Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Legs and Our Dancing Daughters

Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
Harry Beaumont
STARRING: Joan Crawford, Anita Page, Dorothy Sebastian
NOMINATED FOR: Best Cinematography (George Barnes)
Best Writing, Achievement (Josephine Lovett)

I find I have a bad habit of pretending I know something about culture and the history of culture. For some years I ran a pop culture website where I feign expertise on what people used to do and why they do it. However, I've come to realize I can't even grasp my own culture, which is completely different to the culture of ten years ago, which is different to the etc etc etc.

But if there's one thing I've learned, it's that in the 20s, it was all about the legs!

Our Dancing Daughters is a boring love story made in the heyday of the Jazz Age (the stupid white people jazz, not the awesome New Orleans jazz). It's not funny or exciting or emotional, it's just sleep inducing, and I see no real reason to return to it. However, it did bring to light something that I never realized. In the 20s, when a lustful man gazed at a woman, it was usually directed at her legs.

I'm not saying legs aren't still sexualized, but in these old films, they're the ONLY thing that's sexualized. As far as Hollywood was concerned, even pre-code Hollywood, breasts and other womanly curves just didn't exist. I have no idea why, really. I can assume it has something to do with the religious influence that was leading into the 50s, but I'm simply not qualified to say for certain. All I know is that Our Dancing Daughters is about sexuality, and sexuality is all about legs.

Our three main female character are all introduced BY their legs. First, Diana, a woman who takes a party girl persona in public, but inside is really romantic and wants to settle down:

She's introduced in the movie as a pair of dancing legs in front of the mirror, getting ready for the big party.

And then we have Beatrice, a woman who insists on not fooling around and really can't be bothered to party.

We meet here from behind, standing still as her overprotective parents give her a stern talking to.

And finally, we have Ann, a gold digger, a woman who's only interested in marrying a rich man for his money.

She only has interest in nice things, so when we meet her legs, we find her tearing and discarding some worn-out stockings.

Our female characters are characterized by their legs, which proves that shallow characterization has been present as long as film's been around. It's like when female characters in modern day action movies are characterized by hair color and cup size. To pound this point home, Ben, the man for our characters to swoon over, is introduced LOOKING at legs.

When people think back to the golden days of cinema, it's hard to imagine that there were shallow sexual films. What was "shallow" and "sexual" back in the 20s are alien to us now, and it makes trying to understand these times seem kinda futile.

If you're really interested in Our Dancing Daughters, you can find it on Youtube HERE.

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