Thursday, February 05, 2009

Mae West: Warm Up

MAE WEST and Pre-Code cinema go together like a hand and a shake, like a fine French champagne and a crystal flute.
• • Intriguingly written is Erich Kuersten's essay ["Dizzy from the Altitude, Happy to Plummet: Pre-Code Cinema and the Post-Code-Shock Syndrome"] in the current issue of Bright Lights Film Journal — — with its wind-up featuring the wickedly wonderful Miss West herself.
• • Sizing up the modern shorthand of social conventions in motion pictures, Kuersten writes:
• • With the Forbidden Hollywood DVDs and Turner Classic Movies on cable, Hollywood films from 1929 through to part of 1934 — collectively known as "the pre-Code era" — have become more accessible than ever before; since, in fact, the era itself. For film lovers and scholars it's a windfall, but for social critics and anti-social rebels, it's perhaps the most valuable of opportunities to study the way hegemonically-instilled mores were once shrugged aside and how thirty-odd years of "Code" conditioning still leaves its mark today, no matter how permissive cinema appears to get.
• • After the ratings system finally and forever toppled the Code in 1968, mainstream cinema could say whatever it wanted, but even with open-eyed mavericks like Peckinpah and Hopper pushing boundaries, the Code's ghost lingered like an invisible schoolmarm. Bloody westerns might challenge the idea of "good guys and bad guys," but romantic drama and comedy — the bedrock of pre-Code sauciness — still suffered, and more than ever still suffers today, from something we might call Post-Code Stress Syndrome (PCSS). No matter how transgressive many of these films may be, it's in direct relation to a perceived normality and "rightness" of conceptual social mores like the sanctity of marriage and childbirth, etc. A film like Juno, for example, portends to be rebellious and cutting-edge while all the time subverting its message through lauding the conventional wisdom of heterosexual marriage and the "infant uber alles" mentality of the post-Spielberg generations.
• • The thing that strikes me as most genuinely subversive in the pre-Code era is the universally recognized commodification of premarital sex; namely, the expensive diamond bracelet as the symbol of mistresshood, much more lucrative in the short run than marriage and the saddling down with debts and childbirth. . . .
• • Censors will be on us like a Joseph Breen on a Mae West.
• • With so much underhanded conventionalizing, it's easy to forget that once upon a time these social mores were being challenged and disputed, not by our parents but by our grandparents, the ones we think of as the most conventional of all. Perhaps with the help of these great pre-Code films we can once again soar above the clouds of petty morality and remember what true subversion is all about. We'll know when we do, because censors will be on us like a Joseph Breen on a Mae West.
• • What we need to remember is to not give a damn. We need to recognize that the weird submission we feel to a stern patriarchal command is just social conditioning. We shouldn't blame the patriarch; blame the mechanism and learn to laugh off his stern puffery. Mae West never went down, no matter how many mediums they banned her from. Mae West is still subversive today, and thanks to the digital media, she's still out there, tellin' it like it is. It's to our own demerit if we fail to listen closely.
— — Excerpt: — —
• • Article: "Dizzy from the Altitude, Happy to Plummet: Pre-Code Cinema and the Post-Code-Shock Syndrome"
• • Byline: Erich Kuersten
• • Published in: Bright Lights Film Journal — —
• • Published in Issue 63 | February 2009 |
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • It was on 5 February 1949 that Mae West's "Diamond Lil" revival debuted at the Coronet Theatre, warming up Broadway audiences.
• • It will be 6 February 2009 when Mae West returns to enchant the Film Forum's ticket-holders for an entirely glorious day of Mae in "I'm No Angel." Film Forum is featuring cheapskate prices. Come up for the laugh fest this Friday. Look for us there.

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1933 • •
Mae West.

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