Spectacle of Property: The House in American Film 151790370X, 9781517903701

Much of our time at the movies is spent in other people’s homes. Cinema is, after all, often about everyday life. Specta

250 81 6MB

English Pages 288 [268] Year 2017

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Spectacle of Property: The House in American Film
 151790370X, 9781517903701

Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Title
Copyright
Contents
Introduction: The House as Medium
1. Cinema’s Short-Term Tenancy: A Materialist Theory of Film Spectatorship
2. Wrong Life: Bungalow Aesthetics in and against Hollywood
3. All Too Easy: The Modernist House and Effortless Appropriation
4. Between the Past and the Present: Nostalgia and the Cinema of Stick and Shingle Style Architecture
Coda: From Porch to Attic: Condemned to Property in New Orleans
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
V
W
Z

Citation preview

Spectacle of Property

This page intentionally left blank

SPECTACLE OF PROPERTY The House in American Film

JOHN DAVID RHODES

University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis | London

A portion of chapter 3 was published as “Property and Self Possession: On Stephen Prina and the Eames,” Third Rail 9 (2014): 49–­51. A brief section of chapter 3 was published in a different version as “The Spectacle of Property,” In Media Res, September 6, 2013, http://mediacommons.futureofthebook .org/imr. A portion of chapter 4 was published as “Concentrated Ground: Grey Gardens and the Cinema of the Domestic,” Framework 47, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 83–­105. Copyright 2017 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Published by the University of Minnesota Press 111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290 Minneapolis, MN 55401-­2520 http://www.upress.umn.edu ISBN 978-1-5179-0369-5 (hc) ISBN 978-1-5179-0370-1 (pb) A Cataloging-in-Publication record for this book is available at the Library of Congress. Printed in the United States of America on acid-­f ree paper The University of Minnesota is an equal-­opportunity educator and employer. 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

CONTENTS Introduction The House as Medium 1. Cinema’s Short-­Term Tenancy  A Materialist Theory of Film Spectatorship 2. Wrong Life  Bungalow Aesthetics in and against Hollywood

vii

1 55

3. A ll Too Easy  The Modernist House and Effortless Appropriation

105

4. Between the Past and the Present  Nostalgia and the Cinema of Stick and Shingle Style Architecture

157

Coda From Porch to Attic: Condemned to Property in New Orleans

211

Acknowledgments

221

Notes

223

Index

249

This page intentionally left blank

INTRODUCTION The House as Medium

Anyone who has watched American cinema has spent a fair amount of time looking at and into houses. Cinema’s privileged relationship to realism—­to the representation of the contours of everyday life—­ has much to do with this fact. The house is where much of everyday life transpires. The house shelters, structures, temporalizes, differentiates, makes private, and also publicizes this life. Cinema, in seeking to represent this life and its effects and narrative incidents, must, perforce, make use of the house as representational support. The house is the ground of realist representation and it is everywhere in cinema. The ubiquity of the house in cinema is perhaps one of the key challenges facing the scholar or critic who wants to write about this conjunction of media—­of the moving image and domestic architecture. In this book, I attempt to address this conjunction in some fairly broad theoretical terms, but also in a manner that allows me,

vii

INTRODUCTION

viii

rather radically, to limit my field of vision. First, I look at American cinema. This delimitation of the field follows from the fact that the house—­not the domestic per se, but the house itself—­has enjoyed its apotheosis in American culture. The detached, single-­family home is one of the most powerful metonymic signifiers of American cultural life—­of the dreams of privacy, enclosure, freedom, autonomy, independence, stability, and prosperity that animate national life in the United States. Because the house enjoys a hegemony in the United States that it does not enjoy to the same degree elsewhere, I have limited my concerns to American houses in American cinema.1 British houses, for instance, do not figure here, nor do American apartments (the subject of an excellent book by Pamela Robertson Wojcik). We do not find Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940) here, nor do we encounter Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968). However, even given this willful winnowing of the field, the range of possible analytical objects is still overwhelming. Thus my second method of delimiting and organizing the field: I have selected my objects of analysis according to architectural style. I have chosen to look at films in which specific architectural styles feature—­ either implicitly or explicitly. The styles are (in order of appearance in this book) the bungalow, the modernist house, and the stick and shingle style (really, two overlapping styles). By somewhat arbitrarily creating this system of inclusion, exclusion, and organization, I have been able to create new genres—­to draw together films that would seem to have little or nothing to do with one another, that, once housed (as it were) under these headings, are allowed to tell new stories about the life of the house and cinema’s insistent interest and investment in it. The book’s concerns are shaped primarily by a conceptual emphasis on the problem of property. The house, it goes without saying, is a form of property, a form that private property can take, and houses generally constitute for their owners and inhabitants a substantial portion of whatever assets or capital they can claim as their own. The privacy of property, and especially the property of the house and in the house, is perhaps the most mysterious and desired feature of housing. Property, however, is fungible and alienable; thus whatever is promised by the house is radically susceptible to violation, displacement, and loss. Often the experience of property’s violation or redefinition occasions an unwelcome acknowledgment of the fact that the house is not a very private place after all. Partly we know this: we have all spent time in living rooms, on

Chapter 1, “Cinema’s Short-­Term Tenancy: A Materialist Theory of Film Spectatorship,” engages the fundamental problem of the “spectacle of property,” of property’s spectacular nature and the way in which cinema doubles and proliferates this spectacular condition. Here I lay out a materialist theory of film spectatorship in which I propose the concept of the “spectator-­tenant,” whose delight in the spectacle of property is belied by private property’s embodiment of alienation. At the same time, I suggest that the cinematic spectacle itself is a means by which to apprehend what Marx calls property’s “secret”: its predication on alienated labor. In this

ix INTRODUCTION

porches, or in other spaces of the house in which it is nearly impossible to say where the public ends and the private begins.2 But when property’s inherent instability is experienced vividly—­whether in “real life” or in representation—­we must confront the tenuous relationship between public and private, as well as the tenuousness of all property relations as such. The story that I tell across this book’s several chapters, therefore, is a story about property and the ambivalent but powerful pleasure we take in looking at it. The private property of the house is already a spectacle. The house is a medium for making publicly visible the wealth of its owners and inhabitants. When cinema looks at and/ or takes place in the house, this spectacular function is multiplied. Cinema, of course, draws its own property boundaries. To look at cinema in a movie theater, one must pay to enter and occupy a space owned by another in order to look at something—­t he film—­owned (at least after the bust-­up of the monopolistic vertical integration of the Hollywood system) by yet another. When and if the image onscreen offers, in turn, a representation of the private property of the house, then the property relations implicit in this seemingly simple activity of moviegoing proliferate into confusion. And yet there is a kind of clarity in what is at stake here. As I observe in chapter 1, in purchasing a movie ticket we pay for the right to occupy a space in order to gaze up at a space we can never occupy. Spectacle of Property unfolds a story that cinema has mutely been telling all along—­a story about the house, the security and ease that it promises, and the horrible anxieties that are produced when we try to force the house to deliver on these promises. This book also tells a story about cinema, the specific pleasures and promises of which have been powerfully framed and explored through images of houses.

INTRODUCTION

x

mostly theoretical discussion I present some examples of American feature filmmaking, including Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939), in order to establish the implicit problematic that race and the raced body are fundamentally bound up in the spectacle of property, even when nonwhite bodies do not appear onscreen. I also examine the terrible ironies of property that are discovered in the production history of To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962). In this liberal, putatively antiracist film, the constituent elements of the set design are themselves indices of racist urban planning. André Bazin and Orson Welles figure later in the chapter, as do a number of theorists and philosophers whose works frequently disavow the political economic dimensions attendant upon the theorization of space, the experience of which is never neutral, but always an experience of property. Finally, as a means of testing some of these ideas through close formal and historical analysis, the chapter focuses in detail on a single film, D. W. Griffith’s The Lonely Villa (1909), and its representation of the house and its violation in the context of cinema’s emergence as both a narrative representational medium and an industry preoccupied by property rights. Here I am interested in the fact that one of the first examples of “mature” cinematic narration is (necessarily?) organized around the figure and material structure of the house and the (attempted) usurpation of its property boundaries. Chapter 2, “Wrong Life: Bungalow Aesthetics in and against Hollywood,” investigates the bungalow, the modern house of modest proportions, whose spaces promise an openness and a blurring of private and public and whose threshold is the site of radical possibility. The key films discussed here are Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) and Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943), but the chapter is also in conversation with Theodor Adorno’s fleeting but curious interest in the bungalow and with living spaces more broadly. This is a chapter very much concerned with Los Angeles and its housing; the city is the location of the films named above and was Adorno’s home during this same period. The chapter explores the relationship between the autonomy promised by the bungalow’s manageable spaces and the aesthetic autonomy championed by Deren and Adorno. The discussion concludes with the bungalow’s appearance in two modes of American independent cinema: the work of John Cassavetes and that of Charles Burnett (and the L.A. Rebellion school of filmmakers out of which the latter’s work emerged). In both these filmmaking

xi INTRODUCTION

practices, the bungalow becomes a privileged site for encountering the question of blackness and the historical experience of African American social life. Chapter 3, “All Too Easy: The Modernist House and Effortless Appropriation,” takes up the modernist house as it appears in films like A Star Is Born (George Cukor, 1954), House: After Five Years of Living (Charles and Ray Eames, 1955), and more recent films and moving image media such as The Anniversary Party (Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, 2001), A Single Man (Tom Ford, 2009), and Stephen Prina’s The Way He Always Wanted It, II (2008). The chapter also considers a strange site of coincidence between modernist architecture and the movies: the house designed by Richard Neutra for the director Josef von Sternberg that then passed into the hands of Ayn Rand, who was also working in the film industry. Across this range of material, the chapter is preoccupied with the modernist house’s promise of ease, an affective experience that is very different from the regime of difficulty that was enforced in the history of modernist literature and visual art. Chapter 4, “Between the Past and the Present: Nostalgia and the Cinema of Stick and Shingle Style Architecture,” explores the history and historiography of what architectural historian Vincent Scully has famously called the stick and shingle styles. These are names given to the styles of the large, rambling wooden houses built in the late nineteenth century whose histories are entangled with those of the colonial revival and Queen Anne styles. Nostalgia is the animating force of these architectural styles, as it is for the films that make significant use of this architecture: Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944), Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), and Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, 1975). The chapter takes up a line spoken by Little Edie Beale, one of the documentary subjects of Grey Gardens and the inhabitant of that film’s eponymous shingle style house: “It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.” The concern throughout the chapter is with ways of looking back in cinema that have been framed and constituted by an architecture that wanted to be new and old at once. Finally, the book concludes with a Coda that reflects on the question of race in the context of the representation and documentation of Hurricane Katrina. This historical event and the responses to it summoned back into view—­in horrifying ways—­how the house and the black body are conceptually intertwined in the American imagination.

This book is intended to open a field of investigation rather than to lay claim to one. The years I have spent thinking about and writing this book have taught me, over and over, that there is no single proper or complete way of organizing a project like this. My methods of organization, inclusion, exclusion, and investigation have at times felt arbitrary—­or, even worse, whimsical. But the mode of organization by architectural style here is meant seriously and provocatively. Although my theoretical claims are intended to be far-­reaching, this book is not a synoptic treatment of the subject of the house in cinema. Rather, it offers a highly specific treatment of what is an immeasurably large representational, historical, and political problem. I beg the reader’s patience and indulgence, and I look forward to what other readers, writers, and scholars will have to say about this inexhaustible subject.

INTRODUCTION

xii

ONE

Cinema’s Short-­Term Tenancy A Materialist Theory of Film Spectatorship

In an essay written for The Rise of an American Architecture, a book that accompanied an eponymous exhibition at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1970, Vincent Scully, one of the great narrators of American architectural history, begins his history of “American houses” with Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Scully’s essay, in keeping with the exhibition’s remit, surveys the achievements of nineteenth-­century architecture. For Scully—­a figure who will reappear at various points across the pages that follow—­t he century is a long one: it begins with Jefferson’s late eighteenth-­ century plans for Monticello (1770–­1809), his country seat outside Charlottesville, Virginia, and “ends about 1915” with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago.1 Scully regards “the center-­city office building and the suburban house” as “the major vehicles of America’s architectural invention during the nineteenth century.”2 Both forms promised “freedom,” despite the fact that—­something

1

that Scully alludes to a little later—­t his period witnessed the flourishing of every human evil, including genocide, slavery, civil war, and industrialization’s exploitation of land and human labor. By beginning with Jefferson and ending with Wright, Scully would seem to see this history of ambiguous achievement as one punctuated by, at the very least, two moments, or two practices: pastoral agrarian reprieve and modernist suburban redemption. But the picture is more complicated, because it reveals that the rot had set in early and was, in fact, already there in the hills outside Charlottesville. Scully writes that the point of the completed Monticello as a whole . . . is about a man owning the earth. The house caps the conical hill, controls it, like a hero’s tomb. That again was what the century to come was to be about: how to control nature, how to own it. There was also the consistent Romantic convention of love for nature, perhaps real love for it, but the clearly directive instinct was toward ownership, embodied in the single-­family house on its plot of land. That land is owned; there are few English complications of ninety-­n ine year leases and so on reflecting older systems of communal control and somehow respecting the eternal autonomy of the earth. The American land is possessed, and is soon worn out with possession. Across the continent, it was to be raped to death generation by generation. Monticello woos it, but grasps it all. 3

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

2

I am interested in the national specificity that Scully so boldly pre­ sents here: in the fact that the American house embodies a peculiar claim to and fantasy of ownership, and in the implicit threat that this fantasy poses to collective, public, civil life, to the environment, and to bodies. And as the gendered nature of Scully’s language and his choice of a southern slaveholding plantation as a point of departure both make clear, the desire for possession threatens and punishes some bodies more than others. The present book is not about houses per se, but about their appearance in cinematic representation, and about the possibilities for thinking about American cinema and the architecture of the American house together. As a way of proleptically describing this book’s preoccupations and enacting its modes of analysis, I want to offer examples of how houses figure materially, historically, and symbolically in two Hollywood films. These examples illustrate the appositeness

3 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

of drawing the cinema and the house together, and in the key that Scully has provided—­t hat of possession. My first example involves the representation of slavery in the American South across the antebellum period, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. I turn to this film first, in part, precisely because of Scully’s polite evasion of the subject of slavery in his invocation of Monticello. Slavery, of course, is the real foundation on which Jefferson’s Monticello was built. While the history of cinema and Hollywood filmmaking in particular are not short on representations of slavery, I want to belabor the obvious by looking at Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939), one of the most spectacular products of classical Hollywood cinema, and a film that is, unsurprisingly given its subject matter, fascinated with the loss, acquisition, and consolidation of private property. In particular, I am interested in a shot that occurs roughly two-­t hirds of the way into the film in which three African American servants, formerly slaves, gather before Rhett Butler’s newly constructed mansion in Atlanta, where they will serve Rhett (Clark Gable) and his new wife, Scarlett (Vivien Leigh), their old mistress. Mammy (Hattie McDaniel), Pork (Oscar Polk), and Prissy (Butterfly McQueen) have endured extreme hardship and poverty amid the crumbling ruins of Tara, Scarlett’s family’s Georgia plantation. Now that Scarlett has married Rhett, a shrewd businessman and war profiteer who has become fabulously rich during Reconstruction, these former slaves will labor under conditions of opulence that exceed the former wealth of Tara. Looking up at the house, Prissy, the youngest and smallest of the three, says, “Darkies, we sure is rich now!” (She pronounces the dialogue in an accent that renders “sure” as “show.”) The ironies of this scene and its appalling racism (entirely typical of Hollywood cinema of this period) demand that we recognize (even if we do not participate in) Prissy’s aesthetic and affective pleasure in this house’s spectacle of privately owned wealth, without forgetting that, in the fictional world of the film, Prissy herself until very recently occupied the same status as the house: she was a unit of privately owned wealth. Her exclamation registers an uncanny pleasure discovered in the visual splendor of property by a subject who has been but is no longer property. (I do not mean to suggest that Prissy or her real-­l ife historical counterparts were, by being freed from legal, literal slavery, emancipated in more radical economic, political, and social terms.) Of course, Prissy’s identification with the house’s wealth is both false and true: they, the slaves-­c um-­servants, are

“We sure is rich now!” The spectacle of property in Gone with the Wind (1939).

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

4

not rich, but their new employer is; however, his wealth subsumes their being into its munificence and effectively returns them to the plantation. By conveniently slipping in these characters as proxies for (white) spectators, the film allows the same (white) spectators to share a laugh at Prissy’s delight—­a nd at her expense. Of course, by doing so, the same (white) spectators disavow the fact that they, too, have shown up at the cinema to marvel at the self-­same architectural phantasmagoria, which belongs to them even less than it does to the fictional Prissy. This shot is a mise en abyme of property relations, in fact. The spectators look at the image, the studio’s property. Inside the image, and in the diegetic world it represents, these characters (who formerly were formally and legally property) gaze up at the property of the house. If, however, we look closely at the image we can see there is no house there: what they are really looking at is a matte painting. What the characters (or, rather, the actors portraying them) are looking at is what we call a prop. The word prop, of course, is short for property, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “any portable object (now usually other than an article of costume) used in a play, film, etc., as required by the action.”4 The property required by the action in this shot is an image—­of property—­t hat

5 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

stares back at Prissy, Mammy, and Pork, and at us, from the far end of a flimsy but stubborn visual chiasmus. The display here of property’s radical fungibility requires us to consider race as an analytic lens and term of analysis: it is difficult if not impossible to consider the representation of property without taking into broader consideration the explicit and implicit ways in which the representation of African Americans is framed or indeed grounded by their historical relation to slavery—­to the sale, purchase, possession, and exploitation of black human bodies. Frank B. Wilderson III, following the work of a number of critical race theorists, argues that “slavery is and connotes an ontological status for Blackness.” “Accumulation and fungibility,” or “the condition of being owned and traded,” are “the constituent elements of slavery.”5 For Wilderson, “the Black” is “a subject who is always already positioned as a slave.”6 Unlike the worker, who may be exploited but still owns and sells his own labor power, the slave (identical in Wilderson’s terms to “the Black”) is “an anti-­Human.”7 If, therefore, the Black is always already a slave, this is because he is always already property. We could make Wilderson’s claims run backward and suggest that property itself always already is or embodies or is predicated on slavery (in some actual, concrete, or genealogically material way). Such a reading then would make any image of property an image, or at least an afterimage, of slavery. I want to suggest the political urgency of keeping Wilderson’s thinking in mind, given the fact that African Americans (or “Blacks”) have been so frequently left out of cinematic representation, or have been relegated to its margins—­to the margins of the screen, or to the margins of the film industry itself, or else to marginal positions outside the industry. Because of the way in which the history of filmmaking in the United States is consubstantial with the racism that is at the heart of the nation’s history and legal foundations, when we look at cinematic images we are only rarely looking at black bodies. But because when we look at cinematic images we are always already looking at property, we are, in a sense, always looking at black bodies: invisible and yet materially there, even when, as is so often the case, they are nowhere in sight. I make this point intentionally in order to address the fact that while this image of black bodies in Gone with the Wind frames this book’s opening, black bodies will frequently go missing in the pages that follow. The book’s organization according to building styles acts unintentionally (but perhaps instructively, in a negative way) as a kind of zoning law in some of

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

6

the subsequent chapters. Typically African Americans were structurally (economically) prevented from owning or inhabiting many of the types of houses that occupy the later chapters of this book (the modernist house and the stick and shingle style houses, in particular). More generally, in the postwar period especially, they were legally and bureaucratically prevented from accessing mortgages and barred from living in specific places and spaces.8 But I mean this shot from Gone with the Wind to haunt the rest of the book—­ especially the chapters in which African Americans are glimpsed only fleetingly or not seen at all.9 My second example is also taken from the archives of Hollywood cinema, but it is a film produced and released more than twenty years later, at what was, perhaps, the height of the African American civil rights movement. To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) is a significant and canonical example of middlebrow, high production value, white liberal self-­representation. Adapted from Harper Lee’s celebrated eponymous novel (published 1960), the film narrates the coming of age (and coming to consciousness) of two children, Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), and the unsuccessful attempt of their father, white lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), to save Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. The film (like the novel) ought justly (indeed, necessarily) be criticized for its condescending portrayal of African Americans and its laudatory portrayal of the white liberal savior who, despite the fact that he actually fails in his attempt to save Tom, is revered by all the black characters. In the scene that concludes the film’s legal melodrama, following the delivery of the (obviously, implicitly racist) jury’s guilty verdict, Atticus slowly and forlornly walks out of the courtroom on his own. As he leaves the courtroom, his head bowed, members of the black community who have been watching the trial from a segregated spectators’ balcony rise in near unison to pay their silent respect to the white man who tried to save one of their own. According to John Nickel, a film like To Kill a Mockingbird “not only indulge[s] white liberal viewers’ sense of importance and standing in society but also assuage[s] their guilt about racial inequalities.”10 The smugness of the film’s liberalism demands the critique to which critics like Nickel have subjected it. Just as in need of critique, however, and just as obvious, yet also rather more hidden—­h idden in and on the surface of the image—­is another history of economic and racial injustice embodied and materialized in the film’s artistic design.

At the film’s very beginning, its poetic title sequence (actually an exquisite short film in itself) lap dissolves into a shot looking up through a lattice of leafy trees that proceeds to tilt downward so as to give us an establishing shot of what appears to be a small-­ town street of modest wooden-­f ramed houses whose front porches (some screened in, others not) press up close to the sidewalk. A voice-­over—­t he voice is a woman’s, with a soft southern accent—­ begins simultaneously to tell us where and when this is: Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932, when I first knew it. Somehow it was hotter then. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. The day was twenty-­four hours long, but it seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go and nothing to buy, no money to buy it with, although Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself. That summer I was six years old . . .

7 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

As these sentences are spoken, the camera pans left, lazily, as if to follow the movement of the solitary postman (the only figure in the street), and then, as a horse-­d rawn carriage approaches from the background to cross the postman’s path and travel right, the camera follows this carriage and its solitary driver back to the right in order to retrace the movement of the first pan. The effect is to describe this street of compact houses, and to give us a sense of the scale and rhythm of what we are told is Maycomb—­a town somewhere in Maycomb County, somewhere in the American South. This delicate choreography (of camera, bodies, animals, and vehicles), coupled with the voice-­over, summons a sense of Maycomb’s existence as an organic community, one that the voice-­over (speaking from some undeclared point in the future) implies has been lost. Of course, if we are attentive, we might just glimpse a mountain range in the deepest background of these images, and thus we might infer, correctly, that we are not, so to speak, in Maycomb, but in California—­in a back lot of Universal Studios, to be precise. Making this observation about the fictionality of the diegetic world would be, given what we know and can take for granted about Hollywood production methods, banal and beside the point, were it not for the materiality out of which this diegetic world is constructed. For

Maycomb or Chavez Ravine? Expropriated housing as set design in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

8

the houses that we see along this fictional street in this fictional organic community were actually appropriated from a real organic community only a few miles from Universal Studios. Locations for the film had originally been scouted around Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee’s hometown, but the town itself no longer resembled the lost object it was meant to symbolize. Robert Mulligan, the film’s director, recalled the effort to site some of the film on location: “The town had changed radically. After World War II a lot of the old buildings came down. There was a lot of corrugated iron up and modern looks to the buildings, and big plate glass stores. . . . It just didn’t have the feel of the small town.”11 In an interview with Andrew Horton, Henry Bumstead, the film’s art director, narrates his own experience of being shown around Monroeville by Lee, who introduced him to collard greens as well as to the local scenery. Somewhat paratactically, Bumstead rounds off this story in the following way: “I did get a lot of wonderful research done in Alabama. And so when they were moving a lot of houses in Los Angeles to make way for the freeway, we bought three or four of them and remodeled them. That saved the studio a lot of money.”12 The story is a murky one. One account suggests that the houses were up for demolition in order to make way for the construction of Dodger Stadium, which would be home to the eponymous baseball team, which had recently moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.13 The film’s publicity pressbook offers a similar account that coincides with Bumstead’s memory that the houses

bought and then relocated to Universal were to be destroyed due to the development of the freeway, and that the purchase of these houses was a money-­saving measure for the studio. According to one of the pressbook’s mock news articles (which could be adapted to suit the needs of distributors and exhibitors), “Almost a dozen 50-­year-­old Southern California cottages being removed to make room for a network of Los Angeles Country freeways were hauled to the back lot at Universal studios to provide the main setting, a small Alabama town, for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”14 Another article from the pressbook reads: Cost of the set would have been at least $100,000 more had it not been for the ingenuity of [Alexander] Golitzen [another member of the art department] and Bumstead. Learning that a number of clapboard houses of the same general style as many Monroeville homes were being demolished to make room for a new Los Angeles Freeway, Golitzen and Bumstead made arrangements to buy a dozen of these houses. After they had been moved to the studio back lot and slightly remodelled to match specific Monroeville houses, the total cost to Universal was approximately $25,000. To have built them from the ground up would have cost close to $125,000, according to Golitzen.15

9 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

The studio’s breezily passing reference to the state’s assertion of eminent domain, resulting in the displacement and expropriation of Angelenos, is disturbing enough to raise the curiosity and suspicion of the historian-­a nalyst. These vaguely specific production anecdotes suggest that the film’s production is imbricated in one of the most notorious episodes of Los Angeles’s urban history. Erica Avila’s account of the history of Dodger Stadium reveals that the stadium’s development was not only a controversial project of civic and urban renewal but also a concerted program of racist and classist urban displacement.16 Dodger Stadium was constructed in an area known as Chavez Ravine, a working-­class and largely Latino neighborhood close to downtown Los Angeles. In the early 1950s, Chavez Ravine was identified as a “slum” that required “rehabilitation.” Residents were cleared from their homes so that they could be rehoused in a large-­scale public housing project, yet to be built. However, after Norris Poulson, a conservative Republican, became mayor of Los Angeles in 1953, he canceled the plans for the housing estate as part of a larger project of city divestiture from public

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

10

housing. Political and private interests latched onto Chavez Ravine as—­to their understanding—­t he most desirable and inevitable site for Dodger Stadium, given the Ravine’s proximity to downtown. The few remaining inhabitants of Chavez Ravine were forcibly evicted from their houses, which were seized by the city. One woman, a resi­dent in the Ravine since the 1920s, adopted the technique of passive resistance learned from the civil rights movement and forced authorities “to carry her out the door before a crowd of news reporters and television cameras.”17 Thus it would seem to be the case that the houses that we see in To Kill a Mockingbird, the houses of Maycomb, the traditional community that, by 1962, no longer existed in a modernized Alabama, are in fact the material remains of a traditional community that was destroyed in order to make way for a modernized Los Angeles. The film’s weak claims to an investment in racial and economic justice are belied by the indices of racial and economic injustice that constitute its very architecture, that are the formal and material units of its mode of production, its style, and its mode of rhetorical address. The bitter, unintentional (or unthinking) ironies of this production history are stunning: a putatively antiracist film is actually an archive of racist urban development. The fictional houses of Atticus Finch and his white neighbors in a fictional Maycomb were in fact the real houses of nonwhite Angelenos forced to surrender their private property, not to the needs of the state but to the desires of the private interests that owned the Los Angeles Dodgers. A film that mourns the loss of an organic community, circa 1932, is literally constructed from the remains of an organic community whose destruction was exactly contemporaneous with the film’s production, circa 1962. These houses in the made-­up Maycomb, Alabama, like so many houses in cinematic representation, serve as both figure and ground. They are mute, inexpressive, typical, unremarkable. And yet their appearance, the specificity of their architecture, and their semiotic connotations structure the film’s narrative in a variety of ways.18 On the one hand, the house is a place of stability and refuge; on the other, the house—­especially if we think of Boo Radley’s house, just down the street from the Finch house—­is the object of every anxious imagining. The voice-­over’s opening evocation of Maycomb life at the time of the Great Depression suggests a town in which class distinctions are leveled: “There was nowhere to go and nothing to buy, no money to buy it with.” The houses’ similarity, one to

another, tells us the same thing. Thus the image of these houses provides a secure foundation for the film’s liberal ideology. As we are educated out of our fear of Boo, we come to see that his house is actually, perhaps, not as scary as we thought: we are all alike, really, just like these houses. Yes, Boo’s house must harbor the open secret of patriarchal violence (Boo’s father is one of the film’s scariest characters), but then what house does not harbor this secret, in one way or another? To be generous to the film, however, it does take pains to show us that African Americans do not live on Atticus’s street. Tom Robinson’s house is always insisted on as a destination to which Atticus must drive. The film cannot talk about its geography explicitly, but it does manage at least to indicate implicitly Maycomb’s racial and geographic apartheid. (Tom’s house is, moreover, pictured as a kind of shack, clearly different from the houses we see in town.)19 But these subtle textual cues cannot redeem the racism of urban development that the film (and its publicity material) archives and indexes. We should see the houses carted away from Chavez Ravine and placed so artfully on the Universal back lot to embody the artlessness of Maycomb as stubborn signs of a repressed history. Without intending to do so, the film testifies to real racial and economic injustice in a way that cannot be voiced or contained by the film’s fictional narrativization of racism, black suffering, and white liberalism. The spectacle of the houses in this film is both mute and articulate. It forecloses and discloses what the film cannot say but will not cease from showing.

Ontological Properties 11 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

To borrow an architectural metaphor, I want to propose that the cinema and the house should be seen to communicate. In architectural terms, two rooms that open onto one another are said to communicate. Etymologically, to communicate means to share or to impart. Cinema and architecture open onto one another, and in doing so, they also open up to one another. If we imagine both practices as spaces speaking across a shared threshold, we often find that the rooms that lie on either side of this threshold are startlingly similar in nature. These two rooms are not, however, the same, and the conversation between them is one that has to be encouraged—­sometimes gently, sometimes rudely—­a nd monitored, lest we forget that, in fact, there are two rooms, and not just one, and that there is danger in merely collapsing the one into the

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

12

other, as if architecture were already cinema and cinema architecture. The door needs to be understood as something that continues to separate as much as it joins together. Otherwise the house and the film come to seem so much alike that they can only ever tell the same story.20 Houses are built to be lived in, but also to be looked at. In this sense, the house is a kind of spectacle, an instance of what Laura Mulvey has famously termed “to-­be-­looked-­at-­ness.”21 While it has become pro forma in film studies either to apologize for citing Mulvey’s influential essay (as too obvious a point of reference) or to discredit its argument, I want to insist at the outset of this book on the relevance of Mulvey’s argument to my concerns. 22 The house and women have, throughout their histories, shared two very fundamental features: they have been objects of possession and sources of visual fascination. Women have, at various points in time, been regarded as property, outright, or else have been subject to having their property rights severely abrogated and curtailed by coverture law. Both “woman” and the house are historical and ideological “constructions,” and both have been built, so to speak, to be looked at. Mulvey is primarily interested in woman’s constitution as spectacle, but if we push her argument into proximity with a history of woman’s legal status as chattel, then we must reckon with the knot that ties a history of pleasurable looking (at women onscreen) with a history of property rights. Women, of course, have historically been granted—­or, better put, condemned to—­a privileged relationship to the house, and to domesticity, and this relationship is predicated on the divestment of privilege. Consistently across this book I will be considering the ways in which women have been forced to inhabit the space of the house—­or else resisted this space and/or reinvented the means of inhabiting it. I will also be tracing the ways in which cinema has imagined and represented these practices of inhabitation, resistance, and reinvention. I do not think it is possible to consider seriously the representation of the house in cinema without thinking concretely about gender, race, and political economy. Looking at the house in cinema while thinking in these terms, then, means that while we can grant the charm of this or that house as it appears in this or that film, a serious reckoning with the cinematic spectacle of property will necessarily dislodge us from some of the cozy familiarity we attribute to and experience in both houses and cinema. As I have already claimed in the Introduction, the representa-

13 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

tion of the house is a constant in the history of cinema. In watching cinema, we are forever looking at and into people’s houses. This iterative, implicit preoccupation with the house is probably due to cinema’s strong relation to realism, to the representation of human lives, a large portion of which—­in the “real life” that cinema has frequently endeavored to represent—­t ranspires in the house’s interior. The image in cinema is often an image of the house; thus cinema’s spectacle often constitutes what I call the “spectacle of property.” The experience of cinema, however, does not merely refer to the image onscreen; it also encompasses the material (whether industrial or artisanal) practices of its production, as well as the means of its distribution and exhibition, and includes, moreover, the lived, embodied experience of its reception by human spectators. In all of these areas of the cinematic experience, property reigns. Cinema’s history begins with an ongoing arbitration of property rights (something I will briefly address again later in this chapter). Thomas Edison was tormented by the reality (and the fantasy) that competitors in the film business were, illegally and in violation of his (intellectual) property rights, using technology he had invented and patented. The history of the film industry itself is a history of legal ownership, of the desirability and legality of “vertical” ownership—­of the proprietary and monopolistic control of the means of production, distribution, and exhibition. Meanwhile, at the actual sites of exhibition—­at the baroque picture palaces of yesterday or the run-­of-­t he-­m ill multiplexes of today—­cinema entails yet another distribution of property rights, one in which the owner of a theater effectively sells very short-­term leases (what we euphemistically call movie tickets) for very small parcels of real estate (movie seats). Cinema spectatorship is, at one important and unremarked-­upon level, fundamentally an experience of renting, of short-­term tenancy. In purchasing a movie ticket spectator-­ tenants pay for the right to occupy a space in order to gaze up at a space they can never occupy. Property, therefore, is not merely spectacularized onscreen, in Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara, or Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu, or Norman Bates’s decaying house; property is—­ if we want to push the argument a bit further, and I do—­cinema’s ontology. My allusion to Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) brings me to another modality in which property and the cinema are intertwined. In André Bazin’s theorization of deep-­space cinematography, a formal technique whose possibilities he senses most vividly

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

14

and profoundly in the work of Orson Welles, cinema’s essential property (and here I use the term in the mode of a weak but significant pun) is its ability to represent the fullness and contingent indeterminacy of reality. The deep-­space image in which so much human richness can be observed is actually, more concretely, or at least more literally, the space of richness: the cavernous interiors of Kane’s Xanadu or the immensity of the Amberson mansion in Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). In these films cinema’s ability to demonstrate its property—­its essence—­depends upon, is enabled and enriched by, a representation of wealth that is embodied in the private property of a house of enormous dimensions. The ontological property of cinema—­what Bazin calls the “visible continuity” of space guaranteed by “depth of focus” cinematography— is property.23 Essential in Bazin’s analysis of Welles’s cinema are the enormous interiors of the Amberson mansion and the possibilities the house offered to Welles’s interest in both staging in depth and the sequence shot (or long take). Bazin writes: “Thanks to the depth of field, all of the actors participate in the action and the entire set, including the ceilings, encloses them in its presence. In Ambersons, the house’s interior architecture seems to be completely and continually on the screen, just as one sees the street in its entire length several times.”24 Bazin’s interest in the long take and depth of field is, in a sense, more moral than aesthetic. Unlike a cinema of editing, or découpage, Welles’s cinema creates a new medium in which the moral spectator must recognize and reckon with himself: “Obliged to exercise his liberty and his intelligence, the spectator perceives the ontological ambivalence of reality directly, in the very structure of its appearances.”25 In what Bazin calls Welles’s “favourite scene,” George (Tim Holt) and Aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead) are seated in the enormously gloomy Amberson kitchen. George devours Fanny’s cooking while she pumps him for information regarding his mother and Eugene (with whom Fanny is in love). According to Bazin, the scene, shot in one unbroken and nearly static take, “lasts almost the length of an entire reel of film.”26 The scene’s (and the shot’s) primary function is to reveal the terrible proportions of Fanny’s anxious jealousy, but, according to Bazin, the scene also mounts an atmosphere of oppressive contingency: “Who knows if it may not be just when we are looking at George that a revealing expression will cross Fanny’s face? And during the whole scene, objects, outrageously irrelevant to the action yet monstrously pres-

Depth of field: property as cinema’s ontological property in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).

15 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

ent (cakes, food, kitchenware, a coffee-­pot), solicit our attention.”27 Bazin’s point is that in the film, as in the world, insignificance must compete with significance for our attention. The sheer accumulation of so much potential insignificance is, itself, significant. The Ambersons’ wealth is not a contingent factor in the vexed erotic entanglements that propel the film’s morbid narrative progress-­i n-­ stasis. Rather, this wealth, which is signified as much by so many “irrelevant” objects as by the grand spaces of Amberson mansion itself, is the real story here. The organized contingency that is the film’s mise-­en-­scène is the aesthetic precondition of Bazin’s deliberative liberal spectator. But in terms of the film’s diegetic world, the kitchen is the index of a privileged economic and social position. So much wealth—­embodied in so many kitchen tools, all implying so many scenes of sumptuous indulgence, of which George’s gluttony is only a grotesque and private exaggeration—­should act as a barrier against contingency. But the film’s narrative of economic decline makes clear, in case we need reminding, that property’s alienability is property’s ontology. Welles’s cinema and Bazin’s theorization of its effects depend on the interior space of the house to ground a practice of ethical spectatorship.

The fact of seeing so much space, whether we actually want to inhabit it or not, is in itself an appealing, or at least enthralling, dimension of the film. James Naremore writes more pointedly than Bazin does about the fact that what we see in Welles’s cinema is property. The Magnificent Ambersons was extravagant in its consumption of space in pursuit of the representation of the Ambersons’ wealth. According to Naremore, who cites the RKO publicity for the film, “The Amberson mansion covered three sound stages and was dressed with more than nine thousand items; Cortez’s [Stanley Cortez, the director of photography] camera traveled past seven rooms, with more than forty technicians handling the light and sound equipment.”28 In spite of this impressive consumption of space, props, and labor, the film, Naremore says, “was not especially elaborate or costly”; however, it aimed to produce for its viewers the material and sensual effects of wealth.29 The camera’s movement through space is especially crucial for the film’s realism. Naremore writes: There were good reasons for Welles’s decision to shoot the interiors of the mansion in traveling shots. The point was to make the audience feel the spacious innards of the place, to make them experience as directly as possible the grand solidity of the Amberson wealth—­a n effect which cannot be achieved by cutting back and forth between relatively static compositions. At the end of Kane, for example, it is important that the camera track over the assembled possessions rather than simply cutting from one objet d’art to another; hence nearly everything at the Amberson party is photographed in wide-­ angle, deep-­focus perspective.30 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

16

Naremore’s reference to the impressive ending of Citizen Kane is useful in reminding us that all is property—­w hether it belongs to Charles Foster Kane, to the Ambersons, or to RKO, with its desire to publicize its consumption of its own spatial and financial resources. The emphasis on the directness of the spectator’s “experience” means that Naremore phrases the problem only in terms of realism. But apart from the exhilarating sense of really being there (almost), we might wonder if the camera’s itinerary within such a rich domestic space imparts any other charge or has any other value. I would suggest that the feeling of immersion—­in someone else’s space and stuff—­produced by the camera pivots on the

17 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

pleasure/displeasure that characterizes the spectacle of property. And the property of this spectacle is, we recall, the reversible, fungible, and insecure nature of ownership. It is the work of the film to divest the Ambersons of “the innards of the place.” In both the origi­nal novel and the lost version of the film that Welles intended to be seen, the Amberson mansion is sold and converted into a grubby boardinghouse.31 The Amberson mansion, we might note in passing, had a second life. The interior of the mansion was reused in Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942). When the male lead in that film, Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), invites himself into Irena’s (Simone Simon) New York City apartment, upon entering the building’s elaborate hallway, he remarks, “You know, I never cease to be amazed at what lies behind a brownstone front.”32 And Naremore notes that the house that lies opposite the Amberson mansion—­t he Johnson house, a recurring image of which punctuates (and grounds) the film’s famous prologue—­fi nds itself repurposed (with the addition of another dormer) as the decaying house that George (James Stewart) and Mary (Donna Reed) move into and refurbish in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), another film that is explicitly concerned with questions of real estate, property ownership, and the loss thereof. Naremore suggests that Capra’s reuse of the house “acknowledges implicitly” its “nostalgic charm, which belongs to another age and another social order.”33 The reappearance of the house from The Magnificent Ambersons in the later film bespeaks some sort of historical rupture between the nineteenth century and the mid-­t wentieth century: this house has become a ruin in the time that separates the historical setting of the first film from that of the second, though the two films were made only five years apart. In Ambersons the house figures a normal, everydayness in contrast to the lugubriousness of the Amberson mansion. In It’s a Wonderful Life, the house’s promise of permanence must be resurrected, against all odds, to reassert a fantasy of possession that both films demonstrate can only ever be exactly that: fantasy. What does remain, curiously, is the actual property of the film studio. Such reuse of sets is a normal feature of Hollywood production methods; however, the reappearances of these architectural elements in minor guest-­starring roles suggest the plasticity and the obduracy of the prop—­short, we remember, for property. The hegemony of property is subtended by its nightmare of fungibility. Because private property is already grounded on the abstraction of

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

18

labor, the all-­too-­real(ist) representations of property demonstrate the shape-­shifting, hydra-­headed nature of capital itself and of the fantasies that it both feeds on and nourishes. To think about the foregoing in slightly more precise materialist terms, we might turn to Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in which he makes an uncomfortable and counterintuitive discovery, one that constitutes one of the major insights of his critique of political economy: his refusal to regard private property as an ontological given. Marx writes, “If the product of labor does not belong to the worker, if it confronts him as an alien power, this can only be because it belongs to some other man than the worker.”34 Private property’s “secret,” Marx says, consists in the fact that “it is the product of alienated labor, and . . . is the means by which labor alienates itself, the realization of this alienation.”35 Marx’s terms are especially productive for seeking to understand, to appreciate, and to criticize what is at stake not just in private property that has assumed the shape of a domestic dwelling, of a house, but also in the spectacle the house makes of itself and the spectacle that cinema makes of the house. Regardless of how “at home” we might feel when we are at home, the fact will remain that, under capital, the house and our ability to reside in it will have been afforded by some form of wage labor, some mode by which our labor has been abstracted, turned into capital, and thus into the means for purchasing the house. “You don’t own a house; it owns you”: this suburban truism is meant to suggest the claims (financial and affective) that a house exerts over its proprietor, but the saying speaks truer than it knows. As fruit, substance, and repository of alienated labor, the house remains a medium of alienation. The value of thinking of the “spectacle of property” and property itself as a kind of spectacle consists in the function of the spectacle—­of the image—­a nd the spectacle’s implicit alienation. Here I am not thinking of the spectacle in strict Debordian terms. Debord’s aphorism that “the spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image” is an accurate enough description of many forms of private property.36 However, contrary to Debord’s line of thinking, I do not mean to suggest that when property becomes spectacle—­becomes image (something it often already is, in a sense)—­it therefore becomes something worse or more alienated than would otherwise be the case. The spectacle of property can be, rather, the means of undoing or exposing property’s secret life. The spectacle of property—­t he image, the moving image of the

19 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

house, whether looked at obliquely or head-­on—­reveals the secret of property’s constitution by and on the grounds of alienated labor. At the same time, the image is the means through which we labor (however easefully, as we recline in our movie seats) to forget this alienation. However, in rushing to exhibit itself—­which is something that the private property of the house seems to do—­property forever risks the revelation of the secret. The cinema seizes this risk and doubles property’s already doubled relation to publicity and privacy, to pleasure and unpleasure—­t he pleasure of its possession, the unpleasure involved in its procurement, and the unpleasure of this possession’s anxious uncertainty. In its images and its structures of spectatorship-­tenancy, cinema offers the sensuous proof of property’s secret. This sensuousness provides the means of forgetting and of calling to mind the secret of property’s alienation. Cinema’s public exhibition of the house is a product of property relations and a means of making these relations graspable, sensually thinkable. Cinema’s spectacle of property, in other words, might be understood as the homeopathically public remedy for private property’s private pathology. The house is that little bit of capital, that little chunk of the commodity world that we can (we hope) buy, possess; its possession then (we hope) acts as the bulwark against and the apotheosis of this self-­same commodity world. The image of property betrays property, however, and hands the keys over to those who wish to enter the knowledge of its secret. The image’s fundamental alien status is always already alerting us to property’s alienation, its own status as something purchased by alienated labor. As such, the house must be domesticated before it gives of domesticity. We might think of domesticity itself as the practice of forgetting the house’s fundamental strangeness. (I will consider this a bit later in relation to Freud’s notion of the uncanny.) The thing that belongs to us and to which we belong is at one and the same time the thing that materializes our nonbelonging. As I have already suggested, the spectator-­tenant must pay to occupy a space in order to look at a space he cannot occupy. We could see the purchasing of the short-­term tenancy agreement (the movie ticket) as doing, for capital anyway, nothing other than providing a means (literally, a clearly defined and segmented section of time and space) by which the spectator-­tenant can replenish his labor power. But the purchase of the ticket also offers up capital back to the owner (the landowner, the capitalist, the studio mogul), who, in

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

20

the era of integrated industrial capitalism, might very well also be the owner of the factory or place of work where the spectator-­tenant will expend his labor power the very next day.37 Marx says that the tenant farmer is the landowner’s “revealed secret.” The tenant farmer reveals that it is only through his labor that the landowner achieves his “economic existence.”38 We might think of the spectator-­tenant as the revealed secret of the “culture industry” (pace Adorno and Horkheimer). The spectator-­tenant rents space in order to look at space and in so doing produces capital for the film studio (capital).39 Marx goes to some lengths to show that landed (immobile) property is only a primitive forerunner to the capitalist’s (mobile) property. There is perhaps no better symbol or metonym of the triumph of the capitalist over the landowner than the modern house. The house—­this apparently immobile and permanent configuration of timber and masonry, shingle and tile, glass and concrete—­is, ironically enough, the essence and the image of the triumph of mobile capital. The house’s apparent solidity and immobility belie its predication on the precarious mobility and fungibility of capital and its own predication on alienated labor. Marx writes that the “material, immediately sensuous private property is the material sensuous expression of estranged human life.”40 The cinematic image’s sensuous evidence of private property compels us—­to look! to enjoy!—­but also condemns this image of property. Cinema’s properties and images of property offer a plenitude foreclosed. Marx writes that the sensuous movement of property through production and consumption “is the sensuous revelation of all production.”41 Similarly, the sensuous evidence of the image is authentic evidence of an inauthentic relation. The image onscreen cannot make happen what should happen next, but it makes sensuously visible what is appealing and appalling about private property itself. When property becomes image its already sensuous force is increased by the sensuous immediacy of the image itself. And yet, following Jean-­Luc Nancy (to whom I will turn in a moment), we understand that the image itself gives itself away so that it can never be possessed. Image-­ness and property-­ ness share the condition—­i ndeed, the ontology—­of alienation. Marx, in all of the foregoing, is clearly writing against the Hegelian line of thought in which property acts as the medium through which personality is expressed. In Philosophy of Right Hegel writes: “A person must translate his freedom into an external sphere in order to exist as Idea. Personality is the first, still wholly abstract,

21 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

determination of the absolute and finite will.”42 The will as immaterial force must make itself material, must be mediated: property, for Hegel, is the medium of the will, or what he calls “the embodiment of personality.”43 Possessing something and thereby imposing one’s will on that thing is, for Hegel, a way of possessing and theatricalizing the faculty of the will itself. The will and its exercise have, in modern culture, sometimes been felt as a burden, as something to be released from, which suggests that property, as medium of the will, might also come to be regarded skeptically. Modernist culture has flirted with the aesthetic itself as a mode of dispossession. T. S. Eliot, for instance, argues that serious poetry should not be “a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” Famously, Eliot cannot resist adding that “only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”44 Eliot’s bitchy comment here sounds at first like a denigration of the property of personality and a celebration of the ecstasy of divestiture. But really this sentiment is grounded in a secure sense of (self-­)possession that can risk the theatricalization of dispossession. Surely, though, we might find other ways of expressing ourselves, of being together, in which we remain ourselves but not as we were, in which property boundaries are blurred, or lost altogether. Marx writes that “the history of industry and the established objective existence of industry are the open book of man’s essential powers.”45 In other words, capitalism essentially embodies all that humankind is and would be able to accomplish if capitalism were to be dismantled and superseded. Cinema’s exhibition of the house is something like this open book: it reveals the limitless riches of living together, which we so far have richly limited to living apart. In cinema we are forever looking at at least one thing that we do not own, but to which we have temporary, rented access: the cine­ matic image itself. When that image, in turn, images—­represents distinctly and in detail—­property itself, property materialized in the house, then we are looking at yet another thing we do not own. The cinematic spectacle, which is a spectacle of property, is meant to provide an experience of pleasure. But this pleasure, curiously, is bound up in and, perhaps, constituted by our dispossession, by the fact that we look at what we can see (obviously) but can never own. Jean-­Luc Nancy’s theory of the image as “the distinct” seems to arrive at and confirm this line of thinking. Nancy identifies

the image’s “distinction” (or essence, we might say) as distinction itself: “The distinction of the distinct is therefore its separation: its tension is that of a setting apart and keeping separate which at the same time is a crossing of this separation.”46 Nancy’s treatment of the image imagines it as a kind of interiorized space or territory—­ something like a house, or a room. It has property boundaries; indeed, its property is to keep (and transgress) boundaries.47 The long history of visual pleasure’s theorization reveals that it is inherently bound up in questions of possession and dispossession. The entwinement of possession and visual pleasure is the subject of several intense, memorable, and influential chapters in Augustine’s Confessions (written AD 397–­400). Augustine details elaborately his vulnerability to and repentance for the sins of the flesh. According to Augustine, while abstaining from actual “concubinage” and excessive food and drink are matters of the will, and therefore can be achieved through good behavior, images present a special challenge to moral life that overwhelms the will. On the subject of the “concupiscence of the flesh,” Augustine tells us that even if he were to forswear concubinage, he would still be haunted by the “images of such things” that his “former habits implanted there.” These images “assail” him both when he is awake and when he is asleep. When so assaulted, Augustine says, “I am not myself.”48 Memory’s archive of images confronts the inadequacy of the will and dispossesses the will of its own agency. When Augustine turns to the problem of the actual “custody of the eyes,” the diagnosis of the problem becomes only more acute, given the anatomical and perceptual nature of eyesight itself:

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

22

The eyes love fair and varied forms and bright and beauteous colors. Let no such things possess my soul: may God who made these things good, yea, very good, may he possess it. He is my good, not they. Each day they affect me all the while I am awake. No rest is granted to me, such as is granted at times of silence from singing voices, sometimes from all voices. For this queen of colors, this light which bathes all the things we look upon, drops down in many ways wherever I may be throughout the day, and beguiles me while engaged in some other task and not even observing it. So strongly does it entwine itself about me, that if it is suddenly withdrawn, it is sought for with longing, and if it is long absent, it causes mental depression.49

23 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

In this account of things, visual pleasure is inescapable because of the basic fact of the eyes’ passivity. The eyes let too much in: they are open doors through which anything may pass. Moreover, the images that—­if we but open our eyes—­inevitably bombard us also make us not our own; they possess us, and therefore dispossess us, alienate us from what should be our essential nature, which is to say that they draw us away from what God, apparently, would wish for us or wish for us to be doing. The images that do not belong to us but somehow invade us and imprint themselves on us, on our eyes, are themselves the agents of alienation and involve us in an unceasing negotiation of property rights—­of what we possess (here, our will) and what possesses us. Augustine laments our inevitable exposure to sights that make us no longer the proprietors of our own agency. There exist, however, examples of practices in which humans willfully expose themselves to (indeed, expend considerable effort so as to encounter) visual and spatial experiences that promise a kind of pleasure organized around dispossession and the enforcement of property rights. Here—­i n an admittedly dramatic historical and conceptual leap—­I am thinking of the long and imbricated histories of the cabinet of curiosities and the country house tour.50 A feature of the aristocratic early modern household, the cabinet of curiosities could quite literally be a mere cabinet, or it could be an entire room in which various objects were housed and organized—­natural specimens, taxidermied animals, precious minerals, any objects of rarefaction or value. Forerunner to the museum, the cabinet of curiosities was a site and medium of display and exhibition—­where the private house most concentrated itself as something to be possessed and something to be seen. (I will later return to the cabinet of curiosities in my discussion of the Eames House in chapter 3.) According to Michael McKeon, the cabinet of curiosities had become, by the seventeenth century, “a luxury of the nobility and/or the wealthy. A private space within a private space, the cabinet encapsulated the great world within its odd and wondrous confines, and it announced its owner to be a gentleman of polite and cosmopolitan understanding.”51 One of the cabinet’s “central ambition[s]” was “to amass objects that amaze not only in their odd singularity but also in the way this singularity is reinforced by the arbitrariness of their arrangement.”52 The arbitrariness here recalls the sheer contingency of the visual’s assault

Cabinet of curiosities: the Museum of Ferrante Imperato in Naples, Italy. Engraving from Dell’historia naturale di Ferrante Imperato Napolitano (1599). Source: Ausgepackt: Die Sammlungen der Universität Erlangen-­ Nürnberg, http://www.ausgepackt.uni-erlangen.de/presse/download/index .shtml.

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

24

that Augustine experiences at the mere opening of his eyelids. The cabinet was often to be found in the most private, most interior recesses of the private house, but it existed there primarily to be made public to visitors who were fortunate enough to be invited to admire its marvels. While the cabinet of curiosities existed primarily to be exhibited to people who were more or less its owner’s social equals, the practice it inscribes is clearly the forerunner of the country house visit, in which a great house would be opened in order that it could be toured by members of the public, most of whom would not have been possessors of such a house. Writing about the English tradition of visiting privately owned country houses, Adrian Tinniswood has also commented on the fact that the cabinet’s and the country house’s contingencies were bound together by a powerfully attractive force—­t hat of ownership, of the simple fact that the house

and its objects belong to someone else and not to the interested observer: Tourists’ responses were not primarily aesthetic: they wanted to see all that was rare and costly, and, during the first part of the [seventeenth] century at least, there was no sense of their responding differently to a painting, a tapestry, a piece of clockwork or a curiosity of nature. They were ready to be impressed by anything that was outside their normal sphere of experience.53

The House and/as Social and Subjective Grounds The house is where most of us first learned to navigate space. Its spaces, and the hierarchies, pleasures, and prohibitions that obtain and transpire in them, give us a medium through which to test and make sense of how to move from one point to another, how to know inside from out, up from down, safe from dangerous, private from public. Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space figures a famous attempt to meditate on the house as ontological ground and repository of psychic experience:

25 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

If we can entertain the cultural practice of the country house visit as a forerunner to cinemagoing (and I think we should), then we will need to reckon with these disconcerting accounts of not just the vulnerability of eyes to images as forces that, against the exercise of our will, both possess us and alienate us from ourselves (pace Augustine) but also the apparent pleasure we take in immersing ourselves in the visual and sensual experience of other people’s property. At the heart of visual pleasure, it would seem, is a constant negotiation of property boundaries, of mine and yours. What is more, this pleasure would seem to be, to say the least, a mixed pleasure, one that dips into unpleasure. Though the images of the world torment Augustine out of repose, if he is deprived of these images—­t hese entities that resist his self-­mastery and self-­ possession—­he succumbs to depression. For the country house visitor, on the other hand, the exposure to a world from which one is ultimately excluded offers the experience—­a mbivalent at best— of testing the limits of one’s own already severely limited sovereignty, or of feeling out and witnessing firsthand the dimensions of the spoils and privations of a class system.

Thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed, and if the house is a bit elaborate, if it has a cellar and a garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams. A psychoanalyst should, therefore, turn his attention to this simple localization of our memories.54

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

26

What is implied in this passage? A memory records something that has happened, even if that happening is the fact that something was and endures or else is no more. Memory is story; thus if the house houses memory, then it is a narrative medium—­something through which stories are told and represented, and something that gives them a means of happening in the first place. Representation is key to grasping what for Bachelard is the power of the house. Bachelard argues that it is through poetry “perhaps more than through recollections” that “we touch the ultimate poetic depth of the space of the house.”55 If we abstract Bachelard’s terms somewhat, then what he seems to be suggesting is that, while the house is the original narrative medium (and therefore always already aesthetic, over and above its embodiment of any architectural style), its “depth” (by which I suppose he means something like “essence”) can be apprehended only through other media, by way of the aesthetic. These formulations make the house, oddly, both figure and ground, container and contents, form and spirit. Bachelard’s account of the house might feel too hermetic, too private (I will return to Bachelard in a moment), and so we might prefer to look at moments in which philosophers have traced the ways in which domestic scenes and domestic artifacts not only give form and substance to various experiences of the private world but also offer powerful metaphors for an ontology of the social. Here is an example drawn from Hannah Arendt’s account of the public and private in The Human Condition. In this passage Arendt compares the exhausting and attenuated too-­much-­ness of the web of social relations in the modern world to a scene of curious domestic disorder: What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people involved, or at least not primarily, but the fact that the world between them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them. The weirdness of this situation resembles a spiritualistic séance where a number of

people gathered around a table might suddenly, through some magic trick, see the table vanish from their midst, so that two persons sitting opposite each other were no longer separated but also would be entirely unrelated to each other by anything tangible.56

The scene Arendt describes is an unusual one, perhaps, but a knowable one, one with a certain generic familiarity. The house encloses a miniature version of the public (a protopublic, perhaps). The table inside the house functions like the house that it furnishes: it connects (like the porch or the threshold) and separates (like the door itself, that when closed makes a wall of an open threshold). (Let us note in passing, as well, the cinematic trickery of her example—­l ike something seen in a Méliès film.) If the medium (a loaded word in this context) goes missing, then not only do people not know how to comport themselves toward one another, but they might not even appear to one another at all. The crucial thing, for my purposes here, is to note that an understanding of the social world is grounded in an image borrowed from the (everyday or actually somewhat fantastical) life of the house. But whereas the metaphor or analogy of the table makes us see the social in a way we had not before, the table (the metaphor’s vehicle) carries a charge that Arendt does not ask us to consider. The house in this passage remains a passage to another thought but itself remains unthought. In regard to the larger generality of space itself, Maurice Merleau-­ Ponty has described space as an ontological ground of experience—­ but in terms that seem to make clear that this ground is also a medium:

As the “universal power,” space comes across here as both charged and neutral, just as the table at Arendt’s séance is beneath notice and crucial to the scene. Space is both essence (or ontology) and mediation (that process or state that we think of as being opposed to essences). And it surely would not be difficult to propose

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

27 Space is not the setting (real or logical) in which things are arranged, but the means whereby the position of things becomes possible. This means that instead of imagining it as a sort of ether in which all things float, or conceiving it abstractly as a characteristic that they have in common, we must think of it as the universal power enabling them to be connected.57

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

28

a Bachelardian substitution of “house” for “space” in Merleau-­ Ponty’s formulation to make it read something like this: the house is not the setting in which events take place, but the means whereby the taking place of an event becomes possible. Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological account of dwelling goes even further in ontologizing habitation as the essence of humanness, insofar as dwelling, or the occupation of space, is already building, or what Heidegger calls the “founding and joining of spaces.”58 Building is dwelling and dwelling building: both involve the establishment of relations between two things or two spaces. Heidegger’s famous example is the construction of a bridge, which is not merely a thing but actually constitutes a force that creates a “locale.” When inserted into the world, the bridge actually produces the very concept of this side of the river and the other side of the river: “A locale comes into existence only by virtue of the bridge.”59 The bridge is not something that imposes itself into space, therefore; it actually creates space—­a nd creates, as well, the concept of space—­by first creating a place, which allows us then to understand and experience space (or Raum). For Heidegger, then, building, and therefore dwelling, is “thought essentially.”60 Heidegger’s bridge, however, is an interestingly innocuous example of building (and dwelling and thinking). The bridge is open to the sky and is therefore not something that can be lived in, although, presumably, it could be owned (by an individual or a community or a state), although Heidegger does not consider this feature of its being. The bridge, as a figure, allows Heidegger to pass back and forth, not just across the river but between the concepts of building and dwelling and therefore thinking, but without having to confront other models of building—­ the house, for instance—­in which building itself might prove to be a barrier to one’s passage or a limitation to thought, to human freedom. What interests me in the above examples is the fact that each instructs us implicitly that before we can even consider the problem of architectural or domestic space, we must understand that space itself, its ontological priority, is never given to us neutrally. Space—­ while it might be conceived of as a Kantian a priori—­w ill always be experienced by us as and in a place.61 And if our experience of space takes place first in that original (either real or mythical) place called the house, then space and our experience of it—­insofar as this experience is fostered, tutored, indeed made possible by the house—­is surely a fraught constitutive category of experience. The

29 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

passage from Bachelard tells us something about this state of affairs, even though this something is not what Bachelard might have intended: his house (the house he proposes) is “a bit elaborate”; it has “a cellar and a garret, nooks and corridors.” Between the cellar and garret we will, of course, find the various floors of the house (any house with both cellar and garret will have at least two), the staircase(s), bedrooms, reception rooms, and other spaces that are implicit in Bachelard’s metonymies of “cellar and garret,” “nooks and corridors.” This is a bourgeois house, in other words, one that we can only assume to be privately owned. Bachelard anaphorically evokes, throughout the first chapter of The Poetics of Space, “the house we were born in,” and this term eventually becomes “the old house” to which we may return “after an odyssey of many years.”62 Both Bachelard’s turn of phrase “the old house” and the fact that we can return to it suggest that he has in mind an ancestral home, one still in the family, under whose roof we are still permitted to take shelter, despite the fact that we may have since lived in “successive houses.”63 This house is hardly an entirely self-­evident medium, then: Bachelard proposes that the psychic material condensed in and by the house is recoverable by what he calls “topoanalysis”: “the systematic study of the sites of our intimate lives.”64 But the house in Bachelard’s account is not just any house; it is an impressive piece of middle-­class real estate. Given this house’s specificity (its size is absolutely crucial to Bachelard’s theory), topoanalysis seems more vulnerable than psychoanalysis itself to the charge of bourgeois specificity masquerading as universality. Henri Lefebvre poses exactly this problem when he suggests that Bachelard’s house “is as much cosmic as it is human.”65 The universalizing account of the house in Bachelard obscures the house’s real materiality as private property. Returning to Arendt’s table, we might ask ourselves: In what sort of house do we find it? One big enough, at least, to accommodate its size, and, as we know, the table itself is big enough to accommodate “a number of people.” These clues suggest another bourgeois dwelling—­even if this had not already been made clear by the middle-­class cliché of the séance itself. For Arendt, the imagination of social disorder depends on the possession of an always already cultivated sense of what domestic order looks and feels like. My point is not merely to discredit Arendt and Bachelard because they present us with theories of being (in public or private) that are predicated on bourgeois conceptions and experiences of

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

30

what a house is. If the bourgeois house has become a hegemonic concept (as well as a hegemonic reality—­for those who possess it and for those excluded from or by it), then we will need to understand what it promises, and Bachelard and Arendt give interesting accounts of its promises. (Something of what the bourgeois house promises must also be promised by houses of humbler dimensions, or so we might be led to assume.) Arendt is very clear that private property is a good that (contra Marx) needs to be maintained. The house’s connection to necessity and necessity’s grounding of the experience of being human must warrant the house’s existence and maintenance. More important—­a nd certainly more dramatically—­private property makes public life possible because it is the place to which one can withdraw from publicity so as to reenter the public realm at some later point, refreshed. Arendt argues that “a life spent entirely in public . . . becomes . . . shallow”: “It loses the quality of rising into sight from some darker ground which must remain hidden if it is not to lose its depth in a very real, non-­ subjective sense.”66 Interiority here constitutes interiority, in an apparently non­metaphorical sense. The privately owned house is the ground—­t hat is to say, the source—­of public life and the ground against which public life appears. Moreover, the literal depths of the house seem to act, for Arendt, as a vital reservoir that nourishes the body that appears and acts in public. Arendt claims that “a privately owned place to hide in” is the only “efficient way to guarantee” this ground, this reservoir.67 (It goes without saying that one of the constitutive features of Arendt’s public man—­t he avatar of which is the Athenian citizen—­is his possession of private property.) Presumably the house is “efficient” because of its private ownership: “a place of one’s own.” By being “one’s own” the house is subject to its owner’s sovereignty over it, his ability to enjoy, improve, or destroy it. The legal theorist Jeremy Waldron has written that “in a private property system, a rule is laid down that, in the case of each object, the individual person whose name is attached to that object is to determine how the object shall be used and by whom. His decision is to be upheld by the society as final.”68 What makes private property private, however, is that it could become someone else’s property. Walter Benn Michaels, in an essay on the role that property plays in the articulation of the romance genre, has observed succinctly that “property, to be property, must be alienable.”69 Private property’s alienability infuses the enjoyment of its possession with an under­

the “uncanny” is not a property of the space itself nor can it be provoked by any particular spatial conformation; it is, in its aesthetic dimension, a representation of a mental state of

31 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

lying, implicit content: what’s mine is mine, but could become yours. As an ontological ground—­for the subject or for the social—­t his is torturous territory. In belaboring the experience of private property as the grounds of the subject and the social, I realize that I have kept us waiting on the front porch. I mean, however, for the reader to contemplate the complex antinomies and contradictions, the confidence and the terror, that underwrite our experience of the house. Sigmund Freud has argued that an experience of the uncanny is intimately linked to the house and its objects. The heimlich, or homely, experience of familiarity threatens always to suffer an inversion (or reversal) into the unheimlich—­t he unhomely, or what we call in English the uncanny. Freud’s account of the uncanny makes clear that something can be unhomely only if it has first been experienced as homely. In other words, there are two major features at work in the uncanny (as it is articulated by Freud): it is predicated on repetition, and it depends on the infinitely reversible experiences of property and expropriation, ownership and alienation. Whereas Bachelard has his “old place” to which we return with pleasure, not with fear, Freud mentions that “neurotic men” frequently find female genitalia uncanny: “What they find uncanny [unhomely] is actually the entrance to man’s ‘old home,’ the place where everyone once lived.”70 Both accounts—­Bachelard’s and Freud’s—­not only depend on the return (to or of, welcome or unwelcome) and the repetition that are ascribed to the experience of the house but also oscillate between the all too literal and the expansively allegorical. We note this oscillation whenever we trade the word house for home. If the house can be said to be uncanny, then, this will be because it fulfills all or some of the following conditions: (1) it is allied with and demands repetition, (2) it sits in a privileged relationship (often one of identity) with the female and nonwhite bodies that have historically been subject to ownership, and (3) it can be owned and, therefore, can be taken away. This understanding of the house’s un­ canniness departs somewhat from Anthony Vidler’s treatment of what he calls “the architectural uncanny.” Vidler discusses the “not unnatural” dense association of the uncanny with architecture and space, and with the house and the city, especially. He argues that

projection that precisely elides the boundaries of the real and the unreal in order to provoke a disturbing ambiguity, a slippage between waking and dreaming.71

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

32

Vidler’s account is elegant and powerful. It misses, however, the more material sense and experience of alienation that lies at the heart of the experience of property. Vidler writes that the “actual buildings or spaces” under analysis as examples of the architectural uncanny do not “themselves possess uncanny properties” but are, rather, “representations of estrangement.”72 He asserts more boldly that “there is no such thing as uncanny architecture,” but rather instances in which architecture “is invested in uncanny qualities.”73 I would argue, however, that a materialist reading of Freud’s essay suggests that all architecture—­insofar as all architecture belongs to someone, is someone’s property—­is ontologically uncanny: more investment than “invested,” architecture insists on and generates real, material experiences of the possession and dispossession that underwrite our relation to property. And so it is that in the uncanny medium of cinema we are so often entreated or bound to enter a house—­one that is flickering, insubstantial, and unreal, but that is all too like the house whose shelter we have left behind in order to sit before the movie screen. In the next section of this chapter, I will explore how some of the satisfactions, tensions, reversals, and anxieties of the house itself—­ both as architectural space and as private property—­make themselves felt in a decidedly canonical film, one made in the first decade of the twentieth century. This film offers rich opportunity for understanding the hermeneutic value of privileging the house in the interpretation of cinema and of emphasizing the house’s and the cinema’s relationship to property.

The Lonely Villa; or, The Property of Narration One of my subsidiary aims in this chapter and in this book is to displace “the city” slightly from its privileged and too-­often naturalized affinity with the cinema.74 Attention to the modern house—­ the single-­family dwelling, as structure and as aesthetic/social practice—­a llows us to complicate some of the familiar accounts of those allegedly co-­natal cousins, urban modernity and the cinema. In thinking about the house and the cinema, I do not merely intend to replace one set of truisms (and occasional overstatements) with

33 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

another. Rather, I want to shift our attention to something that, as I have already suggested, has been in some cases too obvious to bear comment. For if the city and the cinema share a charged relationship, the cinema and the house share a history that is, if less obviously and dynamically “modern,” then much more ubiquitously so. While cinema has, since its very beginning, been involved in a mutually satisfying and at times thrilling relationship with urban location shooting, it has, perhaps with greater consistency, also articulated itself indoors, in more sheltered contexts. Early filmmaking exposed itself to the city, especially in the cases of travel­ ogues, vedutismo, and other touristic/documentary genres. But more often, really, films were made indoors, or at least inside the precincts of four walls, regardless of whether these walls supported or were crowned by a ceiling. (Early film studios were open to the heavens, so that the sun’s natural light could illuminate the profilmic for the camera’s gaze.) Of course, though they constituted indoors or interiors, these same studios frequently were used (in modes heavily indebted to theatrical scenography) to depict exteriors. But typically the interior of the studio stood in for, contained, and consubstantiated another interior: that of the represented domestic scene. A great deal of ink has been spilled on elaborations and critiques of what has been called “the modernity thesis” in relation to early cinema. Put briefly, the thesis proposes that the historicity of urban technological modernity makes itself felt—­i n ways both superficial and profound—­in the human subject (a city dweller) and in the work of art (the cinema). The thesis extends from the sociology of Georg Simmel and from Walter Benjamin’s reading of Baudelaire and has been developed, inside film studies, by scholars like Tom Gunning and Ben Singer, who have claimed that the modern city’s accelerated rhythms, scales, and sensorial intensities are not just represented by cinema but are embodied and enacted by the cinema’s technology itself and by specific forms of filmmaking.75 Critics of the modernity thesis such as David Bordwell and Charlie Keil resist what they see as hyperbolic claims about the city’s and the cinema’s (independent and mutual) effects on the human subject.76 According to Keil, the thesis “overstates the prevalence of imagery directly relevant to modernity.”77 The problem with the sensible skepticism of scholars like Bordwell and Keil is that they seem to be beholden to a too-­strict, too-­technological account of modernity. How do we decide which imagery is directly relevant to

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

34

or representative of modernity and which is not? The western, for instance, is a genre wildly about modernity—­about land consumption, expansion, development—­a nd yet early film westerns might offer little obvious or explicit visualization of technological and/ or urban modernity. Domestic architecture—­whether that of an apartment (obviously modern) or a country house—­m ight also be considered to constitute an image of the modern, despite the picture of settled permanence and calm that pictures of a house’s exterior or interior might wish to convey (or, as I shall argue, disrupt). I make the foregoing comments as a means of turning to a film that occupies a privileged place in the history of narrative cinema and that privileges the place of the house in its narrative (and its narrativization). This is a film directed by D. W. Griffith and produced by the successful Biograph Film Company in 1909, a film whose very title refers back to the house in which the film’s events transpire: The Lonely Villa. This is a film about a house: about who owns it and who does not; about who belongs in it and who does not; about this house’s distance from other houses and its distance from a larger community; and, finally, about its relation to the wider social totality to which it belongs and from whose obligations it might want to exempt itself, but without whose network of support it cannot hope to survive. The exteriors of The Lonely Villa were shot, like those of most Biograph films of this period (and for many films made by many other directors working contemporaneously), in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a highly commutable town: a mere fifteen minutes via ferry and a connecting trolley on the New Jersey side from Manhattan’s Broadway. The interiors, which constitute the larger part of the film, were shot at Biograph’s Fourteenth Street studios in Manhattan. Thus, in moving from inside to outside in this film, we actually commute between Manhattan and Fort Lee. Land was cheap in Fort Lee at the turn of the century, and so conditions permitted the construction of shooting stages and studios; the landscape was varied (mountains and rivers were nearby, in addition to Fort Lee’s townscape) and thus useful to film productions requiring changes of scene. The Palisades—­rocky cliffs crowned by trees—­were an especially dramatic feature of the New Jersey landscape and served as the mise-­en-­scène of numerous sequences of melodramatic endangerments and restorations to safety. The Lonely Villa’s plot concerns a family, one that consists of a father, a mother, and three daughters, who live in what appears to

35 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

be an isolated country house of some size and wealth. Burglars (or would-­be burglars), whom we first see lurking outside the house in the film’s opening shot, lure the father of the house away on false pretenses, leaving the mother and the daughters alone in the house. (The film shows us that their servants—­a butler and a serving maid, who seem to be courting—­have been given the day off and are not at home. The burglar who delivers the false message to the father also manages to empty of its bullets a revolver that the father has recommended to the mother as a means of self-­protection. The film makes us see that the mother’s and daughters’ vulnerability is near total.) The father is driven away in a chauffeured car (another indication of the family’s wealth). While he is away, the burglars (who may be more than burglars, for all we know—­t hey may be rapists or murderers) gain entry to the house. Mother and daughters barricade themselves inside one and then another of two of the house’s communicating rooms. In the meantime, the father’s car has broken down, and so he attempts to telephone his wife from an inn while his car is being repaired. Upon phoning, he learns of his family’s endangerment. The burglars understand the risk posed by the telephone and manage to cut the wires. The father immediately tries to return home to save his family, but, of course, his car will not work. He commandeers (from what appear to be some traveling performers camped out in what look to be teepees) a horse-­d rawn covered wagon and manages to make it back home just in time to prevent what might have been the eventual rape and murder of his wife and daughters. Such is the film’s plot. But this plot is managed through the system of crosscutting, or parallel editing, which, while not entirely unique to Griffith, is a technique—­a nd even a technology, we might say—­whose possibilities are energetically and experimentally explored in order to coordinate the different spaces and places of the film’s diegetic world.78 Crosscutting allows us, nearly, or at least across moments of rapid succession, to be in two different places at the same time. Or, as Gunning has written: “Parallel editing supplies the essential element of simultaneity—­t hat these spatially dispersed events are all happening at once.”79 The Lonely Villa is a thrilling film; in fact, the emotional force it exerted over spectators upon its release was so great that it was actually banned in Chicago.80 It is a melodrama in two strong senses of that word in its pertinence to cinema and popular fiction: it offers thrilling spectacle and an intense focus on domestic life.81 Gunning,

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

36

the authority on this period of Griffith’s work, argues that “The Lonely Villa perfects the melodramatic formula Griffith had rehearsed in numerous films: the shattering of bourgeois domestic order by an outside intruder.”82 This is the film in which, according to Gunning, “the narrator system” first makes itself fully present as an intelligence capable of satisfyingly and competently (indeed, masterfully) organizing the time, events, spaces, and places of a film’s diegetic world in a manner that is not only spatiotemporally coherent but also expressive. In other words, cinematic narration reaches what we might call a mature phase in this film, which is, significantly, a film about domestic space and its violation. The film demands investigation as an object and representation of social modernity precisely because what the film represents is not, as might first seem the case, the settled permanence of the country­side villa; rather, the film represents, documents, and narrates a raw landscape of suburban expansion and the fragile techno-­spatio-­social threads that tie this landscape to larger social and historical wholes. The vulnerability of The Lonely Villa’s villa is constituted by the house’s loneliness. It is far from other houses—­far away enough, in any case, that the cries of its inhabitants cannot be heard by anyone. And yet, we wonder, how far away from the world is this house? Belief in its utter loneliness is undercut by the mere fact of its being connected by telephone to the larger world. It is, it would seem, thoroughly on the grid. The film’s telephony, in fact, metonymizes the way in which mid-­to late nineteenth-­century American suburbs were both disavowals and instantiations of modernity. The Lonely Villa follows suit in its own disavowal and assertion of the fundamental modernity of its lonely villa. In her synoptic history of the American suburb, Building Suburbia, Dolores Hayden gives us an overlapping chronology of the major nineteenth-­and early twentieth-­century suburban typologies, which she names and dates as follows: borderlands (circa 1820–­60s), picturesque enclaves (the first of which were built in the 1850s), and streetcar buildouts (circa 1870–­1910).83 The Lonely Villa pictures a world that draws from the iconography and the lived reality of the first and third of these three typologies. The film’s title encourages us to see its eponymous house as representative of the “romantic, remote yards and houses” associated with the “borderlands.”84 These areas were, in Hayden’s words, “neither rural or urban”; they offered retreat from and proximity to the urban centers to which they essentially owed their existence.85 The enjoyment of electrification and telephony suggests

Suburban isolation and vulnerability in The Lonely Villa (1909).

37 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

that The Lonely Villa’s villa is geographically situated in a sub­u rban area connected to a larger city by way of electric streetcars and other means of commuting; thus the film also suggests the context of the “streetcar buildouts.” Though we have little glimpse of the world that immediately surrounds it, the house’s picturesquely curved drive suggests the artifice of suburban landscaping—­not the more straightforward layout of roads and approaches that we would see at a working farm. (As we already know, the house’s staff consists of a butler, a maid, and a chauffeur; there are no agricultural laborers employed here, apparently. The term villa itself is fancifully suburban.) The house in The Lonely Villa is an image and a concrete instance of what Kenneth T. Jackson has described as the “separateness”—­a s much ideological as real—­t hat by 1870 “had become essential to the identity of the suburban house”: “The yard was expected to be large and private and designed for both active and passive recreation, in direct antithesis to the dense lifestyle from which many families had recently moved.”86 The Lonely Villa compels us, unsettlingly, to see the perils and false promises of this new world: its unwholesome centripetal force, its anti­sociality, its sham picturesqueness. This is a film about distances and the modern technologies that should solve the problems of distance, about social isolation, about anxiety over middle-­class ownership, as well as anxiety over the mutability of the appearance of class.

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

38

What interests me particularly is the way in which what Gunning calls Griffith’s “narrator system” materializes itself in and through the variety of spaces afforded by the suburban villa and its immediate surroundings. Its spatiality includes its many rooms, as well as its apparent relative isolation from other dwellings, or from a town center. Of the technologies (automobile, telephone) that should solve the problem of distance in the film, the only one that works, as Gunning argues, is the cinema, which—­in a way that is almost unbearable for the spectator—­deploys crosscutting to knit together the events that are suffered in different spaces. And this cross­cutting eventually brings the film’s plot to resolution, granting the spectator (and the film’s fictional characters) relief.87 The criminality represented in the film is the criminality of violating spaces (and perhaps, the film implies, bodies), of the usurpation of property. The film delights, sadistically, in this violation: in the penetration and robbery of the house, in the potential rape and murder of its female inhabitants. However, the film itself functions, aesthetically, to violate the coherence of space in the service of narrative and emotional effect. The film also functions to reconsolidate spatial unity, which is here coincident with the protection of property. The Lonely Villa manifests its emergence out of the nineteenth-­ century theater and that theater’s interest in domestic space.88 The film camera, now occupying the place of the theater’s invisible “fourth wall,” must direct our attention to and reinforce our belief in the solidity (and ultimate vulnerability) of the other three walls. Interestingly, when one of the burglars dresses up like some sort of tramp to deliver the bogus letter that lures the father away from the house, the burglar leans against and caresses the wall and the door frame with the pleasure of a fetishist. This wall is, moreover, nearly identical with the limits of the film frame. The character’s physical, haptic engagement with the wall, therefore, draws attention to the wall’s identity with the film frame. In a discussion of Griffith’s films from this period, Jacques Aumont has noted that the frame . . . is underlined and marked as such by innumerable figurative artifices (starting with the systematic exploration of the interior of the shots by the protagonists themselves, who cross it in every direction, stopping of their own accord just at its edges, as if to show these edges even more clearly, unless they go as far as actually scanning the edges).89

The shot as room and the fetishization of the film frame as architecture in The Lonely Villa.

39 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

Aumont suggests that the frame functions as “a metaphor of the proscenium arch of classical theatre.”90 Without disputing this claim, I would like to suggest that the frame, in moments like this one, not only represents the interior of the house but also functions like the room itself: it is separated from but connected to the rooms on either side of its limits.91 The individual unit of film form, the shot, resembles the individual unit of domestic architectural space, the room. (I will return to these concerns a little later on.) In an analysis of offscreen space in Griffith’s A Corner in Wheat, also from 1909, Robert L. Adams Jr. makes precisely the same observation—­that Griffith “defines the frame as a room and not a set.”92 Given that The Lonely Villa is about the would-­be theft or violation of property (or worse), the house and its architecture function as both the materialization of wealth (the thing to be stolen/violated) and the narrative medium that represents that wealth’s being stolen or violated. The film, then, seems to be both historical document of and theoretical inquiry into the bourgeois suburban house as the site of extreme ambivalence—­about social modernity and about the modes of representing this ambivalence. If we follow Gunning’s argument, then we might add to it the observation that cinematic narration achieves maturity in and through the spatial system—­

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

40

already a narrative system itself—­of the suburban home, a place that is prey to and a material signifier of the abrasions of social modernity. This house, this lonely villa, is a site of modernity as threatening and disconcerting as any industrial dockland, impoverished slum, or heavily trafficked urban thoroughfare. The Lonely Villa has been the object of some of the most careful close reading ever expended on a film artifact. Readers familiar with this scholarship may wonder, already, what more remains to be said about a film that has been so thoroughly parsed. Commentators on the film—­including, most significantly, perhaps, Gunning, whose work I have already cited—­have focused attention on the way in which the highly organized system of crosscutting (at times among three different spaces, not just two) marked the appearance of a narrating agent (Gunning’s “narrator system”) that rivaled the capacities of the narrator of the realist novel. These readings have been exquisitely formalist, but also frequently very sensitive to historical context. Joyce E. Jesionowski, for instance, is minutely attuned to the film’s spatial patterning; Rick Altman analyzes its play with metonymic and metaphoric relations across its complex syntagmatic chain; and Gunning comprehensively traces its genealogy back to the Grand Guignol theater while also addressing its consolidation of the “narrator system.”93 Altman and Gunning make more room for historically contextual reading: Altman argues that the film implicitly suggests that the bourgeois society that is rescued at the film’s end is “safe only for a moment,” while Gunning sees the film as a “fable of modernity,” one in which the modern technology of cinema makes us vividly aware of the potential fallibility of modern technology itself.94 None of these scholars, however, locates the film in the historical context that the film foregrounds as much as it does its interest in modern telephony and automobile travel: this is the context of the film’s very namesake, the suburban home and its own ambivalent mediations of proximity and distance. Like the telephone and the automobile—­both of which have been the subjects of much comment in criticism of the film—­t he suburban villa is a kind of medium and a kind of spatial technology, one that is, moreover (as I have already made clear), resolutely modern. Jesionowski comes the closest to talking about the film’s predication on domestic architecture in more than implicit terms. In her account of the film’s form, she tells us that

Griffith expresses the basic dramatic issues of The Lonely Villa in two succinct and interlocking suites of images: in a lateral set of three rooms, the family is pushed through successive doorways into new spaces by the advancing crooks, and this clearly defines the issue of spatial proximity in the interiors on a straight line; a simple diagonal line sweeping toward the camera describes the father’s return to the home by horse and wagon.95

“Suites of images” is a suggestive term, and, in fact, a bit later in her analysis, “suite” appears again in direct reference to the actual architecture of the set (and the implied diegetic world): “the lateral suite of rooms—­hallway, parlor, study—­t hrough which the family retreats as the crooks advance demonstrates a desire for a clear line of action from shot to shot.”96 Jesionowski makes some interesting observations on the film’s laterality: Griffith’s technique of relating the film’s spaces (which in many cases are adjacent rooms) via characters’ entrances and exits on a horizontal, right–­left/left–­r ight axis. This technique, according to Jesinowski, “is not even particularly realistic” but is rather “a useful abstraction.” The lateral used in interiors is direct—­t he most efficient passage through the frame—­a nd the ease of “reading” this straight line convinces viewers that adjoining shots are “logically” connected. Furthermore, the lateral gave Griffith the opportunity to develop dramatic tension between shots on a natural boundary, the door.97 41 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

Along similar lines, Altman tells us that “doors or roads do not lead into another space within the frame; instead they lead directly out of the frame.”98 In its abstraction and realism, the film’s spatial organization of diegetic space clearly resonates with my earlier comments regarding the coincidence of domestic architectural space and the film frame itself. The Lonely Villa’s proliferation of doors (and the rooms that they connect and protect) encourages us to consider not only cinema’s spatiotemporal properties but also the nature of property itself. I want to read the film more closely in order to test and tease out the implications of foregrounding the house as property. The film begins on the outside, with a long shot in which the property to be invaded acts as the ground upon which the criminals are

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

42

projected as figures. These criminals, in their desire to appropriate for themselves what is inside that house, are the catalysts for all that will transpire in the next seven minutes. (This shot tells us that they are planning something, but what, we know not yet.) Of the house we can tell that it has a large porch whose eaves are decorated with “gingerbread” woodwork. (Depending on the quality of this woodwork—­a rtisanally or industrially produced?—­it could be a sign of either genuine prosperity or a cheap pretense to distinction.) The house has at least two stories. The sinuously winding drive (which leads to a main road we will see later) suggests that there is enough land here to lay out the drive in just this way; however, this sinuousness might also be a kind of trick intended to make the house’s land seem more expansive than it actually is. The artificiality of the drive and the landscape of which it is a part, however, should be borne in mind alongside the reality of this as an exterior shot. We are on location in front of an actual house. The shaking branches of ornamental shrubbery ground us ever more securely in this reality. The shot that follows establishes, as the film’s critics have observed, the central axis of opposition, for now we are inside the house that we have seen from the outside in the preceding shot. This is a parlor, grand in proportion to the house’s exterior. We see the members of this white middle-­class family: a father, a mother, and three daughters in white. The disposition of their bodies demarcates the depth of the image, which is coincident with and produced by the proportions of the room. What startles us here, however, is the first intimation that the boundaries of the room are coincident with the boundaries of the image itself, something I have mentioned above. A door on screen left opens, and two servants enter. That door is matched by another on screen right. To be in this shot is to be roomed securely, but also to be subject to whatever can cross the thresholds of the doors. As the servants leave by the door through which they have entered, a match on action shows (implies) what is on the other side of this door: a large-­ish entry hall leading onto a small vestibule and then—­match on action—­to the house’s front porch. Gunning describes the work of these first shots as “systematically [to] lay out the spaces within the villa and their relation to each other.”99 In order to make sure that we understand what is at stake, Griffith lays it all out for us again. When the burglar who has disguised himself as a tramp/messenger (in order to case the joint, so to speak, and lure the father away from the house) is

inside the parlor, he manages to circumnavigate the room’s three visible walls (the screen figures the fourth); he explores, for us, the space of this image and the space of this room. His body makes most sustained contact with the two lateral walls, as if to draw our attention, proleptically, to the role that these barriers will play in what follows. By the time the criminal has retraced his steps, followed by the father and mother, and exited, we are thoroughly steeped in an awareness of the architectonics of this house and of the trajectories of the bodies inside it. Gunning claims to know of no earlier film in which the idea of a shot as an element within a chain of shots, that is, as element within an edited sequence, is so thoroughly established. Griffith achieves this by several practices. First, the absolutely consistent layout of adjacent spaces allows each shot to connect to the next in a predictable and unvarying manner.100

43 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

Like Jesionowski before him, Gunning uses language that accedes—­ either implicitly or unconsciously—­to the architectural. I contend that what we see here is not merely the patterning of just any set of adjacent spaces across a sequence of shots. Rather, what organizes and charges this approach to cinematic narration is the space of the house itself. The house endows the narration with a floor plan of suspense, a method of organizing oppositions and intensities. But the house is also the very thing that will be violated and penetrated. The film’s complex narrative organization is predicated on and preoccupied by the house itself: its several rooms and the wealth they both symbolize and embody. The formal organization of cinema as a mature (or maturing) narrative medium is identical with the organization of the house—­a nd not just the house as a neutral combination of spaces, but the house as something owned by others, and therefore something that can be alienated or, at least, violated. Like the film’s criminals who want to appropriate the property inside the house, The Lonely Villa seeks to appropriate the space of the house as the medium of suspenseful narration. As the criminals regroup and then retrace their steps, crossing one threshold after the other, their way is abetted by the delays and confusions caused by the failure or disruption of various forms of space-­t ime-­a nnihilating technology: the breakdown of the father’s automobile, the snipped telephone line, the empty revolver. These

Space as property as narrative medium in The Lonely Villa.

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

44

are the elements that Gunning emphasizes so as to arrive at his reading of the film as a “fable of modernity.” And yet, despite the failures of these modern technological forms to protect the family (and its wealth), this wealth itself, wealth materialized in the suburban house, with its many antechambers and rooms opening onto rooms onto rooms, is the modern (technological) form that delays the criminals in their pursuit, that protects the persons of the wife and daughters, that provides, thanks to its thresholds—­each of them coterminous with the film frame itself—­t he family and the film with space enough to emerge triumphant. Property concretized as the disposition of spaces organized by the house becomes the medium by which the film’s suspense is produced and made to endure, and is the medium of the family’s final endurance. Were there one room less, one door less behind which to barricade themselves, this family and this film would both come to a different end. Of course, had there been several rooms less (that is, had the house been a repository of lesser wealth), it is doubtful that the robbery would have been attempted in the first place.101 Gunning writes: To talk by telephone, The Lonely Villa indicates, is to risk being cut off. To travel by car is to risk mechanical breakdown. To

rely on a revolver as a means of family protection is to risk having it useless if the bullets are removed. The smooth functioning of technology glides over the abyss of anxiety at its possible sudden failure. Technology functions, as Freud indicated, as a more than mixed blessing; it becomes a system of connections and separations, of distances and proximities, or appearances and disappearances, in fact a sort of titanic game of fort/da, by which modernity manages its fear of loss by tying it to a secondary anxiety—­t hat of being cut off.102

45 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

However productive it may be to do so, if we read the film as a “fable of modernity” and construe modernity as primarily constituted by its connective communication and transport technologies, then we stress the success or failure of these technologies and lose sight of the way in which the film is, in a very modern way, a “fable of property.” As a fable of property, the film can still be understood to speak eloquently and chillingly about modernity, but it can also be seen to tell a story somewhat different from the one so richly developed in Gunning’s work. Perhaps being “cut off,” however terrifying, is not quite as disturbing as the prospect of having one’s property rights (as home owner, as husband and father) violated or usurped. As a fable of property, the film reveals that what is peculiar about modernity is its newly intensified unequal distribution of wealth across a developing landscape. This landscape is navigable, susceptible to being domesticated by the speed of the automobile or the reach of the electric interurban railway. Where these modes of locomotion terminate, however, is at the threshold of a private world whose architectural articulation solicits and forestalls its own violation and appropriation. In other words, this is a story in which the modern is experienced and evoked not in terms of the “shock” of the urban encounter but in terms of who owns what and where and how much—­which is what the story of the modern is really about, after all. Sergei Eisenstein, who knew a thing or two about modernity, shock, and the possibilities of editing, was highly attuned to the fecundity of Griffith’s crosscutting. Eisenstein claimed, as common knowledge, not as privileged insight, “that American capitalism finds it sharpest and most expressive reflection in the American cinema.”103 Eisenstein, interestingly—­a nd long before this became such a point of contention among early film scholars—­was among the first to debunk the overheated accounts of the “modernity

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

46

thesis.” About the supposed “dizzy tempo” (already placed in scare quotes by Eisenstein himself) of New York, Eisenstein says: “As far as the speed of the traffic is concerned, one can’t be overwhelmed by this in the streets of the metropolis for the simple reason that speed can’t exist there. . . . The high-­powered automobiles are so jammed together that they can’t move much faster than snails.”104 Eisenstein sees skyscrapers not in terms of sublime height, but instead as “small town buildings, piled on top of each other,” of the same sort as one sees “laid out in endless rows . . . along Main Streets” in the suburbs.105 Elements like these are the veins of “the traditional, the patriarchal, the provincial” that striate the American landscape and American consciousness, and that lead Eisenstein to consider Griffith’s America as the counterpart to and inheritor of Dickens’s London.106 Despite the debt that Eisenstein feels to Griffith’s example, particularly in relation to montage, ultimately, Eisenstein lays a serious charge at his door—­t he charge of bourgeois liberalism: “Montage thinking is inseparable from the general content of thinking as a whole. The structure that is reflected in the concept of Griffith montage is the structure of bourgeois society.” Like Dickens’s world, Griffith’s, for Eisenstein, “is woven of irreconcilably alternating layers of . . . rich and poor.”107 Eisenstein sees Griffith’s editing procedure as fundamentally about possession and dispossession. Bourgeois society, “perceived only as a contrast between the haves and the have-­nots, is reflected in the consciousness of Griffith no deeper than the image of an intricate race between two parallel lines.”108 In other words, for Eisenstein, the liberal critique of wealth that vibrates in Griffith’s films is limited by the latter’s failure to initiate a fundamental critique of property relations, relations that Eisenstein feels are expressed in the formal design of Griffith’s parallel editing.109 Eisenstein has the measure of Griffith’s sentimental politics, but he misses some of the evidence provided by Griffith’s films. Do not these parallel lines eventually converge in the destination of the house, that most palpable embodiment of what “the haves” have? And is this house not felt to be the precarious sign of modern industrial capitalism that is entirely too real, but also forever gambling with its own security and dependent on representation to produce (or demand, induce) hegemonic assent? The ambivalent modernity of The Lonely Villa is not unlike that of Eisenstein’s vision of New York: something that combines potentially dizzying tempos

47 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

with the inertia produced by too much capital (too many cars, too many rooms). The winners, in this case, are, of course, “the haves”; but the sadism of melodramatic prurience has already envisioned, offscreen—­i n a room that the thieves will manage to break through with greater speed—­a moment when “the have-­nots” will have their way. I want to pull focus now in order to let these remarks hover in the air while I redirect our attention to Fort Lee, New Jersey, the town, as I have mentioned, where this film’s exteriors were shot, a place that has been called “Hollywood on the Palisades,” a major center of film production from the time The Lonely Villa was shot up until the late 1920s.110 Aumont has observed that “in Griffith’s films, there is an ostensible, indeed ostentatious, paradigmatic paucity of locations.”111 He argues that Griffith’s tight, theatrical management of space works to foreclose, or severely restrict, our attention to the “real” of the film’s setting, to produce a formal and spectatorial experience “where the set is only a set, where the scene does not have to appear real and can calmly refer only to itself.”112 In order to qualify Aumont’s claims, I want, somewhat tendentiously, to bring The Lonely Villa’s location back into focus. As I mentioned above, Fort Lee and its surrounding areas offered a rich and varied landscape for location shooting that was easily reached from New York: “a quick train ride to 125th Street, the ferry across to New Jersey and then a trolley up the Palisades,” according to one historian.113 We glimpse, however fleetingly, the pressure of this place and its geography in the film. But this story is not only about location and geographic specificity but also about real estate, and the ownership, theft, and even the rental of private property. One of the supposed reasons film production was moved from Manhattan out to Fort Lee was so that independent producers could elude the reach of Thomas Edison and his agents, who were furiously determined to catch anyone who might be using Edison camera equipment in violation of Edison’s patents, which gave him (and the companies associated with him through the Motion Picture Patents Company, also known as the Edison Trust) exclusive right to the use of the technology he invented as the proprietor of the same.114 Agents working for Edison haunted the Palisades hoping “to convince gullible independent operators to let them see how motion picture film was threaded up.”115 While the policing of property rights was (at least apocryphally) one of reasons for the relocation of New York’s film industry to the suburbs of New Jersey,

another reason for Fort Lee’s success was the willingness of the town’s residents to exploit their rights as property owners by leasing out their homes, land, furniture, and even their children to the film industry. In fact, popular accounts of the Fort Lee film industry are consistently fascinated by the town’s rental market during the height of the industry’s productive period there. One journalistic account from 1912 narrates a film company’s rental of properties and persons for the uses of fiction filmmaking. The article stresses the inauthenticity that permeated the rental economy in Fort Lee. Nothing is as it seems, perhaps, in part, because it is rented: In one of the latest plays brought out by this company a waif shown in the “police court” was borrowed from one of the neighbors for a little while. One day the company wanted to have a Mexican scene. There was a house in Coytesville which had just the right sort of stucco front to make it appear “Mexicany.” The yard and the front of the house were hired for twenty minutes or half an hour, and many palms placed on the porch. It was thereby transformed into an 18-­c arat Mexican house. The drama was enacted and the tenant paid for the trouble.116

Obviously such accounts are intended to be “lively” and entertaining, and so tend toward hyperbole, and yet the dominant feature in much of this literature is insistent in its identification of the in­ authentic with the rented. Here is one such account from 1915:

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

48

The whole population is a volunteer first-­a id. You can borrow anything from a cow to a front parlor. A boy, walking alongside a picturesque old woman, approached me one day to inquire: “Mister; would you like to rent me mudder?” . . . What a wonderland for Alice—­fi fteen minutes from Broad­ way! . . . Everywhere cameras grinding out drama—­to the right and left, in front and behind, burglaries and dynamite outrages and fat men rolling down hill, and nobody even turning to look at them. Along the road were pretty cottages, and on the porches of these cottages sat nice old gentlemen, and kindly old ladies, who didn’t blink an eyelid when three galloping Mexicans were shot and killed at their very door. George Cohan teaching Kaiser Wilhelm to do a highland fling wouldn’t occa-

sion comment in this village on the Hudson. Berlin may thrill, and London may quiver, but nothing terrestrial can astonish Fort Lee. . . . One began to doubt the genuineness of everything. Perhaps the nice old gentlemen and kindly old ladies weren’t anything of the sort. Perhaps . . . they merely worked for the movies. Perhaps those pretty cottages had been put up over night, to be torn down in the afternoon. Why not?117

I fear that nowadays honest-­to-­goodness burglars could come and do their worst unscathed, and that we’d let them carry off everything we own, quite secure that if that they did it, we could claim every single thing at the studio round the corner at any moment.118

Of course, the movie people respect her property rights; indeed, as a participant in the speculative rental market that dominated social and economic relations in Fort Lee during the industry’s peak of

49 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

We cannot miss the persistent return to the image of the house (as well as other images related to the domesticity sheltered therein) as the trope that best organizes the inauthenticity of the movie business. The most disconcerting feature of these houses, however, is not that they are being turned over to “the movie people” but that in being turned over—­in being rented—­t heir status becomes un­ decidable: we are not sure who owns them. Also decorating and punctuating these anecdotes of ambivalent possession and habitation is the fear that a house might have been built only so it could be torn down. Perhaps the apotheosis of such accounts is this firsthand narrative given by a Mary Dickerson Donahey and published in Photoplay in 1916. Donahey relates that she saw two “ruffians” outside her Fort Lee house. These two end up ringing her front doorbell, politely, for these are movie “ruffians,” and they are there to ask if they can “burgle” her house—­to use it, in other words, as a location for a film very much (from the sound of things) like The Lonely Villa. Uncannily, we might say, this anecdote recapitulates the situation in The Lonely Villa in which the criminals pretend to look rougher than they do in order to gain entry to the house. Such confusion about who is what, and what belongs to whom, prompts Donahey to reflect:

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

50

activity there, she profits from their use of her property: “And I want to say here that of course the firm pays us for the use of the house and grounds, and amply reimburses us for any damage done to our property.”119 All of these accounts give evidence of a discourse on the exercise and economic exploitation of property rights, which were, apparently, the most remarkable things about the movie industry in Fort Lee. Property rights emerge here as the characteristic feature of what the movies were, both as mode of production and as representation. Back across the river in New York City, of course, most people had no property to let, but rather, like the movie producers, were obliged to pay rent for their housing. New York City is revealed by the 1910 census to have had the lowest rate of home ownership in the entire United States. The nation, more broadly, had not, at that point in its history, become the country of majority home ownership that it is today. As of the 1910 census, 45.8 percent of all Americans owned their own homes, compared to the 54.2 percent who rented theirs.120 Among cities with populations of 100,000 or more, New York had the lowest rate of home ownership: only 12.1 percent of New Yorkers owned their houses, compared to the 87.9 percent who lived in rented accommodations. (By comparison, in Los Angeles 44.1 percent of inhabitants owned their homes.) Many urban areas reflected a proportion of owned to rented dwellings similar to what was found in New York. The statistics for the borough of Manhattan, however, are even more dramatically skewed toward a rental economy: only 5.2 percent of homes in this borough were owned.121 Given that so many of them would have been living in rented accommodations, what might have been the investments among the audience members at a 1909 New York City projection of the spectacle of property offered so vividly to them in The Lonely Villa? Any answer to this question is unrecoverable. It is unlikely the question could have been answered satisfactorily even then. The suburbs grew at the pace they did across the twentieth century precisely because inhabitants of rented dwellings in cities like New York wanted to own their own pieces of private property in order to experience firsthand what property seemed to promise: what John Archer calls the “crucial” category of “differentiation of personal identity from society at large.”122 Was The Lonely Villa a cautionary tale? If so, it was one that was hardly heeded.123

The Iris Opens on My Old Kentucky Home

51 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

Of course, Griffith’s interest in the potential violation of private property and the heroic attempts to stave off such violations has its apotheosis in a film that appeared six years later: The Birth of a Nation (1915), a film obsessed in equal measure with private property and race. This film’s deeply racist imaginary is consubstantial with its representation of the house. I feel compelled, therefore, to close this chapter with a parting shot at a sequence that occurs near The Birth of a Nation’s dramatic conclusion. Famously, the film narrates the fortunes of two families, the northern Stonemans and the Confederate Camerons, across the antebellum period, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. The Camerons’ mansion in the fictional town of Piedmont, South Carolina, is returned to again and again across the film and functions, as it were, as the film’s (im)moral center. But in the sequence that demonstrates and embodies the film’s most suspenseful intensities, we are shown the Camerons imperiled in a dwelling of much more modest dimensions. Toward the end of the film, the Camerons’ involvement in the illegal Ku Klux Klan is discovered by Silas Lynch, a “mulatto” lieutenant governor who has risen to power during Reconstruction. Several of the Camerons are forced to flee their home and, accompanied by some of their faithful black servants (as well as the older Stoneman son, Phil), end up taking refuge in a small log cabin, which an intertitle tells us is occupied by two Union veterans. Another intertitle explains this emergency domestic arrangement-­cum-­political alliance in these terms: “The former enemies of North and South are united again in common defence of their Aryan birthright.” In this cabin, a tiny microcosm of newly rehegemonized racist nationhood is besieged by a rowdy militia of freed black soldiers sent by Lynch to apprehend and, we assume, murder them. The Camerons and their allies, much like the unnamed family in The Lonely Villa, must barricade themselves in the cabin, which is assaulted not just via a single door but on all four of its exterior sides by the black soldiers. The cabin’s various windows prove vulnerable to attack, but they also provide positions from which gunfire can be directed at the assailing troops. At various points in this extended, temporally dilated sequence—­a nd, again, in a direct elaboration of possibilities explored in The Lonely Villa—­t he exterior walls of the cabin align with the limits of the frame. Thus black heads, hands, and arms extend into the frame from offscreen space, almost as if by

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

52

magic. Of course, these black bodies and black body parts are attempting to enter the cabin through its windows and doors. But at times it feels as if the film frame itself is being set up as a sanctum of racial/racist purity that is vulnerable on all sides to besieging hordes of black men. The sequence even admits the opportunity for some physical comedy, when the Camerons’ black maid, demonstrating enormous loyalty to the family but none to members of her own race, smacks a would-­be intruding black soldier over the head with a frying pan as he attempts to climb through a window. But the intended affect in this sequence, overall, is one of terror, and it must be for this very reason that George A. Romero adapted its framing, editing, and iconographic strategies in his Night of the Living Dead (1968). In Romero’s film, a band of human survivors, led by the African American Ben (Duane Jones), take refuge in a lonely farmhouse, where they defend themselves against perambulating flesh-­eating zombies whose bodies threaten again and again to penetrate the house’s insubstantial walls and frail thresholds. The film’s zombies are mostly white, but the zombie always carries the residual memory of blackness, insofar as the zombie, in Haitian folklore, is a slave, and the cultural elaboration of the zombie myth is itself the product of an enslaved people. Night of the Living Dead is attuned to and critically rewrites the coincidence of form and racism that we are forced to endure in The Birth of a Nation. The image of the besieged cabin in The Birth of a Nation posits the physical space of the home as the place in which the greatest threat is posed to the sanctity of white privilege. And as we know, in The Birth of a Nation, white privilege saves the day, when, like the father in The Lonely Villa, the Ku Klux Klan arrives just in time to save the Camerons and company from the grasping hands of the black marauders. This crisis averted, and the integrity of white property restored, the film moves confidently toward its conclusion, in which the conjugation of North and South, allegorized by a double wedding of the Stonemans and Camerons, can take place and thus give birth to a new (racist) nation. The Lonely Villa’s representation of ethnically obscure ruffians seems, in the light of The Birth of a Nation, already to have been tinged with an aura of racism. But so is Griffith’s own autobiographical account of his career as a filmmaker. In his autobiography, The Man Who Invented Hollywood, Griffith’s first lines read: “The iris opens on my old Kentucky home, twenty miles from Louisville.”124

The house and the film frame as besieged sanctums of white privilege in The Birth of a Nation (1915).

53 Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

Griffith explains that his father, Jacob Wark Griffith, was a Civil War hero who fought doggedly for the Confederacy. Upon returning home after the war, his father “found the slaves gone, except for three extraordinarily large families who had calmly camped in various cabins with a childlike faith that ‘Colonel Jake’ would take care of them.”125 Griffith’s tale of his father’s life under Reconstruction is one of property loss and diminished circumstances due to the worthlessness of Confederate money and the general devastation visited by the war. Griffith’s father was forced to sell the home and ancestral property and eventually moved the family to Louisville. The summoning of this home via the metaphorical lens of the cinema grounds Griffith’s filmmaking practice in the racist victimhood consciousness nursed by Confederate whites during Re­c onstruction. Griffith firmly embeds his own relationship to cinema in his filial relationship to his parents and their southern culture. At one point, recalling his father’s abilities as a dramatic reader and storyteller, he remarks: “I got quite a little praise for my picture The Birth of a Nation. Even Hollywood seemed to like it, but I think that picture owes more to my father than it does to me.”126

And a little later, in a passage that could be read as directly anticipating the architectural iconography and formal language of his cinema, he calls to mind an image of his mother in proximity to a window: The tears of The Birth of a Nation were sprung in watching my mother on many a lonely night standing by a window waiting for someone’s arrival—­t he arrival that would never be—­a nd knowing of the thousands of other Southern women who had waited in vain for the return of their loved ones. Its drama was but an echo of the stories told of the gallant soldiers who fought one of the most brilliant wars known to history.127

Griffith’s interest in cinema is, by his own account, ontologically grounded in wounded family honor, vanquished wealth and white privilege, and his sense of the historical injustice perpetrated on southern whites by Yankees and blacks. It is unsurprising, then, that cinema became for him a medium of property—­a nd a medium for exacting revenge on those who had been property but had the impertinence to believe themselves to be something else.

Cinema’s Short-­T erm Tenancy

54

TWO

Wrong Life Bungalow Aesthetics in and against Hollywood

Theodor W. Adorno had a bungalow problem. Two of his most famous books, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), which he wrote with Max Horkheimer, and Minima Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life (1951), were written in and could be said to be about Los Angeles—­t he city in which both philosophers settled following their emigration from Germany in the late 1930s. Adorno stopped first in New York City, where the Frankfurt School for Social Research had reconstituted itself under the ambivalent auspices of Columbia University. Horkheimer, the institute’s director, had settled in Los Angeles in 1940; Adorno followed suit in 1941. Los Angeles was a city that had grown quickly in the decades of the teens, twenties, and thirties. One metric for measuring the city’s growth in this period is the serial proliferation of “California bungalow”–­style houses that were built cheaply, quickly, and ubiquitously throughout the city’s new neighborhoods. These houses

55

Wrong Life

56

sprang up in places like Hollywoodland, a real estate development in the hills above Hollywood that would lend its (eventually abbreviated) sign to the film industry that was rapidly expanding during these same years. Another development in Laurel Canyon, just north of Hollywood, was actually called Bungalow Land. The bungalow became a metonymic figure for Los Angeles, and for the Hollywood film industry, whose own expansion had spurred the proliferation of bungalow construction. The bungalow even insinuated itself into the history of the Frankfurt School in exile: Horkheimer ensconced himself in a bungalow, one that he had built for himself, in the Pacific Palisades, near Santa Monica.1 Adorno, meanwhile, lodged himself in a house that David Jenemann (somewhat misleadingly) describes as “a low-­rent bungalow” just a few hundred meters south of West Sunset Boulevard, in the hinterlands of Santa Monica on South Kenter Avenue.2 Recent scholars like Jenemann have attempted to overturn, or at least complicate, Mike Davis’s assertion that Adorno and Horkheimer were “largely ignorant of, or indifferent to, the peculiar historical dialectic that had shaped Southern California.”3 If, in fact, they were so ignorant, they probably shared that condition with many other Angelenos of even longer-­standing habitation, and they were, after all, but recent immigrants. What were they supposed to know? But perhaps they were not as ignorant as all that. There they were, after all, living in their houses, their bungalows, mingling not just with exiled intellectuals but also with professionals working in Hollywood.4 Davis insinuates that they might have found a different—­a grittier, presumably less sanitized (but surely no less alienated)—­L os Angeles in “the local aircraft plants” and the “Central Avenue ghetto.”5 But I think Adorno and Horkheimer could have imagined these sorts of lives, and might even have had some firsthand (if only fleeting or superficial) knowledge of them as well. Moreover, Adorno and Horkheimer expressly wrote for the people who worked and lived in the sorts of places Davis names—­ those, in Adorno and Horkheimer’s words, “for whom the hardship and oppression of life make a mockery of [aesthetic] seriousness.”6 A sentence from Adorno’s Minima Moralia could be marshaled as supporting evidence of his and Horkheimer’s frigid refusal of the blandishments of the “culture industry” (Adorno and Horkheimer’s term for the mass-­media representation that was most powerfully and seductively embodied by Hollywood): “Every visit to the cinema leaves me, against all my vigilance, stupider and worse.”7 This

line could be understood as if it offers immediate self-­evidence: it tells us that Adorno does not approve of going to the movies and implies that we should not either. But could we read the sentence differently? The “every” indicates the contours of a habit, an iterative (pre)occupation. And the use of the present tense—­“leaves”—­ suggests a habit that has not yet been forsworn. (He could have written “every visit used to leave me” if he had already given up going to the cinema.) 8 Reading in these terms, we might understand something of Adorno’s (relative) immersion in the lifeworld and material culture that he is criticizing. Indeed, and as we shall see a bit later, Minima Moralia compiles a kind of catalog of the objects and surfaces of Los Angeles in the mid-­to late 1940s. Adorno and Horkheimer’s chapter in Dialectic of Enlightenment titled “The Culture Industry” begins with a panning shot of the built environment that compiles a stultifying list of architectural and environmental atrocities. I will quote this at some length, beginning with its opening sentence:

57 Wrong Life

The sociological theory that the loss of the support of objectively established religion, the dissolution of the last remnants of precapitalism, together with technological and social differentiation or specialization, have led to cultural chaos is disproved every day; for culture now impresses the same stamp on everything. Films, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part. Even the aesthetic activities of political opposites are one in their enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system. The decorative industrial management buildings and exhibition centers in authoritarian countries are much the same as anywhere else. The huge gleaming towers that shoot up everywhere are outward signs of the ingenious planning of international concerns, toward which the unleashed entrepreneurial system (whose monuments are a mass of gloomy houses and business premises in grimy, spiritless cities) was already hastening. Even now the older houses just outside the concrete city centers look like slums, and the new bungalows on the outskirts are at one with the flimsy structures of world fairs in their praise of technical progress and their built-­i n demand to be discarded after a short while like empty food cans. Yet the city housing projects designed to perpetuate the individual as a supposedly independent unit in a small hygienic dwelling make him

all the more subservient to his adversary—­t he absolute power of capitalism. Because the inhabitants, as producers and as consumers, are drawn into the center in search of work and pleasure, all the living units crystallize into well-­organized complexes. The striking unity of microcosm and macrocosm presents men with a model of their culture: the false identity of the general and the particular. Under monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through.9

Wrong Life

58

This passage commences the most notorious, the most contested, and the most remarkably unremitting critique of what we—­ metonymically—­call “Hollywood.” It strikes us as strange that it should begin with only a nominal reference to the entertainment media that are its immediate object of critique, offering instead a much more sustained survey of the urban and architectural in­ dices of capitalism’s rule of uniformity. The argument concerning the “culture industry” is entered by way of its architecture—­both the architecture that properly belongs to it (“the decorative industrial management buildings and exhibition centers”) and the architecture—­l ike that of “the new bungalows on the outskirts”—­ that expresses its logic. That reference might be considered as throwaway as the “empty food cans” to which these architectural forms are compared were it not for the bungalow’s reappearance in a significant passage from Minima Moralia, in entry number 18, “Refuge for the homeless,” a bitter and dense meditation on housing and exile. The passage begins: “The predicament of private life today is shown by its arena. Dwelling, in the proper sense, is now impossible. The traditional residences we grew up in have grown intolerable: each trait of comfort in them is paid for with a betrayal of knowledge, each vestige of shelter with the musty pact of family interests.”10 One cannot solve the problem, in other words, by divesting oneself of the older family home and moving into something more spartan or utilitarian. To do that would only be to move into something worse: “living cases manufactured by experts for philistines, or factory sites that have strayed into the consumption sphere.” These houses offend in that they are “devoid of all relation to the occupant.” And yet, something more particular, that might resonate more obviously with personal taste, is just as impossible an option: “Anyone seeking refuge in a genuine, but purchased, period-­style house, embalms

himself alive.” Perhaps the exile (for, in part, exile is Adorno’s subject) can express her condition, then, by living in the most exilic fashion—­by living in a hotel or in rented accommodations; however, doing this, according to Adorno, only “evade[s] responsibility.”11 Moreover, this choice expresses a subject or class position not available to everyone. There are the poor and the precariously housed, who may become the unhoused, the homeless: “The hardest hit, as everywhere, are those who have no choice. They live, if not in slums, in bungalows that by tomorrow may be leaf-­huts, trailers, cars, camps, or the open air. The house is past.”12 Part of the house’s pastness consists in the apparent disposability of modern housing forms. Here, again, as in the long passage from Dialectic of Enlightenment quoted above, Adorno compares houses—­a nd in particular bungalows—­to “old food cans” that are “good only to be thrown away.”13 What is more fundamentally wrong about housing for Adorno is dwelling’s inevitable entanglement in the problem of ownership, of property. “Not to be at home in one’s home” becomes the moral imperative that can address or at least deal honestly with “the difficult relationship in which the individual now stands to his property.” Adorno pursues the nature of this relationship in the sentences that conclude this entry. I quote, again, at some length:

Striking here is Adorno’s suggestion that the sheer abundance of consumer goods has made obsolete an actual experience of possession. The earlier analogy between houses and food cans proleptically expresses this argument. When there are too many things to be owned, ownership itself becomes a degraded condition. Adorno clearly does not only intend to say that the cheap availability of

59 Wrong Life

The trick is to keep in view, and to express, the fact that private property no longer belongs to one, in the sense that consumer goods have become potentially so abundant that no individual has the right to cling to the principle of their limitation; but that one must nevertheless have possessions, if one is not to sink into that dependence and need which serves the blind perpetuation of property relations. But the thesis of this paradox leads to destruction, a loveless disregard for things which necessarily turns against people too; and the antithesis, no sooner uttered, is an ideology for those wishing with a bad conscience to keep what they have. Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.14

goods is what has degraded ownership; there is something here, perhaps, of an aristocratic nostalgia for a time when only the rich could exercise possession, but there is something more, as well. “The hardest hit” are still those with whom Adorno means to keep faith; their unhoused condition haunts this entry at every turn. The problem is not merely that so much can be owned by too many—­ that ownership has been massified. Rather, Adorno protests the mere fact that so much is owned while so many (“the hardest hit” in their “leaf-­huts, trailers, cars, camps”) have nothing. More important, he summons disquiet regarding the property relation itself: we who own property (or who could but choose evasively not to) are condemned to participate in the irony that characterizes the fact of possession in a dispossessed world.15 Adorno’s attention to the house becomes even more specific in the entry that immediately follows “Refuge for the homeless.” In this entry, titled “Do not knock,” he more explicitly takes on the materiality of contemporary domesticity. In Adorno’s thinking, “technology”—­particularly those devices and improvements that would have apparently provided a more easeful domestic life—­ makes us “brutal.” He is particularly worried about thresholds and their erosion:

Wrong Life

60

The ability is lost . . . to close a door quietly and discreetly, yet firmly. Those of cars and refrigerators have to be slammed, others have the tendency to snap shut by themselves, imposing on those entering the bad manners of not looking behind them, not shielding the interior of the house which receives them. . . . What does it mean for the subject that there are no more casement windows to open, but only sliding frames to shove, no gentle latches but turnable handles, no forecourt, no doorstep before the street, no wall around the garden?16

Adorno momentarily withholds the partial answer that he will give and adds to this list of questions a more startling one: “And which driver is not tempted, merely by the power of his engine, to wipe out the vermin of the street, pedestrians, children and cyclists?”17 The actual materials, contours, mechanisms, and movements of modern domesticity (the car is but a privileged, deterritorialized household appliance) are not just signs of “the withering of experience”; rather they are the actual agents of this degradation.18 Everything that Adorno names as an agent of this “withering” is an example

The straight line is now regarded as the shortest distance between two people, as if they were points. Just as nowadays house-­w alls are cast in one piece, so the mortar between people is replaced by the pressure holding them together. 22

Adorno’s thinking darts back and forth between the metaphor of spatiality and spatiality itself—­spatiality as produced and symbolized by architecture. He does not so much anthropomorphize architecture (and the manufacture of its material) as he traces its consubstantiality with the culture it perhaps too seamlessly

61 Wrong Life

of what might in other contexts be considered the ameliorations of domestic life. He names the features of the middle-­class home that were intended to make it a tidy, compact, and manageable space—­a place that can be maintained without hired domestic labor, easy to clean, easy to live in. This frictionless ease hollows out and lubricates a groove into which barely repressed sadism rushes forth. Recently Bernhard Siegert has credited the same passages from Adorno that I have been analyzing with the anticipation of what Siegert calls “cultural techniques,” a term that names certain forms, practices, and artifacts in which the human is displaced from the center of culture and culture itself comes to be understood as “technologically constituted.”19 Siegert characterizes Adorno’s thinking on the door as “anthropocentric” insofar as, according to Siegert, Adorno believes that “culture only pertains to people who associate with things anthropomorphically.”20 Siegert may be correct in this characterization, but Adorno’s anthropocentrism is also concerned with the way in which capitalism treats humans as things. Siegert writes from a posthumanist position that might find such a concern for the human rather quaint. I prefer to see Adorno’s humanism as a medium of concern for the lives that individual humans are allowed to live. Adorno is explicitly, theatrically anthropocentric, such that vaguely dismissing him for being so misses the point. In the Minima Moralia entry “Struwwelpeter,” which directly follows “Do not knock,” Adorno issues a typically aporetic aphorism: “Estrangement shows itself precisely in the elimination of distance between people.”21 The distance guaranteed by civil formality—­Adorno’s example is the polite raising of one’s hat in greeting—­secures a space of reflection in which something other than instrumentality can express itself. Tellingly, Adorno’s metaphors turn to the architectural:

Wrong Life

62

allegorizes. The positing of prefabricated house wall and soulless togetherness is not the establishment of a causal relation between architecture and social life but rather the establishment of an analogy. Analogy itself is the problem. Adorno’s analogies produce a proximity between things, experiences, and concepts that risks mimicking the proximity enforced by instrumental reason. “Matter-­of-­factness between people, doing away with all ideological ornamentation between them, has already itself become an ideology for treating people like things.”23 To treat a person like a thing requires the elimination of the conceptual distance and difference that separates person from thing. But in making the analogy, Adorno elides the distance between concepts. This is metaphor, perhaps the ultimate anthropomorphic practice. Siegert says that Adorno’s thinking “privileges humans.”24 I am, however, content to stick with Adorno to see the privileging of the human as an ongoing, difficult, and necessary project, one anterior to the ethical acknowledgments of nonhuman actors that Siegert wishes to emphasize. The modest house of convenience(s) that Adorno evokes as training ground and medium of violence is epitomized by the bungalow that he twice calls out by name. As I will explain in detail a little further on, the “California bungalow,” so characteristic of Los Angeles’s urban scenery and architectural culture, was a modestly proportioned and affordable dwelling type whose size and range of amenities were intended to initiate those who would otherwise not be able to afford to own a house into the experience of property. The materials of these houses, like the devices that made living in them so supposedly effortless, were often measured, cut, and packaged in factories, delivered to a lot, and assembled in a day or two. Adorno’s likening of them to “food cans” is not merely contemptuous or derisory, but actually expresses something that was true of the mode in which these houses were produced. And the bungalow itself is actually an exercise in the “elimination of distance.” Adorno’s analysis of the newly thinned and weakened barrier that would have separated the house’s interiority from the world outside (“no forecourt, no doorstep before the street”) exactly names what was one of the bungalow’s most conspicuous architectural features: its elimination of the entrance hall and other sorts of intermediate spaces that had, throughout the history of modern (post-­Renaissance) domestic architecture, secured more definitely the distinction of private and public. Adorno writes here, more-

63 Wrong Life

over, from experience—­t he experience of his own small house, of Horkheimer’s bungalow, and of the bungalows that were one of the dominant features of the Los Angeles cityscape. The thinned membrane between public and private and the progression from apparent ease to violence are also characteristics that the modern house shares with the culture industry. The movies, the most powerful and engrossing metonym of the culture industry, would seem to promise a release from effort, a mode of “escapism,” but instead subject their spectators to “the prolongation of work.”25 Apparently at rest in the movie theater, in fact, the spectator, who might have been only recently released from the factory, must now work to follow the film’s unspooling of information, which he must assimilate—­however semi-­u nconsciously—­into an entertaining and satisfying whole. In other words, he has never left the shop floor: “What happens at work, in the factory, or in the office can only be escaped by approximation to it in one’s leisure time. . . . Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association.”26 This effortless effort accedes eventually, as in Adorno’s example of the automobile driver, to violence: “Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unfortunate in real life get their thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment.”27 Adorno’s writing performs a metonymic operation and creates a chain of equivalences: modern capitalism is metonymized by the film industry, which is metonymized by the bungalow. Meanwhile, both bungalows and movies not only metonymize but also produce, embody, and substantiate capitalism’s perpetuation of everyday violence. The interchangeability of these terms—­capitalism, movies, bungalows—­i nstantiates “the false identity of the general and particular,” a relation of part to whole in which there is no qualitative difference between the two.28 I may be making much out of two fleeting references to bungalows in Adorno’s writing, but I do so not only because these references cinch metaphorically and metonymically his intertwined thinking about property, housing, and Hollywood cinema, but also because this thinking resonates so specifically with both the materiality of bungalow architecture and the nature of the bungalow’s appearance in cinematic representation. I want to pass now from Adorno to the exploration of cine­matic bungalows that will occupy the rest of this chapter. I intend to follow what is implied by Adorno’s chain of metonymic equivalences

in order to explore more fully what this style of housing tells us about cinema, what cinema tells us about this style of housing, and what both tell us about what it is like to live under capitalism—­what it is like to be housed, however impermanently—­in the architecture that capitalism produces.

