Seroff’s book is another biography of Sergei Prokofiev. Chapter 26 of his book opens up with Prokofiev’s journey to the US in early 1938 and ends a year later when Prokofiev himself conducted the first performance of the cantata Alexander Nevsky, which he adapted from his score for the movie. The chapter is heavily based on primary sources - Prokofiev’s and Eisenstein’s statements about each other, their quotes and letters about their collaboration on Nevsky, but it also includes an article that Prokofiev wrote later on about his journey to the US, which includes his opinions on contemporary American music. Seroff gives a full picture of the character of Prokofiev’s composition, ranging from the “upside-down” means of orchestration, to placement of the microphones and mixing experiments in the studios. He also examines the “exceptionally harmonious relationship that stemmed from Eisenstein’s understanding and knowledge of Prokofiev’s works, and of Prokofiev the man” (217), but also asserts that “the two collaborators, however, did not always agree” (219). Seroff also talks about Prokofiev’s “nationalistic” music, but agrees with Eisenstein that through his “true originality in the Hegelian sense, Prokofiev was both national and international” (218).
Evaluation & Analysis:
Seroff’s discourse on the nature of collaboration between Eisenstein and Prokofiev is exceptional, although Seroff mistakenly dates Prokofiev’s visit to United States to 1939, instead of 1938. Unlike Robinson, Seroff acknowledges the fact that Prokofiev bought home with him some technical knowledge in sound-film production, which he had acquired while visiting film studios in Hollywood. Although they both explore Prokofiev’s guiding principle in using Russian folk music of the 13th century by recomposing it with the instrumental possibilities of the 20th century orchestra, Seroff adds another dimension to his music by convincingly presenting Prokofiev’s score not only as profoundly nationalistic, but also as very international, due to the variety of his musical language that incorporates not only purely national, historical or patriotic themes, but themes of Renaissance Italy and Shakespearean England. This logically implicates that there was also a temporal juxtaposition in Prokofiev’s score on various levels – using contemporary orchestra to recreate the Russian folksongs of the 13th century but also drawing the inspiration from the past, from the heroic deeds of Russia in 19th century (defeating Napoleon), while simultaneously subtly integrating into the score the elements from the Byzantine and European cultures of medieval times. Based on this, the affinity between Eisenstein and Prokofiev has a common ground; one that might be labeled paradoxical synchronization. For Eisenstein, it would be the non-synchronization of sound to visual images (music not as mere accompaniment) and his endorsement of the contrapuntal use of sound, while for Prokofiev it would be a two-layered paradoxical synchronization of a huge variety of musical themes (old & new, national & international).
Carlson, Shear and Carringer. "Citizen Kane." PMLA, Vol. 91, No. 5 (Oct., 1976), pp. 918-920
In his letter to the editor of PALMA, Jerry W. Carlson asserts that Robert L. Carringer's article “Rosebud, Dead or Alive: Narrative and Symbolic Structure in Citizen Kane” fails to account for the important rhetorical function of Rosebud in both the opening and closing shots of the film. Carlson argues that the complexity of the film’s ending is implicit throughout the film’s narrative and while the closing scene may appear excessive and stylized, it reiterates many themes that are set up in the opening sequence. Moreover, Carlson writes that Rosebud’s revelation in the final scene does not only reiterate previously established motifs, but also works in conjunction with beginning shots to provide the film with a sense of closure, without undermining its deliberate ambiguity. When viewed rhetorically Carlson believes Citizen Kane’s ending is much more complex then what Carringer’s analysis suggests.
This article relates to my thesis in that it addresses Citizen Kane’s narrative complexities, which simultaneously provides both closure and ambiguity. Throughout the film we follow Thompson as meets with 5 people who were close to Kane. Throughout each interview Thompson, like the viewer expects to learn more about the newspaper tycoon, but with each succeeding flashback, Kane’s depiction becomes more and more elusive. Thus, Welles subverts viewer expectation by suggesting a conclusion about Kane will be reached through access to the past, preserving both the film and Kane’s ambiguity. Similarly, the beginning and opening sequences frame the film in such a way—relating the snow globe and Kane’s last words in the beginning sequence to the burning sled in the last shot— to suggest closure, yet at the same time ultimately providing an ambiguous image. The narrative complexities behind Citizen Kane are just one of the many reasons it is hailed as on of the greatest films of all time.
Henderson, Brian. “Notes on Set Design and Cinema.” Film Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 17-28
In this article Brian Henderson discusses trends in set design and art direction in both classic and modern filmmaking, using films like Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Rules of the Game (1938), Johnny Gituar (1954), and Citizen Kane (1941) to provide examples. Henderson begins by noting that distinctive creators among set designers and production directors have been recognized as auters in their own right, just as directors, writers, and cameramen before them. He discusses Donald Albrecht’s book Designing Dreams: Modern Architecture in the Movies with respect to his decision to include production still photographs rather then frame enlargements. Henderson asserts that production stills only provide us with a photograph of a set as it were designed and fail to depict a set as it were captured on film. Moreover, he goes on to say that a film set is extremely complex and cannot be captured by a still camera as no single vantage point can contain it in its entirety. Henderson says that such complex sets are often used in conjunction with special effects that create spatial illusions. Often miniature sets are constructed to replace sets, in part or whole, and built to scale or by devices that create composite images such as rear projection, glass shots, traveling mattes, the Shufftan process, or an optical printer. Henderson goes on to talk about the special effects used in Citizen Kane. An interview with Linwood Dunn, who did the optical printing for the film, speaks to the extensive alterations and photographic effect techniques that were utilized during post-production. Henderson also goes on to mention techniques used by Renior, and Hitchcock and concludes by questioning the state of modern set designs with respect to innovative cinematic techniques.
This article pertains to my thesis as it discusses the special effects and post production alterations that were made to Citizen Kane which contribute to the films stylistic innovation. As previously touched upon in Carringer’s article, Welles’s use of deep focus shots is an integral part of the film’s cinematic achievement, and this article details the techniques behind such shots. The interview with Linwood Dunn reveals that special techniques other than advanced hardware were used to achieve the deep-focus shots that Welles desired. For example, the deep focus shot of Susan Alexander’s suicide attempt is actually an in-camera matte shot, and the shot of Kane at the end of Xanadu’s long corridor is actually a composite of three individual photographed elements. By examining the formal cinematic techniques that underlay the films stylistic composition, Kane’s cinematic feat is evermore illuminated.
Carringer, Robert L. "Citizen Kane." Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 9, No. 2, Special Issue: Film IV: Eight Study Guides (Apr., 1975), pp. 32-49
In his essay on Citizen Kane Robert Carringer describes the history behind Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, both of which have been labeled by prominent film critics as the greatest of their kind. While he made about a dozen films, Citizen Kane is regarded as Welles’s one undisputed masterpiece. According to Carringer, Welles’s approach to film was innovative and resembled that of experimental filmmakers as his primary objective was always to find new ways to work within the cinematic medium. Welles often starred in his own films and his narratives typically portray the downfall of a powerful figure. Moreover, Carringer writes of how Welles eschewed the traditional Hollywood style of editing and cinematography in favor of more obtrusive camera and editing devices that draw attention to the medium. Welles’s background in theater earned him a reputation that granted him entry into Hollywood and allowed him to sign an unprecedented contract with RKO that granted him full control over Citizen Kane. Carringer notes that Kane was an extremely collaborative project and that its cinematic achievements are in large part due to the screenwriter, musical score composer, and cinematographer who were some of Hollywood’s best talents. Moreover, Carringer asserts that while Citizen Kane is revolutionary, this is largely due to its fusion of previously established techniques and materials that when combined, produce a film that is completely unique. After Kane, Welles worked on a number of films that achieved little to modest success and thus Citizen Kane remains Welles’s greatest cinematic achievement.
This article pertains to my thesis as it addresses the innovative cinematic techniques used in Citizen Kane, and specifically Welles’s extensive use of deep focus shots. Such shots were rare at the time due to limited technology and their effects proved to be extremely dramatic. These shots require a small camera opening and thus necessitate an enormous amount of light. In order to achieve this Welles had to use special lights, lenses, and superfast film stock. The results however, constituted an innovation in filmmaking as deep focus shots eliminated the reliance upon editing to break down a dramatic space, as was standard practice before Kane. With extreme depth of field, all objects appear in sharp focus and thus allowing the dramatic center to shift within a continuous shot. The deep focus shots used throughout Kane are not only innovative, but also serve many different functions. Consider for example the flashback sequence when Walter Thatcher officially becomes Kane’s financial and personal guardian. The sequence begins with a young Kane playing in the snow. Mrs. Kane is placed in the foreground signing Charles away, while Mr. Thatcher and Charles’s father occupy the middle ground, and Kane remains in the background playing in the snow. Not only is the shot beautifully composed, but the depth of focus allows the viewer to attend to all aspects of the shot, which foreshadows Kane’s loss of innocence. The deep focus shots used throughout Citizen Kane are an aspect of the film that is highly regarded one of the reasons this film often labeled as the greatest of all time.
In this article film critic Bosley Crowther questions the notion that Citizen Kane is “the greatest film ever made”, a declaration made by many after its premiere at the Palace theatre on May 1, 1941. The film, says Bosley was “riding the crest of perhaps the most provocative publicity wave to ever float a motion picture” after Welles now notoriously wrote, produced, directed, and starred in the RKO picture. Hype over the film was further amplified when people heard that the story of Kane bore close resemblance to the life of newspaper publishing tycoon William R. Hearst, who famously tried to prevent the film’s release. Thus, Crowther writes that regardless of what the film showed on screen, the publicity it received before its release influenced audience opinion from the very beginning and dictated peoples perception of the film before it was even seen. Crowther argues that although the film does not outright label Kane as a corrupt and ruthless tycoon, this is the image that most viewers come away with as a result of prior notions about the film. Thus Crowther believes that Kane’s characterization is based entirely upon personal preconceptions and for this reason, Welles is deceiving the public. Despite this inconsistency Crowther praises Citizen Kane and believes that all aspects of the film, technically speaking, are utterly “magnificent”. Crowther makes note of Kane’s cinematic feat and Welles’ ability to use the camera not only to record, but also to provide commentary by presenting visual contrasts and images from rare shots and angles. Performed by an incredible cast and accompanied by a powerful musical score from Bernard Herrmann, Kane is a true cinematic accomplishment. Yet, Crowther believes that Welles’s novice may have worked against him, citing the film’s ambiguous ending as evidence, and concludes that while Citizen Kane is an enviable film on many accounts, it is not ‘truly great’.
This article relates to my thesis because it is one of the first to explore the some alternative reasons behind Citizen Kane’s label as ‘one of the greatest films of all time’ while at the same time systematically refuting that notion. Interestingly enough Crowther in many ways, approaches his investigation of Kane’s cinematic status from a psychological standpoint. Traditionally the film is venerated for is narrative and technical cinematic accomplishments, which are cited as the reasons behind its acclaimed status. While Crowther acknowledges these accomplishments, he also addresses the controversy surrounding the film and publicity leading up to its release, and maintains that Kane’s status is contingent upon one’s own personal preconceptions of the film. While Crowther makes some valid points, the fact that Citizen Kane is still hailed today as one of, if not, the greatest films of all time proves that its cinematic accomplishments outweigh the films initial hype and any prior notions. Moreover, this article was written just 3 days after the films premiere and refers to the inital hype surrounding the film citing that as one reason to dismiss Kane as ‘truly great’. Yet we know now that the film was not a blockbuster and its popularity actually waned at first, thus the fact that it still carries an enormous legacy makes its label as one of the greatest motion pictures of all time even more valid.
tagged cinema_studies citizen_kane hollywood by grosscm ...on 03-DEC-08
Monahan, Mark. "Music that makes a man a killer" The Daily Telegraph 1 July 2006. 1 December 2008.
