Cinematernity

Cinematernity: Film, Motherhood, Genre

Lucy Fischer
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvfq8
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    Cinematernity
    Book Description:

    Noting that motherhood is a common metaphor for film production, Lucy Fischer undertakes the first investigation of how the topic of motherhood presents itself throughout a wide range of film genres. Until now discussions of maternity have focused mainly on melodramas, which, along with musicals and screwball comedies, have traditionally been viewed as "women's" cinema. Fischer defies gender-based classifications to show how motherhood has played a fundamental role in the overall cinematic experience. She argues that motherhood is often treated as a site of crisis--for example, the mother being blamed for the ills afflicting her offspring--then shows the tendency of certain genres to specialize in representing a particular social or psychological dimension in the thematics of maternity.

    Drawing on social history and various cultural theories, Fischer first looks atRosemary's Babyto show the prevalence of childbirth themes in horror films. In crime films (White Heat), she sees the linkage of male deviance and mothering.The Hand That Rocks the CradleandThe Guardian, both occult thrillers, uncover cultural anxieties about working mothers. Her discussion covers burlesques of male mothering, feminist documentaries on the mother-daughter relationship, trick films dealing with procreative metaphors, and postmodern films likeHigh Heels, where fluid sexuality is the theme. These films tend to treat motherhood as a locus of irredeemable conflict, whereasHistory and MemoryandHigh Tidepropose a more sanguine, dynamic, and enabling view.

    Originally published in 1996.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5159-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. 1 Introduction MOTHERHOOD AND FILM: A CRITICAL GENEALOGY
    (pp. 3-36)

    As this quotation fromStage to Screenreveals, artists, theorists, and historians have long conjured metaphors of motherhood to explicate or situate the cinema. In Vardac’s case, he casts the motion picture as the “child” of a “maternal” cultural necessity—the alleged “need” for creating machines of realism in the nineteenth century. Alternatively, Sergei Eisenstein fashions an image of parturition to proclaim cinema's ties to the other arts. As he notes, “It is only very thoughtless and presumptuous people who . . . [proceed] from the premises of some incredible virgin-birth of this art!” (232). Likewise, Siegfried Kracauer fancies the...

  5. 2 The Trick Film THE LADY VANISHES: WOMEN, MAGIC, AND THE MOVIES
    (pp. 37-55)

    In October and November of 1896, Star Film Company’s first year of production, Georges Melies shot a film entitledThe Vanishing Lady, which is credited as displaying the director’s first use of a cinematic “substitution trick” (Hammond, 30). The “plot” of the film is simple: a lady, in full Victorian garb, is seated in a chair, against the background of an ornate, elaborately molded wall. A magician (played by Melies) drapes her body with a fabric cover. When the cloth is removed, the lady has disappeared, and, much to our horror, in her place is a skeleton. Though the occurrence...

  6. 3 Silent Melodrama WAY DOWN EAST: MELODRAMA, METAPHOR, AND THE MATERNAL BODY
    (pp. 56-72)

    To state thatWay Down East(1920) is a film about the maternal body seems an exercise in cliche For it recounts the familiar story of Anna Moore (Lillian Gish), a country girl seduced (in a mock marriage) by an urbane playboy, then left to bear his illegitimate child While the film’s narrative connections to motherhood are abundantly clear, a maternal discourse reverberates on more submerged levels of the text, invoking its literary origins, its social context, its metaphoric structures, and its celluloid existence...

  7. 4 The Horror Film BIRTH TRAUMAS: PARTURITION AND HORROR IN ROSEMARY’S BABY
    (pp. 73-91)

    Contemporary popular culture has delivered us multiple embodiments of childbirth ¹ In the supermarket, the slick cover ofWorking Motherpresents a radiant television personality who is “Pretty and Pregnant”Newsweekflaunts a responsible expectant couple purchasing Mass Mutual InsuranceParentspictures a postpartum madonna gazing raptly at her infant—nursing now, but planning to use Gerber Baby Formula ² In the local video store, the self-help aisle is stocked with reassuring in structional tapesYour First BabyandChildbirth PreparationThe neighborhood bookshop featuresPregnant and Lovin’ It, a guide to “one of the greatest, most pleasurable events of...

