Sunday, November 25, 2007

Breaking the Code: Baby Doll (1956) Article

Here is my entry in the booklet for Elia Kazan's Baby Doll. This one was by far the easiest to write.

Broken Code: Impure love must not be presented in such a way to arouse passion or morbid curiosity on the part of the audience.

Stories that take place in the deep South are wonderful exaggerated studies of the human condition, especially when its character's lives seem to fester in the sweltering heat. And nothing festers better than a good Tennessee William's story. Controversial to its very core, Elia Kazan's adaptaion of Baby Doll is true resistance against the code. The repressed and expressed passions in this film are as hot as the exposed light bulbs that hang from the ceilings. And when those two opposing passions collide the results are explosive. Nothing is hidden, nothing is coy, its all exposed and has either the effect of arousal or discomfort. Baby Doll is a woman-child, married too young to Archie Lee, whose frustration with his unconsummated marriage affects his cotton-gin business. Rival, the hot-blooded Mr. Vacero (literally Mr. Cowboy), sweeps into town stealing away Archie's business. In retaliation, Archie burns down Mr. Vacero's gin. But what he doesn't expect, is the hit below the belt when Mr. Vacero manages to seduce his previously frigid young wife.

The swing scene is by far the most infamous and passionate. It is difficult to watch it without experience a quickening of the heart and shortness of breath. With every touch and caress, Mr. Vacero brings out the hidden lust in Baby Doll and brings about her transition from child to woman on the eve of her 20th birthday. Such power that sizzled from the screen, terrified audiences and censors alike leading to a national boycott. Raw sexual energy like that had never been seen before in a film and people immediately resisted it. In 1956, a primary figure in the Catholic church, Cardinal Spellman , spoke out about the film telling all Catholics that if they dared watch this movie, they would commit a sin against God. It eventually got pulled from theatres. Yet, this low-budget film stood out as an legitimately amazing film and received 4 Academy Award nominations. It marked a turning point in how sexuality could be expressed on film and paved the way for the expression of passion in cinema.

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