“Though standard critical appraisals would deem Tomatoes a deliberately crude affront to modern technical sophistication, it is itself the sophisticated artifact, its small rebellion resonating more strongly in a media age intolerant of aesthetic “dissonance” and intent on madly synchronizing nearly every aspect of thought, culture, and behavior.”
Though the eventual triumph of sound cinema was not a preordained conclusion – Edison had unsuccessfully tinkered with sound as early as 1895, using his kinetophone – the synthesis of sound and image advanced in the late 1920s ultimately reiterated the age-old primacy of artistic “unity.” No longer would cinema be hermetically, immaculately silent, alienated from blaring reality and agitated by the sometimes inspired, mostly conventional improvisations of destitute theater pianists. Now Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk would become realized technologically, with sound and image finding harmony and synthesis in a single medium more totalized in its scenography than opera ever was. Indeed, the inauguration of the talkie standardized the consonant relationship between sound and image, and thereafter disharmony and audiovisual disunity became increasingly relegated – or, if you prefer, elevated – to the avant-garde work of subversion and revolt. If the dubious art of Hollywood film scoring now unifies and makes redundant sound and image, Hollywood’s overall monopolism threatens to swallow up the audience, too, making the spectator yet another redundant cog in a single-minded, allegedly rational quest for “unity.” Dissonance, as Adorno argued, thus becomes an indispensable bulwark against the annihilation of the individual. Only in dissonance, between the jagged and irreconcilable separateness of elements, can the spectator exist skeptically, finding in discordant and aporetic spaces the fugitive freedoms to rebel against enforced consensus and obligatory harmonies.
Barring congenital deafness, uncanny dreams, and deliberate sensory deprivation, no actual human experience is entirely bereft of sound. From the interstellar acoustic recordings made by Voyager 1 and 2, we know that sound exists even in the near-vacuum of outer space, as “electronic vibrations . . . within the range of human hearing,” as emanations “from the interaction of the solar winds with the planet’s magnetosphere,” and as the electromagnetic exchanges among charged particles, celestial bodies, and solar wind.1 When nature’s inescapable murmurs, wails, and ambience impinge upon the human ego, we respond with a mandate to govern the aural atmospheres into which we’re thrown. Music is both our preternatural response and ultimate rationalization, as we organize into meters, bars, and staves the organic music of the pulse and heartbeat. Our highest aesthetics and our most desperate grasping at sanity merge in the self-containment of melody and the metrical organization of timbres. Recall the scene in Ken Russell’s Mahler (1975) that finds the composer, wanting for quietude, secluding himself in his lake house only to be maddened by the intrusions of chirping birds, crickets, and grasshoppers, noises later rationalized in the mimetic birdcalls of his Third Symphony. This is a rather quaint, innocuous example of the human attempt to intellectualize natural chaos; pop music has since replaced Mahlerian breadth with endless, generic percussion, as if to reduce the organic pulse to simplistic, essentialized beats. Bombarded by the detritus of the culture industry, we’ve come to confuse the ubiquity of organic sound with the ubiquity of (usually bad) music, overly dependent on rhythm to signify “action.” The notion of an active silence becomes unimaginable, and in film we irrationally accept extradiegetic music as a compatible part of “realism.”
