Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Chinatown:  So what is the point?

A few weeks ago a friend of mine, following a viewing of the 1974 film, Chinatown, asked me "so what is the point?"  It seemed like an odd question at first, because to me the film seemed to have so many points, not just one.   We ended up talking more about the concept of how one looks at film, art, what is the point of anything?  Well, for me as much as I love to discuss a film, it is often a difficult topic for me to articulate.  Why?  Perhaps because I look at a film from multiple points of view.

One, as a fan.  Did the narrative pull you in, that movie rocked!  Or, the book is a lot better, they cast the wrong person, i.e. Ben Affleck in Gone Girl.  So, this is really what most of us do, judge the merit, did I like it or not? 

Two, as a film scholar, I tend to position the film within the canon of other films in the genre, the overall historical pull, 

Three, the narrative as social meaning or overall message of the production.  How does the film systematically inform the audience through framing, sound, mise en scene and editing? 
Fourth, little girl film geek, I can't even remember not know about classic Hollywood.  Like some kids know all the players on different teams, I was hooked on autobiographies of Ingrid Bergman, knew the intricacies of different studios, and, in general, developed an encyclopedic knowledge of films made within the American Studio System.  Would bicycle down to the campus showings, this was pre-cable, and films such as Casablanca, Maltese Falcon and Singing in the Rain would be shown for a buck.  
So, to my friend who discombobulated me with the simple question of "what is the point?" I offer four answers:  As a fan of the film Chinatown, my first gut response is "I love it".  The dialogue rang true, the acting was exciting, and the plot just took me for a ride. Plus, Hello...Jack Nicholson and John Huston?  

Fourth, the film is also a fantastical reworking of the 1940s and 1950s film noir, capturing the paranoia and despair fundamental to the genre, but yet informed through the political/social aspects of 1970s. 

Fifth,  the film's message, which is I am pretty sure was what my friend was asking....I guess for me the message is that people are complex, we have secrets, and greed always muddies the water, pun intended if you have seen the movie.  A subplot is that Jake (Nicholson) was a former police officer in Chinatown.  He once inadvertently risked, a woman he cared for, to be killed.  Because of this Jake becomes a PI, full of cynicism. So when he once again tries to save a woman (Faye Dunaway) and she is not protected, He is Psychologically wounded.  "Forget it Jake: It's Chinatown" is the only encouragement a fellow friend can offer.  There is thus the presumption that Jake will be even more cynical, and also that the layering of lies and mis-justice, that happens within the world of non-whites will prevail.  Chinatown is the place where evil can hide because no one cares.

Lastly, the little Juli, who first saw Chinatown in London, while abroad and slightly homesick, the film will always stand out as how the story is so American, even though the director Roman Polanski is not.  The California Locale, the flat West Coast accents, the sensibility and humor of people trying to survive within the desperation of American depression, all tinged with the question of what is the point?  While that young filmie lives inside me, these are the only answers I can muster.  The film just felt distinctly American, even though the title is about the displaced Chinese.  Maybe that is the point.  Aren't all Americans displaced?  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Jojo and I should so be on Turner Classic Movies!

Talking about the two different versions of Gaslight (British versus Hollywood)

                                                     Heavy debate, huh?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

TCM  Madame Bovary (1949)

I must get to work, but started watching Vincent Minnelli's Madame Bovary (1949).  Have always had a painful soft spot for this movie, because the heroine, Emma is so driven but naively so as she strives for unattainable beauty missing the loveliness of life around her.  Can't help but feel I am not the only one who struggles with this.  I know many of my unhappy moments have come from ignoring the realities (not all painful) that did not fit my fantasy.  Luckily as one wonderfully ages, this seems to be less and less so; it has been for me.   This film prompted me to read Gustave Flaubert's once banned book.  Some of my favorite words from the novel show Gustave Flaubert's gift for understanding the heroine Emma's constant state of restlessness, her inability to find joy in the simple. She always strove for the fantasies that existed only in poetry and books, which I find is still such a contemporary phenomenom, as we compare ourselves to celebrities and magazine covers that photoshop 'perfection.'  Like Emma I think some of us find "the strange beautiful and the familar ugly."  The author warns near the end of the novel, “Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers." 

