1. Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (1982; New York: Henry Holt, 1991), 66-67. [return to page 1]
2. At the same time, of course, Davis did not want to make this film, thinking it was wrong for her. In my view, the publicity surrounding Davis’s dissatisfactions with film, role, and her own performance have obscured the powerful resonance of all of these.
3. Martin Shingler, “Masquerade or Drag? Bette Davis and the Ambiguities of Gender,” Screen 36, no. 3 (1995).
4. Patricia White, Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).
5. Sikov, Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis (New York: Macmillan, 2008), 276.
6. Ibid, 276.
7. Ibid, 277.
8. Robert Lang, American Film Melodrama: Griffith, Vidor, Minnelli (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989), 49. I am indebted to Robert Lang’s brilliant study. For Lang, melodramas
9. As Slavoj Zizek writes of the femme fatale’s inevitable and defining moment of crisis, “when the femme fatale breaks down, loses her powers of manipulation, and becomes the victim of her own game.” She makes threats, weeps, but then claims complete ignorance of the malevolent activities at which she has been the center. Then, she “suddenly assumes again an attitude of cold distance and disdain, and so on. In short, she unfolds a whole fan of inconsistent hysterical masks.” This culminating moment of defeat for the femme fatale is, at the same time, “the moment of triumph for the hard-boiled detective.” What lies beyond hysteria for the femme fatale is “the death drive in its purest,” Zizek concludes in his customarily Lacanian fashion. See Zizek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (1992; Cambridge, Ma: MIT Press, 1998), 65.
For our purposes, the overlaps between the genre of the woman’s film and film noir should be considered. I would argue that what film noir does in such moments is to put a general narrative and characterological tension within the woman’s film’s into relief, condensing, in a way analogous to time-lapse photography, the woman protagonist of melodrama’s shifts in identity, emotional make-up, and her relationship to the principle male character (usually in supporting role to her). The difference between melodrama and noir that seems most relevant here is that in the melodrama the focus is on the woman’s experience of this breakdown in or transformation of identity.
10. That Hepburn became associated with both good U.S. stock, gumption, and practicality all stem, in turn, from her biographical mythos as a “Yankee,” her familial and cultural upbringing in New England. Fascinatingly, though originally from Lowell, Massachusetts, to which area she returned after her post-Hollywood heyday years, Davis’s onscreen persona exceeded or even obscured her associations with New England and the Northeast. Part of the strange disparity in their doubleness is that Davis and Hepburn seem each completely distinct from the other even though both emerged from similar geographical and cultural backgrounds.
11. I base this understanding on anecdotal evidence and personal observation. I have had numerous discussions with women in academia who find Davis’s persona a regressive and unfulfilling model for feminism—as opposed to conversations I have had with non-academic women who generally express very different views of Davis. [return to page 2]
12. This essay has been collected in Britton on Film: The Complete Film Criticism of Andrew Britton, edited by Barry Keith Grant (Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State UP, 2008).
13. André Bazin, Bazin at Work: Major Essays and Reviews From the Forties and Fifties (1st ed.; New York: Routledge, 1997), 14.
14. Robert Simonson, personal correspondence.
15. Mike Black, personal correspondence.
16. Pamela Robertson, “Camping Under Western Stars: Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar,” in her study Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae
17. Susan Sontag’s famous 1964 essay “Notes on Camp” was her first essay for the Partisan Review. It is collected in her Against Interpretation: And Other Essays (New York: Delta, 1978).
18. Andrew Ross, “Uses of Camp,” No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 1989), 135-170.
19. Moe Meyer, “Introduction: Reclaiming the discourse of Camp,” The Politics and Poetics of Camp, ed. Moe Meyer (New York: Routledge, 1994), 14-15.
20. Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2004).
21. The screenplay was written by Lenore J. Coffee based on a novel byStuart Engstrand. [return to page 3]
22. Much the same effect is achieved by Beckett in his 1972 play Not I, in which only the mouth of the actress (“faintly lit from close-up and below, rest of face in shadow,” as Beckett’s stage directions determine), playing the sole character MOUTH, is visible as her monologue is delivered.