In this article Mark Monahan pays homage to Bernard Herrmann, without whose contributions Monahan feels cinema would be unimaginable. Born in New York to Russian Jewish Immigrants, Herrmann studied at NYU and made his conducting debut on Broadway at only 20 years old. In 1934 he began composing and conducting for CBS radio where he met Orson Welles who helped launch his career as a musical score artist in 1941 with Citizen Kane. Hermann has a wide range of film credits including The Magnificent Ambersons, Cape Fear, Jason and the Argonauts. After working on Kane, Herrmann worked on Hangover Square (1941), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and On Dangerous Ground (1952), before teaming up with Alfred Hitchcock, creating what Monahan calls “one of the most fruitful collaborations in the history of cinema”. One of Herrmann’s most famous musical scores is the one he created for Psycho, where employed a strings-only orchestra and solidified his legacy with the powerful and unforgettable musical shrieks of the shower scene. In 1966 Herrmann and Hitchcock parted ways after a disagreeing over the musical score for Hitchock’s next project, and their collaboration ended. After that Herrmann worked in both the French and American new waves, and ended his career in 1976 with Martin Scorsase’s Taxi Driver (1976).
The musical score is an integral part of any film. Just as editing guides the viewer’s attention, the musical score sets the tone of a scene or sequence and gives the audience privileged access to the narrative based on the musical foreshadowing. In this article Monahan recognizes the power and brilliance behind Herrmann’s scores, as they not only complement the action but also are the action, and allow the viewer entry and insight into the inner lives of the characters. Herrmann’s scores permeate characters psyches and surroundings, and as Monahan points out, when combined with Kane’s images, the effect is nothing short of brilliant. The opening scene, which Monahan discusses, is perhaps where Herrmann’s score is most powerful, as it works in conjunction with Welles’s visuals and sets up the film’s themes of Rosebud (and loss of innocence) and ambition (Kane’s ultimate downfall). Herrmann uses these concepts and creates leitmotifs, which are heard throughout the film. In the opening sequence for example, as the camera ascends upon Xanadu, Kane’s estate, Herrmann uses low brass and woodwind to create an effect that is both eerie and ominous, giving insight into the private life behind Kane’s sacred fortress and setting up the film’s musical theme. Herrmann’s powerful score is one of the most psychologically defining aspects of the film and constitutes a powerful and lends support to its claim as one of the greatest films of all time.
Street, Sarah. Citizen Kane. History Today 1996 Mar; 46 (3): 48-52.
In this article Sarah Street discusses Citizen Kane with respect to its iconic status, making note of the importance of Welles’ politics in understanding both its contemporary context, as well as publisher William R. Hearst’s reaction against the film. Street highlights the similarities between Hearst and Kane, and feels that Welles uses Kane to criticize Hearst, citing Welles’s opposing political ideology as evidence. Street makes note of film’s role in the late 1930s which was beginning to exert a great deal of influence on public opinion, and suggests that Welles uses Citizen Kane to make a larger statement about the status of newspapers and journalism of the time. Despite the Hearst controversy surrounding the film, the author goes on to acknowledge Kane’s cinematic achievements, many of which were achieved through the use of special effects. Street concludes her article by acknowledging Welles as the clear visionary behind Kane, and notes that the film uncovers “universal truths” which will make its legacy long lasting.
This article relates to my thesis in that it demonstrates the influence and impact of Citizen Kane and to a larger extent the power of film in general. Despite the political and social controversy surrounding the film and Hearst’s initial attempts to stop its release, Citizen Kane’s legacy proves that a great film will always be recognized and acknowledged as a great film. Moreover, Street recognizes Kane’s cinematic achievements and cites the films formal and stylistic cinematic aspects as reason behind the film’s venerable status, rather then its narrative that may or may not allude the life of Hearst.
- 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.
Citation: LaSalle, Mick. Complicated Women : Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. Boston: Saint Martin's Griffin, 2001. 1-1.
This book talks about the negative impact that the production code had on the portrayal of women in cinema. The author describes a time before the code when women could enjoy being women without having to apologize for it. She describes that women were allowed to “have fun”, “take on lovers and have children out of wedlock”. The introduction explains that part of the reason the code was implemented was to stop women from enjoying these freedoms onscreen and put them back in their place, the kitchen.
This section relates heavily to the character of Rio, played by Jane Russell in The Outlaw. Before the code, there would have been little to no qualms about her showing as much skin and cleavage. However, due to the Hays code, which aimed at making movies more moral, her character was stifled. Some of the controversy over the questionable integrity of the film was partly due to the fact that Jane Russell was a female actress attempting to express her female sexuality in a time where it was not appreciated.
Call#: Van Pelt Library E184.O6 P26 1999
Palumbo-Liu argues, in the chapter entitled “Rescripting the Imaginary,” that Bitter Tea failed to be profitable or popular for reasons more complex than simply the inclusion of the controversial theme of interracial love. Palumbo-Liu holds that the film’s problems were much more directly tied into the structure of the story itself. He carefully deconstructs significant scenes and characters from the movie to demonstrate that the film’s lack of success can be attributed to its inability “to establish a stable identificatory position.” In other words, Capra confused audiences by creating too many intertwined narrative points, without laying a foundation of convention by which to ground the plot. Palumbo-Liu notes that audiences of the 1930s were fascinated by the idea of a “liaison” between East and West. The 30s were a time of growing awareness of China’s role as a nation, what with the Open Door policy of the late 19th century, the Northern Expedition in the1920’s, and the build up to the 1937 Sino-Japanese war. Audiences were looking for films that would decisively articulate a satisfying “progressive” statement about reconciling the tensions between Asia and America, but Capra provided no such message in Bitter Tea.
Looking at the film in this light, it is clear how Bitter Tea might have been considered unsatisfying by audiences of the time. Though the film seems to offer a moralistic critique through its contentious subject matter, it is unclear exactly what kind of statement Capra is attempting to make. In the film, the difference between racial and national identity becomes blurred and confused, a critical assessment of Western imperialism raises complicated moral questions that muddy the simple trajectory of the love story trope, and the characters themselves seem to subvert their expected roles. These complicating factors could potentially create a more intricately conceived story, but Capra never develops any one narrative point well enough for it to be effective. All of these reasons may have prevented Bitter Tea from meeting the criteria of either a popular box-office melodrama or a politically-charged “arty” film.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.C36 A3 2004
This book compiles the various interviews Frank Capra gave during the years spanning his long career in Hollywood. In one late interview, given in 1978, Capra speaks about his unique artistic vision, specifically focusing on how he views his role as a filmmaker in relationship to his audience. In response to a question about the lack of success of Bitter Tea relative to his other films, Capra explains that the film was “ahead of its time”, and that he believes it would be better appreciated in the 70s both for its thematic content and its stylistic qualities because contemporary audiences have been “conditioned” to accept such material. He also expounds on the inspiration for Bitter Tea, which demonstrates a marked departure in motive from Capra’s earlier comedy-dramas. Capra explains that these differences reflected a desire on his part to be taken seriously as a director and be nominated for an academy award. He explained that he had believed the Motion Picture Academy only ever voted for “arty crap,” and so he chose Bitter Tea, originally a novel written by Grace Zaring Stone, precisely because he thought the controversial subject material would legitimize the film as more worthy of a nomination.
This interview provides significant insight into Bitter Tea for several reasons. First of all, it demonstrates that the film intentionally and self-consciously deviated from the types of films that popularized Capra’s directorial work to begin with. The controversy at the heart of the film, rather than being antithetical to Hollywood style, was actually an intentional means of sensationalizing and authenticating the film as more serious or “arty.” Capra also alludes to the visual elements of Bitter Tea that are unlike those in any of the other films. The “otherworldly” gauzy sheen of the film is an effect Capra created by putting a silk stocking over the lens of the camera. Capra admits to being derisive of elaborate or stylized camera shooting or cinematography, but that he felt impelled to create a more artistic sheen to this film because of its subject matter. Capra’s inauthentic attempt at creating a film according to artistic criteria that were not his own may have contributed to Bitter Tea’s lack of success.
tagged capra hollywood the_bitter_tea_of_general_yen by zok ...on 01-DEC-08
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.M57 C38 2005
Susan Courtney’s third chapter, “Coming to Terms with the Production Code," examines how miscegenation was regarded by censors during the pre-code years and attempts to trace the exact origins of the “miscegenation clause” included in the Production Code of 1930. Courtney notes that the clause’s exact wording -- “Miscegenation (sex relationships between white and black races) is forbidden” – originally appeared in the “Don’ts and Be Carefuls” of 1927, and remained relatively un-amended until the code as a whole was gradually abandoned in the 1950s. Courtney posits that there was no single source that led to the inclusion of the miscegenation clause (in other words, there was no specific individual or demographic that found miscegenation particularly objectionable); rather, the clause emerged out of consultations conducted by the Hays Office with local or state censor boards across the country, suggesting a more widespread cultural aversion to the inclusion of interracial mixing in film.
In regards to Bitter Tea, this book supplies a significant contextual understanding of how the interracial themes pivotal to the film’s plot would have been received by censors and audiences alike. Courtney notes that the actual enforcement of the miscegenation clause was very unclear, explaining how a film like Bitter Tea could have easily passed muster with American censors. Because the miscegenation clause only makes mention of “blacks and whites," films involving Asian-American interactions were to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Several movies, including “Congai” and “Shanghai Gesture", were never produced because of the inclusion of Asian-American miscegenation, whereas other films seemed to be judged according to a qualified version of the clause that would permit such relations so long as their interactions were limited to “fantasies and identities."
Santaolalla, Isabel C. "East is East, and West is West? Otherness in Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen." Literature Film Quarterly, 1998.
Santaolalla’s article provides a more symbolic framework for Bitter Tea, suggesting that the story is an allegory for Megan’s descent into an unconscious realm of anarchical desire that she has repressed because of her submission to a strict set of patriarchal Judeo-Christian beliefs. This, Santaolalla’s postulates, is indicated by the theme of dreaming and fantasy, which is recurrent throughout the movie. The second half of the movie takes place in Yen’s summer garden house, which is sequestered way from the outside world, symbolizing a return to a primal, edenic state separate from “reality.” After Megan’s kidnapping into Yen’s world, Shanghai papers announce that she has died. Santaolalla suggests that this alludes to a symbolic death and transformation of Megan's character. Yen forces her to reconsider her role as a woman, as a Westerner and as a Christian missionary, all key elements that are central to her sense of identity. In the end, Megan decides she wants to willingly “give herself” to Yen, so she removes her puritanical garments in place for Yen’s concubine’s sensual and decadent jewels and clothing. In this literal sense, she undergoes a transformation.
This approach to Biter Tea is significant because it delves beyond a superficial understanding of the film as a mere melodrama, and attempts to track the development of the narrative on a psychological level. What is particularly curious about this reading is that, though Megan does undergo a transformation of sorts, the conversion of her character is never carried out satisfactorily. She never truly “gives herself” to Yen, because he kills himself so that their love can never be consummated, thus abruptly diminishing what the movie had been building up to from the very beginning. Perhaps this unsatisfying narrative accounts for the movie's failure to attract audiences.
Benshoff, Harry M and Griffin, Sean. America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.