We cannot talk about realism in silent cinema any more than we talk about realism in opera – enforced silence is as inherently unrealistic as enforced singing (or compulsory extradiegetic music, for that matter). Indeed, the unreality of silent cinema likely produced unreal, irrational, and “dissonant” effects even for early 20th century audiences. Incidental musical accompaniment – and sometimes live narration, in cinema’s inchoate years – was not mere window dressing but a much-needed map of intelligibility for audiences weaned on the naturalistic effects of live theater. The silent cinema was so far removed from sensorial reality that many gags in silent comedies depended, irrationally, on an actor’s inability to hear noises that would be obvious in real life. As Walter Kerr observes, Harry Langdon in Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926) stumbles into a perilous episode when he fails to notice “that he is now suspended hundreds of feet directly above a highway teeming with traffic”2 – a moment of blissful ignorance possible only in a soundless universe where cars make no noise. More bluntly, in Variety (1925), director E. A. Dupont dollies into the ear of a man straining to hear footsteps because “the audience needed reminding, during the film, that hearing was possible.”3
A more “primitive” example is found in Griffith’s The Adventures of Dollie (1908), in which a kidnapped girl trapped in a barrel cannot be heard by her search party only inches away, when in real life, her rattles and rumblings would be easily audible. Though we cannot know how (or to what degree) silent-era audiences rationalized such alienations between image and sound, they nevertheless had to rationalize these unrealities for themselves, without a standardized, synchronized soundtrack ideologically dictating rationality only in terms of consonance.4 This alienation between image and sound (or its absence) represented an odd moment in which a conventional, mainstream mode of representation was liberatingly illogical. Much as Tom Gunning’s “cinema of attractions” links the madcap visuality of cinema’s embryonic, untutored decades with the antinarrative freedoms of the avant-garde, the very absence of filmic sound produced normative alienations later mirrored in – and sometimes equated with – Surrealism, Dada, Absurdism, and other antirealist creeds.
With Alan Crosland’s Don Juan (1926), the first feature with a fully synchronized track of music and sound effects,5 the ideological cleaving of music and image not only mandated a coherent, unified narrative but rendered that narrative monologically and excessively intelligible.6 Today, the Hollywood score ideologically reinforces emotional and tonal content; in the early silent era, extradiegetic music (performed live) was a much-needed glue, suturing together narrative ideas before the standardization of coherent montage. Certainly, live pianists or organists who accompanied silent films customarily engaged in mimicry and consonant associations, but they had the luxury of improvisation and were not technologically bound to the sound era’s ideology of standardized audiovisual consonance.
Admittedly, more sophisticated film composers can transcend Hollywood hackery and sidestep the usual mimicry of onscreen action, even without engaging a dialectical (that is, oppositional) relationship with the images their music underscores. Film music’s expressionistic (or simply expressive) potential was well articulated by Arthur Bliss, whose score for producer Alexander Korda’s Things to Come (1936) is far better than the stiff performances it strains to animate: “Pure musical sound will always have an importance on film . . . It can bring nostalgia to a landscape, drama to any hour of day or night; it can express undercurrents of human emotion when actors involved show little of it outwardly. It can suggest what is going to happen, it can recall what has happened; most important of all, it can make what has turned dead and dull in a picture come alive . . . ”7
Though Bliss’s pragmatic defense of film scoring rings largely true, its pragmatism is precisely the problem. Accruing a remedial function, film music is expected to enliven dull images, resuscitate incompetent actors, and overcompensate for pedestrian direction. What should be expressive becomes merely corrective; indeed, the difference between expressivity and rectification seems ever slimmer as both musical and directorial conventions take hold.
Though emergent sound cinema had numerous skeptics, it encountered surprisingly few direct assaults, and even the skeptics couldn’t help but acquiesce. Chaplin, a longtime hold-out, eventually complied with The Great Dictator (1940), and Eisenstein, who throughout the 1920s argued for a contrapuntal dialectic between image and sound, produced only stirring audiovisual syntheses when he collaborated with Prokofiev on Alexander Nevsky (1938).8 Since then, Realists from Jean Renoir to Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet have argued against incongruity between image and sound, either for its affront to decent humanism (Renoir’s argument) or for its exacerbation of the culture industry’s technological alienations (the argument of Straub-Huillet and, more recently, the Dogme collective). In his autobiography, Renoir even went so far as to claim that audiovisual incongruity is tantamount to aesthetic blasphemy: “If we were living in the 12th century, a period of lofty civilization, the practitioners of dubbing would be burnt in the marketplace for heresy. Dubbing is equivalent to a belief in the duality of the soul.” For the avant-gardist, however, dubbing may be a rejection of the very notion of the indivisible soul and of Wagnerian “unity” in general.
