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The Hidden Foundation: Cinema and the Question of Class

David E. James
Rick Berg
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Hidden Foundation
    Book Description:

    Ranging from the earliest days of the cinema to the present, The Hidden Foundation reestablishes class as a fundamental aspect of film history. Featuring prominent film scholars and historians acting to inaugurate a new type of film studies, this volume is unique in its international scope, diversity of perspectives and methodologies, and the cultural, political, and historical sweep of its analysis. Contributors: Paul Arthur, Jane Collings, Marianne Conroy, Jane Gaines, Douglas Kellner, Chuck Kleinhans, Bill Nichols, Lillian S. Robinson, Steven J. Ross, Esther C. M. Yau.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8694-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Chapter 1 Introduction: Is There Class in This Text?
    (pp. 1-25)
    David E. James

    The present collection of essays was occasioned by specific institutional events. At the 1989 meeting of the Society for Cinema Studies, the professional organization of film and television scholars in the United States, one of its several internal interest groups, the Task Force on Race and Class, voted to dissolve and reconstitute itself as the Task Force on Race. The decision to sever institutional consideration of class from that of race and to jettison the former occurred at a moment when demands for increasing the presence of people of color in higher education and for increasing attention to ethnically oriented...

  2. Chapter 2 Beyond the Screen: History, Class and the Movies
    (pp. 26-55)
    Steven J. Ross

    Filmmakers were far more concerned with class conflict during the silent era than at any subsequent time in American history. Politically engaged screenwriters and producers turned out movies that examined strikes, lockouts, union organizing, and efforts by socialists and anarchists to overthrow the capitalist system. These class-conscious productions grew so prominent by 1910 that movie reviewers spoke about the emergence of the “labor-capital” film. At first, this new genre depicted class battles from a wide variety of ideological perspectives. Of the thirty-six labor-capital films made in 1914, nearly half offered liberal portrayals of workers, radicals, and their struggles; one-third were...

  3. Chapter 3 The Melos in Marxist Theory
    (pp. 56-71)
    Jane Gaines

    Is Marx’s three-volumeCapitala melodrama? Literary critic Wylie Sypher asserts as much in “Aesthetic of Revolution,” a now-forgotten essay that needs to be dusted off in the light of new feminist work on film and television melodrama. However, it is not as though Sypher represents the discovery of new theoretical treasure linking revolutionary moments with popular forms. For Sypher, the “melos” in Marxist theory is somewhat of an embarrassment. Not surprisingly, he holds melodrama in low esteem and argues that its old schematic (the virtuous besieged by the corrupt) is deeply Victorian and no longer relevant to the twentieth...

  4. Chapter 4 Strike and the Question of Class
    (pp. 72-89)
    Bill Nichols

    I have structured this discussion ofStrikeas though the film had been recently released in order to heighten the sense of its continuing importance. Class and history—the remembrance of struggle, the preservation of icons and moments—always risks ossification, a wedge in the heart of historical consciousness. The crucial sense of linkage between what has gone before and what is yet to come may buckle beneath the weight of an official history of momentous events or treasured artifacts that sets out to preserve itself rather than to transform the present. To the extent thatStrikenow occupies a...

  5. Chapter 5 The Gun in the Briefcase; or, The Inscription of Class in Film Noir
    (pp. 90-113)
    Paul Arthur

    The image is a fleeting one: in a darkened motel room on the outskirts of a border town, a man in a business suit wrestles open a briefcase, previously entrusted to his new bride, only to discover that important legal papers and his government-issue revolver are missing. Without another shred of information concerning narrative context or patterning, this shot might already augur the volatile collision of social and psychosexual themes underpinning our long-standing fascination with film noir. Add to this scenic description the sole fact that the man in question is a Mexican narcotics agent played by Charlton Heston in...

  6. Chapter 6 “No Sin in Lookin’ Prosperous”: Gender, Race, and the Class Formations of Middlebrow Taste in Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life
    (pp. 114-137)
    Marianne Conroy

    Early inImitation of Life(1959), there occurs a scene that illustrates just how volatile class categories become in American film after the Second World War. At a late-night rendezvous in his office, theatrical agent Allen Loomis proposes how the film’s protagonist, Lora Meredith, might realize one part of her ambition for theatrical stardom—her wish to be “important,” that is, not her desire to act. He offers her the material accoutrements of stardom and social rank—an expensive wardrobe and a celebrity’s social life—on the condition that she “eat and sleep” with him and with whomever else might...

