Nordic Exposures: Scandinavian Identities in Classical Hollywood Cinema by Arne Lunde

3559a7498ce2fd9-261x361.jpg Author Arne Lunde
Isbn 295996862
File size 1.3MB
Year 2010
Pages 224
Language English
File format PDF
Category cinema


new directions in scandinavian studies Terje Leiren and Christine Ingebritsen, Series Editors new directions in scandinavian studies This series offers interdisciplinary approaches to the study of the Nordic region of Scandinavia and the Baltic States and their cultural connections in North America. By redefining the boundaries of Scandinavian studies to include the Baltic States and Scandinavian America, the series presents books that focus on the study of the culture, history, literature, and politics of the North. Small States in International Relations edited by Christine Ingebritsen, Iver B. Neumann, Sieglinde Gstohl, and Jessica Beyer Danish Cookbooks: Domesticity and National Identity, 1616–1901 by Carol Gold Crime and Fantasy in Scandinavia: Fiction, Film, and Social Change by Andrew Nestingen Selected Plays of Marcus Thrane translated and introduced by Terje I. Leiren Munch’s Ibsen: A Painter’s Visions of a Playwright by Joan Templeton Knut Hamsun: The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance by Monika Žagar Nordic Exposures: Scandinavian Identities in Classical Hollywood Cinema by Arne Lunde scandinavian identities in classical hollywood cinema  Arne Lunde university of washington press Seattle & London This publication is supported by a grant from the Scandinavian Studies Publication Fund. Copyright © 2010 by University of Washington Press Printed in the United States of America 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of the author. Design by Thomas Eykemans All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. university of washington press p.o. Box 50096, Seattle, wa 98145, u.s.a. library of congress cataloging-in-publication data Lunde, Arne Olav. Nordic exposures : Scandinavian identities in classical Hollywood cinema / Arne Lunde. p. cm. — (New directions in Scandinavian studies) Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-295-99045-3 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. National characteristics, Scandinavian, in motion pictures. 2. Motion pictures—United States—History—20th century. I. Title. pn1995.9.n358l86 2010 791.43’6529395—dc22    2010006139 The paper used in this publication is acid-free and 90 percent recycled from at least 50 percent post-consumer waste. It meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ansi z39.48-1984. For Sharen and Mickey Contents  Acknowledgments  ix Introduction  3 1 racializing vinland The Nordic Conquest of Whiteness in Technicolor’s The Viking  16 2 scandinavian/american whiteface Ethnic Whiteness and Assimilation in Victor Sjöström’s He Who Gets Slapped  38 3 hotel imperial The Border Crossings of Mauritz Stiller  64 4 garbo talks! Scandinavians, the Talkie Revolution, and the Crisis of Foreign Voice  90 5 charlie chan is swedish The Asian Racial Masquerades and Nordic Otherness of Warner Oland  117 6 two-faced women Hollywood’s and Third Reich Cinema’s War for the Nordic Female Star  145 conclusion   176 Notes  181 Bibliography  199 Index  207 Acknowledgments  F irst off, I wish to give heartfelt thanks to the colleagues who read chapters of this work in various stages and generously offered invaluable commentary and feedback. The rigorous critiques and encouraging advice of the following individuals were especially key: Mark Sandberg (a wise and inspiring mentor), Carol J. Clover, Linda Haverty Rugg, Linda Williams, Elisabeth Oxfeldt, and John Fullerton. Your expertise and enthusiasm made this book much stronger. I wish to also thank the many other colleagues in Scandinavian studies and cinema studies whose questions, comments, and insights at conferences and elsewhere all contributed vitally to the larger book project. Special thanks go to Larry Chadbourne, Sylvia Chong, Michael Coleman, Thomas DuBois, Allyson Field, Brigid Gaffikin, Lotta GavelAdams, Bo Florin, Chris Holmlund, Laura Horak, Ursula Lindqvist, Tamao Nakahara, Diane Negra, Christopher Oscarson, Misa Oyama, Birgitta Steene, Anna Westerstahl Stenport, Casper Tybjerg, Sonia Wichmann, Rochelle Wright, and Solveig Zempel. Warmest thanks also to my colleagues in the Scandinavian Section at ucla : Mary Kay Norseng, Ross Shideler, Timothy Tangherlini, and Kendra Willson. An earlier version of chapter four (“Garbo Talks!: Scandinavians, the Talkie Revolution, and the Crisis of Foreign Voice”) was previously published in article form in the anthology Screen Culture: History and ix Textuality in the Stockholm Studies in Cinema series. Kind thanks to John Libbey Publishing for permission to publish that article in revised form. Various chapters in development were presented at a number of conferences, including annual meetings of scms (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) and sass (Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study), and at the “Border Crossings: Rethinking Silent Cinema” conference in Berkeley