As commercial cinema was preparing its total commitment to sound, one startling, unique, and admittedly mystifying critique of the “new” audiovisual consonance did emerge from an unlikely source – the American filmmaking partners James Sibley Watson Jr. and Melville Webber. Today Watson and Webber are best known for their shorts The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and Lot in Sodom (1933), both acknowledged classics of the interwar American avant-garde (and, in the case of Sodom, of early queer cinema). Watson and Webber’s nearly forgotten seven-minute 1930 sound short Tomatoes Another Day (aka It Never Happened), however, has more far-reaching ramifications than do Usher and Sodom, films entrenched, respectively, in once fashionable Caligarism and the formalistic dynamism pioneered by the Futurists.9 Transcending any particular aesthetic agenda or modernist trend, Tomatoes instead offers a broad (if bewildering) critique of the ideology of audiovisual congruity, a critique more trenchant now during the reign of late capitalism than it was at the tentative cusp of talkie cinema.
Because nearly all extant criticism on Watson and Webber – particularly that of Lucy Fisher10 and Lisa Cartwright11 – focuses on the stylistic tendencies of Usher and Sodom, we can begin by briefly limning the filmmakers’ more familiar legacy. The Fall of the House of Usher engages in familiar if expertly realized 1920s avant-gardisms – Caligarist scenography, superimpositions, disorienting camera angles – to render a “loose,” only partly coherent fourteen-minute gloss on the Poe story. The film’s images of descending staircases, water dripping into a pond, and, especially, a title screen whose animated “vaginal” opening reveals the titular house’s interior have irresistibly guided many critics (such as Cartwright) toward psychoanalytic readings, which can both address the psychopathology of the Poe source and acknowledge Freud’s de rigueur influence on the late 1920s avant-garde. Unlike the same year’s “Freudian” Un Chien Andalou (1928), which Buñuel had sardonically unspooled to recordings of vulgar tangos, Usher was originally shown silent, with a music score added only in 1959. Presumably, the dead silence of Usher signified an intense, less mediated vision of Poe’s madness, unsullied by music of either thematic reinforcement or surrealist irony.
On the other hand, Lot in Sodom, a deviously homoerotic imagining of the Biblical tale, is a silent film with a synchronized soundtrack (credited to sound designer Lewis Siegel).12 The film begins, like Usher, with a visual “splitting” of the screen, as images of electric wavelengths bifurcate a cloudy panorama over which the treacherous word “SODOM” is superimposed. The “bourgeois” psychoanalysis Cartwright sees in Usher’s expressionism is refreshingly absent, however. After the camera descends into Sodom, and as a soundtrack of dissonant buzzing gives way to equally dissonant, overlapping fanfares, we witness a montage of seminude, stoic dancing boys in a homoerotic display that, in 1933, only an “amateur” auteur could create. In these dynamic sequences – whose striking use of the optical printer is perhaps rivalled only by Norman McLaren’s ballet film Pas de deux (1968) – Watson appropriates constructivist montage for purely rhythmic and erotic effect, wedding a stereoscopic ballet of sensuous bodies to a discordant score filled with glissandi, arpeggios, and extreme contrasts between high and low timbres (e.g., harp and bass trombone) that evoke notions of “separateness” and unrequited longing.
