Women in Film Noir II – The Importance of the Hays Code

Continuing from my previous article concerning the representation of women in film noir in this article i will set out an analysis of that depiction utilizing Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of capitalism and the desiring machine. As i noted in the previous article Hollywood inscribes the two central female figures as examples of appropriate and inappropriate desire. The destroyer is an example of desire without limits. The redeemer is conversely an example of desire within the (acceptable) limits. The articulation of the limits of desire can be seen as a prime function of the Hollywood desiring-machine. A desiring-machine is a social body which produces, codes and articulates desire. Desiring-machines also install identities by articulating how, why, when and what those subjects will desire. Deleuze and Guattari explain ‘The prime function incumbent upon the socius1, has always been to codify the flows of desire, to inscribe them, to record them, to see to it that no flow exists that is not properly damned up, channeled, regulated’.2 Therefore the production of archetypes is integral to the process of the desiring-machine because it allows a social body to articulate the acceptable limits of desire. This need to regulate the construction and representation of desire is further facilitated by Hollywood’s use of repressive structures such as the Hays Code. The Hays Code, named after its principle author Will H Hays, written in 1930 and adopted in 1934, stipulated what Hollywood films could and couldn’t show. The main intention behind the code was the reaffirmation of traditional moral ‘standards of life’.3 Molly Haskell explains:

In its support of the holy institution of matrimony, the [Hays] code was trying to keep the family together and (theoretically) protect the American female from the footloose American males who would obviously flee at the first opportunity, unless he was bound by the chains of the sacrament, which Hollywood took upon itself to keep polished and shining.4

As Haskell notes, one of the central aspects of the Hays Code was the attempt to ensure that institutions such as marriage weren’t disparaged or insulted. The code achieved this by explicitly requiring films not to ‘infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing’.5 Any character who transgresses these traditional sexual and social norms is structurally required by the Hays Code to be punished and repressed in the film’s resolution. Carmen, in The Big Sleep, is an example of this censorship. The consequence of Carmen’s inappropriate sexuality and promiscuity is her institutionalization. As well as being placed in a mental institution, Carmen is removed from the film’s denouement completely. Carmen is not permitted by the Hays Code to have a positive resolution; Carmen’s ending is complete censorship. The Hays Code is therefore an integral element in the construction of film noir narratives because it informs how transgressive behaviour has to be dealt with.

1 The socius is a social body or organism.

2 Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, (London: Continuum, 2008), p. 37.

3 Will H Hays, ‘The Motion Picture Production Code’, in Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema, Second Edition, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), pp. 593-597, p. 593.

4 Molly Haskell, From Reverence to Rape, (London: The University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 21.

5 W H Hays, ‘The Motion Picture Production Code’, p. 595.

Advertisements

Postmodernity, Architecture, Jameson and Foster

Architecture is important in the understanding of postmodernist thought, Jameson notes ‘of all the arts, architecture is the closest constitutively to the economic, with which, in the form of commissions and land values, it has a virtually unmediated relationship’.(1.) He continues to state that it is ‘not surprising to find the extraordinary flowering of the new postmodern architecture grounded in the patronage of multinational business, whose expansion and development is strictly contemporaneous with it’.(2.) According to Jameson postmodernist architecture has a symbiotic relationship with multinational corporations. Postmodernist architecture arose due to the loss of faith and the end of the governmental post-war funding for housing projects. Significant modernist projects are the Park Hill flats in Sheffield, and Robin Hood Gardens, a council housing complex in London, both projects were inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation. These projects failed significantly in their humanitarian, rationalist aim and this is argued to be a contributing factor to the style of the postmodernist architecture. Lyotard notes ‘the disappearance of this idea of progress within rationality and freedom would explain a certain tone, style or modus… a sort of bricolage’ [bricolage means tinkering].(3.) Charles Jencks, a highly influential postmodern architectural theorist, proposed the “double coding” style of architecture, which ‘entails a return to the past as much as a movement forward… tradition with a difference’ in essence a history and a locality, treated with irony.(4.) This style, similar to Kenneth Frampton’s “Critical Regionalism”, can be found in Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans which replicates the local Italian community by referring to ‘the Trevi fountain, Roman classical arches, even the geographical shape of the country itself, transcoding their historical forms into contemporary materials [Steel rather than marble] as befits a symbolic representation of Italian-American society’.(5.) Postmodernist architecture is a “popularist” doctrine, which aims to bring the sublime into social environments, refusing to attempt to transform the inhabitants of a city to fit in ‘pre-decided rational schemes’ it aims for organic growth which transforms itself to fit the inhabitants of a city.(6.)

