Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hitchcock: The Deceptive Screen

In the world of Alfred Hitchcock, everything is in doubt. Throughout his films, he repeatedly demonstrates that all forms of knowledge, including visual information, are unreliable. For Hitchcock, the notion that nothing is as it seems is a vehicle for suspense, but it also takes on a far greater importance. The visual deceptions in Hitchcock's films are actually indicative of his deep concern with the extremely deceptive nature of the real world. For Hitchcock, perception only provides clues to the truth and these clues must be scrutinized carefully before the viewer can understand their importance.

The deceptive nature of the world, and of visual perception, appear in many forms in Hitchcock's films. The film Strangers on a Train (1951) is structured upon a system of duality which creates its own pattern of connections within the narrative. The film's photographic compositions contain many carefully balanced "pairs" and the characters and scenes are presented in terms of "two's." There are two fathers, two merry-go-round scenes, and two women in glasses who are either strangled or nearly strangled. The first key to understanding Strangers on a Train lies within the film's repetition of images.

At the core of Strangers on a Train are the characters of Bruno (Robert Walker) and Guy (Farley Granger). On the surface, Bruno's decadent and psychotic personality is in sharp contrast to that of Guy, a professional tennis player. It is Guy, however, who accidently sets the stage for Bruno's act of murder. In turn, it is Bruno who represents a sense of strength rather than Guy, although Bruno's strength is manifestly bizarre. The apparent differences between Guy and Bruno are superficial, for they are actually perverse reflections of each other.

he 1953 production of I Confess is an intense elaboration on Hitchcock's theme of guilt. The film tells us at its very beginning who committed the murder when the man confesses the crime to the priest played by Montgomery Clift. The murderer does not even intend, at first, to frame the priest for the crime. The killer had worn at the time, however, the priest's coat and hat and despite the difference in their physical appearance, the priest-like wardrobe is the only detail noticed by witnesses to the crime.

More importantly in I Confess is the degree to which the priest inadvertently implicates himself in the murder. The murderer's sense of guilt compelled him to confess to the priest, but the priest's feeling of guilt for his own act of adultery is something which he is afriad to confess. Thematically, as well as narratively, the sins of murder and adultery become interlinked in the film, and the admission of the crime eventually becomes dependent upon the priest's admission of his sin.

The conflict between guilt and innocence is the central concern of Shadow of a Doubt (1943). In the film, the niece named Charlie yearns for a sense of worldly sophistication and views her Uncle Charlie, her name sake, as an enviable figure of urbane knowledge. Uncle Charlie is, however, an obsessive killer who has returned to the niece's small town because the police are searching for him across the country. In a way, the uncle does have worldly knowledge, but it is a disturbed and genuine knowledge of evil.

The visual effect of Shadow of a Doubt is one of Hitchcock's most deceptive. The myths and illusions of small town America evoke a placid and banal existence. But beneath the film's surface present­ation of the small town is a complex reality of fears, repressions, and unfulfilled lives. While Uncle Charlie represents the darkest manifestation of these fears and repressions, he is nonetheless a plausible product of this small town society.

The ease with which film viewers can be mislead by the visual information presented to them in a film is one of the prime concerns of Stage Fright (1950). One assumes that the visual information is true, yet it is this very assumption which Hitchcock attacks in Stage Fright. While the narrative of the film suggestively plays with the illusionary nature of acting and the theater, the film's visual imagery clearly demonstrates that seeing is not the same as under­standing.

While Stage Fright challenges the verisimilitude of film, The Wrong Man (1957) creates a complex series of contradictions between observation and truth. There is no question as to the innocence of the film's main character, yet all of the evidence points increasingly to his guilt. The investigative police work presented in The Wrong Man, which was based upon a real case, is routine and thorough and yet the conclusions are persistently wrong. Empirical evidence, Hitchcock suggests, is not enough to pierce through the misleading nature of reality.

Fritz Lang: the Cinema of Fear

In the films of Fritz Lang there were no accidents, only pre-determined events. The seemingly coincidental details of life were actually mani­festations of a greater force which manipulated and propelled his characters along a complex path of preordained action. His villains were madmen driven by impulses beyond their control, and his heroes were forced to discover the contradiction which existed between their moral ideals and the accelerating brutality of their actions. Lang was a moralist for whom freewill was a debatable concept. His films' intricate, geometric structures are a visual representation of a world in which the most inconsequential act could result in death.

