David Selznick and Since You Went Away

Document Sample
David Selznick and Since You Went Away Powered By Docstoc
					David Selznick and Since You Went Away


    "I have a different concept of producing than
    other producers. Some producers are money men,
    and others are just lieutenants. For me to
    produce is to make a picture. As a producer,
    I can maintain an editorial perspective that
    I wouldn't have as a director. I consider
    myself first a creative producer, then a showman
    and then a businessman. You need all three things
    to succeed in the business today."
         -David O. Selznick

The film Since You Went Away was released in 1944. This epic film
attempted to
relate to the American audience that was dealing with the war
foreclosing and
the flux of soldiers coming home at the time. The Hollywood studios
were
constantly trying to do their part for the war buy making films about
the war in
a fairy tale "Hollywood" style. Since You Went Away crossed these
boundaries,
and the movie audience at the time, positively responded for this
reason. The
producer and screenwriter of the film knew America craved this
portrayal.
Critics of the film from this period, applauded it's "realism", but in
hindsight
studies of the film in the seventies and eighties were a little more
critical of
the film. David O. Selznick was the man behind the vision of this film
and
Selznick is best known for film classic's like; Gone With the Wind,
(from which
the formula of this movie draws heavily from) Rebecca, and King Kong.
This
film was a special project for Selznick at the time, and it was seen as
his
contribution to the war effort. The academy awards recognized
Selznick's effort
and nominated his film for best picture of 1944.

David Selznick was known as a one of the great creative producers-
along side
Walt Disney. A creative producer is usually "a powerful mogul who
supervises
the production of a film in such exacting detail that he was virtually
its
artistic creator." (Eyman p. 121)   In this period, Selznick's style
was
remembered best by his epic length movies in which he paid special
attention to
detail. His films catered to the female market but also had potential
to cross
over to the male segment. Selznick was "increasingly becoming aware of
the
commercial value of his name." (Fenster p.36) He decided to repeat the
formula
that worked well in Gone With the Wind and made a decision to purchase
a war
novel/diary from Margaret Wilder. Since You Went Away spawned from
Wilder's
novel, after Selznick spent many hours on developing the screenplay and
hiring
the right cast. The war film was a popular genre to produce during the
war
years in North America. Also, it was seen as a noble effort to make a
film
about the war. Most of the skilled directors or producers of these
films,
stylized their own vision of the war with their special trademarks
throughout
the film. Films that did this, usually did will well at the box office
as well
as at the Academy Awards Ceremony. David Selznick was looking for a
hit movie
to follow the success of Gone With The Wind and he hoped Since You Went
Away
would be a blockbuster. Selznick spent nearly "$3,000,000 on this
film",
(Thomas p. 220) which meant glossy and detailed scenes throughout the
film.
This was an unusual amount of money for a film from this period, but
David
Selznick was known in Hollywood for his elaborate budgets.

The films length allowed Selznick to allow it to take place over a
year. The
story begins in January 12, 1943 which is immediately after Mr. Hilton
departs
for the war. The Hiltons are a middle/upper class family who are now
faced with
dealing with dealing with the trials and tribulations of everyday life
without
the support of a male authority figure. A lot of emphasis is placed on
the
female audience's familiarity with "the details of day to day living
and plenty
of humorous sentimental reportage of housekeeping: rationing, the
problems of
two growing daughters and the business of getting jobs to help the
family's
reduced budget."(Hartung p 374) Selznick increased the original ages
of the two
daughters so Shirley Temple (Bridget) and Jennifer Jones (Jane) could
play the
roles and romance could be introduced. Nineteen forty-four was quite
the
turbulent year for the American populous. The war was coming to a
close, and
America saw the return of their heroes after a glorious battle. But,
there was
also a feeling of nervous uncertainty and anxiety regarding the heroes
return.
The reviewers and reviews of Since You Went Away were very much in tune
with
this feeling. In the press, critics viewed this film in either of two
ways.
First, it seen as a triumphant return of Selznick and secondly, the
critics
thought the movie attempted at a realistic portrayal. An article in
Variety
Magazine boasted "it's a box office mop-up" and the article also listed
the
complete list of about ninety actors involved. The critic constantly
mentioned
David Selznick's name throughout the review and thus, set the tone for
the
magnitude of this film. Similarly, in a Newsweek article, there was
constant
enforcement of how much money was spent on this film and how much
Selznick made
on his last film. This worked as a quality control mechanism for
Hollywood and
the viewing audience. People knew what to expect when they went out to
see a
David Selznick film.

