Patriotism or national betrayal?: On the reactionary film by Pen-yu. Chi

By Pen-yu. Chi

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Additional resources for Patriotism or national betrayal?: On the reactionary film Inside story of the Ching court

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The Puritans (1924) details the hardships encountered by some of the country’s first white inhabitants: ‘Privation and sorrow are the common lot during these early days in Massachusetts’, declares an intertitle. The first part of the film establishes the sober, pious and self-sacrificing lifestyle of the Puritans in their Charlestown colony, the majority of the action taking place in front of Governor Winthrop’s ‘Great House’, a half-timbered structure with leaded window panes that constantly invokes the spiritual presence of the Mother Country.

The ‘noble savage’ depiction was easily deployed in the rhetoric of nineteenthcentury scientific racism: admirable in many ways, Native Americans were still lower on the evolutionary scale than Europeans and the process of natural selection would ensure their ultimate disappearance. By the 1920s this disappearance seemed well under way and the ‘noble savage’, also known as the ‘Vanishing American’, appeared throughout the culture, from anthropological studies to major Hollywood features. 28 Although many of these were run-of-the-mill Westerns in which Indians served only as moving targets, a fair number featured sympathetically drawn Indian protagonists.

7 Always ready to adopt modern business practices, the studios realised that their skillful marketing apparatus needed to encompass not just product, but producer; in the New Era, successful companies had to be refigured as both ‘economically efficient and socially beneficial . . the economic realities of the industrial society [threatened by the instability of market forces] encouraged the use of specialists and auxiliaries, including publicity men’. 8 Consequently, under the MPPDA’s aegis, Paramount proactively targeted an adaptation of a wholesome frontier story, The Covered Wagon, for prestige treatment.

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