A quick comparison of four of his films, such as the German productions of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932) and M (1931) opposite the Hollywood movies Man Hunt (1941) and The Woman in the Window (1944), present a study in the continuation of themes and concerns. Though Lang's American films were stylistically different from his early German productions, his fatalism made it difficult for him to believe in the American legislated right to the pursuit of happiness. No wonder his American heroes had a limited, often bleak, set of choices.

With M and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Lang created his most extensive vision of pure evil. The obvious villain in M is the mass murderer portrayed by Peter Lorre, a grotesque figure who is driven by an uncontrollable compulsion. Lorre's character is viewed by the film as the result of a corrupt and decadent society. Throughout the film, Lang cuts back and forth between the police and the equally organized under­world. The mentality and motivations of both worlds are presented as essentially the same, though the underworld is slightly more proficient at finding Lorre. In M, the traditional moral basis of society has become meaningless and a general atmosphere of decay is prevalent.

Ironically, part of the controversy which surrounded M on its release in Germany was caused by the Nazis who felt that the film was a critical attack on them. The original title of the film, The Murderer Among Us, was changed to M because the producer feared possible reprisals by the increasingly powerful Nazi party. If Lang did insult the Nazis in M, it was minor compared to his next film, for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was a direct attack upon them.

In the first Mabuse film, Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (German 1922), the doctor was presented as a master criminal who thrived on the social and financial chaos of Berlin in the 1920s. At the film's climax, during a shoot out with the police, Mabuse is driven mad by the appearance of the ghosts of his numerous victims. Hopelessly insane, Mabuse is sent to a prison asylum to serve his life sentence.

In The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Lang presents Mabuse's psychosis as the incarnation of Nazi philosophy. Many of Mabuse's speeches in the film were directly taken from Nazi slogans and the film's plot concerned Mabuse's bizarre plan to create a new social order by way of mass destruc­tion. Supported by a willpower which even proves to extend beyond the grave, Mabuse attempts to undermine society through a series of terrorist actions.

Not surprisingly, the film was banned by the Nazis and Lang began to realize that his own prestige as Germany's leading filmmaker was not enough to protect him. The Nazis, however, admired Lang's ability to create large visual scenes in such earlier films as Metropolis (Germany 1927). In 1933, Lang was summoned to the Ministry of Propaganda where Joseph Goebbels offered him the position of head of the German film industry under the Third Reich. That night, Lang fled Germany.

Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Lang quickly adapted himself to the American film industry. However, his films retained a unique sense of pessimism and despair. By now, Lang fully understood that the choices a person made would ultimately limit one's future possibilities. In Man Hunt, for example, the hero's entire future is determined at the beginning of the film by an ambiguous act. The hunter portrayed by Walter Pidgeon in Man Hunt is not necessarily interested in assassinating Hitler. He first toys with the idea and aims an unloaded rifle. His decision to place a bullet in the chamber is a spontaneous gesture. That decision, however, determines everything that follows as Pidgeon realizes, in the course of the film, that he must commit the act which he had only contemplated.

In a similar manner, the psychology professor in The Woman in the Window sets in motion a murderous chain of events when he merely has one drink too many at his club. The professor's slight inebriation leads to a minor flirtation, which leads to murder. His efforts to hide one murder requires him to commit more.

In Lang's German films, such as M and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, the characters were committed to their behavior patterns at the beginning of the film. In his American works, the characters had the limited freedom to make certain choices. Once the choices were made, their consequences were inevitable. The fear felt by all of Lang's characters was generated by this fatalistic certainty. In this regard, he created a cinema of fear.

Fellini: the Early Films

Praised by some as one of the great visionaries of the cinema and condemned by others as the betrayer of Italian Neo-Realism, Fellini has the satisfaction of knowing that critics are not indifferent to his work. Since 1949, he has created some of the most extraordinary images of the modern cinema and, although the charge of self-indulgence is accurate, his skill and imagination allow his indulgences to be both fascinating and memorable.