23. The Warners release caught the full wrath of the Legion of Decency. Weak reviews combined with unseemly content made exhibitors skittish, and the Legion's “C” offered them an excuse to cancel contracts. .... Executive director Father Patrick Masterson was miffed at Warners for producing this "sordid" story. .... While the Legion objected to the “unrelieved evil” of the plot, it reserved its wrath for the abortion. See Leonard J Leff and Jerold L. Simmons, The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship and the Production Code from the 1920s to the 1960s (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990), 170.
24. At times, other women are the targets of the Fury’s wrath, a prime example being the scene in which Barbara Stanwyck’s ambiguous heroine in the tellingly titled The Furies (Anthony Mann, 1950, an important film only now getting the recognition it deserves), standing with her back to her mother’s mirror, hurls a pair of scissors at her father’s new fiancée and Stanwyck’s bitter rival (Judith Anderson, who played Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca).
25. I mean to suggest that the film is critiquing the kitsch nature of Rosa’s fantasies. For an excellent discussion of the distinctions between Camp and “self-aware kitsch,” see Chuck Kleinhans, “Taking Out the Trash: Camp and the Politics of Parody,” in the Moe Meyer-edited The Politics and Poetics of Camp, 182-201.
26. Tomas Kulka, Kitsch and Art (University Park, Pa.: Penn State UP, 1996), 28.
27. I am evoking the fate of the Furies at the close of Aeschylus’s trilogy of plays The Oresteia. They are simultaneously given a position of honor and immured within the Earth by Athena, who always sides with male power. Significantly, the Furies are in pursuit of Orestes for the murder of his mother, Clytemnestra.
28. In her study On the Verge of Revolt, Brandon French discusses the chief difficulty of female attempts to rebel against the constrictive system of 1950s female-redomestication:
“What it never becomes is a perception beyond the personal, and so it is presented as a series of problems which are resolvable in personal, or interpersonal, terms… But the personal solution, divorced from the larger social, political, and economic dilemma, is doomed because it is impotent.”
See French, On the Verge of Revolt: Women in American Films of the Fifties (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978), 153. I would offer that Rosa’s personal solution, however ineluctably tragic, is nevertheless a moving indication of her resistance.
29. Mulvey, “Afterthoughts on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ inspired by King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun (1946),” Feminist Film Theory: A Reader, ed. Sue Thornham (New York: New York UP, 1999), 122-131.
30. White, Uninvited : Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 169-70.
31. See Sigmund Freud, Writings on Art and Literature, ed. James Strachey (Stanford: Meridian, 1997), 264-5.
32. Beyond the Forest represents a key aspect in an extraordinary phase of Vidor’s career in which he reinvents the woman’s film as social commentary and cultural critique. I would add The Fountainhead to the group of such films as Duel in the Sun (1946), Beyond the Forest, and Ruby Gentry (1952), a quartet about the transgressive exploration of female sexuality within patriarchy. Though often overlooked, Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal) in The Fountainhead is an important and daring female character whose strength and tenacity are strikingly modern. The rapturously beautiful climax of the film, in which Dominque ascends to the heavens on a sci-fi-high skyscraper elevator, as Howard Roark looks down on her expectantly, would be more beautiful still if the odious Roark were not present. But Roark is presented in this climactic sequence as a kind of mythological/archetypal shining, denatured image of modern manhood, and Vidor’s focus is on the upwards flight of exhilarated Dominique, given rare female access to the vaunted heights of Western sky-cult, rationalism, ambition, Apollonian majesty. But the sci-fi quality of this climax—perhaps the only way to transcend Rand’s tormentingly awful script and ideas—is crucial to the depiction of Dominique’s triumphant ascension. Back on earth, a woman’s access to flight, her ability to transcend the limits of the social order, look much more like Rosa in the last moments of Beyond the Forest. Few U.S. films of any era have so unflinchingly depicted the costs for women in patriarchy of asserting their desires and claiming their own social agency.
33. Cynthia Morrill, “Revamping the Camp Sensibility: Queer Camp and dyke noir,” Politics and Poetics of Camp, 110-129; quoted portions from pages 113-115.
34.Newton, Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972), 106n12. [return to page 4]
35. Ibid, 106.
36. Dyer, The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation (New York: Routledge, 1993), 42.