EN 3191 Lecture Notes - Lecture 10: Carnivalesque, Reproductive Rights, Asexuality
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Monday, June 3rd, 2019
Lecture 10: Bringing Up Baby
• Alice is the work-a-holic in the relationship and she is presented in a very vague
• Alice is all business, she didn’t want any distractions in her work
• We immediately create a dichotomy.
o Let’s imagine that she wants to marry David and have domestic
entanglements. The alternative to what she is suggesting they get married,
they go on their honeymoon and she gets pregnant very quickly. He
continues with his work and she stays at home taking care of his children.
This play was written after women received the right to vote and their rights
to have careers as well and the careers are in conflict with their reproductive
o We can criticize Alice for not choosing an “actual marriage” but this marriage
would make her abandon the work.
• There is a serious connotation about what women can do at the time. There is
criticism on professional women during the time. The professional women are
depicted as tightly controlled, very intense and asexual creatures. The alternative is
• Susan has no self-control and this is why she is a carnivalesque figure because she is
always suspended and follows no rules. Susan is very performative we see in the jail
where she swings into the character of the gangster mob and she got it all from the
movies. Is the ditsy blonde girl also a stereotype she is performing? Is there a
different voice somewhere underneath?
• The class stakes are very different with Lorelei it is all about survival. Susan is very
confident that someone is going to rescue her. The aunt has the money and the
social position behind her, backing up her and her niece.
• David embodies this academic obstruction and this investment in all the wrong
things. He is kind of a Periwinkle who met his match. He wasn’t forced to find a wife
but his wife found him.
• Mobilizing of earlier tropes as well: damsel in distress that needs to be rescued.
• This is the genre of the film
• A “screwball” means an eccentric; a madman, a ‘nut-case’; a fool. Frequently a term
of mild abuse. Slang eccentric; mad, crazy.
• Used chiefly or as an adjective of a kind of fast moving, irreverent comedy film
produced in the US. In the 1930s, of which eccentric characters were the chief
feature or of persons connected with such films
• Screwball comedy becomes a popular comedy of the time because it provides a
release from the social problems of the time—the 1929 great depression—presents
us with characters that are well to do and they do not have to worry about money
• Key feature of these films: is the eccentric characters
• This is the equivalent of medieval carnivals. It was intended to create a release from
all the problems people had in their lives
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• 1934-1939 or as late as 1954
• Often seen as a subgenre of romantic comedy, although some scholars also link it to
film noir. Romantic comedy is a larger genre in which screwball comedy is one of
the branches. Film noir one might imagine is very, very different and mobilize
different themes some of the structural elements of the two genres are similar
• The convention so of screwball comedy also emerge partially the result of the
Motion Picture Production Code (1934)
• Responds to the great depression
• Responds to women in the workforce and suffrage movement. There were a lot of
issues that came to the surface in the 1930s—women taking away jobs in the
workforce. This becomes suspended in the war because women are invited to enter
the workforce. When the war ended, there was an immediate rollback.
Motion Picture Production Code:
• Envisioned as a response to the immorality of Hollywood. In the 1920s to 1930s
there were a lot of scandals in Hollywood—drugs and sex. There were constant
attempts to self-regulate. This is the 20th century and there was a great attempt to
• We see the traditions of censorship transferring over from Britain as well
• First attempt to self-regulate in 1922: they released the “purity code”. It did not take
and Hollywood went on its merry way making sexual references
• Second attempt in 1930 still offering suggestions with no means of enforcing them
• In 1933 first studies of the effects of mass media on audiences are published
• General Principles:
o No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standard of those
who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the
side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin
o The sancity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld.
Pictures shall not infer with low sex relationships
o Adultery and illicit sex, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be
explicitly treated or justified, or presented attractively.
o Scenes of passion should not be introduced except where they are definitely
essential to the plot. Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces,
suggestive postures and gestures are not to be shown. In general, passion
should be treated in such manner as not to stimulate the lower and base
o The film Bringing up Baby is pushing the boundaries of scenes of passion
however, they stop abruptly and they do not finish. When he wants to enter
in the bathroom when Susan is in there yet he stops himself. Or else it would
not ever be shown.
Core Motifs and Features in Screwball Films:
1. Battle of the sexes: key trope in film noir and screwball films. There are strong
women who resist the male protagonist
2. Convoluted plot (often never fully resolved: the battle of the main characters don’t
seem to stop when the film approaches the conclusion)
3. Eccentric characters (hence the name of the genre)
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