Many of Fellini's films are suggestively autobiographical, yet this is somewhat misleading since he enjoys making up preposterous stories about himself. Fellini was born in 1920 in the small provincial town of Rimini on the Adriatic sea coast. He was educated at a series of strict Catholic schools and claims to recall little except for their oppressive discipline. As a child, he ran off and joined a circus, an environment which he found more stimulating than provincial life. Dragged back to school, Fellini submerged himself in the only subjects which interested him: drawing and art history. His skills as a cartoonist proved profitable after the liberation of Rome in 1945, when he made his living in the Italian capital by selling caricatures to American servicemen. By this time, he also wrote satiric stories for several Roman magazines, and it was on the basis of these tales that he was invited by Roberto Rossellini to collaborate on the screenplay of Rossellini's film Rome: Open City (Italy 1945). Fellini's first film, Variety Lights (Italy 1949), was co-directed by Alberto Lattuada due to Fellini's own doubts about his ability to make a film on his own. The theme and visual texture of Variety Lights clearly identifies it, however, as a Fellini film and the storyline is loosely based on his own experiences as a traveling actor in the late 1930s.

Checcho, the self-proclaimed impresario of the film, and his troupe of performers have convinced themselves that they are bringing great musical acts to the rustics in the countryside, but the film's harsh photography betrays their tawdriness and ineptitude. As in Fellini's later films, the conflict between illusion and reality cannot be resolved, and Checcho blindly continues in spite of the well deserved indifference he receives. Like the men in I Vitelloni (Italy 1953) and Zampano in La Strada (Italy 1954), Checcho discovers his own inability to change. He ultimately comes to a limited realization of the inadequate nature of his own ambition but he is incapable of changing his character.

Even when a change does take place, as in The White Sheik (Italy 1952), it is not necessarily a progressive step. In The White Sheik, the wife finally gives up her romantic illusions, yet the film has already shown that the reality she accepts is no better. Reality is tedious and oppressive, and Fellini constantly suggests that even a ludicrous fantasy figure like the White Sheik is, in its own way, a needed salve to soothe the pains of real life. Even the fumetti, an Italian comic book composed of photographic images, has its place, and even though the White Sheik is a farcical, foolish figure, it is the image and not the person that matters. Likewise, the husband in The White Sheik is enveloped in his own fantasy. While the wife wishes to flee from the banality of provincial life, the husband completely embraces it. It was from this kind of life that the youthful Fellini attempted to flee when he joined the circus, and it is not surprising that his films contain a circus-like atmosphere. Unlike the wife in The White Sheik, Fellini will not compromise.

Another important motif in Fellini's films is the need to believe in miracles even if they remain unfulfilled. The prostitute in Nights of Cabiria (Italy 1957) prays for a miracle to happen: for her life to change and to find a man who truly loves her. Just when she thinks she has found such a man, she discovers that he only wants to steal her money. Throughout the film, Cabiria waits for the miracle that will never arrive, yet in the film's finale it is obvious that she will continue hoping for the impossible. Nights of Cabiria is a study of faith and survival, and Cabiria, in her own small way, is one of Fellini's most tragically heroic figures. She will continue to struggle and believe, even though the reality of her life totally argues against it.

While Nights of Cabiria presents a minor triumph of faith, La Dolce Vita (Italy 1959) offers the end of faith and visually explores the ultimate corruption of both reality and illusion. The opening shot of the film shows a statue of Christ being flown by helicopter over modern Rome. The final shot of the film shows a horribly mutated fish that has washed ashore. The film is bracketed by these two symbols of Christianity and La Dolce Vita delineates a progression from its satiric opening image to its final vision of total decadence and grotesqueness. Marcello, the central figure of La Dolce Vita, wanders aimlessly through a world that has seemingly come to a dead end. Like Cabiria, Marcello secretly hopes for the miracle that will change his life but unlike Cabiria, he cannot bring himself to truly believe in it. Empty, disillusioned, and completely alienated, Marcello is a modern man who finds it impossible to return to the innocence he longs for. More than any of Fellini's previous characters, Marcello realizes the problem but is the least capable of responding to it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Africa Real-to-Reel

One of the important, overriding concerns of the Third World cinema is the need to achieve control over the media images of one's own people and culture. Further, as in the case of the African cinema, there is also the struggle not simply to control the images, but also to purge from the screen the inaccurate and dehumanizing stereotypes that have predominated in the Western controlled film and television industry. The modern history of the African cinema has been an on-going process of reclaiming, as well as reexamining, their traditions and history in a vital effort to rediscover their identity. Or as the Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembene once stated: "We must understand our traditions before we can hope to understand ourselves."