Vincent Minnelli's Madame Bovary is simply a phenomenal film that captures the theme of fantasy I mention above but also explores another themes from the  book, how words are often difficult in explaining human feelings and desires.  Watch this ballroom scene, as Minnelli's visuals tease out that space between what we say and what we feel.  Minnelli does this through his use of framing, camera movement, editing, music.  This film touches that spot,  breaking through the barriers of mere words. Bovary is bored by her general practice Doctor Husband.  In fact his simple ways embarrass her, because she wants more, always more.  Heart-breaking scene about the inability to fit in, and how ones desires can lead them to inadvertent selfishness.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Before the girls and I ventured out today, we caught one of the Dr. Kildare films from the mid 1930s. Like the Andy Hardy Flicks from the same studio, MGM,  I find these films so comforting.  16 Kildares made between 1937-47, and  It's odd because the films, really serials before Television comes in some 10-15 years later, are blatantly phony, syrupy and impossibly sanitized.  But, I just love them.
   Lionel Barrymore & Lew Ayres
I always had a soft spot for Lew Ayres, a sensitive actor whose work in All Quiet on the Western Front, and then later Johnny Belinda are the antithesis of anything he does in Kildare. Ayres was also a dedicated pacifist who fought all of his life to speak of a world rooted in peace, an amazing man.  Although, I value his other more refined and nuanced films, there is just something about Dr. Kildare that gets me every time.  You know what?  I have no idea why.  So just asked Joelle.  God my kids are smart, "well mom, I think there is a part of all of us that wants some things in life to be simple.  Where problems get worked through and the good guy really wears the white doctors suit."  Maybe that is part of it.  Deep down I am a traditionalists, ah, can't be! But, I do like the starched uniforms of the nurses, with their pointed caps, the sparkling hallways that make way for the gurneys with sick people who don't bleed, and only die when they are ready.

As a media scholar, I also pay attention to the costumes, too well tailored for real doctors and nurses, the equipment curiously outdated artifacts of then cutting edge medical science, to the style of acting and choices of diseases discussed.  All of these things situate the episodic Dr. Kildare in the middle to later parts of the American Depression.

Hubba, Hubba, Calling Richard Chamberlain (deep in the closet)
The drama, based on a series of books of course becomes the wildly successful Richard Chamberlain series in the early 1960s.  Wonder why they never show reruns of that venture?
We didn't really get into Andy Hardy movies, think I will save that for another day, but can't help mentioning that it always makes me laugh to know that Mickey Rooney was hardly the virginal character he portrays in these ventures.  :)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

High School Movies from Andy Hardy to Carrie & beyond

My top twenty

Never Been Kissed (1999)

As a teen my mom often told me that High School was the best time of her life.  This week as my first child became a  High Schooler, I couldn't quite muster up the enthusiasm my mother had, so instead I came up with a relative solution, something to get a conversation going-we watched a movie, "Never Been Kissed" with Drew Barrymore.  Being a media scholar focused on media literacy, I am always keen to use film as a tool to solicit conversation.The film is a fun offering that beautifully explored the hierarchical aspects of High School in a way that at times seems fresh and innovative.    

 In this case, "Never Been Kissed" primed Joelle and I to discussed the film's portrayal of popularity politics, i.e. What made Drew Barrymore's portrayal of the loner so effective?  Why do pecking orders exist?  What the heck does the social have to do with an education anyway?  Oh, we had a good chat.  The theme of High School is a distinctive one in Hollywood, with a long tradition from 1930s saccharine "Andy Hardy" movies to serious love stories such as "Splendor in the Grass", and also horror classic "Carrie"   

Carrie (1976)

Although stereotypes do exist in the film, the lonely nerd, the perky cheerleader, the Misfit, or The Outcast, the Stoner "Never Been Kissed" does try to rework many of the core codes and conventions familiar to the genre, and therefore the film still seems fresh and intriguing. Unlike other films within the genre, this film takes on the less than funny subject of bullying and alienation not in a trivialized way but as a major plot point in the development of the lead character.  It is also fun to see a young woman play the protagonist who is smart, kind, and competitive but whom doesn't get punished for it.  Additionally, unlike other teen movies, sexual humor which is often directed at the cost of the female actors is wonderfully absent here.  lastly what makes this film, and all High School movies worth a peek regardless of the conversations they might promote?  In the end, films such as "Never Been Kissed" are the one way, we can re-experience High School but from the merciful distance of our living room couch.