Charles Moore Piazza Italia New Orleans

For all the rhetoric of popularism architectural postmodernism suffers from the same elitism of style it accuses Modernism of exhibiting. As Hal Foster notes postmodernism ‘far from [being] populist (as is so commonly claimed) is alternately elitist in its allusions and manipulative in its clichés’.(7.) The ironic treatment of history is evidently a treatment only understood by those with architectural training however it could be argued that the fusion of highbrow allusions and lowbrow clichés is the degeneration of the high/low cultural divide that is seen as an important positive democratic aspect of postmodernism. Hal Foster continues to explain that ‘architectural postmodernism exploits the fragmentary nature of late-capitalist urban life; we are conditioned to its delirium even as its causes are concealed from us’.(8.) What this means is that postmodernism is but a ‘gratuitous veil drawn over the face of social instrumentality’.(9.) The local identity and history referred to in Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia are but a cynical reference to the local culture, and traditions of that distinct area. The “Italian heritage” the Piazza refers to is a flat, arbitrary, almost racist version of what it is to be Italian. Rather than simulate and reflect the local culture postmodernist architecture reveals – unintentionally – that multinational corporations exploit the image and history of a neighbourhood without considerate understanding or care for the people. By reducing the neighbourhood into a flat image of “Italianness” the community is commodified, reduced into an image. “Italianness” is idolised; the problem with idolisation is that it reduces a Being into an image, an image that can be brought and sold: slavery. History warns us of the dangers of commodifying, idolising individuals with the suicides of “icons” Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain who broke underneath the weight of their extreme commodification or as it is often named “fame”.

no_cmoore_pomopkinglot

Postmodern architecture, theorised by Jencks and Frampton, styled itself by a returning to the past ironically and with a regionalism that refused to fit people to architectural designs, preferring to fit the designs to the people. I noted that Moore’s Piazza d’Italia was rather a cynical simulation of a cliched sense of “Italianness”. Postmodern architecture is the aesthetic of an inconsiderate corporate ethos which reduces a community and its people into flat images which are easily reproduced and replicated. Rather than reflecting the surrounding community postmodernist architecture isolates communities, reducing their image into easily reproducible cogs; the transference of communities and individuals into commodities is slavery.

1. Jameson, Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p. 5.

2. Jameson, Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p. 5.

3. Lyotard, ‘Defining the Postmodern’, p. 1613.

4. Charles Jencks in Malpas, The Postmodern, p. 15.

5. Linda Hutcheon in Malpas, The Postmodern, p. 15.

6. Malpas, The Postmodern, p. 17.

7. Hal Foster, ‘(Post) Modern Polemics’, Perspecta, Vol. 21 (1984), pp. 145-153, p. 146.

8. Hal Foster, ‘(Post) Modern Polemics’, p. 148.

9. Hal Foster, ‘(Post) Modern Polemics’, p. 147.

Future Worlds: Sport Culture and Costume in Rollerball

Future Worlds: Rollerball (1975)

In order to create a critique of society a filmmaker will tend to focus upon a certain aspect of society or a social practice. In Rollerball sport is used as the vehicle for the film’s narrative. Rather than extending one particular sport to social dominance a new sport, a combination and synthesis, of several of the most popular sports in America, is developed. Costume in Rollerball is an important aspect in establishing the sport and the futuristic setting. The helmet is a direct replication of the NFL helmets worn in the 70s. The pads also replicate the image of American football athletes. The use of rollerskates produces a similar image, style of movement and tempo found in ice hockey – evidenced in the repeated “bodychecking”. The gloves the Rollerballers’ use, to pick up the ball after it is shot out of a cannon, are identical to contemporary baseball’s outfielder’s glove. The Rollerballer’s costume is a patchwork of several important parts of major American sports.

 rollerball

The controllers of the dangerous sport, and society, are several multi-national corporations who provide essential utilities – such as energy – and are altogether under the command of an ultimate ‘Executive Directorate’: some shady controlling corporate power something similar in essence to the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo [Grand Council of Fascists]. I have read the shady Directorate as something like a facsist group in relation to what Franklin D. Roosevelt said concerning the strengthening of the anti-trust laws:

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism; ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.(1.)

