Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings

By Mary Ann Calo | Go to book overview

Hollywood image that women are meant to be like Claudette Colbert, sexy and alluring; and that if they are attractive to men they quickly will be married. But statistics show that during the 1930s women were not marrying: "the marriage rate per thousand population fell from 10.14 in 1929 to 7.87 in 1932"; the birthrate fell also. 20 Despite the movieland suggestion that women can have everything, the facts of the Depression indicated otherwise. The average woman during the 1930s was assaulted by contradictory messages from all sides: on the one hand she was told not to work, but on the other hand she was less likely to assume the role of housewife and mother. And those women who did work were often insulted and called menaces to society.

Even more disconcerting than these incongruities is the fact that movies were made with women moviegoers in mind. As the Lynds discovered in the 1930s, "Middletown is probably representative of other localities in the fact that adult females predominate heavily in the audience" and, as one producer remarked, "set the type of picture that will 'go'." 21 As early as the teens it was the American woman who told the movie studios what type of movie would make a profit. During the 1920s she went to the movies to see her newly liberated working-girl self on the screen. Habits formed, American women, like the women in Reginald Marsh Paramount Picture, went to the movies in the 1930s with the same vicarious idealism in mind, but then they were greeted by Hollywood falsehoods which contradicted their rather dismal status in American society. Only in the soap-opera "woman's film" genre, which started in the 1930s, and in which ordinary, middle-class women were depicted as victims, did the Hollywood film begin to approach the real experience of women in American society. 22


NOTES

From The Woman's Art Journal. Reprinted by permission of the author.

1.
Lloyd Goodrich, "Introduction," in Norman Sasowky , The Prints of Reginald Marsh ( New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1976), 8.
2.
Lloyd Goodrich, "Reginald Marsh," Selections from the Felicia Meyer Marsh Bequest ( New York: Whitney Museum, 1979).
3.
Lloyd Goodrich, Reginald Marsh ( New York: Whitney Museum, 1955), 3.
4.
William Benton, "Artist and Artisan of the Theatre," Theatre Arts ( April 1956), 68.
5.
Lloyd Goodrich, Reginald Marsh ( New York: Abrams, 1972), 27.
6.
Benton, "Artist and Artisan of the Theatre,"67.
7.
On Hopper's movie paintings, see Erika L. Doss, "Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, and Film Noir," Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities (Winter 1983). A version of "Paramount Picture" appeared in American Studies Exchange (Fall 1982).
8.
Jon Solomon, The Ancient World in the Cinema ( New York: Barnes, 1978), 41-2.
9.
Gabe Essoe and Raymond Lee, DeMille: The Man and His Pictures ( New York: Barnes, 1970), 112.
10.
Leslie Halliwell, Mountain of Dreams, The Golden Years of Paramount Pictures ( New York: Stonehill, 1976), 28.
11.
Cecil B. DeMille, The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille, Donald Hayne, ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1959), 338.
12.
The term "celluloid aphrodisiac" is taken from Marjorie Rosen, Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the American Dream ( New York: Avon, 1972), 154.
13.
For the image of women in 1920s films see Mary P. Ryan, "The Projection of a New Womanhood, The Movie Moderns in the 1920s," in Jean E. Friedman and William G. Shade, eds., Our American Sisters: Women in American Life and Thought ( Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1973), 366-84.
14.
Robert and Helen Lynd, Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts ( New York: Harcourt Brace, 1937), 261.
15.
Rosen, Popcorn Venus, 140.
16.
Ibid., 154.

-300-

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