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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 11:19AM   |  75 comments
The Red Kimono

17th Annual Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

March 31-April 6, 2014

FINAL SCRIPT for THE RED KIMONO (Dorothy Davenport, USA, 1925)


By Patricia R. Zimmermann, in collaboration with Cynthia Henderson

April 2, 2014

With PowerPoint Images and Design by Ann Michel, Insights International
Jazz accompaniment by Fe Nunn and Friends
Lighting: Phil Wilde, Insights International
Sound Design: Greg McGrath, Calf Audio



Clash. Tension. Disharmony. Disequilibrium. Contradiction. Restlessness. Irresolution. Imbalance.

Neither noise nor cacophony, dissonance pairs together the incompatible with results that surprise, offend, invite, disturb and excite, spurring action and creativity.

Dissonance sparks and ignites.

Think of dissonance as the endless clashing of notes and chords in musical dissonance, of ideas in cognitive dissonance, of systems of life in cultural dissonance, of words in poetic dissonance.

THE RED KIMONO was a silent film made in 1925.  THE RED KIMONO also exemplifies a study in dissonance in and out of the film. Dissonance in women’s sexuality and oppression.  Dissonance in the film industry . Dissonance about women and their limited roles in society.  Dissonance about women and how they made movies. Dissonance about the movies they made.

THE RED KIMONO.  It’s a film of social conscience, a hybrid combining documentary-style realism with sensational melodrama. It used prostitution to draw big crowds to theaters, but it also endorsed and celebrated feminist vigilanti-ism.  

Set in New Orleans, it’s the true story of a young girl tricked into a life of prostitution.  She murders her pimp/lover, does jail time , and finds redemption through true love.  She’s an exploited, oppressed young woman who triumphs in the end. Dissonance. Dissonance. Dissonance.

THE RED KIMONO also sizzles with another dissonance—women in film.   Women in one of the most male-dominated industries on the planet.  Women in an industry that has trouble with women.  BIG TROUBLE with WOMEN.

THE RED KIMONO was independently produced outside the Hollywood system—and was also one of the first independent narrative features done by women. Three extraordinary women pushed and wrangled all that said no to wrestle this film to the screen:

Dorothy Davenport Reid, the producer and uncredited director; Adela Rogers St. John, the journalist who covered the original story which THE RED KIMONO is based on; and Dorothy Arzner, the screenwriter who later became a Hollywood film director.

And consider another layer of dissonance: THE RED KIMONO premiered in  1925, only five years after women won the right to vote in the United States after a long, arduous 72 year struggle. 

Let’s set the stage: in the 1920s, many young women went to work as secretaries, “Girl Fridays.’  Flappers crashed into the world and changed how women engaged the world: they bobbed their hair, wore short skirts, smoke, drank, and went to nightclubs to hear jazz. Flappers embodied dissonance.

So, I wonder if you might be thinking, dissonance and women, it’s way back, way way back in the 1920s, history, done, no more. Things are GREAT.  Everything is FIXED.


Dissonance: women in film RIGHT NOW.  Dissonance.  Let’s look at some recent compelling research from the Celluoid Ceiling Report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Only 18% of directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors on the 250 top grossing commercial  films are women.

Only 9% of the 250 top grossing commercial films in 2012 were directed by women.

Only 15% of all screenwriters are women.

38% of all films produced in the last two years employed only 0 to1% women.

Only 11% of protaganists in commercial films are women. Male roles outnumber female roles in film 3 to 1. 

And women are four times as likely as males to be shown with unrealistic bodies in sexy attire. 

Between 2006-2009, in G-Rated films for children, NOT ONE female character in a commercial film or television show was depicted in the fields of medicine, business, law, or politics. NOT ONE. In these films, only 19% of women work, even though women comprise 50% of the workforce.

82% of all film reviewers are men.

And only four women feature film directors in HISTORY have been nominated for Academy Awards: Lina Vertmuller, Jane Campion, Sophia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow. Only Bigelow won.

As the entertainment industry trade paper VARIETY calls it, the entire entertainment industry—from big films to little ones, from television to stage, from documentary to fiction, from malls to museums—suffers from GENDER INERTIA. Yes—that’s right.  GENDER INERTIA.  GENDER INERTIA.

I’d call these extensively researched and rigorously documented facts DISSONANCE.  Would you?  DISSONANCE.

In early cinema, 50% of writers were women. Let me say this again: in early cinema, 50% of writers were women. Many more women produced films —but in regionally centered filmmaking, far away from the major production centers of New York and Los Angeles.  In the silent era, some argued women were not suited to direct, yet others claimed women were uniquely suited since they understood PAIN and PEOPLE.

Dorothy Davenport Reid, actress, producer, widow, mother, social reformer, horsewoman, exploitation film impresario. Dissonance defined Dorothy.

Dororthy Davenport Reid produced THE RED KIMONO. She also directed most of it, but the top billing went to Walter Lang.