In the future world of Rollerball a grand council of corporate power has assumed total control over social practices, such as sport, and everyday life itself. Corporate power even extends to the ability to revoke a marriage and to take a persons’ spouse without question. In order to establish this sense of corporate cultural control the traditional national anthem is replaced with a “corporate anthem” and every member of the audience willingly stands and places their hand to their heart. The future world of Rollerball, a state dominated by fascistic corporations, is explored through the setting of sport. The sport is established by costume and the allusion to the most popular contemporary American sports. Rollerball, often seen as an anti-sport film – incorrectly as the last image is of the protagonist Jonathan E. finishing the game by scoring then walking away in disgust – creates a critique of the way corporate-media and power is welded to produce and provide the ability to dominate and control society and social practices.

(1.) Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Appendix A: Message from the President of the United States Transmitting Recommendations Relative to the Strengthening and Enforcement of Anti-trust Laws”, The American Economic Review, Vol. 32, No. 2, Part 2, Supplement, Papers Relating to the Temporary National Economic Committee (Jun., 1942), pp. 119-128, p. 119.

A Couple of Squared Circles, Sarris and Kael – Part I

 

Part One: ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’ – Andrew Sarris

Andrew Sarris, influenced and inspired by the politique du auteur, produced his “notes” not as a manifesto but rather a clarification of the auteur issue. In 1950s-60s America, auteurism was not well-received by screenwriters and the many other people who collaborated in film production. However, Sarris felt that several articles constructed “straw-men” or clichéd versions of auteurism. In reaction to this Sarris decided to produce his article on the auteur theory. In this article I will explore Sarris’s ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’ however in my next article (part two) I will explore Pauline Kael’s criticism of Sarris’s defence and definition of the auteur theory. In the next article I will also conclude and explore the strengths and weaknesses of both articles. 

I

 An outcome, or implication, of the “Auteur Theory”, according to Sarris, is the belief that ‘the weakest Ford is superior to the strongest King’.(1) The worst John Ford film is held to be ‘invariably superior’ to the best, or most enjoyable, Henry King film.(2) Sarris wryly notes then that ‘by auteur rules, the Fords will come up aces as invariably as the Kings will come up deuces. Presumably, we can all go home as soon as the directorial signature is flashed on the screen’.(3) There are no good or bad films, just good or bad directors. This ‘inflexible attitude’, as Sarris notes, seems counter to commonsensical notions of a films’ worth. After noting these consequences of the auteur theory Sarris notes however that he intends to praise the auteur theory.(4) Beyond these problems for the auteur theory Sarris argues that a positive aspect of the auteur theory is that is is a ‘critical device for recording the history of the American cinema’.(5) Sarris goes on to explain:

the auteur theory is the only help for extending the appreciation of personal qualities in the cinema. By grouping and evaluating films according to directors, the critic can rescue individual achievements from an unjustifiable anonymity.(6)

Directors’ minor films, due to the focus the auteur theory puts on exploring a directors’ total catalogue, are evaluated and analysed beyond their popularity and apparent, or immediately evident, importance or interest. Films are re-analysed and re-criticised continuously in relation to a director’s canon. To Sarris this is an important element of the auteur theory and one that replicates the way critics’ treat literary figures such as Shakespeare and artists such as Van Gogh. Another reason why Sarris embraced the auteur theory is that it is an account of film which does not, and in some ways rewards, directors in a constrictive environment such as the Hollywood studio system. Sarris explains that in the auteur theory ‘there is no justification for penalizing Hollywood directors for the sake of collective mythology’.(7) The pressures of Hollywood and its funding system should not be used to penalize and disqualify Hollywood directors from the “pantheon” of directors or auteruism. A Hollywood director may not be allowed to choose their subject matter – they may hate making gangster films – or the leading star, but they do, according to Sarris, author the film the same way a non-Hollywood director does. [For this example we must assume unfairly that all non-Hollywood director are given total freedom over their subject matter].

