1. How films assign characters recognizable traits and how connotations are "readable" in film because they are reinforced in the action and in the narrative development are two topics I deal with extensively in the following articles, where I apply the methodology of Roland Barthes' S/Z to film: "S/Z and Rules of the Game," Jump Cut, Nos. 12-13 (Winter 1976-77); "Teaching the Comparative Analysis of Novels and Films," Style, 9 (Fall 1975).
[return to page 1]

2. For a discussion of the mechanisms of condensation and displacement in Hollywood film, see Charles Eckert, "The Anatomy of a Proletarian Film: Warner's Marked Woman," Film Quarterly, 17, No. 2 (Winter 1973-74).

3. Kate Millett's Sexual Politics (New York: Avon, 1970) deals precisely with this topic and remains a model of feminist criticism that moves fluidly back and forth from historical to literary analysis.

4. The historical background given here comes from Vance Kepley, Jr. "Griffith's Broken Blossoms and the Problem of Historical Specificity," Quarterly Review of Film Studies, 3, No. 1 (Winter 1978).

5. Kepley, p. 41.

6. Charles Affron, "The Actress as Metaphor: Gish in Broken Blossoms," Star Acting (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1977), p. 12.

7. I use the term "insane" in the sense of a system of oppression. R.D. Laing in The Politics of the Family (New York: Random House, 1969) views this systematic oppression from a psychological perspective. Rayna Rapp offers an analysis of the family from a multi-class, social and economic perspective in "Family and Class in Contemporary America: Notes toward an Understanding of Ideology," University of Michigan Papers in Women's Studies, Special Issue, May 1978. And Lillian Breslow Rubin in Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-Class Family (New York: Basic Books, 1976) presents through interviews a poignant and telling analysis of the systematic deformation of emotional life in white working-class families in the United States.
[return to page 2]

8. The major exception is Marjorie Rosen, whose discussion of "Griffith's Girls" in Popcorn Venus (New York: Avon Books, 1973) inspired me to go back and take another look at Griffith from a feminist point of view.

9. Marjorie Rosen; Gary Gordon, "The Story of David Wark Griffith" (a biography of Griffith based on interviews), Photoplay (June and July 1916), excerpted in Focus on D.W. Griffith, ed. Harry Geduld (New York: Prentice Hall, 1971). [return to page 3]

10. Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (New York: International Publishers, 1967.)

11. Kate Millett, pp. 60-61, citing the work of Hugo Beigel.

12. For a discussion of feminist cinematic treatment of rape, see Lesage, "Disarming Rape: JoAnn Elam's Rape," Jump Cut, No. 19 (Winter 1978).

13. Susan Brownmiller, Against Our will: Men, Women and Rape (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975).

14. Some readers may find this conclusion outrageous, so I shall add a few examples from daily life. We have all observed fathers' discomfiture at the thought of their daughters' sexual activity; at the same time male adolescent children are excused for "sowing wild oats." And with girls of a younger age, when a father yells, "Wipe that lipstick off your face"' or challenges, "Where were you so late?" his reaction is a sexually as well as paternally possessive one. It is the sexual connotation of the girl's action that is disturbing to him, and his excuse for his reaction is often that he knows "how men are."

15. For a psychoanalytic explanation of the cross-cultural and trans. historical division of male and female roles into the "public" and the "domestic" sphere, see Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

16. D.W. Griffith, "My Early Life," in Geduld, ed., p. 33. That such an act was a lesson in masculinity as well as racism is implied in Griffith's comment that his father winked at the terrified child to assure him all was a joke. What was the black servant feeling? Griffith's inability to ask that question in relating this, his most sacred memory, parallels his inability to depict the real mechanisms of racism in Broken Blossoms or Birth of a Nation.

17. D.W. Griffith, "My Early Life," in Geduld, ed., p. 35.

18. Kate Millett traces the close relation between an esteem for virginity and the fear and desire that women provoke as the "dark force," seen as part of uncontrolled nature and destructive to male-defined culture. (Sexual Politics, pp. 72-82). Thus, a paradigmatic variation to Broken Blossoms in the treatment of the nuclear family in fictional film is to depict a dark-haired siren destroying families and individual men and social cohesion. [return to page 4]

19. Lillian Gish and Billy Bitzer, in their respective autobiographies, describe the introduction of the Sartov lens; Gish discovered this flattering way of being photographed and promoted it after she first had her passport picture done by Sartov. Lillian Gish (with Ann Pinchot), The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me (New York: Prentice Hall, 1969); G.W. Bitzer, G.W. Billy Bitzer, His Life (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1973).

20. For a discussion of how Broken Blossoms was exploited commercially as high art, see Arthur Lenning, "D.W. Griffith and the Making of an Unconventional Masterpiece," Film Journal, 1,No. 3-4.

21. Key essays on this subject are Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," Screen, 16, No. 3 (Fall 1975), and Pam Cook and Claire Johnston, "The Place of Women in the Cinema of Raoul Walsh," Raoul Walsh, ed. Phil Hardy (London: Vineyard Press, 1974). A discussion among feminist critics that deals extensively with the subject of how women are presented in dominant male cinema and how this affects us as women viewers can be found in "Women and Film: A Discussion of Feminist Aesthetics," New German Critique, No. 13 (Winter 1978).

22. Charles Affron's Star Acting provides a good formal analysis of this sequence.

23. For discussions of the adverse effects of presenting woman as victim in a portrait intended to elicit audience sympathy, see my article, "Disarming Rape" and Charles Kleinhans, "Seeing through Cinema Verite: Wanda and Marilyn Times Five," Jump Cut, No. 1 (May-June 1974).

24. Ellen E. Morgan, "The Eroticization of Male Dominance and Female Submission," University of Michigan Papers in Women's Studies, 2, No. 1 (September 1975).

25. Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), p. 60.

26. See my extended discussion of Celine And Julie Go Boating and that film's relation to female fantasies in "Subversive Fantasies," Jump Cut, No. 23/24 (Spring 1981).

To topPrint versionJC 56 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.