  7. Chapter 7 Compromised Liberation: The Politics of Class in Chinese Cinema of the Early 1950s
    (pp. 138-171)
    Esther C. M. Yau

    In the 1990s, it is not possible to discuss “class” without considering its discursive, historical trajectory in existing socialist countries. The historical performance of “class”—how as a political category it has redefined the meaning of social existence of people living under “socialist” systems—means more, indeed, than its theoretical elaboration alone. Subsequent to what amounts to a collective disavowal of “class struggle” in the 1980s, the drive to modernize has become a major social force in those countries eager to partake in global capitalism, including China. The causes of the disavowal are complex, but one has to do with...

  8. Chapter 8 Out of the Mine and into the Canyon: Working-Class Feminism, Yesterday and Today
    (pp. 172-192)
    Lillian S. Robinson

    Modern drama started off literally with a bang. Or rather with two of them: the door that Nora Helmer slammed and its ironic echo in Hedda Gabler’s pistol shot through the temple, both of them signaling a challenge to the institutions that oppress women and both of them (loudly) giving the lie to traditional bourgeois strictures about what things simply are not done.

    I begin with this allusion not only because I, too, wish to start off with a bang, and not just in tribute to the fact that these ideas and the essay in which they are embodied were...

  9. Chapter 9 For a Working-Class Television: The Miner’s Campaign Tape Project
    (pp. 193-216)
    David E. James

    In one of the first working-class novels in English, Robert Tressell describes a protocinematic event that heralded a genuinely proletarian cinema as vividly as the fandango dancer inL’Éve Futureportended the commodity industry that in fact took its place. The Christmas party inThe Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists([1914] 1955) includes “Bert White’s World-famed Pandorama,” a candlelit miniature cardboard stage with rollers that shows “pictures cut out of illustrated weekly papers and pasted together, end-to-end, so as to form a long strip.” Bert, an apprentice house painter, uses the toy theater to take his audience on a tour of European cities:...

  10. Chapter 10 Poltergeists, Gender, and Class in the Age of Reagan and Bush
    (pp. 217-239)
    Douglas Kellner

    During the past two decades, the horror-occult genre has been one of the most popular and successful Hollywood genres.¹ Horror films have traditionally dealt with universal and primal fears (fears of dying, aging, bodily decay, violence, sexuality, and so on). However, the most interesting post-1960s horror films(The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie, Alien, The Shining, and others)have presented, often in symbolic-allegorical form, both universal fears and the deepest anxieties and hostilities of contemporary U.S. society. A subtext of these films is the confusion and fright of the population in the face of economic crisis; accelerating social and...

  11. Chapter 11 Class in Action
    (pp. 240-263)
    Chuck Kleinhans

    Trying to use the concept of class in contemporary cultural analysis presents several problems. Examining these problems clarifies why thinking about gender and race/ethnicity has progressed in recent years while class analysis has stalled. Most analysts start considering class from a Marxist framework, but that tradition does not provide simple answers except to the simplistic.¹ A full elaboration of the concept of class for cultural analysis calls for a reconsideration of class within Marxism and sociology. It would have to include an explanation of production and diffusion as well as texts themselves. It would have to account for class differences...

  12. Chapter 12 The Hollywood Waitress: A Hard-Boiled Egg and the Salt of the Earth
    (pp. 264-284)
    Jane Collings

    The late 1980s and early 1990s witnessed the production of several high-profile Hollywood films that use the character of the waitress:The Accused(Jonathan Kaplan, 1988),White Palace(Luis Mandoki, 1990),Frankie and Johnny(Garry Marshall, 1991),Thelma & Louise(Ridley Scott, 1991), and (in its way),The Terminator(James Cameron, 1984). This essay represents an attempt to understand why this figure of a working-class woman appears here, and whether contradictions and similarities between the films mentioned can provide insight into the uses of the notion of class in mass-culture films in general. Why is it important that the women...