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Elise W.
Tutor who specializes in Film Studies (LESS THEATRE), Writing, Film History, and U.S. History
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US History
TutorMe
Question:

Analyze: What were some of the various tensions that existed between the United States and Japan in the early twentieth-century as well as the attempts at resolution?

Elise W.
Answer:

In the early twentieth-century, the United States harbored a fear of Japan, a newly unified country that excelled in industrialization and modernization, becoming a genuine military power. Post Russo-Japanese War, the United States viewed them as a possible imperial and military threat, creating a tension between the two major military powers. Furthermore, the Japanese government was concerned due to the treatment of their citizens abroad, who faced exclusion and discrimination, overt and violent. Efforts to resolve these issues were mostly unsuccessful. Successes may include, depending on perspective, the stagnation of Japanese immigration (Gentlemen's Agreement, 1907), the Allied support of Japan during World War I, and the later cessation of all Japanese immigration (Immigration Act of 1924). However, the Gentleman's Agreement and Immigration Act of 1924 were staggering blows to the American image of an "immigrant country," and did nothing to protect the Japanese who had already settled on America's shores. And by the end of World War I, the Japanese had further grown into the imperial power, with more territory and a larger, more efficient military, one that would become a key foe during the next World War. The political and military tensions were inevitable. America was slowly evolving into the major world power, developing its large military and imperial interests, and Japan pursued similar interests. Up to that point, the United States may have been under the impression that most East Asian countries were quaint and ignorant, unable to defend themselves and destined for imperial domination, and Japan broke that mold. The country was unified and the population generally well-educated, and its military victory over Russia (OVER RUSSIA!) proved that Japan was not a child and the Western world was not its paternal figure. However, the social tensions seen in the treatment of Japanese citizens abroad would only have been resolved by one event: the end of a racialized America and racial hatred. Whatever the form of tension, whether fear of the "naturalized" foreigner, the "stranger" who assimilates and "takes" jobs, or just of the immigrant whose cultural ways are so different, existing on a "biological" level, would have persisted because the concept of race and racial superiority and inferiority dominated (and still dominates) the American mindset. \

Film and Theater
TutorMe
Question:

How does gender performativity function in John Ford's Classical Hollywood Western Stagecoach (1939)?

Elise W.
Answer:

