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Bad Women: Regulating Sexuality in Early American Cinema

Janet Staiger
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Bad Women
    Book Description:

    Bad Women takes us back to this time of massive social, cultural, and economic change to show us how American cinema gave women and women’s sexuality images useful to the new consumer culture of the early 1900s and its exploitation of sexual pleasure. Rich in historical detail and theoretical insight, this book offers an original depiction of a culture in transition, a sexual sensibility in the making, and film’s participation in the change.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8657-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. 1 The Repeal of Reticence
    (pp. 1-28)

    The first scene of the 1924 Paramount filmOpen All Nightbegins with an intertitle to establish the place and situation of the movie: “This is the story of one night in Paris—city of gay loves and unhappy marriages.” A montage of views of a city verifies at least part of the intertitle’s proposition. Intertitle two: “It begins in the apartment of Edmond Duverne, who loves his wife—not wisely but too well—.” A medium shot of a cigarette holder in the shape of a naked woman introduces a medium shot of Adolphe Menjou, playing Edmond. Edmond is...

  6. 2 Sex O’Clock in America
    (pp. 29-53)

    If media are indicative of changes in social norms, one place to determine the cultural stakes for a group is in its “scandalous” literature. In this chapter I will examine some of the literature deemed “lurid.” The representations of woman are important for considering the disruption of established norms in two ways: making the norms visible and setting the agenda for change. These images, then, act as transfer points for new mappings of cultural order. Beyond that, I will consider several forces that ultimately produce a new attitude about woman.

    I have chosen to briefly discuss four scandalous novels published...

  7. 3 Troublesome Pictures
    (pp. 54-85)

    At the turn of the century people argued about what should and should not be said or shown during the first years of the American cinema. Here I will survey the discussions, in some cases merely noting the prospects for further research on how audiences viewed these early movies in relation to notions of good taste and propriety. Although I raise an economic reason (making money) for the breaching of boundaries into the tasteless, improper, immoral, and even dangerous, I do not try to analyze either the more general social or psychological causes for such a breach or, except most...

  8. 4 From Boston to Bombay
    (pp. 86-115)

    One of the most famous stories about early cinema is that on Christmas Eve 1908, Mayor George B. McClellan of New York City revoked the licenses of the city's nickelodeons, closing down moving pictures, ostensibly on behalf of the public’s welfare. The event generated a coalition of exhibitors, and then producers, with a group of civic organizations that previewed and evaluated films. This organized but voluntary self-regulation through the National Board of Censorship functioned in many places as a sufficient guarantee of a film's adherence to dominant standards in the representation of troublesome images. Thus, the board was moderately successful...

  9. 5 The White Slave
    (pp. 116-146)

    In “Sex O’Clock in America” (1913), the author is advocating that when thinking about women the readers should not confuse the Advanced Woman with the Gone-Astray Woman. A good deal of talk is being generated to distinguish the two and explain the latter. In the next three chapters I shall discuss three cases from the early teens of such a regulation of the characterizations of the Advanced or New Woman and her opposite, the Gone-Astray or Bad Woman. These cases exemplify the three types of women the author of “Sex O’Clock in America” warns against (although, of course, all sorts...

  10. 6 The Vamp
    (pp. 147-162)

    In Lea Jacobs’s valuable study about censorship during the 1930s, she quotes an industry spokesperson: “The important thing is to leave the audience with the definite conclusion that immorality is not justifiable, that society is not wrong in demanding certain standards of its women, and that the guilty woman, through realization of her error, does not tempt other women in the audience to follow her course.”¹ The predecessors to the fallen woman genre that Jacobs discusses include the vamp cycle, typified byA Fool There Was, a film released in January 1915 by the William Fox company. Based on Rudyard...

  11. 7 The Butterfly
    (pp. 163-178)

    One of the dangers of the modern urban culture was the disappearance of traditional methods of knowing social status and the presumed moralities associated with that status. Indeed, it is hardly surprising that the governing aims of the new progressive social scientists included a special concentration on the causes for deviance and crime. If the small village knew who was kin to whom and who was good or bad, individuals who chose to associate with particular people at least had foreknowledge of the situation into which they were placing themselves.

    That was not the case once society was more extended...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-182)

    The Cheatdoes not quite get us toOpen All Night. Ten years intervene between the two movies—in the form of economic, social, and cultural change, including World War I, Cecil B. DeMille’s sex comedies of the late teens, and the Valentino movies. However,The Cheat, A Fool There Was, Traffic in Souls, and many other pictures from the early teens are indications that the American middle class was interested in investigating the nature of woman and woman’s behavior. The films also illustrate the limits of such thinking. None of the films went so far as to advocate, as...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 183-206)
  14. Filmography and Bibliography
    (pp. 207-218)
  15. Index
    (pp. 219-226)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-227)