In 1934 the FCC was created. In 1933, Design for Living was released as a feature film, luckily for me.
Lucky, because I had been watching a Gary Cooper film collection, circa the 1930’s. Before that, I had watched the Sci-Fi Classics Collection from the 30’s all the way to the 60’s. I had always at least entertained the idea that 'good' is often old, and old-fashioned can be genuinely 'good.' I was unprepared for what my automatically analytic mind would throw at me as I eagerly pursued classic films I had never seen before. As a result, I was this close to gender suicide. In case you can’t picture my gesturing, it was THIS – close. This casual spew of thoughts, or ‘blog’ is meant to explain the exasperation and gratitude that I experienced, and know, is often alien to many others. This experience is, of course, biased and unique to myself. Yet, I still believe that to understand experiences like these, even when they are disagreeable to your own philosophy, is a definite 'good.'
It is not that I don’t enjoy the good scifi or action film all about men, and what men do when confronted by the future, invisible aliens, or even the Foreign Legion (Beau Geste). After all, men are ‘people’ too. Yet, the common theme in the movies I saw is that men aren’t people. They are the focus, the main character, the butter on the bread, and the diamond in the ring. They are never simply treated the same way as characters as women are, even in the most mundane sense; they are never kept in the category of ‘people.’ By ‘treatment’ I of course do not mean such things as clothing and mannerisms (although the Birdcage was an excellent film), or any other attributes only associated with one gender or the other. What I am referring to is the attention to intelligence, intellectual gravitas, the ability to rationally affect the plot, and even simple common sense as revealed by the dialogue and action. The phrase ‘movie magic’ is an understatement when a film tells a great story focused on a single male character. It is, however, disheartening when there are female roles limited to adult women consistently acting like, and being treated as, children, or simply the female as a background object, as exemplified by the flight attendants in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In terms of how I felt at the time, I must explain that I am well aware of the gender traditions and how they play out in the many decades of classic film. Yet, when you are brimming with excitement about watching a classic film for the first time, and then are faced with a new awareness of being the “other”…
It was the realization that if I had been in this movie so beloved by so many, I most certainly would not get to be the one driving the Time Machine. This feeling took me out of the movie itself and into the dark oblivion of a movie theater.
It would be too intensive to analyze the specifics of my evidence and arguments supporting this criticism of those classic films; but, perhaps you’ll take my word for it. Even better, you may entertain these ideas when you watch the films for yourself.
I later found out that the film adaptation of the original play, by the famed Noël Coward, was changed from highbrow to lowbrow with all the speed of Newton’s apple falling to the muddy earth. However, this doesn’t mean that it was sexed up to fall down. In fact, even after censoring the content of the original play, the film is surprisingly blatant and cool about the reality of the situation: the situation being a woman with two lovers, a ménage-à-trois. Not only is she the center of attention, she is also the mover of the plot, the maker of fortunes, and the “mother of the arts.” Gilda, the diamond in the ring, is the man’s man of this movie. Yet, this is a comedy, not a drama. There is nothing too profound, or heart-wrenching to enforce strong social commentary. It was made ready for general consumption by the speedy chirping of the 1930’s and wordy puns of the day. As Coward, the original playwright, commented, "I'm told that there are three of my original lines left in the film – such original ones as 'Pass the mustard'."
Cheesy, puny, witty and artless as it was, especially compared to the absolute grandeur of A Space Odyssey, I certainly felt the excitement of finding such a ‘progressive’ movie from the 1930’s. By progressive, I mean that it states a part of reality, what really goes on, and what’s been going on since the beginning of human existence. Marriage is a relatively recent social construction depending on your religious and historical education. So, too, is the concept of the housewife. If these ideas are new to you, and are of interest, I highly suggest Professor Pateman and Professor Gregory's office hours, courtesy of UCLA.
I won’t recount the plot of this film, although it would certainly add to my explanation. I’ll leave its innards as mysterious as possible, because I think it’s worth seeing for yourself. And see it you can, thanks to the cheesy, puny, witty, and artless Youtube.
F*** the FCC.