Drew Barrymore's character in the film wants to go back to High School for two reasons: one as an undercover reporter and secondly to potential rework the painful memories of the first time around.  How many of us can relate to the latter?  Oh!  If I could do it again, I would imagine myself confident in my own voice and opinions, open to the range of other courses available such as shop, so should have taken shop!  Hmmm?  I think I know what to tell my daughter now!

Let me know your favorite High School themed movie, and we can start a conversation.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What is it about the crime genre?

I am really into a variety of shows on Netflix, primarily the BBC show Luther, and the french television show Spiral

These shows are extremely well written, complex story lines, morally complex so the storytelling aspects are obviously attractive; exciting and just so darn addictive! The evil contemporary and eventual friend of Luther in the show of the same name, Alice, has to be seen to be believed. She is truly despicable but soooooo amazing.  

 But what about the flip side, the horrific images, (although Luther and Spiral I would argue do not gratuitously show violence or sexual abuse) and the themes of real human cruelty.  Perhaps one of the most popular genres on Television is the Police drama so what is it?  Okay it is a lot of things, the writing and brilliant characters such I mentioned above; but what else do you think is going on?  

Are there particular shows that compel you, or that you learn from, keep thinking about?  There are still two episodes on Law and Order that I ponder and feel truly influenced my own belief system.  Media Research suggests that themes in crime drama  play a significant role in public perceptions and preferences about the role and the nature of policing in society ( so it seems we should ask ourselves why are there certain themes repeatedly explored (i.e. corruption, repeated killing of women)?   Are these themes exploitive, part of our social discourse on issues that worry us, or actually reflective of what is going on? What do you think is the appeal? It is obvious that the police drama has changed drastically since dragnet, imagine DCI Jane Tennison of Prime Suspect hanging out with those straight laced guys?  So maybe a better question is really why are we watching these shows today, what might they reveal about complex social issues of the day?  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A feminist film from the early 1950s???

Thought it might be fun to post a paper I just rediscovered from graduate school.  If you can get beyond the five dollar academic words, I hope you come away seeing how categories of power such as gender and race are wonderfully exposed when you reposition them within varying eras and context.  So, what we think is feminine now, would often be considered masculine in Louis the fifteenths era, i.e. perfume, hairpieces, heeled shoes, and lace.  
                     Such a Calamity: Troubling Gender in the Hollywood Western