Hollywoodland, Bungalow Land

Wrong Life

64

The film industry’s movement from the East Coast (New York and New Jersey) to the West was, in many ways, a phenomenon of land use and real estate development. Many factors drew filmmakers to L.A.: its near-­perennial sunshine, useful for open-­a ir studio and location filming; the stunning variety of landscapes (mountains, deserts, beaches, forests) within short distances of one another; and, less benignly, the relative laxness of labor laws.29 The film industry found its footing and built its studios in the flats below the Hollywood(land) sign. As filmmaking consolidated itself as industry and as art form, it attracted an influx of workers, who, upon arrival in Los Angeles, needed housing. These industry workers were, of course, not the only immigrants to Los Angeles; however, the massive and rapid movement of population into the Los Angeles basin in the 1910s and 1920s must be seen in its material entwinement with the rise of Hollywood as an industry. Large suburban tract developments of mail-­order bungalow houses and bungalows self-­built according to mail-­order architectural drawings radically altered the landscape of Los Angeles in this period. Historian Merry Ovnick notes that “all the early film studios were to be found near streetcar lines—­t he same pattern of settlement followed by suburban housing developments”; this fact further cements the material homology and reciprocity between the bungalow and the industry.30 Mark Shiel has demonstrated with incredible detail and precision the way in which “the film industry became a leading agent of industrial decentralization,” and thus of suburbanization.31 As Shiel eloquently phrases it: “In a city that was rapidly growing, not only did movement and displacement become prominent in the form and content of films, they characterized the geography of the studios themselves.”32 As studios were implanted in various places beyond Hollywood as well as the early nuclei of the industry such as Edendale and Glendale, they acted as agents for suburban development. For example, as Shiel narrates, Culver City’s rapid transformation “from barley fields” to a dynamic and

65 Wrong Life

prosperous municipality in the space of roughly ten years (1913–­25) was “underpinned” by the construction of three film studios in the same area.33 Charles Wolfe’s work on Buster Keaton has shown how the chase film—­which, by definition, must navigate and traverse diverse geographies—­offers compelling documentary evidence of Los Angeles’s developing cityscape in the 1920s, a period of intensive urban growth.34 In the Keaton two-­reel film One Week (1920), for example, we catch fleeting glimpses of suburban bungalows during a chase sequence that begins the film. But even as the action of the film settles down into the single location—­t he Keaton Studios—­w here the rest of the narrative transpires, we see the recognizable roofline of a bungalow just peeping over the wooden fence that separated the set from the rest of West Hollywood. 35 If we but list the number of films that feature the word bungalow in their titles, we get a sense of the degree to which the bungalow figured as something of a representational object across the first three decades of Hollywood filmmaking—­the same period, not coincidentally, during which the bungalow grafted itself so visibly and tenaciously onto the terrain of Los Angeles. Here is a representative sampling of films (many of which seem to have been lost to history) that declared their fascination with the bungalow: The Bungalow Craze (1911), Bounding Bertie’s Bungalow (1913), An Auto–­Bungalow Fracas (1913), Ambrose’s Bungled Bungalow (1920), Bungalow Troubles (1920), Bungalow Love (1920), Bungalow Boobs (1924), For Sale, a Bungalow (1927), Love in a Bungalow (1937). No wonder, then, that the word should turn up with such matter-­of-­ factness in the first paragraph of Adorno and Horkheimer’s attack on the culture industry. At the same time, bungalows became a part of the scenery in the studios themselves. Studios frequently featured what were called bungalows for writers, actors, and directors. These were spaces of work (their inhabitants were still on the job) and retirement (places to which one retreated at various points across a working day). The studio bungalow exemplified the way in which work and leisure, public and private bled into one another in the Hollywood studio system. And the bungalow also featured as prop. Universal was the first studio to turn its production facilities into a tourist spectacle. An advertisement for tours of the studio published in 1914 promises “every sort of dwelling from the modest bungalow to the twenty-­ room mansion.”36 Thus the humble bungalow thrived inside and

Bungalow eaves peek over the fence of the Keaton Studios in One Week (1920).

Wrong Life

66

outside the film industry and itself constituted a modestly spectacular attraction. Architectural historian Robert Winter credits the bungalow with having played a decisive role in shaping the contours of Los Angeles: “The great sprawl of the city of Los Angeles is as much testimony to the popularity of the simple little house set in its garden as it is to the fad of the automobile.”37 This observation might mislead us into thinking that the proliferation of the freestanding bungalow was predicated on automobilization; in fact, when most bungalows were built, in the period between (roughly) 1905 and 1925, which Ovnick calls “the bungalow years, the progressive era” of Los Angeles development, the city enjoyed one of North America’s most extensive urban rail networks.38 (This network was later to be dismantled in the postwar period.) Winter writes: “The bungalow contributed to the privacy considered sacred by the middle class. The feeling of independence it gave, even on a tiny plot of land, is part of the freedom which even today one senses in Southern California.”39 The unmistakable note of architectural civic boosterism echoes the tone, if not the sense, of Clay Lancaster’s closing remark about the bungalow in his pioneering 1958 article “The American Bungalow,” the first serious scholarly treatment of this architectural style:

67 Wrong Life

“[The bungalow] may be said to form, together with the skyscraper, one of the characteristic building types of democratic America.”40 In other words, its first historians agree with Adorno that, in addition to being a private shelter, or symptom or agent of low-­density urban expansion, the bungalow is also a symbolic form. Lancaster and Winter see its symbolism in almost entirely benign terms, whereas for Adorno it figures disaster. Winter conceives of its symbolization in terms of “independence” and Lancaster in terms of the “democratic.” For these two writers, the bungalow’s symbolism seems, in other words, to mediate something peculiar about public life, and the desire either to have it (“democratic America”) or to shun it (“the feeling of independence”). Bungalows seem to materialize—­in timber, brick, and concrete—­either a fantasy of participation in public life or one of an exemption from the claims of publicity. The bungalow, itself, however, is not a self-­evident architectural form; in fact, both its material, formal specificity and its symbolism are rather hard to pin down. The term itself is contested—­a kind of floating signifier: it names any number of structures that seem to bear at times only superficial similarities to one another, and it connotes a range of contradictory experiences and attitudes. According to Anthony D. King, “The bungalow, both in name and form, originated in India.”41 The term is derived from the Hindi word Bangla, meaning “of or belonging to Bengal,” and the architectural form itself “was a product of cultures in contact, an indige­ nous mode of shelter adopted and adapted for Europeans living in India.”42 Thus the bungalow’s initial popularization in the West (especially in England and the rest of the United Kingdom) was inflected implicitly and explicitly by a history of imperial colonization and domination. (While this complex history is something that I cannot adequately account for here, it is a context that might be productively borne in mind across the present chapter.) The first English bungalows were built in the seaside communities of Westgate and Birchington, Kent, in the 1860s and were intended to furnish fashionable urban dwellers with salutary weekend and summer holiday dwellings.43 The architecture of these structures avoided ornament and privileged simplicity in their layout. These design elements were signs of the Arts and Crafts movement’s war on Victorian clutter, but they were also responses to the changing nature of a labor economy in which servants were increasingly expensive to maintain, in part because of the expanded job

Wrong Life

68

opportunities that were opening to women in this period.44 Across the 1890s and up until 1914, the bungalow moved from the seaside to the countryside; its associations with the “simple” and “good” life meant that it could signify as a place of retreat for either a heterosexual middle-­class family or a single bohemian urban gentleman (who might have a somewhat oblique relationship to the heterosexuality of the family). Its growing association with the latter figure in the late nineteenth century, in turn, meant that its early connotations of physical health could slide easily into a different connotative register of sexual license.45 The Craftsman (1901–­16) was a middlebrow lifestyle magazine, edited and published by Gustav Stickley, that expounded an American version of William Morris–­inspired simple living and artisanal craft. The magazine was a great proponent of bungalow architecture and bungalow living. During the years in which The Craftsman was active, it featured numerous articles proclaiming the commonsense virtues of the bungalow.46 These articles are full of practical advice and helpful admonishments regarding the purchase of official Craftsman merchandise. Lines from the opening paragraph of an article narrating the construction of “an eight hundred dollar bungalow” are exemplary of the tone of most of these articles: “It is because this bungalow has been so approved that I tell you of it. Its particular claims are the possibilities of outdoor life in it, . . . its exemplification of the simple life with modern conveniences, which makes its work easy and a pleasure, and its atmosphere of charm and peace.”47 Another article similarly assures the reader that “the underlying idea all through the building and fitting up of the American bungalow is comfort in simplicity.”48 The tone throughout these articles, unsurprisingly, is slightly (or even oppressively) cloying, but the magazine’s dedication to extolling the virtues of the bungalow reveals the extent to which this housing style embodied a fantasy of modern architectural design and progressive values in combination with a traditional emphasis on artisanal labor and the sanctity of the family. The Craftsman ceased publication before the 1920s, which, according to Winter, was the period of the bungalow’s “hey-­day” but also the moment when “the term bungalow began to lose its glamor” and even “to develop derisive connotations.”49 Already, in the truncated and rather cursory history that I offer here, we can see that the bungalow form is the site at which a range of antinomies intersect (modern/traditional, country/city, nature/

Floor plan of the bungalow as disseminated in The Craftsman (May 1909).

culture, private/public, moral/immoral). As Cheryl Robertson has demonstrated, the bungalow also engages ambivalences of gender. According to Robertson, “[The] living room, containing the principal family hearth, was generally the largest of the enclosed areas within a bungalow residence. It represented a simplification of domestic space in that it subsumed several more specialized Victorian rooms, namely, reception room, morning room, parlor, or drawing

Wrong Life

69

Bungalows pictured in The Craftsman (1909).

71 Wrong Life

room.”50 This clearing and leveling of architectural distinctions produced a tendency toward “gender neutrality and an equalizing of the sexes’ respective interests in the bungalow home.”51 However, the interests of one of these sexes—­t he male—­still tended to predominate, and, indeed, even thrived on the putative equalization of spaces. As Robertson shows, the men’s “smoking room,” which had begun its life as but a single room in the bungalow, eventually became indistinguishable—­in terms of architectural design and interior decoration—­f rom the “living room.”52 Its aesthetic colonization of the central areas of the house included a proliferation of rustic and typically masculine accessories, artifacts, and signifiers (taxidermied animals, heavy wooden furniture, Indian blankets, and so on). Nonetheless, it would be women who were expected to spend the better part of their lives occupying, caring for, and laboring in these bungalows; the bungalow (like most houses) signified, therefore, an uneasy, unequal truce, an inadequate mediation of rights and priorities between male and female. In spite of the fact that the term bungalow is something of an empty or sliding signifier, and notwithstanding its complex history and historical genealogy, it often circulates, especially in popular discourse, in a fairly straightforward manner. Historians, critics, and general usage agree that a bungalow is essentially a small house, one that attempts to make the most of limited square footage. The California variety also draws inspiration from a wide range of historical and stylistic sources, for example: the Anglo-­ Indian bungalow that lent its name to its later British and American successors, the Spanish colonial “mission,” the Japanese pagoda, the Swiss chalet, and the Arts and Crafts cottage with whose identity it merges. It is typified by its low-­hanging eaves (shade from California sun) and the simple disposition of its few rooms, many of which communicate directly with one another, thanks to the near-­ total elimination of the entrance hall and the strict limitation (and at times radical banning) of connecting hallways. This last and very peculiar element of the bungalow—­its absorption of the entrance hall into the living areas of the house, a nearly universal strategy in bungalow architecture and particularly in the California bungalow—­i nterests me greatly, especially in terms of the narrative fictions (novelistic and cinematic) that I look at in the rest of this chapter. Eliminating the entrance hall clearly produces more room for the acquisition and arrangement of chairs, sofas, tables, phonographs—­for the accumulation of the

The radicalization of the threshold in a bungalow design from The Bungalow Book (Henry L. Wilson, 1910).

Wrong Life

72

bric-­a-­brac thrown up by consumer culture in late nineteenth-­ and early twentieth-­century America. In an article written for The Craftsman in 1902, Stickley describes the consultation process between an architect and his clients, a wealthy middle-­aged couple. The wife articulates her requirements for the house in the following terms: “I do not want a series of small, box-­like rooms, each devoted to a special purpose; but rather one room sufficiently large and well-­designed to contain all things needed to fill out a day of work, rest and pleasure.”53 The wife expresses a protomodernist desire for openness, and yet we read into her stipulation that the room should “contain all things needed” a certain Victorian profusion of stuff that will populate this room. In the protomodernism of this space, there abides still an attachment to older forms of living. The removal of the barriers between discrete spaces guarantees the maximization of space for the movement and rest of bodies. But the boundaries that remain—­t he front door that separates inside from out, for instance—­become more crucial and more powerfully

Enter the Bungalow: Mildred Pierce (1945) Before turning directly to cinema, however, I want to look at how we enter the Los Angeles crime novel, circa 1936: I drove out to Glendale to put three new truck drivers on a brewery company bond, and then I remembered this renewal over in Hollywoodland. I decided to run over there. That was how I came to this House of Death that you’ve been reading about in the papers. It didn’t look like a House of Death when

73 Wrong Life

cathected, precisely because of the openness that otherwise obtains. The psychic and social dimensions of the radicalization of the threshold demand some closer consideration. The bungalow’s elimination of the entrance hall, the barrier that separates the inside and the outside of the house, renders the house’s threshold more tenuous and fragile, but also more absolute. To think along the lines of a cinematic metaphor, the bungalow makes every entrance into or exit from the house a jump cut, a brusque edit, more jarring than the stately lap dissolve performed by the entrance hall’s mediation of inside and out, public and private. In the entrance hall one may wait to be properly invited in, or may pause to collect oneself, adjust one’s hair, remove one’s hat. The hall provides the space for a narrative pause. In the bungalow we lose this mediating space, this buffering zone, this medium for the dilation of time. The outside and the inside are now nearer to one another in absolute spatial terms: once the front door is thrown open onto a living room, there is no shielding those on either side of the threshold from one another’s presence, curiosity, or demands. (This is very much Adorno’s concern in “Do not knock.”) The lives of those who share the simplified spaces of the bungalow’s interior become, perforce, promiscuous: their spheres of activities bleed into one another, making for a kind of life-­i n-­public-­i n-­private. I want to turn now to two films made only a couple of years apart in the 1940s in Los Angeles. One is an example of industrially produced art, executed with the collective skilled labor power of a Hollywood studio; the other was made by two people for a pittance. These films, despite all that separates them in terms of mode of production, share a fascination—­both implicit and explicit—­w ith the bungalow’s threshold, and with the challenge and possibilities onto which it throws open the door.

I saw it. It was just a Spanish house, like all the rest of them in California, with white walls, red tile roof, and a patio out to one side.54

These are the first sentences of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, and this is the voice of our narrator, Walter Neff, who soon finds himself in the “living room,” delivering a weary and withering catalog of the tacky furnishings appropriate to the dwelling. The first movement of Cain’s Mildred Pierce (1941) is similarly to cross the threshold of a bungalow. The novel begins: “In the spring of 1931, on a lawn in Glendale, California, a man was bracing trees.” This man, we learn a few sentences later, is Herbert Pierce, and his lawn is “like thousands of others in southern California: a patch of grass in which grew avocado, lemon, and mimosa trees.” The typicality of the lawn is of a piece with the house it surrounds, which “was like others of its kind: a Spanish bungalow.”55 The extradiegetic narrator of Mildred Pierce shares Walter Neff’s interest in the typicality and the specificity of these bungalows: “Now, Spanish houses are a little outmoded, but at the time they were considered high-­toned, and this one was as good as the next, and perhaps a little bit better.” The narration proceeds to describe in detail the “painstaking” way in which Herbert Pierce waters his lawn; next it must move him from outside to inside, a task it performs thus, across a paragraph break: . . . Then he went into the house. The living room he stepped into corresponded to the lawn he left. It was indeed the standard living room sent out by department stores as suitable for a Spanish bungalow.56 Wrong Life

74

What follows for the next page is an exhaustive catalog of everything in the room, the adjacent master bedroom, and its adjoining bathroom, including a crimson velvet coat of arms, displayed against the wall; crimson velvet drapes, hung on iron spears; a crimson rug, with figured border; a settee in front of the fireplace, flanked by two chairs, all of these having straight backs and beaded seats; a long oak table holding a lamp with stained-­g lass shade.57

This list, which goes on longer than I have quoted here—­a ffectlessly punctuated by semicolons that separate one consumer object from

75 Wrong Life

the next—­occupies nearly a page of the novel. As Catherine Jurca has observed, this description “dramatize[s] the collapse of the regionally specific and the generically suburban,” and does so, moreover, in a manner that had, by the 1930s, already been established as “familiar ground” thanks to a developing tradition of suburban literature.58 The bungalow, because of its ubiquity, is installed and detailed as the primary site of narrative action, the place from which action must depart or within which it must transpire. The bungalow seems to embody (or be made to embody) a reified (in more than one sense) dream of possession, habitation, taste, and class. For anything to happen in these novels, or before anything can happen, the entirely typical space of the bungalow must be held before our eyes as a kind of preamble to narrative action. The house, in fact, acts as a kind of medium of narration, as if its materiality provides a ready-­made system of objects through which the narrating agent may begin to demonstrate its competence. In order to make recognizable and plausible these novels’ efforts to represent the world (or Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s), the narrators must first make perspicacious their efforts to represent the bungalow. But in Mildred Pierce what is remarkable is the unremarkable fact of how Herbert passes directly from outside to inside in one swift movement: from his front lawn he steps directly into his living room, and thus into its world of massified objects, which we experience through the mediation of the narrator’s condescending deadpan. The logic of the bungalow’s tenuous but definite division of inside and outside is registered as carefully or as accurately, in a sense, as is the exhausting list of the living room’s contents, precisely because the passage (in the novel itself and across the threshold) is so brief—­t he actual passage across the threshold leaves nearly nothing to narrate: “Then he went into the house. The living room he stepped into . . .”59 Hollywood filmmaking from the same period stages similar traversals of the bungalow’s threshold. For instance, The Blue Dahlia (George Marshall, 1946; screenplay by Raymond Chandler) begins as a coming-­home-­f rom-­war film, with Johnny (Alan Ladd) returning to find that his wife, Helen (Doris Dowling), has decamped from their old home and moved to “Bungalow 93, Cavendish Court.” The bungalows in this “bungalow court” are joined one to another, all facing a shared central courtyard. As Johnny approaches Bunga­ low 93 across the courtyard’s modest expanse, we realize that the

Wrong Life

76

publicity of this common space is only a prelude to that of Helen’s house, where a raucous party rages in midafternoon. By crossing the threshold of the house, Johnny plunges himself into the knowledge of Helen’s unfaithfulness (she is clearly entertaining her lover, among her many other guests) and sets the film hurtling off into its relentless concatenation of events. While The Blue Dahlia does not, so to speak, dwell on the problem of the bungalow, it derives narrative forward momentum from the immediacy that bungalow architecture lends to the events of the plot. Other films give more sustained attention to bungalow architecture, and do so in a way that both effaces and italicizes this architecture’s historical and structural specificity. The novel Mildred Pierce is preoccupied by real estate of all kinds: Bert Pierce is a failed property developer, a victim of the Great Depression; he and his wife, Mildred, and their two daughters live in one of his “Pierce Homes.” Mildred’s business success is predicated on her canny manipulation of the property market, and her eventual business failure is occasioned, at least in part, by her overambitious property acquisition. (In the novel, Mildred opens her first restaurant in what was the model home of Bert’s real estate development.) The novel and the eponymous film adaptation (Michael Curtiz, 1945) both work to blur the boundaries that might separate the public space of work and the private space of domestic repose. With regard to the novel, Jurca has suggested that “the generic field of melodrama consolidates domestic and commercial spheres; not only does it interweave the stories of family life and career, but through Mildred’s economic ventures it dissolves the boundaries that might otherwise separate homes from businesses, domestic and sexual from financial partners.”60 I would argue that what allows for and indeed overdetermines (or hastens) this consolidation is the bungalow’s spatial form, which is predicated on the dissolution and the making tenuous of so many boundaries. The bungalow’s visualization on film makes even more pressing the problem of the bungalow’s spatiality. Something about actually having to see it on film makes us see, in turn, how the bungalow itself is a medium for vision and movement. Unlike the novel, the film Mildred Pierce begins twice. In the film’s “first” beginning, which immediately follows the credit sequence, we are offered two shots of a Malibu beach house, the second closer than the first. Over the second shot, we hear the sounds of several bullets being fired; this sound carries us across a cut to the house’s interior in which we see

77 Wrong Life

(perhaps from a murderer’s point of view) a handsome man in evening dress mutely receiving the bullets that pierce his body, while others miss their target, hitting and shattering a mirror behind him. He stumbles toward the camera, falls to the shag rug in front of a flickering fireplace, and turns over on his back, just as a pistol (the one we have just heard firing, presumably) is thrown toward him. As the film cuts to a close-­up of his face, he mutters, “Mildred.” The camera pans across his body, asserting itself as narrator of the scene and offering more information about this room. It comes to focus on the bullet holes in the mirror, before the film cuts to a wide shot in deep space that takes in the plenum of this interior and its chiaroscuro combination of “modern” (some modernist lamps, a spiral staircase) and “traditional” (a Chippendale coffee table) artifacts and design features. The film then cuts to the house’s exterior in time to let us see what appears to be a woman already behind the wheel of an automobile, which she drives out of the frame. This first beginning will be the film’s “snare.”61 For, immediately following this opening, we are introduced to our main character, Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford), the person, we think, who is hailed (as are we) by the dying man’s last word. Twelve minutes into the film—­t welve minutes that narrate Mildred’s haphazard attempt to frame her erstwhile lover and business partner Wally Fay (Jack Carson) for this murder—­Mildred is picked up by the police in her Pasadena mansion. At the Los Angeles “Hall of Justice” Mildred is questioned about the murder. Her confession—­for now she assumes the blame for the murder—­takes the shape of an extended analepsis (or flashback) in which she narrates the events that have led to her sitting here now. Pam Cook takes a keen interest in this doubled beginning in her famous and influential essay “Duplicity in Mildred Pierce.”62 Cook’s argument hinges on her completely compelling assertion that the film begins first as noir and then as melodrama, only to move back to noir in its final moments. The film is enunciated as noir by its first (extradiegetic) narrator and as melodrama or a “woman’s film” by Mildred in an extended flashback.63 The ending is resolved by “the father as agent of the Law”—­Mildred’s police interrogator, the “chief criminal deputy” (the title stenciled on his office door), who has since discovered that she has been lying.64 He uncovers the fact that it was Veda (Ann Blyth), Mildred’s daughter, and not Mildred, who shot Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), Mildred’s husband and Veda’s lover and the man we see in the film’s opening

Wrong Life

78

moments. Cook contends that the film’s reversion to noir displaces the melodramatic mode—­whose enunciating agent is Mildred—­ and thus displaces the category of woman. Cook’s analysis is incredibly productive, but I want to take its fundamental emphasis on splitting and beginning again in order to think about these formal features in relation to the bungalow and its flimsily melodramatic division of inside and out. What I mean here, of course, is the way in which melodrama has been understood to articulate itself across binaries and irreconcilable oppositions; in Mildred Pierce these oppositions pivot on the bungalow’s gimcrack architecture. The house acts not only as setting (the typical L.A. domestic space), or as metonymic signifier of upwardly or downwardly mobile middle-­classness, but also as a kind of narrative technology—­a n unhappy narrational compression device, one in which characters are inserted so as to make them careen off one another, out into the world, dragging the plot along with them. (Siegert might call the bungalow itself a “cultural technique.”) The bungalow’s spatiality and distribution of spaces work to produce and interpret the film’s plot, and this plot cannot be materially disembedded from its medium, which is the bungalow itself (which is also, as I have shown, metonymically and rhetorically linked to Hollywood, tout court). As Mildred begins to make her long analeptic confession, she is seen seated, in medium shot, in the chief deputy’s office. The chief deputy (Moroni Olsen) feigns the suspicion that Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) is responsible for Monte’s murder, and so prompts Mildred to tell him more about her and Bert’s marriage: “He was in the real estate business wasn’t he?” “Yes, he and Wally Fay were partners . . .” The film cuts then, across a slight pause in Mildred’s narration, to a high contrast close-­up. Mildred’s face is luminous, lamplit, her mink hat making a fuzzy corona above her head, her mink coat blurring the outlines of her shoulders. She continues: For a long time they made good money. They built a lot of houses. Suddenly everyone stopped buying, the boom was over. Then one day they split up. Wally was in and Bert was out. They weren’t partners anymore. That day when Bert came home, he was out of a job.

This business divorce foreshadows the dissolution of Mildred and Bert’s marriage. (Political economy is the ground of marital econ-

The bungalow as constitutive ground of melodramatic narration in Mildred Pierce (1945).

79 Wrong Life

omy, of course.) Just as Mildred says “the boom was over,” the film performs a lap dissolve in which Mildred’s face begins to fade out while a shot of a little white bungalow fades in. The bungalow has a painted sign that reads “Real Estate” across its roof; beneath the eaves of the pediment over the front porch the same words are painted. The subtle genius of the shot consists in the fact that, formally and iconographically, nothing terribly special happens here. The lap dissolve is a highly conventional means of effecting the transition from enunciating present to enunciated past. As the lamplit confession chamber of the state gives way to sunlit “real estate,” the film moves us from present to past, and from noir to the woman’s film/melodrama. The house we see, a bungalow, is a real estate firm’s office—­a model home that serves, we assume, as administrative headquarters and advertisement for the firm’s wares. (Again, in the novel, Mildred’s first restaurant opens in this house-­cum-­office—­a blurring of the boundary of private and public space, domestic and waged labor.) In the lap dissolve, one figure retreats while another emerges, and for a second the two images compete for priority. The emergent figure here is the bungalow, the constitutive ground, the film implicitly suggests, of the generic

mode (melodrama) to which the film is transitioning. The presentation of the bungalow as something so clearly marked by the question of possession asks us to bear in mind (or bear in the back of our minds) the question of property—­of the bungalow’s embodiment of demographically broadened property ownership. This little bungalow acts as the threshold from noir to melodrama, but, as we shall see, the bungalow’s threshold itself serves even more explicitly and materially in Mildred Pierce as a symbolic and narrative device. Mildred’s voice-­over narration continues. In turning from the explanation of Bert’s unfair exclusion from his business partnership with Wally, she summons the everyday life that she and Bert and their daughters shared before the unraveling of their marriage: We lived on Corvalis Street where all the houses looked alike. Ours was number eleven forty-­t hree. I was always in the kitchen. I felt as though I’d been born in a kitchen and lived there all my life, except for the few hours it took to get married.

Wrong Life

80

Melodrama, I would suggest, seeks to hypostasize itself by turning to the mise-­en-­scène proper and appropriate to it: the house, and more specifically in this instance, the bungalow. Given that we are now twenty minutes into the film, the bungalow’s appearance is somewhat belated when compared to its inaugurating function in the novel. Mildred is an accomplished novelistic narrator: in a mode that is much more affectively involved than that of Cain’s (universally extradiegetic) narrator, she summons a diegetic world in the shorthand of the iterative mode (“I was always in the kitchen”). The iterative mode grounds an ongoingness that barely discriminates among beginning, middle, and end; it is the temporal mode of labor, especially the domestic labor performed by the housewife. At the same time, however, Mildred’s discourse is marked by a punctuated historicity—­t hat is, by her pointed awareness of the historically and geographically specific nature of her house’s nonspecificity. And while her discourse will have its confusions and vagaries (or duplicities, to borrow Cook’s term), in one sense, she proleptically forecloses on any narrative ambiguity: by beginning—­like Adorno and Horkheimer—­w ith the material figure of the bungalow, Mildred tells us that all will end badly because it has begun here. The production files for the film, which are housed in the extensive Warner Bros. archives, give evidence of the production team’s

and in particular the art department’s intentions of making absolutely clear the story world’s metonymic relation to the historicity of the bungalow and its crucial imbrication in the geographic expansion of Los Angeles. These intentions are illustrated beautifully by a series of preliminary drawings for the set’s construction and the film’s overall visual design. A report on the film-­i n-­production’s temporary script begins with this condensation of the rupture between Bert and Mildred: “Now Mildred not only must support herself and her children but meet mortgage payments on their stucco bungalow.”65 More significant in this regard are the descriptions of the opening shot sequence in an early, unproduced screenplay for the film: 1. UNDER MAIN TITLES Various STOCK SHOTS of California suburban towns in or near Los Angeles, giving flavor of California life. As MAIN TITLES finish: DISSOLVE TO: 2. AUTOMOBILE ROAD MAP OF LOS ANGELES AND ENVIRONS Show the part of the map which includes Glendale and Pasadena. CAMERA PANS CLOSE to GLENDALE and HOLDS. DISSOLVE TO:

This abundant specificity of reference and evidence of the Hollywood production mode’s deployment of specialized labor tell us that, while the bungalow might be taken for granted—­i n terms of its history and signification—­its taken-­for-­g rantedness could not merely be taken for granted in the production of the film’s symbolic economy. The labor that produced these drawings and that is imagined by the film’s initial script is displaced, in the actual film, onto the labor of Mildred’s voice-­over narration in the extended flashback that turns nighttime noir into sunlit melodrama. We see Bert in a

81 Wrong Life

3. RESIDENTIAL STREET OF GLENDALE (PIERCE DRIVE) It is typical of thousands of such suburban streets in thousands of such towns. Rows of neat bungalows; some stucco, some frame, fairly prosperous but distinctly subdivision style, all with their well kept small lawns complete with palms or pepper trees. The houses are all about ten years old.66

Bungalow specificity and the labor of art direction at Warner Bros. Production drawing from Mildred Pierce granted courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Wrong Life

82

long shot crossing Corvalis Street, where Mildred says that “all the houses looked alike.” This shot was taken on location at 1143 North Jackson Street in Glendale, where, in fact, all the houses (at least the ones we see) do not look so alike; they are certainly less homogeneous than the houses in the preparatory sketches produced by the art department.67 Whereas in those drawings all of the houses adhere to a broad Spanish colonial style, the brief glimpse we get of North Jackson Street gives evidence of greater architectural diversity: the house just next door to the Pierces’ Spanish colonial bungalow, for example, looks rather more colonial revival. Regardless, Mildred’s voice-­over scrapes away the superficial particularities of these architectural facades, which, as we know, only mask the uniformity of space we expect to find in the bungalows’ interiors. Mildred, whom we now see busying herself in the kitchen, suspends her voice-­over as Bert enters the house. The camera is positioned, as it were, in the back of the kitchen, and allows us to see across the spaces of the kitchen and dining “room” (or dining nook) as he “steps into” the adjacent space of the living room, just as he does in the novel. The scene’s wonderfully efficient choreography shows us Mildred shutting the door of the refrigerator and, just a beat afterward, Bert slamming the front door behind him. It is hard not to hear in this moment Adorno’s lament (quoted earlier) for the lost “ability” “to close a door quietly and discreetly.” (Adorno was talking about refrigerators, we might recall.) The bungalow’s compression of psychic, visual, and auditory space makes Mildred’s narration superfluous. Her voice-­over stops at exactly this point because

Corvalis Street, “where all the houses looked alike,” in Mildred Pierce.

From kitchen to the front door: bungalow life in Mildred Pierce.

The bungalow as narrative medium in Mildred Pierce.

Wrong Life

84

the bungalow makes it possible for us to see and hear for ourselves what is happening here. The scene that follows vividly enacts the gendered tensions Robertson describes in her account of the bungalow’s living room and its unhappy mediation of male and female. When the buzzer announces that someone is at the door, and Mildred answers in order to receive a dress she has ordered for Veda, she is unable to keep the knowledge of this expense (paid for by sales of homemade baked goods) from Bert, who is emasculated by his unemployment and lounges in sullen horizontality a few feet away on the living room sofa. The lack of privacy in this moment, in this room, forces the two to argue family finances and, peremptorily, to decide to separate. This brief, sudden narrative event is precipitated by the bungalow’s open-­plan openness to the world outside and its inhabitants’ vulnerability to one another. These scenes, which come at the beginning of the film’s generic shift, help give abundant evidence of the bungalow’s generic function: its grounding of both a specific genre (melodrama) and a kind of generic pattern of behavior. The bungalow metonymizes life in Los Angeles in the 1930s (when the

film is set) and 1940s (when the film was released). It is also seized on by the film as a medium or technology of narration that is incredibly useful for the medium that is cinema and the mode of narration typical of classical Hollywood cinema. Hollywood’s deployment of the bungalow, however, has much in common with the use of this same architecture in a filmmaking practice that opposed itself directly to Hollywood’s mode of production.

Maya Deren’s Chambered Vision

85 Wrong Life

I want to turn now to another film made during the same period, in the spring of 1943, to be more precise. This is a film also made in Hollywood—­its minimal credit sequence actually emphasizes this point. The film, however, was made not in the precincts of a Hollywood studio, but on location, as it were, in a bungalow in Hollywood—­Hollywood, the neighborhood in Los Angeles. I am talking about Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s Meshes of the Afternoon. This urtext of American avant-­garde cinema was made in a bungalow that Hammid and Deren (who were husband and wife) shared on North Kings Road, just north of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. This film is, notoriously, a series of repetitions and variations, all of which unspool from the arrival home and the entry into the bungalow. Deren and Hammid give us the bungalow as a threshold that embodies ambivalence about public and private, male and female, and the labor of gender(s). The location (the set, so to speak) was the couple’s actual house, one that they were renting at the time, and which they vacated shortly after completing the film. As visualized and deployed by Deren and Hammid, this bungalow becomes a dreamworld of resistance to and (ritual) fulfillment of specialized forms of domestic labor, including the labor of avant-­garde film practice. (The film’s production asks us to consider avant-­garde film production as a sort of—­none too financially profitable—­cottage industry, one opposed to the culture industry.) 68 Manny Farber, one of the film’s earliest critics (and a generally unsympathetic one at that), quipped in his review in 1946 in The New Republic that the film “takes place on a lazy California day in a stucco bungalow.”69 This casual observation about the film’s grounding in the social materiality of Los Angeles architecture and geography recurs in J. Hoberman’s comment, some thirty years later,

Wrong Life

86

on the occasion of a revival screening of the film, that “the house where Deren’s erotic, violent fantasy was filmed might be around the corner from Barbara Stanwyck’s place in Double Indemnity.”70 (Interestingly, for Hoberman it is the film’s bungalow ecology, which it shares with Double Indemnity [Billy Wilder, 1944] and Mildred Pierce, that connotes its relation to film noir, whereas in Cook’s account of the latter film the movement into the bungalow signals the generic shift to melodrama.) Mildred Pierce and Meshes of the Afternoon share a vision of the domestic as a sphere of repetitive labor. In Mildred Pierce the house, specifically the kitchen, is the origin and original site of Mildred’s entrepreneurial success, and as the novel makes clear, she launches her restaurant enterprise in an actual house that is very much like the one she and her family inhabit. For Deren, however, and for many American avant-­garde practitioners who would follow in her wake, the domestic sphere was the necessary, the only possible, location for an artisanal and radical artistic practice that did not aspire to commercial or industrial success on the level of Hollywood production, but that nonetheless thought itself—­equally necessarily— in a critical relation to the institution of Hollywood. This curious relation is epitomized by Deren’s notorious aside to a newspaper reporter: “I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.”71 The difference between Deren’s (and Hammid’s) version of “Hollywood, 1943” and Hollywood (the industry) entailed the vast gulf that separated their economies of scale (production costs for Meshes totaled $274.90) and was marked by a shared but radically different cathexis and deployment of the laboring female body. While Mildred’s repetitive domestic labor is made spectacular via the smooth articulations of Hollywood’s laboriously sumptuous production standards, the spectacle of Deren’s body in Meshes similarly foregrounds the serial reproduction of her labors, but the film insists on this spectacle’s predication on a laborious practice of making and its domestic poverty of means.72 In an essay titled “Planning by Eye: Notes on ‘Individual’ and ‘Industrial’ Film,” Deren expresses these concerns in a deceptively offhand passage: I am firmly convinced that a prerequisite of really original and creative work is that a production be scaled modestly enough to “afford” failure. I am also convinced that the chances of com-

pleting any project are inversely proportionate to the number of people upon whose cooperation it is dependent. Meshes of the Afternoon, the first film, for instance, was made under ideal production conditions. It had the benefit of the consistently sunny California weather, it took place almost exclusively in one house, and it involved only myself and Alexander Hammid, who collaborated and photographed the film. This fifteen minute film was completed in two and a half weeks.73

87 Wrong Life

Fundamentally, the terms of Deren’s discourse on the “artisanal” mode of film production are identical to bungalow life: modesty of space and means, the family as productive unit, the house’s openness to the outside. Moreover, this description nearly sounds like the preamble to an article that might appear in a women’s magazine, of the sort that actually published Deren’s articles during the early period of her filmmaking career.74 Meshes of the Afternoon transvalues the terms of “Hollywood,” bungalow domesticity, and the bungalow’s modest sphere of productive labor. Deren’s film theoretical writings (in particular her 1946 book An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film), which she produced in the immediate wake of the production and initial exhibition of Meshes, conceive of her film practice in terms of “ritual” in order to claim a mode of making that is “beyond and outside all the personal compulsions of individual distress.”75 Deren’s impatience with personal “expression” leads her to claim that “the distinction of art is that it is neither simply an expression of pain . . . nor an impression of pain, but is itself a force which creates pain.” 76 (Her terms here are drawn from an immersion in the thinking of modernists such as T. E. Hulme, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, about whom she wrote her master’s thesis at Smith College.) Ritual, to be ritual, must be repeatable and impersonal. Deren adapts these properties of ritual to assert a vision of “ritualistic form” that will apprehend “the human being not as the source of dramatic action, but as a somewhat depersonalized element in a dramatic whole.”77 Such ritualistic form produces what Deren calls “the new, man-­made reality” in which the film apparatus becomes an instrument of consciousness.78 In this sort of film art, we sense the film’s predication on photographic indexicality, but this indexicality is both exploited and transgressed (indeed, transformed) through various forms of editing whose intervention produces a doubled consciousness of

Wrong Life

88

the film’s indexical, evidentiary power and of the film as an artifact, as a made thing, a product of artifice. We can appreciate these claims in the sequences in Meshes that constantly subvert cinema’s indexical capacity to give us what was actually there via a process of editing that suggests the impossible (or spectral, supernatural) proximity and contiguity of bodies and spaces. In these moments, we must entertain both the facticity of the film’s indexical image and the artificial intervention of its editing—­editing that enforces both an absorption in this facticity and awareness of the intervention. These proximate and contiguous bodies, most spectacularly, belong to Deren herself, in her unnamed role as the film’s protagonist. And the most spectacular of these passages—­the one in which “Deren” must encounter “herself” in triplicate—­is predicated on one of the film’s most insistent formal gestures: the crossing of the bungalow’s threshold. At this moment the bungalow threshold most powerfully acts as the hinge between exterior and interior, public and private, index and artifice, singularity and seriality. Deren is shown in one shot to appear at the open door of the bungalow, wielding a knife. She looks toward a dining nook where two versions of herself are seated. (Really, of course, these are two cinematic images of Maya Deren, sharing space and time through crude but ingenious trick cinematography concocted by Hammid.) The crossing of the bungalow’s threshold seems to promise that anything—­no matter how improbable—­ might be on the other side of this fragile barrier. But it is the sudden temporal immediacy of the threshold itself that imparts its own energy to Deren and Hammid’s aesthetic. From its opening movements, the film fetishizes the bungalow’s threshold. It is the barrier that Deren (or the “character” played by her) must cross again and again on her way into the disorienting space of the house. At the film’s very beginning, Deren’s attempt to open the door (whose details on its small window clearly indicate its kinship to the Spanish colonial bungalow in Mildred Pierce) is made difficult when she drops her key. Each time she crosses the threshold from outside to inside, she immediately must face whatever disorder or mystery might be lying in wait for her. Crossing the threshold becomes itself a slightly belabored activity, and it occasions the aesthetic labor of a pseudosubjective editing style in which we are repetitively cued to believe we share Deren’s point of view only to have that sense of security undermined by the shots (and edits) that follow. Deren said of the experience of first taking

Crossing the threshold into bungalow seriality in Meshes of the Afternoon (1943).

up the camera, “When I got a camera in my hand, it was like coming home.”79 Deren would seem here to suggest the effortless affinity she felt with the technological hardware of film production. But Meshes of the Afternoon shows obsessively that coming home, crossing the threshold, is neither easy nor natural; it is, instead, the entry into a sphere of repetitive making, of labored artifice.

Wrong Life

89

Deren’s own account of the film’s collaborative making is predicated implicitly and explicitly on the bungalow’s domestic economy. In “Planning by Eye,” as we have already seen, domesticity is the precondition of the extravagance of formal experiment. And yet the experiment does not sublimate the house’s modesty; rather, the house inscribes a set of productive limits (and thresholds), and the residue of its material limits (indeed, its materiality) clings to and is palpable everywhere on the film’s surface. The domestic scene of Deren and Hammid’s bungalow and the traces its structures leave on the film’s eventual form are dramatized even more vividly in an account of the film’s production that Deren published in Mademoiselle in 1946: Since Sasha [Hammid’s nickname] was working during the day, my original intention was to make a film by myself. I started out by thinking in terms of a subjective camera, one that would show only what I could see by myself without the aid of mirrors and which would move through the house as if it were a pair of eyes, pausing with interest here and there, opening doors and so on. This beginning developed into a film about a girl who fell asleep and saw herself in a dream, and it soon became obvious that I could not both photograph and act myself, so I waited until my husband was free to develop further the concept of the film and to execute it with me. . . . Using cinematic techniques to achieve dislocations of inanimate objects, unexpected simultaneities etcetera, this film establishes a reality which, although based somewhat on dramatic logic, can exist only on film.80 Wrong Life

90

This is an account that is both rather proleptically (second-­wave) feminist and somewhat conservatively demure. On the one hand, Deren must have been fairly unusual among Los Angeles housewives in proposing a collaboration of this nature to her husband; on the other, there she is at home, waiting for her husband to return from a day at work. What seems more important here, however, is the passage from an aesthetic of excessively “personal” expression (of one woman’s optical point of view) to a profoundly depersonalized aesthetic of repetition and disjuncture, a passage that is specifically linked to the possibilities and obstacles of domestic architecture and domestic labor. Deren’s most dramatic account of her bungalow aesthetic oc-

curs in a letter she wrote to the film curator James Card in 1955. Here she evokes the origins of her radical practice, in metaphorical terms that are vividly material, as a struggle with the house’s architecture. The sequence she describes in this passage departs from the moment I have already discussed in which Deren, wielding a knife, confronts, from her position at the front door, her serially reproduced “doubles” who are seated at the breakfast table. Her appearance seems to cause one of them to rise from the table to “kill” the version of herself asleep in the chintz armchair. The sequence is edited across the apparently continuous movement of Deren’s body (a series of matches on action) as it traverses the expanse of the bungalow’s living room. However, Deren’s progress across the room is represented by a sequence of five close-­up shots of Deren’s feet as—­one foot at a time—­her footsteps fall on beach, dirt, grass, pavement, and finally the carpeted floor of the bungalow. The editing and its match on the action of Deren’s body collapse the spaces of the outer world into the space of the bungalow. Not unlike Herbert Pierce, we could say that Deren moves from inside to outside, from pavement to living room carpet, in a radically modest single step. Deren describes her coming to consciousness of this sequence’s aesthetic potential thus:

Here, the house is the ground of aesthetic limits and aesthetic possibilities. Deren, the artist, must strain and contend agonistically with a barred threshold, a blocked (prohibited?) passage that, once pried open and traversed, delivers her from personal facticity to universalizing (because depersonalized) agency. Deren’s (and Hammid’s) vision is what I would call a chambered vision—­indeed, she came to call her films “chamber films” because their “abstract” concentration was the product of “austerity and economy.”82 The verb to chamber means both to place or “shut up” in a room (to restrict) and to make room for (“to provide with a chamber or chambers”).83

91 Wrong Life

It was like a crack letting the light of another world gleam through. I kept saying to myself, “The walls of this room are solid except right there. That leads to something. I’ve got to get it open because through there I can go through to someplace instead of leaving here by the same way that I came in.” And so I did, prying at it until my fingers were bleeding. And so came to the world where the identity of movement spans and transcends all time and space.81

“The walls of this room are solid except right there”: chambered vision—­the bungalow as the ground of aesthetic possibility in Meshes of the Afternoon.

Deren’s keen, anxious, and concrete sense of material limits and their utopian transgression extends, not incidentally, I think, and not insignificantly, from the bungalow whose history and material, spatial form already embodied an everyday instance of utopian economy. Eventually Deren’s inquiry into ritual aesthetics led her to an interest in vodoun possession, an experience in which ritual succeeds in loosening the subject from her own personhood, leaving her quite literally dis/possessed. Deren’s experiments with vodoun produced some remarkable material, but, interestingly, no finished artistic works, per se (unless we count her wonderful and important 1953 anthropological study of Haitian vodoun, Divine Horsemen, as an artwork).84 We can, however, trace an understanding of the aesthetic as a trial of possession by returning to the figure with whom I began this chapter, Adorno. Early in his Aesthetic Theory, Adorno characterizes the problem of “bourgeois aesthetics” in terms of the beholder’s false consciousness in “owning” an artwork: The bourgeois want art voluptuous and life ascetic; the reverse would be better. Reified consciousness provides an ersatz for the sensual immediacy of which it deprives people in a sphere that is not its abode. While the artwork’s sensual appeal seemingly brings it close to the consumer, it is alienated from him by being a commodity that he possesses and the loss of which he must constantly fear. The false relation to art is akin to anxiety over possession.85 93 Wrong Life

According to Adorno, any real “happiness to be gained from artworks is that of having suddenly escaped”; real happiness, in other words, does not extend from unbroken tenure of possession. 86 Adorno’s terms (which quietly evoke a domestic mise-­en-­scène—­ the artwork’s “abode”) coincide with Deren’s account of artistic making as a release into a world of experimentation by way of a bloody grappling with formal asceticism. Her ritual aesthetic and his Aesthetic Theory propose an aesthetic of dispossession, of an intensely cathected but at the same time tenuous (reversible, alienable) relation to the materials of art, which in Deren’s case were also identical with the site of her tenancy, her rented house on North Kings Road, Hollywood. Such an attitude toward making (and toward living) might gesture, however faintly or prematurely, toward

a labor that is not labor, toward a privacy that is not predicated on possession, toward the world whose seam of light seeps in at the corner of the door frame.

The Feeling of a Prison

Wrong Life

94

Deren’s vision and revision of the bungalow find in this style of house a rich seam of aesthetic possibility that hints at a reimagin­ ing of the social. The bungalow as a representational object, or as the site of aesthetic making, however, does not always promise quite so much. In particular, for nonwhite inhabitants of and visitors to the bungalow, the house may enclose and foreclose more than it discloses. In A Woman under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974), Mabel (Gena Rowlands) and Nick (Peter Falk) Longhetti and their three children live in a bungalow on an ordinary street in Los Angeles. The film is celebrated for Cassavetes’s realist aesthetic strategies and Rowlands’s intensely improvisatory and painful exploration of her character’s social and psychic situation. The action takes place almost entirely in Nick and Mabel’s house; the film’s relentless vérité tracking of the movements of the actors’ bodies through the house gives us time to absorb the historicity of its decor and to note the architectural details that make it exemplary of bungalow architecture: its open floor plan on the first floor and its Craftsman-­style built-­i n features, such as the wooden bench opposite the front door and the stained-­g lass window in the dining room that also serves as Nick and Mabel’s bedroom, where they sleep on a fold-­out sofa bed that must be opened before its every use and then put away again. The children’s rooms are upstairs and are seen only fleetingly. This house implicitly discloses the worn-­out promise of a bungalow that has survived into the last quarter of the twentieth century. The insistence on the bedroom-­cum-­d ining room asks us to consider this living arrangement as an apparently necessary improvisation on what the bungalow already practiced: a collapse of previously distinct zones of inhabitation into propinquity, contiguity, and even identity. The same insistence also marks the characters’ class position. Nick is a foreman for the city of Los Angeles’s waterworks. Mabel seems to have no job or public life outside of raising the children and maintaining, however idiosyncratically, the home. Nick and Mable are working-­class/lower-­m iddle-­class—­

Bungalow spatiality frames Mabel’s hospitality in A Woman under the Influence (1974).

95 Wrong Life

not poor, perhaps, but not rich enough to have a proper bed and a bedroom in which to put it. The film’s first sustained set piece occurs on a morning of disappointment and apprehension. The night before, Mabel and Nick had been hoping to spend a romantic evening together, and Mabel had even sent their children to a sleepover at her mother’s. Nick, however, is kept out with his crew on an emergency job, so Mabel wanders to a local bar, picks up a stranger, brings him home, and sleeps with him (on the sofa bed). In the morning, she wakes and finds him next to her, and, seemingly unsure about who he is (this is one sign that Mabel may not be completely all there), she shoos him out. Meanwhile, Nick, in an act of apparent impromptu generosity, brings home his entire crew of male co­workers (ten in number) to give them something to eat after their long night of labor. It is an ethnically diverse group that includes four African Americans, one Latino, and one Italian. Race is addressed obliquely, primarily through Mabel’s solicitousness regarding the African American men. Upon the group’s arrival she seems to take care to introduce herself first to these men in particular. And at the meal, at which giant helpings of spaghetti are served (she calls it a “spaghetti breakfast”), she pays special attention to two of them: first Willie (Hugh Hurd), who sings an impressive operatic aria, and then Billy (Leon Wagner), whose face she repeatedly admires and whom she asks several times to dance. He refuses, despite her insistence, and both his discomfort and the growing sense of unease

in the room are suddenly suffused with the unacknowledged racist attribution to black men of an illicit desire for white women—­a fantasy that has nourished the racist imaginary over time (and one that preoccupies a film like The Birth of a Nation). Nick senses Billy’s and the rest of the crew’s unease and yells at Mabel to sit down, prompting the men to leave sooner than expected, and thus drawing to a peremptory conclusion a long and unusual scene of hospitality. In a compelling review published in Cineaste just after the film’s commercial release, the African American writer, artist, and activist Michele Russell writes of this scene: Mabel is galvanized into action by the demands of welcoming and feeding twenty hungry men, distinguishing between old friends and new faces, treating blacks without prejudice, keeping her kitchen clean, and trying to let Nick know of her need to be alone with him, all at the same time. They are contradictory demands.87

Wrong Life

96

The contradictions of these demands are registered as much in Nick and Mabel’s mixed-­use dining room as in Rowlands’s brilliantly unsettling performance. The contradictions that most preoccupy the film are those pertaining to Mabel’s affective (unwaged) labor: she seems to have been given no role beyond that of caretaker and sexual helpmeet, and yet when she is compelled to turn her home into a place of public sociality, she embarrasses Nick and his guests. But the film gestures quite clearly in the direction of other contradictions, such as the question of race that is so intentionally broached in this scene but then brushed aside. Russell devotes an entire paragraph of her review to analyzing how race emerges at the spaghetti breakfast: The black men in Nick’s crew want to fit in. Their survival consists in getting along. Our fascination with them is physical. Grouped around the family table, one brother is cajoled into twirling spaghetti as the Italians do instead of just dealing with it like noodles. He messes up. No manual dexterity. Another brother sings for his supper—­not a spiritual, but a Verdian aria—­a nd does it to perfection. What a powerful voice-­box he has! A third black crewmember is encouraged to share his rec­ ord of paternity and is promptly dubbed a good Irish Catholic.

