History Film Season 2012

History Film Season LogoThe Politics of Sex: Gender and Film

The fascinating topic of gender will be discussed in the Department of History's second film season. Historians will examine the cinematic representation of different groups with different identitities. Amongst many other questions, we will discuss the importance of gender, concepts of femininity and masculinity represented in film and perceived by audiences.

Four distinct and ground-breaking films will be introduced and discussed by historians in the department. We aim to open a dialogue between film, historians and the general public, exploring the relationship between film and how history has been depicted for public viewing. 

The season will begin with Hawkes' Gentleman Prefer Blondes. The message is frothy Hollywood cheese at its best, but looking deeper, Prof Dan Healey will discuss how Gentleman Prefer Blondes offers a postwar, optimistic, and imperial American view of Europe and the wider world as a backdrop for some purely domestic worries about gender and race. Next with Weissman's We Were Here, Dr Jonathan Bell will assess the importance of grassroots political action in San Francisco in making it a central site of queer politics since the 1970s. This powerful work manages to bring out the resilience of men and women affecteed and the legacy of AIDS for the city today. Dr Rebecca Rist will analyse The Return of Martin Guerre (Le Retour de Martin Guerre), a true story discovered by chance by Princeton historian, Natalie Zemon Davis, as she trawled through archival manuscripts. Set in the political context of sixteeenth-century France, the film provides a fascinating and insightful snapshot of rural French life from a female perspective. Our final film of the season will be Ninotchka. Prof Dan Healey will consider Garbo's long career of playing powerful and sometimes ruthless women (e.g., Mata Hari, 1931; Queen Christina, 1933; Anna Karenina, 1925) with reference to this light-hearted comedy that tells us as much about Western ideas of the sex questions as it does about the Soviet Union's political agenda. The season will culminate with a thought-provoking lecture on Noir Nazis: Gangsters and Glamour in Hollywood's War against the Third Reich by Prof Patrick Major.

The Films

Gender_Film_Season

 

Gentleman Prefer Blondes with Professor Dan Healey (10 October, 7pm)

Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw are showgirls and best friends. From Little Rock, Arkansas, they sail from America to Paris with a detective in hot pursuit. Lorelei and Dorothy are on an innocent holiday, but Lorelei's future father-in-law doesn't trust her, and he sends a private eye to keep watch. This is a zany musical comedy with plenty of gags based on Monroe's bombshell sex-appeal, and yet Jane Russell gets some of the best lines - and her own number dancing with men of the US Olympic team wearing flesh-coloured swimming trunks! The message is frothy Hollywood cheese at its best, but looking deeper, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes offers a post-war, optimistic, and imperial American view of Europe and the wider world as a backdrop for some purely domestic worries about gender and race. Hawks' 1953 film adaptation of the 1949 stage musical has garnered rave reviews by both critics and audiences, Monroe and Russell's acting cemented the film's status in popular culture.

"Those two faces are incredible in juxtaposition: Russell is worldy, amused, intensely in touch: Monroe is sublimely unfocused and beatific. A joy." THE GUARDIAN

US 1953 Directed by Howard Hawks with Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell and Charles Coburn. 91 mins 

We Were Here with Dr Jonathan Bell ( 24 October, 7pm)

Weissman's We Were Here documents the devastating impact of AIDS on San Francisco in the 1980s, illustrated through the recollections of men and women who lived through it. Though the focus is on the terrible toll the epidemic inflicted on the gay population of the city, we are also given an insight into the community activism and emotional bonds that were forged as people mobilised to provide care to those suffering from the disease and to obtain resources from state and federal governments often ignorant of the scale and impact of the disaster. Weissman documents the devastating impact of AIDS on San Francisco in the 1980s, illustrated through the recollections of men and women who lived through it. Though the focus is on the terrible toll the epidemic inflicted on the gay population of the city, we are also given an insight into the community activism and emotional bonds that were forged as people mobilised to provide care to those suffering from the disease and to obtain resource from state and federal governments often ignorant of the scale and impact of the disaster.

