Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Streetcar Named Desire and the "Age of the Chest"

Wow, folks. I cannot believe it has been over two months since I last posted. I never wanted to have such a massive gap in my BLOG's life, but a small bout of WRITER'S BLOCK turned into an extended period of BLOG APATHY, which I hope will end with this post. I am not proud of my inactivity, but I have come to terms with it and am ready to move forward.

Let me catch you up to speed with my whereabouts as they have fluctuated since we last spoke and I think it will help to put my (hopefully) forthcoming POSTS into perspective. I have departed from the WINDY CITY of CHICAGO after an eductional, enjoyable and enlightening two month stay. I have traveled back down to VIRGINIA, gone on a family beach trip in NORTH CAROLINA, gone back to VIRGINIA and driven back to my school in SOUTH CAROLINA, where I have been for about the past month. I have returned to work at the Columbia-located AMERICAN APPAREL and have been in my JUNIOR YEAR of school for three weeks.

Before addressing the MEAT of this POST I would like to DEDICATE it to the anonymous user who encouraged me to update my blog. Thankyou.

Today I read KRISTEN HATCH's essay called "Movies and the New Faces of Masculinity" for my '50s and '60s Cinema class. In this essay, HATCH addresses the arrival of actors MARLON BRANDO and MONTGOMERY CLIFT on the HOLLYWOOD scene in 1951 and how both of these actors completely shattered the proconceived notion of the Hollywood star and introduced new acting methods, behavioral norms and ideals about MASCULINITY. She discusses BRANDO and CLIFT's refusal to date Hollywood starlets for publicity, their shunning of materialism and, most important of all, the fact that each of these men changed the societal norm for MASCULINE BEHAVIOR both on and off the screen.

HATCH addresses BRANDO's role in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and highlights the actor's repeated shirtless appearances throughout the film. Apparently in this film (which I will be watching tomorrow for my class) BRANDO's character, STANLEY KOWALSKI is featured in soaking wet shirts that cling to his well-toned body and is displayed prominently without any kind of torso covering. This may not sound so RADICAL or OUTRAGEOUS in modern times, but HATCH states that, "The film's cinematic celebration of Brando's chest was recognized by cultural commentators at the time as a turning point in the representation of male body." She goes on to say that a 1958 PLAYBOY article jokingly references A Streetcar Named Desire "...ushering in the 'Age of the Chest' by making 'American chest concious.'" This portion of the book features this picture (at left) as an example of the actor's look circa Streetcar.

HATCH goes on to describe how this role flipped around LAURA MULVEY's theory of film's gaze being from a male perspective that objectifies women (which actually wasn't written until 22 years after) which would put the film's director, ELIA KAZAN, way ahead of the film culture curve. BRANDO's body in Streetcar was actually deemed "too desirous" and the Production Code Administration of that time had to downplay much of the film's sexual content. In concluding her essay, HATCH explains how "...the revolutionary possibilities of [Brando and Clift's] nonconformity were disregarded as childlike, unmanly" and that their mere physical presences onscreen served to "...offer new and unheralded erotic possibilities."

WOW! This absolutely blew me away when I read it! I know MARLON BRANDO was a big sex symbol in his day, but the fact that he completely revolutionized the way most women FETISHIZE a male is unbelievable! Just think of all of the advertisements for WORKOUT MACHINES, DIET PILLS, GYM MEMBERSHIPS, ATHLETIC APPAREL, etc. that all feature muscly, well-toned men as the desirable physique for men to embody and for women to possess. ALL OF THESE ideals stemmed from BRANDO's insecure, immature character in this 1951 film. This is basically proclaiming that he is the BEATLES (pictured, left) or the MIGUEL DE CERVANTES (pictured, above right) of anatomical builds.

It seems absurd to think that a man is depicted onscreen with no shirt on, something EVERYBODY does EVERY day (and there had to have been MUSCLY MEN around in the form of, say, construction workers or wrestlers), and causes a complete EROTIC REVOLUTION. I guess that the rest of the modern western world and I are immune to these sort of happenings now because we are so used to MASS CULTURE shoving different ideals in our faces, and I suppose these standards had to start in places like the film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. MASS CULTURE is a very recent imposition onto the world it already seems strange to think of one specific image as having such a vast effect on people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're welcome.

You'll certainly enjoy the film. It is possibly one of my favorite Brando films and it is certainly interesting how downplayed the sexual content was. I did not take that into perspective upon the first viewing, but that changes my outlook now.

It's nice to have you back in the blogging world. I look forward to future posts.

Enjoy your film.