In chapter six of America on Film, Benshoff and Griffin provide commentary on the representation of Asians in Hollywood films during the silent film era and the “classical” 1930s Hollywood films. The chapter suggests that immigration legislation, like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1924, were indicative of pervasive Western prejudices and fears that were then perpetuated in popular film. Asians in movies were almost never represented as Asian-Americans but rather, as exoticized “orientals” living in exaggeratedly aestheticized foreign landscapes. Also, the roles of Asians in most films were filled by Western actors in “yellowface,” as was the case with General Yen’s character in Bitter Tea. The chapter also discusses at length two well-known Asian characters of early film history – Charlie Chan and Fu Man Chu. Both are characters of detective-genre film played by white actors, and both embody what is known as the “inscrutable Oriental” stereotype. Charlie Chan is akin to the classical Holmesian detective, but is more comical and often spews “old Chinese wisdom.” Fu Man Chu, similar to Chan in many regards, is an evil genius who exacts obscure and ghastly forms of “Chinese” torture on his unfortunate victims.
This chapter provided contextual information that is important to understanding the kinds of preconceptions viewers of the 1930s might have had about Chinese, or more generally Asian, culture. Was General Yen a character unique to film at the time of Bitter Tea’s release? He’s seems not to have been. In fact, his character fairly well suits the “inscrutable Oriental” stereotype discussed by Benshoff and Griffin, in that he is both shrewdly perceptive and intelligent, and at the same time, subtly menacing (as demonstrated by his brutally pragmatic indifference about executing his prisoners during times of economic crisis and famine). Yen, like Chan, says several cryptic “fortune-cookie” type maxims throughout the film. Even Mah-Li’s character, the wily concubine, seems to fit the description of another stereotyped character mentioned in the chapter called the Dragon Lady, a seductive and treacherous female spy who fools men with her sexual wiles.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 C268
Willis’s account of Bitter Tea, “Adaptation East and West," is partially a review and partially an analysis. Part of the critique is a comparison between Capra’s cinematic rendering of the plot and the original narrative found in Grace Zaring Stone’s novel of the same name. He notes how the novel, unlike the movie, was more principally a psychic journey into Megan Davis’ development as a character who “rejects the easy options in life” and seeks something that is personally meaningful enough to be worth fighting for. The Megan Davis of the movie, Willis says, is two-dimensional and so “bland and uncorrupt she seems to come from another planet” (90). Willis argues that this corruption of the characters – not just Megan’s, but Yen’s, and many of the minor characters as well – resulted in a movie that made no logical sense, because the players of the story were never developed enough to be clear in their motives. Other major changes from the original source include the fact that the Yen of the novel never kills himself and is, in the text, much less of an attractive figure (there are no romantic dream sequences as there are in the movie).
Willis’s analysis of Bitter Tea is important because it asks the question: why change the plot of a successful, best-selling novel? The alterations Capra made do not seem to have served the purpose of facilitating the transition of the narrative from text to screen. Perhaps Capra felt the novel’s stronger and more negative examination of the hypocrisy of Christian missionary work in China was too controversial for Hollywood, and didn’t adapt as easily into the more accessible format of a love story. This, in turn, raises the interesting point of why controversy in books is considered generally more acceptable than controversy on the screen. Did the changes Capra make to Bitter Tea cheapen the integrity of the story? Would the movie have proved more of a success if he had executed a more direct adaptation of Stone’s novel, as Willis seems to suggest? Or does the movie have its own redeemable qualities that were simply not appreciated at the time of its release?
Call#: Penn Library Web -
In chapter three, “The Threat of Captivity,” Marchetti defines a particular narrative pattern, called the “captivity narrative," that recurs throughout the myths and stories of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The captivity narrative is a literary tool by which groups of people are able to concretize a sense of collective identity, clearly delineated from the forbidding strangeness of other “foreign” cultures. In the classic captivity narrative, a pure and naïve woman is taken captive by an alien, and oftentimes inferior, culture. There is often the threat of rape or death, and ultimately, the story ends in either sacrifice or salvation. These recurring literary patterns, Marchetti argues, are easily identified in modern Hollywood movies as well.
The “captivity narrative” certainly applies to Bitter Tea in many obvious ways. Megan Davis’s character, engaged to a Christian missionary, fits the ingénue prototype perfectly, and Yen, the ruthless Chinese general who holds her against her will, clearly personifies a kind of threatening barbarism. However, Bitter Tea plays out in a way that subverts the basic framework of the captivity narrative. In one scene of the movie, Megan dreams about a demonic and exaggeratedly “orientalized” Yen looming over her. A valiant masked man, who is revealed to be Yen as well, rescues Megan from her aggressor. In a fit of passion, she kisses her rescuer. This seems to indicate that, though Yen embodies the role of a demonized “other”, he is also able to provide some kind of salvation for Megan, which she finds seductively attractive. In this sense, their roles are reversed. Megan, the missionary, who is meant to redeem the barbaric Yen, becomes the redeemed rather than the redeemer. As a function of being the foreign foil to Megan, Yen is able to liberate her from the racism and prejudiced denials of pleasure inherent in her religious beliefs. Though the story ultimately rejects the racism associated with the traditional captivity narrative, it is understandable why Chinese censors may have misinterpreted the intent of the film as one aimed to offend.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.62 .D65 1999
In Pre-Code Hollywood, Doherty reviews the production of film during the years preceding the rigorous enforcement of the Production Code in the 1930s. Chapter ten focuses specifically on the portrayal of foreign or racial minorities, specifically with regard to those topics that relate to the touchy subject of racial mixing, or miscegenation. In one particularly relevant subsection of the chapter, Doherty analyzes pre-Code Orientalism in film, and the exotic allure surrounding the mysterious “otherness” of countries like China. The chapter also gives a detailed account of the way the film was received by internal censors at the Studio Relations Committee, a branch of the MPPDA. Interestingly, censors were less preoccupied with the suggestion of inter-racial romance than they were with the seemingly negative portrayal of Chinese culture in Capra’s film. Ultimately, however, censors actually supported the film’s alleged purpose. Doherty appends to the chapter a letter written by John Wilson (of the SRC) to Will Hays (head of the MPPDA) in defense of the film’s seemingly racist elements, in which Wilson assures Hays that “the whole purpose of the story is the convincing refutation of the foreign opinion of the Chinese characters, and for that reason it is essential that the seeming derogatory remarks be used in the first part of the story.”
This chapter sheds light on the political climate of film-production around the time that Capra was making Bitter Tea. It was interesting to learn that Capra’s film was one of many films of the 1930’s that demonstrate a Western ambivalence towards Eastern culture, such as The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and The Hatchet Man (1932). These mixed feelings about the East are indeed mirrored by the simultaneous attraction and repulsion experienced by the white missionary character, Megan Davis, towards the attractive and mysterious General Yen. Because of a precedence for this theme in films, it seems unlikely that Bitter Tea’s lack of success was wholly a result of audiences being unexposed to depictions of Eastern cultures in movies, unless the film somehow deviated in a significant way from these other orientalist films.
Kerry Segrave's book Film Piracy in the Motion Picture Industry dedicates its entirety to my topic. Segrave's research though, extends significantly farther back into the history of film than I will be including in my analysis. She provides a wide berth of information about past and present domestic film issues as well as specific international ones. Chapters 6, "Domestic Piracy, 1975-2001," and 7, "Foreign Piracy, 1975 to 2001," are laden with the utmost pertinent material for my research. In these two chapters, Segrave goes into exquisite detail, not only providing an enormity of statistics, but also documenting vast amounts of specific legal action taken to prevent film piracy over sixteen years. Segrave's in depth method of relaying information allows me to get more than just a surface level understanding of Hollywood's constant struggle concerning film piracy. Her attention to detail regarding legislative measures and the strategic moves made by Hollywood to suppress piracy will add substantial support to my own analysis.
Shujen Wang, the author of this aritcle, analyzes the complexity of protecting property in a technologically advancing society. By recognizing the film industry's universal impact, she aims to situate ideas of piracy and copyright in "the larger contexts of power, technology, and the networking logic of globalization. The reader is provided with a history of important legislation that has led the industry to its current situation, noting the DMCA as important national legislation and TRIPS as a global one. Acknowledging that the copyright industries continue to be a leading force in the U.S. economy, she summarizes reports from the International Intellectual Property Alliance, which break down where copyright markets receive revenue and what percentages are lost to piracy. The article highlights the importance of overseas markets and how the MPAA has adjusted to accommodate these markets.
Another section emphasizes that technology and piracy are inextricably linked to power and control. Each country has devised its own standards for copyright protection, but in a world based on global information economy, nations must work together to protect property. While it is up to each country to enforce copyright laws, members of the World Trade Organization must accommodate broader terms of agreement. The WTO agreement states that that "all state laws of its member countries must conform to the TRIPS agreement by 2006." Such agreements are deemed necessary because of the digital advancements that have complicated anti-piracy efforts. The next section of the article provides a background of film piracy dating back to the 1970s. Back then, finding pirates was simpler when such copies were tangible, but in this digitally advanced realm, "information is stored digitally, content is liberated form the medium and all that flows to the recipient is the information." Furthermore, the speed at which information is transferred increases while the cost to reproduce it decreases--ultimately giving pirates an advantage. She argues that copyright protection is the only way to preserve our global information economy.
Contextualizing copyright and piracy in a global context reveals the immense significance digital technologies have in global trade. This article outlines the history of the film industry and the ways in which it has had to alter to sustain economically.
The Internet is forcing the movie industry to adapt its current business model in order to keep up with the online trend. With the growing popularity of online movie download sites, Hollywood will have to figure out a way to compete. This article featured in The Economist argues that if the film industry embraces the Internet they will profit considerably more than if they were to fight it. One of the most advanced Internet distribution sites is ZML.com, which offers over a thousand films for download to various devices at low costs and good quality. Unfortunately for Hollywood, this website is a pirate site. Piracy and the increased accessibility pirates have to online material discourages the film industry from making titles accessible on the web. While film industry has always been slow to accept new technologies, failure to do so with the Internet could result in damaging effects. The article points out that studios such as Paramount and Disney were opposed to the DVD at its inception, primarily because they would rather keep their stringent business model than adapt to a new one. Still, some studios are embracing the Internet and its potential to spur new revenue.
While some studios have helped to create legal online rental services, they have reaped little success. The author suggests that download-to-buy options would be more profitable and could show the movie industry the capabilities of the Internet. In addition, the current sites are not particularly enticing for users because the movies offered are second-rate--with very few blockbusters or major hits available. The article goes on to explain the reasons for Hollywood's reluctance to go online. Most notably, the DVD industry is so popular that they fear risking such a large source of revenue. In reality, the industry could profit by increasing the amount of titles available through an infinite online database rather than through limited shelf space in DVD rental stores. Regardless, there exists technological obstacles that are difficult to combat. For example, download times can reach up to an hour and most people would rather watch movies on their televisions than on their computers. Lastly, the "lack of common standards" prevents a uniform system for online distributors. Despite these challenges, the article points out the potential remedies and the various ways the industry is currently taking steps towards overcoming these difficulties.
Although wary of what the Internet may bring, the industry recognizes its potential to reach the masses. Studios spend a significant percentage on online marketing because it is so successful and provides beneficial feedback. By targeting substantial groups interested in specific subjects, the industry can use this response to shape their films. The most promising invention described is the flash-memory enabled kiosk, which "overcomes many of the weaknesses of the present model and the current deficencies of the Internet," says Mr. Lieberfarb, who is on the board of MOD Systems.This article directly aids my paper through its summarization of the multitude of adaptations and inventions that film industry has had to make in such a digital world. It is apparent that the movie industry must adapt if it does not want to falter in this digitally advancing society.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U6 D36 2005
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U6 D36 2005
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U6 G585 2005
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U6 G585 2005
RKO and the Minors: Universal, Columbia and United Artists.
