Review: From Reverence to Rape

TITLE: From Reverence to Rape
AUTHOR: Molly Haskell
PUBLICATION: 1987 by University of Chicago Press
FORMAT: Paperback

BOOK SYNOPSIS

This is an updated edition to Molly Haskell’s film study from the twenties through the sixties and early seventies. It includes a new chapter with perceptions on the role of women in the movies into the decade after the book’s original publication.

 

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT . . .

I love books. I love movies. Combining the two has been a recipe for success in my opinion. Thanks to books I grew up reading it’s hard to look at some movies the same way again. I was unable to get From Reverence to Rape in the library’s somewhat extensive loan system (which kind of amuses me that I can get a guide on lesbian sex but not a sociology study on the treatment of women in the movies), but luckily one of my favorite bookshops was able to hook me up with a copy.

Most of the chapters are organized by the decades that Haskell is dealing with those particular films. I do like how extensive her knowledge of material is and the way in which she presents her arguments. This particular edition is an updated version with an extra chapter at the end demonstrating another look at the evolution of women in the movies up to the late eighties when the second edition of From Reverence to Rape was published. Haskell devotes one of her chapters to comparing how women in American and European films differed. The last chapter of the original edition shows dismay at the state of the film industry, but the chapter added in the latter portion of the proceeding decade offers a glimmer of hope in the state of movie affairs. It leads me to wonder how things would be if there were chapters on the films from the nineties and the last decade.

There is a passage describing the effect of television on the film industry that begins with the following on page 234:

For in robbing movies of their mass audience, television had stolen more than bodies and box-office figures. It had destroyed the faith: the belief in their fictions and fables by which the movies touched base with millions of viewers and had the authority of received religion…

I immediately thought of all those articles popping up on the entertainment websites about the movie business belly-aching in response to their loss of revenues. They complain about instant streaming taking away their audience instead of looking at the deeper root of their failures to amass audiences. (I won’t discuss it here but this would have the makings of a great post for a future date.)

I have always thought of myself as something of a rabid cinephile. I’ve by no means seen everything (even some of those great classics that I won’t admit to), but my viewing experience has been quite extensive. At least I thought it was until I read Haskell’s book and felt totally owned. There were some movies that I was familiar with so I didn’t have to totally rely on Haskell’s descriptions, Gone with the Wind for example. Most of the others? I was in the dark and this book makes me want to watch them. I believe that From Reverence to Rape is a book that I need to read again in order to fully appreciate the statement that she is trying to make, and I need more of a basic familiarity with all these movies that are referenced if not explicitly described by her. Although I found there were times that I could relate to what Haskell was trying to get at in her portrait. While I did not know the Western films she was talking about, I merely substituted the themes and descriptions for modern films that I had watched enough to form something of a similar example, like American Outlaws.

Do you consider a book life changing if you want to go through your entire film collection and watch all those movies again to see if you look at them differently now? Okay, maybe I haven’t been that altered, but it would be interesting to look at women in films that I’ve always watched. Even before I started reading this book I was falling into the analysis-of-movies mode by seeing things I never realized before in 28 Days Later. (I wanted to refresh my memory of the film for when I planned to pick up 28 Weeks Later from the library the following day.) I’m sure that Haskell hasn’t made it any easier because I watched He’s Just Not that into You when I reached the halfway mark in her book. I had thoughts. Would I have had these thoughts without exposure to this book or would I have just lovingly soaked up the spectacle of Scarlett Johansson and Drew Barrymore on screen?

Did I like this book? Yes, of course. I would recommend it for any cinephile to look into if you can get your hands on a copy.

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