Week Six: Giving The People What They Want

November 12, 2010

Thomas Schatz says, “to discuss the Western genre is to address neither a single Western film nor even all Westerns, but rather a system of conventions which identifies Westerns films as such.” Westerns exhibit qualities of its genre, but it’s not physically touchable. He said, “If we extend these ideas into genre study, we might think of the film genre as a specific grammar or system of rules of expression and construction and the individual genre film as a manifestation of these rules.” However, grammar is a learned experience, whereas the rules about genre constantly change.

“It is a question if Mildred Pierce, like Double Indemnity, can truly be classified as film noir. It shares many of the same elements–sleazy men supported by women, too-young women with hot bodies, illicit love affairs, murder in ritzy quarters on a moonlit night–but it lacks one of the most essential ingredients: a hard-boiled anti-hero, unless one counts Veda (Ann Blyth).”

–LAWRENCE J. QUIRK, from Joan Crawford:
The Essential Biography
, 2002.

Mildred Pierce is a classic example of a film noir. It offers something new in the genre—the voiceover is by a female lead character instead of a male protagonist (or hero detective). Second, there is no real femme fatale (perhaps Veda or Monty, the homme fatale). The film fulfills the expectations of the traditional gender roles and social norms. The films speak to the anxieties of the inadequacy of men and their uncertainty of the family institution and marriage. The femme fatale’s manipulation of sexuality is a threat to patriarchal social norms. Pam Cook says, “the erosion of the patriarchal order cannot be tolerated” (79). Mildred acted out traditional feminine qualities in the beginning of films in order to hide her ambitions (but she isn’t really considered a femme fatale). According to Film Noir Reader, “These women had taken their roles as provider (in the workplace) and father (in the home)” (88). The criminal world seemed to act out sexual deviance, but film noirs portrayed unnatural marriages that seemed to be restricted or frustrated by sexuality. Sexuality and morality are inextricably correlated in film noir; immoral characters, which deviated from the normative societal patterns, were punished by law or by death. The film directors are attempting to reinforce the social norms – strictly defined gender roles and the patriarchal social order (determinate space). Mildred Pierce is a hybridized film – both a women’s melodrama and film noir. Since it’s also a social melodrama, is it indeterminate space as well, “celebrating the values of social integration”?

Schatz’s theory helps us to understand that genre films reinforce social and political ideologies for a society within a cultural or historical context.

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One Response to “Week Six: Giving The People What They Want”

  1.   Onno Vocks Says:

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