JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

1. See Thomson, The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder, (New York: Basic Books, 2010). Kolker refers to Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde as having “opened the bloodgates.” See Kolker, A Cinema of Loneliness (4th Edition): Penn, Stone, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 49.

2. See Ray B. Browne and Pat Browne, The Guide to United States Popular Culture (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2001), 410.

3. These horror-woman’s films starred, among others, Bette Davis (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, Dead Ringers, The Nanny, The Anniversary), Joan Crawford (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Strait-Jacket, Berserk, Trog), Olivia De Havilland (Lady in a Cage, Hush, Hush), Joan Fontaine (The Devil’s Own), Barbara Stanwyck (The Night Walker) Tallulah Bankhead (Die, Die, My Darling), Shelley Winters (Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, What’s the Matter with Helen?), Agnes Moorehead (Dear, Dead Delilah).

4. Reams of analysis on the careers of Davis and Crawford and their specific star identities (and of those of the other female stars who made horror films in the 1960s) have been and will continue to be written. Valuable discussions of the queer significance of Davis’s star presence include Martin Shingler, “Masquerade or Drag? Bette Davis and the Ambiguities of Gender,” Screen 36, no. 3 (1995); Patricia White, Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999). On Crawford, see Pamela Robertson, “Camping Under Western Stars: Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar,” in her study Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 85-115; Robert J. Corber, “Joan Crawford’s Padded Shoulders,” Cold War Femme (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011), 97-126.

5. See, for example, Sex and the City, Season 2, episode 18, “Ex and the City,” in which the four protagonists Carrie Bradshaw, Miranda Hobbes, Charlotte York, and Samantha Jones re-enact the “Your girl is lovely, Hubble” climax from The Way We Were in which Barbra Streisand bids Robert Redford and his new wife goodbye, renouncing her claim on Redford at last. Actually, the freewheeling sexual adventurer Samantha (Kim Cattrall) claims to be completely ignorant of the Streisand film, and when asked why—how could she not know of it—Sam tartly replies, “Chick-flick.” An entire discourse encapsulated in one moment, or series of discourses—the transition from the classic to the post-modern woman’s film, the break with the idealization of the classical Hollywood past on the part of postfeminist women and also postqueer gay men, the anti-relationship Sam Jones being the embodiment of both.

6. Jeanine Basinger, A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930–1960 (Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1993), 20.

7. Andrew Ross, “Uses of Camp,” No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 1989), 135-170; quote on p. 135. Steven C. Earley would appear to confirm Davis’s sense, noting that by the end of the 1940s, “the public had tired of the woman’s picture. These women and their soap opera problems had no place in the world of postwar realism.” See Earley, An Introduction to American Movies (New York: New American Library, 1978), 64. Earley ignores the wide range of 1950s woman’s films, especially those made by Douglas Sirk. As Sirk’s brilliantly icy example shows, however, the genre had already entered into a deconstructive mode. For discussions of these and other films in the ‘50s, see Jackie Byars, All That Hollywood Allows: Re-reading Gender in 1950s Melodrama (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991) and the reader edited by Christine Gledhill, Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film. London: BFI Pub., 1987.

8. In A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 (New York: Princeton UP, 1985), Ray reads certain key works such as Casablanca as “concealed Westerns.” Along these lines, I argue that female-centered modern horror works can be interpreted as concealed woman’s films.

9. For a sustained discussion along these lines, see Lucy Fischer, Cinematernity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996). I would argue that Wait Until Dark (Terence Young, 1967), adapted from the hit play by Frederick Knott, is a much more subversive film than Rosemary’s Baby. Starring Audrey Hepburn as Susy Hendrix, a resourceful blind woman contending against a band of criminals led by the psychotic Mr. Roat (Alan Arkin), the film concludes in a stunning showdown between the vulnerable heroine and Roat in which she uses her vulnerability to her advantage to outwit and defeat him (and mainly simply to survive). Though popular in its day and featuring Audrey Hepburn’s last significant performance, this important film has been almost completely critically overlooked.

10. David M. Halperin, How to Be Gay (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 297, emphasis in the original.

11. See Lauren Gail Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), which includes a chapter on the Bette Davis woman’s film Now, Voyager (1942) and its source, Olive Higgins Prouty’s novel.

12. See chapter seven of Phelan’s Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories (New York: Routledge, 1997). Like the other chapters of this provocative and moving work, this discussion of the film is “staged” as a performance piece between a therapist and her analysand; Baby Jane becomes an extraordinary economy of emotional and gendered exchange between these two figures, a myth of femininity, female desire, and self-abnegation.