The second part goes on to cover ‘The Classic Studio Era 1931-51' when the studios were at their apogee producing hundreds of films every year before the threat of declining audiences (because of urbanisation and competition from TV etc). Although the ranking was virtually the same (except that Gomery couples Disney with its distributor RKO and to the minors, and he adds the B-film factories like Republic and Mongram [noted for churning out westerns and serials etc]), this period also saw the sorry demise of RKO- Radio, destroyed by the mismanagement and regrettable taste of the reclusive Howard Hughes who considered the studio to be his play toy.
The last section covers ‘The Modern Hollywood Studio System' and how the studios were taken over by big business including Rupert Murdoch (Twentieth Century Fox) and huge multi-media conglomerates such as Time Warner AOL (Warner Bros) - these businesses even embracing major TV networks. The ranking now being:
Twentieth Century Fox
Columbia and Sony Pictures
There are also sections on the Hays Office and the Academy and unions and agents and a chapter on the rise of Lew Wasserman the Hollywood agent who took Universal into the major league of studios and reinvented the studio system.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U65 W29 2001
In the chapter “Mr. Movies—Cecil B. Demille and Filmmaking in Hollywood’s Golden Age,” the author chronicles Cecil B. Demille’s professional and personal life in Hollywood from 1913 until his death in 1959. DeMille came to Hollywood in 1913 when he could no longer make money working for stage productions. Early on, DeMille revealed he was a stickler for detail. This proved successful, as the majority of the films he turned out were popular. As his career progressed, DeMille had a clear progression of styles, from sex comedies in the 1920s to overblown epics with seven figure budgets in the 1940s. Following his financial success (he made more in a week than most people made in a year), DeMille stayed true to stereotype—he bought a fancy car, a fancy house as well as a weekend home with a pool and the iron gates from the set of The King of Kongs.
The immediate connection to the film The Day of the Locust in this chapter is the mention of the film The Buccaneer starring Anthony Quinn. This is the film whose premiere immediately preceded the riot at the end of the film. However, as the chapter goes on to describe the productions and life of Cecil B. DeMille, more similarities to The Day of the Locust appear. The big budget epics that DeMille was known for directly coincide with the production that appears in the film. It seems almost arbitrary when Tod is asked, “What do you know about Waterloo?” and this fascination with epic historical recreations coincides with those that brought DeMille success. Even the autocratic style with which the director in the film shouts at the cast of the film matches the reported personality of DeMille. Further, DeMille’s excesses–a large, elaborate house with a pool as well as fancy cars and dress—directly tie to those of Claude Estee in the film. However, the chapter conveys a depth to DeMille’s life that clearly differentiates him from Estee. While Estee is a caricature designed to illustrate the alleged emptiness that pervades even the lives of the successful in Hollywood, DeMille lived a rich life that included interests and successes distinct from the film world.
Cherneff, Jill BR. " Dreams Are Made like This: Hortense Powdermaker and the Hollywood Film Industry." Journal of Anthropological Research. Vol. 47, No. 4 (Winter 1991), pp.429-440. JSTOR. 9 Apr. 2008. <http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/3630352&Search=yes&term=dreams&term=hollywood&item=5&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=3533&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dhollywood%2Bdreams;gw%3Djtx;prq%3Djeepers%2Bcreepers;Search%3DSearch;hp%3D25>.
This article largely chronicles and responds to Hortense Powdermaker’s study of Hollywood culture in the late 1940s. In the book, she wrote following her study, Powdermaker highlights the struggle between art and business and Hollywood and suggests the social underpinnings of Hollywood culture determine what types of films are made. Powdermaker’s original contention is that the Hollywood film has had an impact on human behavior as dramatic as that of the wheel’s invention. Powdermaker observed that the power of movies lies in it’s depiction of apparent reality—that what appears on the screen looks real and thus must accompany real values and ideas to be absorbed. The remainder of the article focuses less on Powdermaker’s conclusions and research in order to focus on analyzing the research itself. The author discusses the challenges facing Powdermaker in reporting on a population unlike those most anthropologists focus on. Further, the author notices the absence of women in important roles behind the lens in Powdermaker’s research and contextualizes this historically as well as socially.
On a superficial level, it is interesting how Powdermaker’s journey in conducting her research mirrors that of Tod in the film The Day of the Locust. Both leave a successful endeavor at Yale and go to Hollywood for a sociological investigation of sorts—Powdermaker an unbiased anthropological study and Tod an emotional snapshot of Hollywood’s locusts. Some of Powdermaker’s research sheds light on the images of the industry contained in the film, such as the hierarchy of production and the social constructs behind the films.
Chris Morris writes this article in August 2001, just as the popularity of the relatively new home video format DVD was starting to gain popularity. Movie titles were released incrementally in this new all-digital format.
Morris writes that the popularity of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane has created a high demand for the film to be released to the new DVD video format. Warner Home had been working on a 60th anniversary release and it was planned for the 25 of September in that same year. This new release was widely expected to be visually and sonically ungraded from the previous releases to home video. Morris writes that Warner, in their attempts to rerelease Citizen Kane, had originally not been able to find a suitable quality source film. RKO’s original camera negatives had been burned in a 1980 vault fire and as a result had also hampered past efforts a restoration. The 1991 VHS release had featured the copy owned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, however this print had dirt and scratches on it, among other defects. Morris reports, however, that after patient and careful searching, Warner had found a new nitrate fine-grain print in a European archive and that this copy has offered better picture quality and served as an improved audio source. The improved audio quality is very important because the original score had a very high dynamic range. He also reports that the new DVD release would include an interview with Roger Ebert, a 1941 newsreel about the film’s premiere, and the documentary film of the Hearst-Welles conflict, The Battle Over Citizen Kane.
One might think that just like a personal computer user, large Hollywood movie studios would have countless backup copies of their master reels. This seems not to be the case. A fire at a single film vault destroyed RKO’s only master copy. Orson Welles was the recipient of the actual production negatives and his copy was also lost in a fiery accident in the 1970s. By re-mastering and fully digitizing the remaining high quality prints, the data can be stored in numerous locations very inexpensively and very safely. As we learned in class, nitrate has a propensity to catch on fire and is very dangerous in that respect. We also learned in class that Hollywood is usually very slow to adopt new media formats. DVD hit store shelves in mid-1997 yet this movie was released in late 2001, almost 4 years later. The studios might have an excuse in this case – the long and lucky search for a suitable master copy.
This article by a LA Times correspondent, written on May 9, 1941, documents the west coast premiere of Orson Welles’s famous film Citizen Kane. Kendall reports that the premiere of Citizen Kane is held at the famous El Capitan Theater, a Hollywood landmark stage theater. The author describes a nostalgic feeling of “the old days” of Hollywood amid spot lights which pierced the sky in front of thousands of fans gathered – much in today’s fashion – to see their favorite stars. The glitz and glamour seems to add to Welles’s ego as he walks down the red carpet, his entrance timed. The crowds make even more noise for Barrymore as he walks into the theater. When stopped for questioning on the red carpet, Welles makes only one remark – about his gratefulness to George Schaefer, the president of RIO-Radio Pictures. “If it had not been for George J. Schaefer there would not be a Citizen Kane.” Outside the theater, the star-struck crowd for the premiere is so large that RKO had to erect temporary bleachers. The article then extensively lists the famous attendees, including Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope. Kendall also includes a photograph of the “stellar foursome” including John Barrymore, Dolores Del Rio, Orson Welles, and Dorothy Comingore.
This article is a fantastic first hand account of the media and popular frenzy surrounding the grand release of RKO’s Citizen Kane. The movie premiered at the famous El Capitan Theater and was the first movie to be shown at that location. The theater remains a landmark to this day on the Hollywood strip. This article clearly shows that despite Hearst’s best efforts to suppress the film’s release, these attempts only furthered to publicize the movie and create even more attention for the premiere. Hearst did succeed in limiting the films success and it wasn’t for many years that interest in the film was revived. This article also, interestingly enough, reveals that as early as 1941, Hollywood felt a sense of nostalgia for the good-old-days of past. It is interesting to see these feelings manifest at such an early date, especially because today we consider Hollywood’s Golden Age to encompass the 1920s through the late 1950s.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U65 H67 2001]
Focus is mainly on which films were popular from 1945-1949 and analyzes the themes expressed
within these movies. However, undercurrents of many of the themes in "The Philadelphia Story"
are covered within Gant's chapters:
Ch. Two: Re-invigorating the nation: popular films and American national identity
"The myth of classlessness"-- gives many examples from "The Best Years of
our Lives" that veterans who came home received issues of class to be resolved
which they quickly discovered were not; America was still perceived to be quite classist
"Modernizing the American hero"
"The Absent Father"
"Stars and Performance"
Churchill, Douglas. "ORSON WELLES SCARES HOLLYWOOD :His 'Citizen Kane' Draws the Fire of W.R. Hearst, and Thereby Hangs a Tale -- the Hays Censors Ride Again." New York Times 19 Jan. 1941. ProQuest. 9 Apr. 2008
This is an original article published in the heat of the controversy over the release of Citizen Kane when it is still uncertain what action William Randolph Hearst will take against Welles, RKO, and even Hollywood as an institution if the film was released. The article outlines the development in the first ten days of the controversy, and at that time, it was entirely uncertain whether or not Welles’ film would reach an audience.
According to the article, at this point William Randolph Hearst had threatened all of Hollywood with some “embarrassing publicity” and had already launched several private investigations into some of the major individuals responsible for the film, including Welles and the head of RKO. Hearst also mandated that all of his Hearst publications delete any and all mention of RKO and its product from its columns as a result of the controversy. Furthermore, as the result of Hearst’s threats against RKO and those that supported the film’s release, it is suggested in this article that some major players in Hollywood were considering turning against the film out of fear of retribution. This would pose further problems to RKO due to needed cooperation between studios in order to survive in Hollywood, claims the article.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN/1993.5/U65/H5]
Higham, Charles, and Joel Greenberg. Hollywood in the Forties. New York: Tantivy, 1968.
As Higham and Greenberg phrase it, Hollywood films produced in the 1940s were a "world of
their own" (11). This book describes in detail the themes that grabbed hold of many
of the best-remembered plots of the 1940s screen. The introduction preceding these chapters
gives an explanation of how the film industry of the 1930s set the scene for this period. For
example, page 68 contains a passage that details how the leftist ideology and themes, resultant
from the Great Depression, were expressed in 1930s films; this left the 1940s to picked up
where the 1920s left off, celebrating decadence and the enjoyments of life.
A brief outline of the studio system and star system follows. This period
of American film would prove to be quite successful, boasting some of the funniest, wittiest,
and memorable films in the American cinematic canon. Something interesting to note in regard
to this book is the year it was published: 1968. At this time the Hollywood culture that
had produced films like "The Philadelphia Story" was beginning to get scoffed at or looked
down on in comparison to more artistic or avant-garde films.
"The Philadelphia Story" is mentioned by title here and the authors note that "today [the film]
feels empty" (162); the film which had been celebrated in its time for being
entertaining and snappy loses some of its original appeal in the onslaught of the
French New Wave and other more artistically oriented film movements. Chapters on "Problem and
Sociological Films", "War Propaganda", and "Comedy" are all of interest here in order to
understand how movies like "The Philadelphia Story", in some ways an archetypal 1940s film, was perceived
in the late 1960s-- only a decade after "High Society" was released.
an in-depth look at the genres that overwhelmed it for much of the twentieth-century.