      In Gender Trouble, Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Judith Butler suggests a paradox: “visual representations of gender tend inevitably to contain both the imprint of dominant ideology and the inherent contradictions of that ideology” (Butler, 67).   In the promotional trailer for the film Westward the Women, just such a contradiction emerges. The viewer is presented with images of pioneer women driving covered wagons, shooting game and handling horses; meanwhile the voice-over announcer says, “There is nothing that can get between a woman and her wedding ring.”   This too-simple statement is an odd conclusion in light of what the images project.  It does, however, serve to justify the potentially subversive behavior of these women within a particular cultural and historical context by neatly framing their assertiveness inside the confines of normative heterosexuality.  The main purpose for this paper is to examine such contradictions  in the visual representation of gender transgressions within cinema, specifically in three Hollywood westerns from the early 1950s. Rarely discussed in contemporary film scholarship is William Wellman’s Westward the Women.  The film, based on a true story, is often overlooked in place of other queer film classics such as Calamity Jane and Johnny Guitar.  However, all three of these films were produced at major studios within a couple of years of each other, and all of these films’ narratives incorporate women as central characters within the western genre. 
     Many critics, including Judith Halberstam, have explored Calamity Jane and Johnny Guitar in their analyses of subversive female representations of gender with a focus on the functions and meanings of the female masculine or butch character film history.  The work of these film scholars informs this analysis.  I will build on their exploration of gender, with particular attention to Westward the Women, but with a methodological approach based on Judith Butler’s theoretical analysis of gender, especially her foundational work Gender Trouble.   Judith Butler’s work offers an opportunity to reflect on the origins of gender by highlighting its social construction within a historical context.  She argues that “gender is performative, and that no identity exists behind these expressions of gender, and these acts establish-rather than express-the impression of a fixed gender identity.  Also, if this impression of ‘being’ gender is a result of social and cultural influenced acts, then there exists no real ‘universal’ gender” (14).  I argue that Butler’s methodology can be applied to the study of gender outside of feminist/queer discourses and, in particular, to visual representations of masculinity and femininity within film.  As Robert Shail did with in his essay on masculinity and British film star Dirk Bogarde, I will borrow three of Butler’s central methodological concepts: gender construction with a specific historical context; gender identification as transient; and the role of fantasy or “masquerade” in reaction to social repression.  However whereas Shail stayed in the domain of masculinity and focused the figure of Dirk Bogarde,  I will navigate the mythic terrain of gender identification within classic Hollywood westerns.  I propose that the filmic text of Westward the Women should be included in the same filmic canon as Calamity Jane and Johnny Guitar, arguing that these three films display subversive gendered representations within the constraints of Hollywood films of the early 1950s.[1]
Gender within Historical Context
      All three of these films can be placed within the conservative climate of early 1950s Hollywood, where beyond the patriarchal structure of the studio system, there is the historical dynamic of the production code as influential in promoting heterosexual norms.  Judith Butler  emphasizes the importance of historical and cultural context in relation to gender identity, suggesting that when one examines gender identity across historical eras and cultural environments the assumptions about gender inevitably break down.  Butler states, “As historically specific organizations of language, discourses present themselves in the plural, co-existing within temporal frames, and instituting unpredictable and inadvertent convergences from which specific modalities of discursive possibilities are engendered” (145).  Butler further suggests that the discourse itself is open to the effects of these “temporaral dynamics.”  

       The Hollywood production code in effect from 1932 to 1962 banned a host of images and discourses labeled amoral.  This institutionalized repression included representations of sexual activity outside of
 marriage, and any sexual depiction of homosexuality.  Halberstam specifically places her analysis of 
Calamity Jane and Johnny Guitar within the historical constraints of the production ban:
In Hollywood, films made during the production code, a butch character was a window onto the sexual variance that the camera could not reveal…….Ironically, during the years of most strict surveillance, the production code era, butch imagery signified an often creative tactic for introducing censored material to queer audiences. (Halberstram187)
Beyond the code there were other restraints, such as the patriarchal functioning of the studio system itself, 
which influenced the choice of films produced and the manner in which they eventually came to promotion.   Western films for instance had historically been a male focused genre; Westward the Women countered
 this notion with a narrative composition of 132 women to 15 men.  
     However, the western genre was one potentially liberating influence within these constraints.  Beyond 
the immediate historical context of these films’ production, these films were symbolic of a specific era.   
All of these movies carry the weight of cultural assumptions about the American west, and the role of 
women and men within this story.  A film viewer  most likely brought culturally constructed ideas about 
cowboy and cowgirls, such as the notion of cowboy as the rugged individual or as rebel, or the pioneer 
woman as persistent and strong.  The idea of the rugged pioneer woman is appropriated within these historical myths because the pioneer experience is deemed an extreme state of being.  However, the room for 
acceptance of an autonomous female within these filmic plots is, in the end, framed within the historical and ideological context of the 1950s studio system and the production codes.  As Butler notes, “Even if 
representations of gender, like the discourse they reflect, are always unstable and fluid, they nonetheless 
operate within perimeters that are historically specific, which can allow them to be used as signifiers of that 
context” (148).    
      In Westward the Women two characters, Patience and Ito, seem to function within these perimeters and
 yet also signify gender as unstable or fluid. Patience, a woman, is taller and larger than any man; while Ito,
 a man, is smaller than many of the women.  Patience is continually presented as stronger than the others,
 and quicker to take on a challenge.  In one scene where Patience gets a wagon through a treacherous
 ravine, the head guy, Buck, runs up to her and says “Patience I’d kiss ya if you weren’t so big and tall.”   