in 2008. The wide-ranging scope of this study would not have been possible without the kind assistance and cooperation of research archives and individuals in Scandinavia and the United States. In the Nordic countries, I wish to thank the following institutions and individuals: John Fullerton and Jan Olsson at the Department of Cinema Studies at Stockholm University; the archive and library staffs at the Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm and the Norwegian Film Institute in Oslo; and Thomas Christensen and staff at the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen. In Los Angeles, many thanks to the following for their expert assistance: Barbara Hall, Faye Thompson, and everyone at the Margaret Herrick Library and Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study research site of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Ned Comstock and the personnel at the Cinematic Arts Library and the Warner Bros. Archives at the University of Southern California; and the ucla Film and Television Archive and the ucla Instructional Media Collections and Services. Finally, I would like to warmly thank the following people at University of Washington Press: coeditors Terje Leiren and Christine Ingebritsen, for their visionary development of the New Directions in Scandinavian Studies series; the two readers whose in-depth constructive criticism and advice greatly benefited the manuscript; copy editor Kerrie Maynes, for helping make the book much more precise and less subject to minor errors than it might have been otherwise; and to my editor, Jacqueline Ettinger, for her patient, professional, and enthusiastic guidance of the manuscript to its published completion. And last but not least, I wish to thank my wife, Sharen Manolopoulos, for all her love and support and for making our life journey together such great fun. x  acknowledgments nordic exposures Introduction  T his book is an exploration of how Scandinavian whiteness and ethnicity functioned in Hollywood cinema during the period roughly between the two World Wars. The field of ethnic studies has generally tended to overlook Scandinavians in America as a category worthy of study, assuming it to be comparatively unproblematic, if not invisible. Scandinavian immigrants were presumably so easily assimilated into American whiteness as to hardly deserve mention. Within the American cultural imaginary, the Scandinavian has been marked as the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned Nordic (Vikings, winter-sport enthusiasts, or comic stereotypes like the “Dumb Swede” blockhead, for example). At the outset of this study, I had intended to investigate only this presumed “hyperwhite” position that Scandinavians have historically played at the far side of whiteness in an American cultural and social spectrum of color. As Richard Dyer stated in his landmark study White: “Whiteness as a coalition also incites the notion that some whites are whiter than others, with the Anglo-Saxons, Germans and Scandinavians usually providing the apex of whiteness under British imperialism, US development and Nazism.”1 In the American popular imagination at least, Scandinavians ranked with the Germans and English as the paradigmatic Aryan whites. Further examinations of this Scandinavian “whiter shade of pale” category in Hollywood, 3 however, produced a number of unexpected findings and raised a number of questions. How could Charlie Chan be Swedish, for example? Was it possible that some Scandinavians in America might have had to become white rather than being sufficiently or too white already? As one film in my study allegorically suggested, could Scandinavians actually never be white enough in the United States of the 1920s and earlier periods? The Scandinavians-in-Hollywood and Hollywood-on-Scandinavians cases I encountered emerged as both racial and ethnic, creating a dialectical crossroads full of intriguing paradoxes and tensions. To name a few examples, why were émigré Swedish actors like Warner Oland and Nils Asther so popular in and identified with their roles of Asian racial masquerade in the 1920s and 1930s? During World War II, why were the reigning female stars in Hollywood (Ingrid Bergman) and Third Reich cinema (Zarah Leander and Kristina Söderbaum) Swedish émigrés whose Nordic and Aryan “naturalness” was a major component of their marketing appeal? In the early sound period of the 1930s, why was El Brendel (a Philadelphia-born dialect comedian with no Scandinavian heritage at all) credulously considered in the trade and fan press discourses to be Hollywood’s second-most-famous “Swede,” after Greta Garbo? How could Scandinavianness seem so mutable and constructed at moments (allowing for voice impersonations and cross-racial and white-on-white masquerades), and then be deployed as an essential, biological, and natural category at others? In the course of my research, I discovered how little scholarship to date has actually navigated inside and within prevailing paradigms of Hollywood whiteness itself. In order to properly contextualize the goals and stakes of my own project, I therefore wish to address first scholarly directions and approaches to whiteness. The past two decades have seen major contributions to the emergent field of critical whiteness studies as an expansion of critical race theory and cultural studies. Scholars from a range of disciplines have increasingly argued that whiteness and all race formations are powerful mythologies that have no real genetic or biological essence but are instead products of the highly malleable contingencies of politics, ideology, history, and culture.2 Dyer in particular has theorized the naturalized invisibility of whiteness as essential to its hegemonic power as the unmarked, normative, nonraced identity position that is “at once everything and nothing.” 