Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Longhair Outgrosses Baseball - a headline from the Variety Golden Jubilee issue

Longhair Outgrosses Baseball 
Classics, Now a $50,000,000 Boxoffice Bonanza As Against
The National Pastime's $40,000,000 Per Annum -- Symph,
Opera and Ballet Big Middlebrow Draw

This a headline for a Arthur Bronson article on page 467 in the January 4, 1956 special 50th anniversary issue of Variety Magazine.  

The Variety Anniversary Issue was an annual love letter between the entertainment press embodied by Variety Magazine, the primary trade journal for the entertainment industry, and all the people in the entertainment industry who benefited from the magazine's knowledge and reach.  The opening pages of the Golden Jubilee issue are filled with individual full page advertisements taken out by all of the top Hollywood studio executives congratulating the magazine on its longevity.  There are hundreds of other sponsored notes of congratulations from entertainers and corporations throughout this 512 page issue.

The entertainment industry for Variety comprises every sort of performing art, with an emphasis on those that make lots of money.  But the fine arts did have a place within its pages where it was (one hopes affectionately) known as "longhair."  The article below the headline above notes that in 1956 the "boxoffice" for classical music, ballet, opera put together exceeded that of baseball - that certainly gets the reader to stand up and notice.  It goes on to note the importance of the arts in cultural diplomacy, the amount of money spent on classical long playing records and role of film, radio and television in popularizing the arts.  Variety articles are often full of statistics -- this one notes that in 1940, 1,000 American towns offered concert series.  By 1956 the number had risen to 2,600, certainly suggesting a growing interest in classical music.

The Anniversary Issue is full of lists and sidebars.  One includes a list of "actors who have played actors."  There is another list of "remakes of feature films" (by 1956 there had been 3 major releases of both Anna Karenina and Moby Dick).  Gone With The Wind was at the top of the "all-time top money films," but who would have guessed The Robe would come in at number two?  (Adjusted for inflation, Gone With The Wind is still the top grosser).

There is also a chronological chart "50 years of U.S. musical comedy and operetta" listing all the major shows that opened between 1905 and 1956.   Later in the issue there is a table of "Broadway production statistics." This shows the Broadway peaked in 1927-28 with 264 productions throughout the season. It was only natural that the number of productions would taper off owing to the introduction of sound motion pictures and the Great Depression.

Just a year and a half after the Army-McCarthy hearings, this issue has an article entitled "Were You Ever Blacklisted?" subtitled "Variety was - many times, but found friends and special issues kept it going."  This article has a table listing a "chronology of special issues" in Variety magazine over the years.

KRON-TV (the NBC and San Francisco Chronicle affiliate) is among the advertisers, touting a potential 4 million viewer audience and $5,158,223,000 in sales in 1954 (that figure must be for the entire Bay Area).  An advertisement for "The Seven Ashtons," an acrobatic act from Australia notes that they were then performing at Bimbos in San Francisco.

Then there is this provocative headline:

Burlesque -- Its Rise and Demise
Offshoot of Minstrelsy and Extravaganza, Cradle
Of Comedians, Once a Family Amusement, Burlesque
Succumbed to Smut and Strippers

 While today there is a resurgence of interest, in 1956 Burlesque was thought to be on its deathbed.  The article is written by the then 86 year old Barney Gerard, a long time practitioner of the art.  (I cannot find a good biography of Gerard, but he has a number of credits in the Internet Movie Database and a Google Books search brings up myriad articles that show his deep involvement in vaudeville and burlesque).  His article traces the "rise and demise in 60 years" of burlesque.  He many stories including an explanation of the origin of the "hook" used to pull performers who were bombing off the stage.  He even devotes a couple paragraphs to the scene in San Francisco with the Bella Union concert hall in the late 1800s and the Belvedere on O'Farrell Street around the time of the 1906 earthquake.  In the end he laments that burlesque was "strip-teased into oblivion."

As far as I can tell these annual issues have not yet been indexed or scanned online, so they remain a little-known but fascinating on entertainment in all of its forms.  The Library own issues of this annual from 1956 through 1989. 

Variety. Anniversary Edition (Variety, Inc., [1956]-1983).

 Variety. Show Business Annual (Variety, Inc., c1984-1989).

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Feminist Film Theory

I recently checked out Feminist Film Theory and Cleo from 5 to 7 written by Hilary Neroni and enjoyed it thoroughly. Being a fan of the French New Wave cinema movement and movies by directors involved indirectly with the Wave, I had never managed to watch a film by Agnes Varda, who was a part of the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) movement along with Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. Reading the book became the impetus to watch Cleo from 5 to 7 directed by Agnes Varda in 1962. In a refreshing approach and a jargon free language Neroni walks the reader through the arc of feminist film criticism and theory, and then having done so, employs Varda’s classic film examining how a (feminist) female oriented movie operates.

The book informs the reader that feminist film criticism was initially inspired by the second wave of feminism and postcolonial theory. Neroni talks about the influence of Freud and Lacan and conditions under which Laura Mulvey wrote her seminal essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in 1973 analyzing the “male gaze” and objectification of the female body in classic Hollywood cinema. Later theoreticians criticized Mulvey for only relying on a Eurocentric and heterosexual lens(es). For example, bell hooks, the African American academic, pointed out that black women viewed those films with an “oppositional gaze” instead of identifying with the white male gaze. Other theoreticians asserted, also, that viewers were capable of a “dialectical gaze” and may assert bisexual desires. Lesbian desire and gaze, too, complicate male/female power paradigm. Issues of race, class, and sexual preference have also been layered upon Laura Mulvey’s initial thesis. 

San Francisco Public Library has a very good collection of books on film criticism and feminist film criticism. Interested patrons can also do a Subject search under: Homosexuality in motion picture. In recent times, Queer theory has also gained prominence when understanding the issue of “male gaze”.

For basic reading, we recommend the following titles:

Feminist film theory and Cléo from 5 to 7 / Hilary Neroni

Feminist film theorists : Laura Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Teresa de Lauretis, Barbara Creed / Shohini Chaudhuri

Chick flicks : theories and memories of the feminist film movement / B. Ruby Rich

Theory of the image : capitalism, contemporary film, and women / Ann Kibbey

The Routledge encyclopedia of film theory / edited by Edward Branigan and Warren Buckland

Paris is burning : a queer film classic / Lucas Hilderbrand

Framed : lesbians, feminists, and media culture / Judith Mayne

Postcolonial theory and Avatar / Gautam Basu Thakur