An understanding of the many factors that drove films to be centered
on the topics that they were then lends to a more comprehensive picture of what
the film industry and American culture were during the studio period. Schatz
divides his book into two main parts: a theoretical look at genre film-making followed
by case studies of six dominant genres characteristic of the Hollywood studio system.
The genre that Schatz explores that is most relevant to "The Philadelphia Story" is
the one on The Screwball Comedy (Chapter 6, p. 150-185). Schatz outlines the general
convention of the screwball comedy, often characterized by portrayals of the American
elite and social and sexual tensions between the sexes- usually between a frustrated
man and woman from different backgrounds who fight their way through fast-paced and
witty dialogue only to realize that they are destined for each other. The themes in
screwball comedies usually deal with class issues and romantic or sexual ones.
Schatz notes the
huge popularity of these films during the Great Depression. He mentions "The
Philadelphia Story" specifically in order to discuss a variation of the archetypal
screwball comedy that became popular in the 1940s: the divorce-remarriage variation.
In these films the screwball couple have already been joined together in marriage
but then something goes awry and the movie is spent reconciling this differences.
"The Philadelphia Story" is a prime example for this sub-genre, with the relationship
between Tracy Lord and C.K. Dexter Haven occupying its plot and manifesting itself
in typical, and highly entertaining, screwball manner.
Thirty four years after Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song’s release in the theaters, its author, director, producer, soundtrack-composer Melvin Van Peebles reviews the impact of his film , replacing it in the historical framework of the particular relationship of African Americans with the cinema industry.
Van Peebles begins with the primary inconsistent descriptions of Black people in Hollywood’s movies, from the “buffonesque” pre-war image to the moralistic figure of the “New Negro”, which hypocritically still presented the old racist and paternalistic attitude. While Black characters were more or less present , the whole cinema industry did not open itself to Black directors, actors and cinema workers. As a result, until the end of the 1960s, Black audiences did not crowd in theaters. Van Peebles’ arrival in San Francisco as a French delegate to present his first film set up a new deal by opening the studios to Black artists. However, the succeeding blaxploitation wave, if directly appealing to the African American audiences, constituted according to Van Peebles a reactionary reversal of the first “Black films” of the 1970s to maintain a status quo. The director had to wait the 1990s to see a “new wave” of young Black directors to eventually see a new “artistic diversity”, with Black directors and actors involved in every part of the cinematic landscape. The article ends with a point of view on the current state of Hollywood and the need for democratizing the production of films, now permitted by the new technologies.
“Lights, Camera & The Black Role In Movies” provides a lucid personal view “from within” about the tremendous impact of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song on the cinema industry. It replaces the landmark movie in its historical framework and underlines the personal motivations of its director who had faced a particularly bad treatment of Black role in movies.
tagged blaxploitation hollywood van_peebles by thomleon ...on 09-APR-08
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN3435 .H55 2005
Chapter 4. Displaying Connoisseurship, Recognizing Craftmanship.
In this chapter Hills explores how the pleasures of horror are constructed and narrated through fan discourses. He analyzes horror fan discourses on a few different horror internet forums and concludes that connoisseurship is the master trope in fan struggles against "inauthentic" horror consumers (non-fans) and taste-making authorities who marginalize horror. Horror fans position themselves as "authentic" through knowledge of the genre and by privileging this intellectual engagement with horror over any affective, emotional engagement. That is, "nonfans" react to horror emotionally (they express fear), while "fans" are interact in a conscious, "knowing" (and at times "superior") way. Ironically, the ostensive purpose of horror films (to instill "horror") is marginalized in these fan communities to "non-fans"). However, it is also recuperated through personal narratives of first/childhood experiences with horror. These narratives admit the affective aspect of horror as experienced in childhood and this serves as a "discourse of affect." This discourse allows the horror fan to positions themselves as rational and literate ("serious") to gain cultural credibility pushing emotion to the past and turning affect into knowledge.
Hills considers online communities--following Pierre Levy and Henry Jenkins--as a 'cosmopedia.' In horror fan forums, fans establish their subcultural identities through appropriate performances within this collective, interactive, and contested "knowledge space." Horror fans also express connoisseurship through their recognition and celebration of horror "special effects" (SFX). Hills rightfully points out that while horror directors are celebrated as auteurs (George Romero, Dario Argento, etc.), SFX creates a network of author functions. The reading of horror films by "fans" often involves a "double attention" to both the experience of the horrific content and the content as special effect. While some fans may use the attention to SFX as a "masculine" reading strategy to deflect affective (i.e. "feminine) responses, Hills points out that a aignificant portion of the audience does so to generate and sustain a reading of "horror-as-art." These fan discourses, Hills argues, work contra to many theories of horror which privilege cognitive,literary, or psychoanalytic textual aspects as generating the (dis)pleasures of horror. Fans' constructed pleasures of horror revolve more around imagined version of their "generic community" or subculture and its particular distinctions from other cultures.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.H6 H75 2002
Berenstein analyzes film reviews and marketing ploys during the first cycle of classic Hollywood horror films (1931-1934) concluding that the horror film served as an ideal site for the "performance"of socially prescribed gender roles, behaviors, and heterosexual coupling rituals. Film studios, exhibitors,and reviewers relied upon gender assumptions, but in contradictory ways. Many film reviwers ignored questions of gender all together treating the horror film audience as an "ungendered" mass, while other reviews expressed surprise that horror films would be as popular with women as they were. The marketing and promotion of horror films, however, rarely took women for granted. Many horror films--such as Dracula (1931)--were promoted as frightening thrillers and romances hoping to appeal to both male and female audiences (assuming a gendered split in interest). Horror film promotional gimmicks took a variety of forms, but many revolved around personifying "fear" as feminine. Gender expectations were that women scream and shriek during horror films, while men displayed bravery (or, masked their own fear which was seen as feminine). If studios and exhibitors (and the films themselves) relied on these assumed gender roles, it's likely that audiences both played along with these assumptions (in a "performative" sense) as well as reactedin oppositional and contradictory ways. There are some issues with Berenstein work. She seemst o implicitly criticize 1930s film reviewers for speaking of the "horror fan" instead of the "female" (or "male") horror fan. While acknowledging that issues of gender are important, speaking of the "female" horror fan is itself not without problems. For one, it also assumes (and thereby reinforces) a gendered difference in audience reactions to horror. While this difference may be true (to some degree, in some ways) it is an empirical question. Although Berenstein acknowledges a space for male and female audience members to act and react outside of proscribed gender roles, she does so only grudgingly.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.H6 H674 2004
This edited collection of essays has the overarching goal of exploring the horror film genre by paying attention to the technical and industrial aspects of film that distinguish horror films from horror in other media (such as literature or comic books). The two general questions that the essays-to one degree or another-address are: what role does technology play in the production of horror films, and what role does technology play in the distribution, exhibition, and reception of horror films? ("technology" defined broadly to include production equipment, industrial mechanisms, ideological mechanisms, etc.). The first section of the book consists of essays that explore various technologies and formal innovations employed in the production of horror films. The second section of the book deals with issues surrounding horror films in the marketplace (advertising, distribution, and reception). Finally, the third section examines discursive and ideological aspects of the horror genre from censorship to fan discourse.
Philip Simpson's chapter entitled "The Horror 'Event' Movie: The Mummy, Hannibal, and Signs" explores horror films as they are positioned as Hollywood blockbusters. These marketing and promotion of these films often downplay or outright deny the film's association with the horror genre (still often seen as a marginal or low brow genre). Simpson argues that these horror 'event' movies reach a larger mainstream audience by using star actors and high profile directors, high production values, and genre mixing. Simpson distinguishes between major studio horror films and "second tier" cult audience films. While it is true that many of the films that Simpson discusses are marketed as something other than horror (either as thrillers, adventure films, or even supernatural thrillers), it is not clear where the division between A-list productions and "second tier" films lies. He cites the $100 million dollar domestic theatrical gross mark as certifying a blockbuster, but fails to cite many of the low budget, independent, or "second tier" horror films that crossed that barrier such as The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Ring (2002), and The Grudge (2004).
Variety.com - Fox Atomic brings new twists: Genre Label Adds to Conventional Tactics.
Tue., Feb. 20, 2007
by Steven Zeitchick
The article discusses the creation of Fox Atomic--a division of Fox Film Entertainment dedicated to genre films and youth markets. However, Fox Atomic doesn't want to just create and market movies, rather "it wants to create entire worlds around those movies." The Fox Atomic website enlists current trends in digital culture to reach out to young, tech savy audiences. The studio has a presence in Second Life called "Fox Atomic Island, a virtual movie studio where citizens can pick up and play with avatars from all its leading pics." It also holds mashup and machinima contests, includes movie related video games on its website, as well as user forums and information on forthcoming releases. In addition, Fox Atomic has created a comics division that will release comics based on movie properties that are not adaptations of the films, but rather engage in "cross-media" storytelling. Current and upcoming film releases include The Hills Have Eyes 2, 28 Weeks Later, and Touristas.
Although other film studios and distributors have a web presence and engage with digital culture, few have ventured quite as far as Fox Atomic. The article remains skeptical as to the success of this strategy as it is still unproven in its ability to generate ticket sales, but this sort of "web 2.0" interactivity and media convergence may be something that film studios can ill afford to ignore.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.H6 H45 2004
Heffernan’s book seeks to investigate the economic and industrial aspects of the horror film genre that many scholarly accounts (which typically focus on cultural and/or aesthetic issues) fail to adequately consider. The book focuses on the postwar period (1953-1968); a period comprised of drastic changes in the film industry (i.e., Paramount decree, TV, technological innovation), and charts some of the functions or positions that horror genre pictures filled during this time period. He argues that this period—which is book-ended by 3D technology and the adoption of the MPAA rating system—saw a major cultural and economic shift in the production and reception of horror movies. This was partially due to the Supreme Court’s Paramount decision in 1948 which required the break-up of Hollywood’s vertically integrated system of production, distribution, and exhibition. As Hollywood studios began producing fewer films, independent distributors and exhibitors needed more product to fill out their schedules including B-pictures for the bottom half of popular double-feature bills. Heffernan argues that “low” genres like horror and sci-fi played an important part in the testing and development of new technologies and methods of production, distribution, and advertising to accommodate various changes including suburbanization, the growth of television, new youth markets, and the new economic and business structures of the film industry. Although written as a “corrective” to scholarship which focuses solely on culture and aesthetics, Heffernan avoids “economic determinism” by deftly intertwining the exploration of various aesthetic and formal changes of the horror genre during this period including greater psychological realism and, of course, graphic gore.
Using Philadelphia as his test market, Heffernan chronologically traces the distribution and exhibition patterns of various horror films across both theatrical and television venues. He begins with the early 1950s cycle of 3D horror films arguing that the narrative and stylistic norms of the horror genre could best negotiate the conflicting demands of “attraction” (the gimmick shots) and narrative integration of the classical Hollywood model, and also detailing the challenges faced by small theater owners to equip theaters to show 3D. Heffernan continues through the 50s and 60s exploring the impact of Hammer’s color saturated and bloody Gothic updates of the classic Universal monsters, how shortages in production from majors caused independent distributors and exhibitors to get into the production business, how the rise in art theaters utilized both exploitation/genre films and art cinema (i.e., “paracinema”), and the rise of “adult” horror in the late 60s. Overall, Heffernan’s book is well-researched, clearly written, and provides a wealth of knowledge for film scholars interested in the economic side of the industry—especially those interested in genre film. The only quibble is with the brief conclusion “The Horror Film in the New Hollywood.” It feels not only tacked on, but somewhat dismissive of the horror film post-1968. He also makes some broad—and I believe incorrect—claims such as that in the 1980s horror film spectacle overwhelms narrative. This comment flies in the face of the convincing arguments he lays out in discussing the intricate relation between technology and genre film of the 50s and 60s (such as horror’s ability to navigate 3D and narrative).
