- Leonard J. Leff. "The Breening of America." PMLA, Vol. 106, No. 3 (May, 1991), pp. 432-445 Published by: Modern Language Association
Leonard J. Leff’s article “The Breening of America” works to point out the fact that as head of the PCA Joseph Breen worked not only out of concern for upholding decency and morality, but at the same time he attempted to promote a political, profit-seeking agenda. The article indicates that many famed Hollywood directors including Charlie Chaplin shared the same contempt for certain aspects of American culture written about by famous authors such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck, but they did not have the same freedom in expressing it.
The article characterizes Joseph Breen, who had fully realized power in July 1934 when The MPPDA created the PCA and named him director. Breen is noted to be morally conservative, and at the same time to have tyrannical tendencies. Nevertheless, Breen is described most aptly in this article as a facilitator between social forces, and American filmmakers. He is attributed with both providing a staunch conservative influence on the social environment, and with maximizing the profitability of Hollywood by way of giving the American public precisely what they wanted to see.
This is a particularly interesting portrayal of an organization that was for all intents and purposes designed to provide censorship. A censor of the film industry cannot be arbitrarily lawless and continually maximize profitability. Joseph Breen realized this and therefore took on his aforementioned facilitator role. This applies directly to The Grapes of Wrath because it begs the question; would the film have been as profitable if it it’s thematic focus was more closely aligned with Steinbeck’s? Leff would contend that it probably would not have been as profitable. Needless to say however, the thematic focus of the film was tailored toward providing entertainment that was uplifting at least to some extent.
- Georges Hugnet and Margaret Scolari The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, Vol. 4, No. 2/3, Dada and Surrealism: Essays by Georges Hugnet (Nov. - Dec., 1936), pp. 3-18 Published by: The Museum of Modern Art
Georges Hugnet details the experimental art movement born in Zurich that became known as Dada. The aim of Dada was aimlessness, experimentation, and a lack of continuity. Hugnet describes Dada as undermining established authority, and negating any notion of good and evil. The complete randomness and chaos of Dada is intended for the sole purpose of awareness. Not awareness of a social context, foreshadowing what is to come in the future or symbolizing what has happened in the past, but only awareness of what is immediate.
It is asserted that Dada came out of the pre-WWI period in response to the looming feelings of chaos and destruction. It is interesting to note that prior to WWII in America, the social and political context of filmmaking and creativity of expression was the polar opposite. Far from being experimental, undermining and subversive, American filmmakers including John Ford had to undertake a formulaic and almost prescribed path if they wanted to produce motion pictures on a large scale.
The dichotomy is interesting because it highlights how filmmaking in America made the complete transition toward being labeled an industry. There was no intent in creating a film other than maximizing revenue at the box office. In this light, the theme of The Grapes of Wrath can be seen to be reactionary to cultural conditions, whereas Steinbeck’s novel can be viewed as instigating cultural realizations.
tagged censorship dadaism hollywood by rale ...on 02-DEC-08
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.5 .B49 1994
Hollywood Censored by Gregory D. Black details how the American film industry was very much impacted by the censorship of the PCA starting in the mid 1930s and moving onward into 1940. The main function of the self-censoring PCA was to ensure that racy political or sexual material was kept off the silver-screen. The primary reason that people should see movies in the eyes of the PCA was not to be enlightened, challenged, or changed but for the sole purpose of being passively entertained.
The PCA became increasingly effective at dealing with movies that had a deeper social or political subtext. Joseph Breen was the head of the PCA which began effectively enforcing its restrictions in 1934. There were a number of restrictions placed on the films. These included restrictions in the depiction of immoral behavior, nakedness, and of course attitudes toward religion and country.
It is seemingly no surprise then, that after five years of Breen leading the PCA, production companies were quite adept at submitting scripts that could get approval and begin making money at the box-office. In the case of The Grapes of Wrath, the harsh critique of the American political and economic system that was so much a part of Steinbeck’s original work had been written out of the script before even reaching Breen for approval. The story “was reduced to one family’s struggle in the face of exception events” (Black, 287).
It is important to realize that as a director, John Ford’s ability to be creative was very much curtailed by the social constraints of the time. Depicting overly simplified themes in accordance with traditional American moral values was a necessity for Ford. This is something that Dempsey fails to fully make note of in his criticism of Ford’s work.
- Chambers, Whittaker "The New Pictures." TIME Magazine. Monday Feb. 12, 1940.
In a famous review of The Grapes of Wrath, then editor of TIME Magazine Whittaker Chambers defiantly raves about the film. A former Communist party member and Soviet spy, Whitaker ended up defecting from the party and becoming one of communism’s most notorious and outspoken opponents. After breaking ties with the Communist party in 1938, Whittaker went on to become an editor of TIME.
It is interesting to note that Whittaker mentions a brief, albeit scathing criticism of Steinbeck’s original book version of The Grapes of Wrath. Whittaker refers to the Pulitzer Prize winning novel as “propaganda” and containing “phony pathos.” Whittaker goes on to qualify that the type of person who is to gain the most enjoyment from observing The Grapes of Wrath is the one who enjoys “seeing a picture for picture’s sake.” Whittaker claims that The Grapes of Wrath could quite possibly be “the best picture ever made from a so-so book.”
