Katharine Hepburn: Star as Feminist / Edition 1995

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Of all the major Hollywood stars, Katharine Hepburn was the least conventional, conforming to none of, the stereotypes of female superstardom. She was not an exotic outsider in Hollywood like Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich; nor was she a victim of the studios like Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe; and she was certainly not a creature of the system like Joan Crawford and Lana Turner. Instead, she always appeared intelligent, willful, and independent, able to develop her own persona within the confines of the studio system.

Andrew Britton proposes a feminist reading of Hepburn's films, arguing that her persona raises problems about class, female sexuality, and women's oppression that strain to the limits the conventions of a cinema ultimately committed to the reassertion of bourgeois gender roles. Hepburn's work is also used to explore more general issues, such as the functioning of the star system. This is one of the very few analyses of American cinema to focus on a film star rather than a director or a genre and as such is essential reading for anyone interested in the movies. This edition also includes Andrew Britton's cogent and perceptive program notes for a Hepburn season at London's National Film Theatre.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hepburn's film persona challenged expectations of class and gender, while her strong self-assurance defied the strictures of Hollywood studios during her career. According to Britton, a British film lecturer before his death in 1994, Hepburn's public image was replicated in part by her film roles. Yet that same brash confidence, coupled with the social conventions of the day, dooms her onscreen characters, who are validated only when they find contentment with men. Britton combs Hepburn's oeuvre for signs of subversive feminism and points out the studios' successes at undermining them. But his thesis doesn't live up to his title. Although a close examination of such films as Sylvia Scarlet, Stage Door and Woman of the Year impart some insight into the gender politics of the day, much of Britton's analysis is labored and his conclusions are strained (and, at times, overwrought, as when he claims that casting Hepburn as the controlling mother in 1959's Suddenly, Last Summer was a reaction to her role as a daughter rebelling against patriarchy in 1932's A Bill of Divorce). The book, published in England in 1984, displays Britton's encyclopedic knowledge of film. He assumes his readers are similarly familiar with everyone from D.W. Griffith to Hal Ashby. In addition, he expects them to know Jacques Lacan's writings, Marxist politics and sophisticated gender identity theories. Academics may not mind Britton's leaden prose, but researchers will be frustrated by his lack of attribution. B&w photos. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Of all the major stars, Hepburn has always brought a fierce independence & her own persona to the screen. The author explores her films within the context of female sexuality & class issues, as well as the Hollywood star system. B&W photos.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231132763
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 12/23/2003
  • Series: Film and Culture Series
  • Edition number: 1995
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Britton lectured in film studies at the Universities of Warwick, Essex, and Reading. He also taught at Queens and Trent Universities in Ontario, Canada, and was a guest lecturer at other universities in Britain, Canada, and the United States. He died in 1994.Robin Wood is a founding editor of CineAction and author of Hitchcock's Films Revisited, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan... and Beyond, and Sexual Politics and Narrative Film. He is professor emeritus at York University and the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Cinema Studies.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Foreword 6
Why Hepburn? 7
1. An American Princess 9
2. Publicity 14
3. Fathers and Daughters 73
4. Gender and Bisexuality 85
5. The Female Community 104
6. Stars and Genre 140
7. Hepburn and Tracy 169
8. The Old Maid 209
A Note on Crying 226
Epilogue: The Star as Monument 232
Filmography 244
Bibliography 251
Programme Notes 253
Index 261
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