Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage

One thing that I absolutely loved about studying film was the adorable film library. (Perhaps I shouldn't write in the past sense, but there is an entire summer between me and my dear film books.) Being a film nerd like me in this situation, I almost feels like Eve getting banned from the Garden of Eden. But of course she was always welcome back in the autumn - in exchange for life long education loans. Or should I check the Bible one more time?

The most wonderful thing about the library though, was their constant literature clean-outs - there were always some cool film book you just have to have, for just 20 SEK each.

...that's $2.50 for those of you who don't care about world economy. Jesus, you really should keep track on the Swedish currency. We almost took over the Earth once - but Charles XII was killed by a button and messed up everything. But don't feel safe just yet - in about a week there is a Swedish royal wedding, and new plans for taking over the planet will be presented...

His spawns are going to get you.

Where was I? Oh yeah, film books. The last day of school this spring I bought a book I can't believe I didn't already own, since the title is just awesome. It's Stanley Cavell's Pursuit of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. I have just started to read it, but it is really refreshing to read some serious analyses of the, at the time and to a large extent still, most popular film genre Hollywood had to offer.

One common explanation for the popularity of this genre and its (very often) filthy rich protagonists, is the fact that the poor Depression era audiences wanted to satisfy their need for extravaganza by eye balling Ginger Rogers' feather gowns. (So called "fairy tales of the Depression".) Cavell offers another explanation, which I find a little more realistic and not as degrading as the first one, namely that the story wouldn't work in a regular Depression era life. The characters have to be able to afford to make drama about their relationship status, wonder who is the right one, whether they should marry/re-marry, etc. etc. The genre wasn't about standing in a bread queue or trying to find a job to support your family.
Well, Cavell puts it a little more delicately, of course.

What? A leopard is on the loose?

He also points out some interesting similarities between the "Hollywood comedies of remarriage" and Shakespeare's dramas - and that is quite the different era, telling us that certain themes obviously are popular throughout the ages. One similarity is the importance of the father/daughter relationship. In Shakespeare's works the father stands for the education of the daughter, as well as being the protector of her virginity. In the Hollywood films, take The Lady Eve (1941) for instance, the father often has the same function, although the virginity at stake is rather a psychological than physical one.

And of course, there are extensive "close readings" (a chapter each) of the following films. In short, 20 SEK for this book seems like quite the bargain, in my opinion. But of course, one can always watch films just because you enjoy them, without analyzing the celluloid out of them.

The first one guessing all of the films right gets five points.


Wendymoon said...

Fun post!

So let's see, that's...
The Lady Eve
It Happened One Night
Bringing Up Baby
The Philadelphia Story
His Girl Friday
Adam's Rib
and The Awful Truth?

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Lovely post, I won't guess because I think I have an unfair advantage.

(three Hepburns and all of them in my top 100)

Darsh said...


Meredith said...

the lady eve, it happened one night, bringing up baby, the philadelphia story, his girl friday, adam's rib, and the awful truth!

i would be alright with swedes taking over the world, actually. ;)

Audrey said...

1. All About Eve (Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck)
2. It Happened One Night (Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert)
3. Bringing Up Baby (Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn)
4. The Philadelphia Story (Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart)
5. Adam's Rib (Spencer Tracy, Judy Holliday, Katharine Hepburn)
6. The Awful Truth (Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant, Irene Dunne)

Fritz said...


The Lady Eve
It happened one Night
Bringing up Baby
The Philadelphia Story
His Girl Friday
Adam's Rib
The Awful Truth

Am I right?

Emily said...

I love that book!! I have read it several times and it truly is a gem. The chapter on The Awful Truth is probably my favorite and in my opinion the best of the book. Oh and the films pictured are The Lady Eve, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, Adam's Rib, and The Awful Truth. :)

Andreas said...

I wish my school's library sold cheap, discontinued film books. Alas.

That book sounds like a great read, given how awesome screwball comedies and Stanley Cavell are. Gender role-reversal FTW!

(I'd name the movies pictured here, except that the names were in the image URLs, so it feels like cheating.)

Lolita said...

Five points to Meredith!

Thanks! And Kate Hepburn was the queen of screwball comedies, obviously. Perhaps sharing the throne with Irene Dunne and Rosalind Russell, in my opinion.

Five points ;)

Haha, good! We have plans for it, just wait and see! (As soon as we get our ridiculous current King off the throne. He's not worthy.)

Five points, and a gold star for naming the actors/actresses!

Very much so! 5 p.

Great! I will have to read it through! 5 p to Emily :)

Funny that it took to the last comment until someone pointed out the obvious about the URL! Haha. But asking you to name the films was mostly to let my readers show their classic film know-how :)