Whittaker mentions that the book translates so effectively to film for a couple of reasons: “credit belongs accidentally to censorship and the camera.” The self-censorship of the Production Code Administration is namely what Whitaker is alluding to here. The editorial criticisms of the American economic system made by Steinbeck are also eliminated from the picture. What remains is an authentic tale of a U.S. farming family. “They wander, they suffer, but they endure.”
This article is highly significant because it not only points out the thematic difference that exists between Steinbeck’s book and Ford’s film, but it also provides a historical context. The P.C.A. at least to some extent allowed The Grapes of Wrath to become a film so long as the theme shifted toward a positivist one. There could not simply be a thrashing of the economic conditions in Great Depression America. Instead, it was necessary to instill some sort of hope in the storyline which culminates in the form of an enduring family struggle.
- Michael Dempsey Film Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4, Special Book Issue (Summer, 1975), pp. 2-15 Published by: University of California Press
In his article “John Ford: A Reassessment,” Michael Dempsey asserts that John Ford undoubtedly “put his own world on film,” however this does not mean that he should be given ubiquitous, uncontested and whole-hearted praise. Dempsey’s largest criticism of Ford’s work is that it adheres to a type of religious and “visionary idealism” that lacks artistry and creativity.
Nearly all of Ford’s works are touched upon in his criticism including The Sun Shines Bright, and My Darling Clementine. By way of criticism, Dempsey claims that Ford often has an overly simplified and formulaic understanding of societal economic disparities, race relations and gender issues. This leads to the creation of works that should be observed and considered, but ultimately dismissed as lacking in creativity and pragmatism.
In applying Dempsey’s criticisms to John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath it becomes increasingly important to examine the thematic emphasis of the film. As Sobchank maintains, Ford envisioned the interaction between the Joad family to occur in a timeless environment. The Grapes of Wrath does play upon a very simple theme, but it is also executed purposefully and powerfully by Ford. Any criticism of Ford should take his intent into account.
tagged grapes_of_wrath john_ford by rale ...on 02-DEC-08
- Peter Lisca “The Grapes of Wrath as Fiction.” PMLA, Vol. 72, No. 1 (Mar., 1957), pp. 296-309 Published by: Modern Language Association
Peter Lisca writes in his article “The Grapes of Wrath as Fiction” that Steinbeck artfully integrates the two essential elements of a piece of fiction in such a way that it cannot suffer from the potential criticism of being labeled propaganda. The two elements Lisca aims to highlight are plot and characters. More specifically, Lisca is referring to the creation of the fictional family the Joads and their relationship to the harsh realities of the Great Depression.
Steinbeck is able to indicate quite convincingly that the entirety of his work is representative of circumstances brought on Americans by the economic and political context of life during the Great Depression. He falls short of shameless propaganda however, because he is able to develop his characters in such a way that all of their emotional responses are the byproduct of real social conditions. Further, the portrayal is not one-sided. There are moments of hope throughout the novel, and it even ends on a relative high-note.
It is important to note that there are very few critics of Steinbeck’s work. This being the case, if the theme of The Grapes of Wrath the film were aligned with Steinbeck’s it can only be assumed that it would have been popular and profitable. The film could certainly have been more inclusive of social conditions, and less focused on simply an examination of a solitary family unit. Nevertheless it is vital to recognize that the film did not represent a departure from a propagandistic theme. The thematic difference lies in the completeness of the portrayal of plot and characters.
tagged fiction propaganda steinbeck by rale ...on 02-DEC-08
- Eric W. Carlson College English, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Jan., 1958), pp. 172-175 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
The Christian symbolism found in the Grapes of Wrath is asserted by Eric W. Carlson to be of marginal significance. While Carlson does not deny the presence of loose biblical references throughout the course of the book, they are construed to be of secondary importance and not advancing the core thematic emphasis of the work.
Carlson makes note of the fact that many of the pieces of perceived religious symbolism that recur throughout Steinbeck’s work are of the humanistic and naturalistic origin, and do not have the commonly attributed religious subtexts. The core theme of the novel, which involves its very title “The Grapes of Wrath”, does not have a religious subtext but instead is representative of “the indomitable spirit of man.”
It is extremely important to divorce any overarching notions of Christianity with the theme of the film or the movie. Despite the fact that John Ford’s heritage involves a strong adherence to Irish Catholicism, the thematic significance of both works center at least in part on the prevailing strength of familial relationships and the persistence of the human spirit. Merely because these features are stressed within the orthodoxy of the Christian religion does not insinuate a particular religious significance. The secular and clearly identifiable themes of both the book and film, different as they might be, are far more powerfully developed than any religiously focused themes.
tagged cathalocism grapes_of_wrath john_ford by rale ...on 02-DEC-08
- Maria Elena de las Carreras Kuntz, "The Catholic Vision in Hollywood." Film History, Vol. 14, No. 2, Film and Religion (2002), pp. 121-135 Published by: Indiana University Press
This article interestingly explores the notion that a Catholic religious background played a role in impacting the works of several Hollywood directors including John Ford, Frank Borzage, Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock. This is of particular interest given Ford’s conception of Steinbeck’s storyline.