It is true that Sodom’s extradiegetic soundtrack often encourages conventional associations and “unifications.” For instance, when the dissonant score, replete with skirling flute and growling brass, accompanies a fight scene, the dissonance only reinforces the orthodox violence of the fight. Nevertheless, a dissonant score was in and of itself unusual for 1933 (regardless of what images the score intended to reflect), and the music is hardly a “Mickey Mousing” affair that renders fully conventional either Watson’s erotic imagination or the audience’s desires. One might argue that the score’s extreme separation of tones, for instance, reflects not any particular diegetic action but the distance between desirable diegetic bodies and the desiring audience, particularly in an era when realizing homosexual congress remained illegal. Watson furthermore introduces an explicit incongruity when Lot, besieged by devilish sexuality, calls out to God in despair. “How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart?” an intertitle reads – yet Lot, seen in shadowy longshot, never moves his mouth, in defiance of silent film conventions. Here, the film “speaks” through an intertitle while the character remains totally silent, splitting in a surprising way the cinematic soul Renoir wished would remain undivided.
Despite Usher and Sodom’s superficial nods to Robert Weine and F. W. Murnau, Cartwright has argued that the films’ kaleidoscopic fracturing of bodies and perspectives is less the residue of German expressionism than the filmic equivalent of the geometrical Vorticism advanced by Ezra Pound and the British futurists. As such, Watson and Webber betray a particular “literary bias” that has tended to exclude them from the cinematic canon.13 Watson and Webber’s desire to find cinematic analogues to formalist poetics is certainly understandable given their pedigree. Webber was an art history professor by trade, and Watson was known primarily for coediting (with Marianne Moore) the literary journal The Dial, which had been instrumental in promoting Gertrude Stein, Pound, Eliot, frequent Watson collaborator e.e. cummings, and formalism in general. Contextualizing them as elitist members of the “right wing” of modern art, Cartwright maintains that Watson and Webber were morally insulated from the insurrectionary tendencies of the European avant-garde. In other words, they were not “professional” modernists with agendas. Their dynamism was aesthetic and pictorial, not political as it was for Marinetti, and “as literary figures [they] were part of a tradition bent on upholding a North American liberal modernist tradition of separating art and politics.”14 Her emphasis on the pair’s literary pedigree is important, as much of the silent avant-garde – such as Clair’s Entr’acte (1924), a collaboration with provocateurs Picabia and Satie – was designed as a deliberately anti-literary bag of tricks or as antibourgeois experimentalism. However, in light of Watson and Webber’s polemical Tomatoes Another Day, which we’ll now address, it becomes problematic to argue that the filmmakers were categorically apolitical or could not imagine their art having culturally subversive ramifications, especially as satire inherently makes political claims.15
If for Watson language was the stuff of symbolization, not the literalistic, textual speech it would become in talkie cinema, with Tomatoes he temporarily abandoned his visual transformations of the literary to create an outrageous, one-time satire of the “redundancy” of talkie cinema, in which image and sound are inflexibly congruent, forbidding both artist and spectator the freedom of intellectual dissonance and dissent. Recall that Watson was staging his attack immediately following a short-lived period – roughly from 1927 to 1929 – that tentatively, awkwardly experimented with silent-sound “hybrids,” such as the Hollywood spectacle Noah’s Ark (1928) and Clair’s Under the Roofs of Paris (1929). Amusingly, Hollywood called such hybrids “goat gland” films, referring to a contemporaneous cure for impotence that involved the injection of goat glands, much as talkie sequences were inserted into silent films to make them more sellable or “potent.” Presumably for Watson, the crude, hardly potent alternation of silence and sound in middlebrow films such as White Shadows in the South Seas (1928) or The Godless Girl (1929) only demonstrated the obvious superiority of cinematic silence, then at its technical zenith, and the pathetic primitivism of studio-bound sound.16
On the surface, Tomatoes parodies the artless humanism of the “new” sound by presenting a highly compressed heterosexual romantic triangle in which each character goes through the standard paces of intimacy, jealousy, and violent revenge to reach, in only a few minutes, an absurdist resolution (or lack thereof). The film opens in a middle-class apartment with a young man and woman openly declaring exactly what they think or will do before taking action. The man, heavily made up and looking even pastier than the bare-chested Cocteau stand-in, Enrique Rivero, in The Blood of a Poet (1930), turns robotically to the woman: “Oh, there you are,” to which she blankly responds, “My lover.” They are not caricatures but ciphers, their somnambulistic delivery not a tribute to the Caligarist legacy but a revelation that the silent trance, when granted sound, becomes embarrassingly demystified.