This is an amazingly concise, prescient, and illuminating essay. It details in a very systematic manner the impact that digitization is likely to have (and, considering this was written in 2004, there predictions all seem to be coming true), and the implications of this impact. One thing it neglects to address, however, is the distribution of DVDs to buy and own. Will this form of distribution fall by the wayside as well, or will things like director commentaries and other bonus features make it a desired commodity? Also, what if you can stream the bonus features – will people still want to own something tangible? Overall, though, this essay is extremely helpful for anyone interested in studying the impact of digitization on the movie studio system both from a consumer and content producer point of view.
As far as my own project is concerned this essay is a useful account of the relationship between commercial studios and individual consumers. Also, its discussion of the impact of digitization on content producers, and the shift of power likely to ensue there, is extremely relevant to my own interest in user generated content. Further, this essay describes the “bargaining power” content producers are likely to gain as access to the means of production increases, and while this is most likely the case, for my purposes it is also necessary to examine how commercial studios will work to limit the bargaining power of producers or co-opt the work of content creators for their own commercial ends (e.g. Dorito’s Super Bowl ads, etc.).
tagged Advertising Amateur_Video Copyright_Law Digita Digital Digital_Distribution Digital_Technology Disruptive_Technology Google Hollywood Internet_Culture Marketing Media Movie_Theatres Participatory_Culture User_Generated_Content Video_Rental YouTube by blueher ...on 08-MAR-07
"Power SHIFT." Hollywood Reporter -- International Edition; 11/18/2003, Vol. 381 Issue 18, pI1-I2, 2p, 1c
This article from the Hollywood Reporter talks about the globalization of the media industry and its implication on the American film industry. Stephen Galloway begins with an analogy between ancient Rome and modern day Hollywood stating that “empires crumble.” Galloway’s actual argument however in no way implies that Hollywood will be worse off from current trends of foreign advancement and globalization.
India, China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Russia are mentioned and briefly analyzed as regions which exemplify dramatic expansion and growth in this modern age. Galloway also takes note that these regions are responsible for creative ideas which Hollywood licenses for remake rights.
The changing trends in foreign countries are not limited to productions of movies, but Galloway shows how US movies are being increasingly invested by foreign investors. Quoting Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, Galloway points to the fact that Hollywood is focusing on the world market, both for investment and distribution. Gone are the days of ‘splendid isolation,’ however it seems as though the future and profits of Hollywood seem bigger and better than ever.
This pertains to my thesis as evidence of the recent globalization of Hollywood. This world view of remakes, foreign investment, and world wide distribution would not be possible without the current implementation of international copyright law. Since the US joined the Berne Convention in 1989, legal globalization has exploded with all parties benefiting from the interaction.
tagged Globalization Hollywood International_film by mangano ...on 28-NOV-06
Stein, Herb and Louella Parsons. Best of Hollywood. Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 Jan. 1963: 6
Parsons, Louella and Joe Hyams. Best of Hollywood. Philaelphia Inquirer, 8 Jan. 1963: 10
The “best of hollywood” column was a staple in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1963, usually running a few times each week. Herb Stein and Louella Parsons were two of the more regular contributors, though there were others, including Joe Hyams. These three columns are fairly typical: Gossip ranging from on-set news to off-set disputes to Marlon Brando attending his first movie premiere (not in Philadelphia, sadly.) These columns represent a fair portion of the film news that Philadelphia newspaper readers (at least, readers of the Inquirer) received in 1963—actual film reviews were more rare. By A. Migdail
Film critic’s assessment of Hollywood in the late 1920s.
Discusses the upheavals that talking pictures have caused in the Hollywood film industry and warns Philadelphia readers that getting a job as an extra in Hollywood at the time is very difficult. His statements describe an unfortunate state of affairs in Hollywood that would be fully realized with the coming stress of the Depression. By Uri Friedman
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U6 B655 1985
David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, and Janet Staiger have provided the canonical and definitive study of the Hollywood film industry of the classical era--approximately 1917 to 1960. As the subtitle to the book indicates, this study looks at the intersection of film style and modes of production (including technology, business models, studio ownership, technical craft, etc.) and generally argues that the studio era of Hollywood is marked by a fairly coherent aesthetic system and consistent style which the modes of production worked to reinforce. According to Bordwell, the classical style does not consist of iron-clad rules, but rather offers a paradigm of "bounded alternatives" from which filmmakers can choose allowing individual creativity while still reinforcing the overall aesthetic system. Additionally, the system is flexible enough to incorporate stylistic innovations into its own schemata--for example, German Expressionism was incorporated into both the horror films of the 1930s and the cycle of film noir in the 1940s and 50s. The book is extensively researched, highly detailed, and very useful for anyone researching Hollywood cinema. The approach to this book is based in industrial history and formal aesthetic analysis of films--it is not a cultural studies text nor does it engage critical theory is any sustained way (which is part of its strength). However, nothing prevents one from applying the insights from Bordwell, Thompson, and Staiger to a cultural studies project. If you are looking for a more cultural history of Hollywood, then Robert Sklar's Movie-made America: A Cultural History of American Movies is a good bet.
Biographer Charlotte Chandler relies mostly on direct quotations from Billy Wilder to let the story of his life come across. Her book's chapter on Sabrina contains Wilder's reflections and memories of writing and directing the film. These thoughts come from the perspective of decades after the film's original release, and give insight into what could have been a very different movie, but turned out to be Sabrina.
The film was adapted from a play, Samuel Taylor's Sabrina Fair. Wilder began work on the adaptation, along with Taylor, before the play even opened on Broadway. Wilder had no qualms about making changes when adapting this play for the big screen, and he wanted to tweak the dialogue to fit the stars he was hoping would appear in the film (Audrey Hepburn and at the time, Cary Grant). Once the play opened successfully though, Wilder and Taylor began to disagree about the degree of change necessary, leading to Taylor quitting and being replaced by another writer, Ernest Lehman.
It was Lehman who convinced Wilder to steer clear of a sex scene between Sabrina and Linus Larrabee, because it would have hurt Hepburn's image. Lehman and Wilder both agreed that Hepburn was a special actress. Because of her grace, she was perfectly suited for the film's Cinderella allegory. Hepburn had a similar respect for Wilder. This is in contrast to the director's often adversarial relationship with Humphrey Bogart, who played Linus Larrabee.
Chandler notes that Wilder chose to play up Hepburn's "Cinderella quality," and this is evident in her first appearance in the film, when a full moon sits over her shoulder. This fairy tale theme is also echoed in the film's opening narration. Though Hepburn narrates, she is not in character as Sabrina, and this sets the scene for the idyllic story. The class shift and Sabrina's infatuation with older men are also fairy tale-type elements.
Chandler's snapshot of Wilder provides a way for moviewatchers to see the human side of film--though a commodity for making money, directors, writers, and actors could leave personal marks by infusing films with their own ideas.
Some of the reason for the May-December theme had to do with casting, and were not originally intended. In Sabrina, the role of Linus Larrabee was originally meant for Cary Grant, so when it went to Humphrey Bogart, a man much older than Audrey Hepburn, the role took on new layers of meaning. Linus came to be seen additionally as a father figure to Hepburn's young Sabrina. Casting Gary Cooper opposite Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon yielded similar results, as did choosing the iconic Marilyn Monroe to portray what had been a more average role on the Broadway stage in The Seven Year Itch. But Dick also tries to connect this motif to a theme or motivation in Wilder's life. He notes that Wilder's age when he was working on these movies might have affected his outlook. In middle age, the theme of rejuvenation may have been of particular interest to him, and the fatherly relationships may have reflected his own love for his daughter at the time.
In Sabrina, Dick sees one father-daughter bond being replaced with another, the first biological, the second metaphorical. Dick argues that in her relationship with Linus, Sabrina re-channels the love she used to reserve for her father towards her beau. Linus provides financial security and protection for Sabrina, just as a father would. This situation is only believable because the film operates as a fairy tale, Dick says.
Grouping these films together is interesting, but from the descriptions of Love in the Afternoon and The Seven Year Itch, it doesn't seem that the films have as much in common with each other thematically (aside from romance) as Dick might have us believe. And some of what they do have in common, as Dick admits, has do with coincidences of casting. This grouping seems to serve best simply as a way for Dick to organize Wilder's many films.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 L38
When watching a film, it would be wonderful if we could know precisely what the director was thinking during each shot. This is particularly true of the film, Doctor Zhivago. The film is filled to the brim with rich scenes that seem to mesh the talents of the actors with exotic scenery and skilled camera work. Gerald Pratley's novel, The Cinema of David Lean, allows viewers to gain an understanding of the director's motives behind various sequences in the film. In the novel, Pratley engages in a candid conversation with David Lean, one of the premier filmmakers of the modern Hollywood era. The chapter entitled, Doctor Zhivago, was particularly helpful because it allowed readers to understand David Lean's intentions when he was filming his masterpiece. First and foremost, David Lean discusses elements of the movie that he felt were rather symbolic. He discusses how he consistently depicted modern vehicles as the realms of misfortune. Essentially, David Lean attempted to show how the advent of modern technology during the early 20th century was regarded as an intimidating force, and not always a welcome one. Pratley expands on this idea by giving specific examples. For instance, a mass of Russian citizens suffer during their train ride across the Ural countryside. They sleep amidst feces, uncooked potatoes, and vomit. It is also from the viewpoint of the train that we see the devastated landscape of the burnt villages. Furthermore, Strelnikov is associated with a red, bullet-speed train. We see him quickly pass by pedestrians, followed by a shot of him standing at the forefront of the car, looking into the distance. Finally, the Yuri Zhivago also meets his demise on a trolley. He sees Lara from the window of his seat, and then attempts to fetch her but is blocked by a mass of passengers. When he does finally get off the train, he dies of a heart attack. Pratley even proposes the opposite idea; more traditional forms of transportation are equated with love and romance in the film. For instance, we often see couples in heats of passion on the traditional horse-driven carts. Komarovsky seduces Lara on a horse-drawn buggy, and in another scene, Zhivago and Tonya kiss passionately during their late night ride back from the Christmas party. In Pratley's chapter, David Lean goes on to confess a number of other symbolic aspects in the film having to do with scenery, camera angles, his selection of actors, and set design. Pratley also engages in a candid interview with David Lean, in which he questions the director on certain techinical decisions he made in putting together the final cut. This novel, and more specifically, the chapter referring to Doctor Zhivago, was extremely useful in analyzing the more subtle aspects of the film, because it gives reader direct access to David Lean's thoughts and intentions.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the film, Doctor Zhivago, is the intense sexual prowess of the characters. At any given moment, especially early in the film's narrative, four intimate relationships are progressing at once; Komarovsky with Lara's mother, Komarovsky with Lara, Pasha with Lara, Zhivago with Tonya, and eventually Zhivago with Lara as well. Why is it that David Lean and Robert Bolt decide to add a number of extra-marital affairs to the script, even though many of them do not exist in Pasternak's novel? Gregor Carleton touches on this subject in his novel, Sexual Revolution in Bolshevik Russia. Carleton claims that along with the sentiments of political revolution in 1917, came a new sense of sexual freedom. He says that young communist-activists were not just rebelling against political institutions, but against all institutions, including "marriage". In fact, out of this political movement came a strong campaign for women's empowerment. These revoluationary sentiments explain the strength that characterizes Lara throughout the film. She is under the rule of no one, and lives out most of her life as a single, independent woman. According to Carleton, this is an accurate portrayal of women from revolutionary Russia. He cites one female in particular, as his prime example of the changes that accompanied Bolshevism; Kollontai. Kollontai was a party official, fiction writer, and polemicist, and was highly educated. But her most significatn contribution to the revolutionary cause was her views on women's sexuality. Carleton writes, "Her message was that there could be no authentic marriage, no love or intimate relationship, in a class-based, property-obessessed society." (Sexual Revolution in Bolshevik Russia, pg. 38). Essentially, women of Russian society were tired of becoming pieces of property for their men. They were tired of subordination, and their answer to these abuses was sexual promiscuity. In fact, to back such a claim, Carleton sites a poll taken in 1922 in Russia, asking citizens whether marriage was their "ideal" form of a relationship. 21.4% of men said it was, whereas only 14.3% of women said the same. Instead, women stated in interviews that they desired short-term relationships. One bourgeoisie woman, interviewed around the same time as the poll was taken, stated, "Sex is extremely important to me. Its absence ruins my whole mood." (Sexual Revolution in Bolshevik Russia, pg. 39) Therefore, the Russian Revolution was not just a political upheaval, it was also a time of women's empowerment. They were finally allowed to address their own sexuality. Much of this sexuality is evident in Doctor Zhivago. The film is set during the Russian Revolution, and Lara is portrayed as an independent, sexually promiscuous woman. Despite her hatred for Komarovsky, she enjoys the sexual benefits he provides. Similarly, we see the absence of "marriage" as a viable institution in this film. Almost every marriage is violated through infidelity, including Lara's marriage with Pasha, and Zhivago's marriage with Tonya. Carleton's analysis of sexuality during the Russian Revolution explains why David Lean and Robert Bolt may have chosen add the concept of "promiscuity" to the film.
