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The Decline of Sentiment

The Decline of Sentiment: American Film in the 1920s

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 374
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  • Book Info
    The Decline of Sentiment
    Book Description:

    The Decline of Sentimentseeks to characterize the radical shifts in taste that transformed American film in the jazz age. Based upon extensive reading of trade papers and the popular press of the day, Lea Jacobs documents the films and film genres that were considered old-fashioned, as well as those dubbed innovative and up-to-date, and looks closely at the works of filmmakers such as Erich von Stroheim, Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, and Monta Bell, among many others. Her analysis-focusing on the influence of literary naturalism on the cinema, the emergence of sophisticated comedy, and the progressive alteration of the male adventure story and the seduction plot-is a comprehensive account of the modernization of classical Hollywood film style and narrative form.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94153-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Toward a History of Taste
    (pp. 1-24)

    In the years prior to and immediately following World War I American literary culture may be said virtually to have defined the termculture wars.Fueled not only by disagreements about what constituted literary merit but also by attempts at censorship, the debates were vociferous and prolonged. This study is concerned with how these perturbations within the field of letters affected Hollywood film. Of course the American cinema is often said to have altered during the 1920s. Historians frequently characterize the decade in terms of the development of the stereotype of the flapper—epitomized by the stars Clara Bow and...

  5. 2 Hollywood Naturalism
    (pp. 25-78)

    Although this book is primarily concerned with popular film genres, it seems necessary to take account of the fact that, along with its impact on the American literary establishment, naturalism had an effect on the margins of Hollywood filmmaking. Given its pessimism, its depiction of protagonists overwhelmed and acted upon by their environment, and its open-ended and dilatory plots, literary naturalism would seem to be the antithesis of the classical Hollywood narrative based on a goal-oriented protagonist, a rising curve of action, and a well-calculated articulation of suspense. That at least some directors sought to reconcile such seemingly antithetical modes...

  6. 3 Sophisticated Comedy
    (pp. 79-126)

    The definition of sophisticated comedy is usually taken for granted: opposed to slapstick, akin to the high comedy of manners or to farce, and best epitomized by the silent films of Ernst Lubitsch. But the idea of sophistication went well beyond the boundaries of comedy as such, as is suggested by this 1909 review of Eugene Walter’s dramaThe Easiest Way.¹I shall seek to illuminate the more general distinction between sophisticated and naïve taste as a prelude to understanding how the genre became recognized in the trade press during the 1920s and to explaining its importance for filmmakers throughout...

  7. 4 The Male Adventure Story
    (pp. 127-179)

    Mencken’s argument that the adventure story provided an escape from the demands of the sentimental novel—the romance plot, the importance accorded to the woman, ideas of sin and virtue, reward and punishment—now has wide intellectual currency.¹ This argument has been applied retrospectively to nineteenth-century novelists like Cooper, Melville, and Twain by Leslie Fiedler, and it survives even in contemporary feminist accounts of the male adventure story, such as Jane Tompkins’sWest of Everything.²But note that for Mencken writing in 1917 Conrad’s adventure stories were held to be unusual in their amorality and their refusal of “gyneolatry.” This...

  8. 5 The Seduction Plot
    (pp. 180-216)

    The seduction plot was one of the cornerstones of eighteenth-century sentimental literature, the central motif of Richardson’s novels, a possibility represented from the point of view of the sensitive man of feeling in Sterne’sA Sentimental Journeyand Oliver Goldsmith’sThe Vicar of Wakefield,and, by the nineteenth century, a common motif of stage melodrama and the three-decker novel.¹ Nonetheless, it held an ambiguous place in American nineteenth-century culture. Herbert Ross Brown has shown the enormous popularity in America of Richardson among other British writers of sentimental fiction.² Cathy Davidson has demonstrated howCharlotte Temple,one of the first American...

  9. 6 The Romantic Drama
    (pp. 217-273)

    The “romantic drama” was recognized as a genre in the 1920 s and considered to be preferred by women. It should be distinguished from the “society drama,” a term used in the trade press for love stories with a contemporary upper-class setting, and a genre also associated with feminine viewing preferences. The terms “romance” and “romantic drama” were, by contrast, applied to stories set in exotic locales or in the distant past. One of the most important genres of the 1920s, it was associated with major stars such as Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore, John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, Ronald Colman...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 274-276)

    Seldes’s modest and moving recollection of the battles of his youth points to the ways in which the young intellectuals of the 1920s, and those working in the “lively arts” in the same period, participated in a decisive transformation of taste.¹ One cannot help but be struck by the prescience of Seldes and his colleagues in the 1920s when considered from a later historical vantage point: the appreciation of Ring Lardner’s vernacular, the insistence on the legitimacy of jazz and its centrality to American music (if only Fletcher Henderson’s band, with Louis Armstrong, had been elevated in the place of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 277-314)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 315-326)
  13. Filmography
    (pp. 327-342)
  14. Index
    (pp. 343-358)