Ford was born into a large Irish Catholic family and was a first generation American. It is explained that Ford’s biographers vehemently attested to his alignment with the Catholic Church. He went to great lengths to show this aspect of his personality including converting his Protestant wife to Catholicism.
The celebration of community life defined by an obligation to work together especially in trying times is considered to be a “hallmark of Ford’s world.” This is exemplified in a scene in The Grapes of Wrath when the downtrodden farmers dance in an effort to raise their spirits.
The intricate, complex, and often times contradicting nature of the heroes in Ford’s works is cited. Ford’s heroes are not larger than life, but instead have significant character flaws as if imperfect before the eyes of god. The fact that Tom Joad leaves his family at the end of The Grapes of Wrath to become a union organizer is touched upon.
The narrative style often employed by Ford is thought to have biblical implications. Finally, Ford’s general prevailing inclination to empathize with the poor, and with sinners is thought to derive at least to some extent from his religion.
Many of the themes touched upon in this article can be clearly identified in The Grapes of Wrath. John Ford’s thematic emphasis on familial ties and the prevailing of the human spirit over hardships in The Grapes of Wrath can be better understood by an examination of his personality and religious tendencies.
tagged cathalocism grapes_of_wrath john_ford by rale ...on 02-DEC-08
- Barry Salt Film Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 46-57 Published by: University of California Press
Barry Salt’s article details the manner in which stylistic elements changed in American Hollywood film production in the 1940s. The article begins with a description of the new 35 mm camera named the “Cunningham Combat” camera that began production in America in the 1940s. The camera was very lightweight and thus had a “frontline” military functionality. There were other minor changes in the use of lenses, but of particular interest is the manner in which Gregg Toland pioneered a technique known as “deep focus”.
Gregg Toland was hired by John Ford to do the cinematography for The Grapes of Wrath. Toland is most well recognized for perfecting his deep focus technique. A wide angle deep focus lens allowed Toland to achieve particular shots that had an elongated depth of field. In other words, both an up-close facial shot and scenery in the background could be in focus at the same time.
Although Toland eventually went on to perfect his technique in his later and better recognized work Citizen Kane, he did experiment with “a few proto-deep-focus shots” in The Grapes of Wrath. In one particular scene, Tom Joad advances from his family’s abandoned home after it has been seized. The camera moves from Tom’s face to the home in clear focus the entirety of the time.
Prior to obtaining the necessary lens to use the technique of “deep focus,” Toland simulated the effect by creating the appropriate amount of shadow to provide the illusion of focus. The Grapes of Wrath is a film that makes use of shadows and night scenes to create the effect of physical close quarters highlighting the escalating tension of the family. The cinematography of Toland works to create this effect; although he did not receive any critical acclaim for his workmanship, it was the start of a highly recognized movement in cinematography.
- Vivian C. Sobchack "The Grapes of Wrath (1940): Thematic Emphasis Through Visual Style." American Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 5, Special Issue: Film and American Studies (Winter, 1979), pp. 596-615 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Vivan C. Sobchank outlines in her article the consistently overlooked features of John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath. Despite the fact that The Grapes of Wrath is a film that has received much critical acclaim and has been highly visible since it was produced in 1940 Sobchank contends that there are important visual elements that require closer examination to fully realize the film.
Sobchank contends that a close look at the visual stylistic elements of The Grapes of Wrath has been hampered by a couple of factors. Firstly, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was an incredibly well known book which often times overshadowed the creation of the film and left an audience legitimizing the film only in terms of its ability to closely follow the book and not as an unlinked work. Secondly, the overpowering and dramatic thematic aspects of the film made an analysis of its visual elements of significantly lesser importance.
Sobchank emphasizes that when critiquing a film it is of the utmost importance to examine its visual elements. This is what makes the medium unique from other art forms. The visual portrayal of the Joad’s changes the thematic nature of the storyline from book to film. The film becomes less about ties to land and the overarching social conditions that resulted from the Great Depression and more centered on the resilience of one particular family experiencing severe hardship in a discrete time period. It is visualizing the film which allows this very different thematic concentration to arise.
A number of different visual techniques are used by John Ford to accomplish this end. Twenty-five out of the fifty scenes in the film occur inside the Joad truck or an “oppressive interior.” Ford makes use of shadows and darkness during climactic moments of the film. Long shots are used sparingly and close up shots focusing on characters with a contained background are employed. There is a departure from the use of land imagery as well.
Sobchank notes that Ford wanted to make The Grapes of Wrath not for its relevant social and political themes, but because it told a story of a “family going out there and trying to make it in the world.”
Sobchank’s article is highly important in understanding that The Grapes of Wrath was not only a criticism of conditions in America, but a positivist account of the intangible relationship of a human family. In the famous monologue when Henry Fonda proclaims, “wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there” the implications are two-fold. Tom Joad will be there to fight against injustice, but he will also be there to fight for his family. The latter is the thematic and visual concentration of the film making it unique in the social problem genre.