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From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies 1st Edition

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226318851
ISBN-10: 0226318850
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Editorial Reviews Review

Biting, brilliant, and marvelously witty, From Reverence to Rape is the first and the last word on women in the movies--perhaps the best book ever written on the subject. Most feminist film critics produce work that conforms to the academic discipline of cultural studies. Haskell's groundbreaking statement (first published in 1974 but with an added chapter that updates her theme through the 1980s) is accessible, serious, and great fun because its primary source is Hollywood cinema itself. Haskell draws on her amazing knowledge and understanding of American film to comment witheringly upon the ways producers, directors, and critics from the 1920s and onward have treated women. Still, within the attack her passionate love of films and the women who appear in them shines through. For example, in a lovely passage on Greta Garbo, Haskell claims that the actress's appeal, "however provocatively she might array herself, was romantic rather than sexual, and that is the reason women liked her. Her spirit leaped first and her body, in total exquisite accord, leaped after. She yearned not for pleasure in bed but for love in eternity."

Appreciations with this much sensitivity and vigor are as hard to find as a critic who can imaginatively process a lifetime of movie-watching experiences. Moreover, Haskell discusses the larger social significance of the male cinema and male criticism she often finds so infantile. At one point, despairing over critics who either ignore actresses or transform them into love objects, Haskell bemoans the critics' immaturity as "one of the more common and less endearing manifestations of the eternal adolescence that hangs on the American male--who, by the time he is mature enough to appreciate a woman, is almost ready to retire from the arena. There are a few good years in which he can both appreciate and operate, but not enough (particularly with the current defections from heterosexuality) to satisfy the female population, which may be why more and more women are turning to each other, or to themselves." This fine book, as loving and funny as it is angry, is a must for movie fans as well as anyone interested in gender issues. --Raphael Shargel


My favorite movie when I was growing up was the Wizard of Oz. It was full of high adventure, from talking apple trees and flying monkeys, to a shimmering Emerald City to which Dorothy was offered the queenship. She decided, however, that there was no place like home and she really needed to be there by suppertime. Excuse me? Well, actually Hollywood decided that for Dorothy. According to Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape this is typical for women in Hollywood films, from the 1920s when women could do no wrong provided they had a man watching over them, to the 1980s where women in the movies began to pay the price for discovering there were other places besides home. Molly illustrates how Hollywood typecast women both within and outside movies, infusing these images into society. While the madonna and the whore might appear to be the only two roles Hollywood allowed women, this book explains the subtle ways in which women used film to go beyond those roles. -- From The WomanSource Catalog & Review: Tools for Connecting the Community for Women; review by Amy Fletcher

Product Details

  • Paperback: 444 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 15, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226318850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226318851
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By cinephile on January 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
I was in the 11th grade at the time and I was just getting immersed in my fascination with movies and film theory. I read every book I could find on film studies.
That is when I stumbled upon this book (first edition) in my school's library. After reading this book, I never looked at the history of films, film themes, etc. in quite the same way.
As the years went by, I had read other film theory books that dealt with femininity and feminist thought, but this one always remained my favorite. So when the opportunity presented itself where I could add this book to my personal film library I was more than glad to.
I think I like this book so much because it introduced me to a series of films that while important in the women's studies and cinema may have been forgotten in the annuls of overall film theory and criticism. One outstanding example is "Letter from an Unknown Woman." The depth with which Ms. Haskell discusses this film immediately made me want to go out and see the film; and indeed I did.
I highly recommend this book not just to read but as an addition to any film lovers' library.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
--there is absolutely nothing polemical or fanatical about this book, which is for film lovers--not just feminists. It is one of the best books on FILM (not just women in film) I've ever read, up there with Stanley Cavell's "Pursuits of Happiness," but much more direct and down-to-earth. Haskell is a fiercely smart, wickedly funny, and casually erudite critic with many extremely sharp observations. She's arguably both a better belles lettresist and a better critic than her (I believe???) one-time husband Andrew Sarris, a better-known and more prolific film critic. It's also hard to argue with her basic thesis: that the portrayal of women in film was better, not worse, in the studio era and prior to the sexual revolution--although this stands received film and feminist history alike on their heads. Haskell is a rare marvel and model: a feminist aesthete who is able to put art before politics without denigrating the importance of the latter. Unlike, say, Camille Paglia, she neither denies nor quasi-celebrates the misogyny of great or simply entertaining films, yet neither does she make political correctness a criterion of artistic achievement or see misogyny where none exists. On the contrary, some of the best passages of the book are accounts of the strong and complex female characters of directors such as Josef von Sternberg, Karl-Theodor Dreyer, and Howard Hawks, among others. A totally engaging blend of classical liberalism and belles lettres/punchy journalism.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
When I first read this book, I absolutely hated it. Haskell is a total joykiller: one of those critics who can find something politically "wrong" with almost any film, even feminist films like Lizzie Borden's _Working Girls_. I still don't agree with everything she says, but now I see that its irritating quality is what makes it so great. Whatever you do, don't read it before you go to bed: you'll lie awake obsessing upon the gender conundrums outlined in the book. I would even recommend it to those who do not know very much about film; it's one of the very best feminist texts I've read for its consideration of women as consumers of popular culture. The book also raises interesting questions about women's sexuality and its representation. And I'll never look at Doris Day the same way again!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sally Drell on April 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
Molly Haskell describes herself in the introduction of FROM REVERENCE TO RAPE as a film critic first, and only secondly as a feminist. She even remarks negatively on an article about the movie HUSBANDS that Betty Friedan wrote for the New York Times in 1971, saying that Ms. Friedan just used the movie to extrapolate on her basic message in THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE. Having said that, she goes through the decades of film from the silent pictures through to the eighties, and concludes that the basic use of film towards women has been to keep them happily in their place: that is, married, and at home and out of the workplace. She organizes the book chronologically and details the evolution of women both in the industry as writers, actresses and directors. She surprises us with the news that in the beginning, there were many women directors, and only as the industry blossomed did men enter the business and push the women out. Women, however, have had more luck in the film industry than in any other, she maintains, since writing, editing, costume design and especially acting, could be done without sheer physical strength being required. The power denied most women, derived from high incomes, was given in abundance to Hollywood movie stars and successful screenwriters such as Francis Marion, who earned $150,000 per year in the 1930's! Actresses, who played the classic roles of compliant wives and mothers for the most part, had power in their real lives that cost them dearly in their personal relationships. Read the book to find out how the irony of real life personal power clashed with the image of womanhood portrayed on the screen, and how woman's place has changed and how films are changing along with them. Don't be afraid to keep your dictionary alongside; Ms. Haskell's vocabulary is formidable.
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