JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

1. Robert Lang, American Film Melodrama: Griffith, Vidor, Minnelli (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989), 8. [return to page 1 of essay]

2. Robert Ray, in A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, argues that several Hollywood films operate as “concealed Westerns” (70-89, especially). I would extend his theory to include the reappearance, in disguised, occluded, reupholstered, and otherwise transformed guises, of seemingly obsolete and discarded genres such as the woman’s film melodrama. The Alien films, among others, are all woman’s melodramas recombined with the forms of the suspense, horror, and sci-fi genres—genres with more commercial value and viability than the outmoded woman’s melodrama, which yet persists in transformed versions. See Ray, A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980, Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985.

3. Peter Brooks writes of melodrama:

“The desire to express all seems a fundamental characteristic of the melodramatic mode. Nothing is spared because nothing is left unsaid; the characters stand on stage and utter the unspeakable, give voice to their deepest feelings… They assume primary psychic roles, father, mother, child, and express basic psychic conditions.”

Classic melodrama, he writes, opens with presentation of virtue and innocence, introduces “menace or evil, which places virtue in a situation of extreme peril,” and moves to a third act that is a “panoply of violent action which offers a highly physical ‘acting out’ of virtue’s liberation from the oppressive efforts of evil.” Clarice easily represents melodramatic virtue. “Virtue,” Brooks writes, “is almost inevitably represented by a young heroine.” See Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, and the Mode of Excess, 1976; New Haven: Yale UP, 1995, 4, 28-36.

4. In her lucid and comprehensive study of The Silence of the Lambs, Yvonne Tasker writes of the film as that rarity, the female rites of passage film.

“It is also very much a woman’s picture, in both that genre’s gothic and contemporary manifestations. …. The women’s films of the 1940s were organized around a clash, and typically a choice, between the protagonist’s career, or perhaps her independence, and the possibilities of romance. …. The woman’s film…should not be simply mapped onto either melodrama or the domestic. Yet in almost all its versions, the woman’s picture involves romance, something that The Silence of the Lambs seems to deliberately lay to one side.”

The family themes of Silence make it an example of that category of the woman’s film the melodrama, in my view, but it is important to note the capaciousness of the category of the woman’s film genre, as critics like Tasker remind us to do. The Alien films, much like Silence, reanimate woman’s films themes by intermixing them with those of other genres. Tasker, The Silence of the Lambs, London: British Film Institute, 2002, 23-4.

5. The woman’s film that most dramatically foregrounds transformation is Bette Davis classic Now, Voyager. Irving Rapper’s 1942 film, in which a frumpy, insecure New England spinster, Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis), tyrannized by her cold, domineering mother, transforms, with the help of a psychiatrist, Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), into a strong, independent, attractive woman, foregrounds many of the issues that will circulate, in a horror genre reformulation, in the Alien films.

6. Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Writing a Woman’s Life, New York: Norton, 1988, 48.

7. Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (1980), in Feminist Literary Theory, ed. Mary Eagleton, New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987, 22-28

8. I refer to the European suitors of U.S. women in such films as Now, Voyager (1942) and Summertime (1955).

9. Slavoj Zizek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture, Cambridge, MA:MIT Press, 1991, 106. Zizek builds upon Raymond Bellour’s famous discussion of oedipal politics in Hitchcock. In his analysis of The Birds, Bellour focuses more specifically on the heterosexual couple’s formation, a construction that is for him the telos of the Hitchcock film generally; see Bellour, The Analysis of Film, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. Zizek’s emphasis, though, is on the oedipal family, specifically on the “maternal superego” of Lydia Brenner, played by Jessica Tandy in the film and another in the long line of Hitchcock’s controlling, neurotic mother figures. Yet this film, perhaps the first in Hitchcock’s canon to do so, effects a kind of healing reconciliation between the mother and the symbolic daughter (Tippi Hedren’s initially vain and shallow, finally ennobled and shattered Melanie Daniels).

10. Creed, Barbara. 1993. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.

11. Thomas Doherty describes the art direction in the Alien films, as “abstract genital,” simultaneously “penile and uterine,” in his essay “Genre, Gender, and the Aliens Trilogy,” in The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, ed. Barry Keith Grant, Austin: Texas University Press, 1996, 181-200, quotes from page 196.

12. I am quoting from the scene in Woolf’s novel Between the Acts in which Giles spots a snake trying to eat a frog:

“…couched in the grass, curled in an olive ring, was a snake. Dead? No, choked with a toad in its mouth. The snake was unable to swallow; the toad was unable to die. A spasm made the ribs contract; blood oozed. It was birth the wrong way round—a monstrous inversion. So, raising his foot, he stamped on them…it was action. Action relieved him.”

See Woolf, Between the Acts, 1941; New York: HBJ, 1969, 99.
[return to page 2 of essay]

13. Hélène Cixous, “Castration or Decapitation?” in Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Robert Con Davis and Robert Scheifler, 1976; New York: Longman, 1989.

14. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York: Columbia University Press. 1982.

15. For a more expansive examination of American constructions of Europeans as decadent, see my book Men Beyond Desire: Manhood, Sex, and Violation, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, particularly chapter two.