In John Ford's Stagecoach (1939), the performativity of the feminine identity and symbols of womanhood are explored in the initially dichotomous archetypal relationship between the roles of Dallas and Mrs. Mallory, utilizing the respective actresses' portrayals, and affect of audience’s expectations in reflection of contemporary ideology. From the opening scenes, the audience is introduced to a motley group of stagecoach passengers, seemingly ordinary and on relatively equal-footing. However, there is a clear line in behavior towards Dallas (Claire Trevor), a prostitute being exiled from the town by the women's "Law and Order League," and Mrs. Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), the pregnant wife of a cavalry officer. For a young woman to be travelling alone on a stagecoach journey, in a carriage filled with men, would have been considered risky and often unladylike – the concern is made evident regarding Mrs. Mallory, yet no one questions why Dallas would be travelling alone. Furthermore, Dallas is not even allowed an actual name other than a masculine nickname she was likely given as a prostitute; in contrast, Lucy is always referred to as Mrs. Mallory, a gentlelady and a woman of status. Dallas' only ally and fellow exilee is alcoholic Doctor Boone (Thomas Mitchell), who the town perceives almost as worse as Dallas; Doc claims that the reason Dallas can't live in peace is because the upright women prefer to be seen "scouring out the dregs of the town." When the ragtag group enters the stagecoach, both Southern gentleman Hatfield (John Carradine) and Lucy prefer to sit as far away from Dallas as possible, and when the delicate Mrs. Mallory is in need of refreshment, Hatfield retrieves a small, silver cup for her to drink from rather than the canteen. However, when Ringo demands to know why Dallas was not offered the same hospitality, Hatfield simply tells him that the cup is no longer available. Despite the fact that they inhabit the same physical space, the camera creates two separate cinematic spaces, one for Hatfield and Lucy who sit across from one another, and the other being Dallas on the opposite side and Ringo sitting on the floor below her. The second most prominent scene where Dallas is treated as less is when the stage reaches Dry Fork, and Mrs. Mallory refuses to eat at the same main table where a prostitute is also eating. Another minor female role is that of Yakima (Elvira Rios), a Native American woman married to a Mexican owner of a stopping place for the coach, whom whiskey salesman Samuel Peacock (Donald Peek) takes particular notice of: "But she's ... she's... a savage." She is dark and mysterious, and even her husband speaks of her interchangeably with that of his horses’ usefulness and wildness. The identification of woman is neither allowed for characters such as Dallas due to her moral impropriety, nor Yakima due her racial inferiority. The major turning point in the perception of Dallas as an actual woman is when Mrs. Mallory goes into labor during the journey. When prior, she was not even allowed to sit at the same table or be considered a woman in the presence of a real "Mrs.," Dallas is only then considered woman-enough when she is helpful in assisting Doc Boone in the delivery process. After the child's birth, Dallas is looked on for the first time with respect and acknowledgment when she cradles the baby in her arms – in that moment, she is in fact worthy of the feminine identity, of being perceived indeed as a woman. In the stagecoach chase climax, Dallas is given the sole job of protecting the baby while Lucy falls in between states of catatonia and hysterics, neither is entrusted with a gun. Furthermore, after the men have had the share of kills, action, and agency, it is with Hatfield's last moments (and by far one of the dark scenes) that he saves the last bullet not for himself but for Lucy. He believes it is his duty to protect her from whatever rituals may be performed up on her by their potential Native American captors, sullying and tainting a genuine, gentle lady. He ponders no such option for Dallas. In his mind, he must protect the virtue of the only woman aboard the coach – Mrs. Mallory. By the end of the film, Mrs. Mallory and Dallas have accepted that though they socially will never be identified as the same gender or quality, their experiences on the coach has created an undeniable mutual respect - evidenced when Lucy apologizes for her initially iciness and when Dallas in return gifts her shawl. Lastly, for Dallas' final moment of redemption, she rejects her previous life