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TitleBabel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film
PublisherHarvard University Press
ISBN 139780674058309
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size18.2 MB
Total Pages390
Table of Contents
                            Contents
Introduction: Cinema Spectatorship and Public Life
I Rebuilding the Tower of Babel: The Emergence of Spectatorship
	1 A Cinema in Search of a Spectator: Film-Viewer Relations before Hollywood
	2 Early Audiences: Myths and Models
	3 Chameleon and Catalyst: The Cinema as an Alternative Public Sphere
II Babel in Babylon: D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916)
	4 Reception, Textual System, and Self-Definition
	5 “A Radiant Crazy-Quilt”: Patterns of Narration and Address
	6 Genesis, Causes, Concepts of History
	7 Film History, Archaeology, Universal Language
	8 Hieroglyphics, Figurations of Writing
	9 Riddles of Maternity
	10 Crisis of Femininity, Fantasies of Rescue
III The Return of Babylon: Rudolph Valentino and Female Spectatorship (1921-1926)
	11 Male Star, Female Fans
	12 Patterns of Vision, Scenarios of Identification
Notes
Illustration Credits
Index
                        
Document Text Contents
Page 2

Babel and Babylon

Page 195

182 D. W Griffith's Intolerance

non-Christianone; it is thereforein a senseprehistory, exemptfrom the
political, ethical, andsexualnormsthe film reworks for the Christianera.

Thatdividing line, however, is a problematicone, consideringthe repu-
tation of Babylon in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testamentwhich
Griffith, raiseda Methodist, could not haveignored. TheJudeo-Christian
tradition, afterall, takessideswith Cyrus, welcominghis victory asan end
to theJews'captivity andto thereignof sin, wealth, andidolatrywhich was
to inspirethe famousmetaphorof Hollywood Babylon. Griffith did rely on
other sources,such as books on Assyrio-Babylonianarchaeology,Hero-
dotus, andnineteenth-centurypaintingsdepictingBabylonianscenes,but
the revisionist gestureimplied in the Babylonian narrative, especiallyits
positive image of Belshazzar,cannot be explainedaway. Nor did it go
unnoticed.Reviewerswerequick to cite it asfurtherproofof film's contribu-
tion to a scientific historiography.(A headlinein the SanFrancisco Chronicle
read: JlStrippingOff Belshazzar'sCloakof Infamy-WasHe Reallya Hero?
Now the Newest ResearchShows That Modern Moralists Are Wrong
When They Attack the Babylonian King as the Symbol of Wickedness,
and How He Was, instead, a Gentle, Peacefuland Most Tolerant Mon-
arch, a Brave and Highly Gifted SovereignWhose ONLY WEAKNESS
Was That He BELIEVED LOVE WAS ALWAYS RIGHT. ")20 If science
provided a convenientcover, the vision itself was part of a more ambi-
tious enterprise,indebtedto the antinomianimpulsesof American Protes-
tantism.

With its deviantinscriptionsof sexualandsocialdifference, the Babylo-
nian narrativecanbe read, amongotherthings, as a counterimageheldup
againstthe encroachmentof Puritanismon all spheresof life, projectingan
idealcivilization thatwouldovercomedivisionsbetweenlove andsexuality,
individual andsociety, public andprivate, law andjustice, rulersandruled,
beautyandeverydaylife. The particularelaborationof thesethemescoin-
cidesto a greatextentwith topoi of reformistandradical discourseduring
the ProgressiveEra. Consider, for example, the rhetoric of urban reform
andits useof millennialist imagessuchas the City on the Hill or the New
Jerusalem;the conceptof an Jlintegralsociety"andconcomitantnotionsof
charismaticJlleadership"(Walter Lippmann, Herbert Croly); the critique
of Puritanism in general and of vice-crusaderslike Anthony Comstock
in particular, voiced by such intellectuals as H. L. Mencken and Van
Wyck Brooks; finally, the vogue of paganism,advocacyof free love, and
a Whitmanian cult of the body promoted by the Greenwich Village
bohemians.21

Surely, Griffith would not have endorsedthe political implications of
manyof theseideas, leastof all thoseconcerningthesocialorganizationof

Page 196

Film History, Archaeology,Universal Language 183

sexuality. The formation of the couple in the Modern narrative, for
instance, reassertstraditional codes of sexual behavior in no uncertain
terms. But the film's critique of contemporarymoral reform, compounded
with an all-around denunciationof an instrumentalist, acquisitive, and
repressivementality, needsand feeds on the alterity of the Babylonian
dream, filtered through-andenabledby-thescreenof exotic fantasy. It
is thisutopiansurplusof theBabyloniannarrativethatdisturbsthedominant
distributionof parallelandcontrastamongthefour narratives,undermining
the ideologicalassertionof progressand teleologicalfulfillment. Babylon
thus becomesthe sourceof a different economyof signification, one that
threatensto collapsecarefully constructedoppositionsand distinctions.

To fathomthis antinomianinvestmentin the Babyloniandream,we must
turn once more to the trope of archaeology.What layer of Babylonian
history or mythology is Nabonidusdigging up, andwhy doeshe have to
find a brick? Obviouslytheutopianpowerof the Babyloniannarrativeowes
muchto its conflationof variouslegendsandtraditions, from theevocation
of Babylon as oneof the SevenWondersof the ancientworld throughthe
cult of Ishtarto the moreambiguousallusion to theWhoreof Babylon, the
sybariticsplendorthat encompassesboth low andhigh eros(suggestedby
deep spacecomposition) yet also accountsfor Babylon's fall. The most
equivocallayer in this palimpsest,however, is a figure mostpowerful in its
absence:the image, archetype,allegoryof the Tower of Babel.

