Postmodern Film Approach: The Lady Eve


I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately viewing the films Stanley Cavell calls “comedies of remarriage” and his essays on them in his book Pursuits of Happiness. We can leave aside the question of whether or not this type of film truly constitutes a genre in itself – there seems to be some debate about it – but repeated viewing of these films, coupled with careful study of Cavell’s essays on them, is certainly a most profitable exercise.

One of the things that strikes me is how little Cavell is interested in a film qua film; throughout most of his essay on Sturges’ glorious comedy starring Stanwyck and Fonda he could well be writing about a play, whether written, staged, or filmed. True, early on he discusses a camera movement (which is misidentified as ‘wandering’ – the scene in question is achieved by a straight cut), the humorous opening credit sequence, and, later, he does address REFLEXITIVITY in terms of the photograph of the three card hustlers, as well as stating, in a discussion about the mirror Jean holds up to observe the other passengers on the ship, that “… we are informed that this film knows itself to have been written and directed and photographed and edited.” Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t – but if it does, it does so in a way obvious only to a philosopher or a serious film scholar. It doesn’t display this knowledge of itself in the way, say, the microphone hanging over an actor’s head is plainly visible in a Godard film.

But other than this, there is little in Cavell’s essay that tackles the movie as a member of a unique artistic medium. For example it would be, I think, completely out of character for Cavell to comment on the transition cut from the “smokestack” of the little boat Fonda and Demarest use up the Amazon to the smokestack of the cruise ship (think of Kubrick cutting from the thrown bone to the spaceship) or on the use of stock footage of a cruise ship sailing on the ocean that Sturges uses here. There are also outrageous Hollywood conventions that we have to put up with here – for instance, when Fonda and Demarest first come aboard the cruise ship, how does Stanwyck just happen to have an apple handy to bop him on the head with? Or this – the little boat that they have been up the Amazon with just happens to be able to connect with the ocean liner in the middle of the sea? Of course, I understand that Cavell’s concerns lie in different areas – he says he is not pretending to be writing film criticism – yet sometimes as I read his essays I wonder if he isn’t giving the cinematic aspects of cinema just a little short shrift.