Monday, November 19, 2007

Breaking the Code: The Three Faces of Eve Article

Here is the first of six articles that will go in the booklet inside the DVD boxed set. I'm writing one on each of the films plus an introduction to the history of the Hays Code and censorship. I have no idea how long they should be, so this may expand or shrink, but its the general idea. And since the professor won't read the text, he's only looking at design, I can write whatever I want.



Broken Code - Repellent Subject - Apparent cruelty to children or animals

The Three Faces of Eve (1957) is less an example of Hollywood's rebellion against the Hays Code and more a specimen of how restrictive it was to storytelling and how it could not stop the wheels of social change from turning. The film starts with an opening narration in which a psychologist introduces the case of Eve White, a woman who has multiple personality disorder. Based on a true story and provided to the audience as educational rather than entertainment, was one of the ways this film worked around the codes restrictions. Educational material, presented as such, had more leeway than a regular film which only had a story to tell. Three Faces of Eve did something great for film history. It explored the societal and emotional dynamics of mental illness in a new and interesting way. In so many films in the years before, characters were either inherently good or bad or in the case of film noir, ambigously both. It was stepping into murky waters when a character did bad things yet also captured audience's sympathy. Case in point, in Three Faces of Eve, we have Eve White, a quiet unassuming woman. She is a simple housewife and in submission to her backwardly stubborn and aggressive husband. Eve gets these terrible headaches in which her alter-ego Eve Black manifests. This personality is the polar-opposite of Eve White. She's single, flirtatious and manipulative. She even proves herself capable of great violence when tries unsuccessfully to strangle her own daughter to death.

The two "Black" and the "White" personalities into yet another personality deconstructs the ultimate binary of character that has been created by the mental illness. In turn, it deconstructs the social stereotypes of good housewife and it's opposite, cheap floozy to a more grounded image of woman. The two Eves, biblical in their shifts from good to bad, become Jane, symbolic of Janus the two-headed good. Jane is the medium who encapsulates the history of both Eves into one sensible woman. She is independent and has the clarity of mind reconciliate the deep-seated trouble that is festering in the two other personalities. This represents the underlying message of the film, which is a warning against the repression of the female and that individuality and the freedom to be oneself is what balances the person. One could argue that Three Faces of Eve could be one of the minor and quite early germinations in the complex web of the feminist movement. Whether it had been intended that way or not, there is no denying the power of this film.

Trivia:
1) June Allyson was talked out of starring in this film by her husband Dick Powell who thought that she would be a miscast.
2) Joanne Woodward won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Eve White/Eve Black/Jane.
3) Orson Welles was considered for the roll of Dr. Luther, played by Lee J. Cobb, but instead decided to devote his time to directing Touch of Evil (1958).

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