Tracesof Babel can be detectedin unmotivateddetails like Nabonidus'
brick-Genesis11: 3 emphasizesthat the Tower was built with brick not
stone-whichwould addthe ironic twist thata materialwhich is alreadya
substitution(of an artificial for a naturalmaterial) is madeto figure as the
foundationallayerof acivilization whosematerialsof representationconsist
largely of plaster of Paris and celluloid.22 When they are first framed
togetheras antagonists,both Belshazzarand the Priest of Bel, who will
betraythecity to Cyrus, wearhatsshapedlike towers; Belshazzar'simitates
acompletedzigguratwith a pointedtip, the Priest'shastheshapeof a more
primitive tower with a flattenedtop. Yet the mostexplicit referenceto the
Babelistictradition occursat the beginningof Act II, whena seriesof titles
inform us that the events portrayedare basedon actual sources, lithe
recentlyexcavatedcylindersof Nabonidusand Cyrus." IIThesecylinders,"
the next title reads,/ldescribethegreatesttreasonof all history, by which a
civilization of countlessageswasdestroyedandauniversalwritten language
(thecuneiform)wasmadeto becomeanunknowncypheron the faceof the
earth."

This title links thetropeof archaeology withthediscursiveactivity of the
film itself, as an activity of translation, transcription,and reconstruction.

Page 389

376 Index

Transvestismandcross-dressing,250, 280-
281, 287. Seealso Impersonators

Travelogues,30, 31-32, 42, 55, 96
Treadmill, The (Griffith), 214-215, 227, 348
Trick films, 31, 44, 45, 54, 69, 309
Tucker, GeorgeLoane, 137

Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show, 25-28,
30, 35, 40, 43, 57, 59, 160

Uncle Tom's Cabin, 45-46, 94, 287
United Artists, 248
Universal language.SeeLanguage,film

as/and
Universal Film ManufacturingCompany,

70, 71, 73, 74
Unwritten Law, The, 119
Upwardmobility: of audiences,58-59,

61, 62-63, 68, 74, 86, 88, 114, 309-
310; vaudevilleand, 91, 115

Valentino, Rudolph, 1-2, 7, 18, 24, 93,
120, 124, 239, 245, 248, 252-294;
femaleaddressand reception, 1-2, 18,
93, 124, 253, 254-255, 257, 260, 293-
294; star personaand publicity dis-
course, 120, 124, 248, 253-254, 256-
267; ethnic-racialothernessof, 253,
254-257, 260, 263, 264, 267, 282, 292,
293; sexualambiguity, 254, 259-268,
275-276, 279, 285, 287; male reception
of, 257, 259-261, 262, 263, 267,285,
293; articulationof vision in films, 269-
276, 279-280, 288; identification, 276,
280-283, 287

Valentino, 358, 359
Vamp figure, 123, 266, 269, 274,281,

283, 292
Vampire, The, 41-42
Variety format, 29-30, 43, 93, 94; in nick-

elodeons,29, 59, 61, 108, 113
Variety show. SeeBurlesque
Vaudeville, 45, 59, 71, 91; exhibition out-

let for films, 1, 28, 29, 43, 59, 60-61;
audiencecomposition, 16, 59, 61, 62,
94; as model for film genresandcharac-
ters, 25, 30, 58; gentrificationof, 95,
115, 119; ethnic, 95, 103; gendersegre-
gation and, 115-116, 117

Vernet, Marc, 37

Vertov, DZiga, 132
Virgin/virginal figure, 120, 150-153, 158,

212, 225-226, 227
VitagraphCompanyof America, 64, 70,

174, 206
Vorse, Mary Heaton, 104, 105-106, 107,

110, 119, 312
Voyeurism, 28, 34-42,65,75, 121, 153,

161, 238, 239, 249, 252, 277,294. See
also Scopophilia

Wagenknecht,Edward, 203
Wald, Lillian, 220, 221
Walker, Alexander, 292
War Brides, 120
Warburton, Bishop, 1.94
Wayof the World, The, 351
WearyWillie series, 58
Weber, Lois, 72, 120
Welles, Orson, 131
West, Mae, 260
Westerns,48, 249
WhatHappenedin the Tunnel, 39
WhatHappenedon Twenty-ThirdStreet, New

York City, 39
White Slavery, 221-222
Whitman, Walt, 77, 165, 169, 193, 195,

199,201,206,207, 212, 214, 216-217,
218

Widow Jones, The, 35
Wilkins, John, 317
Williams, Alan, 29
Williams, Linda, 251, 252, 292
Wine Opener, The, 38
Wise, Rabbi, 184
Woman'sfilm, 249, 251, 287
Woods, Frank, 37, 64, 67, 82-83, 84, 97
Woolf, Virginia, 125
Woollcott, Alexander, 129, 138
Working classand immigrants, 15, 51-52,

101-114,255;as audience,16,60,61-
63, 65-68, 69, 70, 76, 85, 87-89, 91-
92, 104-107, 113-114, 118, 123,255;
racismand, 54, 107; as subjectof films,
69-76; gendersegregationin, 115, 117,
118; sexualculture of, 118, 222-223;
women, 119-120, 211, 215. Seealso
African-Americans;Ethnic groups, eth-
nicity; Nativism

Page 390

Index 377

World's Fairs and Expositions, 30, 47, 237.
Seealso Amusementparks, fairs, traveling
shows

Writing, 188-190, 194-197, 202; femi-
ninityand, 155, 207, 215-216.Seealso
Hieroglyphics; Language;Literature

Yankeeproductioncompany,70
YoungMr. Lincoln, 170
YoungRajah, The, 260

Zamenhof,Ludwig, 77
Zukor, Adolph, 64, 69, 173

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