This chapter focuses on two film adaptations, conceived in different genres: The Admirable Crichton, directed by Lewis Gilbert in 1957 from the play by J.M. Barrie written in 1902, and Look Back in Anger directed by Tony Richardson in 1959 from John Osborne's play of 1956. Both play and film are, therefore, comedies of social reversal; Crichton, the butler, champions the established social order, whilst his employer, the aristocrat, pontificates about the coming egalitarian society. The Admirable Crichton has an interesting relationship to another, earlier film based on a stage play from about the same historical period, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Look Back in Anger sits easily within the dominant conventions of the European naturalist tradition, its single playing space functioning as an embodiment of the forces of determinism that constrain the characters that inhabit it.
The Tempean films succeed in hooking the view with provocative opening episodes which have an element of ambiguity that one doesn't expect in budget film-making. Bob Baker recalled that Eros would buy American films outright for showing in the United Kingdom, then take a British film as a co-feature and distribute the double bill, an arrangement which was clearly to the advantage of Tempean. Baker and Monty Berman relied on the services of personnel they could trust and built up a roster of actors and others who knew their job and could be relied on to get it done in the required time and within the allotted budget. With an eye on the US markets, Baker and Berman very often secured the services of American actors.
Writing in 1991, Michael Kammen stated that, 'For more than a decade, the connection between collective memory and national identity has been a matter of intense and widespread interest'. In 1923 the Yale University Press undertook production of a series of educational feature films, the Chronicles of America, intended to instruct the nation's populace in their country's glorious history. The Chronicles' way of making better citizens was to persuade them of the virtues of Englishness and whiteness. This chapter looks in detail at the Chronicles' representation of Native Americans, briefly delineating the contemporary political situation that may have motivated the negativity and contrasting it with Hollywood's more positive or at the very least ambivalent portrayal. The Puritans details the hardships encountered by some of the country's first white inhabitants: 'Privation and sorrow are the common lot during these early days in Massachusetts', declares an intertitle.
Women of Twilight was adapted from the play of the same name by Sylvia Rayman. The play was first performed at the Embassy Theatre, London, in July 1951, going on to the Vaudeville Theatre. Women of Twilight hovers uneasily in the twilight areas of post-war British society, but also in the grey area between sets of competing and unresolved moralities. The film clearly and honestly depicts contemporary abuses, but seems unsure whether to blame respectable social prejudice, more simplistic caricatures of villainy or even, implicitly, the sexual behaviour of the girls themselves. Women of Twilight accuses contemporary Britain of negligence, and lays the blame for these girls' suffering at the door of the contemporary social prejudice and hypocrisy which leaves them with nowhere else to go. The film is consciously melodramatic, casting Helen Allistair as the villain of the piece whose abuse and exploitation are eventually appropriately punished.
Jean-Luc Godard remarked that all you need to make a film is 'a girl and a gun' and the opening sequence of Yield to the Night looks like a textbook illustration of his axiom. Yield to the Night is often mentioned in connection with the contemporary case of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. The film is far from being a straightforward statement of social protest on the part of its makers, which is partly due to the casting of Diana Dors, a notorious and flamboyant British film personality of the 1950s, in the role of Mary Hilton. The realism of the film is a subjective, psychological realism, suggesting the strange and fearful state of mind of the person who knows she will die in a matter of days.
This book engages in a critical encounter with the work of Stanley Cavell on cinema, focusing skeptical attention on the claims made for the contribution of cinema to the ethical character of democratic life. In much of Cavell's writing on film he seeks to show us that the protagonists of the films he terms "remarriage comedies" live a form of perfectionism that he upholds as desirable for contemporary democratic society: moral perfectionism. Films are often viewed on television, and television shows can have "filmlike" qualities. The book addresses the nature of viewing cinematic film as a mode of experience, arguing against Cavell that it is akin to dreaming rather than lived consciousness and, crucially, cannot be shared. It mirrors the celebrated dialogue between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jean D'Alembert on theatre. The book articulates the implications of philosophical pessimism for addressing contemporary culture in its relationship to political life. It clarifies how The Americans resembles the remarriage films and can illuminate the issues they raise. The tragedy of remarriage, would be a better instructor of a democratic community, if such a community were prepared to listen. The book suggests that dreaming, both with and without films, is not merely a pleasurable distraction but a valuable pastime for democratic citizens. Finally, it concludes with a robust response from Dienstag to his critics.
In much of Stanley Cavell's writing on film he seeks to show us that the protagonists of the films he terms "remarriage comedies" live a form of perfectionism that he upholds as desirable for contemporary democratic society: moral perfectionism. This chapter examines differing alternative interpretations of The Philadelphia Story to defend its use as a fruitful exemplar for the understanding of democratic relationships. It explores the author's wider claim about the value of films for democracy in general. It has been suggested that the difference between the author's and Cavell's readings come about in part because of the fact that neither distinguishes clearly between the imitative and the inspirational models of exemplarity, to emphasize that it is the latter that may be more beneficial for democracy whilst the former can be detrimental.
In this chapter the author offers a response to Joshua Foa Dienstag's letter to Stanley Cavell on film and what he calls as the tragedy of remarriage. Constitutional Convention seems to the author to be precisely one of the pertinent motifs Cavell explores in his various readings of The Philadelphia Story and other remarriage comedies, as well as in his parallel studies of the other genre he identifies: the melodramas of the unknown woman. The author says that he have been deeply influenced by Cavell's understanding of film, and his understanding of skepticism and its relationship to moral perfectionism. He thinks that democracy requires not simply a tolerance for degrees of ignorance, impertinence and boundary crossing, but their active, if selective, celebration and pursuit.
In this chapter, the author begins with Plato's Symposium and recalls a passage from Pindar, three-fourths of which formed Nietzsche's favorite encomium. On Saturday night at the cinema, one can learn such from comedy as well as from tragedy. The author rehearses what Mr. Stanley Cavell thinks the place of film in people's lives should or can be. Film can be a key conveyor of both the individual and political perfectionism that Cavell finds at the center of his thought. Perfectionism thinks that people can learn - only a piece at a time - that what a transformation would make of us is a bit more of what it is ours to be. Mr. Cavell calls this "philosophy" or "the education of grown-ups.".
In this chapter, the author argues against an optimistic account of the relation between film and democracy. He contests Stanley Cavell's interpretation of The Philadelphia Story, a film that he has said exemplifies the connection between Emersonian perfectionism and the "remarriage comedies" of the 1930s and 1940s. The author turns from The Philadelphia Story to its dark twin The Rules of the Game, a film made at roughly the same time with roughly the same plot but with a much more pessimistic account of the relationship between eros and politics. He considers Cavell's contention that time is a "barrier" between film and audience. The author argues, to the contrary, that time is in fact the medium that forms the aesthetic connection between humans and film, something people can understand better by contrasting cinema with television.