4  introduction Increasingly, cultural critics have also explored the myriad ways in which Hollywood films have historically policed a color line separating whiteness from nonwhiteness. A key anthology, The Birth of Whiteness: Race and the Emergence of U.S. Cinema, for example, both critiques hegemonic racist and racializing practices in the development of American silent cinema (in films by D. W. Griffith, Cecil B. De­Mille, and Robert Flaherty, for example) and reveals oppositional points of resistance (Oscar Micheaux, Sessue Hayakawa, and the Jack Johnson fight films).3 That collection’s unofficial sequel, Classic Hollywood, Classic Whiteness, further mapped the complex intersections of race, representation, and the Hollywood studio system, from the advent of the sound film to about 1960. One of that anthology’s overriding goals was to historicize and analyze ways in which a color line defined by whiteness directed the trajectory of the classical Hollywood style during those three decades.4 In the preface, editor Daniel Bernardi describes whiteness as a performance in which “there are no white people per se; only those who pass as white.” “We must recognize,” he writes, “that the myth of white people, however powerful and long-lived, is not transhistorical or even transcultural. . . . The Irish have not always been white, neither have the Jews, Italians, or for that matter, the Aryans and Jesus Christ. The ranks of whiteness have changed with history thanks to mutations in culture, dialects, cosmetics, and “miscegenation.”5 These two collections and other works by scholars such as Joanne Hershfield, Arthur Knight, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, and Hernán Vera and Andrew Gordon (among others) have further documented and interpreted how American film, from its inception, has reified, racialized, and policed a color line that excluded African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans from the privileges of whiteness (not least in segregationist employment practices and in representations inside a national imaginary).6 Collectively, these studies have unveiled whiteness in American classical cinema as the mythologizing norm by which all nonwhite “Others” fail by comparison. Bernardi admits, however, that the project of addressing whiteness in Classical Hollywood cinema remains far from complete, and he has called for wider-ranging explorations of race in genres including film noir and black films, in John Ford westerns such as The Searchers, and in other canonized classics such as Gone With the Wind.7 In answer to introduction   5 Bernardi’s still somewhat binary-driven (White/Other) short wish list, my own book points toward and demonstrates expanded critical investigations into the interstitial and ambiguous spaces between racial whiteness and white ethnicity.8 As a godfather of cultural whiteness studies, Richard Dyer has been crucial in developing a comprehensive paradigm of a normative white race, a socially real mythology that has colonized the western imaginary over centuries of visual representation. But his influential work has not been interested at all in white ethnicity nor in how ethnicity seems to have a cultural life of its own. For Dyer, the English, Scandinavians, and Germans comprise an alliance of three groups that conflate into an idealized and essentially unified Northern European whiteness. In White, Dyer offhandedly addresses this loose troika of Aryan whiteness on only a couple occasions. Briefly referring to associations between white whiteness and high altitudes and cold climates, he writes, for example, “This is also the region of North Europeans, the whitest whites in the racial hierarchy . . . the North is the epitome of the ‘high, cold’ places that promoted the vigour, cleanliness, piety, and enterprise of whiteness.”9 Scandinavian whiteness merely becomes an unproblematic variation of a superwhite racial imaginary, but not a category that in itself invites much further scrutiny beyond its “mountain-top” exoticism. An increasing number of scholars have begun to explore the border zones where cultural constructions of racial whiteness intersect with ethnic and national particularities.10 Diane Negra is one of the few academics to have explored the Scandinavian “hyperwhite” category and other problematics of Hollywood “off-white” stardom. Her penetrating star studies in Off-White Hollywood: American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom examine the disruptive aspects of European and Euro-American ethnicity in the “white ethnic” star personae of Colleen Moore (Irish American), Pola Negri (Polish), Sonja Henie (Norwegian), Hedy Lamarr (Austrian), Marisa Tomei (Italian American), and Cher (Armenian, Native American, and other ethnic backgrounds).11 For Negra, white ethnic actresses remain “border agents” “whose qualified whiteness can trouble the security of white identity whose power has historically derived from its status as the normative unnamed.”12 Her chapter “Sonja Henie in Hollywood: Whiteness, Athleticism and Americanization” investigates the excessive and insistent hyperwhiteness of Henie 6  introduction in Hollywood publicity discourse and how its occluded Aryan taint required mitigation and Americanization as the Nazi threat in Europe increasingly impacted the United States. Among Negra’s six subjects, Henie stands in for the “too-white” female ethnic star in America, the Scandinavian on the far side of Anglo-American normative whiteness. Meanwhile, Chris Holmlund, in her chapter “The Swede as ‘Other’” in Impossible Bodies: Femininity and Masculinity at the Movies, undertakes the first scholarly exploration of the unaccountable strangeness of the Swedish male in Hollywood cinema.13 She engages three cases from divergent decades—examining how Hollywood used Swedish émigré actors Nils Asther in the 1920s and 1930s and Dolph Lundgren in the 1980s, as well as how Swedes were portrayed in American westerns of the 1950s. Holmlund identifies the Swedish male as “the hole at the heart of whiteness” and as a figure who points “to the existence of frictions, contradictions, and restrictions within, and on, whiteness.”14 Negra and Holmlund have thus respectively used single chapters within larger projects on ethnicity and/or gender to at least begin to get at aspects of why Scandinavian whiteness in Hollywood is a problematic category worth acknowledging and theorizing. Until this book, however, no comprehensive book-length study on the subject has existed. Both Negra and Holmlund have illuminated several of the metaphorical antechambers of Scandinavian whiteness and ethnicity in Hollywood. The present study has ventured to further kick open the front door of the subject itself and navigate inside the many rooms of this strange mansion. Another central influence on and model for this study was Michael Rogin’s work on ethnic identity and racial masquerade in Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot.15 In this 1996 book, Rogin maps some of the overlooked internal hierarchies and paradoxical fissures of the whiteness paradigm in Hollywood while fully situating such phenomena within a larger historical and cultural frame. He traces how Jewish immigrant identity in America and Hollywood was both racial and ethnic within the powerful social contexts of the time periods covered. Weaving together larger historical threads of American political history and practices of cross-racial masquerade (for example, nineteenth-century blackface and the Irish), Rogin explores how Jewish performers in Hollywood, most famously introduction   7 Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, similarly used blackface minstrelsy to become more “white” in the United States. A number of sociological and historical studies (several cited earlier) have documented how immigrant groups then considered less-than-white, such as Jews, Italians, and the Irish, underwent a social process of gradual whitening in America. Rogin’s study goes further by penetratingly analyzing how social history informs cultural production, how race and ethnicity can collide dialectically, and how American racial identities and Hollywood ethnic representations coexist, influence, and even transform each other. Along similar comprehensive lines, my own project is interested in the transformation of historical and social forces into film practice and cultural production. My case studies look at the subset of Scandinavians in Hollywood within the larger frame of Scandinavians in American history and culture (going back to the Viking period of exploration). Meanwhile, I examine not only how Hollywood uses the Scandinavian category but how Scandinavians have used Hollywood as well. Like Rogin, I am interested in a highly vexed split between ethnicity and race that plays out culturally in a whitening process of American assimilation. What is radically new in this case is that the subjects are presumed to be Nordics. My study thus poses questions such as: Did Scandinavians become white in America? Are Scandinavians actually white? And if they aren’t white, is anyone? Critical whiteness studies have revealed whiteness as a construction. But Scandinavian whiteness and ethnicity have thus far escaped much scholarly scrutiny because of the Scandinavians’ reputation for nearseamless assimilation. In the Dyerian paradigm of the white race imaginary, English or Anglo-Saxon whiteness (and its