Hothouse Flower (1978) 









Hothouse Flower (1978) 
(13min), 16mm, color, sound
Director: Susan Brockman
Grant Awarded to Richard Brockman
Archive: Anthology Film Archives


Hothouse Flower is an experimental film by New York artist Susan Brockman. Hothouse Flower uses exquisite photography and skillful editing to create a dream-like, visual narrative including five female performers. The film shows women at work: making images, writing, or using their bodies in contrast with visualizations of their subconscious, suggesting imagination and dreaming as part of their process.

Hothouse Flower is a choreographed film that extends the use of a static camera in a theatrical environment. The film moves back and forth from a stage to a staged event. Music underscores the film as a ballet, the characters are symbolic representations, the cuts move the film along like turning pages in a book. Each element of the film is of equal value: a set, a character, a lighting effect, a piece of music, or a landscape all share in the storytelling as expressive devices in the exploration of emotional conflict and desire. In addition to Susan Brockman’s presence in front of and behind the camera, the film features significant performances by an all-female cast of artists including painter Marianna Scharn, filmmaker Geri Ashur, writer Eliba Levine and jeweler and good friend of Brockman, Kazuko Oshima. The characters that each of these women embody are presented as strong, autonomous, stylish and deeply thinking — 1970s femme fatales eschewing a more common, negative portrayal of women on screen. During one of the most compelling scenes of the film, viewers see close-ups of Brockman’s character carefully making slides and hear the sound of scissors slowly cutting a roll of film. Towards the end of Hothouse Flower she gazes into a particular image of the young Lauren Bacall embracing the much older, married Humphrey Bogart while a classic film noir soundtrack plays.

The second film made by Susan Brockman, Hothouse Flower and was supported by her engagement in the feminist collective Women/Artist/Filmmakers. Founded in 1973, this radical group worked together to support, validate and fund each other’s work. Through efforts to secure and distribute prestigious public funding for their films, these women helped forge a path for other women artists/filmmakers to expand their work into personal storytelling on film. The film was funded through grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Other members of WAF included Dorothy Beskind, Doris Chase, Martha Edelheit, Silvianna Goldsmith, Amy Greenfield, Maria Lassnig, Carolee Schneemann, Rosalind Schneider, Olga Spiegel, Ann Volkes and Alida Walsh. Shirley Clarke and Richard Lorber were on the Board of Directors. Through the preservation of works such as those made by Susan Brockman, a more complete history of the role of women in avant-garde film will be told. Hothouse Flower was filmed in locations central to New York City based artist communities including The Hotel Chelsea and Tribeca, where Brockman lived. In 8mm footage filmed during the making of Hothouse Flower Brockman’s contemporaries including Tony Shafrazi, Lizzie Borden, Richard Serra, and Jack Smith can all be identified socializing in Brockman’s loft on the huge sand pile used for one of the last scenes of Hothouse Flower. Cinematographer Mark Obenhaus recalls several of these friends helping him carry bags of sand up multiple flights of stairs while constructing the film set.

Susan Brockman (1937-2001) was a filmmaker and photographer active in NYC and Easthampton, NY from the 1960s-1990s. She received her MFA in painting from Cornell University, NY in 1958, studied photography with Diane Arbus in 1973 and cinematography at New York University in 1974. She received numerous grants in her lifetime including awards from Jerome Foundation; National Endowment for The Arts; and State Council on the Arts. Brockman’s films include Soul of A Dog (1987), based on a Franz Kafka short story; Stopped in Her Tracks (1982) and Lee’s Ferry (1983), both made in collaboration with choreographer Sally Gross; Hothouse Flower (1978); and Depot (1975). Her photographic work was featured in exhibitions with Atsuko Murayama Fine Arts, NY and Japan; Jan Van der Donk Gallery, NY; Exit Art, NY; Rhode Island School of Design; and Byron Gallery, NY. Her photographic cardson vellum were featured exclusively at Barneys, NY. Brockman was editor of Arts Magazine from 1966-1968 and worked with a wide range of influential figures in the film and art worlds throughout her career including Willem DeKooning, Robert Frank, Ralph Gibson, Dan Graham, Sally Gross, Peter Hujar, Mark Obenhaus, Kazuko Oshima, Linda Rosenkrantz, Danny Seymour and Anita Thacher among others. She was the editor for numerous films including Stockhausen’s Originale: Doubletakes (Peter Moore, 1964-1994); Ma: Space/Time in the Garden of Ryoan-Ji (TakahikoIimura, 1989); Einstein On the Beach: The Changing Image of Opera (Mark Obenhaus, 1985);The Wizard of Waukesha – A Film About Les Paul (Catherine Orentreich, 1980); ONO (DannySeymour, 1970); and Life-raft Earth (Robert Frank, 1969); among others.

Brockman’s artwork is in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. and the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, MA. Herpapers are also held at Smith College.