Posted by: kokoro | 18th Mar, 2009

Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight, Chapter 12

As a big classic movie fan, I found Lipsitz’s reading very interesting. As reflections of their time, movies are just as important an historical source as written documents or oral testimonies, and they deserve just as much consideration.

Hollywood depicted the working-class in a contradictory light in the early 1940s, but in the postwar environment of anti-labor, the depictions became less frequent and less favorable.

The traditional genres of gangster films, family melodramas, westerns, and social-problem films all turned away from the class considerations they had during the 1930s. Gangster films turned towards psychological exploration rather than class tensions. Family melodramas stopped focusing on ethnicity and class and more towards parent-child tensions. Social-problem films consider issues of ethnicity and race but turned away from class issues.

The turmoil of the 1940s also brought about two new film genres, film noir and film gris. Film noir often used urban working-class environments, with stories focused on isolation, guilt, frustration, powerlessness, and betrayal. Film noir reflected the social contradictions of the time. It expressed motivations behind organization and striking by emphasizing community, fear of isolation, hostility to authority, and the struggle for a better life. However, through paranoid delusions of conspiracy, assaults from the outside and betrayal from the inside, film noir also reflected the American cold war rationale that the country was forced into action by aggressive foreign enemies and subversive forces at home.

Film noir and film gris utilized working-class settings, and the works of directors Edward Dmytryck, Herbert Biberman, Edgar Ulmer, and Nicholas Ray represented working-class culture and concerns through various points-of-view. Monopoly in the film industry, direct censorship, government repression, and a decline in movie attendance combined to limit these directors’ efforts. Nonetheless, working-class images continued to serve important functions for middle-class filmmakers.

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