"To be an artist [was] to be a man," remarks multimedia legend Rachel Rosenthal, referring to the post-Eisenhower era when galleries, museums and university departments were dominated by males---an imbalance that the New York--based group Women Artists in Revolution (WAR) sought to address. Formed in 1969, this collective of feminist painters, photographers, performers and political activists staged protests and made works that challenged the art world's patriarchal stranglehold. From Caroline Schneemann's taboo-busting "body collages" to Judy Chicago's controversial installation The Dinner Party and the Guerrilla Girls' subversive poster offensives, this initial movement inspired numerous women to express themselves in new forms and with a new sense of freedom.
Thankfully, Lynn Hershman-Leeson's loosely organized doc offers a long-overdue primer on what these radical groundbreakers accomplished. (Why she decided to add the ironically phallocentric punctuation to the title, however, remains a mystery.) An artist herself, Hershman-Leeson guides viewers through this brave new estrogenized landscape with the benefit of having been there, adding a sense of authority to the proceedings. The downside is that you have to put up with her narration, a series of New Agey non sequiturs ("The planet's rage and disrepair formed a background of white noise to our own private apocalypse") delivered in a mildly grating monotone. Still, to see this seismic subculture memorialized with such an amazing trove of archival clips is worth tolerating pretentious blather; you feel like you're bearing witness to a monumental act of reclamation.