After the cuckolding man exits for fear of the husband’s return, the woman says in a long shot, “He is gone . . . ,” and then in an only slightly closer shot, “I am so . . . (yawning) bored.” As she plays solitaire, the middle-aged husband returns home happily whistling. “I have the strangest feeling,” the wife says, “I’m no longer alone in the room.” The husband, struck by a sudden (that is, obvious) realization, exclaims, “Good god, you’re right! Neither am I!” Making impossibly redundant and superfluous the talkie picture’s insistence on dialogue, Watson warns us that the oncoming synchronicities of sound and image will produce mere technological tautegory, not literary allegory. By arguing for the symbolic potentials of “pure” silent film, Watson might apparently adhere to a rather conservative position, at least compared to the Dadaists, who saw symbolist procedures as bourgeois, outdated, and deserving of destruction. Nevertheless, Watson’s satire of talkie literalism has great ramifications, insisting that audiences should be allowed to interpret imagery without the coercions of language and, more generally, ridiculing the consonant audiovisual significations of practically all mainstream films up to the present day.
Tomatoes’ “tautological” dialogue could well act as a critique of nearly every tired genre convention, then and now. After all, what would happen if every film character said aloud exactly what his or her actions were meant to signify? What if, for example, every time a male character drew a gun, he were also to say, “I herewith express manhood,” “I now convey my allegiance to mechanistic notions of nationalism,” or “I exact vengeance in accordance with prearranged generic designs”? What if, every time a female character kissed a man, she were also to say, “I now use my salivary glands to enact erotic and psychic attachment,” “With this oral ritual my womb now prepares itself,” or “Our congress of the mouth is only the prelude to treachery”? Clearly, our ideologies and generic templates would be rightly exposed, and we would come to prefer silence’s fluid hermeneutic possibilities to the firm reductions of language.
As the “plot” of Tomatoes progresses, the husband appears to come slightly to his senses and becomes aware of his cuckoldry. “Who was that tramp I met going out?” he says. “Oh, he is my lover,” the wife frankly replies. But the husband’s response slips back into irrationality and contradiction: “I see . . . then no one has been here! I knew I could trust you!” While the husband’s illogic indulges the gamesmanship of Dada, it also suggests that the truly illogical art is that of the banal romance narrative, shorn of any higher aspirations. When the lover returns looking for his hat, the husband produces a gun. “You have chiseled your way into my home,” he says, handing to the lover a chisel – Watson’s unsubtle reminder that superfluous imagery can degrade language just as easily as synched language can degrade the image. Pushing the farce toward its conclusion, the husband shoots his wife instead of lighting the cigarette she holds forth. “Oh what have I done, what have I done?” he exclaims – but she at first refuses to die. The supposedly revolutionary revolver, the obligatory symbol of surrealists and agitationists, turns out to be quite harmless – like a musical score, it is little more than an ineffectual noisemaker. The lover then takes his turn with the gun, firing at the wife off-camera. “You’ll get life for this,” the husband says, before taking the gun himself, threatening the lover with it, and firing wantonly as the screen fades to black, the sound of gunshots only pretending to have real impact.
Watson’s avant-gardism in Tomatoes – a film, notably, with no music whatsoever – is extraordinarily self-conscious, cleverly subverting not only congruity between sound and image but congruity within sound itself. During the film’s seven minutes, the dialogue becomes progressively less tautological and more inherently irrational, as the insertion of nonsensical puns (“I underwear my shirt is”) and non sequiturs (the wife declaims the film’s title at an arbitrary moment) fracture any hope of narrative unity. Language collapses onto itself, signs and signifiers become untethered, and any hope of a “healthy,” productive dialecticism between image and sound is soon sabotaged.
