Elizabeth Taylor was a constant star.“
This video offers an audiovisual introduction to issues of film performance, cinematic staging, and gender in relation to Elizabeth Taylor‘s brief, uncredited role as doomed-child character Helen Burns in the 1944 film Jane Eyre, directed by Robert Stevenson, and adapted from Charlotte Brontë‘s 1847 novel of the same name.
Film Studies For Free was far from home, just over two weeks ago, when the remarkable film actor and person Elizabeth Taylor passed away. It was very sorry not to be able to respond to this event as soon as it might have liked. Taylor was FSFF‘s author’s favourite Hollywood star by some distance.
David Hudson has worked hard to gather links to an astonishing range of online tributes to Taylor. FSFF wanted to add to these, but not simply with its own customary list of links to any related (in this case, rather scant) online scholarly resources.
As befits a ‘Primer’, rather than aiming to generate completely new insights, this ‘rich text object’ attempts, within the time-space of the average YouTube fan clip, to assemble and combine quotations from existing film scholarship on its topic with sequences from the film in question in order to provide a meaningful, scholarly and affective, immersive experience. Making fair use of the possibilities for moving image studies offered by online accessibility, video primers might well profit from feeling a little like fan videos and introductory film studies all at once.
Framing Incandescence certainly comments on the fetishism and fetishisation of the star image of Elizabeth Taylor at the same time as it willingly deploys that fetishism in its own rhetoric and, indeed, it practices tactical forms of ‘possessive spectatorship‘, such as those Laura Mulvey points to, in her recent work, as characteristic of film viewing in the digital age.
For the quotations in this particular study, FSFF is especially indebted to the work of film scholar Gaylyn Studlar in her brilliant essay on Taylor’s performances as a child actor in her three 1944 films (Jane Eyre, The White Cliffs of Dover and National Velvet). This essay appears in Tamar Jeffers McDonald’s fascinating 2010 collection Virgin Territory: Representing Sexual Inexperience in Film (Wayne State University Press). Other sources and related texts of interest are listed below.
The makers of Jane Eyre cast two further, wonderful, child stars from the 1940s in more central roles than that of Taylor: Peggy Ann Garner (featured extensively in the video primer) and Margaret O’Brien. If you are interested in the concept, practices and history of the child actor/child star, and issues of juvenile performance more generally, you may well want to know about an upcoming conference precisely on this topic. Please scroll down further in this entry to find out more.
Further related reading and texts cited by the ‘Framing Incandescence‘ video primer:
- David Bordwell, Figures Traced in Light: On Cinematic Staging (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005)
- Elisabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic (Manchester: Manchester University Press,1992)
- Richard Dyer, White (London and New York: Routledge, 1997) [Dyer’s reference to tuberculosis as ‘White Death’ is on p. 209)
- Delphine Letort,’ Diverging Interpretations of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847): Franco Zeffirelli’s and Robert Stevenson’s Screen Adaptations’, Revue LISA/LISA e-journal online here
- Susan McLeland, ”Elizabeth Taylor: Hollywood’s Last Glamour Girl’, in Hilary Radner and Moya Luckett (eds), Swinging single: representing sexuality in the 1960s (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999)
- Jane O’Connor, Cultural Significance of the Child Star (London and New York: Routledge, 2008)
- Jane O’Connor, ‘Beyond Social Constructionism: A Structural Analysis of the Cultural Significance of the Child Star’, Children and Society, Vol. 23 (2009), pp. 214-225
- Momin Rahman, ‘[Review] Jane O’Connor, The Cultural Significance of the Child Star…‘, Canadian Journal of Sociology 33(3) 2008, pp. 752-754: online here
- Diana Serra Cary, Hollywood’s Children (Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 1978, 1997)
- Gaylyn Studlar, ‘Velvet’s Cherry: Elizabeth Taylor and Virginal English Girlhood’ in Tamar Jeffers McDonald (ed.), Virgin Territory: Representing Sexual Inexperience in Film (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010)
- Emma Wilson, Cinema’s Missing Children (London: Wallflower Press, 2003)