Hollywood was no stranger to employing immigrant talent by this time, and Billy Wilder himself had fled Nazi Europe. Hepburn left Holland for similar reasons. Though many of Wilder's film deal with internationalism, their meanings can be laced with ambiguity, perhaps because of Wilder's own conflicted personal history (his family had died in concentration camps.) These ambiguities echo weightier political and cultural questions.
Smith notes that foreign starlets like Hepburn were celebrated in this time period, but the most famous males were mostly American. Indeed, Bogart was known for his ruggedly American role in Casablanca. This gendering goes back to the reconfiguring of the May-December romance into a symbol for the triumph of American culture in Europe.
Smith traces the history of competition between Hollywood and the French cinema, arguing that the Larrabees' business in Sabrina reflexively mirrors America's "cowboy-style" business tactics. Sabrina's time in Paris teaches her feminine skills that make her attractive for American consumption, and because Sabrina must be out of the way for David Larrabee to marry into the sugarcane business, Linus's courtship with her is originally just another business move for the greater good. When asked why the merger is necessary, Smith quotes Linus, painting America as a postwar savior: "So a new industry goes up in an underdeveloped area and once barefooted kifs have shoes, washed faces, and their teeth fixed." American commodities, as in the Kitchen Debate, came to signify American superiority.
Once Sabrina remakes herself, she becomes an object for men to possess and exchange, sometimes without her knowing it. Smith points to Sabrina's enigmatic and changing class status as a symbol of the promise Americanization would hold for postwar Europe. Though initially reading a political agenda into this fairy tale story might seem like a bit of a stretch, Smith makes a convincing argument that might apply to many films of the age, when Hollywood was selling not just movies, but the American way of life.
In this article, Dowd and Pallotta offer a sociological perspective on the movie genre of romantic comedies. Cultural ideals of romance, they say, have changed throughout time, and the changes of the 20th century can be analyzed through movies. Movies are imbedded with cultural scripts that reflect the social norms of various ages. Dowd and Pallotta aim to complete a systematic analysis of romantic comedies, and to do so, they set strict definitions for what would constitute such a movie, leaving out movies that were no longer available, movies that featured romance only as a side plot, movies that mixed genres, and more. After using their definitions to rule out all inapplicable films, they ends up 182 films that qualified, all made between 1930 and 1999. Though not individually analyzed, Sabrina was included in this group of films, thus contributing to the analysis as a whole.
Because this article takes a methodological approach, it is not very accessible for the average film scholar. It also talks about trends as a whole, leaving out the detailed scene analyses that those interested in films often enjoy. But the article does a good job of trying to examine what the medium of film might have to say about our culture, and its strength lies in its ability to offer empirical evidence of trends, such as an explosion of romantic comedies in the 1990s, as opposed to individual examples. In this way, we can look at the trends of particular decades. When Sabrina was released, in the 1950s, for example, romantic drama was more popular than romantic comedy, a reversal of what is currently true. Other subsets that are popular now, such as teen romances or romances that feature supernatural elements (like 1990's Ghost), were nearly nonexistent in the 1950s.
The study also found that cultural conditions have effectively killed many formerly popular plotlines of romance movies. Couples in different classes, for example, no longer offer a "convincing dramatic impediment." Movies that feature these aging romantic conventions," then, can only remain popular today as "relics of an earlier era." This statement serves to justify Sabrina's ongoing popularity despite its perhaps hard-to-swallow plotline. All in all, romantic films, even the current ones, do continue to reinforce some of the more conservative romantic tendencies in our culture, namely the importance of marriage and fidelity, and this has not changed since the days when Sabrina was released.
Call#: Van Pelt Video Collection; ask at Circulation Desk. DVD PS3521.A47 G562 2000
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U65 C495 2006
For Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), the masculinity associated with his uniform plays an integral role in his relationship with his wife Marie (Virginia Mayo), who has only known him as an Air Force Captain. This masculinity is what draws Marie to Fred, and she insists he continue wearing the uniform despite his attempts to adjust into civilian life. Military uniform also plays an important role in Fred’s story because of what it represents, which is a glamorous life much separated from his working class existance. Fred himself seeks masculinity through maintaining remnants of his uniform, such as his bomber jacket, especially during a meeting with the upper class Al Stephenson. In this scene, the prestige associated with Al’s civilian suit is countered with the prestige associated with Fred’s Air Force bomber jacket, demonstrating the importance of uniform in equating their masculine status in different domains.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 G67 1976
In this book Marx examines the life of Samuel Goldwyn, the Polish immigrant who became one of the most influential producers in film. Chapter 23 focues The Best Years of Our Lives, which won Goldwyn an Oscar. Through its entertaining anecdotal narrative, Marx follows the story of film, which began as an idea that came to Goldwyn as he read an article in Time in 1944 documenting the difficult transition many returning soldiers went through upon their return home. Goldwyn then called upon MacKinlay Kantor, a novelist, to turn the idea into a novel, which he would then adapt into a screenplay. Kantor delivered a short novel called Glory for Me about three men coming back to face civilian life in blank verse, which Goldwyn hated and wrote off as a loss.
It wasn't until Willy Wyler, who in the war, returned that the idea of making a film based on Glory for Me was revisited. Wyler wanted to make a film about the war, and he and writer Bob Sherwood adapted the novel to a screenplay. Goldwyn was never an ardent supporter of the film, and was ready to halt its production at many points. It was not until he consulted the Audience Research Institute (ARI), which gauged the American theatergoer's interest in a film, and received very positive results that he threw his support behind the film. The result was a wildly successful film which enjoyed great success.
This story gives insight to the studio-based methods of production of 1946, before the Paramount Decision, and to the postwar movie-making atmosphere. Goldwyn's doubts initally plagued the production of this film, as he was unsure if a serious, socially critical film was what American audiences really wanted to see after the war. The response he received from the ARI raises the ever-present issue of the divide between what audiences want to see and what Hollywood thinks they want to see. This response represents the readiness of American society to address the problems that postwar life created in 1946. The ability of Goldwyn, Wyler and Sherwood to capture the clearly struck a chord with the American public that wanted to confront the social issues of the day rather than sweep them under a rug.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.H5 C36 1997
In this book Kenneth Cameron goes through the 20th century, attempting to create an appropriate historical and cultural context for the film produced in each decade. Of particular interest in the chapter entitlted “1940-49: Good War, New World.” Cameron claims that despite war, the forties produced a wide variety of films that were difficult to analyze. Some generalizations he was able to draw were between films made before 1942 and those after 1946. Particularly, the movies made after 1946 and the end of the war tended to be more forward-looking and socially contemplative. Cameron sites The Beginning or the End? as a film that confonts the moral issues of the day, particularly the decision to drop the atomic bomb and its implications. He also praises Pride of the Marines for counterring the prevailing attitude of portraying war as glorious. Though limited by the Production Code, it attempted to reveal the harsh realities of war, in addition to difficult subject of a returning veteran who suffered an injury that made him blind.
Though The Best Years of Our Lives is never explicitly mentioned in the chapter, one can easily see how it fits into Cameron’s perception of what films were trying to do after the war. Rather than a nostalgic and glorious rendition of the return of war heroes, it examines the lives of three more or less ordinary men, who in their diverstity represent the socio-economic and age spectrum. The film concerns itself not with their heroes’ reception, but with the difficulties and harsh realities to adjusting to life at home, accompanied by alcoholism, adultery, ostracism, and alienation. It is also a socially conscious film, containing cultural critique and commentary in its exploration of questions such, should we have dropped the bomb?, or, did we really fight the good war? Though patriotic in nature, the film does not shy away from interjecting the varying ideas of Americans regarding the war.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.62 .L4 2001
This book deals with Joseph Breen, head of the Production Code Administration, his interpretation and strict adherence to the Production Code, and the effect it had on the film industry at the time. The Production Code was a set of guidleines governing the production and content of motion pictures, spelling out what was and was not considered morally acceptable in film. Adopted in 1930, it began to be enforced in 1934 by Breen, and this changed the way film looked. Risque material, including toilet humor, sexual explicitness and gratuitous violence, was often cut from films. Breen’s approach to film directly conficted with that of screenwriters and directors. He “tended toward the literal…and he had a dollars-and-cents approach to the movies: they were more entertainment than art.”
Jeff and Simmons point out that it is for this reason that Wyler worried Breen, for Breen perceived him to be “a new kind of Hollywood filmmaker, independent, uncompromising and fiercly committed to cinema as an art form.” Wyler resented the Code and saw it as an impediment to making mature, realistic films that deal with examine adult themes. Wyler’s original ending to The Best Years of Our Lives as an ambiguous one, with Fred (Dana Andrews) frustrated and disillusioned, wandering alone among the old planes in the airfield. Due to Samuel Goldwyn’s, the producer, insistence, it was changed to a more positive ending, with Fred finding love and hope, and this change was heavily supported by Breen. Though the ending still has an ambiguous sense of openness (it leaves one feeling that though the protagonists have found momentary relief and happiness, but real life will continue), the information in this book demonstrates the limitations of the time period on creative expression. Even though the movie deals with adult themes such as alcoholism and adultery, it does so in a somewhat subtle manner, and even the message of the film conveyed by the film was altered due to standards of the the time. Depsite all this, however, the The Best Years of Our Lives is still a powerful and moving film, a testament to its expressiveness and timelessness.
