Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood

Mick Lasalle, Author Thomas Dunne Books $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-25207-6
In the past three months, testosterone has become a hot topic on TV magazine and talk shows, online and even in the New York Times Magazine. Dabbs, a former researcher of social psychology at Georgia State University, ""move[s] between science and anecdote, example and principle, theory and fact"" to explain everything you wanted to know about testosterone but were afraid to ask. Unfortunately, much of what he serves up as science yields many claims that are scientifically unsupportable. Dabbs has drawn many of his conclusions from testosterone studies he and his students conducted that generally did not follow strict scientific testing procedures, on populations including ""college students, prison inmates, trial lawyers, athletes... [and] construction workers."" Unfortunately, this leads to such hilariously generalized statements as ""high-testosterone men, on average, are leaner, balder, more confident... and likely to favor tattoos and gold jewelry."" Or, ""high-testosterone men are more likely than low-testosterone men to have blue-collar jobs."" Explaining that high-testosterone people have ""limited verbal ability,"" Dabbs cites the sports metaphors that former President Bush used in his speeches as showing ""an instinct for the simple logic of testosterone."" He also claims that women and men with high testosterone ""have characteristics in common with James Bond, Night Man, Buffy the Vampire Slayer [and] Indiana Jones""--hardly a scientific statement. Aside from these fanciful extrapolations from his research, Dabbs does not address critiques of traditional scientific inquiry as articulated by scientific gender specialists such as Anne Fausto-Sterling or Donna Haraway. Although written in an entertaining style, the book ultimately tells us more about the cultural myths surrounding testosterone than about the hormone itself. (Sept.) COMPLICATED WOMEN: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood Mick LaSalle. St. Martin's, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 0-312-25207-2 ~ Movie quiz: who said, ""I'm in an orgy, wallowing. And I love it!"" Madonna? Demi Moore? Koo Stark? No, it was Norma Shearer in 1931's Strangers May Kiss. In this breezily written, engaging look at the position of women in pre-Code Hollywood pictures, LaSalle uncovers a host of actors (some, like Ann Dvorak and Glenda Farrell, now almost forgotten) and films that broke social barriers with their frank portrayals of female sexual desire and freedom. Contradicting prevailing film theory that claims the 1940s as the golden age of women in film, LaSalle boldly posits that the best women's movies were made before 1934, when the studios were forced to follow the notorious Production Code. According to the author, pre-Code Hollywood films reveled in nonjudgmental, often quite serious, portraits of women characters exercising enormous sexual, personal and social freedoms--from sex outside marriage to having their own careers. ""The Production Code,"" LaSalle notes, ""ensured a miserable fate... for any woman who stepped out of line."" Drawing upon movies, reviews, social trends such as rising female college admissions and even the writings of feminists such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, he makes a solid case that the freedom women gained in the 1920s changed America, and that this change was reflected, and reinforced, in films. Along the way, LaSalle offers a variety of revealing insights--such as his observations on the anti-Semitism of Roman Catholic clergy in their war against Hollywood--as he entertainingly traces the careers and early work of such major stars as Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford and the once-famous Ruth Chatterton. Photos not see by PW. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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FORMATS
Paperback - 293 pages - 978-0-312-28431-2
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-4668-7697-2
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