On Guard (1984)




Significant at the time for its cast and crew of women and it’s ‘girls own adventure’ theme, On Guard, screening as part of the Pioneering Women section of MIFF, reminds us of how little has changed for women in film in 30 years.

A group of women plan a sabotage action to coincide with the release of their documentary about dubious practices by influential reproductive technology company Utero. They plan to infiltrate their computer room and use electricity to wipe out the research data.

Amelia (Liddy Clarke) has a dependable job at a travel agent and feels the most responsible for the action and the group. Diana (Jan Cornall) is the most radical and has no qualms about the repercussions of the act. Her girlfriend, Adrienne (Kerry Dwyer), seems to care more about the documentary and is reluctant to uproot her own and her children’s lives in order to avoid imprisonment.

Although we eventually get to some decent action, the first half of the film is filled with dialogue as the group worry about details and consequences. Amelia has lost her diary and imagines it falling in to the hands of the police or Utero. Adrienne and Diana squabble and discuss risk; Adrienne realising the impact on her family of her ideals, perhaps a deliberately ironic touch considering the theme of reproductive and female autonomy.

What is particularly enjoyable about watching this film 33 years on is remembering the outrageous fashions, styles and music of the 80s. From Diana leading a Lycra-clad aerobics class to the almost abstract synthesiser music by the delightfully named The Stray Dags, we can see how much has changed, at least stylistically and technologically (those computers!).

What hasn’t changed is the ongoing fight for women to have autonomy over their bodies and reproductive rights; this does not seem archaic. What has worsened is the representation of women on screen and behind the scenes in funded features. Apparent in the credits is the contribution of the Women’s Film Fund that existed in order to close the gender gap.

A recent study showed that of the top 250 grossing Hollywood films of 2016, women comprised “(7.5 percent of directors), 13 percent of writers, 17 percent of executive producers, 24 percent of producers, 17 percent of editors and five percent of cinematographers. For all the box office success of Wonder Woman, films by and about women are still a rarity.

Have you seen this film? Do you have fond memories of the 80s? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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