as a prostitute and agrees to become the wife of Ringo, living on his ranch and having a large family. Even in the arms of a criminal turned revenge-murderer, Dallas is still perceived as more of a woman than if she continued to eke out a meager living as a prostitute. In the larger ideological context, the depiction of gender roles in classic Hollywood was strictly dichotomous – the female character is either Madonna or whore. Mrs. Mallory is the fair, delicate wife of an officer who is carrying a child, versus the unvirtuous Dallas, a character not even deserving of an actual first name, any surname at all, and not even a title of "Miss." The one common thread between Lucy and Dallas is their status as objects, Lucy being that of her General father, then of her Officer husband, and then pursued by Hatfield who “offers his protection to the lady.” Dallas, as a prostitute, is the object of desire for many men, and is eagerly pursued for settlement by Ringo. In 1939, the Production Code was in effect, a set of guidelines that fundamentally established the self-censorship of films on a sin-punishment system, with special regards to expression of gender and sexuality. According to the Code’s text, film is “primarily to be regarded as entertainment […] which can improve […] or degrade human beings […].” Therefore, it has “special moral obligations,” and the “correct entertainment raises the whole standard of the nation.” Essentially, the medium of film cannot be used to morally influence the masses in a negative way, and in order to achieve positive influence, it must not show immoral activities (i.e. perversion, sex, criminal activities) in a glorifying light. For example, Dallas as a prostitute has already committed a sin – sexual expression and "choosing" the lascivious and corrupting occupation of a sex worker – therefore, she must be punished and/or find redemption. At the time of Stagecoach's release, two other films, The Women and Destry Rides Again were also distributed. In The Women, an alleged gold-digger and homewrecker played by Joan Crawford is punished in the end for stealing another man's husband, and having multiple affairs, by being exposed, extricated from both relationships, and exiled back to her lowly perfume counter. In Destry Rides Again, Marlene Dietrich plays a prostitute in an older Western town who falls in love with the good guy for once, changes sides – gaining her redemption – and is accidentally killed in the crossfire. These would have been fates the audience of 1939 would have grown to expect, because due to affect created by the perceived differences between men and women, and between different kinds of women, the justification for "laws and practices that have denied women autonomy and barred them from positions of social and economic power" would only be reinforced by the repetition of “these familiar representations of male and female” which could to a degree “encourage audiences to accept essentialist arguments about gender roles” (Pramaggiore and Wallis 327, 330). Less than a decade later in the film noir movement, women will become more active agents in narratives, but still retain the reputation of being "threatening and destructive," and therefore in need of punishment for their great many sins: greed, lust, manipulation, promiscuity, and wrath (329). However, despite these stereotypes depicted in Ford’s film, the dynamics between the inhabitants of the coach provides for a great deal of flexibility and sensitivity. Dallas, despite her presumed social inferiority, is quick-on-her-feet, not unintelligent, and has an appealing vulnerability conveyed in simultaneity with her world-weary strength. Mrs. Mallory, in contrast, is shown as incapable and rather snobbish, and in her indifference to Hatfield’s attentions, she accepts the very same attention that Dallas is scolded for despite its significance to her only means of livelihood. In Howard Movshovitz’s analysis of women in John Ford westerns, specifically Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956), examines how the “birth sequence […] separates the enduring values from the artificial ones. [In that scene] Dallas and Peacock prove wrong the stupid judgments of social stereotypes.” Ford’s Stagecoach, despite its release some eighty years ago, still provides an informed blueprint for the current depiction of femininity and womanhood in Hollywood film, one of marriage versus solitude, maternity versus sexual freedom, sin and punishment versus diversity, redemption, and acceptance, and dichotomy versus flexibility and self-determination.

