Stephanie Rothman studied the fundamentals of filmmaking as a graduate student at the University of Southern California’s (USC) cinema department from 1961-1964. Rothman was the first woman awarded the Directors Guild of America Fellowship, which was awarded annually to one graduate student at USC and one at UCLA. It was there that she met and married fellow student Charles S. Swartz, with whom she would collaborate on most of the films she directed. Six months out of film school, Rothman was hired by producer-director Roger Corman and began working as an editor and second unit director on films that he personally financed. In 1965, she directed her first complete feature-length film for him.
From 1965-1974, the team of writer-director Rothman and writer-producer Swartz made six low-budget independent films. Like films made by Hollywood studios, they played in wide release in the USA and in more limited release in some foreign countries. Unlike studio films, they were reviewed infrequently. This was partly because they lacked stars, partly because they had little, if any, pre-release publicity and partly because they promised to deliver more shock than studio films did in scenes of sex and violence. Usually, such films were soon forgotten.
In 1970, Corman hired Rothman and Swartz to make a sexy film to be called THE STUDENT NURSES. Corman gave them the freedom to fill it with subjects of their choice, and so they chose to explore the conflicts of the time, including abortion, a minority’s clashes with the police, bad medical care for the poor and sexual politics, all seen through the eyes of four student nurses in the final month of their studies. On a more personal level, THE STUDENT NURSES is about the choices they make as they head in different directions on their individual quests for identity. The film was a box-office success.
Why weren’t the six films of Rothman and Swartz forgotten too? Because academic interest in them grew and they were shown to film students. A small band of film fans also watched on video cassettes and DVDs and wrote about them online. Gradually, attention began to be given to the films in books and magazines. From the late 1990s, interest grew in Europe too, and some of them were shown at Swiss, German and Austrian festivals and revival houses. Lately, they have also gained attention in America. In 2016, THE STUDENT NURSES was screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York where it also had a one-week run at the Metrograph Theatre.
Five of the films, starting in chronological order, are now housed in two important film archives: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which has restored two of them including THE STUDENT NURSES; and The Museum of Modern Art (M0MA), which is in the process of preserving three.
The six films, and where five of them are being preserved, are:
It’s a Bikini World (1966) – One of the last beach pictures, featuring popular musical groups.
THE STUDENT NURSES – Turning points in the lives of four young nurses as they struggle with the problems of their time. (AMPAS)
The Velvet Vampire (1971) – An erotic vampire tale set in the California desert. (AMPAS)
Group Marriage (1972) – A romantic comedy that explores different kinds of family formation, including a straight group marriage and a gay marriage. (MOMA)
Terminal Island (1973) – Convicted killers sentenced to life on a remote island battle to the death for supremacy and redemption. (MOMA)
The Working Girls (1974) – Three young women, unemployed or underemployed, contend with obstacles in their search for their dream jobs. (MOMA)