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Lowering the Tone: 45 Years of Robyn Archer (1993)

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clip 'Menstruation blues' education content clip 1, 2

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Australian singer Robyn Archer performs the song 'Menstruation Blues’. 'I explore anything that I want to’, says Archer.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Robyn Archer speaking about female musicians, then several women, Archer included, performing the song 'Menstruation blues’. Archer then speaks about young women entertainers and their role in the 'vanguard’ of women’s issues.

Educational value points

  • The clip presents vocal artist Robyn Archer performing her song 'Menstruation blues’. Written by Archer, the 8-minute song was released on the album The Ladies’ Choice in 1977. The album, Archer’s first, was the first Australian record produced by women (Robyn Archer and Diana Manson) and at the time of its release was considered shocking for its confronting lyrics.
  • Archer’s song about menstruation is an example of how artists sometimes challenge and break conventions in their work. Written in the late 1970s, the song uses the traditional blues style to sing about a generally taboo subject. During the late 1960s and 70s, feminists challenged not only women’s rights to social and economic equality and the rights to contraception and birth control but also the right to speak about their bodies. This song, which includes descriptions of the experience of menstruation, was groundbreaking at the time.
  • 'Menstruation blues’ was performed as part of the cabaret Pack of Women. The show featured female-focused songs performed by all women singers (including Judi Connelli, Tracy Harvey and Jo Kennedy). It was first performed at the Drill Hall, London, in 1981 and toured Australia in 1983. ABC TV produced a television version of the soundtrack, which won the 1986 Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Award for Best Soundtrack.
  • Robyn Archer is a singer, songwriter and director who has performed to great acclaim both nationally and internationally. She is renowned for her performance of the songs of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, which she presents in classic European cabaret style. She sings an eclectic range of songs, including country, classics and her own works. Her stage show A Star is Torn and album of the same name featured the songs of some of the great female singers of the 20th century.
  • Archer has been an important force in the Australian arts scene and she has had numerous roles in cultural organisations. She was Artistic Director of the National Festival of Australian Theatre for 3 years and of the Adelaide Festival in 1998 and 2000. In 2000, Archer was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and became a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2001. Archer has been awarded honorary doctorates from both Flinders and Sydney Universities. Her interest in supporting the careers of female artists is hinted at in this clip.
  • The clip presents the work of Don Featherstone, who directed a series on talented artists titled Creative Spirits. A Star is Torn is part of the series. Creative Spirits was nominated for an Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for Best Documentary. Featherstone’s other work includes Babakuieria, An Imaginary Life and The One Percenters.

This clip starts approximately 25 minutes into the documentary.

Robyn Archer is being interviewed.
Robyn Archer Women musicians in terms of people in bands, were more or less unknown um, there were almost — I mean, when the ‘Menstruation Blues’ came out, there was no song about any of that stuff.

We see footage of Robyn Archer and her band singing ‘Menstruation Blues’.

I got the menstruation . . . the menstruation blues
I got the menstruation . . . the menstruation blues
And I got ‘em so hard, I just don’t know how to lose ‘em

Oh, I can feel my life blood flowin’, flowin’ down the drain
Yeah, I can feel my life blood flowin’, flowin’ down the drain
And the hardest damn thing to face is, next month its all gonna happen again

I got this pain in my guts, and my head keeps spinning around . . .

Robyn is being interviewed.
Robyn I now basically think that women’s issues have other voices, they have other young, strong voices who, you know, in one’s 20s when a women gets out into the world after the harrowing business of adolescence, I think once you get into the world then young women want to say things and if they’re entertainers then they are writing the songs, they are doing the performances, they are in the vanguard. At my point in my life I am allowed and I allow myself to exploit anything that I want to.

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  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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