Friday, September 04, 2009

Mae West: Decade-ism?

MAE WEST popped up between the sheets of The London Review of Books, whose critics seem to be so derailed by deadlines that they never heard of the Gay Nineties Broadway hit "Diamond Lil" [onstage in 1928] nor the 1890s drama set on the Bowery "She Done Him Wrong" [1933], a motion picture classic by Paramount. They have heard plenty about the Brooklyn bombshell, though.
• • Obviously, Mae West was not the only writer to revive the 1890s era on the Bowery and in Chinatown. In May 1904, for instance, married actors Mr. and Mrs. Terry McGovern starred in Theodore Kremer's stirring melodrama "The Bowery After Dark" at the People's Theatre. Kremer set his scenes in Suicide Hall, Chatham Square, Chinatown, etc.
• • During the 1890s, The New York World commissioned artist Julius C. Fireman to illustrate the interior of Suicide Hall.
• • Decade-ism • •
• • Scrutinizing a new release "When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies," reviewer Ian Jack wonders: When did ‘decade-ism’ — — history as wine gums — — start?
• • Ian Jack writes: The first decades that took a retrospective grip on the popular imagination were the 1890s and the 1920s. It may not be a coincidence that both have been characterised as fun-loving eras that chucked out staid manners and stale customs, whose social revolutionaries were libertines (Mae West) and gangsters (James Cagney).
• • Perhaps more than any other agency, it was Hollywood that defined those decades for people too young to know them. The American experience became the way the 1920s were remembered, even though only a tiny proportion of the world’s population in 1925 drank hard liquor out of teapots in speakeasies; or danced — — danced, danced, danced! — — often in a cloche hat and with a long cigarette-holder pointed riskily at their partner’s crotch.
• • It took thirty years for the 1890s to become established as ‘naughty’ or ‘gay’ — — Mae West’s "Belle of the Nineties" came out in 1934 — — but the 1920s were quicker off the mark. "The Roaring Twenties," with James Cagney as its star, branded the decade only nine years after it ended. The Wall Street Crash and the ending of Prohibition, by utterly changing American life, had quickly sealed off the 1920s as history.
• • Subsequent decades didn’t easily offer themselves for styling. ...
— — Excerpt: — —
• • Book Review: "Downhill from Here"
• • Title being reviewed: When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies by Andy Beckett
• • BY: Ian Jack | Literary Critic
• • The London Review of Books — —
• • Published on: 27 August 2009
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