By calling Tomatoes “polemical” above, I am obviously not suggesting that Watson and Webber, with their private, chamber-like burlesque, were positing a goal-oriented manifesto or advocating social unrest. Nevertheless, the film does amount to more than a simple mockery of the crudity and conventionality of early sound film, for beneath its Dadaist veneer resides a rational critique of the implicit censorships audiovisual synchronicity would bring. After all, the multivalent gazes possible within the silent spaces of Lot in Sodom would be replaced with a literalistic and transparent language that would speak only the dominant heterosexist tongue. Whether or not actual filmmaking practices in the silent era were less heterosexist than those after sound’s arrival is not really at issue, though silent film conventions – especially comic ones – clearly did generate more images of dandyism, effeminacy, and polymorphous perversity than did the early sound era, even before the Hays Code.17 More to the point, the aesthetics of silence facilitated imaginative spaces in which audiences, unmolested by the linearity or realism of dialogue, could subjectively imagine sexualities that diverged from the screen’s ostensible representations. Thus is created not a dialectic between sound and image – a dialectic that synchronized sound would sadistically render consonant and monologic anyway – but one between plastic image and active, participatory spectator.
In many ways, sound film has long been an ideological battleground. Realists and documentarians have railed against the alienations of extradiegetic sound, and modernists have embraced the liberating potentials of antirealist devices, from the sound fragmentation and use of voice-overs common in the nouvelle vague or (as in silent film) the outright denial of sound realism. The inherent conservatism of the Realist position inevitably finds ancient roots in Aristotle’s Poetics, which (narrowly) defines dramatic beauty as a unification of elements that mirrors the integrity of a living organism. Though they pretend to naturalness, Aristotle’s tight unities of time and space in fact arbitrarily use nature to measure the beauty of artifice. The grandiose totalizations of Wagner’s music dramas, contrarily, are born of distant myth but seek unification through megalomaniacal theatrical pretense. Clearly, Tomatoes’ internal contradictions and ridiculous brevity affront both Aristotle’s equation between beauty and organic wholeness and Wagner’s multimedia megalomania. Tomatoes is, furthermore, so deliberately bereft of beauty that – unlike many surrealist works or even Watson and Webber’s own House of Usher – it has no style that could be appropriated by mainstream film and thereby made “congruent” with hegemonic forms of representation.
Though standard critical appraisals would deem Tomatoes a deliberately crude affront to modern technical sophistication, it is itself the sophisticated artifact, its small rebellion resonating more strongly in a media age intolerant of aesthetic “dissonance” and intent on madly synchronizing nearly every aspect of thought, culture, and behavior. Because congruity suppresses deviance, whether aesthetic, political, or ideological, coercive musical congruities have ramifications far beyond popular cinema. The Watson of 1930 could have hardly imagined how fabricated sound would come to invade nearly every crevasse of commercial and public life, as the sound environments of stores, shopping centers, offices, lobbies, websites, and television ads seek to infect and synchronize our behavior with excessively consonant background music (Anton Webern and Cecil Taylor are obviously banned from the supermarket loudspeaker). If the omnipresence of (bad) music unifies us with the dominant culture in almost religious fashion, we’ve still something to learn from Watson’s cultural atheism.
In Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm asks whether freedom were a positive or negative achievement – that is, whether freedom is the actual attainment of an external thing or what remains when restrictions, taboos, and coercions are stripped away. In its own, deceptively small way, Tomatoes Another Day seems to suggest that freedom is both an attainment and a rejection, for freedom is found when we at once safeguard the autonomous spaces of the silent imagination and cast off imposed, unwanted, and literalizing limitations.
Note: This essay originally appeared, with some amendments, in the anthology Film and Literary Modernism, ed. Robert McParland, published by Cambridge Scholars, 2013. Republished with the express consent of Cambridge Scholars.