    Ito, like Patience, is presented as the voice of reason, a trait usually reserved for women in westerns.  
His character in general is subversive: he doesn’t wear a cowboy hat, speaks frequently in Japanese, and 
shies away from battles.  He is sensitive to the feelings of others and offers the counterpoint to Buck. 
 Buck eventually acquires more feminine characteristics as a result of his relationship with Ito.  Yet both of 
these characters are deemed suitable because they are useful and keep the journey alive.  Butler suggests 
that these gender identities are more often characterized both by their variety and by their tendency towards
 change and reapplication (Butler 67).  I would add that unlike the other two films, Calamity Jane and 
Johnny Guitar, where the characters’ masculine or feminine status seems quite rigid for much of the films, 
in Westward the Women the transient nature of femininity and masculinity is processed back and forth 
through the narrative.  These ranges of subversive moments erupt throughout the film, demonstrating the 
transient nature of gender identification.

Transient Nature of Gender Identification
    The transient nature of gender identification contains both the dominant hegemony of a culture and the inherent paradoxes of these culturally and historically constructed beliefs.  This ambiguity, the fuzzy nature
 of gender, is where transient representations of gender emerge within filmic text. As Judith Halberstram wrote in her analysis of Calamity Jane:
   Doris Day plays a butch cowgirl who has become one of the guys in Deadwood and shoots, rides, spits, and drinks as well as they do. ..But Hollywood transforms this transgender hero into a rather fluffy character who eventually settles into a properly feminine form of domesticity with Wild Bill Hickok.  On her way to finding a true heterosexual femininity, however, Calamity has some seriously queer encounters:  She is mistaken for a man and cruised by women in Chicago, and in a beautifully ironic scene, she sets up house with an actress called Kate while they sing a gorgeous Butch femme duet called “A Woman’s Touch.”  (210)

 Halberstram offers this about Johnny Guitar:
   The rough cowgirl who needs to be tamed and seduced into a mature        
   femininity.  In one scene, she stands tall above her angry neighbors, dressed   
   all in black, holding a gun and telling them to back off.  “That’ big talk for a
   little gun” says Mercedes Cambridge, her archrival and double, Emma.  It is        
   hard not to hear a Freudian Admonition in here:  the little gun, of course, is
   the woman’s version of a man’s big gun.  (Halberstam, 167) 

Both of these films suggest the malleability of gender performance and the idea that gender is transient.  Although the  heroines are eventually feminized through dress speech and heterosexual marriage, the earlier suggestions of their masculinity are not fully eclipsed.   