While these interactions are rich in meanings, they are used in the film to establish that blacks are people, too, and to add another unmentionable (race) to the pervasively dangerous topic of sex.88

97 Wrong Life

In Russell’s reading, the scene exists, at least to some degree, to demonstrate the film’s antiracism, which makes it even more interesting and distressing that Mabel’s hospitable special attentions to her African American guests end up making visible racism’s obdurate persistence. With all of its emphasis on the particularities of this house and its slightly reckless domestic functioning, this scene also makes us wonder about all the houses the film cannot or will not show us—­especially those of these African American men.89 And yet at the same time that Cassavetes was shooting A Woman under the Influence, a movement of filmmakers, also based in Los Angeles, was already at work making perspicaciously visible and sensible the African American lifeworlds that we only glimpse in Nick and Mabel’s bungalow. Here I obviously mean the L.A. Rebellion, a loose confederation of filmmakers who studied at the University of California, Los Angeles, where they were taught by Elyseo Taylor, the first African American to teach at UCLA’s film school. In the words of the editors of a recent and crucial collection dedicated to the L.A. Rebellion, these filmmakers “worked with a common purpose to create a new Black cinema characterized by innovative, meaningful reflection on past and present lives and the concerns of Black communities in the United States and across the African diaspora.”90 While part of what bound these artists together was their immersion in the aesthetically and politically radical films they watched together at UCLA, they also shared a world, or a variety of worlds, that had yet to be represented onscreen. Jacqueline Najuma Stewart writes that the “L.A. Rebellion filmmakers assert the authority of insider knowledge, their intimate relationships with their Black subject matter, which sets their work apart from white-­authored representations.”91 This intimate insiderness includes, as we would expect, a vivid sense of what it was like to live in the domestic spaces that were available to or attainable by black people living in Los Angeles in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. A number of films produced by L.A. Rebellion filmmakers are profoundly situated in the real dwellings that acted as the locations for these films. The scale of these houses and their living spaces is not relieved by the film camera’s treatment of these spaces. Rather

Spatial proximity in Several Friends (1969).

Wrong Life

98

than being situated, for instance, in an oblique relationship to profilmic domestic space so as to open out or enlarge a film’s spatiality, the camera is more often positioned close to and pointed directly at the characters, framing them in medium shots or even medium close-­ups that delimit what can be seen of an interior. The cinematography thereby reinforces the sense of the limited dimensions afforded to these spaces’ fictional inhabitants and their real-­life counterparts. Everything in these interior scenes feels densely proximate, as, for instance, in Charles Burnett’s twenty-­one-­minute film Several Friends (1969). Toward the end of the film, three of the eponymous friends try to move a washing machine from inside a kitchen onto a back porch. The house’s cramped spaces and the restriction of the passages from space to space barely permit this simple task. (In fact, it is not altogether clear that the chore is completed by the film’s conclusion.) The dense proximity of body to body, body to space, and space to space is not relieved even by the frequent panning of the handheld camera; rather, the camera’s modest movements left and right seem to express the same sense of spatial limitation. Typically L.A. Rebellion films do not pay extensive attention to

The carceral bungalow in Killer of Sheep (1977).

99 Wrong Life

the exteriors of houses. In Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977), however, the exterior of the house occupied by the film’s protagonist, Stan (Henry G. Sanders), his wife (Kaycee Moore), and their two children (Jack Drummond and Angela Burnett) is seen significantly on at least two occasions. The only long shot that gives us a sense of it in its entirety occurs at the first of these, roughly a third of the way through the film, when two of Stan’s acquaintances pay him a visit in order to enlist him (unsuccessfully) in committing a murder. The film allows us to see a white (as far as the high-­contrast black-­ and-­white cinematography suggests) wooden-­framed bungalow. Several scenes shot from just inside the front door reveal that the door opens directly onto the living room, in typical bungalow fashion. The film, however, does not dramatize the passage from inside to out, nor do the characters ever refer to the architecture of the house with the sort of arch specificity that we see in Mildred Pierce. When Stan and his wife refer to the house, it is only to point to the seemingly endless repairs required for the maintenance of its livability.

Wrong Life

100

What are we to make of these houses and the sort of attention that is paid to them, or that we are allowed or prompted to give to them? It would be too easy and perhaps inaccurate to claim that Several Friends and Killer of Sheep de-­spectacularize these houses. These films offer spectacle of another kind: images of unrelenting compression, images that convey a meanness of space that is not relieved or reinvented by jump cuts or delirious subjective point-­ of-­v iew shots of the sort that Deren and Hammid deploy to invent inside their tiny bungalow a manifold of possible spaces—­a n infinite and expansive utopia whose immanence is unlocked by the camera and its manipulation. Burnett’s cinematography chooses to let limits be limits and to let those limits enforce a radical sense of the limitation and delimitation of the spectator’s visual field.92 While American cinema’s putative love affair with the house frequently points, however unconsciously, to the unequal distribution of property and/or the unhappy affects that subtend property ownership, Burnett’s films inhabit the houses that are their locations with a determined sense of exhibiting the houses’ ontological restriction of their (black) human inhabitants. Clyde Taylor, one of the earliest critics to write significantly about the L.A. Rebellion, draws attention to the radical role that space, location, and the inevitable sense of spatial limitation all play in creating the aesthetic and political effects of these films: “The social space of many new black films is saturated with contingency. Simply, it is the contingency of on-­location shooting. But what a location. . . . An interior location attracts the feeling of prison, or refuge. A door is a venue through which an intruder may suddenly burst, either police or madman.”93 Taylor captures the sense in which cinematic framing and architectural space multiply each other’s critical possibilities by foreclosing on the sense of spatial possibility that could be endowed by the camera, the house, or their intersection. If any radical possibility lies on the other side of the bungalow door, it is the radical but too typical possibility of being arrested or, worse, murdered by the state. One thing that is never made clear about the houses of the sort that we see in Burnett’s early black-­a nd-­white films is whether they are owned or rented by their inhabitants. In Killer of Sheep, the repairs of the house that we see and that Stan and his wife discuss suggest, perhaps, that they are the house’s owners. But it could just as well be the case that they are forced to repair the house on

their own because of the stinginess or negligence of a landlord. The property of these houses and of Burnett’s manner of shooting them often expropriates a larger sense of the world beyond the frame, and so the films make palpable all that we are not allowed to see and know. These films use the house to impart what Taylor calls “the feeling of a prison.” It might be convenient or attractive to think that all forms of property ownership participate, un­consciously or not, in a carceral imaginary. But the stakes of incarceration are different for different types of people. Current statistics tell us that one in one hundred Americans is incarcerated. (In the state of Louisiana, that number shockingly increases to one in fifty-­five.) African Americans, however, are much more likely than whites to be imprisoned—­six times more likely, in fact. African Americans are disproportionately represented in imprisoned populations in the United States. Meanwhile, the prisons that house these people are increasingly run by private companies for profit. In this context, privatization is imprisonment and imprisonment privatization. Incarceration rates quadrupled in the United States between 1980 and 2008.94 The oppressive privacy of the house that we see in Killer of Sheep, made in 1977, could be read as an eerie prolepsis of this state of affairs—­especially given the fact that a criminal act, one that could result in imprisonment were it to be carried out, is discussed on the front porch of Stan’s bungalow. The film occasions the consideration of the relation between the private house as a carceral, disciplinary structure and the privatized prison system that forcibly removes African Americans from their homes and places them in private prisons, where they are frequently forced to perform radically low-­paid (or even unpaid) labor.

My Home Is Seen in the Background I want to close this chapter with two insignificant curiosities from the archive. Both come from the production files for Mildred Pierce. The first is a brief exchange of letters between Mrs. M. Walter Yeager and Carl Benoit, an employee in the location department at Warner Bros. Mrs. Yeager and her husband were the real-­l ife owners of Mildred’s bungalow on 1143 North Jackson Street (Corvalis Street in the film). Mrs. Yeager writes regarding some unfinished exchanges of property (props, really) and money: “Mr. Yeager would appreciate very much a check from Warner Bros. for the photographs

Wrong Life

101

he let them have for a Real Estate Scene in Miss Crawford’s new picture.”95 Benoit writes back apologetically to explain that the studio had not understood that there was to be any charge, given that it was only borrowing (renting?) the photographs, but that he is “sure we can settle this matter to your satisfaction.” He closes his letter, “The picture is coming along very nicely and will finish this week. I sincerely hope you will enjoy seeing your house on the screen.”96 People expect to be paid for the use of their property, and people expect other people to enjoy seeing their property onscreen. (It is also interesting to think that eventually the Yeagers would probably end up paying to see their property onscreen, as well.) Testimony to Benoit’s assumption that “seeing your house on the screen” will bring you pleasure is found in another letter in the same folder in the Warner Bros. archive. Shortly following the release of Mildred Pierce in 1945, Mrs. Rose Rothenberg (26122 Roosevelt Highway, Pacific Palisades, California) wrote a letter of appreciation to Warner Bros. The letter also included a request. The letter reads:

Wrong Life

102

Gentlemen—­ I enjoyed the picture “Mildred Pierce” very much. But, was also pleasantly surprised to see shots of my home in it. My home is seen in the background of the scene showing Joan Crawford and Jack Carson—­both were excellent in the picture—­d riving along the coast highway after leaving the beach house. I would be very grateful if it were possible to have those shots as a momento [sic]. Thanking you in advance, I remain, Yours very truly, (Mrs.) Rose Rothenberg 97

The location department, to whom this letter was eventually forwarded, had to disappoint Mrs. Rothenberg. We can, without condescension, identify with her pleasure—­t he pleasure that she has taken in the film, the pleasure in seeing her house up there on the screen. But her letter suggests the disquieting sense that what belongs to us does so only provisionally. And cinema, through its attention to the house—­w hether this attention is concentrated or, as here, in the sequence described in Mrs.

Rothenberg’s letter, fleeting and contingent—­expresses powerfully the pleasures and disappointments, the appropriations and expropriations of our experience of domestic architecture. Cinema is a door, cinema is a window: something whose border we cross, something we see through. But the door is often shut, and the window a surface of transparent exclusion.

Wrong Life

103

This page intentionally left blank

THREE

All Too Easy The Modernist House and Effortless Appropriation

The bungalow is a kind of jail cell for the characters in Charles Burnett’s cinema—­a space of difficult compression and impoverishment, while for white filmmakers and inhabitants of bungalows both fictional and real, the bungalow might have embodied a kind of artisanal modernity, a compact openness of space, and a promise of possession. But somehow it was always slipping out of its inhabitants’ possession, no matter how desperately they tried to keep things straight. It was the breeding ground, therefore, for both a critique of the shabbiness of the merely modern (Adorno, Horkheimer, and Mildred Pierce) and a modernist aesthetic experiment (Meshes of the Afternoon). The bungalow’s architecture is modern and protomodernist. In a modest way, the bungalow’s utopian dimensions looked forward to the conditions of modernist architecture and its emphasis on spaciousness and thus, in a sense, on space itself. The idea that modernist architecture constitutes a practice of

105

making space, of producing space, or of engineering an encounter with the spatial itself is discovered across modernist architectural discourse. Architectural modernism, as construed by its most influential exegetes and theorists of the postwar period, is essentially a medium for the experience of space. Certainly important monuments of modernist architecture have produced iconic images of themselves or their exteriors, but modernist architecture’s great successes have involved themselves and their inhabitants (or users) with the experience of spatiality as spatiality. Canonical accounts of modernist architecture (unsurprisingly) privilege space as a nearly autonomous field of experience. In Vision in Motion, Hungarian modernist and member of the Bauhaus school László Moholy-­Nagy argues: A dwelling should not be merely the fulfilment of elementary physical requirements. It must answer them in integration with an organic spatial solution, with the natural human desire for visual and plastic essentials. Man must have not only physical but also psychological comfort by experiencing organized space. The dwelling should not only be a retreat, but also a life in space, a full relationship with it.1

All Too Easy

106

In his Space, Time and Architecture, the critic and historian Sigfried Giedion preoccupies himself with charting the new space-­t ime of the (mid-­)twentieth century in which “a hitherto unknown interpenetration of inner and outer space” had become hegemonic. 2 Bruno Zevi’s treatise on how to see and respond to architecture is entitled, simply, Architecture as Space.3 Across the discourse of architectural modernism, space as such was the content and medium of modern architecture. This tendency has been noted in more recent historiographic work on modernist architecture. For instance, Anthony Vidler has suggested that early historians of the modern movement saw themselves producing “more a history of space than a history of style,” while Reinhold Martin has commented that “what the moderns called ‘space’ was itself a type of content.”4 The house is a privileged locus for the practice of genuinely innovative modernist architecture in the United States, and while the exteriors of a Frank Lloyd Wright house or a house by Richard Neutra may enjoy recognition and prestige, it is the interior space of the modernist house—­or the imbrication of interior and exterior spaces—­t hat is frequently the site of this architecture’s great-

est innovations. The modernist house was a means of conquering space, even if the space in question was relatively modest. (Sandy Isenstadt has demonstrated, moreover, that the reality or illusion of spaciousness was not exclusively or even particularly a trait of modernist architecture, but was one of the chief pursuits of typical middle-­class domestic architecture in twentieth-­century America.) 5 In the American context, the house asserts itself as a privileged medium for modernist experimentation.6 As Alice Friedman has written apropos of modernist architects and their female clients, “the essence of modernity was the complete alteration of the home—­ its construction, materials, and interior spaces.”7 If we turn to film in order to add it to this mounting equation (which is not, I hope, merely a string of equivalent propositions), then we find that frequently film’s “foregrounding” of space qua space is a means of its association with modernist aesthetics.8 Modernism, the house, cinema: all three are overlapping modes of spatial experimentation, inquiry, and critique. In this chapter I want to look at several episodes in the entwined history of modernist domestic architecture and the cinema. Almost all of my examples of architecture are drawn from real houses, almost all of which were built in or around Los Angeles; thus, consistent with chapter 2, the present chapter also involves me in thinking about the rich tradition of modernism in this city. My primary concerns, however, are not geographical or local, but open onto broader questions regarding how the history of aesthetic modernism redefines or clarifies the relation of cinema and architecture, as well as questions about property itself. According to Beatriz Colomina, the challenge of working intermedially is implicit in thinking about modern architecture: All Too Easy

107 To think about modern architecture must be to pass back and forth between the question of space and the question of representation. Indeed, it will be necessary to think of architecture as a system of representation, or rather a series of overlapping systems of representation. This does not mean abandoning the traditional architectural object, the building. In the end, it means looking at it much more closely than before, but also in a different way. The building should be understood in the same terms as drawings, photographs, writing, films, and advertisements; not only because these are the media in which we more often encounter it, but because the building is a mechanism of representation in its own right.9

All Too Easy

108

What Colomina proposes here could nearly serve as a methodological statement of purpose for this chapter’s (and, indeed, this book’s) ambitions. It should be apparent by this point that I regard architecture as another medium of representation and cinema as a medium constituted by architecture and space, and as a medium that is especially powerful and useful in understanding architecture—­i n spatial, symbolic, and mediatic terms. But Colomina’s subject here is modern architecture, and it does seem that modern architecture poses the question of the affinity of architecture and cinema in peculiar or peculiarly suggestive ways. Because so much of modern architecture is associated with the transparent lucidity of the plate-­g lass window, its purchase on and relation to the visible and the visual strikes us as especially impressive. And perhaps the view offered by a plate-­g lass window approaches something like the optical conditions of cinema itself. Moreover, like modern painting, modern architecture loosens its relation to the symbolic—­i n a certain sense—­i n order to articulate itself as a mode of untrammeled visuality-­spatiality. But it would be a mistake to overstate the sympathy between cinema and modern architecture as ontological—­or as any more ontological than the relation between cinema and any other form of architecture. For one thing, much of the cinema in which modern architecture is pictured or used is not itself modernist. With few exceptions, American cinema’s appeals to modern American architecture tend to figure in films that are relatively conservative, in formal or textual terms. The modernist house figures more frequently in realist, Hollywood cinema than it does in avant-­garde filmmaking, whose experimental nature might seem to make it a more obvious collaborator with modern architecture’s aesthetic experiments. But when we consider the fact that inhabiting a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or even Richard Neutra would have been beyond the means of a filmmaker like Deren, we can understand this mostly missed encounter between these two experimental registers.10 I want to treat the question of modern architecture’s relationship to cinema in a manner that is less ontological and more discursive, but that keeps in sight the production of spatiality (or, in Isenstadt’s terms, “spaciousness”) that is so important a feature of modernist architecture. One of the many things that modernist works of art frequently seem to promise is an experience of unease—­of difficulty, incomprehension, anxiety—­w hereas mod-

ern architecture promises more or less the opposite. Modern architecture often offers an experience of facility, harmony, and easeful living. The films in which modern architecture appears (and here it is worth reminding readers that I am referring to American cinema) tend to take this architecture at its word, or they aim to prove that it is lying, that the promise of ease is an empty one—­a s empty as modern architecture’s abstract spaces themselves.11 The promises and problems of ease, of course, are obviously connected to the promises and problems of property, the possession of which ought to ensure peace of mind but somehow never quite manages to do so.

Modernism and (Cinematic) Value

109 All Too Easy

Donald Albrecht, a curator and historian, argues that Hollywood cinema of the early to mid-­1930s did much to popularize the image of modernist architecture in the United States. Set design at the major studios (particularly MGM, which employed Cedric Gibbons) imitated modernist architecture’s achievements. Very often the deployment of modernist set design was symbolic (of wealth, of decadence). At other times, modernist set architecture proved a boon in articulating depth of space and rearticulating the dimensions of the screen.12 Albrecht employs a very strict periodization, in which a “brilliant period of experimentation in the early 1930s capped a period of discovery in the 1920s.” He attributes this curtailment of interest in modernism to a “shift toward greater realism” (a shift he leaves untheorized and unexplained).13 In his view, modernist Hollywood set design gave “a sense of fantasy, whimsy, and drama” to modernism’s “serious and sober” buildings.14 Essentially, Albrecht argues that Hollywood filmmaking created a public for modernist architecture that it otherwise would not have been able to attract. These representations of modernist design culture, however, are deployed inside realist fictions. I do not mean to pit modernism and realism against each other as antithetical concepts, but it is quite striking at times the difference between the innovation and abstraction of architecture seen in a given film and the relative representational conservatism of the film in which the architecture is seen. An example of the tension between the aesthetic values of modernist architecture and those of a film in which such architecture is displayed, talked about, and agonized over is provided by King Vidor’s The Fountainhead (1949). The film is an

A realist view of modernist architecture in The Fountainhead (1949).

All Too Easy

110

adaptation of Ayn Rand’s best-­selling eponymous novel, published in 1943, a hymn to free market capitalism and neoconservative self-­ determination in which Howard Roark, an idealized heroic modernist architect, battles the supposed “mediocrity” of the forces arrayed against him—­chiefly, the purveyors of traditional, historicist architecture. Rand herself moved to Hollywood in order to adapt the novel as a screenplay. (I will discuss her living arrangements in more detail a bit later in this chapter.) The novel is a turgidly realist affair, and its championing of modernist architecture sits oddly in relation to its own retrograde form. The film is similarly split between object of representation (Howard Roark’s modernist designs) and mode of representation (the film itself, a thoroughgoing example of Hollywood “classicism”). In the film, Roark (played, it must be said, woodenly by Gary Cooper) resists his prospective clients’ attempts to temper the style of his design for a modernist skyscraper. He rebukes them in the terms of boilerplate modernist ideology: “A building has integrity, just like a man, and just as seldom. It must be true to its own idea, have its own form, and serve its own purpose.” The scene in which this exchange takes place, however, is shot and edited in a manner entirely consistent with the artistically conservative values of “classical” Hollywood filmmaking. The modernist artifact—­in

Difficult, or a Bit Too Easy I want to pass from the questions of space itself as a dominant mode of modernist architecture’s articulation and of this architecture’s symbolic signification in film to consider the question of the affective life that is proposed or nourished by modernist architectural space. Here, in an abrupt shift of registers, I want to ask why it is that modernist architecture is so easy—­so easy to like (or

111 All Too Easy

this scene the scale model of Roark’s skyscraper—­puts no pressure on and is assimilated seamlessly by the codes of narrative realism. Albrecht concludes his discussion of the film by claiming that “modern décor in The Fountainhead was only feasible within the pragmatic confines of narrative necessity.”15 In other words, realism permits and subsumes modernism as object of narration. Roark’s designs called to mind both International Style modernism and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright (who was a critic of the former). Wright, in fact, was originally approached to produce the sets and drawings of Roark’s projects for the film, but the fee he asked was too high, and Edward Carrere, a set designer, was hired instead.16 (According to film historian Merrill Schleier, Wright “hated” the finished film and “worked to divorce himself publicly from any association with the novel, film, and Rand.”)17 The film was coolly received by film reviewers but savaged by architectural critics for its lack of authenticity and accuracy in Carrere’s drawings and designs. George Nelson, an architect, attacked the film as “the silliest travesty of modern architecture that has yet hit the films” and called it “a total perversion of formal and structural elements.”18 The literalism of this attack, while perhaps a bit obtuse and beside the point, nonetheless signals the uneasy partnership of classical cinema and modernist architecture. Albrecht tends to be interested in the way in which cinema ascribed to modernist architecture a set of symbolic values or “a cluster of connotations of affluence, glamour and escape.”19 Joseph Rosa has written in a similar vein about modernist architecture’s “transgressive, dangerous, wild, even criminal” connotative register in contemporary Hollywood cinema.20 The assignation of moral meanings, however accurate or however much intended by the filmmakers, interests me less than Albrecht’s compelling suggestion that cinema and modernist architecture shared a public but also enlarged an appetite for or at least an awareness of modernist architectural design.21

All Too Easy

112

dislike), and apparently so easy to use, easy to move around in. To bring the question more sharply into view, I draw on the history of literary modernism. The radical difference between the architectural experience of modernism and the literary experience of modernism—­at least in discursive terms—­is striking. Leonard Diepeveen has convincingly demonstrated that an experience of unease or difficulty has been central to the experience of literary modernism (something I noted above). Difficulty, “the experience of having one’s desires for comprehension blocked,” is “the recurring relationship that came into being between modernist works and their audiences.”22 Diepeveen’s privileging of difficulty as a heuristic extends from T. S. Eliot’s high modernist insistence that “poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult.”23 Difficulty is but one term that attempts the designation of literary modernism’s challenges to its readers. Complexity, obscurity, opacity, erudition, and even elitism: these are the cognate terms that find shelter under Diepeveen’s umbrella of difficulty. Running throughout the debates about the value of modernism, difficulty, Diepeveen argues, “became not just an argument about comprehension, it became an argument about professionalization, about pleasure, about the meaning of twentieth-­century culture.”24 Difficulty is, moreover, according to Diepeveen, “a social situation: it is produced by certain kinds of people and received favorably by other identifiable groups.”25 Laura Frost complicates Diepeveen’s account by arguing that modernist writers, even when they were producing texts that made extraordinary demands on their readers, were nonetheless obsessed with “managing different kinds of pleasure.”26 She argues that it is not simply the case that modernism rejected pleasure, as such, but that “the modernist doxa of difficulty gives rise to new kinds of pleasure. Along with offering thrilling and powerful innovation, modernist writers ask their readers not just to tolerate but also to embrace discomfort, confusion, and hard cognitive labor. Modernism, in short, instructs its reader in the art of unpleasure.”27 Frost’s argument is interesting, but as a reframing of the problem, it sounds more like an exercise in loosening categories in order to be able to claim that modernism did, in fact, aim at a “kind of contorted satisfaction.”28 But such satisfaction (Frost calls it “unpleasure”) still sounds like hard work, and, as we shall see, it is decidedly distinct from the more straightforwardly pleasurable satisfactions promised by modernist architecture.29 The anxiety that modernist difficulty provoked in readers was

an anxiety of not having access to, not gaining entry into, what seemed like the private, interior world of the experimental modernist text. Difficulty, that is, describes an experience of expropriation. This expropriation is often effected by the sometimes cluttered surface of the modernist text, its collection of fragments, its appropriation of privileged sources (I am thinking of Eliot here and of Ezra Pound, most obviously). Expropriation might be accomplished in modernist fiction through its multichambered psychological interiority (e.g., Virginia Woolf or William Faulkner), or through the sheer obduracy of a text’s duration (Samuel Beckett), or through the radical warping of syntax (Gertrude Stein). As my recourse to metaphors of surfaces and interiors signals, moreover, the experience of difficulty opens onto a discourse of spatiality, but a spatiality that is unlike the smooth spatiality we tend to associate with modernist architecture. Such an experience of difficulty and unease seems far removed from the often pristine and technologically utopian surfaces and spaces of modernist architecture. In fact, the two regimes of modernism (one opaque, difficult; the other lucid, easy) have sometimes been pitted against each other. Gyorgy Kepes, the design theorist and founder of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, compares the ease of modernist architecture to the difficulty of modernist painting in these invidious terms:

In this account, modern architecture claims masterful and facile possession of the space it contains, whereas modernist painting—­ the modernism of difficulty—­seems to have condemned itself to the ignoble exhibition of its own illegible interiority, made visible on obscene and filthy surfaces. What is more, the experience that modernist architecture offers (and here we assume Kepes is describing Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, completed

113 All Too Easy

A beautiful crystalline structure in America’s greatest city . . . displays, in surroundings that state an absolute control of contemporary materials and techniques and a perfect mastery of the new beauty of architectural space, images of the torn and broken man. In its offices and corridors are paintings and sculptures shaped with idioms in tune with the twilight spirit that created them: surfaces that are moldy, broken, corroded, ragged, dripping brush strokes executed with the sloppy brutality of cornered men.30

in 1958) is one in which the space itself affords an experience and performance of sovereign subjectivity—­a sovereignty that obtains even though we may not own the modernist space in which we find ourselves. This same experience of sovereignty is, it seems to me, what most forms of difficult modernism in the other arts are at great pains to upset or to deny. Methods of modernist architectural construction, though they are predicated on hard-­won technological expertise and industrially manufactured materials, also promise their own mode of ease. In Toward an Architecture (1924), in a caption to an illustration of an example of single-­story modern housing, Le Corbusier writes: Houses made of poured concrete. They are poured from above, as one would fill a bottle, with liquid cement. The house is built in three days. It emerges from the formwork like a piece of cast metal. But people revolt in the face of such “offhand” methods; people don’t believe in houses built in three days; a year is necessary, and pitched roofs, and dormers and mansards.31

All Too Easy

114

Le Corbusier’s more celebrated quip that “we must look upon the house as a machine for living in or a tool” suggests that the domestic names a site of some labor, but it is labor made easy by technological modernity’s gifts to aesthetic (architectural) modernism. 32 He goes on to claim that “what we can be proud of is having a house as practical as a typewriter.”33 At the point where modernist architectural discourse is most willing to discuss itself as laborious activity, it immediately confirms that this is a labor without laboriousness. Only surrealist photography and automatic writing suggest themselves as comparable modes of artistic practice in which effortlessness comes into view. But those practices impose on their beholders and readers the difficult task of comprehension and interpretation, or of contending with strangeness, at the very least. But modernist architecture seems—­at least at first glance—­easy to construct, easy to live in, and easy to apprehend. Architectural high modernism’s appeal to ease underwent a demotic translation during the housing boom of the postwar period, according to Mark Jarzombek, who has traced popular American domestic architecture’s appeal to what he calls “good-­life modernism.” Jarzombek narrates how, in the pages of magazines like House and Home, readers encountered “a programmatic fusion of the modernist aesthetics with a revitalized suburban conscious-

Effortless Labor: A Star Is Born (1954) As a way of beginning this exploration of modernist domestic architecture and cinema, let us turn to film by turning to a fictional house, one that exists (or existed) only somewhere between the Hollywood studio and the spectator’s imagination. I am interested in George Cukor’s 1954 remake of A Star Is Born, which stars Judy Garland in the role of Esther Blodgett (whose own screen name in the film’s fiction is Vicki Lester). The modernist home serves in this film as a spectacular performance space in which questions

115 All Too Easy

ness.”34 Museum shows in the 1950s, even those mounted in culturally prestigious institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, instructed visitors on the virtues of modern architectural designs for the home. These were, Jarzombek notes, little more than “glorified trade show[s].”35 Typically the sorts of housing proposed by good-­life modernism were dilutions or etiolated adaptations of more serious modernist architecture like that produced by Wright, Neutra, Gregory Ain, and other major figures. Basic iconographic and structural/stylistic features were borrowed and inserted into popularized housing designs that sidestepped or omitted modernism’s “complex interweaving of space.”36 Jarzombek works carefully to make distinctions between these bastardized practices and the work of architects like Neutra and the Eameses (who will both be discussed in this chapter). He sees these practices as fundamentally critical of good-­life modernism and its embrace of consumerism. Despite the profound differences that separate the good-­life modernist practices that Jarzombek laments and the good-­object architects whose work he champions, both modes, even if they can be firmly distinguished from one another in more than purely curatorial terms, take clarity, ease, and comfort as organizing principles. The distinctions that Jarzombek—­u sefully but perhaps too cleanly—­makes between a kind of low modernism implicated in unthinking consumerism and more serious modernist practices that were the correctives to such consumerism are harder to maintain when cinema enters the picture. Films have envisioned serious modernist domestic architecture in ways that often share the uncritical celebratoriness of good-­l ife modernism. But these films also work—­perhaps against the intentions of their makers—­to force into view some of the fantasies of property that underlie modernist architectural regimes, both high and low.

All Too Easy

116

of ease and difficulty are posed in a complicated fashion. At the commencement of what is perhaps the film’s most famous musical number, Esther comes home from a hard day at the studio. Her husband, Norman Maine (James Mason), sometime film star and now Esther’s stay-­at-­home househusband, has prepared her a modest supper of sandwiches and tossed salad, which he intends to serve from a hostess trolley. The scene is set in this show business couple’s seaside house (this is Malibu, we presume), a residence afforded by Esther’s blossoming film career. We are given a glimpse of its exterior via a process shot. Both this shot and the mise-­en-­ scène of the house’s interior indicate an emphatic but, by 1954, perhaps rather unremarkable modernism—­what seems to be the Warner Bros. art department’s version of a Richard Neutra house. The living room in which this scene takes place proposes an eclectic but harmonious mixture of tactile and visual surfaces: from the heavy, low, horizontal and asymmetrical massing of a travertine fireplace and mantelpiece to the low, hard-­edged sofas upholstered soberly in ochre and chocolate and populated by luridly contrasting throw pillows in fluorescent pinks, plaids, and stripes. Abstract paintings mingle with impressionist-­looking landscapes on the walls. We note a glass-­topped coffee table, a tiger-­skin rug, primitive artifacts, and, among other things, at least three Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs.37 Two glass curtain walls that meet in the room’s corner offer a view of the surf pounding the beach below. While what we see is not a real-­l ife Neutra interior, the living room nevertheless suggests (or attempts to simulate) what architectural historian Sylvia Lavin has called the “saturated plenum” of the domestic spaces that Neutra was busy designing from the 1930s to the 1960s.38 At this point in the film, Norman’s career has been flagging while Esther’s has taken flight. Norman spends his days indoors, practicing his putting, playing solitaire, and acting as Esther’s personal secretary. In an attempt to lift Norman’s spirits, Esther decides to perform a spectacular predinner number, one borrowed from the musical she has just come home from shooting. The song that Esther performs, with an accompanying dance routine, is “Someone at Last”—­a song about space and desire: “Somewhere there’s a someone,” the song begins. Esther calls it “the production number to end all production numbers.” “An American in Paris?” Norman asks. To which she jokingly adds a list of other geographical locations: Spain, Brazil, Pakistan, and the Burma Road.

Esther Blodgett’s (fictional) Neutra-­esque modernist Malibu home in A Star Is Born (1954).

117 All Too Easy

Esther performs the song while Norman looks on amusedly (helplessly), but she must also evoke the scene changes that, of course, cannot be simulated in this living room. In order to give visual substance to some of these implied scenes, Esther turns salt and pepper mills into maracas and a lampshade into a “Chinese” hat. Esther’s performance takes place and takes shape in and through the medium of architecture, of the modernist domestic interior. Inside the space of this modernist living room, there is space enough to reenact the extraordinary international scene changes of Esther’s musical blockbuster. (Like International Style architecture, this film can be everywhere.) Beyond the generous provision of design objects that can be refashioned as theatrical props, the (fictional, implied) house is even more generous in its provision of mere space for Esther’s easefully harried performance. (The fictional open-­plan modernist architecture also allows for the fluid dollying of the camera required in the shooting of the scene.) The seeming effortlessness of this number, and the effortlessness of the room’s accommodation of the number, raises the question of the relationship between modernism and ease. The scene itself exhibits the self-­consciousness that is typical of many reflexive musicals. However, the nervous, nearly frenetic energy of this number is peculiar to and a product of its lateness in the musical’s classical-­ period life cycle. A Star Is Born subjects us to the fascinating but somewhat uncomfortable spectacle of two (expected) comebacks: that of the musical, a genre that was then in decline, and, more poignantly, that of Garland, whose career had suffered a series of spasmodic ups and downs as a result of her struggle with drug and alcohol dependency.

It is instructive, therefore, to consider that the accommodation of these imagined or improvisationally evoked scene changes gestures rather directly toward a mode of production that Hollywood in the 1950s was finding it could no longer afford or house. The musical, with its profligate consumption of studio space and studio capital, was as unwieldy and risky a financial proposition in 1954 as was a tenuously rehabilitated and still drug-­dependent Garland. In other words, if we are willing (playfully and for the moment) to abstract our terms somewhat, we might say that the modernism of domestic architectural space in A Star Is Born makes space for the fantasmatic—­a nd yet very real, very material—­performance of that which would not be sustained elsewhere in the looming post­ industrial reorganization of the Hollywood star system. We should recall, as well, that it was at this same period that Hollywood began to outsource production of space-­hogging productions to places like Cinecittá (in Rome), where space could be had more cheaply. (We might call to mind Quo Vadis [Mervyn LeRoy, 1951] or Ben-­Hur [William Wyler, 1959]). These historical considerations endow the number’s supposed international set changes with an extra layer of irony. If we regard A Star Is Born, as Jane Feuer does, as a “modernist re-­w riting of the classical genre,” then the scene carries a double modernist charge. Feuer terms Esther’s performance a “bricolage number” that “systematically debunks the principle of the spontaneous generation of performance in musicals.”39 Bricolage counters “engineering.” Feuer associates the former with “folk production,” the latter with “mass production.” According to Feuer, Esther’s

All Too Easy

118

surprise at discovering each object at exactly the needed time makes us forget that these objects were carefully positioned there for her use. We get the impression that Judy Garland is rebuilding the phoney, calculated studio-­production number around her own intimate environment. And yet this number is actually the most calculated of all. The more it appears as bricolage, the more it cancels out its creation through engineering.40

Esther’s performance also gives the lie to architectural modernism’s supposed ease. And the lie implicates not just architectural modernism but also its specific materialization as domestic private

The modernist interior as setting for a modernist rewriting of the musical number in A Star Is Born.

119 All Too Easy

property. Esther’s frenetic “bricolage”—­t he intensity with which she has brought her work home, so to speak (and we should recall that the term bricolage carries with it a sense of construction)—­is precipitated by Norman’s enclosure within and abandonment to this space—­h is lack of publicity, in other words. (Esther is, by the way, working very hard at making this look easy; she knows it, we know it.) If literary modernism’s difficulty is the site of a social negotiation of meaning and privilege, then architectural modernism’s otium—­its easy plenitude of space and surface—­m ight actually (if mutely) bespeak an unease about its lack of serious purchase on such a public, social settling of affairs. Esther evokes an un­limited expanse of space in the limited space of her living room, whose open architectural space accommodates a heterogeneous array of artifacts. This performance is itself an invitation to spectators (both in and of the film) to enter a space (the space of the film she is shooting) to which they are actually denied access: Norman will not see it, we will not see it, and ultimately Hollywood cannot construct it, which is why the film forces Esther/Garland to evoke it here, in the space we can see. In this modernist performance that takes place in and through modernist architectural space, a private space no less, we are entertained by what we see and the space in which we see it. And yet this entertainment’s actual referent is a space to which we can gain no access. We can no more see the musical to which “Someone at Last” belongs (in the fiction of the film) than we can visit Esther and Norman in their Malibu home.

Proprietary Personality: Neutra, von Sternberg, Rand Now I will pass from the fictional to the real: most of the rest of this chapter deals with modernist houses that actually exist (or existed) and that are (or were) actually inhabited. Most of these houses, with one major exception, are found in Los Angeles; all of them are traversed by the cinema or the cinematic in a variety of ways. I begin by looking more closely at a house designed by the aforementioned Richard Neutra, a major, if idiosyncratic, figure in inter-­and postwar modernism. Neutra was born in Vienna, studied under Adolf Loos there (was even psychoanalyzed by Freud), and moved to the United States to work with Frank Lloyd Wright. He settled in Los Angeles finally, in 1925, having accepted an invitation from Rudolf Schindler (a friend from Vienna and another architect) to rent part of Schindler’s house (itself a major modernist statement) in Hollywood. Neutra’s work in the late 1920s and early 1930s exhibits a modernism that fits very comfortably within the mainstreams of modernist architecture in Europe. The most important houses of his early career are the Lovell House (1927–­29); the Research House (1932), which he designed for himself and his family; and the Josef von Sternberg House (1935). All of these projects employed industrial prefabricated materials and what was at the time the highest degree of technological sophistication. It was Schindler, Neutra’s friend, and later his rival, who first tried to obtain a commission from von Sternberg, himself another emigrant and visual stylist from Vienna who had relocated to L.A. in the 1920s. In need of lucrative commissions (the Lovell House commission had been his originally), Schindler wrote to von Sternberg in July 1929: All Too Easy

120 The movie director who wants to create thorobreds can do nothing but wait until the public grows eyes. The architect who is limited by economic considerations, might thru some chance find a client who already has eyes. I, a pupil of Otto Wagner, of Vienna, have been trying to develop contemporary building in Los Angeles for the last eight years, without finding anyone whose imagination could follow me to the end. . . . You are reputed to be a contemporary artist of imagination and achievement. May I present to you a new conception of architecture, which transcends the childish freaks of the fashionable modernique decorator?41

Despite Schindler’s chutzpah in writing to von Sternberg, the latter would, six years later, hire Neutra to design his retreat in the then entirely pastoral San Fernando Valley. (By this time the two architects had become estranged.) A letter from von Sternberg to Neutra found in the Neutra papers archived at UCLA suggests that the two courted each other as prospective client and prospective architect: I am very grateful to you for having been so interested in my problem of finding another residence and your offer of assistance to my secretary. Were it not for the fact that I dislike creating anything permanent in this part of the world I should have asked you long ago to build something for me. I have been wanting for ages to talk to you and to have you come to my home but it has been such a messy year for me I haven’t had a moment’s time to spare from my work. I hope someday to have an opportunity to talk to you at length.42

The house was designed in 1934 and finished in 1935. The description of the project in the Neutra papers (prepared by Neutra’s office) suggests that the house is constituted by and constitutes a set of gazes, directed outside at the thirteen acres of property on which the house was built and inside at the property the house was built to hold:

It is hard not to read into this description a kind of inherent cine­ maticity at work in the house; it seems as much a viewfinder, or framer of views, as a space to be inhabited. The connection between Neutra’s work and the cinema was real and material. Thomas Hines, Neutra’s biographer and historian of his work, observes that “most of Neutra’s large Los Angeles houses of the thirties were connected with the movies and Hollywood,” including houses for the

121 All Too Easy

A free and impressive view on the extensive mountain is obtained in all directions. . . . The semi circular stairway of black marble terrazzo winds around a spindle wall which in its top carries recessed the light for indirect illumination. On the northerly side, the stair room communicates through a plate-­ glass screen with the owners [sic] room and permits his view on the plate-­g lass-­a luminum cases filled with his collection of rare books on the south side of the stairroom [sic].43

actress Anna Sten and her director husband, Eugene Frenke, for the great screenwriter Anita Loos, and for the producer Albert Lewin.44 The house that Neutra built for von Sternberg is bold and quite nearly abstract. (Sadly for us, it no longer exists, having fallen victim in the 1970s to a suburban developer’s bulldozer.) The two defining features of the house are its geometric abstraction and its simple intention of enclosing (and therefore defining) private space. Hines informs that the “house was widely published in the international press and evoked virtually unanimous praise.”45 Its publication ensured that rich photographic documentation of it survives. Its abstract forms and its regime of privacy, however, mean that it is difficult to understand how one can best see it when looking at these photographs: the house is both a challenge to visual comprehension and a means to a view. Hines writes that the house featured a high, curving aluminum wall enclosing the front patio that led from the living room. . . . Surrounding the wall, and, in broken stretches, the entire house, was a shallow moat or reflecting pool for fish and water lilies. To further exaggerate the real size of the house, a long thin wall extended from the west facade, dividing front and rear gardens.46

The aluminum wall is one of the perplexing features of the house. Given its remoteness at the time of its commission and construction, the large enclosed patio seems a hyperbolization of the quest for privacy, but also, regarded from both exterior and interior, a blank surface, not unlike a movie screen. The house’s technology of privacy is given exotic fabulation in Neutra’s autobiographical memoir: All Too Easy

122

[The house] was way out of town, and a man with a big income from a successful film . . . could be easily molested by kidnappers, who might try to cross the moat beneath the pendant optical grating during the night. It was also clear that this medieval scheme of protection was in a way primitive and outdated and would have to be supplemented by electronic devices to do away with any intruders who entered the moat as soon as they got their feet wet. Thus flipping a switch on the complex control panel over the night stand in the bedroom would suddenly electrically charge the water of those protection basins.

The idea was that while the producer . . . was sleeping late in the morning, his Persian chauffeur would, before breakfast, remove from the moat any bodies accumulated during the night. . . . I must admit that we ran into a big extra when we suddenly found that an electric incinerator would be necessary to dispose of the bodies fished out of the moat.47

Neutra (perhaps only humorously) conceives of the desire for privacy as nearly murderous, perverse: the stuff of movies. Von Sternberg’s account in his autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, is less overheated but probably just as little to be trusted in its own way. The director recalls that he “took the first step to isolate myself from the world of motion pictures” by building himself a house.

123 All Too Easy

I selected a distant meadow in the midst of an empty landscape, barren and forlorn, to make a retreat for myself, my books, and my collection of modern art. It was to be constructed of steel and glass, inside and outside, and while it was going up I planted a thousand trees, now a tall forest and no longer an empty landscape. I chose a comparatively unknown (at the time) architect to carry out my ideas of what a house should be. In my files is a charming letter which acknowledges a photograph he had requested and which I had sent to him with a note. His letter reads in part: “There is nothing puzzling about great pleasure having it . . . it was a significant experience indeed to be close to you.” This gentleman, now well known Richard Neutra, also seems badly to have digested this his “significant experience,” as for years he has said that I kept four large cannons in this house to ward off visitors (once it was completed he was never inside), cultivated black widow spiders to spin webs to conceal the outside, had a drawbridge built over the moat so no one could enter, uprooted a giant rubber tree and moved it from place to place until it was at a proper angle to be viewed against a distant mountain, and ordered him to build the structure at a cost no greater than one week’s salary of mine. Two or three years ago, meeting him when it could not be avoided, I asked him why he said things like the above, and he answered with a weird grin, “Don’t you think that helps to make you interesting?”48

Richard Neutra’s house for Josef von Sternberg, with moat and large enclosing wall. Photograph by Julius Shulman. Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles [2004.R.10].

All Too Easy

124

In this passage of casual recollection we see the house as resort, as escape into privacy, and as retreat from the social world. Not only is the house an exceptional object (made of “steel and glass’”) in and of itself, but it also acts as the container for other exceptional objects (“myself, my books, and my collection of modern art”): a curiosity in itself and a home for curiosity. Von Sternberg claims that the house was still “not far away enough from everything.”49 Legend also has it that he found it too far from the studios and was unnerved by the fact that it was used as a mock bombing target by the air force during the war.50 Thus, however much the house was designed specifically for von Sternberg, it was not long before it passed into the hands of another celebrity owner, also connected to the movie business—­none other than Ayn Rand. Rand took up residence in the house while working on the screenplay adaptation of The Fountainhead. Rand disliked Los Angeles and liked its property market even less: “Apartments

Another view of Neutra’s von Sternberg House, emphasizing the length of the aluminum wall and its associated moat. Photograph by Julius Shulman. Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles [2004.R.10].

It is a wonderful house. Not as good as a Frank Lloyd Wright one—­but there are none of Wright’s here that would have suited our purpose, the one we found was too old and needed too many repairs. This one is all steel, glass and concrete—­ with a big garden, orchard and field of alfalfa.52

All Too Easy

here are simply impossible, in both cost and comfort,” she wrote to her accountant in New York.51 In various letters to friends and other correspondents, Rand describes the pleasure she took in the von Sternberg house. One such letter reads:

125

An article for a local newspaper, published in 1948 to tie in with the premiere of The Fountainhead, emphasizes the question of the building’s and its new owner’s personality: A radically different structure, the ultra-­modern home was bought by the writer and her husband, Frank O’Connor, four years ago. She chose it, with its strikingly plain lines, its mirrored and glass walls, steel construction and marble floors, because it was distinctive—­i ndividualistic.53

Later in her life, however, in a series of interviews undertaken for an oral history of her life, Rand described the decision to buy the house in more pecuniary terms. When asked by her interviewer specifically about the architecture of the house, Rand replied, “Our main reason for buying it, apart from the pleasure of having a house, was to invest the money from the movie rights [to The Fountainhead].”54 Even when pressed by the same interviewer again about Neutra’s architecture, Rand emphasized instead “the pleasure of being householders, and investment.”55 These comments do not displace the sense of pleasure that Rand communicates in the letter quoted above. But considered alongside one another, the letters and the later interviews suggest a tension between the personality of the house (and its reflection of its owners’ personalities) and the abstract nature of property itself. Such tension is found again in a consideration of Rand’s fiction in relation to her more philosophical writings. The Fountainhead expresses a belief in architecture as monument to a specific personality, but in The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand writes more abstractly and alarmingly about the value of property as such: All Too Easy

126

No human rights can exist without property rights. Since material goods are produced by the mind and effort of individual men, and are needed to sustain their lives, if the producer does not own the result of his effort, he does not own his life. To deny property rights means to turn men into property owned by the state. Whoever claims the “right” to “redistribute” the wealth produced by others is claiming the “right” to treat human beings as chattel.56

While Adorno, as we know, wrote that “it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home,” Rand would argue instead that “there is

Ayn Rand as proprietress of the Neutra-­designed von Sternberg House. Her gaze is directed at the patio enclosed by the aluminum wall. Photograph by Julius Shulman. Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles [2004.R.10].

127 All Too Easy

no ‘right to a home,’ only the right of free trade: the right to build a home or to buy it.”57 Rand’s actual enjoyment of the von Sternberg House is more in evidence in a series of photographs that Julius Shulman took of her and her husband to illustrate an article about Rand and the house published in House & Garden in August 1949. (Shulman, who will pop up again in this chapter, made a name for himself photographing Neutra’s architecture, and the celebrity of photographer and architect are mutually implicated.) In these photographs we see Rand entertaining in the enclosed aluminum patio, walking the grounds, sitting for a portrait in the yawning space of her living room. In one photograph, a seated Rand gazes out toward the private enclosure of the patio. The arrangements of gladioli in the immediate foreground and to Rand’s right, between her chair and the window, have obviously been put there by Shulman, the

photographer, in order to ensure that his photograph adequately registers the expansiveness of Rand’s living room. Rand, the writer, holds a book (one of her own?) while the little world she owns outside apparently maintains itself as the object of her fascinated gaze. The enclosed privacy of the patio belies the house’s vulnerability to prying eyes. In Scott McConnell’s interview with Rand’s personal secretary, June Kurisu, the house takes on an air of threatened exposure and vulnerability: JK: The house, upstairs anyway, was their bedroom and the

bathroom. It was all glass and there was no covering. You could see houses down below but they’re quite a ways away. I suppose nobody could see anything unless they deliberately got out there with a telescope. SM: They didn’t have curtains or anything? JK: No curtains, no. SM: You’re kidding! Where would they get changed or whatever? JK: Just right there, I guess. Like I say, unless someone was

deliberately looking with binoculars or anything. I suppose if the lights were on anything they were doing would be visible as figures, human figures moving around or whatever.58

All Too Easy

128

The legend of the house, in other words, folds back on itself as both the most private enclosure of stilled space and (potentially) the most public display of moving figures—­a lmost something of a drive-in movie theater in potentia. Just like von Sternberg before her, Rand would come to sell the house. The alienability of property reigns above any of its other attributes: as luck (or historical irony) would have it, Rand was eventually forced to sell 1.663 of the property’s 13 acres, in accordance with the law of eminent domain, so that a junior high school could be constructed next door. Rand would protest, “Why demand property to within a few feet of a magnificent house, depreciating its value and leaving the owners with a house practically unsalable!” The affair seems to have prompted Rand to sell the property in its entirety, which she did in 1962.59 In his autobiography, von Sternberg attempts bitchily to shore up his ownership of the house—­or at least its relation to his personality—­despite the fact that, according to him, the house is (or was) primarily remembered as having belonged to Rand:

It should be mentioned that in most of the books on his [Neutra’s] work, this house, according to him, was not built for me but for its recent owner, now well known as the author of The Fountainhead, though at the time I built the house of steel and glass the author thus credited was employed in the wardrobe department of a Hollywood studio.60

According to Merrill Schleier, Rand moved to Hollywood in 1926 to work as a screenwriter under Cecil B. DeMille, thus it is unlikely she worked in anyone’s wardrobe department.61 But in his dismissal of Rand as a studio grunt, von Sternberg tries in vain to maintain possession of and identification with something that he no longer owns.

Neutra’s Ha-­Ha

129 All Too Easy

In her attention to the houses that Neutra designed and built in the late 1940s through the 1960s, Sylvia Lavin, somewhat in tension with my line of inquiry so far, places the architect outside the tradition, discussed above, that understands modernist architecture as a generator of pure space. Neutra’s work, according to Lavin, actually materializes an attempt “to fill the ‘dreaded’ void of modernist space with an overwhelming atmosphere of sensation.”62 Neutra’s architectural writings are saturated with the language of affect. “Human habitat,” he once wrote, “in the deepest sense is much more than mere shelter. It is the fulfillment of the search—­i n space—­for happiness and emotional equilibrium.”63 Neutra’s architecture provided, in his own words, “a stage for living” in which space did not extend itself as pure abstraction, but instead could expand and contract, could be alternately restrictive and expansive; its effect, writes Lavin, is to produce an “ambient indeterminacy.”64 Hines describes this practice as “an intense concentration on dismantling conventional barriers between inside and out.”65 This indeterminacy was an affective mode, one in which the spatial effects of architecture produced effects of empathy and identification. Inhabiting Neutra’s houses was meant to be pleasurable, but this pleasure was derived from an intense stimulation of the senses through the rigorous application of architecture that consistently confused relations between inside and outside, near and far, lightness and weight. These confusions and ambivalences, I would argue, were not merely aesthetic or sensory, but also spoke to ambivalences regarding the nature of private property.

All Too Easy

130

One of the ways in which Neutra pursued the making ambivalent of inside and out was through a radical cathexis of structural, load-­bearing elements, like beams (though at times these were only ornamental), and pictorial, non-­load-­bearing elements, like plate-­g lass walls. These elements often met fantastically at the corners of buildings. One of Neutra’s innovations, a design feature that almost became a signature in the later years of his career, was the “spider-­leg outrigging,” in which “a single beam or fascia stretches far beyond the edge of the roof at a major corner and turns down to reach the ground.”66 Lavin’s observation that the spider leg could be “beam or fascia” tells us that its status could oscillate between function (beam) and non-­load-­bearing ornament (fascia). Hines writes that the spider-­leg rigging effected “the extension of the building to infinity while simultaneously anchoring it to the earth.”67 Hines also indicates that spider-­leg rigging was frequently “non-­structural,” the architect’s “most ubiquitous ornament.”68 Early iterations of the spider leg appeared in Neutra’s Rourke (1949) and Kaufmann (1946–­47) Houses. Lavin writes that in “displacing the corners of rooms, and in some cases the very structure of the house, such normally stabilizing architectural elements are indeterminately inside and outside at the same time.”69 An especially theatrical effect of this blurring can be seen in the Chuey House from 1956, in which a long single spider leg reaches far beyond the limits of the house and plants itself vertically in the middle of the garden, next to a pool. The beam that constitutes its horizontal axis runs along and atop the border of a wall of plate glass. At the house’s corner, two plate-­g lass walls meet, glass to glass, in what is called a mitered corner. Glass, of course, cannot bear weight, and the placement of the mitered glass theatricalizes this defiance of gravity. The spider leg and the corresponding beam that meets it at the house’s edge at a ninety-­degree angle are, of course, the load-­bearing elements, but their radical extension away from the house confuses the eye into taking them for nearly abstract and ornamental features, just as the plate glass confuses inside and out. While the play of inside and out, structure and ornament must engage the inhabitant—­who is also, always, perhaps first and foremost, a spectator—­in a pleasurable state of play, the same seamlessly mitered corners of plate-­ glass window wall bring the outside world, and not just the backyard, but the wider world beyond, excruciatingly close. Given that the view out of such a window extends beyond the domain of land that the owner of the house actually possesses, this architecture

Neutra’s Chuey House, with the signature spider legs and mitered windows. House built 1956; photographed 1960. Photograph by Julius Shulman. Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles [2004.R.10].

131 All Too Easy

constitutes the bringing close and visual appropriation of a world that does not belong to the owner. Neutra’s windows are a literal spatial enlargement of the “picture window,” which Isenstadt, in his indispensable history of the form, has called “the single most ubiquitous feature of the single-­ family house.”70 Initially the picture window, which began to appear as a regular architectural feature in domestic homes in the 1930s, “promised an environment of shared values,” but after only a couple of decades it became charged with being “banal, repressive, and self-­deceptive.”71 Isenstadt writes suggestively of the way in which these windows not only gave purchase on a view but also engaged “the viewer’s active participation in the construction of a view”: “Whole panoramas were catapulted inward, with nothing to slow their assault.”72 The view (of nature) might be hurled inward, but a sense of proprietorship was also being flung out, through the medium of plate glass. As I have said already, what one saw

Neutra’s Chuey House from the exterior, 1960. Photograph by Julius Shulman. Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles [2004.R.10].

All Too Easy

132

through the picture window might actually exceed the domain of one’s ownership. The most obvious genealogical precedent for the engineering of this effect—­a n extension of purely visual possession—­is surely the ha-­ha, something we find in English landscape gardening of the late eighteenth century: a sunk fence, designed to preserve property relations without obstructing the view. Its name, according to Horace Walpole, is the onomatopoeic registration of the surprise of “the common people” whose “Ha! Ha’s!” “express their surprise at finding a sudden and unperceived check to their walk.”73 The ha-­ha perpetually enacts its excitation of astonish-

Surprise, astonishment, visual appropriation: the pleasure of the ha-­ha (as interpreted by Stephen G. Rhodes). Permission courtesy of the artist.

133 All Too Easy

ment, and pleasure: the astonishment and pleasure of being fooled into forgetting about the difference between what really belongs to us and what does not, between what can transpire through vision and what remains (legally) impossible. These views, however, could achieve a status of legality. Isenstadt tells the story of how “scenic easements” secured “the right to look at a piece of property but not to step on it.”74 A view from an owner’s home could be protected through a kind of visual eminent domain that prevented development on other properties that would damage the view, and thus the value of the house whose windows secured the view. Isenstadt quotes from a book by Thomas Church, Gardens Are for People (1955), in which a “spread” titled “How to Enjoy Land You Don’t Own” enthuses about “the theory of visual appropriation of property not your own. . . . Someone else is maintaining it and paying the taxes; you’re enjoying it.”75 (Church’s book illustrates this claim with an actual drawing of a ha-­ha.) The confusion of inside and out—­or better, theirs and mine—­seems less psychically subtle here: the view is a form of primitive accumulation, really, and in a sense that is more than metaphorical. Shulman, whose architectural photography is practically synonymous with Neutra’s work (and closely associated with other Los Angeles–­based architects), makes exactly the same point in his Photographing Architecture and Interiors; however, Shulman is looking at the architecture from the other side of the ha-­ha. At the

All Too Easy

134

very beginning of a chapter titled “Techniques,” in the caption of a photograph of a Neutra-­esque modernist house, Shulman explains that “the measure of integration of a building with its surroundings can be shown by borrowing from a neighbor’s area.”76 The ha-­ha is the hinge of a visual chiasmus, in which the property on either side attempts to multiply itself by making easy the visual accession of more (of someone else’s) property. This is a relatively painless exercise in appropriation for all proprietors, we assume, but the logic of the ha-­ha itself, despite its effortless appropriation of the world beyond, suggests the more difficult and fundamental question of property’s alienability. The most sustained act of filming a fiction film inside a Neutra house—­at least to my knowledge—­is The Anniversary Party (2001), directed by actors Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming. In this film Neutra’s architecture feels domesticated by the millennial taste for “midcentury modern” architecture. The film takes place in one day (from morning to following morning), in the manner of the genre or subgenre of what we could call the house party film, of which Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939) is probably the greatest example. The genre would include Blake Edwards’s The Party (1968), itself a send-­up of Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967), another film that could be placed in relation to the same genre. (The interiors of the house in The Party clearly mimic Neutra’s architecture, while the comedy mimics that of Tati.) The register of The Anniversary Party is rather more realist than Tati and closer to Renoir, despite the fact that, in a mode of subdued reflexivity, most of its characters are shown to be employed in the filmmaking industry in one way or another, and most of the cast members portraying these characters (Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, and others) appear as typecast versions of their celebrity personas. The film is shot entirely on location in Los Angeles in Neutra’s Schaarman House (1953).77 The directors play the film’s main characters, Sally, an actress (Leigh), and Joe, a writer (Cumming), who are celebrating their anniversary after a recent separation. Their reunion, as we discover across the film, is less than secure, and the film works to expose their weaknesses across its duration. In an interview, the filmmakers talk about the symbolic function of the house. Cumming suggests that the two wrote the screenplay entirely in Leigh’s home, and so one of the central preoccupations of the film became “the idea of living in a house that was not quite

Richard Neutra’s Schaarman House (1953), as seen in The Anniversary Party (2001), with spider legs and mitered plate glass visible.

135 All Too Easy

a home.”78 Asked if they had “known . . . [they] wanted to use this particular Richard Neutra–­designed house for the film?” Leigh responds: “No, but we knew we wanted it to be a mid-­century modern house, and this one was exactly right for the characters. There’s something very exposed about that house, that glass-­back wall, something slightly dangerous. It could be cold, and at the same time incredibly inviting. There’s something very inside/outside about it.”79 The interviewer goes on to ask Leigh if she lives in a similar sort of house, and, again, her response is telling: “No, I don’t. And that’s funny, because my house is this very warm, really old house. It’s very open, too, Craftsman-­l ike, so you can see from one room into three other rooms, with large archways.”80 The very effect that makes bungalow architecture discomfiting in Mildred Pierce and Meshes of the Afternoon has, apparently, long been domesticated. That discomfort is now displaced onto Neutra’s plate-­g lass walls. We have traveled from the sudden reversals of the threshold as barrier to the dematerialization of the architectural barrier altogether. Despite the slightly ominous gloss given the house by Leigh, the film treats it as a mostly benign object. Our first indication that the house is by Neutra occurs early on, when we are shown Sally and Joe on the back patio, overlooking the pool, being led through their morning yoga practice by their personal instructor. We see the obligatory signature spider leg, the mitered corner of two glass walls nestled beneath it, and the openness of inside and out across the entire structure. At this point the Neutra “brand” locates these characters as specifically in relation to the socioeconomic privileges of

their class as does their personal yoga teacher. While the inside/ outside division is emphasized repeatedly in long shots that allow us to see through the house to its exterior and vice versa, mostly the house seems like harmless fun, the perfect setting for a rambunctious party. Whatever unsettling blurring of spaces that Neutra’s architecture produces, the film suggests that all is maintained inside the realm of upper-­m iddle-­class ownership. The party’s most awkward guest is one half of the couple from next door, an interior designer who is out of her depth around so many celebrities. She and her husband have been arguing over the fact that Sally and Joe’s dog has been barking and coming into their yard (two instances of property trespass). In a hapless attempt at making conversation with Joe, she offers, “Your Eames table is incredible.” The effort is as transparent as the glass wall, but name-­checking the work of Charles and Ray Eames, who along with Neutra fairly epitomize midcentury Los Angeles modernist domesticity, suggests an attitude more akin to Rand’s relationship to her Neutra house: it is an investment—­something to appreciate, perhaps, but mostly something that will appreciate in value: something to own. Despite the care and specificity with which the Neutra house was chosen as a location, ultimately it functions in the film as not much more than another conversational gambit, an object of exchange—­ something too easily seen and recognized as a (valuable) instance of midcentury modernism.

The Eameses and Their House

All Too Easy

136

Charles and Ray Eames were a husband-­a nd-­w ife team who, in the enthusiastic appraisal of Albrecht (whose work we have encountered above), “gave shape to America’s twentieth century.”81 Their efforts spanned architecture, furniture design, exhibitions, and much more. Their furniture—­especially their chairs—­constitutes a metonymic figure for the entirety of midcentury modern cultural production. Both had studied at Cranbrook Academy in the 1930s. In 1941 they moved to Los Angeles, and in 1949 they built a house that has come to be known as the Eames House. In 1954 the Eameses made a short film about this house that they lived and worked in for the rest of their lives. The film, titled simply House: After Five Years of Living, was made to document and exhibit the life or style of living that had been cultivated in the house. The film is also about the accumulation and display of property. I want to

The Eames House (built 1949), as photographed by Julius Shulman in 1950. Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles [2004.R.10].

137 All Too Easy

spend some time thinking about this delightful and curious film, and in so doing I hope to put its charm—­for it is a very charming film—­u nder pressure. The Eames House is the Eameses’ contribution to the famous Case Study House program (1945–­62), which was commissioned by John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture, an influential design magazine in Los Angeles. In 1945 Entenza commissioned eight houses from eight different architecture and design firms. Thirteen houses were constructed in the program’s first five years. The Eames House was the last to be built in this first phase of the program. According to Esther McCoy, editor of the volume that brought together the publications of the houses in Arts & Architecture, “The only goal was good living environment.”82 Essentially, the aim was to demonstrate how innovative modernist architecture could be made affordable and accessible to middle-­class families in the postwar period. Upon its completion, each house was opened to public viewing; the houses collectively attracted 368,554 visitors.83

The Eames Case Study House (built next door to Neutra’s contribution to the first phase of the program) is situated on a bluff above the Pacific. A key feature of the house’s design is that it was intended to make use of ready-­made, store-­bought, industrially produced building materials that could be delivered to the site, already cut to size, according to the plan. The house originally was designed as a “bridge structure built between two trusses” that would project from the hill behind it and straddle the lot’s open meadow, so as to take in as much of the ocean view as possible.84 The house was reoriented, however, so that its length runs perpendicular to the shoreline and alongside the hill. The decision to reorient the house was, according to McCoy, impromptu: A last minute change was made in the Eames house after the steel had been delivered to the site. Eames was disturbed by the fact that he was employing the largest amount of steel to enclose the smallest amount of space. His wish to lift the house above the ground to capture the full sea view became of less importance than enclosing more space. While the steel waited in the yard, Eames began working on a new design.85

All Too Easy

138

The shift from view to enclosure is telling, because, as House allows us to see, what this enclosed space became, after “five years of living,” was a cabinet of curiosities—­a museum-­cum-­living space that housed the Eameses’ extensive collection of modern art, folk art, artisanal implements, toys, textiles, natural specimens, and other curious things. Neil Jackson describes the house as “a simple container for a colourful world.”86 The Eameses’ film of their house makes a vivid case for seeing the building in just those terms. The Eames House itself is the house as collection, and the house as a making public of this collection—­t he house as a medium for making this collection (idiosyncratic, personal) public. House, the film, redoubles the Eames House’s private exhibitionism in order to organize its organized system of display for spectatorial consumption. House is one of the Eameses’ most well known films. Paul Schrader divides the entirety of their filmmaking into two categories: “toy films” and “idea films.”87 House would have to fall into the former category, along with a film like Toccata for Toy Trains (1957). An example of the second category would be Powers of Ten (1977), a graphic demonstration of what happens when distances are multiplied by ten. (All three of these films are fundamentally about

139 All Too Easy

scale and space.) House works through the question of the Eames House’s space by dividing and subdividing the scale of what we are given to see. House consists entirely of shots taken from a stationary camera. Most shots are very brief and are edited rhythmically in response to a jaunty score by the film composer Elmer Bernstein. Beatriz Colomina writes that House “is just a collection of slides.”88 Of course, the film is not made up of slides per se—­t hese are moving images, even if the camera recording them does not move: we still see leaves and flowers shaking gently in the sea breeze. But Colomina’s terms suggest the static nature of the camera. Colomina evokes this collection in terms of contingency and haphazardness, terms that are “consistent” with the nature of the house itself, which, she says, forces the visitor into the position of a “TV watcher,” but not the “watcher” of the 1950s, rather “that of today—­ multiple screens, some with captions, all viewed simultaneously.”89 I am deeply in sympathy with (and indebted to) Colomina’s desire to move back and forth between the conditions of viewing architecture and the conditions of viewing the moving image, but even if she is right in her description of vision in the Eames House, the description seems less apt when applied directly to the film, which is excessively patterned in a manner that seems to evoke and duplicate the carefully controlled conditions of the Eameses’ collection and the house that houses it. The film opens with an animated architectural drawing that allows us to see very briefly the logic of the house’s construction. It then proceeds to establish briefly (most shots last a second or two, rarely longer) the surrounding environment—­t he Pacific, the grove of eucalyptus trees into which the house was inserted. The film shows first the forms of nature and next the forms of the house. It approaches the house first via a long oblique establishing shot, and then approaches it little by little, abstracting it into smaller and smaller units so that the grid-­l ike nature of its construction appears ever more abstract. The film registers shifts from oblique camera angles that capture the house’s extension into space to frontal shots that flatten the house and render it surface (or ground). This movement between obliqueness and frontality expresses an interesting tension between the house as volumetric container of life (narrative, realism) and the house as flat surface of display (abstraction, modernism)—­or else as some mediation of those two possibilities. The film shifts from shots of the exterior (some of which allow us

All Too Easy

140

to glimpse the interior through the house’s plate-­g lass walls) to shots from the interior in which the exterior world is framed and placed before us. Several shots give us the window ha-­ha effect: the Pacific itself becomes a part of the house’s interior scenography. Shots from the second story convey the empty two-­story volume of the house’s common living area: this volume has been preserved as empty space. The film concentrates its attention (in close-­up) intermittently on natural specimens arranged in orderly displays and on folk artifacts, which are sometimes photographed from a flattening vertical angle so as to express their abstract qualities. Shots of flowers (taken inside and outside the house) punctuate the tour of the property. A low-­a ngle shot looking up at the ceiling shows us one of two paintings by Hans Hoffmann (of Castor and Pollux) that are hung from the ceiling, parallel to the floor. Ray Eames explained in an interview the unusual nature of this installation: “We hung them off the ceiling for two reasons—­one was because they needed to be kept away from strong light and the second was because we thought we would be able to see them well from the position.”90 The hanging thus involves abstraction of two kinds: the abstraction of value (the preservation of the paintings’ worth by protecting them from direct sunlight) and the abstraction of looking from an unwonted angle. Moreover, hanging the paintings from the ceiling facing directly down produces an effect similar to photographing a pair of low chairs from directly above: both are rendered abstract, as patterns and forms—­t he specificity of their meaning or provenance recedes as their wondrous visuality is made to assert itself.91 The film goes on to show us the bedrooms upstairs and the breakfast table (shown more than once); it also offers a tour of the studio, which is separated from the living space of the house by a small patio. Infinite riches in a sequence of (relatively) little rooms. The Eames House figures the total conversion of the entire house into the cabinet. Colomina writes that the Eames House “is an exhibition, a showroom.”92 She is especially keen to assert the identity of the Eames House and the Eameses’ Santa Monica showroom for Herman Miller, which was “built at the same time” and was thus part of “the same project.”93 But if the house was an exhibition, then House: After Five Years of Living is an exhibition of an exhibition. The logic of the cabinet of curiosities subsumes the entire constitution of the Eames House and compels the work of the film. Moreover, in using the same flattening and abstract presentation

Architectural grids, objects of display: the public-­making abstraction of the house as cabinet of curiosities in House: After Five Years of Living (1954).

for both modernist paintings and groupings of seashells and combs arranged carefully on a dressing table, the house and the film’s presentation of it disavow the differences among objects. The rigorous, if entirely “blank” or “empty,” space of the house becomes the neutral container for a collection of fragments. In the Eames House, Colomina writes, “what was on display . . . was the equal status of all kinds of objects. . . . The role of the architect was simply that of happily accommodating these objects.”94 The Eameses’ version of modernism seems less about the accumulation of fragments into a dialectically charged composite image or collage than it is about the creation of a space inside which such fragments can be deposited, in order and in harmony. One could imagine celebrating their style as expressive of a kind of democratic ethos. However, if their aesthetic allows them to appropriate forms from anywhere and dissolve them in the spaces of the house’s modernist architecture, it does not escape the highly charged nature of private property. The point of the cabinet of curiosities—­t he Eameses’ or anyone else’s—­is that it belongs to them and not to us. The story of the house’s construction—­t he pieces happily and easily soldered together on a whim of inspiration!—­a nd the experience of the film’s effortless exhibition of the Eameses’ stuff may seem like invitations to visit, but one feels the time of hospitality being measured out as shot replaces shot like the ticking of a clock and our time winds down and we are shown the door.

Property and Self-­Possession: Stephen Prina

All Too Easy

142

The Way He Always Wanted It, II (2008) is an almost thirty-­m inute film made by the artist Stephen Prina. The film consists of five tracking shots that move through the interior of the Ford House, a strange circular structure designed in 1948 by the architect Bruce Goff and completed in 1950 in Aurora, Illinois.95 The tracking shots also pan and tilt while moving, so that, across the film’s duration, we see quite a lot of the house, despite the fact that our view is often frustratingly—­but also pleasurably—­too close to the house and its surfaces, furnishings, and objects. The film is scored, as it were, by the live performance, recorded in situ, of a composition elaborated by Prina from musical fragments composed by Goff himself, as well as lyrics, sung by Prina, that are adapted from letters to Goff from his (male) lover. (Prina is a self-­identified queer man and also performs musically as part of his artistic practice.)

143 All Too Easy

Prina’s work has frequently taken its inspiration, its points of departure, and its material grounding from other media—­including architecture. He produces complex installations, moving image work, and musical compositions that, while cerebral and conceptually oriented, cannot be classified as “conceptual” insofar as they privilege a formal, material weight, or presence. The means by which one of Prina’s artworks appears are intensely depersonalized, but the resulting objects have their own personality, exhibiting a formal, material, and even sensual force that resists the category of the “conceptual.” For instance, Prina’s recent installation As He Remembered It (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2013) reproduces the entirety of the built-­in cabinetry, cupboards, and furniture from two houses designed by the architect Rudolf Schindler. The resulting disarticulated objects (they do not always look exactly like furniture once they have been pulled out of their intended environments) are painted bright pink and exhibited in geometrically regular patterns in the gallery space. The installation resembles a campy series of minimalist sculptures—­one might think in particular of Donald Judd’s work. However, upon close inspection, the flimsy constructions, bereft of the Schindler structures to which they would have been attached, begin to sag, and thus produce an ambience of wonky, forlorn imperfection. As He Remembered It emblematizes the way in which Prina’s work indulges in the perfectly imperfect. Each work is crystalline in its conceptualization: the ideation is complete, there are no loose ends, every element proclaims an unassailable intelligence whose formal analogue is the glossy sheen of the Pantone Honeysuckle 2011 Color of the Year paint in which each bit of furniture has been lacquered. At the same time, the imperfections bred by contingency are everywhere on display as the unsupported wooden expanses of some of the works droop toward the gallery floor. Things seem at once too hard and too easy, and one wonders if this tension—­ between conceptual difficulty and easeful delight—­is a problem for Prina in a way that even his seamlessly organized aesthetic cannot quite account for. That last sentence sounds too derisory, especially given the fact that there is so much to admire in Prina’s work, which, at its best, is provocative, engaging, and—­obviously—­ “rigorous.” (At its worst the work can seem anemic, academic, and overdetermined, precisely because of the way in which it admits its academicism and overdetermination—­which may only be a way of insulating itself from criticism.) But I think the tension between the

The Ford House (1950), designed by Bruce Goff.

All Too Easy

144

difficult and the easy in his work can offer a means of returning to an unresolved problem in the history of the modernist architecture that has proved to be such a fertile territory for Prina’s practice. The Way He Always Wanted It, II takes place in and exhibits to its spectator a modernist house via preternaturally smooth tracking shots that record both the playful rigor of Goff’s architecture and the contingent accumulation of stuff that indexes the lives of the house’s inhabitants. Also recorded by the moving camera are Prina’s production team and the musicians, including Prina himself, who perform the score. The Goff house itself is visually, spatially, and structurally complex—­bizarre, even—­but dedicates itself to otium: the 1951 Life magazine story covering the house’s novelty emphasizes that it is “a house that requires little care.”96 Moreover, its circular plan “was generated by the informal circle of a friendly gathering.”97 This same circular design is what suggested and made easy the computer-­controlled tracking shots that constitute Prina’s film. (Jarzombek cites the Goff house as the first of a series of modernist houses that posed serious, revisionist challenges to good-­l ife modernism. He names the Eames House as another.) 98 We can think about what is at stake in the encounter staged by Prina’s practice and Goff’s Ford House by comparing this film to the Eameses’ House. As explained, the Eames House is completely

145 All Too Easy

rectilinear and constructed entirely of industrially manufactured building materials. The Ford House is circular and embellished with vernacular, artsy-­c raftsy flourishes. However, both embody and make material a postwar optimism that often seems best—­or at least most prolifically—­expressed in American housing at midcentury. And both have been made to act as subjects or vehicles for modernist or late-­modernist filmmaking practices (that of the Eameses and of Prina). The Eameses, their house, and their film, as I have suggested already, make everything seem incredibly easy. It is less comfortable to acknowledge that what is disavowed in the Eameses’ House and in the Eames House is the fact that we are being asked to bear witness to the exhibition of private property. The film’s and the house’s visual pleasure—­t he gratification that both so effortlessly offer to us—­is (once we think about it) uncomfortably underwritten by the sense that what’s theirs is theirs, however much they keep waving it in front of our eyes. Both film and house suggest that the midcentury modernism they spectacularize is one that can appropriate objects from anywhere—­w ith enormous ease—­a nd dissolve them in the spaces of their modernism. They seem to disavow, as I have already argued, the difficult fact of private property. The Way He Always Wanted It, II takes a different approach to the private property of the Ford House. The impersonality of Prina’s formal approach determines that no single object, architectural element, or bit of domestic detritus receives the concentrated attention that the Eameses’ method of framing endows on the things we see in House. While House’s orderly succession of shots and their more or less similar duration reinforces, like the house itself, the “equal status of all kinds of objects,” the way in which the shots so carefully frame these objects tells us that not only are they all equal, but they are all also equally important, equally worthy of being looked at. Prina’s moving camera, very differently, makes us see things that do not seem like they are meant to be looked at at all. The Ford House (as it existed at the time Prina shot it) conveys a sense of the same bohemian collector’s sensibility that pervades the Eames House (and House), but Prina’s film lets us see not just the beau désordre but also merely the désordre. For instance, at one point in the film the camera tracks in wonderful proximity to a circular bookcase. We are confronted not only with the handsome spines of a private library but also with sheaves of photocopies, messily shoved between books and held together by paper

An uncontingent display of contingency in The Way He Always Wanted It, II, shot in Goff’s Ford House. Note the tracks for the camera’s movement around the house’s circular plan. Stephen Prina, The Way He Always Wanted It, II (2008), 35 mm, running time 27:19 (SP 09/003). Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York.

All Too Easy

146

clips. Prina’s approach to filming the house is calculated, but calculated so that the uncalculated elements of the human life of the house make themselves felt. The Way He Always Wanted It, II exhibits a tendency toward a coolly regulated contingency. In watching the film we move through its spaces in a way that we cannot move through spaces in House (which has no moving shots), and the camera’s movement allows us to see elements of living that are foreclosed to us in the Eameses’ film. We feel rather less like we are merely meant to marvel at what we see; we can also note the imperfections and the genuine weirdness of the house. Prina’s film seems less to celebrate the spectacle of property, of private property as spectacle, as object of visual pleasure, than to suggest the precariousness of possession, the contingency of what we call our own. The Fords were apparently forced to sell their house due to “financial difficulties” in the 1960s; the Ford House is thus no longer the Fords’ house.99 Similarly, Prina’s film, which looks at and is scored by Goff’s own work, seems slowly to merge the authorial status of these two artists. As Ian White suggests, the film “indicates an intense affiliation between Goff’s multifaceted practice and Prina’s own genre-­defying oeuvre.”100

147 All Too Easy

The complexity of Prina’s conceptualization of the film feels, however oddly, effortless. The easy glide of the camera sensually disavows the artistic labor that has produced the film, even though those same movements are what give us visible access to the labor of the film’s production—­a s well as to the laborious tedium of domestic life (e.g., the paper-­clipped photocopies). White touches on this problem when he remarks that “if it were not for” the manifold evidence the film offers of its own mode and scene of production, “these images and sounds would be as impeccably untroubling as a photo shoot for The World of Interiors.”101 White seems to suggest that the film’s inordinately theatricalized reflexivity saves it from The World of Interiors. I am less sure. The steady glide of the tracking shots suggests that, despite our best intentions, nothing ever really belongs to or can be owned by us anyway—­t hat possession is a trial when it is not an outright falsehood. This is not the Fords’ house, nor is it Goff’s, nor is it Prina’s. But that same steady movement bespeaks a mode of production—­Prina’s—­t hat has perhaps too confidently figured it all out beforehand. Even as we see the indices of contingency as the camera moves around and around the house, the film (or is it more accurate to say Prina?) seems to have foreseen our seeing, and so we in turn see ourselves seeing a display of contingency, but not contingency (always the enemy of possession) itself. Prina, in a sense, carries on the long history of modernist depersonalization most famously theorized by T. S. Eliot in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” where he asserts that serious poetry “is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.”102 Depersonalization and difficulty, as we have seen, walk hand in hand down the corridors of modernism. Prina’s manner of dispossessing himself through his own practices, however, does not quite risk the extinction of selfhood, but rather reinforces the property boundaries of his own work. Everything seems to flow back to the brilliant way in which a work as thoroughly depersonal­ ized as The Way He Always Wanted It, II has managed its own divestment of personality. The film’s title tells us that the film already knows this and wants its spectator to know this, too. The immaculate neatness of the film—­u nlike the shabby disorder of the house it exhibits—­keeps everything in its place. Goff’s work—­a nd the Ford House in particular—­r isked embarrassment, which is something that Prina’s work, and this film in particular, seems not to do. It seems like it would be really weird

to live in the Ford House in a way that it does not feel very weird to watch Prina’s film. (It is important to note, however, that watching the film feels pleasurably demanding, and demandingly pleasurable.) According to the 1951 article in Life, the Fords, who were tired of the abuse that their neighbors were directing at their house’s curious appearance, put up a sign in their front yard that read “We don’t like your house either.”103 The sign articulates a defensiveness that betrays an anxiety. As wonderfully strange and inventive as it was, maybe the house was ugly, and maybe the Fords worried about this, and about whether they were in full possession of what they owned. The Way He Always Wanted It, II betrays no such anxiety. Charming and brilliant as it is, it vibrates with a dispiritingly sublime self-­possession. In that sense it forecloses on the powerful force of expropriation that modernism promised. In the end, it is actually just too easy.

Two Kinds of “Covetables” Goff is one of a number of “organic modernists,” a group that includes, of course, Frank Lloyd Wright, but also John Lautner, a student of Wright and the architect of some of Los Angeles’s most iconic homes. After Schindler, Neutra, and the Eameses, he is possibly the most famous of L.A. architects and designers, and his houses have been featured as locations in a number of films.104 Lautner’s work has been the subject of relatively recent re­ appraisal thanks to a richly illustrated monograph on his work written by Alan Hess, with photographs by Alan Weintraub (published in 1999), and a retrospective at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2008. According to Hess: All Too Easy

148

Without understanding . . . [Lautner’s] work, it is not possible to understand fully Los Angeles’ contribution to modern architecture. His design staked out new territory and explored ideas the better publicized Case Study architects avoided.105

Hess is especially keen to place Lautner between two architects whose work has been important to this chapter: Charles Eames and Bruce Goff. First, Eames. According to Hess, “Two houses delineate the poles of Los Angeles design at mid-­century: the Carling House (1947) by Lautner, and the Eames house (1950) by Charles Eames.”106

149 All Too Easy

Whereas with the Eames House “the threshold between inside and out is definite,” the Carling House is “more extroverted”; its walls “literally ignore the distinction between inside and outside.”107 In pushing his point, presumably from a hagiographic impulse to restore Lautner to his rightful place, Hess advances a comparison that leaves us in doubt as to which architect should be regarded as the greater innovator: “The Eames house is slightly detached from the landscape. Lautner’s house is fully engaged. The Eames structure is rational, modular, and consistent. The Lautner structure is inventive, intuitive, less rigid, and exuberant.”108 With Goff, who was not based in L.A., but who did design buildings that were constructed in the city, the comparison is less fraught. Hess writes: “Both drew on natural imagery. Both explored new structural technologies. Both derived extraordinary spaces from unconventional plan geometries.”109 In Hess’s reading, Goff is “ornamental,” Lautner more concerned with structure; Goff is “sensual, textural,” while Lautner is more concerned with space; “Goff is baroque, Lautner is Gothic.”110 I am belaboring Hess’s somewhat belabored comparison only because I have just considered Goff’s work in relationship to a queer artist (Prina) who plays off of Goff’s own queer identity (or homosexuality, at least), and I now want briefly to consider the use of a Lautner house as the location for a film about gay male experience, adapted from a novel by a gay man, and directed by a gay man. The film in question is A Single Man (2009), adapted from the eponymous novel by Christopher Isherwood and directed by Tom Ford, better known as a menswear designer and sometime creative director of Gucci (1996–­2004). The film is eminently stylish and even beautiful at times. Colin Firth as the protagonist, George, is somewhat sexier than the novel’s version of this character. In the novel George has a “coarsened nose, a mouth dragged down by the corners into a grimace . . . cheeks sagging from their anchors of muscle, a throat hanging limp in tiny wrinkled folds.”111 This description of George’s physicality is focalized through George himself, who is embittered and self-­loathing, so he is perhaps not an entirely trustworthy narrator; nevertheless, Firth’s sleek good looks and refined comportment feel very far away from the novel’s cataloging of the aging body’s frailties. Critics of the film reacted badly to some of its Gucci-­like tidying up of the surfaces of the novel’s diegetic world. Kyle Stevens has traced and contested this unfriendly reception,

which condemned the film as superficial and overaestheticized.112 Stevens convincingly argues that much of this criticism misses some of the film’s most interesting achievements and claims that “Ford and Firth invent one of US cinema’s very few intelligent, eloquent gay characters.”113 However much this claim may be accurate, I remain interested in the film’s not altogether convincing decision to clean up and beautify the architectural surfaces of the novel. Early on in the novel, George’s house, which he shared with his lover, Jim, is carefully denoted as a “tightly planned little house”: Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other’s bodies by mistake or on purpose.114

Just the kind of house we are to imagine becomes clearer a bit later when the neighborhood is evoked through George’s running free indirect discourse. Note that this description emanates from George while he is “sitting on the john”:

All Too Easy

150

This street is called Camphor Tree Lane. Maybe camphor trees grew here once; there are none now. More probably the name was chosen for its picturesqueness by the pioneer escapists from dingy downtown Los Angeles and stuffy-­ snobbish Pasadena who came out here and founded this colony in the early twenties. They referred to their stucco bungalows and clapboard shacks as cottages, giving them cute names like The Fo’c’sle and Hi Nuff.115

In other words, George lives in a bungalow in a bungalow suburb, gone to seed like George himself. George’s tone of disdain toward the bungalow is no different from that of Adorno and Horkheimer or Mildred Pierce. Ford’s adaptation sacrifices this version of architectural historicity in order to locate the film in a completely different sort of house. The house in question is the Schaffer House, designed by Lautner and completed in 1949. Hess’s description of the project runs thus:

The Schaffer House sprawls luxuriously over its site, embracing its oak groves and spilling out into the landscape. It has more of the feel of a camp than of a protected shelter: indeed, the family had owned the land and picnicked in this grove before building began. Lautner was claiming this freedom of movement for his clients.116

The house’s facade is plain: “An exterior view of the house has a thin, fly-­away quality, reflecting Lautner’s lack of concern for outward appearances.”117 Inside, however, the house offers something more dynamic and experimental: Lautner’s varied angles and random placement of walls blur the line between inside and out. The house becomes the grove. The walls are in fact not random at all, but placed by Lautner in specific places to open views, shelter a seating area, define a room. But the size and shape of these areas did not have to be arbitrarily defined by a grid.118

151 All Too Easy

There is little cause for inhabitants to squeeze past one another in the Schaffer House. While it is a “standard suburban-­sized house,” its open-­plan dynamism affords room for the harmonious movement of bodies, and like the work of Neutra and other modernists who experimented with glass walls, the house “reaches out to become part of its natural setting in a casual manner and using free forms.”119 At the Schaffer House, the George of the film adaption is a long way from the novel’s Camphor Lane. It is too easy, as Stevens’s article makes clear, to criticize or dismiss the film because it has made everything so attractive. Stevens suggests that the choice of architectural location functions thematically: “Because it is pretty, critics were blind to the possibility that the glass and timber of George’s architecturally avant-­garde home plays with visibility, or that his gorgeous, cinched suits reflect his inner anxieties about self-­presentation and detection.”120 In fact, early on in the film, as George sits in reverie under the clerestory windows in the Schaffer House’s breakfast nook, we flash back to the moment at which he first brings Jim to the house, which we assume he has just purchased. A series of jump cuts in medium close-­up show us George and Jim in the house in a playful erotic embrace, the breakfast nook (and the elm grove beyond the glass) behind them. We infer that just beneath the borders of

“Life in a glass house”: covetable queer privacy in A Single Man (2009).

All Too Easy

152

the film frame, Jim is playing with George’s crotch, perhaps opening his fly. George says, “I don’t think you’re quite ready for life in a glass house.” Jim replies, “Drapes, old man,” and then goes on to say, “You’re the one who’s always saying that we’re invisible.” This scene is Ford’s invention, and it displaces or stands in place of the novel’s description of George’s cramped bungalow. It is telling that the scene is temporally located at the point of the house’s purchase: real estate. But the film uses the too-­convenient metaphor of the house’s transparency to broach the subject of the open-­secret closetedness of George and Jim’s life together. In fact, the Schaffer House is entirely discreet when viewed from the street: “The exterior is wrapped in a single, extended horizontal board surface that offers privacy.”121 The Schaffer House exactly affords a level of privacy that a more typical suburban home could not. The transparent rear of the house risks nothing in terms of privacy insofar as it overlooks only the private space of the house’s backyard. The house, in fact, is entirely desirable both from an aesthetic point of view and as a strategic form of defense for pre-­Stonewall queers. The terms in which the film evokes it, however—­as a place vulnerable to the prying eyes of suburban (heterosexual) neighbors—­ have to disavow its architectural specificity and materiality. Ultimately, I am less—­or not at all—­i nterested in faulting the film for “abusing” the house’s actuality, and I am positively uninterested in its fidelity to the novel. But the film’s narrativization of the house is interesting insofar as it summons a universalized experience of queer vulnerability without considering the way in which a certain

Weirdly, Charles Eames would propose envy as revivifying ontology of American sociality. “The New Covetables” is the title of a lecture that Eames gave when he was the Charles Norton Eliot Professor of Poetry at Harvard University in 1970–­71. In the lecture Eames tells a rambling story illustrated by a slide show. His point of departure is the burglarizing of Ray’s car, which was broken into in the parking lot outside their Santa Monica office:

153 All Too Easy

form of bespoke middle-­class modernist house could actually act as the bulwark against such vulnerability.122 Toward the end of the film, we return to the house with George and his student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who seems to be closing in on an attempted seduction of the older man. Clad in a towel, standing near the position where we have earlier seen Jim and George in George’s flashback, the kitchen at his back, Kenny says, “Man, guys my age dream about the kind of setup you’ve got here. I mean, what more can you want?” Kenny’s testimony to the desirability of this house gets at what is difficult about the film’s replacement of bungalow squalor with midcentury modernist cool. In its eminent desirability, the house palliates George’s criticism of the world he lives in. How bad could life be if lived in that house? At the very end of the film, George reaches an epiphany. We watch him on his bed, smiling to himself, we see a flashback of Jim dancing (George’s memory), and George’s voice-­over intones: “I’ve lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present. And I realize that everything is exactly the way it’s meant to be.” (In the novel he comes to the realization “that he must live.”)123 But George then immediately dies of a heart attack. Because of this house’s exquisite perfection, we nearly feel we ought to mourn for him not because he is dead and cannot live to profit from his epiphany, but because he cannot continue living in this house. Death cuts short the enjoyment of one’s property. In the novel George dies in his sleep in his bed in his unenviable bungalow, his body “now cousin to the garbage in the container on the back porch.”124 The novel gives us the choice between life and extinction. In the film, however, architectural location, wardrobe, and character consciousness all express the everything that is exactly the way it’s meant to be. I nearly hate to say this, but George’s reflection does not sound like the words of an English professor who has wrested wisdom from experience. One may envy George his house, but not this particular bromide that closes off his life.

Ray . . . about a month ago had her car broken in. And Ray’s car invites breaking in, because it’s usually loaded with presents sort of to and from grandchildren, beautifully wrapped, flowers, things to put flowers in, things of food for picnics and stuff. We have a picnic every day at the office. And so any passerby that looks would be invited to break in. And it happened. They broke in. We usually leave the office at about 11 o’clock every night so that they had plenty of time for this manoeuver. . . . Everything in Ray’s car had been strewn all over the lot. There wasn’t much missing. . . . But while going around and picking these things up I came upon a bolt of cloth, and this was really distressing because it was that kind of a bolt of cloth . . . it was a bolt of wool when you take hold of it where you can feel the animal wax and oil in it somehow or other . . . a great bolt of cloth. What was shocking about it was that the guy hadn’t thought enough of it to take it (if it was a guy), that somehow or other he had not a sufficient respect for a bolt of cloth, to take it to his girl, wife, mother or whatever it is. This is really a shocking experience because . . . a bolt of cloth comes under that sort of heading of goods—­t he kinds of goods that people sort of lay great store in, the kind of things that you have a feeling of tremendous security about.125

All Too Easy

154

Eames goes on, it seems to me, somewhat incoherently, to evoke the innate goodness of “goods.” The virtues of not only a bolt of cloth, but also a “hank of rope,” “a ball of twine,” “a keg of nails,” “reams of paper.” “Haven’t you dreamed of reams of paper?” Eames asks his amused audience (whose laughter is audible on the audio recording of the lecture). Eames’s hymn to the good is a homespun textbook version of commodity fetishism. About the bolt of cloth he says, tautologically, “It’s fascinating because it is good.” Eames demonstrates without a trace of irony the process by which, according to Marx, “the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own.”126 More interesting, or more germane to this chapter, however, is the first part of the anecdote. Ray’s car: What is it but a cabinet of curiosities on wheels? A miniature, roving version—­a ll glass and steel and full of fabulous possessions—­of the Eames House itself? Inside there is much to desire, if one but has “sufficient respect” for what is inside. The violation of the Eameses’ property rights itself is less “distressing” than the fact that a thief (How do we imagine

this person? A member of the working poor? A drug addict? A teenager getting his kicks?) might not be well versed in American capitalism’s valuation process. Not knowing the worth of something is an affront to ownership itself. More covetable things—­better commodities—­w ill make us better citizens, Eames implies. Seeing these better(ing) things is a start, and Ray’s car, the Eames House, and the film about it are visual lessons in what is valuable. If only it were that easy. “It’s fascinating because it is good,” says Eames. Another way of saying this belongs to Debord when he apostrophizes the discourse of the spectacle: “Everything that appears is good; whatever is good will appear.”127 The episodes I have assembled in this chapter about cinema’s relation to the modernist architecture of the house all speak in different tones and terms about this relationship. This is a relationship that is both real and imaginary; that is about the space enclosed by the house, and the house’s attempt to enclose the space that surrounds it; that reveals how the stakes of private life are underwritten by the compulsive and ambivalent desire to make that life public. In each of these episodes, moreover, some fantasy of ease seems to be at stake or else put on display. The biggest lesson, I suppose, is this one: that the ease with which the spectacle of property is granted to us—­by architecture, by cinema, and by cinema’s attention to architecture—­d isavows property’s exclusive force. Most of the world’s inhabitants remain on the outside looking in.

All Too Easy

155

This page intentionally left blank

FOUR

Between the Past and the Present Nostalgia and the Cinema of Stick and Shingle Style Architecture

So far in this book I have not looked closely at the older styles of architecture that might figure the most archetypal images of the house in American cinema. My emphasis in the past two chapters has been on twentieth-­century building styles. But the nineteenth century bequeathed to the twentieth an image of domestic architecture that has weighed importantly on cinema’s imaginary. I am thinking in particular of large houses made of wood, clapboarded or shingled, multistoried, surrounded, if only in part, by balustraded porches, possessed of at least one gable—­probably more—­or even a mansarded turret. Such houses might jut up vertically or else display some combination of verticality and expansive horizontality. They signify a kind of middle-­class American prosperity, at the very least, but larger, more elaborate examples might connote leisure-­ class existence. An iconic representation of such a house would be Edward Hopper’s House by the Railroad (1925). Important instances

157

Between the Past and the Present

158

of such a house’s appearance in cinema would be the Smith family’s house in Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) or the Bates house in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which was supposedly inspired by Hopper’s painting.1 (I will discuss both Psycho and Meet Me in St. Louis later in this chapter.) As my pairing of examples suggests, these sorts of houses promise both comfort and something less comforting. These are haunted houses—­houses haunted less by ghosts than by lost objects, worn-­out ideological fantasies. But what do we call these houses, apart from noting that they are “big” or “old” or “Victorian”? Do they have a specific designation in terms of architectural style, and if so, what does it mean, and how would it help us to better understand the appearance of these houses in cinema (and, in turn, the architectural style itself)? These houses are examples of what Vincent Scully dubbed the “stick style” of American architecture. “Stick” refers to the fact that the houses are made of wood. Much early colonial American architecture attempted to disguise its dependence on wood’s plentiful but humble status as building material. Horizontally hung panels fitted together in a nonoverlapping manner and then painted white could produce a smooth abstract surface that simulated stone or stuccoed masonry. At the very least, such a method of building repressed the fact of the architecture’s construction from wood. Stick style architecture—­again, the term is Scully’s invention—­d raws attention to the wooden components of building. It is “an architecture of sticks, expressing the structural fact of the members of its frame.”2 Moreover, because this architecture celebrated its constitutional woodenness, it was also, according to Scully, authentically American. The stick style eventually developed, according to Scully, who is this architecture’s founding and most prolific historian, into what he would call the “shingle style,” in which wood and its expansive, expressive properties are elaborated even further. As will become clear, Scully understood stick and shingle style architecture as intrinsically nostalgic. I intend to pursue an inquiry into the use and representation of this sort of house in several significant—­i ndeed, epochal—­A merican films. Such architecture, I will argue, figures and embodies a relation—­at times critical, at other times unselfconscious—­to nostalgia’s obsessive attachment to the past. In what follows I will turn first to Scully and his history of stick and shingle style architecture in order to establish some architectural historical context. Scully, however, is a curious writer and historian, and

given that he is the historian of an architectural style that he himself first identified, I treat his work as both a source of knowledge about this architecture and an instance of the nostalgia that the architecture embodies. Next, I turn to three major films in order to understand how stick style architecture functions to articulate and even criticize a specifically American relation to a past—­one in which the past is hard to separate from the present. The first of these are the aforementioned Meet Me in St. Louis and Psycho. The third is Albert and David Maysles’s Grey Gardens (1975), a landmark documentary filmed entirely in and around the eponymous shingle style house that is the home of Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, the subjects of the film. Across these three films I hope to trace the ways in which these forms of architecture propose forms of comportment not only toward past and present but also toward the nature of property as the container or image of past and present, or even the medium through which historical time is registered, disavowed, or ambivalently savored. As we have seen in previous chapters, houses also provide instances for cinema to exhibit its own properties. Whereas the bungalow promises a kind of immediacy, and modernism a kind of transparency, stick and shingle styles allow cinema to show off its ability to play with scale and capture contingency. Stick and shingle style houses prove to be both durable and flexible as figures for American cinema’s conflicted relation to history and to property, and to the class entitlements that property makes manifest.

Sticks and Shingles

No American living in 1970 can look back upon these houses without some nostalgia, or disappointment, or even sorrow. They promised a great deal for American life which has not been fulfilled, despite their many distinguished descendants three generations ago and today. Some of their architects, too,

159 Between the Past and the Present

The Shingle Style and the Stick Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Downing to the Origins of Wright is Vincent Scully’s major statement on these architectural styles. First published in 1955, the book is an intervention in the history of a specifically modern and American architecture and is, as well, a fascinating book on the subject of style. The preface to the 1971 revised edition of The Shingle Style and the Stick Style is a curious document. In it Scully writes:

felt nostalgia for times gone by and sadness for promises unfulfilled, and they made a creative force out of those emotions. Perhaps this generation will do the same. Clearly enough, the stick and shingle houses, like the colonial work which in part inspired them, were the product of an America which, despite its civil strife, was infinitely smaller and less psychologically beset than that of the present day.3

Scully’s homiletic tone clearly indicates that the history of aesthetic forms is never merely the history of aesthetic forms; in Scully’s hands this architectural history becomes a kind of national allegory. Scully traces an undulating genealogy that runs from colonial architecture to the colonial revival to the stick style to the shingle style, and finally to Frank Lloyd Wright. Stick and shingle style architectures provide for Scully the substance of continuity across a history of discontinuity, rupture, and change. The stick and the shingle are new because they discovered what was authentic about what they had inherited from older styles. Scully’s vision of these houses strikes a note of pastoralism:

Between the Past and the Present

160

They were the freest and, on the whole, among the most generous forms that the United States has yet produced, and they created that kind of architectural environment. In their own way they were also the gentlest forms: the most relaxed and spiritually open and, in the Shingle Style especially, the most wholly wedded to the landscape. Generous and gentle: they are not words which we can easily apply to ourselves in these years of blood and madness. There was evil in the nineteenth century too. All the more reason to value these houses and their architects, whose purposes were humane.4

This sermonizing preamble to the revised edition, however, turns up a strange aporia: architectural form seems to remain constant across time, but also is intended to embody the specificity of a given moment, whether of “civil strife” (a seriously euphemistic term for the Civil War) or of “blood and madness.” Given that the architects’ “purposes were humane,” are we meant to regard the history of architecture as a counterhistory of bloodshed? If the houses are ascribed the agency of having “created” a liberated environment, then they must be intransigently “wedded” not just “to the land-

161 Between the Past and the Present

scape” as a purely topographical territory or visual-­spatial plenum but also to the landscape of history itself. And if so, how is it that architecture, which among the arts has perhaps the least purchase on aesthetic autonomy, can somehow claim exemption from history’s guilt? This preface is a fascinating piece of writing, but easily overlooked as one sets out to read the book. I linger over it because its historical self-­consciousness (about its own mode and time[s] of exposition and about the subject of its inquiry) mirrors that of the architectural styles under analysis, as well as the uses to which this architecture has been put in cinema. This is to say that Scully wants architecture—­this particular mode of architecture—­to be both a part of history and somehow exempt from history: to be within and without, immersed in historical time and yet somehow floating above it in a mode of always-­t he-­same. I want to argue that the mode of Scully’s architectural historical writing, of the shingle style itself, and of this architecture’s appearance in cinema is intensely and densely nostalgic. Scully himself uses the term: the nineteenth-­century architects whose work interests him “felt nostalgia for times gone by and sadness for promises unfulfilled, and they made a creative force out of those emotions.” Nostalgia can be written off as a dead end, or as desire for things that are dead, a desire whose existence proclaims an impasse in the invention of the future.5 Scully, however, suggests that nostalgia might be something else, might be, instead, a “creative force.” His interesting insight here finds support in Linda M. Austin’s recent consideration of nostalgia as it underwent a series of redefinitions from the late eighteenth century up until the early twentieth century. (This time frame roughly corresponds, we might recall from the beginning of chapter 1 of this book, with Scully’s account of the history of the nineteenth-­century house, which begins with Jefferson and ends with Frank Lloyd Wright.) Austin demonstrates that nostalgia is not hung up on the loss of an original, authentic object, artifact, or experience. She argues instead that “a tolerance for inauthenticity entered discussions of nostalgia as early as 1780.”6 Austin’s account stresses what she calls the “performative” dimensions of a nostalgia that is not pathological and “that can generate aesthetic pleasure that . . . thrives on copies and replicas.”7 In Austin’s study of the circulation of the image of the picturesque rural cottage in English Victorian culture, she reevaluates Helen Allingham’s paintings of cottages, which have been attacked by commentators as being

Between the Past and the Present

162

dehistoricized, apolitical attempts at commemorating a lost agrarian past. Austin admits the patently picturesque elements at play in Allingham’s paintings, which we might today regard as somewhat twee, but she argues that “the picturesque object itself” never pretends to return us “to a fixed moment in the past,” but rather “enlist[s] . . . the senses in performative remembering.”8 Austin’s point is not to legitimate any particular ideological project (such as the cultivation of an invented national “heritage” in the case of the English picturesque cottage) that might operate and embody itself through nostalgic remembering, but rather to give an accurate and complex account of what this sort of remembering actually is and does. According to Austin, the object of nostalgic recollection is “registered in the sensorium not as a lack but as a stimulus.”9 Nostalgia, then, might constitute a reservoir for the creative act, rather than, as Fredric Jameson’s powerful account would have it, “the jail cells of repetition and the space of thralldom to the past.”10 (I shall return to this account of nostalgia later in this chapter.) Austin’s ability to produce this understanding of nostalgia depends on recourse, early in her book, to Friedrich Schiller and the connections between his experience as a doctor in the treatment of pathological conditions of nostalgic homesickness and his later theorization of sentimental poetry. Sentimental poetry, for Schiller, is decidedly artificial, an instance of “aesthetic semblance,” but it also offers a kind of therapy for the human subject. The semblance of the sentimental mode engages the human in what Schiller calls the “play-­d rive” (das Spieltrieb), a state in which the mind is relaxed but also (or rather: and therefore) productively creative.11 Nostalgia’s involvement with the sentimental and, therefore, the creative demands that we take it more seriously when we notice its appearance. Later, when I turn to the films in which the nostalgic architectures of the stick and shingle styles are deployed, we will have opportunity to consider how deeply pathological as well as potentially generative forms of nostalgic living may unfold inside different houses.12 The unifying feature of any architecture that would count for Scully as authentically American would be that it is “built of wood.”13 Sticks and shingles are made of wood, and wood is one of the North American continent’s abundant resources. Lumber’s availability, renewability, and, finally, expressive possibilities make it, for Scully, the guarantor of an ontology of Americanness in architecture. Wooden­ ness in this context does not imply a sense of inertia. Quite the op-

posite: wood is, for Scully, a lively material, and woodenness had to be won; its materiality had to be liberated from the Georgian, neoclassical, essentially English architecture that typified the houses of America’s late eighteenth-­century and early nineteenth-­century bourgeoisie, an architecture in which wood frequently tried to pass for stone or stucco. This sort of architecture is often called “Greek revival,” and Scully characterizes it in the following terms: A skin-­deep architecture of wood, delicately and abstractly adjusting to its own properties the forms of stone, the Greek Revival concealed behind its elegant and enigmatic surface the realities of its inherited wooden frame, with its use of post and beam, mortice and tenon.14

163 Between the Past and the Present

By ashamedly disguising its fabrication in wood, this architecture failed to be properly American. Scully’s account of the movement toward an authentically American architecture places great emphasis on the work of Andrew Jackson Downing. A landscape architect, horticulturalist, and author of several pattern books for domestic architecture, including Cottage Residences (1842) and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850), Downing was a propagandist for the virtues of a rural life sheltered by a “tasteful cottage.” For Downing, “It is the solitude and freedom of the family home in the country which constantly preserves the purity of the nation and invigorates its intellectual powers.”15 The Architecture of Country Houses includes all sorts of practical advice for building a variety of types of residences as well as actual designs for these houses. Its influence on vernacular architectural across the United States in the nineteenth century cannot be overestimated. Scully credits Downing with having “performed the difficult feat of creating and widely disseminating a new architectural sensibility and method in America, and one which was eventually to flower into grand and original achievements.”16 Downing succeeded in producing what Scully regards as a “truly national” architectural sensibility.17 Scully subjects Downing to a careful close reading and pays particular attention to Downing’s preference for “the irregular over the regular, the loose over the controlled,” an aesthetic tendency that “laid the foundations for a whole new sequence in planning and spatial organization.”18 Scully’s close reading of Downing reveals the latter’s growing—­perhaps not even quite conscious—­taste for wood as a primary building material, despite Downing’s stated

preference for masonry.19 Because the timbers that support a cottage residence are vertical, Downing argues in favor of an exterior boarding that reflects the cottage’s internal architectonics: vertical boarding “has an expression of strength and truthfulness which . . . [horizontal boarding] has not.”20 (We might note that this desire for harmony between what we could call form and content points toward a general tendency in modernist aesthetics, architectural and otherwise.) The discursive tendency that Scully traces leads him finally to Downing’s description of his design for “a bracketed Farm-­House in the American Style,” a modest house of two stories that manages to accommodate six bedrooms in addition to a generously proportioned living room and kitchen. Its exterior wall is of battened timber, and the roof is gabled, with deep eaves projecting so as to produce shade for the upper story. Of this house Downing writes: If we call this style American, it is only because we foresee that our climate and the cheapness of wood as a building material, in most parts of the country, will for a long time yet, lead us to adopt this as the most pleasing manner of building rural edifices of an economical character.21

Between the Past and the Present

164

Scully’s reading of this passage in The Shingle Style and the Stick Style leads him directly to his crucial neologism: “The immediate future in the early fifties [the 1850s] did indeed lie with the wooden cottage—­or stick style, as I should like to call it.”22 While Scully admits that there was some pushback across the 1850s and 1860s against the growing hegemony of the stick style, a resistance seen in the “massive” and “sculptural” features of the “Italian villa” and the “Second Empire” types, he asserts that by the mid-­1870s the stick style had established itself as “the main carrier of the American vernacular in wood.” In Scully’s memorable phrasing, such houses demonstrate how “all the elements of the frame moved toward their own expression, and the sense of a basketry of wooden members became the dominant factor in design.”23 I have tried to account for Scully’s discovery/invention of the stick style because it is important to see exactly how Scully wrests this style—­a s name and as concept—­f rom historical materials. What he produces in his understanding of the stick style foretells all that is to come. Note this further evocation of the stick style: “It had begun to explore the possibilities of an architecture based upon the

Andrew Jackson Downing’s “Bracketed American Farm House,” from The Architecture of Country Houses (1850): an architecture made of wood.

165 Between the Past and the Present

dynamics of interwoven members, rather than upon the statics of cubical masses, a line of investigation which was to prove exceedingly fruitful.”24 Not only does this passage foreshadow the terms in which Scully will propose his understanding of the shingle style, which he sees as a freer, and more horizontal, elaboration of what the stick style promised, but it also suggests something of the implicit polemic running across Scully’s work on the stick and shingle styles. Scully is here attempting to create a genealogy for a peculiarly American modernist architecture that culminates in Frank Lloyd Wright (the subject of the last chapter of The Shingle Style and the Stick Style) and that owes as little as possible to European sources.25 From the late 1860s and throughout most of the next decade, influence was received from England in the form of the “Queen Anne”

Between the Past and the Present

166

style then being popularized by the English architect Richard Norman Shaw. This style of building featured large ground-­floor interior spaces called “living halls,” which were derived from various medieval and Tudor architectural sources. Henry Hobson Richardson was the most influential American architect during this period, and he adapted various features of the English Queen Anne to the American context.26 This period was the era of the centennial celebrations, culminating in the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, that sought to salve the still-­open wounds of the Civil War. The Philadelphia Centennial’s exhibitions emphasized both colonial American architecture and the English Queen Anne, and thus, unsurprisingly, these styles began to be mixed together. Japanese architecture was also exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial, and its example began to be absorbed as well.27 The house that Richardson built for himself on Staten Island in 1868 offers an excellent example in which to sense the intermingling of stick style, Queen Anne, and colonial revival. According to Scully, the house’s “massing is high and angular” and its walls “skeletally articulated,” features that make it “typical of its period” and, therefore, of the stick style as well.28 For Scully, however, its plan does not demonstrate the expansion of interior volumes and the flow from one room to the next that came to figure in Richardson’s subsequent work and its eventual articulation of the shingle style. This stick style house is the real forerunner of the fictional cinematic houses we will explore later in this chapter. The house seems to surge upward in keeping with the stick style’s emphasis on verticality, and it declares everywhere that it is “built of wood.” Its mansard roof (what was called “Second Empire”) refers back to European architecture, but the gabled dormers are vaguely neoclassical, and thus give of the colonial revival. For Scully, however, despite whatever might be pleasing and impressive in a house like this, it stops short of the achievements that were to follow. The fashionable interest in colonial revival architecture articulates a set of images and archetypes that are rather different from those associated with the highly Georgian, neoclassical features that typify our popular image of colonial revival architecture. (The replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, called “The Mansion,” built by Thomas Ince in 1918 as the offices for Culver Studios is a perfect example of what colonial revival most often brings to mind.) In the 1870s attention was drawn more to the humble, somewhat rambling, picturesquely irregular forms of the earliest New

The Watts Sherman House, Newport, Rhode Island (H. H. Richardson, 1874): one of the moments at which the shingle style announces itself, according to Vincent Scully. Courtesy of Cornell University Library.

167 Between the Past and the Present

England architecture. The context of colonial revivalism is important. In Scully’s estimation the turn to colonial architecture was crucial in that it was “nostalgic and antiquarian” but also “sincerely re-­creative,” productive of regenerated “picturesque vision.”29 It is somewhat difficult to pinpoint exactly where the shingle style, as a full-­fledged evolutionary advance on the stick style, comes into being. Early on in The Shingle Style and the Stick Style, Scully names Richardson’s Watts Sherman House, built in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1874, as entirely derivative of English Queen Anne style, but also expressive of many of the features that would typify shingle style architecture: an emphasis on horizontality, the open “amplitude” of ground-­floor living spaces, and, of course, shingles.30 In this, the book’s first telling of the story, the Watts Sherman House feels like an intermediate form, whereas in Scully’s later “American Houses” essay published in 1970, he names this same house as “surely the first example” of the shingle style. 31 In The Stick Style and the Shingle Style the shingle style seems to come upon us both by degrees and all of a sudden. One almost has to read the

temperature of Scully’s prose in order to figure out where and at what point the shingle style appears.32 Part of the difficulty in declaring the shingle style’s appearance is arbitrary: all depends on which features are emphasized and in what context. Formally, much depends on whether one reads for verticals or horizontals, exteriors or interiors. But the problem is also conceptual: the very nature of Scully’s understanding of the shingle style consists in the fact that it is at once radically new and also always consubstantial with the old from which it must differentiate itself. (This is also a problem for modernism more generally.) The shingle style would seem to achieve its fully articulated (if not entirely mature) appearance—­both in the history of building and in Scully’s text—­i n the Dorr House, designed by A. F. Oakey and built in Mount Desert, Maine, in 1877. We know this not because Scully tells us so outright, but because of the efflorescence of the description that evokes the sensibility he finds in the architecture and the key terms that stud his description: The projecting roof and the upper story bays pull the void of the veranda deep into the volume of the house. In this way, and with the increased window area, interior and exterior space tend to penetrate each other. The house reaches out in space and pulls space into it. Here was a peculiarly American feature of the new architectural development, namely the expansion and integration of the veranda, a space half open and half enclosed and now becoming an integral part of the volumes of the house.33

Between the Past and the Present

168

The emphases placed on the interpenetration of volumes and of interior and exterior space are hallmarks of Scully’s descriptive theory of this style, and it is hard not to see in this purely formal description an echo or analogue of the shingle style’s subsumption of earlier architectural styles in its flowing forms. Indeed, we might even descry here an evocation of American democracy’s putative capacity to accommodate heterogeneity inside a single political entity. And as the line between the exterior and interior spaces becomes blurred through the agency of the veranda, the house implicitly seems to promise a happy mediation of public life and private life. The “first fully developed monument of the new shingle style,” however, appears, in Scully’s account, in the same town, in a house

House at Mount Desert, Maine (William Ralph Emerson, 1879), described by Vincent Scully as the “first fully developed monument of the new shingle style.”

In sum, the American house had now undergone a variety of changes adapting it to American conditions, functional

169 Between the Past and the Present

designed by William Ralph Emerson and built in 1879.34 In describing this house Scully reaches nearly Whitmanian levels of rhetoric. The house, he tells us, “is conceived as an envelope for varied human movement in space. Its boundaries swell and contract around pools and rivers of spatial rest or direction.”35 Illustrative of both this architecture’s and its historian’s fascination with interpenetrating zones, planes, volumes, and energies is Scully’s observation that “the shingled surface of the house as a whole is richly expressive of its interior volumes.”36 The key in coming to understand the shingle style, and in coming to understand it through Scully, is to see the buildings as he does and share in his estimation of their originality, but also to feel how his method of observing and describing them makes of them symbolic forms. Of course, Scully is, as we have already discovered, well aware of the allegorical implications of his labors as historiographer and formal analyst of American architecture, and of the shingle style in particular. We should note this hortatory, summarizing passage:

requirements, and materials. . . . The openness and flow of its space are American. So are the sheltering void of the piazza, the lightly scaled woodwork, and the rough shingles. By 1880, the American domestic development was clearly, for the time being, at least, on its own. . . . That it [this architecture] should be called American has nothing to do with chauvinistic enthusiasms or with that piety of place. . . . The term signifies a sensitive adjustment of materials, techniques, and a sense of space to specific and newly evaluated conditions of American living. The insistent suburban evocation of a lost agrarian simplicity remained a constant factor, directly related to the simplified life of the shore or the country suburb. 37

Between the Past and the Present

170

Scully emerges here, as he does by degrees across the book, as a thoroughly liberal commentator on this architecture and the culture it both housed and allegorized. Though Scully goes on immediately to caution that important examples of this “new architecture” are found “in the smallest cottages,” these cottages were nonetheless built for wealthy clients.38 Class is a term that never directly enters Scully’s discussion. Although he consistently frames the shingle style as an architecture that rebelled against the depredations of nineteenth-­century American history, he can never bring himself to admit that these houses were built by their owners as places of retreat from a world that they owned and were complicit in damaging. Moreover, and to return to the overriding theme of this chapter, Scully’s evocation of this architecture is—­f rom his situation in the middle of the twentieth century, with its Levittowns and urban blight—­i ntensely nostalgic, even and especially as it attributes nostalgia to the architecture itself. Scully’s awareness of the shingle style’s propensity to enclose vast areas of space confesses itself at the beginning of his 1970 “American Houses” essay, with which I began this book, but it does not figure significantly in The Shingle Style and the Stick Style. The later essay, like the preface to the revised edition of the book, was written at a moment when America’s history seemed even more desperate, thus Scully’s full-­t hroated reprisal of his insistent theme, to which he has added a slightly bitter opening verse. The nostalgia that pervades Scully’s accounts of the stick and shingle styles is interesting in its desire to annex a past that already wanted to attach itself to another past. The past that the shingle style embodied was a past that had differentiated itself in its own

modernity, but in a manner that was impossible to disentangle from the past woven into its wooden basketry. Scully’s account and performance of shingle style nostalgia look very much like Austin’s conceptualization of nostalgia as “performative remembering”—­as an evocation of an original lost object that has no real determinate origin and that is not really lost, due to the fact that it constitutes and summons a nostalgia through which its presence never recedes. At the beginning of the decade—­t he 1940s—­during which Scully began first to pursue his inquiry into the stick and shingle styles, Meet Me in St. Louis made significant and complex use, in terms that were overtly nostalgic, of the sorts of architecture that interested Scully. Scully’s nostalgic interest in this architecture, whatever its various motivating and overdetermining factors, should be periodized alongside this film’s interest in the same. Clearly the overriding context is that of World War II. Historical crisis compels an interest in a happier past, not only as escape from the present but also as promise and performative summoning of a happier future in which that past will survive, animated by nostalgic desire. First I turn to the ornate house—­a syncretist mixture of Queen Anne and stick style—­t hat is the central location of the plot of Meet Me in St. Louis. Then I turn to the very similar house that appears in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and that film’s grounding of a peculiarly morbid form of nostalgia in what is probably the most famous house in cinema. Finally, I meditate at length on the potentially more generative practices of nostalgia that I discern in Grey Gardens and its documenting of an unusual and creative way of life in a shingle style house.

In his extended close reading of Meet Me in St. Louis the film critic Robert B. Ray makes the suggestive comment that the Minnelli film is “haunted by another movie made two years before, The Magnificent Ambersons.”39 Ray is particularly intrigued by the way in which the two films share an interest in automobilization and thus also share a “ruefulness” about the passing of an order—­t hat of nineteenth-­century America(na). Both are exercises in nostalgia, and Meet Me in St. Louis, as much as The Magnificent Ambersons, depends on a house of some size as both ground and figure—­it explores the house as spatial matrix and as representational object. In Meet Me in St. Louis, the Smiths are a prosperous middle-­class

171 Between the Past and the Present

Immovable Property: Meet Me in St. Louis

The Smith house, framed as an image on a postcard in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

Between the Past and the Present

172

family whose happiness in the city of the film’s title is threatened by the possibility that Mr. Smith’s work will force them to move to New York City. The family’s resistance to the move to New York— a reluctance most forcefully embodied in the youngest daughter, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), who explodes in nearly Aeschylean rage on Christmas Eve—­convinces Mr. Smith (Leon Ames) to abandon these plans and carry on with life in St. Louis as the Smiths have (always) known it. The film concludes with the family’s visit to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair) of 1904. The film is organized episodically according to the progression of the seasons. Each chapter, as it were, opens with a still image of the Smith house: the house framed literally as an image on a postcard, with the season and year of the narrative events to follow clearly inscribed on the card.40 As Gerald Kaufman describes, “Each card, first seen in monochrome, blushed into colour and then burst into life and action.”41 This movement from stillness and sepia to motion and Technicolor is countered by the film’s plot: the Smiths do not, in fact, move. Their world, as far as we know, reverts back to monochrome stillness. The still image of the Smith’s house,

therefore, is a powerful figure for the film’s narrative and ideological work as a whole. Given that the film both exhibits scenes of nostalgic reverie and is about a family’s nearly irrational attachment to its own past and its own private property, it is unsurprising that nostalgia is one of the registers in which the film has frequently been interpreted. Kaufman suggests that the film generates an “almost intolerable nostalgia”—­both for the period in which the film is set and, for viewers today, for the period in which it was made.42 It is even less surprising that the house—­a s space and as trope—­is key to understanding the film’s generation of and discourse on nostalgia. As Kaufman writes, “This is a film about a cosy, comforting refuge: the Smith home.”43 Ray is also especially acute on Meet Me in St. Louis’s sense of—­or production of—­nostalgia, and on the film’s play with the historicity of nostalgia. He notes the appearance of some Dalmatians glimpsed briefly in the scene in which Colonel Darly (Hugh Marlowe) delivers Rose Smith (Lucille Bremer) home in his carriage on Halloween. Initially Ray wonders if the dogs running beneath the body of the carriage should be read as a sign of the colonel’s wealth, or else as simply pure excess, “eccentric ornamentation.”44 But then he hits upon the real explanation for their appearance—­t he fact that Dalmatians served a practical purpose in the conduct of traffic in modernizing American cities. In other words, their appearance is a bit of historical accuracy:

The architecture of the Smith house participates powerfully in this exoticism of the familiar. The house can draw upon the imaginary of American nostalgia precisely because such houses release

173 Between the Past and the Present

Dalmatians, hardy working dogs with boundless energy, often accompanied carriages through busy streets, clearing the way with their barking. The dogs, in other words, actually served a purpose that the filmmakers assumed the audience would remember. When the memory of that purpose fades, the floodgates of interpretation open. This sort of fading occurs continually with Meet in St. Louis, where cribbage, carriage steps, and corsets all drift toward the realms of the alien and the inexplicable, formerly domestic objects made exotic by our forgetting. Thus, nostalgia reveals itself as a patient exoticism, a fantasy of the previously familiar.45

Between the Past and the Present

174

an immediately recognizable force of familiarity. And yet their familiarity consists in the familiarity of a visual and spatial rhetoric of pastness—­t hat this is what the past looks like: ornate, busy, full of stuff. These same qualities, however, make such houses simultaneously alien and enigmatic, nearly Gothic. The historicity of the appearance of such houses in Hollywood cinema of this period is complex and contradictory.46 In Meet Me in St. Louis, the reference to the Smiths’ house’s own historicity is rather vexed. On the one hand, the film exhibits the house as the consummate vision of American pastness—­something that has always been there. We know, however, that in 1903 such a house would have been a fairly modern thing, and the film takes pains to emphasize some of the house’s most compellingly modern features, like its comfortable bathroom. At times its modernity is cast in a pejorative light. For instance, late in the film, on Christmas Eve, the eve of the family’s threatened move to New York, Esther Smith (Judy Garland) is crying in her room after learning that her next-­door neighbor boyfriend, John Truett (Tom Drake), cannot take her to a ball because he has forgotten to collect his tuxedo from the tailor. A knock is heard on her door, and Grandpa (Harry Davenport) enters, saying, “You know the man that built this house cheated your father. The walls are as thin as paper.” In other words, the film seems to want to tell us that if the house is only as old as the Smiths’ marriage, then it is not very old at all. What is more, this derogatory reference undermines our sense of the house’s settled, solid permanence. In an earlier scene, when Rose receives a phone call from Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully), her suitor in New York, he remarks, “It’s just like you’re in the next room.” In fact the connection is poor, and their conversation is therefore stilted and halting. With Rose in the very same room, however, is the rest of the Smith family, seated at dinner and eavesdropping—­intentionally but also perforce, given the phone’s adjacency to the dining table. The house’s modernity—­ its thin walls—­shares with the phone an ability to make uncertain the limits of each family member’s privacy. We should also note that the crosscutting of the two lovers on the phone resembles—­or, rather, directly inherits—­the editing patterns that we see in The Lonely Villa’s scenes of anguished telephony. Ray points out the numerous features of the house that demonstrate an ambiguous technological modernity: the gas (old) and electric (new) lighting, and the plumbing, which combines hand pumps (old) and faucets (new). He notes, “These peripheral details

175 Between the Past and the Present

portray the Smiths’ world as in transition.”47 But, as Ray immediately goes on to suggest, any moment in the long period of cultural modernity could be said to be a transitional period. My point here is merely that the film appeals to the house as unchanging ground and as a vehicle for change. It is as if the art direction and the set design (and we should recall that Minnelli was an art director before he became a director) know something about nostalgia that the film’s screenplay and plot resolution do not. The film’s final sequence sees the Smiths pay their visit to the long-­awaited world’s fair, which, as Tom Gunning has argued, not only served as a medium for the exhibition of technological modernity but also “formulated new visual modes for understanding this new world.”48 But as they gaze out at the fair as spectacle of futurity, we know that their visit has been made possible because they have refused to embrace the uncertain future promised or threatened by the move to New York. From the film’s very beginning, we follow characters in and out of the Smith house, up and down its staircase, back and forth across the house’s numerous thresholds. Characters’ movements give the film the pretext of showing us a great deal of what could just as well have gone unseen. In the extended scene of the party thrown in honor of Alonzo (Henry H. Daniels Jr.), Esther’s and Rose’s older brother, on the eve of his departure for Princeton, the film demonstrates the house’s sheer capaciousness, its ability to act as the venue for social performances of considerable size. As this scene begins, the camera is positioned outside, on the porch amid the guests who laze about and flirt in its penumbral semiobscurity. The porch is an ambiguous place: on the one hand, perhaps the most public of a house’s enclosed or semienclosed spaces, and on the other, typically a place of courtship, where lovers might retreat for privacy from other family members—­only to expose themselves to the publicity of the sidewalk, street, or road. The camera follows a guest to move into the house via one of its floor-­length full windows, acting as an impromptu means of communication between living room and porch. This extended set piece’s primary purpose, in terms of the film’s plot, is to propel and cement the relationship between Esther and John Truett; in terms of the film’s intention to entertain, it gives Garland (as Esther) extensive scope to demonstrate her skills as singer and dancer. The demonstration of what domestic space is and can do is merely a significant by-­product of these pursuits. The performance of “Skip to My Lou” entails a

Between the Past and the Present

176

complicated orchestration of bodies, props, and the camera’s own movement as it darts in and out of the movements of the dancers. The song that is sung, a traditional American folk song, is explicitly about courtship and its potential relationship to seriality (“I lost my partner, what’ll I do? / I’ll get another as pretty as you”) and, in concert with the song’s own reflexivity, implicitly about the performance of the number itself. The Smiths’ living room comfortably provides space for the jostling crowd of young dancers. The room is large but intimate: it accommodates a large population of bodies, but in quarters close enough that these bodies must constantly touch and bump into one another. “Under the Bamboo Tree,” performed by Esther and Tootie, is a song that was written and originally performed by the African American composers and entertainers Bob Cole and J. Rosamund Johnson and was hugely successful at the turn of the century. Its performance in the film is another instance of dedication to historical accuracy. Like “Skip to My Lou,” it is a song about courtship, delivered in a kind of pidgin English that is apparently meant to mimic the speech of “Zulu” subjects whose love story under a bamboo tree the song narrates. When we first see Agnes Smith (Joan Carroll) and Tootie spying on the party from the stairs, their two faces are framed in close-­up with the stylized bust of a “Moor.” Thus the subject of blackness is consciously (the song) and somewhat less consciously—­or conspicuously (the bust)—­woven into this scene. To stage their number, Esther and Tootie (who is stage directed by Esther throughout) turn the threshold separating dining room from living room into a kind of proscenium. The empty dining room on the other side, where the film has asked us to spend considerable time during the scene in which Rose receives her phone call from New York, and the crowded living room together mutely testify to the scale of the Smiths’ standard of living, which is, in fact, remarkable precisely for being, apparently, so entirely middle-­class, as the dialogue suggests at various points. While the song describes courtship between nonwhite people who are sheltered by nothing more than the insubstantial shade of a bamboo tree, the courtship enacted in the scene is framed, housed, mediated, and, in fact, made possible by the size of the Smiths’ house. Ray compares the just-­noticeable presence of the Moor’s bust to the fleeting glimpse we have of a “lawn jockey” in the Smiths’ front yard earlier in the film. He points out that although St. Louis in

The Smith house’s expansive space (for the performance of race) in Meet Me in St. Louis.

177 Between the Past and the Present

1903 was home to almost 100,000 African Americans, the only black people we see in the film are these two nonliving, racist sculptural representations. He goes on briefly to connect the (non)appearance of the black body to the world’s fair’s racist admission policies and its racist-­colonialist display of nonwhite humans in pseudoanthropological exhibitions.49 The absence of real black bodies from the film is amplified by the film’s (and, in particular, this scene’s) insistence on the generosity of domestic architectural space. While most African Americans living in St. Louis could presumably enjoy shelter greater than that of a bamboo tree, their dwellings were undoubtedly much meaner and more modest than the Smith family home. The inarticulate representations of black bodies that decorate the Smiths’ house and front yard weirdly point up the absence of black bodies in the film. But given the black body’s historical proximity to (or identity with) the status of property itself, these representations of black bodies redirect our attention to the film’s implicit fascination with property. Moreover, given that in the antebellum period the state of Missouri was the testing ground for the expansion of slaveholders’ rights to assert the chattel status of

Between the Past and the Present

178

their slaves even when holding these slaves in what were meant to be “free” states, the film’s setting makes these associations more pressing and more uncomfortable. While Meet Me in St. Louis engages us to care deeply about the fortunes of the Smith family, about their ability to remain where and as they are, in the comfortable surrounds of their generously proportioned home, we are not asked—­except in the most oblique way—­to consider the fortunes of those excluded from this picture-­ postcard fantasy, or to consider what acts of exclusion created the wealth of families like the Smiths. The film, especially in its spatial and ideological use of the house, tries to do two impossible things: (1) to designate and celebrate the past as a temporal island that is at once timeless and overwhelmed by cultural change, and (2) to offer up the vision of private property as the substance of this historical fantasy. It is precisely because the image and the spatial expanse of the Smith house are so seductive and engrossing that the house can instantiate itself as the embodiment of a lost past, toward which we look with nostalgic longing. However, the very fact of its alien attractiveness is the sign of the utter fictionality of what it promises. The famous scene in which Tootie, enraged that the family will have to move to New York, rushes out in the middle of the night to destroy the family of snow-­people that the Smiths have built in their backyard expresses exactly these tensions in the film. Robin Wood has perceptively linked Tootie’s behavior to “capitalistic possessiveness” (she destroys the snow-­people because she cannot take them to New York and so wants to ensure that no one else can have them) and to symbolic parricide.50 Tootie’s nearly pathological outburst, however, punctures the myth that the film has so gorgeously and yet so tenuously put on display. The effect of Tootie’s tantrum is to convince Mr. Smith to allow the family to stay in St. Louis and in their house. In terms of the film’s ideological organization, Tootie’s actions seem fairly salubrious: she exposes the myth of the bourgeois family to criticism and exposes, as well, the way in which “possessiveness” and property itself are consubstantial with the family’s very existence and continuation as a social unit. In terms of the film’s diegesis, however, Tootie—­who throughout the film is shown to be the most psychically sensitive, perhaps even slightly unhinged, member of the family—­manages to condemn the family to its property. Nothing new will emerge here apart from the consolidation of a fantasy. I want now to go on to consider another cinematic instance of family life in a similar

type of house in which the decision to stay put has decidedly less pleasant consequences.

Immovable Property 2: Psycho

179 Between the Past and the Present

Some families really go wrong, especially when they decide to stay in the same place forever. Hitchcock’s Psycho dramatizes the stakes of a very radical refusal to let go of the past, of a nostalgia that forgoes anything other than an absolutely literal satisfaction of a desire for what was. The figure for this nostalgia, we will not be surprised to find, is a large stick style–­looking house, the Bates mansion, as it has been called, the home of the character Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his mummified mother, Mrs. Bates (also, famously, Anthony Perkins). In the body of Hitchcock’s cinema there is an earlier and significant use of a similar sort of house, in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). The Newton house in that film bears a likeness, but on a somewhat humbler scale, to the Smith house in Meet Me in St. Louis.51 Its ordinariness becomes the perfect foil for the intrusion of the uxoricidal Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) into the life of an apparently ordinary family. Shadow of a Doubt does not stress the historicity of the house so much as it does its everydayness. But its deployment of this nineteenth-­century architectural style resonates with the uses of the same in the films I have been discussing in this chapter. Shadow of a Doubt does not deploy the house to think about the stakes of nostalgia, or a relation to the past, so much as to make it act as the wholesome ground against which Uncle Charlie’s menace can project itself. Psycho, perhaps the culmination of Hitchcock’s career in America and a high point in his representation of domestic architecture, picks up this housing style at a historical remove and in a key that is decidedly more sinister. The Bates mansion inherits the genial if ambivalent uses of architecture that we have seen in Meet Me in St. Louis, but it returns to the question of our relation to the past with a terrifying sense of literality. No other house proposes itself as forcefully in the cinematic imagination as does this house. In the documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (Sophie Fiennes, 2006), Slavoj Žižek assigns allegorical psychoanalytic registers to the three main floors of the Bates mansion. The ground floor, which belongs to Norman when he appears as Norman, is the realm of the ego; the second floor, which belongs to the harping Mrs. Bates (who is really Norman in sartorial, psychic, and

Between the Past and the Present

180

offscreen vocal drag), is that of the superego; and the cellar is the domain of the id. Žižek suggests that when Norman carries Mrs. Bates’s mummified corpse into the cellar, he is “transposing her in his own mind . . . from superego to id.” Žižek’s interpretation is charming and persuasive, in a way, but ultimately has less to tell us about architecture and how it is used in Psycho than it does about the appeal of laying one set of schemata (psychoanalytic) over another (a floor plan). Steven Jacobs has done more than any other critic or analyst to take hold of what is architecturally at stake in this film. In The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock, Jacobs produces actual architectural plans of the houses we see in Hitchcock’s films, filling in the architectural details implied by the films, as if these were real houses. The book succeeds in establishing the recurrent significance of domestic architecture in Hitchcock’s cinema. But insofar as Hitchcock’s cinema consistently discovers horror in the most mundane and banal of places and spaces (the work of the uncanny in general), Jacobs’s book also succeeds in establishing the degree to which Hitchcock, as a kind of realist, is obliged to contend with domestic architecture as the ontology of his cinema (as it is, I have suggested in chapter 1, quite nearly the ontology of realism, tout court). Jacobs writes that it is conventional wisdom that Psycho marks the “moment horror moved inside the home.”52 The film’s set, according to Jacobs, “became one of the most famous ever.”53 Jacobs refers to the house’s architecture as “Folk Victorian,” borrowing the term from Virginia and Lee McAlester’s A Field Guide to American Houses.54 The other major architectural form that structures the fiction, in spatial, historical, and phenomenological terms, is the low-­slung motel where Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) so fatefully stops on her long drive from Phoenix, where she has stolen money from her employer, to Fairvale, California, where her lover, Sam (John Gavin), lives. Hitchcock himself discusses the film’s architecture with some terminological precision—­or at least intention— in his famous interviews with François Truffaut: The actual locale of the events is in northern California, where that type of house is very common. They’re either called “California Gothic,” or, when they’re particularly awful, they’re called “California gingerbread.” I did not set out to reconstruct an old-­fashioned Universal horror-­picture atmosphere. I simply wanted to be accurate, and there is no question but

that both the house and the motel are authentic reproductions of the real thing. I chose that house and motel because I realized that if I had taken an ordinary low bungalow the effect wouldn’t have been the same. I felt that type of architecture would help the atmosphere of the yarn.55

181 Between the Past and the Present

Hitchcock’s rather casual recall of his decisions makes clear that two things mattered: first, a sort of accuracy with respect to the story’s time and place—­i ncluding accuracy in regard to the complex historicity of this setting—­a nd second, an interest in the way in which that historicity is figured and, what is more, properly materialized by architectural forms. I cannot help but draw attention as well to Hitchcock’s mention of an “ordinary low bungalow.” Packed into his use of the moniker is the discursive history of the bungalow as a contemptible, lesser form of habitation. A number of critics, including Jacobs, have insisted on what Jacobs calls “the isolated and contrasting positions of both the horizontal motel and the vertical Gothic house.”56 The two buildings are obviously products of two different historical periods: the house dates to sometime back in the second half of the nineteenth century, while the motel is rather newer—­perhaps a product of the 1920s or 1930s. Both, however, share the condition of having been discarded, of having, in Jacobs’s words, “been extracted from the flow of life.”57 Norman explains the motel’s desolation: “They moved away the highway.” His choice of words is strange and seems to suggest that the highway itself had been picked up and transported somewhere else, rather than what we understand him really to mean: that a new highway was built, thus depriving the Bates Motel of the traffic that would have provided it with steady custom. Despite the complete lack of customers, Norman tells Marion, “we just keep on lighting the lights and following the formalities.” Both house and motel have been oddly exempted from change. The new highway’s asphalt has preserved the house and motel as completely as if it had been poured over the entire compound like a midcentury Pompeian lava flow, rather than poured in a two-­or four-­lane black ribbon a few miles away. So in addition to the many things that Psycho is or is about, it is a film that explores stubborn investments in property—­a nd explores the nature of property itself, and its subjection to fluctuations in economic value and usefulness. Finally, it is a film that investigates, with exquisite care, the contours and shapes of property that

Between the Past and the Present

182

is condensed in privately owned domestic architecture. The Bates compound pits two forms of inhabitation against one another: the living (and not-­dying) that is enabled by the long tenure of property ownership (the Bates mansion) and the living (and dying) that takes place in the short-­term tenancy of the motel room. From a certain vantage point, the film pits the claims of ownership against those of rent. In Psycho, ownership is an experience of awful obduracy, rent a terrible exposure to contingency. Questions of property and living space are printed all over the film’s surface. The film begins in the rented squalor of a seedy pay-­ by-­t he-­hour hotel in downtown Phoenix. The postcoital dialogue between Marion and Sam makes pointed reference to the pecuniary and temporal nature of hotel tenancy and indicates that she and her sister live together in what Marion refers to as “my house.” Sam, a divorcé who pays alimony to his ex-­w ife, claims not to be free to marry Marion because he has been reduced to living in a room behind his hardware store. (His description of his living circumstances makes them seem somewhat similar to the living quarters behind the front desk of the Bates Motel, where Marion takes her last meal with Norman.) Raymond Bellour writes that “the opening scene in the hotel room calls attention to the problematic of marriage.”58 Property, however, is the problematic of marriage, as Sam and Marion’s conversation makes all too clear. At Marion’s workplace, which is a real estate office, a property deal is being concluded between her boss, Mr. Lowery (Vaughn Taylor), and his client, Mr. Cassidy (Frank Albertson), a drunken, swaggering oil man. Mr. Cassidy is buying a house—­“the Harris Street property”—­in cash for his daughter (his “baby,” he calls her) as a wedding present. In the film’s first major plot development, Marion, who has been entrusted to deposit Mr. Cassidy’s cash payment of forty thousand dollars in the bank, actually takes the money to her own home. We are not so much told as shown that she does this: we see Marion packing her bags in her bedroom, and the camera, in its first instance as conspicuous “enunciator” of events, pans to reveal the money in an envelope on her bed. Marion’s modest domestic habitation frames the revelation of her theft, an alienation of property that will, we can infer, ruin the exchange of properties that the money was to have secured. While fleeing Phoenix for Fairvale, Marion attempts to elude a nosy state trooper by exchanging her car for another. The screenplay emphasizes this as an exchange of

183 Between the Past and the Present

property when the used-­car salesman asks her to produce a deed of ownership to make the sale/exchange legal. All of the scenes described above underline the film’s interest in habitation, ownership, and the permanence or impermanence of possession. These indications are all imparted to us before Marion even arrives at the Bates compound, with its phantasmagoric embodiment of property. Norman’s practice of “lighting the lights” and “following the formalities” suggests a practice of domesticity as much as it does the management of a commercial enterprise. We come to learn in fact that “following the formalities” actually constitutes a terrible form of ahistorical mimesis. One of the formalities observed is the preservation of Mrs. Bates through Norman’s cross-­d ressing interpsychic inhabitation of her long-­dead personhood. The taxidermied birds in the motel office, the bronze cast of Mrs. Bates’s hands in her bedroom, and the mummified corpse of Mrs. Bates herself all suggest the levels of literality that such formalities can reach. While the stuffed birds almost too clearly spell out an element of impending terror and death (all of them are birds of prey), they also figure a disavowal—­of time, finitude, death, corruption. The cast of Mrs. Bates’s hands is a kind of indexical sign, like a cinematic image, that preserves the singularity of her actual person. The birds and Mrs. Bates’s preserved body are more than indexical; they really are themselves, only stuffed with sawdust. The stuffed birds, the bronze hands, and Mrs. Bates’s corpse all join hands in concerted resistance to suffering change or dispossession. All of these might be read as ciphers of realism—­a nd, indeed, they are that—­perhaps especially because they are so grounded in domestic decor and in styles of habitation. More important than their signification as specimens or allegories of realism is their material evidence of a stuckness in the past that is not even recognized as the past. In this sense the mise-­en-­scène of domestic architecture in Psycho proposes a radicalized concretization of the forces that drive Tootie into the night to destroy her snow-­people and thus keep the Smiths locked in their house in Meet Me in St. Louis. Norman’s mode of preservation strips nostalgia of its own self-­awareness. In the Bates mansion and in the Bates Motel, the past is not experienced as such; it is the present. Before the film allows us to enter the Bates house itself, it makes the image of the house hover above the Bates Motel. Up until the critical midpoint of the film, the house is hardly more than an

The Bates house as an image, an opacity, a surface in Psycho (1960).

Between the Past and the Present

184

image. After Marion drives up to the motel, finds no one in the office, and peers up toward the house, we see, along with her, or think we see, Mrs. Bates in silhouette in an upstairs window. We see Norman scamper down from the house in response to Marion’s honking her horn. We see her staring up at the house again from the window of her motel room as Mrs. Bates, we think, and Norman exchange angry words over his suggestion that he entertain Marion in the house. For William Rothman, this image of the house, from Marion’s point of view, “is an emblem for the unfathomable bond between the camera and its subject.”59 We see Norman carrying a tray of milk and sandwiches down from the house following this exchange. But still we have not entered the house. We have heard the voices of those who live inside it, seen one of these people leaving it, and seen the shadow of another, we think, in the window. But the house remains an image, an opacity, a surface, a scrim or a screen that obscures what lies behind it. The Bates house is something like a drive-­i n movie screen, the motel (with its fundamental grounding in automobilization) something like the parking area in front of the screen.60 Eventually we do enter the house, immediately after we see Norman spying on Marion through a hole in the wall in the motel’s office as she undresses in her motel room. (When not in use, the hole is hidden by a print of Susanna and the Elders by Willem van Mieris [1731]—­a detail one can easily miss but that critics have noticed. Hitchcock signals its significance in the film’s comedic theatrical trailer, a guided tour of the film’s set. In any case, the allusion

Entering the Bates house by way of being already inside it in Psycho.

185 Between the Past and the Present

is clever, perhaps even too much so.) 61 After fidgeting in the office, then on the porch, Norman rushes up to the house, and we get to enter it at last. When we do enter the Bates house, we are already in the Bates house—­we are already stationed there (via the camera, of course) waiting for something to happen. The camera is positioned at a relatively low angle in the house’s central ground-­floor hallway, facing the front door, through which Norman enters impetuously. At this point in the film we are not sure what has motivated Norman’s decision to quit his voyeuristic activities and head up the hill to the house. With the second shot inside the house, the camera has been turned around 180 degrees, facing the staircase and the ground-­ floor hallway leading back to the kitchen. Norman at first starts upstairs before heading back to the kitchen, where he sits, fidgeting again, contemplatively. And here the film leaves him for the time being in order to prolong the enigma at the center of the plot. Of course, we eventually, but not until the end of the film, discover that Norman’s retreat to the house is a retreat into his mother’s introjected ego (or the maternal superego, in Žižek’s terms). I would argue that entry into the house is a return to the always-­a lready-­t he same, to the historical amber in which time is held fast. The camera’s peremptory presence in the hallway—­it is already there—­can be read as a subtle instance of how this architecture has been used in American cinema to figure an immediate relation to a distant past, a past that—­a s we have seen in Meet Me in St. Louis—­t hese films hope to invoke as the stable ground against which historical

Between the Past and the Present

186

change may be measured, while they disavow the fact that this same architectural style is itself the sign of a process of modernization, albeit with historicist architectural references. Psycho reveals the darkest heart of these films’ nostalgia; its world is always-­a lready-­ already. When Arbogast (Martin Balsam), the private detective hired by Sam and Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles), visits the house in the hopes of interviewing Mrs. Bates, again the camera’s presence (again facing the front door) precedes his.62 Only in the third and final of our visits to the Bates house, with Lila, does the camera move, with the movement of the character, from outside the house toward the threshold, where it stops, while Lila enters. She even shuts the door on the camera, leaving it, for a second, to stare pointlessly at the closed front door and its curtained pane of glass. This gesture theatricalizes the threat that Lila might be exposing herself to—­she is now really alone inside the house, with, we think, a murderous Mrs. Bates. But the gesture of shutting the door on the camera also signals that this time will be different, that the house’s terms will not dominate those of the character who desires to reveal the house’s secret and interrupt its suspended temporality. Whereas Arbogast had barely reached the top of the first flight of stairs before being attacked, Lila manages to make a thorough tour of the house. She can do so because Norman is not there, in the house with her, but is rather down below in the motel’s office, where Sam is detaining him and harrying him with questions. Lila’s tour of the house follows neatly the distribution of floors: she hesitates on the ground floor, proceeds to the second floor, then ascends to the floor above, where she discovers Norman’s bedroom, then she finally descends all the way to the cellar, where at last the film’s secret is revealed, and the infernal nostalgia of the house is finally broken. Bellour notes that in their visit to the Bates compound, Lila and Sam pretend to be a married couple. Their playacting strangely doubles the married couple Marion and Sam were meant to constitute, a relationship also mirrored by what can be read as the queer courtship that transpires briefly between Norman and Marion. This last union, between Lila and Sam, referred to by Bellour as a “shadow couple,” is the union that undoes the ongoing sameness of the Bates house and that also, in Bellour’s terms, subverts the film’s insistent doubling and repetitions.63 In films like The Magnificent Ambersons and Meet Me in St. Louis, the representation of property presents an occasion for film itself to show off its representational capacities. These cinematic houses

Crossing the threshold of the Bates House in Psycho.

187 Between the Past and the Present

present opportunities for cinema to exhibit its ability to make palpable lived, three-­d imensional space. Entering these houses consistently seems like an obligation for the film and a privilege for the spectator. Questions of desire and recognition attend these entrances. We might marvel at the size of the Amberson mansion and envy the wealth it embodies, or wish to have a house like the one the Smiths own, or we might merely comfortably recognize the house as an image of the past—­a past that seems desirably settled and unproblematic. Psycho inherits this tradition. (Hitchcock’s own films—­like, for instance, the aforementioned Shadow of a Doubt—­ constitute a part of the inheritance that Psycho spends so brilliantly.) Psycho responds to this tradition by making the entrance into the house rather more complicated. The Bates house tenaciously guards its inner life. During Norman and Marion’s long and uncomfortable conversation in the motel office, Norman explains that when his father died he left little to Norman and his mother. Later Mrs. Bates took a second husband, apparently a charming persuader, who convinced her to build the motel. The conversation indicates, we later understand, some of Norman’s homicidal history, and what may have initiated it. But it also tells us something about the Bateses’ class position. The house, in size and scale, seems resolutely middle-­class. But Norman’s reference to the economic exigency of starting up the motel suggests that Mrs. Bates “married down” and that, as a result of the marriage and the failed motel, the family—­really just Norman—­has suffered a further declension in class position.

Between the Past and the Present

188

There is something faintly perverse about reading Psycho in terms of class, given how much perversion itself has grounded interpretation of the film over the years. However, if we take seriously the film’s implicit and explicit concern with and references to property ownership, then class necessarily comes into view, given its indisseverable connection to the question of property. Property and class may have something to tell us about the difficulty and peril that attend gaining entrance to the Bates house. “Following the formalities,” Norman’s phrase for keeping the business of the Bates Motel going, expresses a dedication to the observation of class-­bound practices. Norman’s refusal—­c onscious or not—­to acknowledge his mother’s death (much less the fact that he killed her) could be read as a refusal to admit a slippage in class position. (In addition to the purely Oedipal conflicts that might have driven Norman to murder his stepfather and his mother, we could imagine him punishing them for putting his class position in doubt.) Again, the formalities that Norman mentions are signs of domesticity, but they are also consubstantial with his murderousness, insofar as dressing up like his mother is one of these formalities, and dressing up like his mother leads, in each instance we see in the film, to murder. I am trying to suggest that Norman’s identification with his mother is not merely erotically perverse and psychologically deranged; it is also a means of fiercely maintaining property ownership and the class position that such proprietorship ensures. The fact that the Bates house remains “just” an image for such a long time becomes intelligible now as another way of describing the absoluteness of the privacy that Norman wishes to preserve at all costs. As image the house can never be properly entered or owned. When its wooden membrane is penetrated, first by Arbogast and more fully by Lila, the ruse of its privacy cannot be maintained. Although its privacy harbors a horrible secret, that secret comes undone, and the secret of its property is demystified, when the house is explored as a spatial object and not only as an image. We might recall that in Scully’s account, stick style architecture is a kind of mediated phase en route to the more elaborately playful forms of the fully developed shingle style. Despite the modernity of their being made of wood, one rather old-­fashioned thing that stick style houses like the one in Psycho do is make the discrete division of floors legible on their exteriors. Such architecture does not demonstrate what Scully prizes as the “openness and flow of . . . space” found in the shingle style. Psycho’s architectural oppositions are

gelid, rigid, unbending. These terms also describe the nature of the main character’s psychic life. The playfulness of a fake couple, pretending to be what they are not, while—­u nlike Norman—­k nowing themselves not to be what they pretend, finally unravels the film’s mystery. (Norman, of course, sinks further into a frozen swamp of identity with his mother.) The final intrusiveness of this couple (who oddly seem animated more by pluck than by grief) might be understood to reanimate the Bates mansion. Play is not a way of fundamentally undoing the exclusions of privacy, but it is, perhaps, a way of exposing the fictionality of property’s properties. In the final section of this chapter I turn to a film about a real shingle style house, and a real mother-­a nd-­child relationship that unfolds inside it. Here all manner of distinctions will be seen to be blurred rather deliriously in a style of domestic comportment that brushes up against the pathological while managing to describe a practice of openness that seems profoundly generative, even if deeply bizarre.

Concentrated Ground: Grey Gardens

189 Between the Past and the Present

Grey Gardens is the East Hampton, Long Island, mansion that was the home of mother and daughter Big Edie Beale and Little Edie Beale, and that lent its name to the 1976 documentary portrait of the two women directed by David and Albert Maysles.64 That this film should derive its name from the house is fitting, for this is a film that in some very fundamental way is about the practice (albeit here a highly specific practice) of living in a house, about the inhabiting, the use and enjoyment, of domestic space. More specifically, this is a film about living in a shingle style house of some considerable proportions—­about living amid the wreckage of a threadbare and rickety ruling-­class authority. Big Edie Beale was originally Edith Ewing Bouvier, born into the socially prominent Bouvier family (she was the aunt of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis). Like a character from Henry James or Edith Wharton, she made her debut at Sherry’s (one of the regnant society restaurants in late nineteenth-­/early twentieth-­century New York) and then a good marriage to her father’s law partner, a southerner named Phelan Beale. Big Edie was an amateur singer with professional aspirations. Her inclination toward public performance was not in keeping with her position as an upper-­class New York socialite matron. In the early 1920s Phelan Beale (or “Mr. Beale,” as

the two Edies refer to him in the film) bought a summer place for his family in East Hampton, New York. This was Grey Gardens. It was here that Big Edie began more fully to depart from the narrow prescriptions of proper social behavior for a woman of her class. According to John H. Davis, Big Edie’s nephew and the Bouvier family’s in-­house biographer, at Grey Gardens she “became first a thrower of wild parties frequented by an assortment of poets, musicians, painters, dropouts, and oddballs.”65 By 1936, Grey Gardens already “had become entirely overgrown with ivy and wisteria, its front lawn had degenerated into a field of wildflowers, daisies, black-­eyed Susans, and Queen Anne’s lace,” while Big Edie herself “was distrusted by the Bouvier adults as a subversive influence to be barely endured at family festivals and ignored the rest of the year.”66 This account, though inflected by a familial informality, seems to square with the version of events offered by the Edies across the film. In a 1998 interview with Kristine McKenna, Little Edie gives a typically dramatic version of Big Edie’s ostracism: The family never cared for me and they hated my mother. She was a dancer and singer with a terrific voice she’d inherited from her mother, and the relatives hated her because she was magnificent. . . . She had no interest in the social clubs and bridge games her family was involved with.67

Between the Past and the Present

190

Little Edie was the only daughter and eldest child of this marriage that also produced two sons, Phelan and Bouvier (these latter two we never see in the film, save in a photograph of them as children). A great beauty like her mother, she made a celebrated debut at the Hotel Pierre in 1936. For the next sixteen years she lived in New York City as a jeune fille de bonne famille but with a flinty showbiz twist: she resided in the Barbizon Hotel for Women and worked as a model and aspiring actress and dancer. In 1952 she returned to Grey Gardens to take care of her mother (Little Edie’s explanation of events) or to be taken care of by her mother (Big Edie’s version). Whatever the reason, Little Edie had stayed continuously at Grey Gardens in her mother’s company up until the Maysleses arrived with their cameras in 1973. Two years before the Maysleses came on the scene, Grey Gardens and the Beales had become the objects of negative attention when the house was the subject of a surprise inspection by the Suffolk

191 Between the Past and the Present

County Board of Health. The Beales were cited for several violations (including the lack of proper plumbing facilities). Subsequently, they were, in Little Edie’s words, “raided” by the village of East Hampton and threatened with eviction if immediate repairs were not effected. The story spread quickly to the scandal sheets, largely due to interest in the Edies’ celebrated relatives, who pitched in the funds necessary to make the house meet the minimum standards for legal habitation. When the Maysleses began filming, the repairs had been completed, but the house we see in the film is nonetheless a fantastic monument of disrepair. Grey Gardens is a symbol and material index of the family’s wealth and status. The house materializes very concretely the horizon of possibility for the Edies’ interaction with and intervention in the world. It was built in 1897 for Mrs. F. W. Stanhope, a daughter of a well-­to-­do newspaper editor from the Midwest. The architect was Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe, the author of a number of summerhouses in East Hampton. The period when Grey Gardens was constructed coincided with the first real estate boom in East Hampton. Up until the end of the nineteenth century, East Hampton was a sleepy fishing and agricultural town, its colonial town center intact, preserved thanks to the railroad’s failure to reach the town until 1895. Apart from the local population of artisans, tradespeople, and fishermen, the town was seasoned with a sprinkling of artists and bohemian types who enjoyed its sleepy seclusion. Meanwhile, nearby Bridgehampton and Southampton, just to the west, had been connected to New York by train for some time and had, therefore, already been developed as summer resorts for rich New Yorkers. Mansions on the scale of those of Newport and Bar Harbor already dotted the shoreline. After the railroad was extended, East Hampton real estate prices spiked, and rich people commenced a process of high-­end construction and development that is still going on to this day.68 Grey Gardens was built in this first wave of gentrification in an area south of the highway that leads into the village of East Hampton. This area was called the Summer Colony. Its residents were upper-­ middle-­class New Yorkers who built summer “cottages”: mostly large shingle style houses with views of the sea and substantial gardens, though nowhere as grand as the mansions of the other Hamptons. Grey Gardens is a muted example of Scully’s shingle style, popular, as I explained in the earlier sections of this chapter, in the last three decades of the nineteenth century and associated with the large

summerhouses of the Eastern Seaboard. Scully connects the rhetoric and social function of the shingle style house to the impulse to reclaim the receding values of the nation’s putatively simpler colonial past: “The . . . evocation of a lost agrarian simplicity remained a constant factor, directly related to the simplified life of the shore or the country suburb.”69 This impulse toward simplicity, however, was, of course, an impulse that only those plagued by the complexity of serious money could afford. Scully evokes the dilemma of the shingle style resort house: How to re-­evaluate the ideals of the founding fathers? How even to find them again? In the 1870’s and 1880’s, that question was answered largely in escapist terms. Civilized withdrawal from a brutalized society encouraged interminable summer vacations (the real decadence of New England here?) to Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine, where the old houses weathered silver, floating like dreams of forever in the cool fogs off the sea.70

Between the Past and the Present

192

During the period in which it was being developed as a resort town in the 1880s and 1890s, East Hampton came to function in the same terms as the New England locales that Scully names. Grey Gardens was built in the twilight of the shingle style’s hegemony as style of choice for new summerhouses. In the January 1903 issue of the Architectural Record, a magazine for architectural practitioners, specialists, and enthusiasts, Charles De Kay published an article titled “Summer Homes at East Hampton, L.I.” The article, illustrated by numerous photographs of summer “cottages” built in East Hampton in the late 1890s, devotes considerable attention to houses built by Thorpe, the architect of Grey Gardens. De Kay credits Thorpe with having designed “a score or more” cottages in the Summer Colony area of East Hampton. He enumerates a few of the appealing characteristics of the typical Thorpe design: The ample porches are not exaggerated; the façades are not broken up so as to worry the eye; the interiors are very simple but comfortable. [The effect is] . . . something more than cottage and less than manse . . . something almost severe, softened to be sure by the rapid growth of rose vines, ampelopsis, clematis and honeysuckle.71

Grey Gardens, not long after its construction in 1897.

193 Between the Past and the Present

De Kay cannot have foreseen the lengths to which such “softening” could be taken in the case of Grey Gardens, which at the time of filming was more than “softened,” but rather nearly reclaimed by vegetation and foliage. De Kay, like Scully after him, suggests, perhaps inadvertently, that most seaside summerhouses were built on small overlapping patches of territory where salubriousness mingled with deliquescence. Grey Gardens exhibits a compromise, typical of the shingle style, between order and the picturesque. Its facade is dominated by symmetrically disposed second-­story gables on either side of a low-­slung first-­story central pediment that announces the entry to the front porch: a regular system of peaks, planes, and projecting masses. The porch itself is the house’s main concession to the picturesque, as it extends across only two-­t hirds of the facade from the pediment to the western corner, wrapping around and extending all the way to the back. Stepping inside over the threshold of the front door, one is confronted by the staircase that dominates the central hallway. Its wide expanse pivots forty-­five degrees on a landing a third of the way up its ascent. The upper-­story bedrooms all open onto the central hallway, which makes a kind of balcony from which the activity in the ground-­floor entrance hall can be surveyed.

Between the Past and the Present

194

The numerous newspaper articles that avidly (if rather morbidly) followed the Edies’ narrow escape from eviction proceedings usually began by noting that Grey Gardens has twenty-­eight rooms. The implicit irony is obviously that such size should signify wealth and order, not the squalor that the Edies were inhabiting. Of the twenty-­eight rooms in Grey Gardens, in the film we visit only five (the hallway, the dining room, and three upstairs bedrooms), as well as the attic, where Little Edie “keeps” some raccoons, feeding them entire bags of Wonder Bread served with liberal helpings of dry cat food. The cognitive dissonance between the size of the house and the very few rooms that the film (or the Beales themselves?) allows us to see charges the whole with a sense of excess more felt or sensed than seen. The unseen rooms hum offscreen as a potentiality, a kind of immanence. Clearly there are more rooms to be gone into, more things to see, and the possibility of seeing more of the house imbues the film’s duration with a quiet narrative suspense that is never relieved or resolved. The suspense that we experience is one nurtured by curiosity, the curiosity of the guest who, not being satisfied with the generous opening of the house granted by the host, wants to penetrate further into the house’s secrets. The Edies, their house and its (seen and unseen) rooms, and the film itself all perform a delicate operation of simultaneously satisfying and frustrating our curiosity as guests and spectators.72 These many rooms are all indices of wealth, albeit a wealth that has vanished. The several rooms in The Lonely Villa signify the very reason the house is targeted for burglary and act as the defense against the burglars. In Grey Gardens (the house) an economy of room use is clearly the result of wealth that has gone missing, leaving behind only this house. The same economy seems to produce in Grey Gardens (the film) a set of narrative restraints: things will happen only in a few places, and the sorts of things that will happen in these few places are themselves subject to a limited number of possibilities. Grey Gardens begins indoors, inside the house. The film’s opening sequence introduces us to Grey Gardens from the inside, and in these first seconds, we do not know exactly what we are inside of. The film’s very first shot looks out through a large screen door onto a shaded porch. So far, this might as well be Psycho. This shot is followed by a shot looking up, through the spindles of the balustrade of the upper-­story balcony, where an old woman is seated. She acknowledges the camera and also calls out to a woman who remains

195 Between the Past and the Present

offscreen. They are looking for a cat named Whiskers who seems, so the old woman thinks, to have gotten out through a hole in the wall of the upper-­story hallway; this hole, the old woman tells us, was made by a raccoon. We see a shot of the wall and its raccoon hole. The voice offscreen yells out, “We’ll be raided again! We’ll be raided again by the village of East Hampton!” Here is our first introduction to Big Edie and Little Edie (though the intense thrill of first seeing Little Edie the filmmakers delay for the moment). And here is our first introduction to Grey Gardens: again, from the inside. As Matthew Tinkcom has written: “It is as if Grey Gardens inaugurates the film Grey Gardens and participates in the crises and performances that inhere to its melodrama.”73 Following this scene is a series of shots of East Hampton—­of the center of the village, with its pond and its windmill and its neat colonial buildings, of the Maidstone Club, and of several large late nineteenth-­and early twentieth-­century mansions. Last in this sequence is a shot of Grey Gardens itself, with its two upper-­story gables and central porch pediment almost completely obscured by a thick growth of vines. This shot dissolves into a newspaper photograph taken from the same angle. The camera pans down a newspaper article that explains the earlier predicament of the Edies, the threat that the Suffolk County Board of Health might have forced them out of Grey Gardens because of its insalubrious living conditions. After panning and scanning a number of articles that give the basic prehistory of the present film, the Maysleses introduce themselves and the project of the film similarly, first by photographing a news item relating the film project as a piece of showbiz gossip and then by inserting a photograph of themselves. Little Edie supplies the voice-­over: “It’s the Maysles!” It is crucial to emphasize that we enter the film and Grey Gardens itself from the inside, having already somehow stepped into the world of the house as the film opens. In Psycho we enter the house in the same way: by already being in it with and (of course) through the camera. Grey Gardens shares with Psycho a basic narrative premise: that against the odds and better judgment, a mother and her adult child are living together in the family manse. Of course, in Grey Gardens this is literally the case, whereas in Psycho it is only fictionally true. But Little Edie and Norman have in common the complicatedly rich cathexes of their mothers, and both are following the formalities, to invoke Norman’s phrase again, in a variety of extraordinary and performative ways.

Already inside: Grey Gardens (1975).

Between the Past and the Present

196

The series of shots that establishes the wealth of East Hampton and the size of the houses of its rich also establishes, once the photograph of Grey Gardens is arrived at, the similar dimensions of Grey Gardens (which, as I say, we have already sensed), but also its manifold otherness. When the shot of the house dissolves into the newspaper photograph, we understand that the first shot that establishes the dissolve is from the point of view of the interloping photojournalist—­t hat is, a point of view exterior to the house, not the intimate interiority of what we have already experienced. The Maysleses’ temporary adoption of the point of view of the newspaper photograph implies everything that the film will not be: it will not be prying or prurient. It will be, instead, inside the life of Grey Gardens, an intimate act of witnessing the lives of Big Edie and Little Edie.74 This same shot of the facade of the house, in fact, is recapitulated as a kind of visual anaphora at several points in the film, often at the beginning of a new “episode,” functioning thus as a punctuation mark—­not dissimilar from the function of the postcard intertitles in Meet Me in St. Louis. While our first experience of the image of the house’s facade is posited in relation to the abstracted point of view of the journalistic photo, subsequent shots of the house’s exterior communicate a sense of sympathetic dis-

197 Between the Past and the Present

tance and provide a moment of respite from the shambolic tumult within. With Grey Gardens, part of the fascination of both house and film is the endlessness and circularity of life inside. The Edies’ conversations and activities are on a sort of loop in which sameness recurs, albeit with interesting improvisatory differences. While we could describe their lives as nearly timeless or outside time, we would also need to reckon with the fact that most of their conversations and arguments are about the past. It is true that the film and the Edies’ discourse acknowledge the historicity of the moment at which the Maysleses are filming—­especially in regard to the before and after of the “raid” on Grey Gardens by the local authorities. But it might be just as accurate to describe the Edies’ lives as stuck in an endless present that is fueled by an obsession with the past. The obsession with the past, we should also remember, is an attachment to a propertied class position, one that has become here fascinatingly, even morbidly, precarious. Grey Gardens is nearly all that remains of whatever claim the Edies could make on the class to which they belong. A large wooden house as surviving remnant of a class position, an incapacitated mother stranded upstairs, a curious unmarried adult child who darts in and out to greet visitors: the parallels one could draw between Psycho and Grey Gardens are perhaps as tendentious as they are useful. We might wonder whether the obvious pathological state of affairs in Psycho asks us to consider whether what we see in Grey Gardens is tragic or comic. Or we could just as well read in the other direction to ask whether some of the elasticity we see in the Edies’ behavior might have rerouted the Bates family history away from its positively ghastly end. It is important to note, of course, that our sense of the fluid circularity of life in Grey Gardens is also produced by the film’s form and construction, by its editing as much as by its shooting style. The ninety-­four-­m inute film that we see was whittled down out of a tremendous amount of film footage and sound recording.75 Ellen Hovde, who edited the film with Muffie Meyer, has noted that when they sat down to edit they were dealing with “80 hours of sync footage, and then 70 reels of wild track, and 30 to 40 reels of other stuff.”76 Hovde explains that in the editing process, she and Meyer placed at the end of the film footage that was recorded at the very beginning of the shoot.77 The labile quality of the film’s construction as an edited document follows the labile nature of life at Grey Gardens, in which any moment might be the portal to another moment. Little Edie’s sense of the flux of historical periods belongs (or

Between the Past and the Present

198

has been imparted?) to the temporal and narrative ordering of the film itself, which, in Kenneth J. Robson’s words, is “associative and rhythmical.”78 The nature of the camera movement (all footage was shot with handheld cameras by David and Albert Maysles) is similarly fluid. When the Edies perform for the camera, it tends to focus on them—­not able, presumably, to draw itself away; but there is also noticeable a mode of distraction in which the camera will slide away from the focus on the Edies in order to absorb the details of their surroundings. And then the film will return to one or both of the Edies, and things start up again. The front porch is one of the places where we are often met by Little Edie. Knowing the Maysleses have shown up with their cameras, she comes out to the porch through the front door, always wearing one of her fantastic sartorial concoctions (about which more later). The porch is also where she meets Jerry, the teenage handyman who Little Edie rather witheringly calls “the Marble Faun” (“A terrible tragedy, the story of the Marble Faun,” she says). Little Edie uses the porch exactly as anyone would expect, as a space of reception and entertainment. In fact, there is something very proper about her use of the porch. True, she may, on a particular day, launch into the dance she has choreographed to the Virginia Military Institute marching song (“We All March Together”), but this is her way of welcoming the Maysleses (and therefore “us”) into the house on a somewhat bouncier note than usual. Because Big Edie has difficulty getting around and therefore spends most of her time upstairs, the porch also becomes the place where Little Edie can enjoy some rare moments of intimacy with her guests without being spied on by her mother. This use of the porch as a place that is both inside and outside the home, technically subject to but sitting slightly apart from the law of the parent who remains inside, is entirely consistent with the way the porch is used in the practice of real-­l ife courtship and intimacy and with the way it has also been visualized in similar terms in the cinema. We have seen such uses of the porch in Meet Me in St. Louis. Porches also provide an experience of contact with the natural world that is still framed by the architecture of the house. When Little Edie meets the Maysleses on the porch, she shares confidences, desires, and anxieties. The porch’s exteriority protects her, gives her refuge, somewhat paradoxically, from the inside of the house, from her mother’s interference, as any porch would do for young lovers seeking privacy from the family within. We might call to mind as well, for example, the

199 Between the Past and the Present

way the porch is used as a place of courtship in Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire (1953), a film set in a house not unlike Grey Gardens, and a film, like many of the director’s films from the 1950s, absorbed by questions of the rivalries between mothers and daughters and that uses domestic architecture (particularly the porch and the stairwell balustrades) to structure sexual and emotional alignments between characters. While Little Edie does not become the lover of either of the Maysleses, her encounters with them on the porch are consonant with the generic tropes of porch-­side courtship and the typical uses of the porch in genre filmmaking, particularly melodrama. Every time Little Edie leaves the inside of the house, crossing the threshold of the front door and entering the space of the porch, she rehearses the possibility, never realized in the film, that she might just leave Grey Gardens altogether. The porch’s liminal quality—­it marks the first phase of entering and the last phase of leaving the house—­seems to invoke the expression of Little Edie’s own fantasies of autonomy and escape from the house. The entrance hall and its stairs operate and are used similarly in the film, and, like the porch, this area is a liminal space in which one is both inside and outside the house: inside the house proper, but still outside its various rooms of entertainment and repose. As discussed earlier, the film begins in the hall, the camera looking up through the balustrade at Big Edie, who calls to Little Edie about the whereabouts of Whiskers. The film stages its own beginning as an entrance into the world of the house in the entrance to the house itself. Like the porch, the hall belongs mostly to Little Edie, who uses it most memorably as the setting for her dance to “We All March Together,” perhaps her most successful or at least most fully realized performance in the film. In this scene we are first given a shot of the staircase, from the landing down to the entrance hall. The walls are painted a light, federal blue; the stairs and balustrade are stained a dark brown. The wooden floor has faded to a lighter shade of brown. We hear the instrumental marching song booming down from the record player upstairs. Up until this point we have only heard Little Edie singing and humming the song several times. Little Edie appears, marching down the stairs, wearing what looks like a dark bathing costume with a black knit long-­sleeved turtleneck underneath and a navy-­a nd-­red scarf wrapped around her head, framing her face and floating down her shoulders and back, a wispy substitute for the hair she seems not to have. She carries a small American flag,

Between the Past and the Present

200

her only prop, which she waves as she twirls and glides around the hall, graphing its generous spatial coordinates in a loopy but serious manner (note the expression of determination on Little Edie’s face). It is a bravura performance, and it literalizes the function of the entry hall, which is itself the space of performance, a stage of sorts, in which visitors and inhabitants make entrances and exits and perform the roles assigned to them. The stairs that Little Edie descends, like stairs in any great house, are the material and symbolic bridge between the valorized spaces of the ground floor, spaces open to the public, and the private interior spaces of the upstairs. These distinctions, however, have been somewhat undone by the Edies, since they do most of their living and entertaining in their shared upstairs bedroom. Little Edie’s grand use of the staircase and entry hall as the site of her choreography makes a kind of apotheosis of that space and its intended use. It also resonates with her own desire, which she reiterates across the film, that she should have stayed in New York or left Grey Gardens to become a dancer. Here she dances at the threshold of the house and the threshold of that desire. The dance, so close to the front door, the exit, stages the desire to leave and the compulsion to stay put in exactly the place where the claims of such conflicting impulses must contend with one another. The very last scene of the film—­shot, in a return to and reversal of its opening moments, from the upstairs balcony—­ shows Little Edie dancing by herself in the hall to a dreamy melody coming from a scratchy 78 rpm record. Ribbons are tied around her ankles, and she floats back and forth across the hall, unaware, this time, that she is being filmed. Literally, she dances at the threshold of departure, as we, on a somber note, are compelled to depart from the world of the film. If the entrance hall is apotheosized, then other rooms, especially those upstairs, are deployed against their traditional uses. Most of the living in Grey Gardens, it would seem, happens in the bedroom that the Edies share on the second floor. Two single beds, a hot plate, a fridge, a portrait of Big Edie (on the floor, in the corner behind the door), and a revolving cast of cats: these are the chief elements of the mise-­en-­scène. It is here that the Edies do most of their entertaining. Little Edie improvises canapés out of canned liver pâté and what look like sliced tomatoes topped with dollops of mayonnaise; Big Edie mixes drinks in an old jar with a fork or else boils corn on the cob, which she offers to her guests (in this case

Little Edie dances by herself, at the threshold of a deferred departure, in Grey Gardens.

201 Between the Past and the Present

Jerry, “the Marble Faun”) with an air of grand matter-­of-­factness that admits nothing of the strangeness of the setup. This single room is the most shocking, because most squalid, of the Edies’ living quarters. Big Edie’s bed plays a particular role in eliciting our disgust: her mattress is dark with filth, covered in all sorts of rubbish, and usually populated by a cat or two. But here Big Edie presides over her contracted domain with unembarrassed confidence and stubborn grace. She commands Little Edie to serve up the snacks to the guests or she daintily jabs at a pint of butter pecan ice cream with an overlarge spoon, while Little Edie neatly goes at hers with a knife. The living conditions that attracted the attention of the Suffolk County Board of Health are these, though we imagine things must be somewhat cleaner than they had been previously. “Infinite riches in a little room” might be one way of construing the density of experience of the Edies’ bedroom/living room/kitchen. When Little Edie, toward the end of the film, enters the room and complains of its condition, she begins the following exchange, the two women’s “lines” overlapping at points:

LITTLE EDIE: Your room is terribly dirty; it’s got to be cleaned. BIG EDIE: Not tonight Geraldine. LITTLE EDIE: It’s a horrible smell. I can hardly sit here. BIG EDIE: I love that smell. I strive on it. It makes me feel good. LITTLE EDIE: We have to hang the portraits and clean the room. BIG EDIE: No! Pull the chair out! He wants to look at it. I’m not

ashamed of anything. Where my body is is a very precious place. It’s concentrated ground.

Between the Past and the Present

202

At the end of this exchange, the camera focuses on Big Edie and then slides off to rest its gaze on her portrait (to which attention is given at earlier key moments in the film) in time for her memorable phrase “concentrated ground” to be placed, so to speak, on top of the painted image. From behind the camera, offscreen, we hear one of the Maysleses, perhaps only thinking aloud, try to correct Big Edie: “Consecrated,” he says (though he doesn’t correct her use of “strive”). But Big Edie, in fact, is right: the lives of these women in this house, and the film itself, are studies in an intensity, density, and specificity of being in one place in a particular time in a particular manner. What the Edies’ “concentrated ground” (I think the term applies as much to Little as to Big) gives us an experience of is the concentrated nature of life anywhere for anyone. While the Edies’ domestic habits might subvert or deform or at other times fabulously adhere to our expectations of life in a house, what the film, in its observation of these habits, allows us to see is the amalgam of the routine, the contingent, and the vertiginously specific that constitutes everyday life. On the one hand, the world prescribes many of our engagements with it: doors must be opened or closed, gone in and out of, cans opened, bodies clothed and fed, guests entertained, rooms straightened. And yet, we can only ever open or close this door, open this can, clothe this body—­w hichever of these we just happen to possess. And yet this necessary and, in many ways, unremarkable specificity of our beings in the world leads, moreover, thankfully, to the vertiginous forms of specificity that distinguish various human lives, one from another, that separate our world from that of the Edies, while also allowing us to see our likenesses in their images onscreen. It is striking that the film, which is, after all, simply a documentary of a mother and a daughter living in their family home, opens

itself up to being read as akin to or redolent of so many different genres. First and foremost it seems entirely available to being interpreted as a domestic melodrama—­the intergenerational rivalries and the felt presence of architecture as metaphor and structure of the same are entirely Sirkian. (We might also note that the balustrades that structure interior domestic and psychic space are as pronounced in Grey Gardens as they are in Sirk’s All I Desire or Imitation of Life [1959]). The film also participates in the realm of the gothic horror film and that genre’s preoccupation with the repressed histories of houses, their guests (wanted and unwanted), and their uncanny lives of their own, hence the value of thinking it in affinity to Psycho in more than architectural terms. (Psycho, of course, needs also to be read as a melodrama.) The house as a kind of homestead pitched against an indefinite and unknown world beyond gives of the western (we might think of the use of the porch at the very opening of The Searchers [John Ford, 1956]), and though the musical has a less obvious connection to the milieu of the house, the film easily lends itself to being understood as a musical, given its numerous scenes of singing and dancing.79 But it is melodrama and its sticky, indelible relation to domestic space that resonate most strongly. As Tinkcom writes, at Grey Gardens “the Maysleses discovered that melodrama is not solely a form of cultural production but a way of life as well.”80

The Line between the Past and the Present

203 Between the Past and the Present

The front porch, the entrance hall, the bedroom the Edies share, the boys’ (Little Edie’s younger brothers’) bedroom that Little Edie is in the process of “redecorating,” the dining room, the pink room off the second-­story deck, and that deck itself: these are the principal places used by the Edies and to which the film grants us access. While the first impression of Grey Gardens created by the film is one of absolute otherness, what eventually dawns, through repeated viewings (at least for this viewer), is the impression that life here is a hybrid of the commonplace and the fantastic. Rooms are used for and against their intended purposes, and the Edies’ behavior within these rooms is both remarkable and very often banal—­as is anyone’s life in a house. Grey Gardens, therefore, becomes a compelling study in the domestic pas de deux between the outrageously improvisatory and the routine.81 The possibility of responding to the film in these terms is cued

from the beginning of the film, after its aforementioned “prologue,” when Little Edie explains her outfit to the Maysleses, who (offscreen) murmur sounds of being impressed: This is the best thing to wear for today. You understand. Because I don’t like women in skirts. And the best thing is to wear pantyhose or some pants under a short skirt. I think. Then you have the pants under the skirt, and then you can pull the stockings up over the pants, underneath the skirt. And you can always take off the skirt and use it as a cape. So I think this is the best costume for today. . . . [laughs] I have to think these things up! You know . . .

Between the Past and the Present

204

Little Edie’s costumes constitute just one of the elements that add to the visual richness of the film. (Thanks to Little Edie’s fashion, the film is an essay in 1960s and 1970s knitwear and fabric design.) 82 The film offers us, at this moment early into its progress, Little Edie “reading” herself, acknowledging the fact that she might seem a little odd, but determined, just the same, to win us over to the sensibleness of this costume, its logic, despite whatever its superficial oddities may lead us to think of it. Moments later, having led the Maysleses from the front of the house to the back, Little Edie shares a few words with Brooks, the Beales’ African American yardman, about the maintenance of the garden. After Brooks walks off to continue working, Little Edie whispers to the camera her concern that she has frightened Brooks with her outfit, the one she has described earlier as “the best costume for today.” The Maysleses reassure her that Brooks “has probably seen it before.” “No, no, this is the revolutionary costume. I never wear this in East Hampton.” “He seems like he can handle it,” they reassure her. “You can’t be too careful. Know what I mean?” she replies. While the moment could be read as merely an instance of Little Edie’s self-­absorption and narcissistic obsession with her peculiar dress style, it also should be seen as an instance of innumerable everyday encounters between a (white) mistress and her (black) hired servant. It makes sense, then, that as she continues to whisper to the Maysleses, Little Edie immediately digresses to discuss the architectural space of the house: That was the original living room. [gestures over her shoulder] You know . . . when people go back to a kitchen now . . . Though

The uncertain line between the past and the present in Grey Gardens.

the washing machine was always put in the maid’s dining room. . . . You know, the washtubs are always in the maid’s dining room. [pause] It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. You know what I mean? It’s awfully difficult.

205 Between the Past and the Present

Little Edie’s improvised outfits, in which a sweater becomes a turban and a skirt is worn upside down, are of a piece with her understanding and her use—­both practical and imaginary—­of domestic space and her sense of historical time. Which is to say, we see here an acute awareness of the traditional nature of things and spaces and their uses, but also an awareness of the fluidity of all these and a confident nimbleness in subverting these traditional uses. A maid’s dining room becomes something else (we are never told just what); something to be worn on the torso is worn on the head; the past (and here a tone of mourning seeps in) becomes the present. The poetics of Little Edie’s discourse—­t he fluidity of its concatenating forward motion—­is one with the ludic logic of her fashion, is one with her awareness of the slipperiness of time, which is one, as her anecdote and its emphasis on rooms makes clear, with the architectural space of the house.

Between the Past and the Present

206

In this whispered, breathy rush of words, Little Edie’s speech—­ one of the most famous in the film—­condenses a set of complex issues that require unfolding.83 The reference to the labor expended and the space occupied by Grey Gardens’s servant class reminds us of the pressing and somewhat elusive issue of class that in a sense constitutes much of the film’s and the Edies’ mystique. Tinkcom warns that, despite the fact that Big Edie and Little Edie are objects of cultic devotion, it would be a mistake to romanticize their independence. He cautions us to remember that “their manner of living was sponsored by their sense of themselves as patricians in the American class system as much as it was by any need to express themselves.”84 The “revolutionary costume” just barely brings into sight some sense of class resentment. Little Edie’s costume seems to align itself against the propriety of East Hampton society, but it also expresses a class-­bound privilege. Her concern over Brooks’s reaction to the costume tells us that she is in some sense aware of the costume as an expression of this privilege (a white privilege, we should add). The line that cannot be maintained between the past and the present seems more fungible than the line between classes, or races. If Edie is uncertain about what is the past and what is the present, she seems more confident about what belongs in the maid’s dining room. I want, in coming to the close of what has perhaps felt at times like a (mimetically) digressive and somewhat hagiographic account of this film, to return to Scully’s account of shingle style architecture with which I began this chapter in order to make better sense of what Little Edie is saying here. To be clear, Little Edie is speaking or at least performing the language of a nostalgia that attempts to make present an object or an ideal that has long been lost, or that indulges, cultivates a blurriness between what was and what is. (In this sense, we see how much nostalgia might bear formal and psychical resemblances to Freud’s theorization of melancholia.) In this scene Little Edie stands first on the back porch of Grey Gardens, and then, following a cut, just next to it. The architecture that frames and grounds this speech has been understood by Scully to be itself an expression of nostalgia. I want to bring to mind one passage I quoted at the beginning of this chapter in which Scully reflects: “No American living in 1970 can look back upon these houses without some nostalgia, or disappointment, or even sorrow. They promised a great deal for American life which has not been fulfilled.” Scully’s reflections and Little Edie’s share

207 Between the Past and the Present

both the same period, the 1970s, and the same object, shingle style architecture. They also seem to share a failure to reflect on what a nostalgic investment in a type of architecture so clearly predicated on class and racial privilege is meant, seriously, to accomplish for, let’s say, a working-­class “American living in 1970,” or for someone like Brooks. Edie’s thoughts nearly trip over themselves. She moves from a question of revolution—­even if only sartorial—­posed implicitly to a black man and explicitly to a repressive social structure (East Hampton), to the hierarchical distribution of spaces inside a mansion, to the instability of historical periodization. She seems, like Scully, to wish wanly for a better world while clinging to an architecture subtended by an exploitative social and economic order. And, like Scully, with less articulateness but maybe more eloquence than even he can conjure, she wonders if nostalgia has any agency in figuring out how these concerns might be related. Writing at a historically proximate time and about another cinematic representation that has as its center a hypertrophied example of shingle style architecture, Fredric Jameson has addressed the politics of nostalgia in the postmodern period. I refer here to his influential 1981 essay “Historicism in The Shining.”85 The setting of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), adapted from Stephen King’s eponymous novel, is the Overlook Hotel, the exterior locations of which were shot at the Timberline Lodge near Mount Hood in Oregon; the lodge was built in 1935–­38 as a public works project funded by the Works Progress Administration. Though constructed long after the proper period of shingle style architecture’s efflorescence, the building clearly rehearses the flowing forms of houses like the aforementioned house designed by William Ralph Emerson and credited by Scully with being the first “fully developed” example of the style. Presumably the rehearsal of this style in the middle of the Great Depression was meant explicitly to strike a note of optimistic nostalgia for what was perceived to be a better time. As a WPA project, the construction was intended to employ the un-­or underemployed, but as a ski lodge, the building would have catered to patrons of an economic and social class slightly different from that of those who had built it. In the film, Jack, a writer, played by Jack Nicholson, has moved to the hotel with his wife and son (Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd). The family will act as caretakers of the Overlook during the difficult winter, when heavy snows render it inaccessible to tourists. Jack intends to use the time to work on his novel. Instead, he becomes

Between the Past and the Present

208

haunted by the ghosts of the hotel, who point to his own uncanny presence there during its glory days as a playground for the upper classes in the 1920s, the period before the crash of 1929 (and the ensuing Great Depression, which itself was the catalyst for the construction of the actual Timberline Lodge). Jameson’s ingenious reading of The Shining identifies the film’s “nostalgia” as “the longing for collectivity.” According to Jameson, the film’s longing “takes the peculiar form of an obsession with the last period [that is, the 1920s] in which class consciousness is out in the open.” The film, he argues, “demystifies” the genre of what he calls the “nostalgia” or period film, so prevalent in the 1970s. The Shining, in Jameson’s reading, exposes this genre’s unavowed “desire for a vanished social hierarchy” and diagnoses its “ideological project to return to the hard certainties of a more visible and rigid class structure.”86 Can we borrow Jameson’s terms for a reading of Grey Gardens and its own investigation of a nostalgia for a past that is embodied in an instance of resort architecture, designed in the period house style of the very rich? A substantial part of the appeal of Grey Gardens surely consists in the fascination with the Beales’ class position, with the now-­vanished wealth that was responsible for the construction of Grey Gardens in the first place. Little Edie collapses Grey Gardens’s demarcation of socializing and working spaces into a collapse of past and present. In doing so, she expresses a wonderingly vague sense of class consciousness inflected by a hazy sense of the claims of history. To have had so much and to be making do with so little, albeit in so interesting a way and still inside the actual domain of a fabulous (if fabulously decrepit) piece of private property: the Edies’ virtuosity is, in part, responsible for the fascination the film exerts on its viewers. Read in one direction, Big Edie and Little Edie seem nearly as possessed and morbidly immobilized by the past as Jack in The Shining or Norman in Psycho. However, read in another direction, their relation to the past is a playful one, iterative, perhaps, and therefore trapped in a closed temporal loop. But the iteration of tropes—­of the “formalities” (again, Norman Bates’s term) of class position—­a lso puts that class position on display, under scrutiny, and, to borrow Susan Sontag’s famous phrase about camp aesthetics, “in quotation marks.”87 Camp might be an interesting register in which to reread Scully’s own beautiful but overheated pronouncements on the shingle style, such as this passage, quoted earlier in the chapter, in which he describes shingle style houses

Concentrated ground: Grey Gardens.

209 Between the Past and the Present

as “the freest and, on the whole, among the most generous forms that the United States has yet produced.” In purely formal, architectural terms, Scully might very well be right. In terms of class and social and economic privilege, however, these “generous forms” and their enormous, propulsive volumes of enclosed private space negatively index the misery of the classes employed, oppressed, ignored, and degraded by the patrons and inhabitants of this architecture. Big Edie and Little Edie are hardly class warriors, and the precariousness of their existence does not absolve them of their historical class privilege. But somehow their parodic mimesis of the social class to which they still tenuously belong hollows out the claims of the 1970s’ neoconservative return to order and that decade’s repudiation of the social and political experiments of the 1960s. (Mixed in with the smell of cat pee, there is a distinct whiff of the 1960s commune about Grey Gardens.) Grey Gardens makes

Between the Past and the Present

210

an experience of class and a class’s experience of domestic architecture susceptible to critique. The efficacy of such critique, however, remains rather dubious. (The end of the 1970s saw the ascendancy of a new lumpen movement—­Reaganism—­a llied with and decoratively buttressed by the WASP privilege of the Bush dynasty, whose members notoriously summered in their shingle style pile in Kennebunkport, Maine.) But at least the Edies remind us of the squalor and stench at the heart of class privilege. Grey Gardens was released in the year preceding the hoopla that was to be the bicentennial celebrations of 1976. And in 1974, the year before the film’s release, Scully would publish yet another paean to the shingle style, The Shingle Style Today; or, The Historian’s Revenge, a short essay published as a book, richly illustrated, in which he names as the legitimate successors to the shingle style the newer houses designed by postmodern architects such as Robert Venturi and Charles Gwathmey and built along the East Coast and especially in and around East Hampton. Grey Gardens thus appeared at a pregnant moment. The Beales’ metonymic and consanguineous relation to the most mythic American family—­t he Kennedys—­nearly compels us to see the singularity of the life at Grey Gardens as allegorical of a national condition. And the house’s emplaced proximity to works of startling architectural achievement, all designed and built for ruling-­or upper-­class clients, asks us to consider Little Edie’s bricolage aesthetics in relation to similar practices being carried out by Venturi and others like him. Wearing a skirt upside down carries a charge similar to sticking pediments in places where they probably do not belong, but where they nonetheless seem to be at home. If the film can act as the vehicle for some kind of national-­cultural allegory, it is because the house itself is a shipwrecked vessel, a rotting frame. In the very last paragraph of The Shingle Style Today, Scully waxes poetic, as was his wont, about “the impulses which created the new Shingle Style.” These impulses include a desire “to try to dig back down to the roots of American decency,” an attempt “to tap the resources of the American spirit and to release the soul.” He does allow that these architectures have “tempered Romanticism with irony,” but the stress falls on the Romanticism.88 We might say that the shingle style house seems to nourish an ideal of self-­reinvention, even if or precisely because the state of things has become altogether exactly this desperate.

CODA

From Porch to Attic Condemned to Property in New Orleans

This book first took shape as an idea in the middle of a catastrophe, that of Hurricane Katrina. I finished writing it in December 2016, in the ongoing context of another catastrophe: the election of an avowed racist and serial sex offender to the office of the presidency of the United States. In between those two moments, a black man and his black wife and daughters had for eight years occupied the White House—­a house built, as the former First Lady herself once tactfully pointed out, with slave labor. In that moment, the moment of the book’s completion, it felt as though everything and nothing had changed—­2016 could be 1915 or 1935. Fantasies of immurement, borders, and enclosures inflamed the racist imagination. Swastikas were being scrawled on dorm-­room doors. A book about looking at houses does not, at this moment, seem like the most powerful way of addressing the exigencies of the present. But I hope that practices of looking and possessing will be

211

in some small way denatured by the arguments pursued in these pages—­t hat looking and owning will feel, at the very least, less innocent than they might otherwise have felt. Meanwhile, another world wants building.

CODA

212

In 1976, the year of the U.S. bicentennial, when I was not quite seven years old, I dressed up as George Washington (a slave owner, though at that time I was unaware of that fact) in order to ride on a float in a Fourth of July parade in a small town outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My George Washington costume was made of gold lamé and was trimmed in blue. During that same summer I was taken by my family to visit Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana. I clearly recall my anticipation of what lay before me as we parked near the big house and then walked around it and up the wide alley of oak trees that leads to the front porch of this perfect Greek revival mansion. At the door we were told that children under the age of ten (I think it was) were not permitted to enter the house. I do not remember another disappointment this great during my childhood years. I was humiliated, I was crushed. I skulked in the formal gardens and had a peek into the kitchen, a separate building in the back. I believe my mother tried to console me, but even she disappeared into the house for what seemed a very long time, leaving me to suffer the shame of my mere numerical age, which did not reflect, I knew, my spiritual maturity, of which my tremendous disappointment was an unmistakable sign. My mother bought me a small photographic picture book of the house’s interiors, and I pored over this book for years afterward. It fed my appetite to visit Rosedown again, when I would be old enough to cross the threshold of the front door. For three years I anticipated my tenth birthday with as much fervor as I would later look forward to turning fifteen (so I could drive) or eighteen (so I could vote, and drink alcohol). I am not sure what this intense disappointment and anticipation consisted of, and, despite the fact that I was a child then, I still feel pricked by shame in recalling the incident. The shame consists in the fact that I was so obsessed with seeing the inside of this plantation house but felt no (nor had been taught to feel any) obligation to imagine the cruelty that was the true foundation on which Rosedown was built: its enslaved population of 145 black human beings who lived in twenty-­five houses that, unlike the big house, do not survive to be looked at.1 Slave life did not interest me. I wanted to see the master’s rooms and furniture. (Roots [1977] would

not be broadcast until the following January. Perhaps my perspective might have been different had we gone to Rosedown but a year later.) This book is a continuation of that early experience of fascinated disappointment and, as much as it can, figures an apology for it, as well.

213 CODA

I began this book with a meditation on an overdetermined shot from a film in which we are invited to look at actors playing former slaves looking up at a fictional mansion in a make-­believe Reconstruction-­ era Atlanta—­a n image of property looking at property. I meant for that image and the problem of race to inform the rest of the book, even when the houses and films under discussion were films made by white people about white people inhabiting houses that, for the most part, would have been unavailable or barred to black inhabitants. The image from Gone with the Wind that constitutes the book’s foundations is creakily insubstantial and all too stubbornly secure: lodged in cultural memory, stuck in the history of cinema. That image set the stage, I fear, for something that does not happen in this book as much as it should: this something is a more fully sustained thinking through of the complexity of the relationship between the representation of the property of the house and African Americans, whose status as social beings was reduced to that of property across the greater part of the American history (or at least the part that commenced with the arrival of white Europeans). The book closes by opening up the possibility that it should have been another book, or a different one. Or else I could say it closes by indicating a book that needs to be written. As I mentioned in the first part of this book, the method of organizing films according to building styles works like the zoning laws that kept American suburbs white by disenfranchising black would-­be home owners, keeping them out of white neighborhoods and out of the picture. Out of the picture, indeed: African Americans have been allotted the smallest, most demeaning of roles throughout the history of Hollywood cinema, a situation that, to a large extent, has not changed at the time of this writing. (It certainly has not changed to the degree that it should have.) In another important sense, however, I have been talking about race all along, but in a way that perhaps I have not acknowledged forcefully enough. For in the majority of the films I have discussed, I have been talking, for the most part, about a racially specific experience of property—­ about the specificity of being a white person with privileged access

to property and unencumbered by the historical experience of having been classified and treated as property.

CODA

214

As I mentioned already, the idea to write this book occurred to me in August 2005, when, as a native Louisianian living abroad, I watched the television in horror while New Orleanians—­mostly African Americans—­died as a result of Hurricane Katrina: drowned because trapped in their houses by rising floodwaters, or else drowned when trying to escape to higher ground, or else killed by the lack of food and clean water that should have arrived but did not in the immediate aftermath of the storm. The devastation of Katrina was measured in human lives. Drowned bodies floated in receding floodwaters. Drowned bodies washed up beneath highway overpasses and were left to bloat in the late summer heat. By chance I was at the same time, somewhat frivolously it seemed to me then, busy finishing an overdue article on Grey Gardens, a version of which made its way into this book’s last chapter. Thinking about houses in cinema made it impossible to ignore the degree to which the imagination of the hurricane’s devastation was predicated on the house. In the weeks that followed, search parties working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) visited every house—­house by house—­in every flood zone. Each house was marked with a strange hieroglyphic: a large X spray-­painted on the facade of each house; in the crook of each X, the time of the visit, number of live or dead bodies found, hazards found in the house, and the rescue team identifier. Each house provided the surface for this inscription; the house itself became the medium for registering and representing the destruction and loss of life. Of course these houses were themselves property, damaged property—­owned by their inhabitants (living or dead) or rented by them from someone else. This property was housing, and how and where to rehouse the unhoused bodies of displaced (again, mostly African American) New Orleanians became a pressing matter, both in the immediate wake of Katrina and for years afterward. Evacuees from the storm-­damaged areas were given temporary shelter in cities as far away as Houston, Texas, 350 miles (a five-­hour drive) from New Orleans. One such “relocation center” was the covered sports stadium called the Astrodome, where evacuees who were camped out on the playing field of the arena had the honor of being visited by Barbara Bush, a Houstonian, a former First Lady, and the mother of then president George W. Bush. In an interview Mrs. Bush of-

215 CODA

fered her report on this humanitarian visit: “So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway . . . so this is working very well for them.”2 Many white Americans are accustomed to the football field as the place where black Americans might look most at home; perhaps the former First Lady’s comments merely express that mental habit. Or perhaps at the root of what we might euphemistically call Mrs. Bush’s insensitivity is the inability of white people to think about African Americans as having any meaningful relationship to property (whether as owners or as tenants), given that African Americans themselves so recently were property. Mrs. Bush went on to wonder whether it was not a little “scary” that these same people might want to stay on in Houston, given the hospitality to which they had been treated. Other short-­to medium-­term solutions for rehousing those whose homes had been destroyed included the ubiquitous white FEMA trailers that began to arrive by the thousands in cities and towns along the Gulf Coast. Those to whom these trailers were not made available lived in hotels for weeks, months, and even years in places like Baton Rouge (a one-­hour drive from New Orleans) and Atlanta (nine hours away by car). Adorno’s claim that “the house is past” took on an enlarged and pressing significance. And yet the house endured and endures, even in its destruction, or especially in its destruction. It endures precisely as the medium—­v isual and material, iconographic and economic—­of that destruction. We see the house as unavoidable medium in Trouble the Water (2007), a documentary about the experience of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal in collaboration with its documentary subjects, wife and husband Kimberly Rivers Roberts and Scott Roberts. Kimberly and Scott made the decision, born of economic necessity, to “ride out” the hurricane in their home in the Lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood populated almost exclusively by African Americans. This was not a place most people outside New Orleans had heard about before Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the levee system that held back the waters of the Industrial Canal. But the levees broke, and the water of the canal violently flooded the neighborhood, a disaster that resulted in significant loss of life among inhabitants of the Lower Ninth.3 Trouble the Water combines documentary footage shot by Lessin and Deal of Kimberly and Scott as they navigate a post-­Katrina world, together with more precious footage shot mostly by Kimberly, of

CODA

216

her and Scott’s experiences as they attempted (successfully) to avoid the fate of other neighborhood residents who drowned in the flood. The film incorporates other footage and appropriates media that documented or were secreted by the event of the storm: news coverage, radio reports, recordings of desperate calls to emergency dispatchers at 911.4 At one point the film tells us, via a subtitle, that the levees have been breached. It then offers us footage taken by Kimberly, who—­at that moment unaware of the breaching of the levees—­is shooting out of a window in the attic of her and Scott’s house—­h igher ground where they hope to escape the rising water levels. The jerky footage shows the churning, brownish water that has risen midway up the height of the houses across the street. There is little to be seen apart from the water’s violent abstraction. “It’s like an ocean out there,” Kimberly says as she films. A bit later she adds (again, sync sound recorded on footage shot from the attic): “We under siege, truly. Truly under siege. Everybody done lost everything around here. Nobody left with no valuables, nothin’ but our lives. And I hope people livin’, cuz we barely livin’ up here but the Lord with us. We barely makin’ it.” The situation that Kimberly and Scott have found themselves in in their attic is one experienced by numerous other, almost entirely African American, New Orleanians who took refuge in their attics. These attics became death chambers as the water rose above roof lines and drowned those who had no means of breaking free from the cramped spaces to which they had retreated. Aerial news footage of the Lower Ninth shot during and after the storm shows roofs punctured by strange holes rudely chopped by people attempting to escape from the very spaces they thought had promised safety. Some of these people did manage to escape. Others died trying. Kimberly’s resigned and mournful comment that they are “under siege,” her mention of the destruction of their property (or “valuables”), and her seeking refuge in the innermost (uppermost) sanctum of her house—­these are horribly real rewritings of D. W. Griffith’s racist and classist melodramatic fantasies. Only in New Orleans, during Hurricane Katrina, there was no organized attempt to save the lives of those stranded in houses that had become watery graves, horrific reinstantiations of the city’s famous aboveground cemetery monuments. In Kimberly and Scott’s case, the only person who comes to the rescue is their neighbor Larry, who uses a punching bag as an improvised flotation device to help keep afloat the people

he rescues—­slowly, one by one—­f rom houses in which they would have otherwise perished. In a sequence that immediately follows the one I have been describing, the film cuts to footage (now in slow motion) also apparently shot by Kimberly from her attic, only this time the sound track is occupied by recordings of people desperately calling 911 to be rescued from their own attics, where they are trapped by the rising waters. Again and again, the replies from the emergency operators are versions of what one of them tells one caller: “At this time they are not rescuing.” The film lets one particularly painful recording play at greater length. Its pathos consists perhaps in the caller’s tone of dreadful, surreally polite resignation to her own mortality as she describes her situation to the operator: CALLER: The water is steady rising in the attic ma’am and I’m

gonna drown in the attic. OPERATOR: Can you break a hole in the attic? CALLER: I tried. I broke a chair for it. I cannot pry this wood off

this attic ma’am. OPERATOR: The police are not coming out until the weather

conditions get better. [pause] CALLER: So I’m gonna die. Hello? OPERATOR: Yeah? CALLER: I can’t get out.

217 CODA

In this audiovisual sequence, the caller’s house—­which we do not see—­forces an appalling (implied) narrative conclusion. Already condemned to social death by having been considered nothing more than property throughout much of American history, African Americans are left to die in the property they inhabit, as if the state that refuses to save them has no way of telling their lives apart from anything else that can be owned, left to be destroyed, or thrown away. In an influential and powerful article, the legal theorist Cheryl I. Harris explores the “valorization of whiteness as treasured property in a society [that of the United States] structured on racial caste.”5 Whereas “the status of being white” has been conceived of as a property that whites possess (and by possessing are able to dispossess African Americans), the status of being black

The house as raced index and medium of devastation in Trouble the Water (2007).

CODA

218

condemns blacks—­in terms both real and imaginary—­to a status of identity with rather than possessors of property.6 The experience of Hurricane Katrina and its representation in a film like Trouble the Water make this state of affairs all too palpable. Toward the end of the film, Lessin and Deal capture a moment of shocking inanity and callousness when, several months after the storm, they visit the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and speak to one of its (white) employees, a young woman who explains the various ways in which the city is coming back to life and how “research” reveals that tourists do not want to be reminded of “devastation when you’re trying to have a good time on a vacation.” “People have a perception that we’re closed,” she tells them, “and while 80 percent of the city was devastated, that 20 percent where the tourists are was not.” She proceeds to show the filmmakers a promotional tourism DVD made before the storm—­a music video for a jazz song titled “Do They Play Jazz in Heaven?” She tells Lessin and Deal that, although the footage was shot before Katrina, because none of the locations seen in the video suffered damage, the DVD can still be used to promote the city’s attractions. Lessin and Deal allow this video to take over the film frame, but they also cut to shots that show the excruciatingly cheery satisfaction that it gives this employee of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.

But then the film holds on to the sound track of the music video but cuts abruptly to footage shot from a car as it drives through the Lower Ninth. (We are told this by a subtitle that indicates the location and the fact that the footage was shot a year after Katrina.) The image track consists of an endless succession of wrecked, ruined, uninhabited, and uninhabitable houses, as well as empty lots where houses once stood. These houses measure the devastation of that 80 percent of New Orleans that does not concern the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. These houses are the too-­ real material elements of a too-­real spectacle of a racist national imaginary’s contempt for people it can only see as property. December 2016, Cambridge

CODA

219

This page intentionally left blank

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This book has been written over a period of several years, in fits and starts, and has benefited from conversation, feedback, criticism, suggestions, and other forms of generous interlocution. Two important invitations helped move things along during a key period in its development. The first came from the Department of the History of Art at University College London, where I delivered the Tomàs Harris Lectures in 2012. These lectures became chapters 1 and 2. The engagement and feedback I received at these lectures were immensely helpful, and I would particularly like to thank Rose Marie San Juan, Richard Taws, and Stephanie Schwartz for their generosity in bringing me to UCL. The second invitation was extended by Rani Singh at the Getty Research Institute, who offered me a berth as scholar in residence during the spring of 2013. During that time I was able to present my work at an event sponsored by the GRI and the University of Southern California, where I received much-­needed advice and encouragement. Charles Wolfe, who gave a response to my paper at USC, deserves tremendous thanks, as do Ed Dimendberg, Allyson Nadia Field, Priya Jaikumar, David E. James, and Michael Renov, all of whom offered thoughtful criticism at the same event. I thank Rani again here for engineering my stay at the GRI. I presented fragments or versions of chapters at the following institutions: the University of Aberdeen; the University of the South; Kings College London; the National University of Ireland, Galway; the University of Kent; the University of Sussex; the University of Cambridge; Corpus Christi College (Cambridge); the Institute for Cultural Inquiry–­Berlin; the University of Warwick; and the University of Oxford. I am indebted to the audiences at these talks for their advice and criticism, and in particular I thank Filippo Trentin, Paul Flaig, Katherine Groo, Mattias Frey, Alice Gavin, Laura Marcus, Rod Stoneman, Michele Pierson, Richard Dyer, Mark Betz, and Stefano Baschiera. Material that is now sprinkled across the book was first tried at several of the annual World Picture conferences. The members of the (always evolving) community of scholars at these conferences have been supportive of this book’s interests and arguments and made me feel at the earliest stages that the project was worthwhile. My first attempt to talk about the cinematic bungalow took place at a conference organized by myself, Jane Elliott, and Victoria Coulson at the University of York in 2007, “Real Things: Matter, Materiality, and Representation, 1880–­Present.” I mark that moment as critical in the book’s earliest development. Three anonymous readers for the University of Minnesota Press

221

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

222

convinced me that I had actually produced a book, but also gave me much to consider in bringing the book to its completion. I am grateful to Danielle Kasprzak at Minnesota for her commitment and patience and for her eminently helpful advice along the way. I also extend thanks to Anne Carter and the production team at the Press. This is the third book I have published with Minnesota, and I remain humbled by the association. Archival research was carried out at the Warner Bros. Archive at USC, the Getty Research Institute, the Library Special Collections at the UCLA Library, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, the British Film Institute, and the Ayn Rand Institute. I extend my gratitude to the staff at all of these institutions. The following friends, colleagues, and collaborators (sometimes overlapping categories) have been generous with intellectual, practical, and moral advice: Jo Applin, Linda Austin, Sara Jane Bailes, Sylvia Berney, Kasia Boddy, Tina Di Carlo, David Edgar, Alex Eisenthal, Jane Elliott, Seb Franklin, Marina Frasca-­Spada, Rosalind Galt, Christien Garcia, Elena Gorfinkel, Rhiannon Harries, Joanna Hogg, Daniel Kane, Amanda Lillie, Jenny Lund, Paul Merchant, Joanna Page, Pat Palmer, Joe Perna, Karen Pinkus, Brian Price, Laura Rascaroli, Leslie Richardson, Karl Schoonover, Mark Shiel, Vid Simoniti, Sam Solomon, Archie Squire, Arabella Stanger, Byron Suber, Keston Sutherland, Meghan Sutherland, David Trotter, Francesco Ventrella, Emma Widdis, and Emma Wilson. Tom Bamford was my research assistant in the early stages of the book’s inception; I thank him here. I also thank Jules O’Dwyer, who offered last-­minute assistance in producing image files. Special thanks to Mark Turner, who first talked to me about how to organize the book, and for much besides. Other colleagues and former colleagues and former students at the University of Sussex and the University of Cambridge—­too numerous to name—­nourished and sharpened my thinking: thank you all. My brother Stephen G. Rhodes has been a consistent source of advice and imaginative provocation over the years. His spirit informs these pages. He also produced an original work of art as an illustration for chapter 3. Thanks to other family members for love and support: Greg Vernice, Damien Boisvert, Christine Egan, and Bill and Rosalind Rhodes. Michael Lawrence has been the most faithful source of counsel and criticism throughout the time it took to write this book. I dedicate it to him with love and gratitude.

1. CINEMA’S SHORT-­T ERM TENANCY 1. Vincent Scully, “American Houses: Thomas Jefferson to Frank Lloyd Wright,” in The Rise of an American Architecture, ed. Edgar Kaufman Jr. (London: Pall Mall Press/Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970), 163. 2. Ibid., 164. 3. Ibid., 165–­68. 4. Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “property,” accessed June 6, 2014, http://www.oed.com. 5. Frank B. Wilderson III, Red, White and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010), 14. See also Silvia Federici’s argument that “to not see women’s work in the home is to be blind to the work and struggles of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population that is wageless. It is to ignore that American capital was built on slave labor as well as waged labor and, up to this day, it thrives on

NOTES

INTRODUCTION 1. Several paths are not taken here, in part because of powerful existing work. First, I do not offer a consideration of the apartment in cinema. Pamela Robertson Wojcik definitively treats this problem in her masterful The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945 to 1975 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010). I am inspired by that book’s example and hope the present book will be understood to contribute to the conversation Wojcik initiated. Second, I do not consider the house in American television. Early on, I had planned to include televisual representation of the house, but I quickly realized that doing so would so radically expand the archive of possible objects of analysis that the project would become unmanageable. Besides which, I also quickly learned that Lynn Spigel’s groundbreaking work on the imbrication of domestic space and television brilliantly answers many of the questions I had been interested in asking. See her Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); and Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001). In this context I should also mention that, while many of the houses whose cinematic representation I discuss are either fictionally or really found in suburban areas, and while suburbia is an important context for my work (as will become clear across the book), the book is not about suburbia per se. Finally, I do not address the representation of the house in contemporary cinema that draws thematically on the experience of the 2008 financial crisis (or the collapse of the property “bubble”). I remained conscious of this context while writing, but felt unprepared to address the complexity of this seismic event and the ongoing history of its representation in relation to a project that had already been conceptually and thematically defined before 2008. That said, the filmmaking that has pointedly addressed the property crash—­for example, a film like Ramin Bahrani’s compelling 99 Homes (2014)—­has, I feel, borne out the arguments and concerns of this book. 2. See Raymond Geuss, Public Goods, Private Goods (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001), esp. 32–­33.

223

NOTES TO CHAPTER 1

224

the unwaged labor of millions of women and men in the fields, kitchens, and prisons of the United States and throughout the world.” Silvia Federici with Nicole Cox, “Counterplanning from the Kitchen” (1975), in Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Oakland, Calif.: PM Press/Brooklyn, N.Y.: Common Notions/Brooklyn, N.Y.: Autonomedia, 2012), 31. 6. Wilderson, Red, White and Black, 7. 7. Ibid., 11. 8. For a thorough history of this problem in postwar America, see Diane Harris, Little White Houses: How the Postwar Home Constructed Race in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), esp. 29–­54. 9. A repudiation and inversion of this image is found in Beyoncé’s 2016 video (directed by Melina Matsoukas) for her single “Formation.” At several points in this video—­w hich locates itself squarely in the geography and iconography of post–­Hurricane Katrina New Orleans—­Beyoncé (whose mother is from Louisiana) is seen facing the camera from the front porch of a white-­ columned house. She is dressed in a black off-­t he-­shoulder gown with a voluminously full skirt; a large wide-­brimmed black hat nearly hides her face, and her neck is covered by abundant silver necklaces. She is flanked by four African American men who stand symmetrically to the right and left of her; all are wearing varieties of what looks like formal wear. A fifth man (also African American, also in formal wear) is seated to her right. At one of the video’s returns to this curious tableau, Beyoncé seems to have stepped forward off the porch and is now closer to the camera, with the men slightly out of focus in the background. She lips-­s ynchs to the song’s lyrics, “When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster,” with both hands raised and with the middle fingers of both hands raised as well. These two middle fingers say “Fuck you” to the camera, to the viewer, to the world at large, perhaps. These several shots of Beyoncé and her male retainers on the front porch punctuate the video and provide its final image, when, from the porch, she mouths the last words of the song, which tell us that the “best revenge is your paper.” The song’s satirical and yet serious porch-­f ront lessons on the value of money as insulation against the world’s hostility (or as a means of rewarding a worthy suitor) are hard to place, but the mise-­en-­scène of the tableau and the discourse on material wealth return us, I suggest, to the shot of Mammy, Pork, and Prissy staring up at Rhett’s Atlanta mansion. This return, however, is a caustic revision: a chiasmic stare back at the first shot’s chiasmic racist face-­off between architectural and human property. If we can place the image in a genealogical line of corrosive descent from Gone with the Wind (from which the image obviously dissents) it is still not clear what the image’s meaning is, nor is it clear if we would be wise or foolish to pursue the question of its meaning. The tableau for the “Formation” video was shot at the Fenyes Mansion, a Beaux-­A rts house built in the rich white enclave of Pasadena in 1906–­7 for a wealthy Hungarian-­born entomologist named Adalbert Fenyes. The mansion was used as a location for a 1912 D. W. Griffith film, When Kings Were the Law, and now houses the Pasa­dena Museum of History. Ethan Tobman, the production designer for the video, has

225 NOTES TO CHAPTER 1

recounted that a short production schedule required the crew to find a house in the Los Angeles area with “a porch that resembled those found in New Orleans.” (See Patrick Sisson, “Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’: How a Historic Pasadena Home Went Southern Gothic for This Year’s Biggest Video,” Curbed, February 9, 2016, http://www.curbed.com.) The clever production design carefully indicates the video’s awareness of its own artifice—­its own fantasy resolution to the worst, most baleful elements of American history and society. Whereas a spectator watching Gone with the Wind might think, “This is what slavery looks like,” we must view the “Formation” video as a direct confrontation with the legacy of slavery. We are offered the historical anachronism of the black plantation mistress. Beyoncé must know that property ownership—­“your paper”—­cannot fully protect black bodies from racism. She would, for instance, be aware of the 2009 incident in which African American literary theorist Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested by a white police office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for attempting to enter his own house through the front door. Her song’s lyrics’ excessive appeals to money and the commodities that it can purchase are intended, I would argue, to sit uncomfortably alongside the video’s exhilarating scenes of a young black boy in a hoodie dancing a wall of police officers in full riot gear into submission. (The hoodie is an obvious iconographic reference to the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012.) The “Formation” video harnesses the image of the house for the purposes of dismantling—­at least at the level of the image (and sound)—­t he naturalized claims of white supremacy and its own ideological, material, rhetorical grounding on the possession of property and the relegation of some people (African Americans) to the status of property. 10. John Nickel, “Disabling African American Men: Liberalism and White Message Films,” Cinema Journal 44, no. 1 (Fall 2004): 39. 11. Robert Mulligan, speaking in Fearful Symmetry: The Making of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Charles Kiselyak, 1998). This documentary is included as an extra on the 2005 special edition DVD release of the film (Universal). 12. Henry Bumstead, quoted in Andrew Horton, Henry Bumstead and the World of Hollywood Art Direction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), 88. 13. Jon Primrose offers this explanation on his website theStudioTour.com, which is intended as a guide to Universal Studios. See “Elm Street,” accessed November 26, 2016, http://www.thestudiotour.com. It is unclear where Primrose’s information comes from, and my attempts to contact him through the website have been unsuccessful as of the time of this writing. 14. “Newest House Aged to Enact Role of Oldest,” To Kill a Mockingbird Pressbook (1962), Pressbooks Collection, British Film Institute Special Collections. 15. “‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Has Largest Outdoor Movie Set,” To Kill a Mockingbird Pressbook (1962), Pressbooks Collection, British Film Institute Special Collections. 16. Erica Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 145–­8 4. Avila frames the entire history of the movement of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles as, essentially, a parable of twentieth-­century

NOTES TO CHAPTER 1

226

urbanism. The Dodgers were richly embedded in Brooklyn working-­class culture, emplaced in the borough in a very specific way. Their movement to Los Angeles, effected by the franchise owner, Walter O’Malley, was a purely financial gambit. Dodger Stadium, at the time of its construction the height of a modern and even modernist spectacular sports arena, was built to be fundamentally alien to its geographical context, apart from its proximity to downtown and its accessibility to L.A.’s freeways. It was the first stadium built expressly for the automobile, and thus is further imbricated in patterns of white flight suburban development. Thus its entwinement with racism—­ despite the history of the Dodgers as the first racially integrated team in Major League Baseball—­extends beyond the destruction of Chavez Ravine (the complicated story of which I condense in what follows). For an even fuller account of the subject of Chavez Ravine in relation to the fate of public housing in Los Angeles, see Dana Cuff, The Provisional City: Los Angeles Stories of Architecture and Urbanism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), 272–­309. 17. Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, 167. 18. Rachel Watson provides an interesting reading of the function of the front porch in the film as a narrative and symbolic space, one that figures the limits of the film’s ideological imagination. See Rachel Watson, “The View from the Porch: Race and the Limits of Empathy in the Film To Kill a Mockingbird,” Mississippi Quarterly 63, nos. 3–­4 (Summer–­Fall 2010): 419–­43. 19. The screenplay by Horton Foote describes the Robinson house in the following terms: “It is a small, neat house and yard.” Horton Foote, To Kill a Mockingbird screenplay (1962), British Film Institute Special Collections. The neatness of the Robinson residence is a patronizing indication that this is a “good” black family. 20. Giuliana Bruno has written suggestively that “the house can be viewed as the hinge that opens the door between architecture and cinema.” Giuliana Bruno, Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film (New York: Verso Books, 2002), 104. Bruno’s book, which casts its net wide, often insists on the overwhelming similarity of architecture and cinema, in a way that, to my mind, misses what each—­a s a separate medium—­can impart to the other. Note the preponderance of the word like in the following representative passage: “Like a film, the house tells stories of comings and goings, designing narratives that rise, build, unravel, and dissipate. In this respect, there is a tactile continuum—­a haptic hyphen—­that links the house and the house of pictures. The white film screen is like a blank wall on which the moving pictures of a life come to be inscribed. Etched on the surface, these experiential pictures, like film’s own, change the very texture of the wall. The white film screen can become a site of joy or a wall of tears. It can act like the wall envisaged by Ann Hamilton in her moving installation Crying Wall (1997). On its white surface, drops of feelings drip, seeping through as if all body liquids were conjoined on the ‘architextural’ surface. One can feel the pain that the surface bears. The film screen sweats it, like this artist’s wall. It holds it like the house’s own wall. The screen is itself a wall of emotion pictures, an assemblage of affects” (105). Bruno is particularly interested in mo-

227 NOTES TO CHAPTER 1

tion and what she calls “emotion.” She writes: “As a house of moving pictures, film is as habitable as the house we live in. Its ‘architexture,’ in fact, designs the real of bio-­h istory—­a map of bios, of life-­mode. It draws on its emotion to circulate this history” (251). Cinema, according to Bruno, produces motion and thus “emotion.” Although my concerns, as I hope will become clear, share a general sympathy with Bruno’s entertainment of what cinema and architecture (if not “architexture”) hold in common, they are rather different, more focused on the discomfiting elements of this commonality and more indebted to a political economic reading of the house and of cinema, one in which the story they tell together is sometimes rather more depressing than Bruno’s exhilarated account of things. 21. Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16, no. 3 (1975): 11. 22. Actually, I take a special relish in simply proposing the ongoing productiveness of engagement with this essay, whose argument has been celebrated, demeaned, caricatured, and abused over the forty and some years since it was published. 23. See André Bazin, “An Aesthetic of Reality: Neorealism,” in What Is Cinema?, trans. and ed. Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 2:28. See also Bazin’s discussion of Welles’s style in Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons in Orson Welles: A Critical View (Los Angeles: Acrobat Books, 1991), 64–­82. This work was first published in French in 1972 and then in English in 1978; no translator is credited in the English editions. The scenes that receive Bazin’s most concentrated attention are grounded in the domestic space of the Kane and Amberson mansions. 24. Bazin, Orson Welles, 73. This quotation appears in a footnote; the passage originally appeared in an article Bazin published in L’Écran Français, November 19, 1946. 25. Bazin, Orson Welles, 80. This passage echoes similar passages in Bazin’s famous essay “An Aesthetic of Reality,” which is included in What Is Cinema?, vol. 2. 26. Bazin, Orson Welles, 68–­72. The translator of this book notes that “the shot runs for four minutes and twenty-­five seconds and contains two brief pans—­one at the beginning and another at the end” (72). 27. Ibid., 80. 28. James Naremore, The Magic World of Orson Welles (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 118–­19. 29. Ibid., 119. 30. Ibid. 31. Ibid., 131. I would like to insist on the materiality and the discourse of property even more. Notoriously, RKO took control of the final cut of the film out of Welles’s hands, shortening its third movement and softening the stringency of its political and economic argument. RKO’s cut of the film, according to Naremore, threw away “all sections having to do with economics, preserving only the romance plot” (130). Much of the deleted material insisted on the materiality and spatiality of the Amberson mansion as it is

NOTES TO CHAPTER 1

228

translated out of the family’s possession (see ibid., 129–­34). This bowdlerized version of the film is, of course, the result of the studio’s assertion of its own property rights over the rights of Welles as author/creative agent. 32. Kim Newman points this out in Cat People (London: BFI, 2001), 19–­20. 33. Naremore, The Magic World of Orson Welles, 112. 34. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trans. Martin Milligan (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1988), 79. 35. Ibid., 81. 36. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-­ Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1995), 24. 37. There are, of course, other examples of ways in which, under capitalism, we pay to occupy space temporarily: the restaurant, for instance. Here, however, consumption is at stake, and a physical commodity (food) is exchanged for payment. The commodity consumed clearly helps to replenish labor power. Going to the cinema is more like going to an amusement park. Both are practices in which no material commodity is exchanged/consumed; however, the experience of having gone to the cinema or the amusement park produces a pleasurable affective (and ideological) residue that makes the laborer’s life more bearable. Cinema spectatorship, however, because it so materially obliges the spectator-­tenant to occupy space in a very rigid, prescribed, and immobile manner, seems to constitute a peculiar intensification of the experience of short-­term tenancy. I would like to thank Seb Franklin for asking me to think further here. 38. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, 89. 39. Adorno and Horkheimer famously see cinema spectatorship as continuous with the labor process: “The entertainments manufacturers know that their products will be consumed with alertness even when the customer is distraught, for each of them is a model of the huge economic machinery which has always sustained the masses, whether at work or at leisure—­w hich is akin to work.” Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1996), 127. Adorno and Horkheimer construe cinema spectatorship as a means by which capital appears to entertain spectators, while actually what it is doing is sharpening their perceptual skills as industrial laborers. Jonathan Beller has expanded this line of thought in a compelling manner in order to make the argument that “capital’s fundamental transformation during the twentieth century is cinematic, that is, it becomes visual.” Jonathan Beller, The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle (Lebanon, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2006), 20. Beller goes on to argue that looking itself increases the value of the image (see esp. 23–­24). His thinking inflects my own throughout this chapter. 40. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, 103. 41. Ibid. 42. G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), 40. 43. Ibid., 45.

229 NOTES TO CHAPTER 1

44. T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in The Sacred Wood (1920; repr., London: Routledge, 1989), 58. 45. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, 109. 46. Jean-­Luc Nancy, “The Image—­t he Distinct,” in The Ground of the Image, trans. Jeff Fort (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), 3. 47. It is surprising that the first instance of an image that Nancy offers is drawn from literature—­a nd not, say, from art history—­but it makes sense that this first example is a description of someone issuing forth from the interiority of a house. See ibid., 4–­5. 48. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. John K. Ryan (New York: Doubleday, 1960), 256. 49. Ibid., 262–­63. 50. Augustine writes of the “concupiscence of the eyes” that informs curious looking, looking that seeks to justify itself on the basis of a spurious desire for knowledge that is really just another way of experiencing the pleasures of the flesh. Ibid., 264–­66. 51. Michael McKeon, The Secret History of Domesticity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 218. 52. Ibid. 53. Adrian Tinniswood, The Polite Tourist: A History of Country House Visiting (1989; repr., London: National Trust, 1998), 46. 54. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), 8. 55. Ibid., 6. 56. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 52–­53. 57. Maurice Merleau-­Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 2002), 284. 58. Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 360. 59. Ibid., 356. 60. Ibid., 361. 61. See John David Rhodes and Elena Gorfinkel, eds., Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011). See especially our introduction, “The Matter of Places,” vii–­x xix. 62. Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 15. 63. Ibid. 64. Ibid., 8. 65. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-­ Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 121. Lefebvre proceeds to interrogate Heidegger’s notion of dwelling immediately following this passage (121–­22). 66. Arendt, The Human Condition, 71. 67. Ibid. 68. Jeremy Waldron, “What Is Private Property?,” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 5, no. 3 (Winter 1985): 327. 69. Walter Benn Michaels, “Romance and Real Estate,” in The New Historicism Reader, ed. H. Aram Veeser (New York: Routledge, 1994), 202.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 1

230

70. Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in The Uncanny, trans. David McLintock (London: Penguin, 2003), 151. 71. Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), 11. 72. Ibid., 11–­12. 73. Ibid., 12. 74. Scholarship on the city and cinema has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two decades. Rather than list the dozens of monographs and edited collections produced by this growing field of research, I might point the reader to Charlotte Brunsdon’s overview (which itself is by no means exhaustive): Charlotte Brunsdon, “The Attractions of the Cinematic City,” Screen 53, no. 3 (Autumn 2012), 209–­27. I might also mention my own contribution to this field: John David Rhodes, Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007). 75. See Tom Gunning, “The Whole Town’s Gawking: Early Cinema and the Visual Experience of Modernity,” Yale Journal of Criticism 7, no. 2 (Fall 1994): 189–­201; Tom Gunning, “Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The Temporality of the Cinema of Attractions,” in The Silent Cinema Reader, ed. Lee Grieveson and Peter Krämer (London: Routledge, 2004), 41–­50; Ben Singer, Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and Its Contexts (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001). 76. See David Bordwell, On the History of Film Style (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), 141–­46; Charlie Keil, “‘To Here from Modernity’: Style, Historiography, and Transitional Cinema,” in American Cinema’s Transitional Era: Audiences, Institutions, Practices, ed. Charlie Keil and Shelley Stamp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 51–­65; Malcolm Turvey, The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-­Garde Film of the 1920s (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011). 77. Keil, “‘To Here from Modernity,’” 59. 78. For a historical and economic contextualization of this technique, see Tom Gunning, “Weaving a Narrative: Style and Economic Background in Griffith’s Biograph Films,” in Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, ed. Thomas Elsaesser and Adam Barker (London: BFI, 1990), 336–­47. See also Eileen Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema: 1907–­1915 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 53–­72. 79. Tom Gunning, entry on The Lonely Villa, in The Griffith Project, vol. 2, Films Produced in January–­June 1909 (London: BFI/Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 1999), 142. 80. Tom Gunning, D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: The Early Years at Biograph (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 204. The film was adapted from a one-­act Grand Guignol stage play titled Au telephone (1901), in which a man away on business phones his wife who has stayed home at their suburban villa. While he is on the phone with her he hears intruders break into the house and is forced to hear the sounds of his wife and children being murdered. See ibid., 195–­96. 81. Ben Singer does much to restore the first of these senses to melodrama

231 NOTES TO CHAPTER 1

in his Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and Its Contexts (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001). 82. Gunning, D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film, 195. 83. Dolores Hayden, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820–­2000 (New York: Vintage Books, 2003), 21–­96. These names are used as the titles of Hayden’s chapters on the subjects. Picturesque enclaves—­w hat we now refer to as “gated communities”—­continue to be built today, so one cannot really provide a definite periodization for them. 84. Ibid., 25. 85. Ibid., 22. 86. Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 58. 87. Gunning writes that the “spatio-­temporal fluidity of the narrator system overcomes the gruesome affect of the original play.” Gunning, D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film, 196. In other words, the modern technology of cinema, with its technique of crosscutting, succeeds where other modern technologies have failed. 88. On the continuities between nineteenth-­c entury stage conventions and early film, see Ben Brewster and Lea Jacobs, Theatre to Cinema (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). See also Jacques Aumont, “Griffith: The Frame, the Figure,” in Elsaesser and Barker, Early Cinema, 348–­59. 89. Aumont, “Griffith,” 351. 90. Ibid. 91. The analogies that cohere among theater, cinema, and architecture undoubtedly result from the emphasis on domestic settings in both nineteenth-­century theater and (early) cinema and the latter’s explicit debts to the former. 92. Robert L. Adams Jr., “D. W. Griffith and the Use of Off-­Screen Space,” Cinema Journal 15, no. 2 (Spring 1976): 55. I came across this article long after I had drafted the major portion of this chapter. 93. Joyce E. Jesionowski, Thinking in Pictures: Dramatic Structure in D. W. Griffith’s Biograph Films (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); Rick Altman, “The Lonely Villa and Griffith’s Paradigmatic Style,” Quarterly Review of Film Studies 6, no. 2 (1981), 123–­34. Gunning has published three major accounts of the film: “Heard over the Phone: The Lonely Villa and the de Lorde Tradition of the Terrors of Technology,” Screen 32, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 184–­ 96; the chapter “The Narrator System Establishes Itself,” in D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film, 188–­232; and his entry on The Lonely Villa in The Griffith Project, 139–­4 4. This last essay offers not only an account of the film but also an account of the major critical tendencies in the scholarship on it. 94. Altman, “The Lonely Villa,” 133; Gunning, “Heard over the Phone,” 196. Eileen Bowser writes interestingly about the importance of the telephone to scenes that involved crosscutting in early cinema. See Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema, 64–­68. Bowser discusses The Lonely Villa in this context.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 1

232

95. Jesionowski, Thinking in Pictures, 65– ­66. 96. Ibid., 70. 97. Ibid., 72. 98. Altman, “The Lonely Villa,” 129. 99. Gunning, entry on The Lonely Villa in The Griffith Project, 142. 100. Ibid., 143 (emphasis added). 101. It is interesting the degree to which theft plays a significant role in early cinema’s articulation of crosscutting: See, for example, The Kleptomaniac (Edwin S. Porter, 1905), The Adventures of Dollie (D. W. Griffith, 1908), and The Lonedale Operator (D. W. Griffith, 1911). 102. Gunning, “Heard over the Phone,” 195. 103. Sergei Eisenstein, “Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today,” in Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, trans. and ed. Jay Leyda (1949; repr., San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1977), 196. 104. Ibid. 105. Ibid. 106. Ibid., 198. 107. Ibid., 234. I have edited out Eisenstein’s more elaborate metaphor that this alternation resembles the striation of meat and fat in “Dickens’s ‘side of streaky, well-­c ured bacon.’” 108. Ibid. 109. Eisenstein suggests that parallel lines would never intersect except in infinity—­w hich is to say, never. Ibid., 235. 110. See Rita Ecke Altamora, Hollywood on the Palisades: A Filmography of Silent Features Made in Fort Lee, New Jersey, 1903–­1927 (New York: Garland, 1983). This book attempts to document every film shot in or around Fort Lee in the period covered. 111. Aumont, “Griffith,” 349. 112. Ibid., 351. 113. Altamora, Hollywood on the Palisades, xiv. 114. See Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema, 149–­65. Biograph was a member of the Edison Trust and so would have had nothing to fear in this regard. 115. Richard Koszarski, Fort Lee: The Film Town (Rome: John Libbey, 2004), 25. 116. “A Motion-­P icture Town,” Literary Digest, November 23, 1912, quoted in Koszarski, Fort Lee, 251. Koszarski credits this article with helping “to establish Fort Lee as the nation’s original ‘film town’” in the public imaginary. 117. Channing Pollock, “The Discovery of Fort Lee,” Photoplay, December 1915, quoted in Koszarski, Fort Lee, 253– ­54. 118. Mary Dickerson Donahey, “Living Neighbor to the Movies: They Film Your Aunt from the Country; Burglars Ask Permission to Burgle; and Your Baby Is Rented—­I f You Dwell mid the Making of Movies,” Photoplay, February 1916, reprinted in Koszarski, Fort Lee, 259. 119. Ibid. 120. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1910 (Washington, D.C.: Government

Printing Office, 1913), 1295. The percentage of owned homes was markedly lower in areas with large African American populations and in cities, such that statistics for the white and (in the language of the Census Bureau) “colored” populations were tabulated separately. Ibid., 1297. 121. Ibid., 1314. 122. John Archer, Architecture and Suburbia: From English Villa to American Dream House, 1690–­2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 27. 123. I do not intend the questions like those posed in this paragraph as merely facetious, nor do I mean to suggest that proper answers can be found in the archive. Rather, this paragraph demonstrates my overarching concern with the house as an imaginary entity—something representational but woven into the real. 124. D. W. Griffith, The Man Who Invented Hollywood: The Autobiography of D. W. Griffith, ed. James Hart (Louisville: Touchstone, 1972), 23. 125. Ibid., 26. 126. Ibid. 127. Ibid., 27.

