Women's Studies 2161A/B Study Guide - Morality Play, Super Freak, Louis Malle
Course CodeWomen's Studies 2161A/B
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Week 1&2 - Celebrity Culture Early 20th Century:
Narrative films allowed for actors to become recognisable figures, but it took the invention
of film studios not only to realize that it was possible to capitalize on the celebrity of actors
but also to create a “star system” calculated to turn actors into celebrities. This allowed
them to capitalise on the recognition factor.
Queen Christina (1993) directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Erkkila, Betsy. "Greta Garbo: Sailing beyond the Frame.” (Jun., 1985)
Christina is played by Greta Garbo, famous for her cinematic roles as a vamp.
This film shows a clear defiance by Garbo from her public image, which so highly values her
sexual prowess as depicted to “mass culture”.
This is also true about her off-screen life. Garbo felt trapped by her celebrity image. Her role
in Queen Christina served to redefine Garbo’s image, yet also proved to be a triumphant fail.
The similarities between the two female leaders are apparent, from their preference for
“male” attire, to their sexual preferences.
“Nothing but a beautiful mask” –Christina is portrayed by Garbo as a confident, yet
dissatisfied women, whom, although is head of state, is limited by the periods gender views
and tradition of the monarchy. Garbo’s clearly defies her direction at the end of the film
from being a mask. What was meant to be an image of perfection and beauty, instead is a
strong depiction of a women who has embodied a sense of power and fulfilment, releasing
herself from as, Betsy Erkkila suggests in Greta Garbo: Sailing beyond the Frame, “the
romantic structures that entrap the female heroine”.
Christina’s fulfilment is achieved by the removal of her title as Queen and hence her “duty”,
wish is so heavily emphasised during the film. The quote “Wishes of your people, are your
wishes”, shows the divergent priorities between Christina and her advisors. Garbo
successfully demonstrates this through her costumes in the film. As Queen, she wears
masculine attire and eschews herself from femineity, as contrasted by Ebba in the film.
Betsy Erkkila thoroughly explains Greta Garbo’s struggle for self-autonomy both in life and in
cinema in the post-war era of the twentieth century. Garbo exhibited an innovative power
that Hollywood executives tried to erase my putting her in roles that displayed her as the
sexual vamp, but in reality there was much more to Garbo than the ‘dumb swede’ that she
was pressured to portray (595).
Hollywood executives and directors treated Garbo as though she was a blank slate, in which
they could mold, almost as though as a woman she was unable to create herself (595).
Erkkila describes this as a ‘power struggle’ between Garbo and Hollywood executives (597).
Garbo’s stage presence was mesmerizing, not only to the audience but also to other
members of the cast. It was obviously hard for the executives to accept a woman with such
presence and power within this period of history, which explains why they always sought to
put her in the vamp roles. Her presence was intimidating to many and it was almost unheard
of for a woman to have such drive and passion to go against the female ‘norms’ of film.
Garbo proclaimed “always the vamp I am, always the woman of no heart” (597). She was
well aware of the Hollywood image that she was supposed to be portraying, yet she knew
that she was more than that, and sought out to change the vamp roles that she was
expected to play.
Garbo confirms it or not, you can really see the feminist grow within her throughout her
career. She wanted to break away from the stereotypical roles of the vamp and ‘silly love-
making’ (599), and step out of the box that actresses were contained in. She was not
obsessed with marriage and maintaining the cultural norms of female domesticity. She was
quite content with solitude, in which she was often vocal about. Erkkila explains that Garbo’s
views on and off screen created a new standard, opposed to and “beyond the single
standard of love and marriage that *had+ been used as the measure of female life” (599).
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In the film Queen Christina Garbo is able to assert her power within the movie, and display
female self-creation and independence, rather than the romanticized love narrative that
Hollywood wanted to hold on to. It becomes evident that within Queen Christina and her
struggles, Garbo saw herself. The conflicts within the movie strike a political message
through Garbo of a female’s right to determine her own destiny, and a disentanglement of
the containment of female autonomy. She shows a new and exciting version of the
traditional female role in film, as well in the real world.
Week 3 – Trail Blazers
Technology allowed women great freedom. A great example of this was the bicycle and later
the car, and saw women become more active in society.
Flight – Amelia Earheat
As Humphrey points out, “Women such as Marsalis and Richey are largely forgotten now,
their achievements distilled, simply, into the legendary figure of Amelia Earhart” (213)
Earhart was the first woman (and 2nd person) to make a solo flight across the Atlantic; she
set a number of records (which was a consistent pursuit of aviators at the time)
Text – Helen Humphreys, Leaving Earth
Leaving Earth is obviously about a long‐distance flying record (and Grace’s husband, Jack,
tries to sabotage her because it’s his record that she’s trying to break)
The novel is very accurate in its depiction of the focus on record‐setting in the 1930s,
particularly as people were eager for distraction from the disastrous economic conditions of
the Great Depression that began in 1929
Influence of WW1
Women discovered that they could do work that they had been told they were biologically
unfitted for, from farming to factories
Women who trained as nurses were on the front lines in the war, driving ambulances and
staffing field hospitals
In addition, the lack of men on the home front allowed women to discover that they could
cope on their own, while the likelihood of boyfriends and husbands dying created an
impetus for “immoral” behaviour, notably premarital sex
First Wave feminism (the Suffragette movement) had won women the vote and access to
university education, etc. WW I had taught women that they could do work previously
defined as male, from farming to factories. The culture post‐WWI reinvented gender,
especially female gender, in the spirit of freedom that had become common during the war
WW2 and “Women’s Work”
Women were replacing men on factories and farms
Margaret Bourke‐White - Photographer for Fortune and LIFE Magazine.
One of the pioneers of Photojournalism
First female war photographer and first woman working in a combat zone
o Trailblazer in the field of journalism
o Her photos were extremely important in the way the US saw itself and the world
and her images her important in the self-scrutiny.
o Documented racial violence
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