    In counterpoint to these previous analyses, I suggest that Westward the Women offers a fuller representation of gender transient behavior in its narrative closure and the range of female representation offered: teacher, farmer, rancher, nurse.  The relationships and characters do not narratively follow typical gender norms; the idea of what is a good or bad gender is much more nuanced.  At the end of the film, the marriages are for the most part set up as relationships based on companionship and economic cooperation.  These are not romantic fantasies per se; these women are not defined by their relationship to men, and only two were widows.  Film historian Jeanine Basinger offers this in one of the few critiques of Westward the Women: “It is almost a casebook of traditional attitudes toward women that will be refuted by the visual presentation.  These ‘masculine things that the women acquire now become absorbed into them” (TCM 2008). 
      The transient nature of gender is also carefully articulated in the films overall narrative arc.  From the
 start we come to know these women through their dress, bodily presentation and actions; by the film’s end, when they put on more “feminine” clothing, there is a sense that the clothing is an artifice.   Two scenes explicitly show the fluidity of gender and gender as a construction.  The first scene is when the women are meeting Buck the wagon master and he starts to question them about their skill level.  The women that show ability in this scene will come to represent a range of female masculinity throughout the film. 
Scene one:
           Buck: Any of you handle a horse? 
           (Several women stand; they are dressed in bonnets and dresses)
           Buck: I don’t mean ride. I mean handle a horse.
           (Several sit down, four remain standing)
           Buck:   Can any of you handle a team of mules; I mean a team         
                       of four iron mouthed mules?
           (The four remain standing)
         Buck:  Can any of you handle a gun, I mean shoot it and hit                                                 
         what you’re aiming at?  (Two of the four remain standing)
         (He throws gun, one of the women look around and see a poster for a   sheriff’s election.  Each of the women  consequently shoot out one of the eyes on the poster) 
         O’ Malley:  Is that what you meant? (sarcastically)
         Giggles (she tosses back and he can barely catch)
         Buck:     (amazed) That is what I mean.
         Giggles (the women in response seem pleased)
            (Then Buck begins to address their attire)
             Buck:   By the way I wouldn’t wear those frilly fluffy feminine                          things you’ve got on now or those high heels. You’ve got a long way to walk, sometimes you’ll ride but most of the time you’ll walk.  We are not going to overload our wagons; we’ve got enough to haul and  get yourself clothes that are rough tough and comfortable to wear.  It wouldn’t hurt you to wear pants, (giggles) I mean pants (he points to his).
            Buck:  You four, Jones Brent, Johnson and O’Malley You will have to 
                        teach these good women how to drive mules. 
 Throughout the film these women who can shoot are referred to by their more masculine sounding last names, a similar signifier to Halberstram’s take on the presentation of butch women: “The masculine woman…is often associated with clear markers of a distinctly phallic power.  She may carry a gun, smoke a cigar…she often goes by a male moniker: Frankie, George, Willy” (186). 

Scene two

The second scene brackets the last in almost perfect parallel as Buck now queries the men.  Here he specifically picks on one man, the smallest of the group. As Buck is talking he notices someone among
the group of men and says:                                          
                                           Buck:  Move aside there...what are you doing here?
                                           Ito:    I go to California.      
                                           Buck:  What is your name?
                                           Ito:  (says his very long Japanese name)
                                           Buck:  What was that?
                                            Ito:   (he repeats long Japanese name)
                                             Buck:   Stand up, Ito.
                                              (He stands)
                                             Buck:  Are you standing or sitting? (men around him laugh)
                                              Ito:  I stand.
                                              Buck:  Where is the rest of you? (laughter)
                                              Ito:  There isn’t much of me but I fight anybody here.  I fight                                           
                                                        you too big boss.  I get licked but I fight.
                                             (Buck smiles and asks)
                                             Buck:  Can you cook? You keep the coffee hot and handy.
                                                         I hate women’s cooking.
                                                 Ito: (Speaks in Japanese)
                                                Buck: What did you say?
                                                 Ito:     Enough already lets go
                                                Buck;  You heard the man let’s go
As they walk out Ito tries to copy their swagger, mimicking their walk, trying to play masculinity.  Ito does this almost in fun.  This role playing can sometimes take the form of masquerade.

