Essay: Exploring changes in representations of women in modern romantic cinema and their reflection of the culture of the time and how they have influenced the current genre.

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in this essay i will be exploring the way in which women are represented in romantic cinema; focusing on romantic comedies and whether the modern day has brought about change in how women are portrayed in this genre. As it is commonly acknowledged the role and treatment of women in society has changed over the years and also within film. I will be focusing on the romantic comedy genre due to its main target audience being women, so it is particularly interesting to investigate how women are being portrayed to a female audience. Romantic comedies are a combination of both romantic and comedy genres and is defined as

“a movie or play that deals with love in a light, humorous way.” It is key to look at the history of the genre before discussing its changes over the years and the role of women within this. The genre has existed in several forms over the years but was made popular by William Shakespeare with plays such as Much ado about nothing and a midsummer nights dream. With the development of movies in the early 20th century with early silent films such as Girl shy being the first on screen forms of this. early forms of rom coms were referred to as “comedies of manners” with a rich person falling in love with someone less wealthy. A good example of this would be it happened one night 1934. This developed into the popularity of screwball romantic comedies which in the 1930s often focused on a female protagonist and hero eg Bringing Up Baby (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1940). During the 50s and 60s the form developed to popular sex comedies, focusing on the differences between women and men. eg Desk Set (1957), the Rock Hudson-Doris Day hit Lover Come Back (1961), and the very on-the-nose Battle of the Sexes (1960). These changes happened for several reasons; sexual research by Alfred Kinsey opened up the idea that women have sex drives and engage in premarital sex. With the emergence of Playboy magazine in 1953 giving men guides to developing relationships with women, meant less censorship in films leading to the popularity of this form. This form quickly developed into radical comedies where a happy ending wasn’t a given and the personal happiness was important and not romantic love which wouldn’t solve a characters problems. This development led to the form of romantic comedies we are mostly familiar with neo-traditional rom coms. eg Sleepless in Seattle. These focus on compromises on both sides and transparent love with aspects that nod to previous forms of the genre we know today. It is argued that romantic comedies hold a mirror up to society and reflect on current morals and beliefs of the day and that can be seen in the progression of themes over the 20th century. It is important to understand the origins and developments of the themes over time as we can compare this to the role of women in society at the time and their role in the popular films of the genre at the time can give us an idea of how the role and treatment of women in life has reflected to their portrayal on screen.

To explore the changes in portrayal of women in romantic cinema it is important to firstly evaluate and explore earlier representations throughout the 20th century through the many earlier forms of the genre. Interestingly progressive change for women isn’t quite as chronological as many would expect; for example the 30s was an era where women were at the forefront of the films and were portrayed as heroes and key protagonists whereas at the time in society women were not treated to the equal standard as men. This trend seemed to subside then reappear in a different way in the 70’s in the form of radical romantic comedies where a woman characters happiness is not defined by a man but by their own self worth. A good film to use as an example of a varied representation of female characters is “it happened one night” 1934 dir by frank Capra. This film is often hailed as one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time and won 5 oscars including best picture and best lead actress (claudette Colbert). The film follows the story of a rich heiress Ellie who escapes her rich father and his disapproval of her secret marriage to a rich man which he had annulled and is helped by peter Warne who is actually a streetwise reporter in need of a story. over the course of the story he helps her, falls for her and she leaves her husband to be with him. The film explores interesting themes of the time such as wealth, the control of the patriarchy and finding common ground in remarkable circumstances. During a “meet-cute”, scriptwriters often create a humorous sense of awkwardness between the two potential partners by depicting an initial clash of personalities or beliefs, an embarrassing situation, or by introducing a comical misunderstanding or mistaken identity situation.

In many romantic comedies, the potential couple comprises polar opposites, two people of different temperaments, situations, social statuses, or all three (It Happened One Night), who would not meet or talk under normal circumstances, and the meet cute’s contrived situation provides the opportunity for these two people to meet. “meet cute” was used mostly in screwballs during the Great Depression in the 1930s where they made heavy use of contrived romantic “meet cutes”, because of the class divisions of this period made cross-social class romances into a more of a fantasy.

ellie as a character is interestingly three dimensional for the time, with flaws such as her spoiled brattiness but great strength in her wit and determination to overcome repression. The key differences between her and peter are a typical trope of romantic comedies, with the characters overcoming their differences and understanding each other to overcome the obstacles to reconcile and fall in love in the end. Despite being a film of it’s time where women’s independence and political freedom were limited and there was only a beginning of true independence for females it is a stand out for its time that such a strong and independent female character was written and also received so popularly received by audiences of the time. Ellie is a character who though she relies on men for her economic status and somewhat for her happiness also lives on her own terms and uses her sexuality and femininity as a choice rather than being forced or used by the male characters in the film. For example in the hitchhiking scene she holds the power with the cab driver and displays this by showing her skin, shown in a close up and grabs the attention of the driver. This conscious use of the male gaze as a tool to reach her goals through her own choice is a clear show of power from a female character. Despite examples such as these overall the film fits much within those of the 1930s being a comedy of manners; men in a position of power and women’s reliance upon them. By todays standards this is no longer widely accepted throughout society and can be reflected in modern films of the genre which attempt to consciously defy these stereotypes. It happened one night” is a great example of films mirroring the culture of their time and many themes in current romantic comedies are still influenced by films such as this. Although the film attempts to portray the female lead positively in many ways there as still many issues to be found¢¢¢¢¢¢¢¢

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