Friday, June 5, 2020

Elyce Rae Helford's "What Price Hollywood?"

Elyce Rae Helford is Professor of English and Director of Jewish and Holo​caust Studies in the Faculty in Women's and Gender Studies at Middle Tennessee State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, What Price Hollywood?: Gender and Sex in the Films of George Cukor, and reported the following:
On page 99 of What Price Hollywood? Gender and Sex in the Films of George Cukor, readers will find the first page of Chapter 6, entitled “The Theatricality of Gender and Drag Performance.” The chapter opens with reference to the pivot that takes place at this relative midpoint in the book, from discussions of gendered images and representations of gender relations in Cukor’s films to reading gender performatively. This shift moves us from such previously addressed topics as depictions of (white, middle-class) female friendships and (white, middle-class) male alcoholics to the meanings of drag performances and the influence of film noir style.

This test works fairly well for my book. My specific focus on gender and sexuality (inflected by class, ethnicity, and race) in the films of George Cukor means all chapters connect to some degree, and they even overlap in which films are studied. (While I cover a total of 25 films in depth, several pictures are addressed in multiple chapters with differing focus.) Page 99 guides the reader to consider the multiple approaches one may take to film studies from an intersectional feminist perspective. I’m also particularly fond of this chapter’s focus on female-to-male drag acts, which appear in a surprising number of Cukor films over nearly 30 years, from Little Women (1933), Sylvia Scarlett (1935), and Adam’s Rib (1952) – all starring Katharine Hepburn – to A Star Is Born (1954) and Heller in Pink Tights (1960), the former a Judy Garland vehicle and the latter a Western satire showcasing Sophia Loren. In all of these films, gender norms are shown to be socially rather than biologically constructed. Playful delight trumps social approval or cautionary tales denounce adherence to absolutes.

Ultimately, whether one begins with page 99 or any other, know that the greatest pleasure for me as author of What Price Hollywood? has been the exploration of how classic Hollywood gender rules have been bent if not broken and how many ways a gay Jewish-American director such as Cukor could find success and even moments of joy despite the studio system’s heavy restrictions.
Visit Elyce Rae Helford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue