A Divided World: Hollywood Cinema and Emigré Directors in the Era of Roosevelt and Hitler 1933-1948
Author: Nick Smedley
A Divided World takes a look at the emigrant European Directors that emerged from the shadow of World War 2 and brought with them a new way of looking at American cinema, and cinema in general. Starting with a history of the introduction of Roosevelt’s New Deal and the knock-on effect this had on America’s national cinema, the book examines the idealism that was rife in 1930s cinema and then leads up to the change of tone that occurred in the 1940s. Many European immigrant filmmakers brought with them a sense of lurking peril infiltrating their films and they stayed away from the fluffy musical comedies that Hollywood was best known for at the time. The three directors that the book focuses on are Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch.
The first chapter examines Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ and introduces us to some of the policies in place at the time, notably the infamous Hays Code, which censored films beyond all reason. This code forced filmmakers to rely on racy innuendo and the power of suggestion to get things done. Some of the more ridiculous rules ensured that wrong-doers always get their comeuppance at the end of a movie which led to some truly disastrous endings in films. The case in point being Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window which had an ‘it’s all a dream’ ending tacked on to ensure it would get by the censors.
The book continues by taking each director as a case study, looking at their careers, their inspirations, their backgrounds and the social world they had come from contrasted with Hollywood. Some of these directors floundered in Hollywood, some soared. Lang, for example, made some fantastic Hollywood pictures but never reached the heights of his European work and was constantly frustrated by the regulations and politics of American cinema. Wilder on the other hand took these constraints and used them to inspire mischief. He was constantly skirting controversy in his films but was deft at avoiding direct reference to anything that critics would consider obscene.
The subject matter is a fascinating new perspective on the work of these filmmakers, a cinema of outsiders during an extraordinary time in American and European history. Not only is the context interesting but some of the textual analysis on offer is second to none. Smedley takes a look at some of the filmmakers’ less well-known films and analyses them in terms of the filmmakers’ statements on their new home and the homes they had left. In particular, Smedley writes an excellent case study of Fritz Lang’s Fury, taking into account Lang’s perspective as an outsider and his knowledge of the threat looming from Europe.
A Divided World is a quality book and an important addition to academic film studies. However, I didn’t find it particularly pleasurable to read. The author’s language is very formal and while his arguments are persuasive, wading through the language is quite a heavy task at times. This is a book purely for academics and, unfortunately, not as entertaining a read as it could have been. That being said, the content is so fresh and intelligent that I would be remiss in discarding the book due only to its formal nature.
- Paperback: 277 pages
- Publisher: Intellect (7 Jun 2011)
- Language English
- ISBN-10: 9781841504025
- ISBN-13: 978-1841504025
- ASIN: 1841504025
- Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 17.2 x 1.8 c