American and British Commonwealth colonial offshoots) remains the most normative and thus the most invisible category. But Scandinavians and Germans, as Dyer’s quintessential and “ideal” fellow Protestant whites from Northern Europe, don’t trouble his schematic as much as give it a slightly exotic further bleaching of mountain-air chill. While Scandinavians in America do not quite reside in the founding-father first-wave category, as do the English, their second-wave mass immigrant status still carries strong cultural assumptions and expectations in the American popular imagination about their essential whiteness. Scandinavians have 8  introduction remained a kind of always-already white category inside cultural and ideological constructions of American whiteness. “Scandinavian” and “Nordic” are more complex categories than they might at first appear. From an American perspective, the traditional separate identities of the Scandinavian countries have tended to conflate historically. Inside Scandinavia, the national identities of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark remain strongly defined and delineated by their inhabitants. Outside Scandinavia, however, such distinctions have remained much looser and indeterminate. Similarly, the geographical definition of “Nordic” connotes the five Nordic nations of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland. Yet from an outside point of view, the five countries are often collapsed into a general rubric of “Scandinavia.” Such technical distinctions may seem unimportant to anyone outside the region itself. But the slipperiness of these categories in the American imagination is part of the issue at stake here. Nation states are traditionally advertised and perceived as homogeneous, but a generic yet mutable concept of Scandinavia seems prevalent within the United States. At moments, Scandinavia is seen as a supranational region functioning as a unified ethnicity in America itself. Yet on other occasions, one nation can stand in for all the others. In mid-1920s Hollywood, for example, the pan-Scandinavian émigré-artist community of Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian actors and directors was labeled in the trade press as “the Swedish colony.” This slippery interchangeability of metonym and synecdoche in these geographical and national terms alone points toward some of the deeper instabilities and fissures that this study addresses in terms of race and ethnicity in American cultural practice. In the course of my research, it was the seemingly narrow gaps between “Nordic” and “Scandinavian” that kept producing the most startling moments of discovery and surprise. This was the cultural and historical liminal space where race and ethnicity collided most forcefully. The “Nordic” category consistently connoted race (biological characteristics of skin pigmentation, eye and hair color, facial features, and stature, for example), while the “Scandinavian” category tended to signal ethnicity and difference (foreign markings in language, cultural norms, gender roles, class status, etc.). The Nordic was mythic, vitalistic, essential, and “natural.” It nearly always connoted some kind of perfect introduction   9

Author Arne Lunde Isbn 0295996862 File size 1.3MB Year 2010 Pages 224 Language English File format PDF Category Cinema Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Nordic Exposures explores how Scandinavian whiteness and ethnicity functioned in classical Hollywood cinema between and during the two world wars. Scandinavian identities could seem mutable and constructed at moments, while at other times they were deployed as representatives of an essential, biological, and natural category. As Northern European Protestants, Scandinavian immigrants and emigres assimilated into the mainstream rights and benefits of white American identity with comparatively few barriers or obstacles. Yet Arne Lunde demonstrates that far from simply manifesting a normative unmarked whiteness, Scandinavianness in mass-immigration America and in Hollywood cinema of the twentieth century could be hyperwhite, provisionally off-white, or not even white at all. Lunde investigates key silent films, such as Technicolor’s The Viking (1928), Victor Sjostrom’s He Who Gets Slapped (1924), and Mauritz Stiller’s Hotel Imperial (1927). The crises of Scandinavian foreign voice and the talkie revolution are explored in Greta Garbo’s first sound film, Anna Christie (1930). The author also examines Warner Oland’s long career of Asian racial masquerade (most famously as Chinese detective Charlie Chan), as well as Hollywood’s and Third Reich Cinema’s war over assimilating the Nordic female star in the personae of Garbo, Sonja Henie, Ingrid Bergman, Kristina Soderbaum, and Zarah Leander.     Download (1.3MB) The Rough Guide to Cult Movies Veit Harlan: The Life and Work of a Nazi Filmmaker Popular Cinema of the Third Reich American Cinema of the 1920s: Themes and Variations American Film History: Selected Readings, Origins To 1960 Load more posts

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