Sembene's pursuit of this understanding has predominated in his work as a poet, novelist, critic, and filmmaker and his seminal position in the African cinema is due not only to the fact that he directed the first totally African film with his 1963 production of Borom Sarret, but also because of the consistently precise and audacious perspective that he brings to his cinematic studies of modern Africa. In his early films, such as Borom Sarret and Black Girl (Senegal 1965), Sembene concerned himself with the realities, and disparities, of post-colonial Senegal as reflected within the interiorized thoughts and feelings of the central characters in each film. In part, Sembene is attempting to force the viewer into a direct confrontation with the inner pain and despairing humanity of characters who are otherwise denied a voice within the social arena. Further, Sembene presents a bitter portrait of an alienated African psychology that is forced to define itself within the context of an unsympathetic, European derived system of values.

A recurring history of exploitation has long plagued such African countries as Senegal. Even before the period of French colonization, the region of Senegal was vulnerable to the political manipulations of empire-builders and religious proselytes. Islam, which arrived in the region soon after the religion's founding, originally offered a vocal force in opposition to slavery and feudalism. In turn, the early Islamic imams were willing to co-exist with the fetishistic shamans of the various cultures in the area. In time, however, Islamic leaders became increasingly concerned with aggregating their political power and, in the process, they began collaborating with both colonial forces and elements in the slave trade. This history is the background to the narrative of Njangaan (Senegal 1974) by Manama Johnson Traore. This film, which is the most critically praised of Traore's work, also offers an introduction to the second generation of Senegalese filmmakers who emerged during the 1970s.

Liberation through violent revolution was a necessary process for many modern African countries and the film Sambtzanga (Angola 1972]. presents an incisive and intimate view of Portuguese oppression and Angolais resistance and its effects upon one individual woman. The director of the film, Sarah Maldoror, was the wife of an Angolais resistance leader and, as part of her training in film production, had worked as the assistant director on Gillo Pontecorvo's production of The Battle of Algiers (Italy 1966). While the film contains a highly charged and vibrant sense of agitprop similar to Pontecorvo's work, Sambizanga also offers an emotional sense of one's own personal loss in the wake of historic forces.

The traditional structures of the African folktale has had a profound influence on the African cinema. Wend Kuuni (Burkina Faso 1982J, directed by Gaston Kabore, uses the poetic rhythms and narrative concerns of the African folktale and successfully attempts a recreation of a style of storytelling that predates European influence. In so doing, Wend Kuuni experiments with this oral tradition as the basis for a visual art form.

The merger between cinematic language and traditional African narrative forms is taken even further in Jom, the Story of a People (Senegal 1982) by Ababacar Samb Makharam. The film presents an epic overview of the history of Senegal within the structure of a tale told by a griot. Griots are the itinerant poets and musicians of Senegal who has the responsibility of recounting and maintaining the history of a tribe or people and, because of their duty in preserving the memories of their people, the griots hold an especially important place within the West African cultural community. The role of the griot was, perhaps, best stated by Sembene: "His work reflects and synthesizes the problems, the struggles, and the hopes of his people," In Jom, the Story of a People, Makharam's creates the film equivalent of a griot1s tale with all of its musical and moral strengths intact.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

American Scenes

Some of the most direct and unique expressions of this country's social and cultural realities have appeared within the documentary genre of recent American cinema. With the zeal of anthropologists discovering a strange new tribe, modern documentary filmmakers have turned their cameras toward their fellow citizens and have success­fully stalked them through their urban environs.

Perhaps one of the most unusual filmmakers to emerge in the last ten years is Errol Morris. In his documentaries Gates of Heaven (USA 1978) and Vernon, Florida (USA 1981), Morris presents a view of a society which is seemingly adrift. The small town citizens of Vernon, Florida attempt, in their rambling monologues, to create a meaningful context for their lives even though they are totally awash in a massive accumulation of banality. The subject matter of Gates of Heaven, a film ostensibly about pet cemeteries, actually deals with the content of the American soul.

