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Skyscraper Cinema

Skyscraper Cinema: Architecture and Gender in American Film

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Skyscraper Cinema
    Book Description:

    Whether tall office buildings, high-rise apartments, or lofty hotels, skyscrapers have been stars in American cinema since the silent era. Merrill Schleier offers close readings of films including Safety Last, Skyscraper Souls, Wife vs. Secretary, Baby Face, The Fountainhead, and Desk Set and explains the impact of actual skyscrapers on America’s ideologies about work, leisure, romance, sexual identity, and politics as seen in Hollywood movies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6623-2
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. INTRODUCTION: Constructing the American Skyscraper Film
    (pp. vii-xviii)

    In an act of defiance and resolve, Howard Roark (Gary Cooper), the hero of the filmThe Fountainhead(1949), bombs a housing project, intending to replace it with a towering skyscraper that is meant to redeem the government-subsidized property. This act of vandalism, which he accomplishes with the help of his wife-to-be Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal), is symptomatic of novelist and screenwriter Ayn Rand′s intention to juxtapose these two building types as illustrating antithetical concepts. To the author, housing projects were the product of Roosevelt′s New Deal, representative of federal handouts, community-based decisions, and collectivism, everything she found objectionable. Roark’s...

  4. ONE From Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones: Harold Lloyd′s Skyscraper Films
    (pp. 1-58)

    ‶Mystery Man in Death Defying Thrill: To Climb Wall of Towering Skyscraper″ proclaimed the bold headline in a fictional tabloid newspaper in the filmSafety Last!(1923). The sturdy physique of an anonymous daredevil appeared beneath the announcement with his face obliterated, to increase the suspense and the feat′s promotional appeal.¹ This scene served multiple functions and summarizes the intent of many of Harold Lloyd′s films; it demonstrated the inextricable link between dual tropes of modernity—tabloid sensationalism and skyscrapers—and their relationship to the realization of a temporarily destabilized masculinity. A bodily image without a face also enabled Lloyd...

  5. TWO Icons of Exploitation: Gender and Class Disharmony in the Depression-Era Skyscraper Office
    (pp. 59-118)

    In a scene from the filmBaby Face(1933), Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) and her sidekick Chico (Theresa Harris) have just distinguished themselves from the undifferentiated stream of urban workers who maintain a relentless pace. Anonymous bodies and feet move in accelerated synchronous motion in contrast to Powers and Chico, who stop momentarily to take stock of the unfamiliar metropolis, having just arrived from a smaller city. The camera pauses at the majestic, multistoried entrance of a towering skyscraper, before panning the building′s full girth from floor to pinnacle. Powers looks up expectantly at the ″gigantic forty-story skyscraper,″ then at...

  6. THREE Masculine Heroes, Modernism, and Political Ideology in The Fountainhead and The Big Clock
    (pp. 119-192)

    The director King Vidor and the novelist Ayn Rand collaborated to createThe Fountainhead(1949), based on Rand′s 1943 best-selling novel, a film in which modernist skyscraper architecture and a tough, austere masculinity mutually promoted the author′s political ideology.¹ During the writing of the novel, Rand was an ardent supporter of the Republican Party. The author even took off seven months from her literary endeavors in 1940 to work on the Wendell Willkie campaign during his presidential bid to unseat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, viewing this particular election as a battle between the New Deal and the very survival of the...

  7. FOUR Mid-century Corporate Renewal and Gender Realignment in Executive Suite and Desk Set
    (pp. 193-264)

    Following the recovery of politicized office terrains from the clutches of fascist-leaning or ″foreign″ Communist interlopers in such films asThe Big ClockandThe Fountainhead, which reflects the seemingly pervasive xenophobia and fear of ″aliens″ in the early cold war era, by the mid-fifties, skyscraper cinema refocuses attention to the home front. The internal dynamics of office buildings are explored, particularly interpersonal relationships and power struggles, and the breadwinner′s attempt to reconcile professional identity with family life in both ideological and spatial terms. It is a time of transition, when corporations and their gendered employees are at a crossroads...

  8. POSTSCRIPT: Recent Skyscraper Films
    (pp. 265-278)

    The technological optimism staged by Twentieth Century–Fox and IBM inDesk Set, seen in their celebration of skyscraper modernization in the new age of computers and television, was replaced in succeeding decades with a grim depiction of its crushing effects on the individual spirit, commencing withThe Apartment(1960). Critiques on corporate greed reached a virulent new pitch in subsequent decades in such films asNetwork(1976) andWall Street(1987), outdistancing even those of Depression-era cinema. They present a dehumanizing ″screen″ culture of flattened television monitors, and later computer displays, that mesmerize, desensitize, and threaten to robotize office...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 279-282)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 283-344)
  11. Index
    (pp. 345-368)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 369-369)