The auteur theory has, according to Sarris, three central premises. Sarris explains ‘the first premise of the auteur theory is the technical competence of a director as a criterion of value’.(8 ) The ability of a director to organise or implement their “vision” requires technical competence. To Sarris to be an author of a film technical understanding is required. Knowing which technique, method, suits one’s aims best is the basic level of competence that Sarris asserts is required to be evaluated as a director. Sarris argues that ‘if a director has no technical competence, no elementary flair for the cinema, he is automatically cast out from the pantheon of directors’.(9) This position is summed up by Sarris when he states ‘A badly directed or an undirected film has no importance in an [evaluative system]’.(10) Technical ability is, according to Sarris, the ability to organise a film with some degree of clarity and coherence.(11)

 

Sarris explains ‘the second premise of the auteur theory is the distinguishable personality of the director as a criterion of value’.(12) Sarris continues that ‘over a group of films, a director must exhibit certain recurring characteristics of style’ which the auteur theorist asserts ‘serve[s] as his signature’.(13) The similar shooting style of John Ford’s domestic screens, and the death valley vistas, could be cited as a signature of Ford’s direction. Sarris argues that:

An expert production crew could probably cover up for a cimpanzee in the director’s chair. How do you tell the genuine director from the quasichimpanzee? After a given number of films, a pattern is established.(14)

The continued utilization of the same concepts/techniques – worked through, altered, re-analysed, mocked, readjusted – is of critical importance to the auteur critic because it facilitates the ability to analyse over a period of several films the growth and development of a director’s technical competence and the emergence, and continued influence, of a director’s world-view.

The third premise of Sarris’s auteur theory is more obtuse and a bit more difficult to define. Sarris explains that:

The third and ultimate premise of the auteur theory is concerned with interior meaning, the ultimate glory of the cinema as an art. Interior meaning is extrapolated from the tension between a director’s personality and his material.(15)

The third and ultimate premise, indicating that it is according to Sarris the most important essential criterion of the auteur theory, relates to the meaning or outcome produced from the tension, or difficulty, a director encounters and overcomes in the production of film. Sarris seems to acquire a rather mystical note here arguing that an important criterion of judgement is “internal” in a visual medium but he explains his position better when he notes that internal meaning springs from the ‘intangible difference between one personality and another’.(16) The third premise of the auteur theory is that the internal meaning, to Sarris that certain something about an individual that is produced in everything they do, is produced by the director’s attempt to create a whole from significantly desperate and opposing meanings and influences. Internal meaning is the combination of contradictions; the director’s word-view combined, meshed with the film’s subject matter and all the other contributing factors of the film. A meaning and outcome ultimately derived from the director.

Alfred Hitchcock is seem as a prime example of an auteur and Sarris would agree because Hitchcock satisfies all three of the auteur theory criteria. Hitchcock was a competent technician and his films contain similar techniques played with time and time again – sometimes hitting other times missing. And all of Hitchock’s films retain an aspect of his distinguishable personality. Sarris would assert that Hitchcock is an auteur because the continued utilization of certain film techniques, film form, which are in-line with, and rely on, Hitchcock’s personal/internal interpretation of the psychology of cinema viewers. Hitchcock authors his films. The three “circles” of Sarris’s auteur theory are technical ability, personality and internal meaning.

(1) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, in Gerald Mast & Marshall Cohen (ed), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 2nd Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1979), pp. 650-665, p. 650.

(2) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 651.

(3) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 651.

(4) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 651.

(5) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 660.

(6) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 660.

(7) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 660.

(8 ) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 662.

(9) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 662.

(10) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 662.

(11) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 664.

(12) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 662.

(13) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 662.

(14) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 664.

(15) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 663.

(16) Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962’, p. 663.