Throughout both of his films, Morris uses a technique which could best be described as reflective passivity. Using static camera compositions, and refusing to interject himself into the film, Morris allows his subjects to discuss their concerns and feelings without adding any judgmental commentary. As a result, Morris captures a haunting sense of the fears and deep despairs that lurk beneath the placid exteriors of the people caught by his lenses. For Morris, the documentary film is a mirror which reflects the strange alienation of his fellow countrymen.

While Morris operates like an observant sociologist, Les Blank throws himself into his subject matter with overt affection and an easygoing sense of enjoyment. Blank's films have covered a remark­able range, from the problems of film making (Burden of Dreams -- USA 1982) to gastronomy (Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers -- USA 1983). Music and the various ethnic subcultures of America are, however, Blank's chief concern. During his career, he has made documentaries about Cajun music (Hot Pepper), Polish-American polkas (In Heaven There is No Beer?), Appalachia (Sprout Wings and Fly), Mexican-American society (Del Mero Corazon), and Afro-American culture (The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins and A Well Spent Life).
With his production of Always For Pleasure combines his ethnic concerns, his interest in music, and his taste food into a single cinematic extravaganza.

Blank's Always For Pleasure is a collage of the sounds and images of New Orleans. Though Blank partly centers the film around the Wild Tchoupitoulas (a group of Blacks who annually dress as Indians for the Mardi Gras), he captures the dynamic and highly anarchistic feel of the entire city. In the process, Blank recreates the joyful energy of a community rich in its own traditions and identity.

A very different part of the South is viewed in Space Coast (USA 1979). Filmmakers Ross McElwee and Michel Negroponte went, in the late 1970s, to the towns and shopping malls of Cape Canaveral, Florida. What they found were the curious, and very Southern, residents who lived amidst the fading remnants of the Apollo Moon Program.

The film presents a series of sharp contrasts as it observes the lives of such Cape Canaveral citizens as Papa John, an aging biker who also plays music for his church group. Other local residents attempt to form a company that will salvage and sell parts from disused launch pads. The local reporters follow, with diminishing interest, minor rocket tests and all the while, the camera probes the process by which a hi-tech boom created a sun­drenched ghost town.

One of the most important documentary filmmakers of the American cinema is Frederick Wiseman. Beginning with his production of Titicut Follies (USA 1967), Wiseman became a crucial figure in reshaping the style and content of contemporary documentary cinema. His original training as a lawyer provided Wiseman with a sharp insight to how the internal structures of social institutions really work. Repeatedly, in his films, he critically observes the inherent contradictions of such social institutions as education (High School -- USA 1969), the police (Law and Order --USA 1970), the Army (Basic Training -- USA 1972), and religion (Essene— USA 1972). Most recently, Wiseman has examined the commercial processes of consumer manipulation and image-making in the documentary film Model (USA 1981) and the narrative film Seraphita's Diary (USA 1982).

Working with a small crew, hand-held cameras, natural lighting, and location sounds, Wiseman makes himself as unobtrusive as possible. In turn, he succeeds in photographing the subject of his films in an amazingly off-guard manner. In Model, he captures the sense of mad perfectionism and, often, wasted energy which takes place during the laborious task of making an ad. The film does more, however, than merely capture the essence of an observed process. Through the images he portrays, Wiseman brings into question both the means and the purpose of manufacturing fantastic images in order to sell products. By directly exposing the dream merchants of advertising, Wiseman reaffirms the independent moral values and integrity of the documentary cinema.

Andrei Tarkovsky: The Logic of Poetry

Though he directed less than a dozen feature films during his career, Andrei Tarkovsky's work represents one of the most unique and profound contribu­tions to the history of the cinema. Neither an entertainer nor a mere aesthetician, Tarkovsky was a genuine visionary which explains, in part, the complex and oddly disturbing nature of his films. Throughout his films, Tarkovsky sought a form of film language that was closer to the rhythms of poetry rather than the traditional narrative structures of the cinema, and through this poetic form, he explored the possible redemption of the human race. Like Tolstoy, who was one of his influences, Tarkovsky embraced a metaphysical view that is still only partially understood. In turn, the philosophical density of his work was fueled by an increasing sense of emotional urgency as he searched for a spiritual rebirth within the crumbling structures of civilization.