Dorothy acted in many films for director D.W. Griffith and for Universal  Studios during the teens.  An accomplished rider and athlete, she performed all of her own stunts in films. She married fellow actor Wallace Reid, and they had a child. Reid became a morphine addict. He died in 1923. Spurred by the difficulties of dealing with his addiction, Dorothy Davenport Reid decided to produce narrative films on social issues, dubbed “moral crusade films.” Crime intrigued her: illegal narcotics, excessive love, prostitution.

She conjured together realism with sensationalism—and created a dissonant cinematic form.  She said she wanted to “to entertain and educate.”   She knew how the film industry worked. And she knew how to play with its dissonances, twisting them, turning them, exploiting them.

She said:

“A lot of fancy business goes on. They sell a picture and they haven’t left a thing with the audience but that’s beside the point. We’re making entertainment—we have to be forgiven for some of that.”

Adela Rogers St. John, journalist, writer, screenwriter, novelist, Hollywood memoirist, feminist. Dissonance vented out of Adela.

Adela Rogers St. John once said:

 “God made man, and then, he said, I can do better than that, and made woman.”

Adele Rogers St. John wrote for the San Francisco Examiner under William Randolph Hearst. She also penned fiction for Photoplay, a fan magazine.  She disliked Cecil B. DeMille, the famous film director.  She REALLY despised him.

She wrote the original news story about prostitution that eventually became the film, THE RED KIMONO. Her story chronicled the life of Gabrielle Darley, a small town girl who escapes the cruelty of her home and her father through romance with a stranger. She ends up a prostitute in New Orleans.

Adela was one of the most influential observers of life in Hollywood. She wrote many books that exposed Hollywood from an insider’s point of view: Some Are Born Great; The Honeycomb; Love,Laughter and Tears; My Hollywood; Tell No Man; No GoodByes

She was also an ardent feminist. An ARDENT FEMINIST.  She asserted:

“I wish women would stand together and shackle the men who want to move us backwards.

Dorothy Arzner, film director, screenwriter, inventor, celebrated lesbian.

Dissonance was simply another name for Dorothy.

Dorothy Arzner once proclaimed:

“When I went to work in a studio, I took my pride and made a nice little ball of it and threw it right out the window.”

Dorothy Arzner wrote the screenplay for THE RED KIMONO. She based her screenplay on the true story of Gabriele by Adela Rogers St. John. 

Dorothy was THE most prolific woman director in the history of American Cinema. She worked for Famous Players Lasky and for Paramount.  She was the only prominent woman feature film director during the Golden Age of Hollywood between 1920 and 1948.  The classical Hollywood studio system trained her and shaped her.  But her feminism and her lesbianism and her boldness intervened into the Hollywood system. She turned her own dissonance into her advantage. And, she invented the prototype for the boom mike for getting sound unobstrusively.

Between 1927-1943, she directed 17 feature length films.  THE WILD PARTY(1929); SARAH AND SON(1930); ANYBODY'S WOMAN(1930); CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933);  DANCE GIRL DANCE (1940).

She was the very first woman to join the Directors Guild of America. In 2014, The Directors Guild is only 7% women.

Dorothy said:

“My philosophy is that to be a director you cannot be subject to anyone, even the head of a studio. I threatened to quit each time I didn’t get my way but no one ever let me walk out.”


THE RED KIMONO drew large crowds to theaters.  The show often started with an informational style lecture, like this very one you have been listening to tonight.  The film surrounded itself with dissonance, infused itself with dissonance, and ignited dissonance.

THE RED KIMONO was a sensational melodrama.  Just a reminder: melodrama is the ONLY commercial genre FOR and ABOUT WOMEN.  In THE RED KIMONO,  melodrama plays with pathos, emotions, moral polarizations, unusual narrative forms, graphic sensationalism. Action and spectacle wind together to reveal patriarchal oppression.

THE RED KIMONO was also banned and censored and sued.

The State of Pennsylvania demanded 25 cuts.

The State of California issued an injunction against public viewing.

The Chicago Board of Censors banned it.

The United Kingdom Board of Censors banned it.

Brazil banned it because the fallen woman lives happily ever after in the end—instead of being punished or dying.

Here’s a piece of historical dissonance for you:

Gabrielle Darley--the REAL Storyville prostitute accused in 1915 of murdering her lover when he abandoned her-- sued Dorothy Davenport for unlawful use of her story and name.  Gabrielle won the su


Dissonance: Clash.  Tension. Disharmony.  Disequilibrium.  Contradiction. Restlessness.  Irresolution.  Imbalance.

Neither noise nor cacophony, dissonance pairs together the incompatible with results that surprise, offend, invite, disturb and excite, spurring action and creativity.

Dissonance sparks and ignites.

(Cynthia, use a big hand gesture and body movements when you say it and  point to the screen)



This was a great performance. The Red Kimono was absolutely in my top five FLEFF screenings this year, and a large part of that had to do with the fantastic prologue by Professor Henderson, who delivered this compelling script.

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