"Bolstered by weary hindsight, what's most effectively communicated is the panic and chaos in the very first months of the epidemic…as a slice of social history, We Were Here takes an invigoratingly positive position on a very gloomy time" THE GUARDIAN

US 2011. Directed by David Weissman with Ed Wolf, Paul Boneberg and Daniel Godstein, 90 mins. Trailer: http://wewereherefilm.com/  

Le Retour de Martin Guerre (The Return of Martin Guerre)  with Dr Rebecca Rist (7 November, 7pm) 

This film is based on a true story discovered by chance by Princeton historian, Natalie Zemon Davis, as she trawled through archival manuscripts. Set in the political context of sixteenth-century France, the film provides a fascinating and insightful snapshot of rural French life from a female perspective. In a small French village, Martin Guerre, a peasant, marries the heroine of the tale, Bertrande de Rols, in a pre-arranged marriage, but then leaves her to fight in the war. Eight years later, after his family have abandoned all hope of seeing him again, he suddenly and unexpectedly returns and is recognised and fêted by the villagers who are overjoyed. In the interval Martin's character has mysteriously changed: whereas before he was cold, neglectful and even violent towards Bertrande, he is now gentle, and kind, the couple live happily together as man and wife. However, some of Martin's relatives are jealous of his good fortune and begin to suspect that the man living amongst them is an imposter. Bertrande, who as his wife should know him best, insists to the contrary, claiming that he is indeed her true husband - despite increasing evidence which suggests otherwise. The parlement of Toulouse is called in to investigate and the whole village summoned to court to give their version of events. Following various local testimonies, it seems all is going Martin's way and that he will be able to prove his innocence. But then a mysterious stranger arrives on the scene claiming to be the real Martin Guerre. Bertrande's 'husband' must now try to convince the jury that he is who he says he is one more time...

"The story strikes deep at a philosophic knot: what constitutes human identity, or soul?" TIME OUT

France 1982 in French with subtitles. Directed by Daniel Vigne with Gérard Depardieu, Nathalie Baye 122mins Trailer  

Ninotchka with Professor Dan Healey (21 November, 7pm) 

Ninotchka, a woman commissar on a trade mission from Moscow, played by Greta Garbo, arrives in Paris and initially, at least, seems impervious to its charms. Businesslike, aloof, scorning makeup and ignoring male flirtation, she embodies every Western stereotype of the New Soviet Woman. Yet during the course of her mission to Paris Ninotchka turns out to have a heart like any other woman: she becomes intrigued by fashion, seduced by glamour, and ultimately, of course, falls in love. "Garbo Laughs!" the trailer proclaimed. Garbo's long career of playing powerful and sometimes ruthless women is referenced here in a light-hearted comedy that tells us as much about Western ideas of the sex question as it does about the Soviet Union's political agenda.  

"Stalin, we repeat, won't like it; but, unless your tastes hew too closely to the party line, we think you will, immensely" NEW YORK TIMES

US 1939. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch with Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas and Ina Claire. 110 mins  

Film Seasohitlern Lecture

Noir Nazis: Gangsters and Glamour in Hollywood's War against the Third Reich by Prof Patrick Major

Noir Nazis looks at how classical Hollywood in the era of Humphrey Bogart and Alan Ladd, were recruited into the celluloid war on the Third Reich. Studios walked a tightrope between glamourising and demonising the enemy, occasional falling foul of the censors in Washington. It will also introduce the audience to some of the more forgettable, but still illuminating B-movies of the War, such as Hitler, Dead or Alive, or The Hitler Gang, which treated the rise of the Nazis the way Al Capone might have taken over the Chicago north side. The talk will include stills, clips and some of the publicity materials of the time.

 

Do you have a Question for us?

Have you attended one of our film showings and would like to pose a question about the Film Season to our academic specialist?

If so, filll in the form below and we will endeavour to get back to you as soon as possible. 

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