Tarkovsky was born in Savrashye on the Volga on April 4, 1932. His father was the Russian poet Arseniy Tarkovsky, whose work would be another major influence on his son's career. It was his mother, however, who guided him toward the arts, ranging from music to drawing and eventual admission into the Institute for Oriental Languages. He left his studies, however, to join a geological expedition to Siberia and, upon his return in 1954, he was accepted into the Moscow Film School. The eccentric nature of his studies delayed his work and his first feature film, My Name is Ivan, was not made until 1962.

My Name is Ivan was originally begun under the direction of E. Abalov. Abalov's direction, however, was viewed as artistically unsatisfactory and the project was about to be abandoned until Tarkovsky agreed to take over as director. Tarkovsky was less than impressed with either the original story or screenplay and extensively restructured the film during shooting. Though he viewed My Name is Ivan as one of his least personal films, his critical attitude can only be understood in regards to the idiosyncratic nature of the works that were to follow. Otherwise, the film was an unusual and surprising production within the Soviet cinema of the 1960s. Further, it contained most of Tarkovsky's distinctive trademarks.

The narrative of My Name is Ivan invokes the traditionally realistic tone of the Soviet cinema of the period, but Tarkovsky's stylization uses an unusual free association between dreams, reality, and memory; music, art, and religion. The past and present are interwoven into an emotional tapestry that reflects the central character's psychological states. Recurring images and symbols create a thematic world in which the dead must return to console the living and the destiny of a people are etched onto the face of one young boy. Ivan's final destiny is presented as a testament to the strength of one human being against the overwhelming assault of history.

This sense of the cruel progression of history forms part of the basis of Tarkovsky's epic Andrei Rublev (USSR 1969). Its presentation of the violence in 15th century Russia was initially considered too disturbing by Soviet censors, who also rejected its over-all theme of the artist as. a man working in opposition to his society. Though very little is known about the real Andrei Rublev, and the film is largely a fictional treatment of the icon painter's life, Tarkovsky's production presents a vivid and controversial view of Russia during the time of the Tartar invasions. In between its many sudden and violent deaths and pagan rituals, Andrei Rublev offers Tarkovsky's own deep faith in humanity, a faith that manages to survive despite the butchery and hypocrisies surrounding the film's hero. Andrei Rublev was also the first film by Tarkovsky to suggest that the salvation of the human race may be possible only through faith and miracle.

The need to confront oneself is, in part, the underlying thesis of The Mirror (USSR 1975). Largely autobiographical, the film's highly experimental structure presents Tarkovsky's experiences with the horrors of World War Two, his father's departure from his family, and the political fears of intellectuals in the Soviet Union during the 1940s and 1950s. Composed of dreams, recollections, and newsreel footage, The Mirror presents the viewer with questions rather than answers, mysteries rather than explanations. Instead, Tarkovsky seeks a form of non meditated introspection of his emotional and biographical existence and, through this introspection, attempts to discover a reflection of both himself and of the history that has shaped him.

In both The Mirror and Nostalghia (USSR/Italy 1983), this process of intro­spection allows Tarkovsky to reach beyond the limits of materialism as he began searching for some more meaningful sense of humanity. Part of this process was motivated by Tarkovsky's growing concern that the human race was on the verge of extinction and his later films became increasingly apocalyptic in their visual content. For Tarkovsky, modern technology was devouring the natural world and mankind was becoming alienated and spiritually dead. An urgent sense of catastrophe filters through out his final films as he desperately sought ways by which mankind might redeem itself. He viewed this redemption as being possible, in part, by the rediscovery of a spiritual world that extended beyond the normative ranges of reality. Admittedly, Tarkovsky seemed to have been in the process of rejecting the materialistic venue of the modern Western world even while he was in the process of defecting to the West. As Nostalghia suggests, Tarkovsky felt the need to quickly expand his vision to a level that he might not have been able to achieve in the Soviet Union, yet his deepest concerns and longings remained firmly committed to the moods and spirit of his Russian homeland.

The Anti-Heroine: Women and the Hollywood Fantasy Role

During the Thirties and Forties, actresses dominated the Hollywood film industry. Famous leading men existed, but they were leading men who were paired with leading women. The buddy-buddy pictures, a phenomenon of the seventies, were generally unthinkable then. The satisfaction one received from a film like Red Dust (1932) came from the bickering romantic interplay between Gable and Harlow. In a modern film like The Sting (1974), the closest comparable thrill comes from watching Redford and Newman winking at each other. In the past, an actress could be the lead in a film; today an actress is either the victim or the victim's best friend. The era of Katharine Hepburn has given way to the screams of Jamie Lee Curtis.