2. WRONG LIFE

233 NOTES TO CHAPTER 2

1. Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories and Political Significance, trans. Michael Robertson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 292. 2. David Jenemann, Adorno in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), xxiv. The house, however, does not exhibit the external features we associate with the “California bungalow,” a term that I will define and explore later in this chapter. 3. Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 48. 4. Nico Israel’s account of Adorno in Los Angeles is also powerful and informative. See Nico Israel, Outlandish: Writing between Exile and Diaspora (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000), 75–­122. 5. Davis, City of Quartz, 48. 6. Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Dialectic of Enlightenment, 135. 7. Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott (London: Verso Books, 2000), 25. 8. Erhard Bahr suggests, “It is hard to imagine Horkheimer and Adorno going to the movies in Westwood, as Thomas Mann did.” Bahr also notes, however, that Adorno was “an avid moviegoer in the 1920s.” Adorno’s letters also indicate not-­infrequent socializing with film people. See Erhard Bahr, Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 58. 9. Adorno and Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry,” 120–­21. 10. Adorno, Minima Moralia, 38. 11. Ibid. 12. Ibid., 39. 13. Ibid.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 2

234

14. Ibid. 15. We cannot, of course, miss Adorno’s condescension toward the petit bourgeois who may be happy in his bungalow; but being a snob does not necessarily make you wrong. 16. Adorno, Minima Moralia, 40. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Bernhard Siegert, Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-­Young (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), 9. 20. Ibid., 192–­93. 21. Adorno, Minima Moralia, 41. 22. Ibid. 23. Ibid., 42. 24. Siegert, Cultural Techniques, 193. 25. Adorno and Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry,” 137. 26. Ibid. 27. Ibid., 138. 28. Ibid., 121. 29. See Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema, 149–­65. Brian Jacobson complicates the myth of the easy relation between L.A.’s supposedly perfect weather and early West Coast film production. See Brian Jacobson, Studios before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 171, 182. 30. Merry Ovnick, Los Angeles: The End of the Rainbow (Los Angeles: Balcony Press, 1994), 151. 31. Mark Shiel, Hollywood Cinema and the Real Los Angeles (London: Reaktion, 2012), 114. 32. Ibid., 118. 33. Ibid., 120. See chapter 2 (“Navigation”) of Shiel’s book for a full account of these reciprocal processes of development (69–­127). 34. See Charles Wolfe, “California Slapstick Revisited,” in Slapstick Comedy, ed. Rob King and Tom Paulus (New York: Routledge, 2010), 169–­89; Charles Wolfe, “From Venice to the Valley: California Slapstick and the Keaton Comedy Short,” in Rhodes and Gorfinkel, Taking Place, 3–­30. 35. I owe the spotting of this bungalow roofline to Charles Wolfe. 36. Quoted in Jacobson, Studios before the System, 197. 37. Robert Winter, The California Bungalow (Santa Monica, Calif.: Hennessey + Ingalls, 1980), 23. 38. Ovnick, Los Angeles, 151. 39. Winter, The California Bungalow, 23. 40. Clay Lancaster, “The American Bungalow,” Art Bulletin 40, no. 3 (1958): 253. 41. Anthony D. King, The Bungalow: The Production of a Global Culture, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 14. 42. Ibid. King directs readers to H. Yule and A. C. Burnell, Hobson-­Jobson: A Glossary of Anglo-­Indian Words and Phrases (London: Murray, 1903). Accord-

235 NOTES TO CHAPTER 2

ing to King, the glossary’s entry for “bungalow” lists “some twenty sources of the term between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries” (14). 43. Sir Erasmus Wilson bought the first bungalow in Westgate in 1869. A professor of dermatology at the Royal College of Surgeons, he wrote a book titled Healthy Skin, which reached eight editions between 1845 and 1876. Wilson was a great evangelist for the salutary benefits of the sea. See King, The Bungalow, 82– ­83. 44. Ibid., 85–­86. 45. See ibid., 100–­102. 46. Here is a representative sampling: “How to Build a Bungalow,” The Craftsman 5, no. 3 (December 1903): 253–­61; Harlan Thomas, “Possibilities of the Bungalow as a Permanent Dwelling,” The Craftsman 9, no. 6 (March 1906): 857–­63; “A Forest Bungalow,” The Craftsman 6, no. 3 (June 1904): 305–­9 ; K. Boynton, “An Eight Hundred Dollar Bungalow,” The Craftsman 11, no. 3 (December 1906): 393–­98; “The California Bungalow: A Style of Architecture Which Expresses the Individuality and Freedom Characteristic of Our Western Coast,” The Craftsman 13, no. 1 (October 1907): 68–­80; Helen Lukens Gaunt, “A Mission Bungalow in Southern California,” The Craftsman 15, no. 4 (January 1909): 481–­8 4; “Interesting Timber Construction in a California Bungalow,” The Craftsman 16, no. 3 (May 1909): 222–­25; “A California Ranch-­Bungalow,” The Craftsman 18, no. 3 (June 1910): 383–­85; Helen Lukens Gaunt, “A California Bungalow That Might Be Built in the East at Very Moderate Cost,” The Craftsman 18, no. 5 (August 1910): 591–­92; Helen Lukens Gaunt, “How the California Bungalow Illustrates the Right Use of Building Materials,” The Craftsman 19, no. 2 (November 1910): 200–­201; “One-­Story Craftsman Bungalows: Practical, Comfortable, Inexpensive, with Effective Trellis,” The Craftsman 20, no. 6 (September 1911): 611–­15; Charlotte Dyer, “How I Built My Bungalow,” The Craftsman 22, no. 1 (April 1912): 89–­94; Charles Alma Byers, “The ‘Colonial Bungalow’: A New and Charming Variation in Home Architecture,” The Craftsman 28, no. 4 (July 1915): 409–­14. These articles have been collected in a single publication: Gustav Stickley, ed., Craftsman Bungalows: 59 Homes from “The Craftsman” (New York: Dover, 1988). 47. Boynton, “An Eight Hundred Dollar Bungalow,” 393. 48. Thomas, “Possibilities of the Bungalow,” 863. 49. Winter, The California Bungalow, 77. 50. Cheryl Robertson, “Male and Female Agendas for Domestic Reform: The Middle-­C lass Bungalow in Gendered Perspective,” Winterthur Portfolio 26, nos. 2–­3 (Summer–­Autumn 1991): 129. 51. Ibid., 132. 52. Ibid., 138. Robertson goes on to argue that the house’s internal divisions between male and female mattered less than the division (indeed, separation) effected by the suburban house and by suburbia more broadly, especially during the waves of immigration that characterized the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see 138–­41). 53. Gustav Stickley, “The Planning of a Home,” The Craftsman 1, no. 5 (February 1902): 50.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 2

236

54. James M. Cain, Double Indemnity (1936; repr., New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 3. 55. James M. Cain, Mildred Pierce (1941; repr., New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 3. 56. Ibid., 3–­4. 57. Ibid., 4. 58. Catherine Jurca, White Diaspora: The Suburb and the Twentieth-­ Century American Novel (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001), 76–­77. Jurca’s reading of the novel is especially interesting, and her book’s introduction to the literature of the suburbs provides an excellent overview of the subject. 59. In a critical essay on Los Angeles first published in 1933, Cain compiles a catalog of the phantasmagoria of Los Angeles architecture. He concludes his list of “structures in the shape of lemons, oranges, pagodas, windmills, mosques,” and so on with a reference to “the usual bungalows and tract offices.” James M. Cain, “Paradise,” The American Mercury, March 1933, 267. 60. Catherine Jurca, “Mildred Pierce, Warner Bros., and the Corporate Family,” Representations 77 (Winter 2002): 34. 61. Pam Cook uses this term in her famous essay on the film, “Duplicity in Mildred Pierce,” in Women in Film Noir, ed. E. Ann Kaplan (London: BFI, 1980), 68–­82. 62. See ibid. Mary Beth Haralovich has also traced how this generic splitting was a part of the film’s promotion by Warner Bros., in “Selling Mildred Pierce: A Case Study in Movie Promotion,” in Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s, by Thomas Schatz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 196–­202. 63. Mildred’s recollections commence this generic mode, and her confession in the police station becomes a voice-­over for the new, historically antecedent, diegetic world that she summons. Whether or not everything that follows from this point in the film (at least in the extended analepses) can be credited to Mildred’s focalization would be a matter of debate. 64. Cook, “Duplicity in Mildred Pierce,” 81. 65. Mildred Pierce, Story Coverage, M-­133 AKA “House on the Sand,” 5/9/1941, Folder 2086, Warner Bros. Archive, University of Southern California, Los Angeles (hereafter cited as Warner Bros. Archive, USC). The passage is quoted from the report sent from the William Morris Agency, received May 8, 1941; read by Harriet Hinsdale, report dated May 19, 1941, marked “Important! Return Story Dept.” 66. “Mildred Pierce,” Story–­Temporary Script, 4/3/44 (title page: “Mildred Pierce,” Screenplay by Catherine Turney; From the novel by James Cain; Producer: Jerry Wald), Folder 2086, Warner Bros. Archive, USC. 67. The location address is given in numerous production documents for the film. Mildred Pierce, Production-­M isc., Folder 1435, Warner Bros. Archive, USC. 68. For two very good pages on Meshes, see Dana Polan, Power and Paranoia: History, Narrative, and the American Cinema, 1940–­50 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 10–­11. Polan suggests that the film “might be

237 NOTES TO CHAPTER 2

nothing so much as a bad news report of the most intense sort; home has become a nightmarish place” (11). Excellent analyses of the film are found in Lauren Rabinovitz, Points of Resistance: Women, Power, and Politics in the New York Avant-­Garde Cinema, 1943–­71 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 49–­91; David E. James, The Most Typical Avant-­Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 169–­80. Also see John David Rhodes, Meshes of the Afternoon (London: BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). 69. Manny Farber, “Maya Deren’s Films,” The New Republic, October 28, 1946. I discuss Farber’s hostility to the film and Deren’s indignant response. See Rhodes, Meshes of the Afternoon, 103. 70. J. Hoberman, “The Maya Mystique,” Village Voice, May 15, 1978, 54. 71. Deren, quoted in an article by Douglas Gilbert published in the New York World-­Telegram, April 17, 1946, clipping, Folder 4, Box 6, Maya Deren Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University. 72. The film could also be considered a reworking of the formal and ideological limits of the paranoid woman’s film, as analyzed by Mary Ann Doane in The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 123–­54. 73. Maya Deren, “Planning by Eye: Notes on ‘Individual’ and ‘Industrial’ Film,” in Essential Deren, ed. Bruce R. McPherson (Kingston, N.Y.: Documentext, 2005), 156–­57. The essay was written in 1947, but it did not appear in print until 1965, in Film Culture 39 (Winter 1965). 74. For example, Deren’s “Magic Is New” was first published in Mademoiselle in January 1946; it was later republished in the collection Essential Deren, 197–­206. 75. Maya Deren, An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film, in Essential Deren, 55. This book was originally published by the Alicat Book Shop Press in Yonkers, New York, in 1946. 76. Ibid., 54. 77. Ibid., 58. 78. Ibid., 59. 79. Deren, quoted in the documentary In the Mirror of Maya Deren (Martina Kudlácˇek, 2001). I was reminded of this remark by Sarah Keller’s quotation of it in Maya Deren: Incomplete Control (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 34. 80. Deren, “Magic Is New,” in Essential Deren, 205. 81. Maya Deren, letter to James Card, April 19, 1955, in Essential Deren, 192. 82. Maya Deren, “Chamber Films,” in Essential Deren, 250–­51. This essay served as a program note for an exhibition of Deren’s work in 1960. 83. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, ed. Lesley Brown (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), s.v. “chamber,” 369. 84. Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1953; repr., Kingston, N.Y.: Documentext, 2004). 85. Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-­Kentor (London: Continuum, 2004), 16. Aesthetic Theory was first published posthumously in 1970.

86. Ibid., 18. 87. Michele Russell, review of A Woman under the Influence, directed by John Cassavetes, Cineaste 7, no. 1 (1975): 35. Russell exaggerates the size of the group. 88. Ibid., 36. 89. Cassavetes’s interest in multiracial casting extends back to his first feature film, Shadows (1959), in which Hugh Hurd (Willie in A Woman under the Influence) plays a leading role. 90. Allyson Nadia Field, Jan-­C hristopher Horak, and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, “Emancipating the Image: The L.A. Rebellion of Black Filmmakers,” in L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema, ed. Allyson Nadia Field, Jan-­ Christopher Horak, and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), 2. 91. Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, “The L.A. Rebellion Plays Itself,” in Field, Horak, and Stewart, L.A. Rebellion, 252. 92. Jim Watkins is credited with “principal photography” on Several Friends. 93. Clyde Taylor, “New U.S. Black Cinema,” Jump Cut, no. 28 (April 1983), http://www.ejumpcut.org. Taylor writes of the frame in Killer of Sheep that “Charlie Burnett . . . makes effective use of the open frame, in which characters walk in and out of the frame from top, bottom, and sides.” 94. For statistics related to the incarceration of African Americans, see “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet,” NAACP, accessed December 12, 2016, http:// www.naacp.org. For a brilliant exploration of imprisonment as “civil death,” see Colin Dayan, The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011), 39–­70. 95. Mrs. M. Walter Yeager to Carl Benoit, n.d., Mildred Pierce, Production-­ Misc., Folder 1435, Warner Bros. Archive, USC. 96. Carl Benoit to Mrs. M. W. Yeager, February 28, 1945, Mildred Pierce, Production-­M isc., Folder 1435, Warner Bros. Archive, USC. 97. Mrs. Rose Rothenberg to Warner Bros., November 8, 1945, Mildred Pierce, Production-­M isc., Folder 1435, Warner Bros. Archive, USC.

238 NOTES TO CHAPTER 2

3. ALL TOO EASY

1. László Moholy-­Nagy, Vision in Motion (Chicago: Paul Theobald, 1947), 100 (emphasis added). 2. Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition, 5th ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967), lvi. 3. Bruno Zevi, Architecture as Space: How to Look at Architecture, rev. ed., trans. Milton Gendel, ed. Joseph A. Barry (New York: Horizon Press, 1974). 4. Anthony Vidler, Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), 8; Reinhold Martin, “Empty Form (Six Observations),” Log 11 (Winter 2008): 15. Some scholars, such as Vincent Scully, have objected to the overidentification of modernist architecture with the pursuit of producing (especially interior) space. 5. Sandy Isenstadt, The Modern American House: Spaciousness and Middle-­Class Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

239 NOTES TO CHAPTER 3

6. Mark Jarzombek succinctly details the combination of factors that make the American house, as opposed to the European house, a fertile ground for modernist experimentation in the postwar period. See Mark Jarzombek, “‘Good-­L ife Modernism’ and Beyond: The American House in the 1950s and 1960s: A Commentary,” Cornell Journal of Architecture 4 (Fall 1990): 80– ­82. 7. Alice Friedman, Women and the Making of the Modern House: A Social and Architectural History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006), 16. 8. See Stephen Heath’s tracing of this critical tendency in reference to the work of Ozu Yasujiro¯. Stephen Heath, “Narrative Space,” in Questions of Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981), 25. 9. Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), 14–­15. 10. There are exceptions. Richard Hornsey has written a fascinating essay on Moholy-­Nagy’s film The New Architecture and the London Zoo (1937), which documents and responds to several modernist structures designed and constructed at the London Zoo by Berthold Lubetkin’s architectural firm Tecton. Even in this conjunction of modernist filmmaking and modernist architecture, Hornsey detects “a key tension—­if not a structural incompatibility—­ between the seemingly allied practices of modernist architecture and modernist film-­making.” Richard Hornsey, “László Moholy-­Nagy at the London Zoo: Animal Enclosures and the Unleashed Camera,” in The Zoo and Screen Media: Images of Exhibition and Encounter, ed. Michael Lawrence and Karen Lury (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 225. 11. Two (modernist) films by Jacques Tati mount comic (but seriously intentioned) critiques of the false promises of modernist architecture: Mon Oncle (1958) and Playtime (1967). Blake Edwards’s (weirdly racist) The Party (1968) is a kind of American adaptation of the latter. A consideration of The Party is one of many unexplored possibilities in this book, although I do mention Playtime and The Party very briefly later in this chapter. 12. Donald Albrecht, Designing Dreams: Modern Architecture in the Movies (Santa Monica, Calif.: Hennessey + Ingalls, 2000). Regarding the use of modernist architecture to symbolize moral values, Albrecht’s examples include Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise (Robert Z. Leonard, uncredited, MGM, 1931) (92–­96). Albrecht uses the same film’s set designs as an example of how modernist architecture promoted a more plastic use of space and greater image depth (95–­96). 13. Ibid., 108. 14. Ibid., 174. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid., 169. See also Merrill Schleier’s comprehensive account of the film’s preproduction and production, as well as a careful reading of the film in terms of gender, in Skyscraper Cinema: Architecture and Gender in American Film (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 119–­55. 17. Schleier, Skyscraper Cinema, 140. 18. Quoted in Albrecht, Designing Dreams, 171. 19. Ibid., 174.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 3

240

20. Joseph Rosa, “Tearing Down the House: Modern Homes in the Movies,” in Architecture and Film, ed. Mark Lamster (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000), 167. 21. See Albrecht, Designing Dreams, 174. 22. Leonard Diepeveen, The Difficulties of Modernism (New York: Routledge, 2003), x–­x i. 23. T. S. Eliot, “The Metaphysical Poets,” Times Literary Supplement, October 20, 1921. 24. Diepeveen, The Difficulties of Modernism, 2. 25. Ibid., 9. 26. Laura Frost, The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 3. 27. Ibid., 6. 28. Ibid., 22. 29. Ibid., 6. 30. Gyorgy Kepes, introduction to “The Visual Arts Today,” special issue, Daedalus 89, no 1 (Winter 1960), quoted in Reinhold Martin, The Organization Complex: Architecture, Media, and Corporate Space (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), 78. 31. Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture, trans. John Goodman (London: Francis Lincoln, 2008), 256–­57. This work was originally published in 1924 as Vers une architecture. 32. Ibid., 266. 33. Ibid., 267. 34. Jarzombek, “‘Good-­L ife Modernism’ and Beyond,” 78. 35. Ibid., 79. 36. Ibid. 37. Albrecht picks up on the use of these chairs as well. Albrecht, Designing Dreams, 95. 38. Sylvia Lavin, Form Follows Libido: Architecture and Richard Neutra in a Psychoanalytic Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), 3. 39. Jane Feuer, The Hollywood Musical, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 126. 40. Ibid., 6. 41. Rudolf Schindler to Josef von Sternberg, quoted in Thomas S. Hines, Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture: A Biography and History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 106. 42. Josef von Sternberg to Richard Neutra, February 18, 1932, Client Files, Folder 4, Box 1516, Richard and Dion Neutra Papers, University of California, Los Angeles. 43. “Residence of Josef von Sternberg, San Fernando Valley, Richard J. Neutra Architect,” typescript (description of the project), n.d., Client Files, Folder 4, Box 1516, Richard and Dion Neutra Papers, University of California, Los Angeles. 44. Hines, Richard Neutra, 132; see also 130–­39. 45. Ibid., 137. 46. Ibid., 133.

241 NOTES TO CHAPTER 3

47. Neutra, quoted in ibid., 136. 48. Josef von Sternberg, Fun in a Chinese Laundry (1965; repr., London: Columbus Books, 1987), 271–­72. 49. Ibid., 272. 50. Hines, Richard Neutra, 138. 51. Ayn Rand to Pincus Berner, September 24, 1944, ARP 113-­08A, Box 113, Ayn Rand Archives, Ayn Rand Institute, Irvine, California. 52. Ayn Rand to Gerald Loeb, August 5, 1944, in Letters of Ayn Rand, ed. Michael S. Berliner (New York: Plume, 1997), 161. 53. Lee Loffer, “Ayn Rand’s Home Aids Life Aims,” Valley Times, August 20, 1948, ARP 093-­24x, Box 101, Ayn Rand Archives, Ayn Rand Institute, Irvine, California. 54. Ayn Rand, interview No. 12, transcript, 401–­2, Ayn Rand Oral History Program, Ayn Rand Institute, Irvine, California. 55. Ibid. 56. Ayn Rand, “The Monument Builders,” in The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964), 91. 57. Adorno, Minima Moralia, 39; Ayn Rand, “Man’s Rights,” in The Virtue of Selfishness, 97. 58. June Kurisu, interview by Scott McConnell, November 5, 1996, Ayn Rand Oral History Program, Ayn Rand Institute, Irvine, California. 59. See correspondence headed “California Property,” 054-­05X ARC 51-­12-­ 05, Ayn Rand Archives, Ayn Rand Institute, Irvine, California. 60. Von Sternberg, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, 272. 61. Schleier, Skyscraper Cinema, 123. 62. Lavin, Form Follows Libido, 43. 63. Neutra, quoted in ibid., 165n49. 64. Ibid., 56, 58. 65. Hines, Richard Neutra, 58. 66. Lavin, Form Follows Libido, 63. 67. Hines, Richard Neutra, 253. 68. Ibid. 69. Lavin, Form Follows Libido, 63. 70. Isenstadt, The Modern American House, 179. 71. Ibid., 179–­80. 72. Ibid., 192. 73. Horace Walpole, The Works of Horatio Walpole (London, 1798), 2:535. 74. Isenstadt, The Modern American House, 247. 75. Ibid. 76. Julius Shulman, Photographing Architecture and Interiors (1962; repr., Los Angeles: Balcony Press, 2000), 46. 77. See Diana Friedman, “Currents: A House as Film Star; and All It Has to Do Is Act Naturally,” New York Times, May 31, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com. This information is also given in a post on the website Casting Architecture, accessed June 26, 2016, https://www.castingarchitecture.com. The directors have mentioned the fact that the house is a Neutra in interviews, but they have not specified which house in anything I have come across.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 3

242

78. “Scenes from a Marriage,” interview with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming by Chuck Stephens, Filmmaker Magazine, Spring 2001, http:// filmmakermagazine.com/archives. 79. Ibid. 80. Ibid. 81. Donald Albrecht, “Introduction,” in The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention, ed. Donald Albrecht (1997; repr., New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005), 13. 82. Esther McCoy, “Introduction,” in Case Study Houses, 1945–­1962, ed. Esther McCoy (1962; repr., Santa Monica, Calif.: Hennessey + Ingalls, 1977), 9–­10. 83. Ibid., 10. 84. Ibid., 54. 85. Ibid., 57. 86. Neil Jackson, The Modern Steel House (London: Routledge, 1996), 50. 87. Paul Schrader, “Poetry of Ideas: The Films of Charles Eames,” Film Quarterly 23, no. 3 (Spring 1970): 8. 88. Beatriz Colomina, “Reflections on the Eames House,” in Albrecht, The Work of Charles and Ray Eames, 144. She says on the same page that the film “is made up entirely of thousands of slides.” This is an exaggeration of the number of actual shots in the film. 89. Ibid., 144–­45. 90. Ray Eames, quoted in ibid., 149n34. It is difficult to determine if the Eameses actually owned these paintings at any point, or if they were only on loan to them. 91. Interestingly, Laura Mulvey relates that von Sternberg frequently commented that his films could be projected upside down so as to enable “the spectator’s undiluted appreciation of the screen image.” Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” 14. 92. Colomina, “Reflections on the Eames House,” 146. 93. Ibid. 94. Ibid., 147 (emphasis added). 95. David Gilson De Long, The Architecture of Bruce Goff: Buildings and Projects, 1916–­1974 (New York: Garland, 1977), 240–­42. 96. “The Round House,” Life, March 31, 1958, 70. The article quotes Mr. Ford’s expression of delight at the “doorless” carport’s convenience: “No trouble now to put the car away.” 97. Jeffrey Cook, The Architecture of Bruce Goff (London: Granada, 1978), 37. The Fords were old friends of Goff, thus the familial, the familiar, and the easeful informed the project from its very inception. 98. Jarzombek, “‘Good-­L ife Modernism’ and Beyond,” 84. 99. De Long, The Architecture of Bruce Goff, 247. 100. Ian White, “Stephen Prina: The Way He Always Wanted It, II,” Art Review 25 (September 2008): 32. 101. Ibid. 102. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” 58. 103. “The Round House,” 70.

4. BETWEEN THE PAST AND THE PRESENT 1. Steven Jacobs, The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2007), 127. 2. Vincent Scully, “Romantic Rationalism and the Expression of Structure in Wood: Downing, Wheeler, Gardner, and the ‘Stick Style,’ 1840–­1876,”

243 NOTES TO CHAPTER 4

104. These include The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998), which used the Sheats-­G oldstein residence, and Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984), which used the Malin house, also known as the Chemosphere. 105. Alan Hess, The Architecture of John Lautner, photographs by Alan Weintraub (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 9. 106. Ibid. 107. Ibid. 108. Ibid. 109. Ibid., 16. 110. Ibid., 15–­16. 111. Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man (1964; repr., London: Vintage, 2010), 2. The republication of the novel in a new, stylish paperback edition in 2010 seems as though it could be credited to the film’s release a year earlier. 112. Kyle Stevens, “Dying to Love: Gay Identity, Aesthetics, and Suicide in A Single Man,” Cinema Journal 52, no. 4 (Summer 2013): 99–­120; on the film’s reception, see 102–­5. 113. Ibid., 107. 114. Isherwood, A Single Man, 3. 115. Ibid., 7. 116. Hess, The Architecture of John Lautner, 47. 117. Ibid. 118. Ibid. 119. Ibid., 83. 120. Stevens, “Dying to Love,” 105. 121. Hess, The Architecture of John Lautner, 83. 122. It is also worth noting that both a (fictional) gay couple and a heterosexual family (like the Schaffers, for whom Lautner designed the house) desire from the house an experience of privacy. The house may be inhabited by gay men, and may be architecturally interesting, but it would be hard to suggest that its inscription and enforcement of privacy is especially queer, if that last term is a term we would want to valorize or to which we might ascribe any particular agency. 123. Isherwood, A Single Man, 149. 124. Ibid., 152. 125. Charles Eames, “Goods,” from the lecture “The New Covetables,” 1970–­ 71, http://www.eamesoffice.com. The text of this talk is also transcribed and published as “Goods” in An Eames Anthology, ed. Daniel Ostroff (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2015), 207–­8. 126. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990), 165. 127. Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 15.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 4

244

Art Bulletin 35 (1953): 134. This is the article in which Scully first introduces the term (135). 3. Vincent J. Scully Jr., The Shingle Style and the Stick Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Downing to the Origins of Wright, rev. ed. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1971), xix–­x x. 4. Ibid., xx. 5. This certainly seems to be the way in which nostalgia is treated in Fredric Jameson’s work on the “nostalgia film.” See Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991); Fredric Jameson, “Historicism in The Shining” (1981), in Signatures of the Visible (London: Routledge, 1992), 82–­98. 6. Linda M. Austin, Nostalgia in Transition, 1780–­1917 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007), 3. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid., 145. 9. Ibid., 154. 10. Jameson, “Historicism in The Shining,” 98. 11. See Austin, Nostalgia in Transition, 4–­14, esp. 13, for discussion of the “play-­d rive.” 12. It would be useful as well to bear in mind Svetlana Boym’s concept of “reflective nostalgia,” which “does not pretend to rebuild the mythical place called home. . . . This type of nostalgic narrative is ironic, inconclusive and fragmentary. . . . [It] has a capacity to awaken multiple planes of consciousness.” Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 50. 13. Scully, The Shingle Style, xxv. 14. Ibid., xxvii. 15. Andrew Jackson Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses (1850; repr., New York: Dover, 1969), xix. 16. Scully, The Shingle Style, xxix. 17. Ibid., xxv. 18. Ibid., xxx, xxix. 19. Ibid., xxxviii–­x xxix. See also Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, 50–­51. 20. Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses, 51. 21. Ibid., 163, quoted in Scully, The Shingle Style, xlvii. 22. Scully, The Shingle Style, xlvii. This passage originally appeared in the 1953 article cited in note 2 above. That article was republished in The Shingle Style and the Stick Style as the book’s introduction. 23. Ibid., lii–­l iii. 24. Ibid., lix. 25. We might consider that Scully is writing not only in the aftermath of World War II, but also in the wake of the Museum of Modern Art’s epochal architecture exhibition of 1932 The International Style, which was organized by Philip Johnson. The essays for the exhibition’s catalog were written by Johnson and Henry Russell-­H itchcock Jr., one of Scully’s mentors, whom Scully thanks extensively in the original preface to The Shingle Style and the

245 NOTES TO CHAPTER 4

Stick Style (xxii). The International Style emphasized the glass and steel of European modernism, and although Wright’s work was exhibited in the actual show, it was omitted from the catalog. It would seem, therefore, that one of Scully’s objectives in his work on the stick and shingle styles would be to propose an American alternative to a more European version of modernism that had, by midcentury, come to be hegemonic. I thank Tina Di Carlo for helping me to appreciate this crucial context as it informs Scully’s work. 26. The term Queen Anne refers to the English monarch who reigned in the early years of the eighteenth century. Given that many of the features of this architecture were developed from earlier historical sources, Scully cautions that the term is itself a “misnomer.” Scully, The Shingle Style, 8. 27. See ibid., 4. 28. Ibid. 29. Ibid., 30. 30. Ibid., 16–­18. 31. Scully, “American Houses,” 178. 32. George Ehrlich, an early reviewer of Scully’s book, found its author’s “cause” “overshadowed by the ‘Scully Style’ of writing.” George Ehrlich, review of The Shingle Style, by Vincent J. Scully Jr., College Art Journal 15, no. 2 (Winter 1955): 176. 33. Scully, The Shingle Style, 54– ­55. 34. Ibid., 84. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid. On the same page Scully tells us that this “is the first house in the whole development [of the shingle style] to be completely shingled.” 37. Ibid., 88. 38. Ibid. 39. Robert B. Ray, The ABCs of Classic Hollywood (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 309. 40. Ray describes these as “greeting cards” that are “shop windows coming to life.” Ibid., 247–­48. 41. Gerald Kaufman, Meet Me in St. Louis (London: BFI, 1994), 41. 42. Ibid., 66–­67. 43. Ibid., 65. 44. Ray, The ABCs of Classic Hollywood, 255–­56. 45. Ibid., 256. 46. For another interesting and complex use of this sort of house in an explicitly framed attempt to narrate the postwar experience, see Living in a Big Way (Gregory La Cava, 1947). 47. Ray, The ABCs of Classic Hollywood, 265– ­66. 48. Tom Gunning, “The World as Object Lesson: Cinema Audiences, Visual Culture and the St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904,” Film History 6, no. 4 (Winter 1994): 441. Gunning is particularly interested in the way that cinema, although not especially privileged at this fair, played a supporting role in a variety of exhibitions. 49. Ray, The ABCs of Classic Hollywood, 278–­79.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 4

246

50. Robin Wood, Personal Visions: Explorations in Film (London: Gordon Fraser, 1976), 166. 51. Steven Jacobs discusses the Newton house in relation to Meet Me in St. Louis and also refers to it as an example of Queen Anne architecture. Jacobs, The Wrong House, 94–­95. 52. Ibid., 121. 53. Ibid. 54. Ibid., 128. 55. Hitchcock, in François Truffaut, Hitchcock, rev. ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 269. 56. Jacobs, The Wrong House, 121. See also Mark Kingwell, “Frank’s Motel: Horizontal and Vertical in the Big Other,” in The Ends of History: Questioning the Stakes of Historical Reason, ed. Amy Swiffen and Joshua Nichols (Oxford: Routledge, 2013), 103–­26. Kingwell draws on Žižek’s emphasis on vertical and horizontal in his interpretation. 57. Jacobs, The Wrong House, 122. 58. Raymond Bellour, The Analysis of Film, ed. Constance Penley (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 240. 59. William Rothman, Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 274. 60. Rothman reads Psycho as “an allegory about the camera’s natural appetite” and “about the making and viewing of films.” Ibid., 255. Raymond Bellour has elaborated in great detail the various ways in which Psycho makes references to or figures the cinematic apparatus itself. See his famous essay “Psychosis, Neurosis, Perversion: On Psycho,” in The Analysis of Film, 238–­61. 61. Raymond Durgnat picks up on the allusion in his A Long Hard Look at “Psycho” (London: BFI, 2010), 118. 62. A similar camera setup is also used when Norman enters the house in order to move his mother from her bedroom to the basement. 63. Bellour, “Psychosis, Neurosis, Perversion,” 259. 64. The Maysleses shared directorial credit with Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, their editors. In the interest of economy, I will refer to the Maysleses as the principal authors of the film. In doing so, however, I do not mean to ignore the highly collaborative nature of this film’s authorship. 65. John H. Davis, Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir (New York: John Wiley, 1996), 8. 66. Ibid., 44, 46. 67. Little Edie Beale, in Kristine McKenna, Talk to Her: Interviews (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2004), 14. 68. A short sketch of this process is provided in Chip Rae’s introduction to Images of America: East Hampton, by John Rae (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2000), 7–­8. The same book provides information about the house’s construction (90–­91). A journalistic account of the development of the Hamptons as a tony resort area can be found in Steven Gaines, Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons (New York: Back Bay Books, 1999). In his account of the Edies at the beginning of the book, it should be said, Gaines gets several key facts wrong.

247 NOTES TO CHAPTER 4

69. Scully, The Shingle Style, 88. 70. Vincent Scully, American Architecture and Urbanism (New York: Praeger, 1969), 114. 71. Charles De Kay, “Summer Homes at East Hampton, L.I.,” Architectural Record 12, no. 1 (January 1903): 25–­26. 72. For a study of the relationships among curiosity, female sexuality, and cinematic space, see Laura Mulvey, “Pandora: Topographies of the Mask and Curiosity,” in Sexuality and Space, ed. Beatriz Colomina (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992), 52–­71. 73. Matthew Tinkcom, Grey Gardens (London: BFI Film Classics/Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 32. 74. In an interview conducted by Alan Rosenthal, Ellen Hovde defends the film against charges that it is prurient and invasive, as some early reviewers and audiences asserted. See Alan Rosenthal and Ellen Hovde, “Ellen Hovde: An Interview,” Film Quarterly 32, no. 2 (Winter 1978–­79): 13–­14. In the audio commentary on the Criterion Collection’s DVD version of the film, Albert Maysles explains that when he and David would walk up to the house for the day’s shooting, they could hear the Edies carrying on between themselves exactly as they did in front of the cameras. 75. A new film, The Beales of Grey Gardens (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Ian Markiewicz, 2006), was made from some of the footage not incorporated into Grey Gardens. 76. Rosenthal and Hovde, “Ellen Hovde,” 16. 77. Ibid., 10. 78. Kenneth J. Robson, “The Crystal Formation: Narrative Structure in Grey Gardens,” Cinema Journal 22, no. 2 (Winter 1983): 4. 79. Many musicals are heavily invested in the domestic, however. We might think of Oklahoma! (Fred Zinnemann, 1955) and Babes in Arms (Busby Berkeley, 1939), to name just two. 80. Tinkcom, Grey Gardens, 26. 81. In her interview with Alan Rosenthal, Ellen Hovde makes a similar observation about the cross between the outrageous and the familiar that we see in the Beales and in Grey Gardens: “When people see Grey Gardens sometimes they think, oh my God, are they crazy! That may be your first reaction, but I think most of us feel that there is a lot that goes on between these two people with which we can identify.” Rosenthal and Hovde, “Ellen Hovde,” 16. 82. The Criterion Collection DVD features, among its several extras, interviews with fashion designers John Bartlett and Todd Oldham, who both credit the film and Little Edie with inspiring their own work. Tinkcom devotes a chapter of his book on the film to Edie’s fashion. Tinkcom, Grey Gardens, 44–­61. 83. At the beginning of his song named for the film, Rufus Wainwright samples Edie’s comment that “it’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.” The song appears on his album Poses (2001). 84. Tinkcom, Grey Gardens, 91. 85. Jameson, “Historicism in The Shining,” 82–­98. 86. Ibid., 95.

87. Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” in Against Interpretation (New York: Picador, 2001), 280. 88. Vincent Scully, The Shingle Style Today; or, The Historian’s Revenge (New York: George Braziller, 1974), 42.

CODA

NOTES TO CHAPTER 4

248

1. The house is now owned by the state of Louisiana. The U.S. National Park Service’s official web page for the house states that the 1860 census showed there to be 145 slaves at Rosedown. See “Rosedown Plantation,” National Park Service, accessed December 11, 2016, https://www.nps.gov. See also “National Historic Landmark Nomination: Rosedown Plantation,” March 2001 (designated a National Historic Landmark April 5, 2005), http:// focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NHLS/Text/01000765.pdf. 2. “Barbara Bush Calls Evacuees Better Off,” New York Times, September 7, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com. 3. The disaster and the death that ensued were human made. Many African Americans in New Orleans did not own cars to enable their own evacuation, and neither the city nor the state provided mass transportation out of New Orleans before the storm. Similarly, these same citizens of New Orleans would not have been able to afford hotel rooms in nearby towns, had they been able to evacuate in the first place. These New Orleanians thus made the sometimes fatal decision to stay put, hunker down, and hope to ride out the storm (as many had done during hurricanes past). The Lower Ninth Ward’s vulnerability to floodwaters was a result of fundamentally racist patterns of urban development whereby primarily white neighborhoods historically were built on higher ground. The failure of the levee system added an unforeseen catastrophic dimension to these abiding conditions and factors that led to the mostly African American loss of life. 4. For a brilliant commentary on the narrational levels and rhetorical methods of framing the types of footage combined in the film, see Jane Elliott, “Life Preservers: The Neoliberal Enterprise of Hurricane Katrina Survival in Trouble the Water, House, M.D., and When the Levees Broke,” in Old and New Media after Katrina, ed. Diane Negra (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 89–­112. Elliott’s main focus is on how these representations show real and fictional subjects’ rehearsals of neoliberalism’s imperative to act enterprisingly in one’s own self-­i nterest. 5. Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (June 1993): 1713. 6. Ibid.

Bachelard, Gaston, 25–31 Bahr, Erhard, 233n8 Bazin, André, 13, 16 Beller, Jonathan, 228n39 Bellour, Raymond, 182, 186 Benjamin, Walter, 33 Beyoncé, 224, 225n9

Birth of a Nation, The (film), 51–54 Blue Dahlia, The (film), 75–76 body: and gender, 12, 202; and race, 5, 31, 52, 177, 214; and relation to architecture, 72, 88, 150–51 Bordwell, David, 33 Boym, Svetlana, 244n12 bricolage, 118–19, 210 Bruno, Giuliana, 226n20 Brunsdon, Charlotte, 230n74 bungalow: Adorno on, 55, 59, 62–63; California bungalow, 55–56, 62, 66, 71; and class, 66, 75; in early film, 65; history of, 66–73; in Killer of Sheep, 98–101; in Meshes of the Afternoon, 85, 87–92; in Mildred Pierce (film), 76–85; in Mildred Pierce (novel), 74–76; Spanish bungalow, 74, 82; in A Woman under the Influence, 94–97 Burnett, Charles, 98–101. See also Killer of Sheep; Several Friends Bush, Barbara, 214–15 cabinet of curiosities, 23–24, 124, 138–42 Cain, James M., 73–76. See also Mildred Pierce (novel) camp, 208–9 Capra, Frank, 17 Case Study House program, 137–38, 148 Cassavetes, John, 94, 97. See also Woman under the Influence, A Cinecittá, 118 Citizen Kane (film), 13, 16 city: regeneration, 9–11; relation to cinema and modernity, 32–34; urban infrastructure, 46. See also Los Angeles; New York City Civil War (American), 3, 51–53, 160, 166 class: and the bungalow, 66–68, 75, 78; classism, 9–10, 59, 206–7; in Grey Gardens, 189–91, 197, 208–10; and modernist architecture, 136–37, 153; in Psycho,

INDEX

Adorno, Theodor W.: aesthetic theory of, 93; and the bungalow, 55, 59, 62–63; and cinema, 56–58, 63, 228n39; on exile, 58–59; and Horkheimer on the culture industry, 20, 56–58; and property relations, 59–60, 126 affect, 22, 129, 226n20 African Americans: and Hurricane Katrina, 211–17; incarceration of, 101; invisibility/absence of in American filmmaking, 5, 6, 177, 213; and L. A. Rebellion filmmaking, 97–101; ontological relationship to slavehood, 5–6; representation of in American cinema, 3–6, 10–11, 51–54, 94–101, 213, 224n8. See also slavery Albrecht, Donald, 109–11, 136 alienation: of artwork, 93; and private property, viii, 18–20, 30–32, 43, 128, 134, 182; and visual pleasure / the image, 19–25 Altman, Rick, 40–41 Anniversary Party, The (film), 134–35 Archer, John, 50 architectural style, 67, 82, 158, 162. See also bungalow; colonial revival; Greek revival; International Style; Queen Anne; shingle style; Spanish colonial; stick and shingle style; stick style Arendt, Hannah, 26–30 Art and Architecture (magazine), 137 As He Remembered It (film), 143 Augustine, 22–25 Aumont, Jacques, 38, 47 Austin, Linda M., 161–62, 171 Avila, Erica, 9, 225n16

249

187–88; servant, 3–5, 35, 42, 51, 204–6; and stick and shingle style, 170; and suburbia, 37 Colomina, Beatriz, 107–8, 139–42 colonialism, 160, 166, 177 colonial revival (architectural style), 158, 160, 166–67, 195 Cook, Pam, 77–78 Corbusier, Le, 114 country house visit, 24–25, 212. See also leisure Craftsman, The (magazine), 68, 235n46 Crawford, Joan, 77, 102 Cumming, Alan, 134

INDEX

250

Davis, Mike, 56 Debord, Guy, 18, 155 De Kay, Charles, 192–93 Deren, Maya: on production costs, 85; on ritual, 85–87, 93; theoretical writings of, 86–88, 90–91. See also Meshes of the Afternoon Diepeveen, Leonard, 112 difficulty (aesthetic), 111–14. See also ease displacement: of Angelenos, 9, 64; and eviction, 191, 194; of Hurricane Katrina victims, 214–15 Doane, Mary Ann, 237n72. See also feminist film theory Dodger Stadium, 8–10, 225n16 door: as cultural technique, 61; and enclosure/exposure, 100, 186; frame, 38, 41, 61; as threshold, 12, 27, 41–42, 72–73, 94, 200, 202; as visual metaphor, 23, 103 Downing, Andrew Jackson, 163–65 Durgnat, Raymond, 246n61 Eames, Charles and Ray, 136–42, 145, 148–55. See also House: After Five Years of Living early cinema, 32–54 ease: in cinema, 115–19, 145–48; in modernist architecture, 109, 113–15. See also difficulty; leisure

East Hampton, 189–92, 195–96, 204–10 Edison, Thomas, 13, 47 editing techniques: crosscutting, 35, 38, 40, 45, 174; in Grey Gardens, 197; in Griffith, 35, 46, 174; lap dissolve, 7, 79; in Meshes of the Afternoon, 87–88, 91 Eisenstein, Sergei, 45–47 Eliot, T. S., 21, 112, 147 Elliott, Jane, 248n4 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 169, 207 eminent domain, 9, 128. See also displacement Entenza, John, 137 eviction. See displacement Farber, Manny, 85 Federici, Silvia, 223n5 feminism, second wave, 90. See also feminist film theory; gender; labor: domestic feminist film theory, 12, 90, 237n72, 247n72. See also Doane, Mary Ann; Mulvey, Laura Feuer, Jane, 118 film industry: history of, 5, 13, 20, 47–50, 56, 63–66; relocation of, 47, 64–65. See also Hollywood floors (stories): in Grey Gardens, 193, 198–200; as metaphor, 29, 179–80, 197–98; in Psycho, 180, 185–86; in stick and shingle style, 188 Ford, Tom, 149–50. See also Single Man, A (film) Fort Lee, 34, 47–50 Fountainhead, The (film), 109–11, 126 Fountainhead, The (novel), 110 Freud, Sigmund: materialist reading of, 32; on melancholia, 206; unheimlich (uncanny), 31–32, 45 Friedman, Alice, 107 Frost, Laura, 112 Garland, Judy, 117–19, 174–75 gender: male–female relations,

ha-­ha (landscape design), 129, 132–34, 140 hallway. See space, domestic Hammid, Alexander, 85–91, 100 Haralovich, Mary Beth, 236n62 Harris, Cheryl I., 217 Harris, Diane, 224n8 Hayden, Dolores, 36 Heath, Stephen, 239n8 Hegel, G. W. F., 20–21 Heidegger, Martin, 28 Hess, Alan, 148–50 Hines, Thomas, 121–22, 129, 130 Hitchcock, Alfred, 179–81. See also Psycho; Shadow of a Doubt Hoberman, J., 85–86 Hoffman, Hans, 140 Hollywood: African American representation in, 3, 213; classical, 109–10; Deren’s relation to, 86–87; film production in, 56, 58, 64–65; star system, 118; Universal Studios, 7–11, 65. See also film industry; Los Angeles home, 18, 31 homosexuality, 142, 149–55. See also queerness; sexuality Hopper, Edward, 157 Hornsey, Richard, 239n10 hospitality, 94–97, 215

hotel. See lodging House: After Five Years of Living (film), 136–42, 145, 155 Hovde, Ellen, 197, 246n64, 247n74 Hurricane Katrina, 211, 214–19 image: and alienation, 19–23; as property, 5, 13, 102–3 incarceration, 100–101, 238n94 interior/exterior: in Grey Gardens, 193, 198–99; and the ha-­ha, 131–33; in Meshes of the Afternoon, 88; in Neutra, 129–36; in Psycho, 185 International Style (architectural style), 111, 117, 245n25 Isenstadt, Sandy, 107–8, 131, 133 Isherwood, Christopher. See Single Man, A (novel) Israel, Nico, 233n4 It’s a Wonderful Life (film), 17 Jackson, Kenneth T., 37 Jackson, Neil, 138 Jacobs, Steven, 180–81 Jacobson, Brian, 234n29 James, David E., 237n68 Jameson, Fredric, 162, 207–8 Jarzombek, Mark, 114–15, 144 Jefferson, Thomas, 1–3 Jenemann, David, 56 Jesionowski, Joyce E., 40–41, 43 Jurca, Catherine, 75, 76 Kaufman, Gerald, 172–73 Keaton, Buster, 65 Keil, Charlie, 33 Kepes, Gyorgy, 113 Killer of Sheep (film), 99–101 King, Anthony D., 67, 234n42 kitchen. See space, domestic Kubrick, Stanley, 207–8 Ku Klux Klan, 51–52 labor: affective, 96; alienated 18–19; and artifice, 89; and cinematic production, 80–82, 85–86, 89,

251 INDEX

84–85; and occupation of space, 12, 69, 71, 223n5, 247n72. See also feminist film theory; feminism, second wave; queerness; sexuality Giedion, Sigfried, 106 Goff, Bruce, 142–49 Gone with the Wind (film), 3–6 Great Depression, 10, 207–8 Greek revival (architectural style), 163, 212 Grey Gardens (film), 189–210 Griffith, D. W., 34–54. See also Birth of a Nation, The; Lonely Villa, The Geuss, Raymond, 223n2 Gunning, Tom, 33–40, 42–45, 175

147; disavowal of, 147; domestic, 79–80, 85–86, 90, 223n5; and servitude, 206, 211–12; watching as, 20, 228n38 Lancaster, Clay, 66–67 landscape, 42, 131–34 L. A. Rebellion (school of filmmaking), 97–100 Latino/a, 9–10, 95 Lautner, John, 148–51. See also Schaffer House Lavin, Sylvia, 116, 129–30 Lee, Harper, 6 Lefebvre, Henri, 29 Leigh, Jennifer Jason, 134–35 leisure: otium, 119; resorts, 190–93, 208; tourism, 25, 65, 218–19 lodging: hotel, 59, 182, 207–8, 215; motel, 180–84 Lonely Villa, The (film), 34–50 Los Angeles: Dodger Stadium, 8–10, 225n16; freeway, 8–9, 226n16; Glendale, 64, 73–74, 81–82; Malibu, 76, 116–19; Pasadena, 77, 81, 150, 224n9; Santa Monica, 56, 140. See also Hollywood Louisiana, 101, 212

INDEX

252

Magnificent Ambersons, The (film), 14–17, 171 Marshall, George, 75–76 Martin, Reinhold, 106 Marx, Karl, 18–21, 154 Maysles, Albert and David, 159, 189, 191, 195–204, 247n74. See also Grey Gardens McCoy, Esther, 137–38 McKeon, Michael, 23 Meet Me in St. Louis (film), 158, 171–79 melodrama: in Grey Gardens, 203; in Griffith, 216; in Mildred Pierce (film), 76–81 Merleau-­Ponty, Maurice, 27–28 Meshes of the Afternoon (film), 85–93 Meyer, Muffie, 197, 246n64 Michaels, Walter Benn, 30 Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig, 116

Mildred Pierce (film), 76–85 Mildred Pierce (novel), 73–76 Minnelli, Vincente, 171, 175. See also Meet Me in St. Louis modernism: in architecture and film, 105–55, 239n10; and class, 136–37; and International Style, 111, 117, 245n25; literary, 21, 112–13, 147; organic, 148 Moholy-­Nagy, László, 106, 239n10 Monticello (Jefferson estate), 1–3 mortgage, 6, 81. See also ownership motel. See lodging Mulligan, Robert, 8 Mulvey, Laura, 12, 242n91, 247n72 Nancy, Jean-­Luc, 20–22 Naremore, James, 16–17 Neutra, Richard: 115–17, 120–36; architectural writings of, 129; Chuey House, 130–32; Lovell House, 120; Schaarman House, 134–35; spider-­leg rigging, 130–31; Josef von Sternberg House, 120–29 Newman, Kim, 228n32 New York City: Brooklyn, 8, 225n16; Manhattan, 34, 50; and modernity, 46; relocation of film industry, 47; rental in, 50 Night of the Living Dead (film), 52 nostalgia: in Grey Gardens, 206–7; performative, 161; in Psycho, 179–86; in The Shining, 207–8; in stick and shingle style, 158, 162, 170–73 Obama presidency, 211 objectification: of women, 12; of African Americans, 5–6, 52, 177, 213 objects: in Eames, 140–42; furniture, 71, 136, 143; household, 14, 142; in Prina, 145; and wealth, 15. See also cabinet of curiosities; objectification Ovnick, Merry, 64, 66 ownership: of intellectual property

painting: American realist, 158; modernist, 108, 113, 116, 140, 142; pastoral, 161–62 photography, 101–2, 195; of buildings, 122, 128, 133–34, 140; and indexicality, 87–88 plantations, 2–4, 212 poetry, 21, 26, 112, 147, 162 Polan, Dana, 236n68 Prina, Stephen, 142–48. See also As He Remembered It; incarceration; Way He Always Wanted It II, The prison. See incarceration prop, 17, 117 Psycho (film), 179–89 psychoanalysis, 26, 29, 179–80 public/private distinction: and the bungalow, 63–69, 73, 85; and queerness, 152–53; and stick and shingle style, 168, 175, 200; theories of, 26–30 Queen Anne (architectural style), 165–67, 171, 245n26 queerness: in Prina, 142, 243n122; in A Single Man, 149–55; and vulnerability, 152–53 Rabinovitz, Lauren, 237n68 race: Latino/a experience of, 9–10, 95; whiteness, 217. See also African Americans Rand, Ayn, 110, 124–29. See also Fountainhead, The (novel) Ray, Robert B., 171, 173, 174–75, 176–77 realism, 13, 16, 108–10, 183 Red Lobster, 224n9 rental: of film locations, 101–3; in Los Angeles, 50; in New York City, 50; of property, 47–48; short-­term

lodging, 59, 180–84, 207–8, 215; spectator-­tenancy, ix, 13, 19–20, 228n37 Richardson, Henry Hobson, 166–67 Robertson, Cheryl, 69, 71, 84, 235n52 Robson, Kenneth J., 198 rooms. See space, domestic Rosa, Joseph, 111 Rosedown Plantation, 212–13, 248n1 Rothman, William, 184, 246n60 Rules of the Game, The (film), 134 Russell, Michele, 96–97 Schaffer House, 150–52 Schindler, Rudolf, 120–21, 143 Schleier, Merrill, 111, 129, 239n16 Scully, Vincent, 1–3, 158–71, 188, 192, 206–20 sculpture, 113, 143, 177 set design, 8, 81, 109, 175 Several Friends (film), 98–101 sexuality: hetero-­, 68; queer, 142, 149–55; and space, 247n72 Shadow of a Doubt (film), 179 Shiel, Mark, 64 shingle style (architectural style), 158–60, 167–71, 188, 189–92, 195, 206–8, 210. See also stick and shingle style Shining, The (film), 207–8 Shulman, Julius, 127, 133–34 Siegert, Bernhard, 61–62 Singer, Ben, 33, 230n81 Single Man, A (film), 149–53 Single Man, A (novel), 149–51 slavery, 3–6, 211, 213, 224n9 Sontag, Susan, 208 space, 25–32 space, cinematic: deep-­space, 13–16, 109; versus domestic space, 13–16, 39–40, 43, 44; and modernist architecture, 105–9; off-­screen, 39, 51, 194 space, domestic: attic, 216–17; balcony, 193–94; bedroom, 94–95,

253 INDEX

(patents), 13, 47; of property, 2, 17–18, 24, 50, 80, 100, 128, 182–83; and slavery, 31, 224n9; theoretical accounts of, 59–60, 101, 155. See also rental

182, 200–201; dining room, 94–95, 205–6; hallway, 185, 193; kitchen, 15, 80, 82, 86; living room, 69, 74–75, 84, 91, 116–19; porch, 27, 175, 198–99; staircase, 185–86, 193, 199–200. See also floors Spanish colonial (architectural style), 82, 88 spectacle, 18–20. See also spectatorship spectatorship: as form of labor, 20, 228n38; spectator-­tenancy, ix, 13, 19–20, 228n37 Spigel, Lynn, 223n1 Star is Born, A (film), 115–19 Sternberg, Josef von, 120–29 Stevens, Kyle, 149–50, 151 Stewart, Jacqueline Najuma, 97 stick and shingle style (architectural style), 158–60, 162–65, 171, 192– 93, 210; and class, 159–70. See also Scully, Vincent; stick style Stickley, Gustav, 68, 72 stick style (architectural style), 158–60, 164–67, 188. See also stick and shingle style suburbia, 36–40, 50, 64, 223n1

INDEX

254

Tati, Jacques, 134, 239n11 Taylor, Clyde, 100–101 Taylor, Elyseo, 97 theft, 39, 182, 232n101 threshold. See door; interior/exterior; public/private distinction; space, domestic Tinkcom, Matthew, 195, 203, 206, 247n82 Tinniswood, Adrian, 24–25 To Kill a Mockingbird (film), 6–10 To Kill a Mockingbird (novel), 6–9 tourism. See leisure Trouble the Water (film), 215–18

UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), 97 uncanny: architectural, 31–32; Freudian notion of unheimlich, 31–32, 45 Universal Studios, 7–11, 65. See also film industry; Hollywood Vidler, Anthony, 31–32, 106 Vidor, King, 109–11, 124, 126. See also Fountainhead, The (film) visual pleasure, 12, 22–25, 145–46. See also feminist film theory; Mulvey, Laura Waldron, Jeremy, 30 Walpole, Horace, 132 Warner Bros., 80, 101–2, 116 Washington, George, 166, 212 Watson, Rachel, 226n18 Way He Always Wanted It II, The (film), 142–48 Welles, Orson, 13–17. See also Citizen Kane; Magnificent Ambersons, The White, Ian, 146, 147 White House, the, 211 whiteness, 213, 217 Wilderson, Frank B., III, 5 window: clerestory, 151; as metaphor, 103; mitered, 130–31, 135; picture window, 131–32; plate-­ glass, 108, 130; stained-­g lass, 94 Winter, Robert, 66–68 Wojcik, Pamela Robertson, viii, 223n1 Wolfe, Charles, 65, 234n35 Woman under the Influence, A (film), 94, 97 Wright, Frank Lloyd, 111, 120, 125, 148 Zevi, Bruno, 106 Žižek, Slavoj, 179–80

John David Rhodes teaches film at the University of Cambridge, where he is director of the Centre for Film and Screen. He is author of Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome (Minnesota, 2007) and Meshes of the Afternoon, and coeditor of Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image (Minnesota, 2011), Antonioni: Centenary Essays, and On Michael Haneke. He is a founding editor of the journal World Picture.