13. Haskell, From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (1974; rev. ed., Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1987), 328.

14. Linda Williams, “When the Woman Looks,” in The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, ed. Barry Keith Grant (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), 15–34. Quoted passage is from p. 21.

15. Vivian Sobchack, “Scary Women,” Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).41-42. I also believe that some of the other works that Sobchack discusses here, such as Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman (1959), have more complexity than Sobchack allows them in her provocative but also quite traditional reading of these films.

16. Not all of the horror-woman’s films are resistant works, by any means. While there may be something of interest in a film such as The Nanny (Seth Holt, 1965) that casts Davis as a neurotic British woman who looks after children and comes close to murdering them (and indeed did murder a child once), I find no value in films such as The Anniversary (Roy Ward Baker, 1968),starring Davis, or Berserk (Jim O'Connolly, 1967) and Trog (Freddie Francis, 1970), starring Crawford, for example. Nevertheless, careful analysis of the best works in the horror-woman’s film cycle yields evidence of their efforts to resist the structures of power that would keep, without the films’ intervention, the genre’s stars forever out of view.

17. James Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (1949), collected in James Baldwin: Collected Essays, ed. Toni Morrison (New York: Library of America, 1998).

18. Jane P. Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). I disagree with many of Tompkins’ claims—she diminishes the violence and potential for disturbance in sentimental fiction—but her essential point about sentimental fiction’s establishment of communities of shared feeling is valuable.

19.Time Magazine's reviewer characterized the shower murder as ‘one of the messiest, most nauseating murders ever,’” notes Robert E. Kapsis in his Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 62. Kapsis provides a detailed analysis of the initial condemnatory response to Psycho’s violence and gore. [return to page 2]

20. For Andrew Ross, the opening scenes of Baby Jane—after the long pre-credits sequence which moves from the depiction of the sisters as children during the “Baby Jane” craze, establishing their longstanding rivalry, to the scenes of movie producer screenings in which Hollywood moguls deride Jane’s talents as an actress (using footage from Bette Davis’s own lesser-known films from the ‘30s)—are crucial, depicting the fomentation of the older Jane’s rage against wheelchair-bound Blanche as the result of screenings of the more successful actress Blanche’s old movies and their nostalgic power over viewers. “The late fifties and early sixties saw the recirculation of classic Hollywood films on television, giving rise to a wave of revivalist nostalgia, and supplementing the cult of Hollywoodiana, with all of the necrophiliac trappings that embellish its initiates ‘sick’ fascination with the link between glamor and death.” Ross, “Uses of Camp,” 137-8.

21. In Representations of Femininity in American Genre Cinema, I argue that mother-daughter relationships and female transformation are central to the woman’s film, both of which concerns evoke the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Key texts in the woman’s film genre, principally Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942) and Imitation of Life (in both the John Cromwell 1934 and the Douglas Sirk 1959 versions), simultaneously thematize the woman’s relationship to marriage and men and a central conflict in the mother-daughter relationship. The phenomenon of female transformation usually occurs on a physical level—Bette Davis’s metamorphosis from ugly duckling to beautiful, nervous swan in Now, Voyager the prime example—but also signals other kinds as well, such as an emotional one. Sometimes the transformation the woman seeks and eventually undergoes happens on a more abstract level, such as that of class, as evinced by numerous Hollywood films in which social-climbing women transform their socioeconomic status, exemplified by Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945). Generally speaking, however, I argue that female transformation is an allegorical thematization of the major themes of the woman’s film: marriageability, marriage, mother-daughter bonds, and the woman’s ambivalent relationship to all of these.  

22. As Juliet Mitchell has notably demonstrated, one of the chief limitations of Freud’s oedipal theory is his overlooking of sibling relationships. See Mitchell, Siblings: Sex and Violence (New York: Polity, 2004).

23. Modern horror makes the mater-metaphor in sisterly horror explicit. A reworking of Psycho and Rear Window both, Brian De Palma’s great 1973 film Sisters— about two Siamese twins, both superbly played by Margot Kidder, one of whom is a charming model and actress, the other homicidally deranged—is a prime example. In one shot, the “good” twin, Dominique, lies ready and waiting for the would-be leading man Philip (in an interesting and pointed casting choice, played by an African-American actor) to ravish her; as Philip lifts up her nightgown, to the rising fright-chords of Bernard Herrmann’s score, we see the long, thick mid-torso scar of the incision where her twin was severed from her body. The way this scar has been made to look recalls the womb or the vagina, and signals, in this film obsessed with family ties, a mother’s loss of her child as well as the severing of Siamese-siblings.