The second type of review paid particular attention to the "realism" of
this
film. A review in Time Magazine stated: "this is the most human,
factual
picture to date". It mentioned the film dealing with things like the
sorrow of
death, and the comfort of religion, food shortages, and being away from
loved
ones. For example, a scene where a telegram is sent to Mrs. Hilton,
informing
her that her husband is missing in action. This scene takes place
after the
housekeeper receives the telegram and yells for Mrs. Hilton who was
sleeping.
Upon reading the letter, Mrs. Hilton insists that there is still hope
and he is
still alive. The American public at the time of this release, were
caught up in
these "everyday" feelings and it was apparent that Selznick deal with
these
issues with as much love and heart as Selznick could fit on-screen. In
another
review they mentioned that the film is "always authentic, endearing and
true to
life as death and taxes" (Abel p 13) This "realism" was constantly
reinforcedwith sequences like the scenes in the rehabilitation's rooms,
psychiatrist's office and recovery wards. In these scenes, the film
maker uses
lighting to cast shadows in these rooms.
This is especially prevalent in the scene where Jane Hilton says good-
bye to her
boyfriend Billy at the train station. The long shadows are used to show
the
shadow that is cast over America at this point in history and to
enhance this
on-screen realism. Indeed, this issue was the case for many Americans
and
people from other countries as well. Overall, it was the message that
appealed
to the audience the most and the modern day press agreed with this
films message.
 But, this wasn't the absolute case. A famous film critic, at the time
was very
harsh on this film. He downplayed Selznick's attempt at portraying a
typical
American Family. In The Nation, James Agee writes about the home that
the
Hiltons reside in: "They live in an American home that seven out of ten
Americans would sell their souls for". This review addressed the issue
of class,
which is the main bone of contention that most of the more recent
articles death
with.

It is quite easy to look back at older films   and sneer at them as
inferior. But
these films from the forties and fifties are   cultural products that
were apart
of the social fabric at this time. One must    look at the politics that
were in
place at the time, and see how that effected   a medium such as film.

Since You Went Away was shown to the people of America to increase
support and
motivate people to get involved. It was also shown to troops because
it the
film was also saying: "they'll be there when you get back". (Jarvie
Lecture Jan
19) Since You Went Away was one of the first films to deal with the
American
home front and the issue of the soldiers return. Selznick's past
experiences
led him to understand "not of what Americans were, but what Americans
wanted to
be." (Koppes p 157) Today, this film looked upon as a model of how
Americans
were expected to behave. This film could be seen as a teaching tool
for the
average American. Seeing a family such as the "Hiltons" on-screen,
pinching
from their usual weekly budgets and bringing a boarder into their home
for extra
income- is a lesson to be learned. The Hilton family is thrusted into
new
situations they might never have dealt with prior to the war.
Since this film was projected towards the female market, the film gave
a strong
message about empowering women. In the period in which this film was
made, the
climate for gender equality wasn't really an issue. With all the men
off at war,
women started to take up male roles and jobs to fill the temporary gap.
Jane
who wanted a job before her father left, eventually got one as a
nurse's aid.
After Mrs. Hilton agrees with Jane, a cut to the capping ceremony where
Jane,
"with shining face and sun glinting off her white cap, recites the Red
Cross
pledge." (Koppes p 157) Bridget is the young eager citizen who can't
do enough
for her country.   She constantly complains that she is only doing
"kid's stuff"
for the war. Anne Hilton is also set up as a model citizen. For
example, she
is portrayed as unhappy and lonely. Many scenes feature a "slick"
Lieutenant
Tony Willet making subtle hints for his unquestioning love for Anne.
The
audience is usually left wondering if Anne will give up hope and marry
Tony.
Anne sticks it out and her and Tony remain close throughout the
troubled war and
they stay strictly "friends."