16. See, for example, Niall Richardson, “Effeminophobia, Misogyny and Queer Friendship: The Cultural Themes of Channel 4's Playing It Straight,” Sexualities, Vol. 12, No. 4, 525-544 (2009). For a superb study of the development of queer and homophobic associations with effeminacy, see Alan Sinfield, The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde, and the Queer Moment, New York: Columbia UP, 1994.

17. Many discussions of the cyborg as queer allegory have been conducted in the wake of Donna J. Haraway’s pioneering Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, New York: Routledge, 1990. See, for example, Dennis Carlson “Gay, Queer, and Cyborg: the Performance of Identity in a Transglobal Age,” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 1469-3739, Volume 22, Issue 3, 2001, pp. 297–309. I have recently explored this theme in greater depth in Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek: Allegories of Desire in the Television Series and Films (McFarland, 2009).

18. Wood, “An Introduction to the American Horror Film,” Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film, ed. Barry Keith Grant, 1984; Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1996, 164-200, quotes from page 199.

19. See Fiedler, Love and Death, 179-214. Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. 1960. Reprint, New York: Dell, 1966.

20. Freud, Sigmund, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 21, trans. James Strachey, in collaboration with Anna Freud, assisted by Alix Strachey and Alan Tyson, 24 vols. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis,1993, 230-1. (Orig. pub. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-74.)

21. Caleb Crain discusses the critique of shipboard sodomy in Melville’s White-Jacket. “The act of [same-sex] sodomy implied coercion and submission” in the nineteenth-century; “it was undemocratic.” What bothers Melville about shipboard life is that

“there is no redress for male rape. …. The victim of male rape is somehow disqualified as a citizen; he is not acceptable as a plaintiff, and therefore justice is impossible. …. Like female victims of rape, these plaintiffs are blamed for the crime.”

See Crain, “Lovers of Human Flesh: Homosexuality and Cannibalism in Melville's Novels,” American Literature, vol. 66, no. 1, “New Melville,” Mar., 1994, pp. 25-53, quote from page 16.

22. Vivian Sobchack’s reading of this scene as a misogynistic reduction of smart, capable Ripley to sex object is a representative one; see her essay “The Virginity of Astronauts: Sex and the Science Fiction Film,” collected in Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema, ed. Annette Kuhn, London: Verso, 1990.

23. I refer to the metaphorical import of Ripley having put Jonesy—her pussycat—in his hypersleep chamber before discovering the Alien on the shuttle.

24. Different versions of the myth split up Persephone’s times on Earth and in hell differently; in the Homeric version, Persephone spends two-thirds of the year with her mother, one third with Hades. [return to page 3]

25. See Penley, “Time Travel, Primal Scene, Critical Dystopia,” in Close Encounters: Film, Feminism, and Science Fiction, eds. Penley et al, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Minnesota UP, 1991, pp 63-83, quote from page 73.

26. See, for example, Amy Taubin’s brilliant essay “The Alien Trilogy” for her reading of Alien 3 as a queer allegory. “The Alien Trilogy from Feminism to AIDS,” Women and Film: A Sight and Sound Reader, Philadelphia, Pa: Temple UP, 1993. 93-100.

27. Constable, “Becoming the Monster’s Mother: Morphologies of Identity in the Alien Series,” Alien Zone II: The Spaces of Science Fiction Cinema, ed. Annette Kuhn, New York: Verso, 1999, 173-202, quote from page 186.

28. Ibid, 180-81.

29. Creed, Monstrous-Feminine, 28.

30. Freud’s essay “Medusa’s Head” is collected in Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, ed. Philip Rieff, 1922; New York: Macmillan, 1963, 212-13.

31. The backstory of laurel leaves is itself a narrative of female sexual ambivalence and also a classical rape scene, albeit a foiled one. As the nymph Daphne desperately eludes the charging advances of the god Apollo, his own desire enflamed by Cupid’s arrow, she calls upon her father for help. She is turned into the laurel tree; Apollo then uses the leaves of the tree as a personal symbol. Though there are many ways to read this myth, I would argue that Apollo continues to exploit Daphne in another form, even if he fails to conquer her sexually.

32. As Mary Ayers writes about the role mother-infant attachment plays in shame,

“When the maternal intrapsychic conflicts that influence the mother-infant relationship become impingements that in turn become a pattern, the details of the way in which the impingement is sensed by the infant are significant, as well as the infant’s reaction to them.”

The ways in which a child can respond to such emotional abandonment are myriad, and gender and culture will shape the response. See Ayers, Mother-Infant Attachment and Psychoanalysis: The Eyes of Shame, New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2003, 76-77.

33. Jenkins, in an article written with Matthew Weise, discusses the ways in which the video game Aliens Versus Predator 2 faithfully adapts Aliens by allowing a player to be one of the Colonial Marines. The legacy of the film, then, dishearteningly centers on its militarism rather than on its mythic, feminine themes. Matthew Weise and Henry Jenkins, “Short Controlled Bursts: Affect and Aliens,” Cinema Journal vol. 48, no. 3, Spring 2009, 111-116.


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