Call#: PN1995.9.J6 B3 1976
Another example of a famous crusading journalist is Gregory Peck's character in Gentlemen's Agreement. Peck's character pursued a story revealing the ugliness of anti-Semitism in post-war America by pretending to be Jewish. He pressed on despite the adverse affect it had on his professional and personal life, and ultimately writes an admired story. Somewhat similarly, Woodward and Bernstein press on despite ambiguous threats and warnings of immanent danger from Deep Throat. Barris mostly focuses on films from the 1950's in this section of the book. He states that the 50's was a hay day of journalist crusader films partially because the House Un-American Activities Committee was threatening the free speech of filmmakers all the time, and because they didn't seem to care as much about truth as about carrying out a paranoid witch hunt. They had "descended on the movie industry like a vigilante mob." It is likely that Hollywood writers felt victimized and that portraying of journalists as idealized heroes, and sometimes even martyrs, was a way to express their discontent about the rights and values that they felt were being suppressed by the Black List.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.H5 B87 1997
Films like Forrest Gump, Burgoyne argues, allow the audience to re-experience the past more dramatically and sensuously. It is their way of more personally experiencing the event – a way to more closely examine it. Through film, the viewer can feel as if the memory of the event is his own rather than a recompilation of facts and images interpreted with the benefit of hindsight. In this sense, memories “circulate publicly,” and become part of the psychology and the identity of a nation, serving as “the basis for mediated collective identification.” Ultimately, films like All the President’s Men and Forrest Gump, which deal centrally with recent cultural and historical events, help to reorganize the historical past by creating a collective memory in the form of a film.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.U64 H65 2003
Like Cameron, Sorlin, and Toplin, Myron Levine brings up the fact that the film belittles the contributions of people other than Woodward and Bernstein to bringing some members of the Nixon administration to justice. However, Levine states, Woodward and Bernstein played an extremely important role in maintaining pressure on other investigators and government bodies to act against corruption. The author also points out that the editor of the Washington Post, Benjamin Bradlee (portrayed in the film by Jason Robards) was extremely careful about publishing only substantiated allegations. Levine believes that this journalistic standard has also changed over time. He finds it unfortunate that, as a result of the near instantaneous speed with which news gets to today’s readers, media outlets no longer seem concerned with confirming the facts before print. Ultimately, All the President’s Men reflects the backlash against the modern White House’s attempt to strictly control the flow of information about the president and his administration.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.P6 S36 2000
According to Scott, films of the 1970’s reflected a general cynicism resulting from political events of the first few years of the decade. Society had become paranoid as a result of conspiracy theories that sometimes turned out to be true, and this paranoia was reflected in a Hollywood style of “seedy politicians” and “dark and shadowy urban scenes.” In this sense, Scott states, a very real sense of paranoia could be written off as merely an aspect of trendy movie scenarios.
While many movies of the decade dealt with conspiracy, All the President’s Men dealt with the process of uncovering a conspiracy. For the sake of entertainment, Woodward and Bernstein were heroized and the meetings with Deep Throat were portrayed as a perfect example of the “dark and shadowy urban scenes” that Scott mentioned as a characteristic of many conspiracy films of the 70’s. However, Scott believes that the film “made documentary political filmmaking respectable,” and that its performance in the box office (the film was one of the two top grossing films of the year with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) reflected a general but short-lived mood of anti-authoritarianism in the United States.
Movies about the Movies: Hollywood Reflected by Christopher Ames is a book length study on films about filmmaking. The book studies fourteen different films about Hollywood and relates them through common themes. The last chapter in the book “Offing the Writer” compares Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard to Robert Altman’s The Player. In both films, the writer is killed in the end and also represents a moment Hollywood history; in Sunset Boulevard the writer is the future while in The Player he is the past.
Ames contends that “the struggle between writer and industry drives the plots of these films.” Focusing more narrowly on Sunset Boulevard, Joe Gillis is a down on his luck writer who is not very fond of the visual nature of cinema. While Sunset Boulevard as Ames claims is a “conflict oddly staged as a struggle between writer and actor… [Gillis’s] relationship with Desmond is a direct consequence of his failure in the studios.” Throughout the film, Gillis struggles with Desmond while trying to find his own voice for the film they are writing. Only through the script he works on with Betty does Gillis eventually find his own style.
At the end of the film, right before he is murdered, Gillis finally stands up for himself and tells Norma that she is living in a fantasy. After his death in the pool, Gillis narrates from “beyond the grave” which shows his oversight in the world of the film. As Ames states “Joe’s voice provides a world-weary commentary on the illusions of the other characters, but [in the final scene] it functions more like an omniscient narrator.” Ames believes that one of Joe’s main purposes in the film is to reflect on the characters in it and provide Wilder’s most direct commentary on the Hollywood studio system.
In the same issue of The New York Times as the Macgowan letter in defense of Lifeboat, Bosley Crowther responds with a strong critique of Macgowan and the film.
Crowther's article is a strong reflection of the American view of films during the height of censorship. His article is not one of strongly synthesized arguments about why Lifeboat is bad for the war effort. Instead he frequently employs the use of rhetorical questions, asking questions like "What's going on out there[Hollywood]?" as if any film whose portrayal of America's strength is questionable is an outrage in itself and needs no further explanation.
One of Crowther's criticisms that does not feature a question mark is that of all the abilities given to the German. He is the only one with the mental, physical, and emotional ability to amputize Gus's leg, navigate the ship through the storm, and row it towards its destination. He credits all of his abilities as being well-explained, but critizes Hitchcock (and unfairly Steinbeck) for giving them to him in the first place. His argument can be summarized as no matter how well you explain Superman's ability to fly, his super strength, or his heat vision, they still make him look like Superman.
He closes his critique claiming that anything that casts doubt on America is inherently bad to morale and for our image overseas, giving credence to the idea of film as Will Hays's silient salesman. Censorship in the 1940s is often attributed only to organizations like the PCA and OWI. However, the critical reaction to Lifeboat shows that if they weren't strictly enforcing unquestionable pro-American ideals in film that their would be outcry from other outlets.
Roffman and Purdy describe the social problem film as politically rather tame, arguing that “there is no direct relationship between the problem film and social change” (304). However, they posit as an exception to this paradigm “examples of isolated reforms—in chain-gang regulations after Fugitive” (304). Chain Gang’s lack of narrative closure at the end, which suggests the failures of a malfunctioning society, approaches, they argue, a sincere and radical criticism of Great Depression politics and culture.
Roffman and Purdy’s reading of the film demonstrates a counter-argument to my own. Despite Chain Gang’s uniquely bleak ending, historical evidence refutes Roffman and Purdy’s claims. Warner Brothers, who enjoyed a longstanding political collaboration with President Roosevelt, released the film a week after FDR’s election to office. In a production context, I group Chain Gang with other films that propagandize the New Deal Administration. Its criticism of Depression society condemns Hoover’s failures thereby aligning a potentially desperate viewer’s political energies with subsequent New Deal propaganda campaigns.
Chain Gang’s historical misreading of the southern penal system, which Roffman and Purdy also overlook, reinforces its function as New Deal agitprop. By depicting the South’s cultural backwardness as antithetical to modernity (epitomized by industries like Hollywood), Chain Gang fosters a dichotomized interpretation of malfunctioning Depression American society. According to the film’s logic, anti-modern Georgia opposes modern Chicago, whereas evidence suggests that the South’s convict labor and subsequent chain gang penal systems evolved in with Northern industry. The film annihilates the chain gang’s profound complexities framing it as purely antagonistic in a typical codified Hollywood good-cop/bad-cop conversation.
In other words, I strongly disagree with Roffman and Purdy’s historical reading of the film’s politics.
Doherty’s history contextualizes Hollywood production efforts during its pre-Code era, from the publication of the Production Code in 1930 to Joseph Breen’s rigid enforcement said Code in 1934. Doherty separates the history into different modes of transgression, exploring sexual innuendo in Mae West films, eroticization of foreign and “primitive” cultures in films like King Kong, the alignment of Hollywood with the sympathetic gangster figures particularly in the WB crime films, and the political implications of the social problem film, paying special attention to Chain Gang.
Although Chain Gang used its own portrayal of brutality as a publicity gimmick, Doherty emphasizes theater owners’ hesitation about the picture due to its bleak themes and unhappy ending. ““My personal opinion is that I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang would do 25% more business if it had a happy ending,” complained a theater owner.” Motion Picture Herald warned the film's producers against portraying the gruesomeness of the chain gang too explicitly. For example, the notorious sweatbox punishment torture device depicted in Sullivan’s Travels and Cool Hand Luke is omitted from Chain Gang’s diegesis. These measures were justified “for fear of alienating a feminine portion of the patronage in particular.” If Chain Gang participated in a historical moment which established political stability during shaky times and fostered a profound alliance between media and government, then – like the film’s failure properly to address racial issues – women’s purported exclusion from its political energy reveals the patriarchal culture it fostered.
During these years, a prevalent freight-train riding youth culture also emerged. Children and teenagers left impoverished homes to ride illegally on freight trains across America. Doherty groups Wild Boys of the Road, a “politically subversive” film from 1933 which explores youth freight train culture, with Chain Gang. He asserts that “adults of the Great Depression understood perfectly why their children were acting up. Given the present, who could blame them for behaving as if they had no future?” From its title, I AM a Fugitive, which engages the present moment, to its temporal overlap with legal struggles over Burns’s extradition, Chain Gang exploits this “futureless” mythos thereby paradoxically enabling the New Deal’s future political success by responding to the public’s bewilderment regarding its own future.
Muscio describes Roosevelt’s collusion with Hollywood: FDR overlooked Hollywood’s oligopoly in exchange for its help propagandizing his administration. Hollywood’s investment in the New Deal facilitated Roosevelt’s assertion of political and economic stability (at least for the already dominant industries), counteracting voices that demanded more revolutionary political changes. In these senses, Muscio depicts Roosevelt politics as rather conservative, in spite of their expression of / appeal to liberal ideologies.
Since Chain Gang was released a week after Roosevelt’s election to office, and in light of the striking myth-making similarities between Chain Gang and Roosevelt’s platform (e.g. emphasis on the plight of the forgotten man), and considering Warner Brothers’ especially friendly relationship with Roosevelt, it seems absurd to argue that Chain Gang did not play a strong role in aligning American popular culture with New Deal politics.
Muscio also takes into account the emergence of sound technology and studio self-censorship codes’ roles in facilitating and defining Hollywood’s relationship with Roosevelt. She cites Lizabeth Cohen’s argument that “the talking audience for silent pictures became a silent audience for talking pictures” (75). Although the critical implications of the industry’s transition from silent to sound warrant more nuanced readings, Muscio’s arguments stress 1932 technology’s essential role in manipulating American political culture. The sound film, by approaching what audiences perceive as verisimilitude, sutures its viewer into becoming a voyeur, all the while naturalizing its own artifice. This basic understanding of sound technology’s impact on traditions of film receptivity in America suggests the singularity of the emergence of the New Deal’s and thus Chain Gang’s historical moment. Chain Gang’s aesthetic, narrative logic, and social arguments articulate a dynamic synthesis of cultural, technological, and political forces unique to 1932.
The Hays Code, which too facilitated Hollywood’s control over the market, further engendered the film industry’s alignment with the government. In the context of Chain Gang, a pre-Code film – i.e. post-Production Code, pre Joseph Breen’s rigid enforcement of said Code – the dynamics of a political and market codified aesthetic generate many ambiguities. Chain Gang’s iconoclastic renarrativization of Hollywood formulae, which actually transgresses censorship regulations in a fairly typical way for this period, aligned its viewer’s plight with the studio’s thereby establishing Warner Brothers as the “socially-conscious studio.” This image facilitated WB’s maintenance of industry control over mounting societal tensions that posed threats to Hollywood and fostered a space in American culture for the popularity of New Deal politics.
Pfaelzer, J. (1999). Salt of the Earth: Women, Class, and the Utopian Imagination. Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, 16 (1): 120-31.
This is an article that deals with representations of working women and class in the film.