Another point more current literature on this film investigates, is the
issue of
reality. Various articles I read, that were dated after the war- said
that this
film was full of propaganda. An example of this was when the Hilton's
were on
the train to meet up with their father. A boy with an amputated arm
yells to
the conductor: "Can't this train get moving? I'll miss my pop!" The
conductor
replies: "Your pop will have a lot better chance if these supply trains
get
through" This scene is reinforcing a sense of teamwork, and a the
American duty
to work together. Propaganda aside, did this film bring the real
issues to the
silver screen? Perhaps, Selznick's desire for perfection got in the
way of the
real story of the American home in war time. Paying "too much
attention to love
scenes, costumes, gestures" (Agee p 137) possibly made the film look
too
artificial. In order to present the Hilton's house as a fun and happy
home- the
Selznick's portrayal of the Hilton cook (Fidelia) is a little skewed.
The
Hilton's were forced to let Fidelia go because Anne could no longer
afford to
pay her. After the first 30 minutes of the film, the cook has already
moved
back into the home to work for free. There is also the issue of the
Hilton home.
This docile is a modest place of an advertising executive which was
supposedly a
"typical" American home. The home was very elaborate and had plenty of
extra
space for 2 other house guests. Some of these images that are
prevalent in this
film are not exactly the same as the average American's. The scenes
mentioned
above and many more, presented a classless society which was definitely
not the
case in nineteen forty-four.

Most critics enjoyed this picture. After all these were troubled times
and
Americans weren't sure what to think. It's safe to say that the movie
going
audience did want to laugh but they also wanted to cry- and that's what
this
film allowed the audience to do. Since You Went Away, also points at
many
interesting aspects of nineteen forties post-war society. Selznick's
particular
attention to style and form brought this film to it's highest level.
Selznick
once said:

     "Since You Went Away would remain the
     definitive home-front movieŠ until a
     realist comes along to show us what
     life is really like in America during
     World War II."

I think Clayton Koppes describes the film and

David Selznick best when he answers Selznick's

comments about the film:

     "Yet there lay Selznick's brilliance. The film triumphed
precisely
     because it was not realistic. With Hollywood's slickest touch
     he wove together the sacred and the sentimental symbols of
     American life and set them n the national shrine: the middle
     class home."

I believe the film was a bit too long and a lot of scenes should have
been
omitted. In my opinion, a long movie doesn't necessarily make a good
movie.
Nevertheless, it was quite interesting to investigate old films and see
the
differences in opinion four decades can make.

Sources Cited

Abel. Brian.    "Since You Went Away."     Variety     July 19, 1944      p13

Agee, James.    "Films"   The Nation    July 29, 1944     p137.

Allen, Robert and Gomery, Douglas "Film History - Theory and Practice"
New
York: N. Award Records 1985.

Crowther, Bosley. "Since You Went Away," A Film of Wartime Domestic
Life, With
Claudette Colbert and Others, Opens at the Capitol." New York Times
July 21,
1944.

Eyman, Giannetti "Flashback - A Brief History of Film"            New Jersey:
Prentice
Hall 1991.

Fenster, Mark. "Constructing the image of authorial presence: David O.
Selznick
and the marketing of since you sent away" Journal of Film and Video
4.1 Spring
1989: p36-55.

Fearing, Franklin "Warrior Return: Normal or Neurotic?"           Hollywood
Quarterly
Vol. 1, 1945-1946: p96-107.

Hartung, Philip. "The Screen: While You Are Gone, Dear."            The
Commonweal August
4, 1944 p374-375.

Koppes, Clayton "Hollywood Goes to War" New York: Free Press 1987.
p154-162.

Newsweek   "First GWTW, Now SYWA"      July 10, 1944     p85-6.

Thomas, Bob. "Selznick" New York: Doubleday & Company, 1970.