A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960 / Edition 1

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In this highly readable and entertaining book, Jeanine Basinger shows how the "woman's film" of the 30s, 40s, and 50s sent a potent mixed message to millions of female moviegoers. At the same time that such films exhorted women to stick to their "proper" realm of men, marriage, and motherhood, they portrayed -- usually with relish -- strong women playing out liberating fantasies of power, romance, sexuality, luxury, even wickedness.

Never mind that the celluloid personas of Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, or Rita Hayworth see their folly and return to their man or lament his loss in the last five minutes of the picture; for the first eighty-five minutes the audience watched as these characters "wore great clothes, sat on great furniture, loved bad men, had lots of sex, told the world off for restricting them, even gave their children away."

Basinger examines dozens of films -- whether melodrama, screwball comedy, musical, film noir, western, or biopic -- to make a persuasive case that the woman's film was a rich, complicated, and subversive genre that recognized and addressed, if covertly, the problems of women.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, hundreds of "women's films" came out of Hollywood. These widely disparate films allowed the audience a visual liberation into romance, luxury, glamour, and "bad" female behavior, but then showed viewers "the way women ought to be." Now a film studies expert sheds light on these films. 45 photos.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Witty, spirited, [and] satisfyingly comprehensive . . . A Woman's View is bright, lively, jargon-free, densely argued, never ponderous . . . Basinger knows how to nail what she's going after." —Boston Globe

"Ms. Basinger analyzes Hollywood's view with affectionate wit and verve . . . Her book is a timely reminder that female rebellion didn't start with Thelma and Louise."—New York Times Book Review

"An intelligent, thought-provoking look at a genre too often dismissed as either sheer trash or simply another cultural instrument of female oppression. Basinger possesses -- and conveys -- a lively appreciation for the complexities of popular culture." —Washington Post Book World

A book about the 'woman's film,' and written in clear, intelligible prose, is almost as alluring as the best of the films themselves . . . a book with fascinating detail that stays readable to the end."—Cineaste

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Full of sharp and entertaining insights, this exhaustive study analyzes dozens of ``women's films''-- The Man I Love , My Reputation , Women's Prison , etc.--which presented the contradiction of covert liberation and overt support for women's traditional roles. Basinger, chair of the Film Studies Program at Wesleyan Univeristy, mostly avoids citing interviews and fan magazines, relying instead on her own perceptions. She offers clever epigrams--the constrained choices of the woman's world are a ``Board Game of Life''--as she explores issues including men, marriage, motherhood and fashion. The film Jezebel , the author suggests, deserved a subtitle: ``How Society Forces Bette Davis to Conform by Making Her Change Her Dress.'' Basinger's gimlet eye generates several schema, from the basic rules of film behavior to the four kinds of mothers. And while observations like one that finds similarities between women in prisons and in department stores are amusing, they also hit home. Photos not seen by PW. Sept.
Library Journal
Basinger film studies, Wesleyan Univ. has written a knowledgeable and entertaining study of the woman's film genre. With examples from hundreds of films, she demonstrates that these movies offered women the contradictory message that other roles were accessible to them, while simultaneously reaffirming their roles as housewives and mothers. Basinger covers every facet of the genre, including stars, the role of fashion, fan magazines, men, marriage, motherhood, and women in a man's world. She describes the ``woman's world'' in these films as ``a series of limited spaces with the woman struggling to get free of them'' and explores four typical settings: the prison, department store, small town, and house. Her lively analyses and amusing comments make this volume interesting to the fan of old movies as well as the film student. For most serious film collections.-- Marcia L. Perry, Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield, Mass.
From Barnes & Noble
Looks at the ambivalent world of "women's films," of splendidly ridiculous plots & contradictory themes that, ironically, paved the way for more liberating roles. Discusses the films & the women who starred in them. B&W photos.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819562913
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 6/23/1995
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 542
  • Sales rank: 1,339,061
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeanine Basinger
JEANINE BASINGER is Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies and Curator of Cinema Archives at Wesleyan University. Her most recent book is Silent Stars (1999), and her other books include American Cinema (1994), The "It's a Wonderful Life" Book (1990), and The World War II Combat Film (1986).
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Table of Contents

The Genre
I. The Woman Herself
2. Duality :“My God! There’s Two of Her”
3. Fashion and Glamour
4. The Stars Who Play Her
5. Ways of Seeing Her
6. The Woman’s World
7. Men
8. Marriage
9. Motherhood
10. The Woman in the Man’s World
11. Proof: Kitty and Angie and Janet
12. Appendix: Women at the Box Office
13. Bibliography
14. Index
Binder, Wolfgang/American Contradictions
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