Monday, January 09, 2006

jezebel (wyler, 1938) abject bodies

Let's say I "skimmed" the movie Jezebel to make that red dress-bw movie argument in my dissertation last week. I'd seen it before, but not recently. This is how BD describes the Olympus Ball scene, in her autobiography,

With all the girls dressed in white, Julie out of spite arrives [at an ante-bellum New Orleans ball] in scarlet to the embarrassment of her escort and the horror of the guests [As Julie and her escort dance] His grip on her waist becomes tighter, his step more deliberate, his eyes never meet hers. And always the lilting music, the swirling bodies and the peripheral reaction shots of the stunned pillars of society and Auntie Belle, who suffers with Julie. It is a scene of such suspense that I never have not marveled at the direction of it. (The Lonely Life, 217)

When I did watch the movie all the way through, I found how significant Chocolate Lady's comment about forgetting the cane and forgetting to use it was . . .

In the face of BD's own interpretation of the scene, as "suspense," I'd argue that the scene also produces nauseous physical abjection for Julie and the spectator. The music is crazy the way it swings, and you get these low angle shots from the floor of Julie's swaying dress.

The shame and humiliation Press causes Julie to feel, forcing her to dance like that, when everyone else stops and stares is, in the film, a physical substitute for the beating he forgot to give her with the cane. And that beating is only ever verbally described, but not seen, when the town doctor recommends that Press "whip her and lard her welts" to teach her her place.

And THAT beating, I think, stands in for the violent abuses of slavery, unspoken but present in the film. Some of the opening lines are from this sort of annoying shallow woman who tags along with Julie's family everywhere. She tells her driver (black, slave) to stand the horses in the shade, but reminds him to keep his coat buttoned and his hat and gloves on. The man looks hot as it is and you get the strong sense that this will be very uncomfortable . . . and of course that is metonymically the least of his suffering . . .

I think there's a bit more on the kind of bodily transferences of the film in Linda Williams Playing the Race Card, but I'm not sure I agree with her entirely there . . .

Oh yeah. And that awful awful "Raise a Rucus" porch singing scene. I think that's supposed to be painful too because, you know, someone is going to die and everything. That may be the scene Williams has a slightly different take on.

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Blogger the chocolate lady said...

Thanks, ZP!!

Julie herself seems to be as disappointed as anyone that HF forgets to use his cane. That school of pain thing again.

8:38 PM  

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