- From the liner notes of Symphonies of the Planets: NASA Voyager Recordings, a CD released by Delta Music (Los Angeles), 1992. [↩]
- Kerr, Walter. The Silent Clowns. New York: Da Capo, 1980, 27. [↩]
- Kerr, 27. [↩]
- The key term here is “standardized.” While theater pianists or organists would obviously direct audiences’ reactions, the absence of standardized scores before the mid-1920s potentially destabilized the audiovisual hermeneutics we today take for granted. [↩]
- Some visual oddities with synchronized scores did precede Don Juan, but none were commercial features with wide corporate distribution. The earliest such example probably occurred at Paris’ Grèvin Wax Museum in 1892, when a synchronized score by Gaston Paulin accompanied the persistence-of-vision animations of Emile Reynaud, inventor of the praxinoscope. [↩]
- Before the standardization of sound, there were some creative attempts to make (soundless) dialogue and image cohere. Notable is The Chamber Mystery (1920), which superimposes “dialogue balloons” onto the film image, in the manner of a comic strip. [↩]
- “The Film Music of Arthur Bliss,” booklet notes to Marco Polo Film Classics, Arthur Bliss, 1990. Quote originates from John Huntley, British Film Music, Focal Press, 1957. [↩]
- This is not to be unduly harsh to Eisenstein, who had little recourse after the socialist realism doctrines of 1932 and 1936. [↩]
- Reportedly, Watson did not think much of Tomatoes Another Day and effectively buried the film during his lifetime (1894-1982). Of course, Watson’s own (biased) opinion of his work has no bearing on its potential value or ramifications. In recent years, Tomatoes has resurfaced on Kino’s DVD anthology Avant Garde – Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s (2005), whose liner notes describe it as a “Dadaist” film. [↩]
- Fisher, Lucy. “The Films of James Sibley Watson, Jr. and Melville Webber: A Reconsideration.” Millennium Film Journal, Vol. 19, 1987-88, 40-49. Of minimal relevance to our discussion, Fisher’s article is mainly concerned with highlighting the influence of German expressionism on Watson and Webber and insisting on their inclusion in the avant-garde canon. [↩]
- Cartwright, Lisa. “U.S. Modernism and the Emergence of ‘The Right Wing of Film Art’: The Films of James Sibley Watson, Jr., and Melville Webber.” Lovers of Cinema, ed. Jan-Christopher Horak. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, 156-179. [↩]
- Notably, the subversive, queer, or generally “alternative” legacy of Lot in Sodom lives on in other guises, as the film circulates in a number of rescored prints accompanied by punk, industrial, or ambient soundtracks. [↩]
- Vorticism, a cousin to Futurism, was a movement that informed both painting and poetry; Cartwright points out that Watson and Webber’s “literary bias” owes something to Pound’s Vorticism, but she ignores the possible influence of Vorticist painting. [↩]
- Cartwright, 158. [↩]
- Cartwright’s analysis also does not entirely explain how the filmmakers’ “North American” division of art and politics, while obviously opposed to Futurism, differs from the work of Europeans such as Walter Ruttmann or Oskar Fischinger, whose abstract expressionisms were likewise divorced from political – or even narrative – contexts and meanings. [↩]
- Tomatoes was also devised a year prior to more adroit, less stagy sound films, such as Clair’s Le Million (1931) and Fritz Lang’s M (1931). It is debatable whether more skillful executions of sound synchronization would have dissuaded Watson and Webber from their position. [↩]
- Examples are legion and fairly obvious. Buster Keaton typically adopted the role of dandyish outsider ambivalent about maturity and its attendant heterosexual commitments (e.g., Seven Chances , Go West , and Steamboat Bill, Jr. ), while Chaplin’s preternatural boyishness not only marks him as polymorphously perverse (to use Freud’s term) but also renders his heterosexual entanglements unconvincing, even when mandated by the plot. [↩]