All That Hollywood Allows

Re-reading Gender in 1950s Melodrama

By Jackie Byars

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4312-3
    Published: June 1991
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6802-7
    Published: November 2000

Gender and American Culture

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All That Hollywood Allows explores the representation of gender in popular Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s, the last decade in which film enjoyed a pivotal cultural position. Both a work of feminist film criticism and theory and an analysis of popular culture, this provocative book examines from a cultural studies perspective the top-grossing film melodramas of that decade, including A Streetcar Named Desire, From Here to Eternity, East of Eden, Imitation of Life, and Picnic.

Stereotypically viewed as a complacent and idyllic time, the 1950s were actually a period of dislocation and great social change as Americans struggled to regain their equilibrium in the wake of World War II. Jackie Byars argues that mass-media texts of the period, especially films, provide evidence of society's consuming preoccupation with the domestic sphere -- the nuclear family and its values. The melodramas included in her study appeared in theaters just as women were leaving their homes for the workplace. Some films challenged and some reinforced previously sacrosanct gender roles. Byars shows how Hollywood melodramas participated in, interpreted, and extended societal debates concerning family structure, sexual divisions of labor, and gender roles.

Byars's readings of these films assess a variety of critical methodologies and approaches to textual analysis, some central to feminist film studies and some that previously have been bypassed by scholars in the field. She specifically questions the validity of readings grounded solely on the premises of psychoanalysis, arguing that the male norm inherent in the psychoanalytic viewpoint may well prevent us from hearing, let alone understanding, the female voices that make their way into the most patriarchal of films. Byars thus critiques earlier approaches to the study of women's films and offers fresh readings, emphasizing from several important perspectives the suppressed female voice.

About the Author

Jackie Byars received her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and has taught in film/media studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bryn Mawr College, Texas Christian University, St. Mary's College of California, and Wayne State University (since 1992).
For more information about Jackie Byars, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"[Byars'] brave words and intellectual daring are justified by her brilliant and original execution of her critical principles and beliefs, as she studies and analyzes conflict in an impressive range of films. . . . Byars brings an intense and compelling commitment to her readings of Hollywood films."--ANQ Jackie Byars has written both a work of feminist film criticism and theory and an analysis of popular culture. This provocative book examines the issue of gender using the twenty-five top-grossing films of the 1950s, including A Streetcar Named Desire, From Here to Eternity, and East of Eden.

"Byars's eclectic approach . . . provides valuable reading for scholars interested in contemporary construction of gender."--Journal of Communication

"[Byars] writes as a cultural studies scholar for the specialist, but her book is also accessible to the educated film-goer primarily because her subject, popular film and feminist theory, are so compelling."--Belles Lettres

"This ambitious book on popular American films will not only interest film theorists, but also students of contemporary American history, feminist theory and cultural studies."--Australasian Journal of American Studies