t blend together that well and the film loses some of its commercial entertainment value and the experimental part comes across at times as pretentious.Nevertheless this film strikes gold by not finding it, as it digs in uncharted territory to find the inner search for truth in relation to the power of cinema–making it like a Holy Grail quest for metaphysical gold nuggets, one that finds limited success because of the questions it raises.

The film’s focus is on two female characters of an opposite nature who are searching for things that have eluded them. The beautiful enigmatic upper crust white Ruby (Julie Christie), a representation of femininity in the cinema and a name referring to the philosopher’s stone, treks to the Yukon to search out her roots and thereby seeks to find the truth about her identity, to seek out her lost mother and to be where her father was a gold prospector. While Celeste (Colette Laffont), a black computer clerk in a bank, is obsessed with the relationship between money and power. When Celeste asks questions about banking practices to her chauvinist bosses (all the male parts were caricatures of the system’s male power structure), she’s treated like dirt. Ruby is saved from being worshiped as a sex symbol by the alienated female laborer Celeste and subjected to an interrogation that has the dreamlike Ruby admit remembering little because conditions kept her in the dark. But with the analytical Celeste’s help, they both tie together the relationship of the Hollywood star system and the financial system as part of the dialectical process. This leaves the two truth seeking women from opposite classes, bonded. They now have a feminist riddle to unravel that will reveal if answered the secrets of gold and the secrets of personal transformation.

If that story line sounds too didactic, that’s because it is. But when breezy and shooting from the hip, it can be inspiring in telling us that feminism can transform capitalism, that we should all live in the present and that dancing is just the end-all in fun. It’s a defiant film that begs for multiple viewings, though I can see haters not caring to further examine the role of women in art and in a man’s business world.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”