Fantasy and Masquerade
     In Butler’s third strand, she considers the role of fantasy or “masquerade” as an expression of socially-repressed desires, and also its purpose within the construction of gender notions.  For Butler the breakdown of gender stereotypes is the inevitable outcome of suppression.  Fantasy therefore serves as a means for expressing ruptures within gender stereotypes; fantasy functions as a release from the bounds of conformity. Butler suggests that role playing, which points to the nature of constructions, is an aspect of masquerade.  For instance, some of the women clearly like their new role as female masculine, relishing their ability to shoot and protect others, such as when O’ Malley shoots a snake that scared another woman.  O’Malley is driving a wagon, while another  woman has wandered too far from the wagon.  The woman screams when she sees a snake.  We cut to medium long shot of O’Malley still driving the wagon and then reaching for her gun.  She shoots the snake in one shot and says: “Honey, if they scare ya, then stay closer to the wagon.” There is also one woman who seems to enjoy spitting tobacco and using a bull whip throughout the film; her behavior is clearly subversive yet the narrative never redeems this woman into an appropriated femininity.
       Oddly enough, the narrative sense of gender masquerade also emerges as we see the women dress in more traditional feminine clothing again. The viewer has spent the majority of the film watching these women in comfortable, functional clothes while they accomplished a range of physical feats; seeing them adapt back to these clothes is strange and appears forced. There is a wonderful moment of masquerade expressed in a scene with Patience.  This is near the end of the film as Patience drives the wagon into town with all the women behind her.  She shouts but then quickly changes her tone to a softer delivery as she realizes she need to play female again.  The fact that it is funny speaks to the acknowledgment of gender as a construction within this filmic text.  As Patience reconstructs her female role she will have relearn its rules and customs, suggesting that, for her, this performance of the female is not organic or natural:  
                Patience: Come on, Rosie, get up! (shouting)
            Patience (after a beat, smiles and says softly and sweetly): Come on,             Rosie darling.
                                    (The other women smile)
        William Wellman, the director, also does some cinematic role playing with viewer’s point of view.  Throughout the film, women and men equally objectify the other; we see the men looking at the women and visa versa.  We also as an audience then become voyeurs of both genders.  In a sense Wellman is troubling our notion of binary categories by offering us multiple points of view, with one not favoring the other.  This counters traditional cinematic norms which tend to reinforce heterosexual power through the framing of women as passive sexualized object. 

Butler writes:
. . . the possibility of subverting and displacing the naturalized and redefine notions of gender that support masculine hegemony and heterosexual power…[arise] not  through  strategies that figure a utopian beyond, but through the mobilization, subversive confusion, and proliferation of precisely those constitutive categories that seek to keep gender in its place by posturing as the foundational illusions of identity. (33-4) 

Deconstructing these “foundational illusions” of gender constructs was a key theme in this analysis. For 
my methodology, I employed three of Judith Butler’s specific analytical tenets from her work in Gender Troubles: historical placement of gender, gender as transient, and masquerade as an expression of varying gender identities.  This method offered me a rigorous yet adaptable method for exploring the functions of gender within three Hollywood westerns from the early 1950s.  I paid particular attention to the film Westward the Women for a few key reasons: firstly, the extreme spectrum of gender representations within the filmic text warranted a feminist textual analysis, and, secondly, this film has been oddly overlooked within film and gender studies scholarship.  My analysis helps demonstrate that the film deserves further critical attention.  Butler’s methodology provided tools to deconstruct the range of gender representation within all three films, and also provided the nuances necessary to compare them effectively.  Here we can observe the process of  heterosexual promotion, and yet also discover within the cracks and spaces of repression, subversive moment of transient, masquerading gender; which challenges the very nature of gender identity and our own gendered selves.

Butler, J.  (1990)  Gender Troubles:  Feminism and The Subversion of Identity.  New York
Halberstam, J.  (1998)  Female Masculinity.  Duke University Press.
Shail, R.  (2001)  Masculinity and Visual Representation:  A Butlerian Approach to Dirk     Bogarde.  International Journal of Sexuality and Gender studies, Vol. 6  
Calamity Jane.  Directed by David Butler, 101 Minutes, Warner Bros., 1953, DVD
Johnny Guitar.  Director Nicholas Ray.  Republic Pictures., 1954, DVD
Westward the Women.  Director William Wellman.  MGM, 1952, Video Tape
TCM Website.     assessed May 14th 2008

[1] Film Synopses: Westward the Women follows the journey of 132 women who traveled 2000 miles from Chicago to Whitman’s Valley in California to get married.  The film was made by MGM in 1952.  Johnny Guitar, made by Warner Brothers in 1953, tells the story of rival women who fight for their place in a small town.  It stars Joan Crawford and Mercedes Cambridge and was directed by Nicholas Ray. Calamity Jane,also produced by Warner Brothers in 1953, is a musical story of the western legend Calamity Jane.  The film shows her progression from buckskinned rough rider to appropriated bride.