This is not to imply that the era of the actress was also an age of liberation. Far from it, the actress films of the Thirties and Forties operated with a double system. In a film like Christopher Strong (1933), Katharine Hepburn could be assertive, aggressive, and masculine in behavior but she still had to commit suicide when the man she loved was unattainable. The 1939 film The Women excludes the male entirely, yet the unseen men are the total objects of the women's lives, and with their compulsive scheming and backstabbing, the women of the film are in need of more than mere consciousness raising. Sub­jugation, and not liberation, was the moral of these films. Barbara Stanwyck died repeatedly for being more masculine than the men in her films, and Hepburn always gave way in the end to Tracy's male chauvinism. Hollywood drew the bottom line and an actress either cooked or died.

Unlike their male counterparts, the anti-heroine was never allowed to ride off into the sunset. The anti-hero was given mythic respect; the anti-heroine was merely an unnatural competitor in the male dominion. The anti-hero was allowed total individuality; the anti-heroine was expected to marry and conform. The anti-hero needed no one and preferred his isolation; the anti-heroine needed both her man and the trappings of society. Freedom was fought for by men; the anti-heroine waited to surrender to Mr. Right.

A critical key to this double standard was the Hollywood view of feminine sexuality. Excess or suppression were the two forms of sexuality, leaving women with a choice between nymphomania and frigidity. In the 1946 film Gilda, Rita Hayworth avoids frigidity with great success. When Hayworth announces that "If I'd have been a ranch, they'd have named me: 'The Bar Nothing'," her character is neatly slotted into a masculine view of women. The divinity of the Divine Rita was largely based on her sexual availability, and the psychology of Gilda, her most famous role, has the same level of sophistication as Norman Mailer analyzing Marilyn Monroe, for Gilda is a man's notion of female behavior. This is not to imply that Gilda is not a good film, quite the opposite is true. It does achieve what it sets out to do, which is the final-reel suppression of the very impulses which it has had a lot of torrid fun.

Traditionally, filmmakers have been much more comfortable with frigidity. The woman who succeeds in a man's world cannot be normal, according to such films as Lady in the Dark (1944). Ginger Rogers' character may be a successful magazine editor, but that doesn't mean that she's emotionally stable. Her father-complex drives her toward men with equally large mother-complexes, creating incompatibility and an emergency trip to the psychiatrist's couch. A woman must be like a man in order to succeed in business, according to Lady in the Dark, and thereby lose her place as a woman. Her need for fulfillment is only achievable through fantasy, as the outrageous excessiveness of the film takes her through the Dali-like dream scape of the subconscious.

If the business woman had to overcome frigidity, Hollywood also sug­gested that the housewife had to acquire it. Proclaiming that "Love is a liability in marriage," Dorothy Arzner's 1936 production of Craig's Wife arguably delivers a double message. Rosalind Russell's obsessive concern with maintaining the perfect household is the societal image of woman pushed to its most alarming extreme. Her house becomes an extension of her per­sonality, and both are cold and austere. The Hollywood housewife is supposed to be concerned with dust balls under the cabinet, but Arzner takes it to the point of neurosis, and thereby questions the social structure which has created the problem in the first place. While Arzner does not necessarily have a feminist viewpoint, she does successfully raise questions often avoided in early Hollywood films.

Perhaps one of the best expressions of this contradictory view of woman is contained in the 1945 film Mildred Pierce. The film was made at that crucial period at the end of World War Two when returning servicemen discovered that their wives and girl-friends were now competing with them in the work force. With a shortage of male workers during the war, a woman's place became the assembly line, and after the war many women were not ready to turn their jobs back to men. The threat of women invading male territory became frighteningly real and men had to quickly regroup to meet the home front challenge. Mildred was not just a woman, she was a potential front line soldier.

Mildred Pierce splits the attack in half by allowing Joan Crawford to be redeemable through her repeated acts of self-sacrifice, while her daughter Veda takes on an increasingly monstrous and despicable form. With the persona split in two, Mildred can ultimately become an acceptable woman who can finally make the "right" compromise, while Veda can take the contempt and moral outrage. A rule in any battle is to divide and conquer.