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Blackout: Reinventing Women for Wartime British Cinema

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    Book Description:

    The most universal civilian privation in World War II Britain, the blackout possessed many symbolic meanings. Among its complicated implications for filmmakers was a stigmatization of film spectacle--including the display of "Hollywood women," whose extravagant appearance connoted at best unpatriotic wastefulness and at worst collaboration with the enemy. Exploring the wartime breakdown of conventional gender roles on the screen and in the audience, Antonia Lant demonstrates that many British films of the period signaled their national cinematic identity by diverging from the notion of the Hollywood star, the mainstay of commercial American motion pictures, replacing her with a deglamourized, mobilized heroine. Nevertheless, the war machine demanded that British films continue to celebrate stable and reassuring gender roles. Contradictions abounded, both within film narratives and between narrative and "real life." Analyzing films of all the major wartime studios, the author scrutinizes the efforts of realist and melodramatic texts to confront women's wartime experiences, including conscription. By combining study of contemporary posters, advertisements, propaganda notices, and cartoons with consideration of recent feminist theoretical work on the cinema, spectatorship, and history, she has produced the first book to examine the relationships among gender, cinema, and nationality as they are affected by the stresses of war.

    Originally published in 1991.

    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: 978-1-4008-6219-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION Cinema in Extremis
    (pp. 3-18)

    It is hard to think of a cinema less celebrated than the British. Accused of being too talky and long-winded, too indebted to theater, bereft of a distinct visual style, and altogether lacking in verve and pace, this cinema has been written off as dull, odd, or at best marginal. While the uneasy alliance between British cinema and the enormously influential British theatrical tradition, in both its upper- and lower-class manifestations, may justify this reaction, there has also been a conspicuous countermaneuver by critics who commemorate British cinema’s dismal reputation by lovingly repeating epithets redolent of the pity and disdain...

  2. CHAPTER 1 Projecting National Identity
    (pp. 19-58)

    Looking back in 1939, neither government, filmmakers, nor audiences could remember a time when British cinema had lived beyond the shadow of Hollywood. This cinema was seen as a victim of not only economic but also cultural subjection. Hollywood’s tentacles had apparently wrapped themselves around British life itself, bringing with them the contraptions of modern domesticity: “The refrigerator [had] penetrated the fastness of the English home largely as a result of it appearing as a standard fixture in American kitchens as shown in the films.”¹ At least since World War I, the American film industry had determined the scale of...

  3. CHAPTER 2 The Mobile Woman: Femininity in Wartime Cinema
    (pp. 59-113)

    Leslie Howard, J. B. Priestley, Frank Launder, and Sidney Gilliat all chose to represent wartime’s mobile woman in their work. They stated in explanation that the phenomenon of the mobile woman wastheparadigm of war: her story crystallized for them the unique character of the crisis.¹ If we look to other British films of the 1942–46 period, we find this emphasis on female experience in wartime narratives reinforced, leading to the paradoxical situation of a wartime cinema apparently revolving around female experience. Many factors contributed to this state of affairs. Certainly the discourse on national film style with...

  4. CHAPTER 3 The Blackout
    (pp. 114-152)

    The Military aim of the blackout, put into effect across Europe, was to prevent enemy navigation and bombing over the home front; the absence of external artificial light at night was intended to deny the aerial point of view. Rules for accomplishing a total blackout were legislated and enforced by the government, and depended on the cooperation of every single citizen. Unlike other disruptions of the early war that gave just a hint of the years of rationing and austerity to follow, the impact of the blackout was “comprehensive and immediate.”¹ Living through the wartime dark was experienced by everyone,...

  5. CHAPTER 4 Processing History: The Timing of a Brief Encounter
    (pp. 153-196)

    The American filmMildred Pierce(Curtiz, 1945) has become a canonical text for feminist film criticism. In perhaps the best known article about it, Pam Cook describes the abutment of two conflicting genres in the film—melodrama and film noir—and argues that switches between their styles, and between the past and the present, demonstrate that “the ideological work of the film is to articulate the necessity of the drawing of boundaries and to encourage the acceptance of the repression which the establishment of such order entails.”¹ The most important boundary, formally embedded as genre and temporal distinction, is that...

  6. CONCLUSION From Mufti to Civvies: A Canterbury Tale
    (pp. 197-220)

    The Cultural, economic, and political turmoil of World War II precipitated massive changes in the use, and imagery, of all representational media in Britain. The cinematic apparatus was up against particular pressure in its duty of formulating coherent representations of masculinity and femininity. While all films made in Britain in wartime reveal the strains of this mission, none focus so obsessively or exclusively on the problem than the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. ConsiderThe Life and Death of Colonel Blimp(1943), with itstour de forceof male aging in the character of Clive Candy (Roger Livesey),...

  7. APPENDIX I Bogart or Bacon: The British Film Industry during World War II
    (pp. 221-230)
  8. APPENDIX II British Box Office Information, 1940–1950
    (pp. 231-234)