Writing
TutorMe
Question:

By critically examining of a specific contemporary filmmaker, answer the follwing scholarly question – What is Italian Neorealism?

Elise W.
Answer:

Italian Neorealism, in its most acknowledged form as both style and movement, is characterized by its use of non-professional actors, on-location shooting, natural lighting, a documentary-style cinematography, setting of contemporary events and issues, a distinct social context, and a focus on social, economic, and political issues facing Italy in the immediate postwar period (e.g. poverty, unemployment, isolation, alienation, disillusionment). However, neorealism also existed on a more personal, director-by-director basis in which the “neo-” and “realism” transmutes across film, creator, and time. For Vittorio De Sica, the realism of the postwar period was “neo-” not because it was more representational due to its on-location shooting or documentary artifice, which were mostly by-products of financial and resource scarcity, but because it pursued truth and authenticity on the levels of narrative and character, of experience and humanity, of place, time, and personality, and of individual and collective, in order to portray man’s indifference to the suffering of others, its attempt at solidarity, and its need for a reconstructed morality. In an interview with journalist Charles Thomas Samuels, neorealist filmmaker De Sica divests his definition of “Neo-realism” from its stylistic hallmarks, grounding it in more abstract, almost philosophical ideas and goals: “. . . people think that neorealism means exterior shooting, but they are wrong. Most films today are made in a realistic style, but they are actually opposed to neorealism [...]. Because neorealism is not shooting films in authentic locales; it is not reality. It is reality filtered through poetry, reality transfigured” (Cardullo 188). Born at the turn of the century in the Lazio region, not 100 miles from Rome, De Sica endured an impoverished youth before establishing a theatre company, and eventually found himself acting in the Italian film industry, mostly in popular light comedies, directed by the likes of Mario Camerini. It wasn't until 1940 when he began directing films of his own, and by that point, he had already forged his career's most productive working relationship with screenwriter Cesare Zavattini. In the immediate postwar period, he directed his informal “neorealist” Trilogy of Solitude, which includes Sciuscià (1946), Ladri di Biciclette (1948), and Umberto D. (1952). Most of his early filmography as a director features comedies, often starring himself, however, he only began to shift to drama towards the close of the war with I Bambini Ci Guardano (1944), considered by some to be a neorealist precursor, due to its use of a first-time child actor as its protagonist, some on-location shooting, real crowds, and traces of dialect, the contributions of Zavattini, and most importantly to De Sica, the adoption of a child’s perspective to capture the unsympathetic and indifferent nature of the adult world (unusual for the reverence and sentimentality usually attached to the family unit in films of the Fascist period). In Sciuscià (1946), De Sica informally inaugurated what is now known as his “Trilogy of Solitude.” Peter Bondanella, groundbreaking Italian film historian, suggests that the “solitude” originates in De Sica’s implication that no reform or revolution can “alter the basic facts of life: solitude, loneliness, and alienation of the individual within the amorphous and unsympathetic body of humanity” (89). This is illustrated in De Sica’s consistent use of crowds in introducing his protagonists. In Sciuscià, the first shots are groups of children chasing and yelling after two boys riding on a horse, those boys being shoeshine boys Pasquale and Giuseppe. Throughout the film, that gaggle of children are seen chasing after anything that captures their attention, from the wealthy couple on the horses to the judicial condemnation of their friends. In Ladri di Biciclette, the film starts with a group of out-of-work men gathering around an employment agent begging for work, when protagonist Antonio, isolated on a lawn nearby, is singled out for a potential job. The first frames of Umberto D. feature the eponymous character half-heartedly participating in a pensioners’ protest. Each individual emerges from the crowd to relay their extraordinarily ordinary story, and hence disappears back into the faceless masses, writhing in their own multitudes of pain and suffering, and clawing attempts at simultaneous individuation and solidarity. For Sciuscià, according to De Sica, his vision was to convey the “melancholy poetry of that generation of children led astray by the war” and “emphasize a phenomenon that has always deeply saddened [him]—the indifference of humanity to the needs of others” (Cardullo 177). These ambitions are reflected in the narrative as well as the aesthetic choices. First, he essentially conducted ride-along (or field) research in Rome by following actual shoeshine boys around for a year in their everyday activities (one of whom ended up in prison after the theft of a gas mask), and the “reality” of the story unfolded before his eyes: “The drama, not invented by me but staged by life itself, was drawing to its fatal conclusion” (177). He also casted nonprofessional child actors, shot a combination of on-location in Rome as well as in the available studios. De Sica seemed to find particular inspiration in seeking out fresh, malleable talent, whether adult or child, as an essential facet to his realism, that of rejecting the pre-existing divismo star system of Italy’s early cinema and the studio-star system that predominated the aggressively influential and culturally imperialistic American Hollywood cinema (which existed for most national cinemas as a point of reference, for good or bad). For De Sica, it is “not the actor who lends the character a face which, however versatile he may be, is necessarily his own, but the character who reveals himself, sooner or later, in ‘that’ particular face and in no other” (178). However, the most effective stylistic decision was in the cinematographic framing of the film. It is shot at eye-level with the child protagonists, inhabiting their bleak yet strangely exuberant world, as though they are miniature adults. It follows them through the squalor, of dozens of people living in one structure, including refugees, and the hundreds of out-of-school and out-of-home children working the streets (not unlike Biciclette’s Bruno). The “indifference” to human suffering is played out in every frame, from the rich people at the club who walk the past children in torn clothes, to the American G.I.s skimping on paying the shoeshine boys, to wavering solidarity between the poor, families, and what is viewed as the necessary criminalities. The most poignant apathetic experiences occur in the execution of the crime and within the walls of the juvenile prisons. Adults are willing to use children in order to commit crimes and face punishment for them; doctors and administrators inspect the detention center like a