24. For an exhaustive account of this topic, see Shaun Considine, Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud (New York: Dutton, 1989).

25. In this regard, Jane recalls the Hepzibah Pyncheon, a kind woman whose permanent scowl is a mark of her isolation from the world, in Hawthorne’s gothic novel The House of the Seven Gables (1851).

26. The scene of Davis/Jane surrounded by bewildered teenagers as she cavorts madly on the beach is crucial, in Andrew Ross’s reading, to its Camp status, in that Jane is completely alien to them and bears none of her former meanings, her status as child star, to say nothing of her mediocre acting career as an adult, and whatever significance it had completely unavailable to the onlookers. “The camp effect, then, is created not simply by a change in the mode of cultural production, but rather when the products (stars, in this case) of a much earlier mode of production, which has lost its power to dominate cultural meanings, become available, in the present, for redefinition according to contemporary codes of taste.” Ross, “Uses of Camp,” 139.

27. Mary Ann Doane, The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987),80.

28. Barbara Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (New York: Routledge, 1993), 11–12.

29. The most powerful rendering of the myth is Homer’s, and the best scholarly edition of this version that I am aware of is Helene P. Foley, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretive Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).

30. Strait-Jacket was a “dazzling” box-office success, but critically drubbed in its day, a reception that has endured. See John Law, Scare Tactic: The Life & Films of William Castle (iUniverse, 2000), 124-5.

31. Not to be confused with another Crawford vehicle with that name, from 1931, directed by Clarence Brown, the 1947 Possessed, as directed by the important and overlooked director Curtis Bernhardt, is one of the high points of 40s films and the exemplary fusion of the woman’s film and film noir, featuring perhaps Crawford’s finest performance as a woman slowly going mad over her unrequited love for a man, David (Van Heflin, peerlessly cold and contained), an architect who has an affair with her but doesn’t love or want to marry her.

32. Crawford, like Bette Davis, goes through remarkable transformations throughout her career (the longest lasting star career in Hollywood history, ranging from the silent-era to the early 70s) that are then allegorized on a cinematic level; Crawford’s film roles make transformation a central trope. In Sadie McKee, her servant girl transforms into rich man’s wife; in Lewis Milestone’s exquisite 1932 Rain, Crawford’s South Seas harlot, plagued by the attentions of a preacher who wants to reform her (Walter Huston), oscillates between penitence and carnal avarice to a final resolute heartlessness; in the lovely Dorothy Arzner comedy-drama The Bride Wore Red (1937), one of the director’s best, Crawford plays a young bar-maid who impersonates, at a rich man’s whim, a socialite at a resort: the film is a veritable index of the female masquerade; in A Woman’s Face (George Cukor, 1941), Crawford’s heroine is a hideously disfigured woman whose physical ugliness bespeaks her criminal nature, just as her transformation into beauty-through-surgery signals a moral transformation as well; in her Oscar-winning Mildred Pierce (1945), directed by Michael Curtiz, Crawford transforms from pie-baking unhappy housewife to female tycoon, running a chain-restaurant company, Mildred’s; in the excellent noir-melodrama Flamingo Road (1949), also directed by Curtiz, her carnival dancer and later waitress becomes a politician’s wife, doing battle with her ambiguously-motivated enemy, the politico-sheriff she calls the “fat man,” played by the inimitably vast and villainous Sydney Greenstreet. For an excellent reading of the significance of Crawford’s star-transformations over the decades, see Pamela Robertson, “Camping Under Western Stars: Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar,” in her study Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 85-115.

33. Freud’s 1914 essay “On Narcissism: An Introduction” is collected in vol. 14 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 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. (Orig. pub. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-74; 1993), pp. 67-102. For feminist interpretations of psychoanalytic theories of female narcissism, see Elizabeth Grosz, Jacques Lacan: a Feminist introduction (New York: Routledge,, 1990) 131; Sarah Kofman, The Enigma of Woman: Woman in Freud's Writings (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985); Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World (New York: Routledge,1996).

34. Joan Riviere, “Womanliness as a Masquerade,” Formations of Fantasy, eds. Victor Burgin, James Donald, Cora Kaplan (London: Methuen, 1986), 35-44. The article was first published in The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 10, 1929, 303–13).

35. Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Writing a Woman’s Life (1986; repr., , New York: Ballantine, 1989), passim.

36. In his characteristically astute analysis of Robert Aldrich films, Tony Williams makes note of several aspects of Hush…Hush: that it is classifiable within the new genre of “family-horror” films made in Psycho’s wake; that it is, like many other Aldrich films (such as the The Big Knife from 1955, starring Jack Palance, Baby Jane, and the 1968 The Legend of Lylah Clare, starring Kim Novak), a meta-Hollywood critique of the industry; that it is a critique as well of the classic-Hollywood story of female entrapment, like other Aldrich films with aging female stars such as the 1956 Autumn Leaves, starring Joan Crawford. Where I part company with Williams is in his support of the established view of Hush…Hush as a film that, while not without interest, is not the success that Baby Jane was. See Williams, Body and Soul: The Cinematic Vision of Robert Aldrich (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004), 109, 190, 220. [return to page 3]

37. Charles Derry makes the helpful observation that de Havilland’s Miriam is frequently photographed through a window, while Davis’s Charlotte is not. This touch suggests Miriam’s psychological disturbance, duplicity, and evil. Derry, Dark Dreams: a Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film (South Brunswick NJ: A. S. Barnes, 1977), 38.

38. Vivien Leigh was offered the alternate lead role in Hush…Hush after Crawford’s part had to be recast. Reportedly, she responded that while she could bear to see Joan Crawford’s face at 6 AM, she couldn’t bear to look at Davis’s at that hour.

39. Russo, Vito. The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (rev.ed; New York: Harper & Row, 1987). Miller’s essay “Visual Pleasure in 1959” takes up the Russo discussion of Suddenly, Last Summer, and is collected in Out Takes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film, ed. Ellis Hanson (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 1999), 97-129. Parker Tyler’s treatment of the film is especially blistering; see his Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies (1972; New York: Da Capo Press, 1993), 306-311. I do not find the film homophobic to the degree that these critics do; moreover, I would argue that the Elizabeth Taylor character is not only our chief identification figure in the film but also deeply sympathetic in a manner that mitigates homophobia, in that she mourns as she narrates the grisly circumstances of the gay, predatory poet Sebastian Venable’s death-by-cannibalism.

40. “The hystericization of women involved “a thorough medicalization of their bodies and their sex, was carried out in the name of the responsibility they owed to the health of the children, the solidity of the family institution, and the safeguarding of society.” See Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. I, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 147.

41. Problematizing the depiction of psychiatry here as corrupt is the figure of the kindly, if clueless, young psychiatrist-investigator who tries to discover the truth that Violet insists on cutting out of Catharine’s brain. This role was played by gay icon and closeted gay actor Montgomery Clift, in a role that was surely awkward for him to perform.

42. After Pres breaks off his engagement from Julie and returns a year later, Julie greets him, this time in a stunning, penitent white dress in which she begs for his forgiveness and for him to take her back. Forgiveness can be offered, but marriage is impossible, as Pres is already wedded to an unexciting, steadfast Northern woman (Margaret Lindsay).

43. See Williams, Body and Soul.

44. Moorehead, for her part, camps up the role, looking as outré and disheveled as possible, deliciously mocking de Havilland’s prissy elegance as she wipes her hands on ample apron-covered buttocks. But in her final scenes, Moorehead turns deadly serious, injecting the role and the bond between Velma and Charlotte with an almost unbearable poignancy and desperation, linked to the film’s subtle class discourse. Isolated and dirt-poor Velma lacks the social power to rescue Charlotte. For an excellent analysis of Moorehead’s career, see Patricia White, "Supporting Character: The Queer Career of Agnes Moorehead," in Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture, ed. Corey K. Creekmur and Alexander Doty (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995), 91-114.

45. Bellour, Raymond. The Analysis of Film (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 259.

46. See Michie, Sororophobia: Differences among Women in Literature and Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1992). The anguished nature of the bonds between the sisters in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is also Phelan’s focus in Mourning Sex.

47. Though slicker than Strait-Jacket, Dead Ringer is not as provocative a film. Once the impecunious “good” sister kills the wealthy “bad” sister, the film becomes tediously schematic. Still, the first third is superb, and once again reminds us that an analysis of class warfare is one of the signal political accomplishments of the horror-woman’s film. The good sister—in the end, not particularly good—kills the bad in part to alleviate her financial difficulties and inhabit the other’s wealth and privilege.


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