  8. 5 The Crime Film MAMA’S BOY: FILIAL HYSTERIA IN WHITE HEAT
    (pp. 92-110)

    Feminist film criticism of the 1970s and 1980s has been haunted by the theme of hysteria. This should not surprise us, as the etymological root for the ailment is tied to the female body—to “a suffering in the womb.” Initially, such writing focused on the screen heroine, revealing how in the mainstream cinema she is plagued by the syndrome—configured as mute, neurotic, unstable, hormonal, or out of control. Writing on American film of the 1940s, Mary Ann Doane finds the mark of psychosis in the treatment ofallfemale illness: “InBeyond the Forest(1949) Bette Davis ostensibly...

  9. 6 Film Comedy “SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD”: COMEDY AND MATRICIDE
    (pp. 111-130)

    In the 1981 comedyThe Incredible Shrinking Woman, Lily Tomlin plays Pat Kramer, a housewife and mother who inexplicably begins to diminish in size. In the beginning of the story, she is of average height; by the middle, a Lilliputian (living in an Ibsenesque doll’s house); near the end, invisible. Her corporeal reduction is ascribed to industrial pollution—contamination by the combined ingredients of myriad consumer products: cleaning aids, cosmetics, synthetic foods, and the like. Within the film, a standard sociological explanation is advanced for Pat’s tragedy: one newscaster speculates that she is a “metaphor for the modern woman,” and...

  10. 7 The Thriller THE HAND THAT SHOCKS THE CRADLE: THE MATERNAL THRILLER
    (pp. 131-161)

    Walt Disney’sMary Poppins(1964), based on the Pamela L. Travers novel (1934), concerns the Banks family and their need of a nanny. Set in turn-of-the-century England, the story concerns a household headed by a workaholic banker, and his wife, an overzealous suffragette—hence neither spends adequate time with the children. Appearing on the scene is the strict but magical Mary Poppins, who creates marvelous adventures for the children and reconciles them with their parents.

    Some thirty years later, the image of the nanny that circulates in the cinema is vastly different.¹ Rather than the beneficent Guardian Angel who miraculously...

  11. 8 The Postmodern Film POSTMODERNITY AND POSTMATERNITY: HIGH HEELS AND IMITATION OF LIFE
    (pp. 162-178)

    Pedro Almodóvar’sHigh Heels(Tacones Lejanos, 1991) is a work that might be placed within the recent genre of “postmodern” film. In fact, a review of it by Roger Ebert notes how “the writers of New York weeklies” regularly link that term to the film’s director. As Linda Hutcheon makes clear, one of the hallmarks of the postmodern aesthetic is its radical intertextuality—its tendency to quote and recycle tropes and thematics from the discursive past. HenceBrazil(1985) conjuresMetropolis(1926);Dead Again(1991) harks back toCitizen Kane(1941);Wild at Heart(1990) evokesThe Wizard of Oz...

  12. 9 The Nonfiction Film “THE REPRODUCTION OF MOTHERING”: DOCUMENTING THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOND
    (pp. 179-213)

    Within the history of cinema, the documentary impulse has long been associated with the masculine The cover of Erik Barnouw’s survey of the genre boasts a still from a Dziga Vertov film in which a male cinematographer peers through a viewfinder that reflects (and doubles) his image The title of Vertov’s opus—TheManwith the Movie Camera(1929)—says it all When one enumerates the luminaries of the field, they are predominantly male Robert Flaherty, John Gnerson, Humphrey Jennings, Frederick Wiseman, Jean Rouch, Ken Burns, Ross McElwee ¹ Furthermore, such artists have favored masculine themesNanook of the North...

  13. 10 Epilogue MATERNITY AND THE ARTIST: “A REMARKABLE ZOOLOGICAL SPECIES”
    (pp. 214-230)

    In the previous chapter, we found that a series of feminist documentaries created from the perspective of the daughter provided some of the most compassionate portraits of the mother that exist in the history of cinema. But does it remain for the artist-daughter to ventriloquize her parent? Is it only she who can speak for the mother within the realm of creative discourse?

    In past eras, our answer to that question might have been affirmative. As Tillie Olsen has noted:

    [U]ntil very recently almost all distinguished achievement has come from childless women. . . . Most never questioned, or at...

  14. Index
    (pp. 231-250)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-251)