prison camp, beating children, and even the doctors remain cold and clinical when shuffling the sick in with the “healthy.” When the children sing, their windows are closed out by shutting the only window through which to see their fellow “inmates.” Even the parents don’t visit or concern themselves, the kids are used as guards and informants, forced to turn against one another. At a certain point, the children and adults alike become indifferent to their corrupted souls and tragic fates. At every level, the systems, structures, and institutions not only fail people, primarily children (or anything new, young, fresh, or clean), but feed them back into one another in a synergistic paradigm of apathy. The collective, in this case, preys on and denigrates the individual. Thematically, the postwar alienation from the collective provokes intriguing questions, particularly since one of the principles of fascism was the prioritization of the primordial collective over the destructive, secondary individual identity. A similar questioning of institutions is conducted in Biciclette, which De Sica claims is a filmic telling of the story of one man and his son’s attempt at “pathetic human solidarity” (Cardullo 178). In seeking solidarity, man and child – Antonio and Bruno – reach out to several institutions in their day of crises. Bruno is unable to attend school and must work, is snidely ignored by upper-class peers, and is often at odds with his father’s attempts to desperately cope with his seemingly hopeless situation. Antonio reaches out to the law to retrieve his bike and is ignored, to the elderly spiritualist and is discouraged, and is unassisted (and even silenced) by many of the groups representing socioeconomic and political revolution, such as the party meeting. Furthermore, he is repeatedly attacked as an individual by teams or collectives: from the pair that steal his bike to the neighborhood that violent opposes his pursuit of the thief, to his final condemnation by the group of men who catch him stealing the bike. It is only at the behest of the individual bike owner that the crowd releases him, after they have hurled ruthless insults at him regarding his failure as individual, Italian, father, and man. Here is a man with his final symbol of respectability – his hat and suit – dirty and in tatters. In the face of this personal tragedy, not unlike that facing most of the country in the immediate postwar period rightly questioned the need for fabrication: “Why seek extraordinary adventures when we are presented daily with artless people who are filled with real distress?” (De Sica 87-88). Beyond the inefficiency and apathy of institutions is their continuous absurdity. For example, in Biciclette, through various public and private spheres, inhabited by the police, pawning merchants, churches and charitable socialites, the lower and higher-classes, spiritualist, and soccer fans, the audience recognizes the utmost absurdity of everyday life. This is exemplified in small things like the windshield wipers on Baiocco’s work truck that don’t work in face of a heavy rain to the labyrinthine plot to find the eponymous stolen bicycle in the first place. Furthermore, on an institutional level, the absurdity continues: the police who expect the victims to solve the crime, the church and charity who demand religious loyalty and mass attendance in exchange for the actual charity of shave and food, the church workers who make a racket just to tell Antonio not to make a racket, and who are unable to properly address said racket due to their habitual making of the sign of the cross. Particularly the scene in the church, where the contrast between the tradition and decorum of the Church, the superficiality and hypocrisy of the Church’s treatment of outsiders and those who endure the realities of poverty and troubled faith, and the wavering resolute of the Italian people in the Church in the bleak (and often hopeless) postwar period. In the film’s most astute moment of juxtaposition is the eventual breakdown of the protagonist, as he sends his son away so as to blind or protect him from the great transgression he is about to commit, which is paired with the sounds of the cheering crowd in the stadium (the irony that so many should be celebrating a sport so attached to a sense of nationalism, all while a man, one of countless, should be in such agony, under such scrutiny, and almost at his end). In a through-line to his next neorealism chapter, Ladri di Biciclette, Sciuscià also reflects, however briefly, on the gradual realization that adults make mistakes, have weaknesses, and foremost, possess uncertainty, desperation, and vulnerability. By Sciuscià‘s end, Pasquale is divided from the adults by distance and conscience. After accidentally killing Giuseppe, he remains below the bridge as the adults look down on the tragic conclusion, for the children had been made adults too soon, by the war, the economy, the justice system, and society. This message of “childhood innocence corrupted by the adult world,” is exemplified through Cesare Zavattini’s dialogue, and specific character reactions (Bondanella 82). First, the choice to have the children, more or less speak like adults, constantly swearing, even young Nannarella, makes the dynamics between the world-weary children rough and borderline disturbing. Second, and by far the most powerful symbol of this communication is each scene featuring Giuseppe or Pasquale crying. In those brief moments, the audience is reminded that they are children. Every human being has this perspective of vulnerability, to be sad and despair in the circumstances they find themselves in, but in the faces of children, as their expression scrunches, their eyes and mouths turn down, the tears fall, and the noise of weeping that is clearly not aged, is tragically breathtaking. They are just children. Despite its classification, neorealism, for De Sica, must always be aware that reality is carefully constructed, as the output of specific and planned aesthetic and narrative choices, from elaborate screenplays to carefully-choreographed crowd scenes to extensive (almost sociological) research, and purposeful cinematography and editing – cinematic artifice in the service of truth and reality. It was what was between the lines, spoken and unspoken, seen and unacknowledged that conveyed the reality that De Sica hoped would translate to the Italian audience – “the poetry of real people and the truth of human relationships” (Cardullo 208). He once said that neorealism was “born after a total loss of liberty, not only personal, but artistic and political. It was a means of rebelling against the stifling dictatorship that had humiliated Italy” (Cardullo 188). It was as much about the contemporary, the present, as it was negotiating the past and future, in real terms, not in legislation, statistics, or epic backdrops, but in working hard, making a living, feeding one’s family, being a child, thinking and feeling one’s own thoughts and feelings, and rediscovering as individuals and as a nation, a reconstructed morality and an Italian identity.

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