Visions of domestic life

At our first class meeting, a series of movies were mentioned to give a sense of period, the hierarchies of domestic life (particularly between families and their servants), and the kind of melodramatic gestural life that Ellen will be exploring in relationship to the main character’s psychological lives. To whet your appetites for these sources, I’ve found a few clips.

The first is from Downton Abbey broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre (PBS) in January of this year (scheduled to be rebroadcast after we close Doll’s House, December 2011). It is set in 1912, so a bit later than either Doll’s House (or Ragtime); however, a lot of same constrains of those times continue. In this scene, we see the young man set to inherit the Abbey (because the daughter of its owner, as a woman, cannot) talk about his plans to hold a job outside of being a gentleman.

For those of you who saw the first broadcast, you might try to find the BBC version because PBS cut 2 hours of material for the showing in the states. Maybe they’ll reinstate those scenes for the rebroadcast since the series was so popular.

The second clip is from the 1970s Masterpiece series “Upstairs Downstairs” which is set a bit earlier: 1903. This is the opening scene from the first episode. In it you see a young woman, Sarah, try to pass herself off as a French maid in order to gain employment. She immediately gives herself away to both the other servants and the lady of the house. It’s a great example of the hierarchy of servants that existed in these houses.

Just a tidbit to note, in 2010 the BBC and Masterpiece did a sequel also called “Upstairs Downstairs” set in 1936. The amazing British actress, Jean Marsh, who played Rose the house parlor maid, reprised her role. In this scene she takes a look around her old place of employment.

Robert Altman’s Gosford Park was also mentioned. It is set in 1932 (like the “Upstairs/Downstairs” sequel it’s pre-WWII) and follows a weekend of events from both the perspective of the gentlemen and ladies at a country estate and their servants. The following is about the first 8 minutes. You’ll notice that a number of these stories make their subject a young (usually a woman) servant and her rather new experience/understanding of this world of landed gentry.

The last example for this post is from Billy Wilder’s 1950 film, Sunset Boulevard starring actual silent film actress Gloria Swanson as washed-up silent film actress Norma Desmond and William Holden as Joe Gillis, her reluctant paramour/screenwriter. This is the scene of their first meeting. Norma mistakes Joe for the mortician come to collect her dead pet monkey.

And for contrast, a clip from the 1919 silent film Shifting Sands starring Ms. Swanson in her heyday. This is just a bit of the kind of melodramatic film acting that I believe Ellen was referencing on Tuesday. Enjoy!