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June 19, 2001
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OBSERVING FEMININITY: PETER BOGDANOVICH'S *DAISY MILLER* (1974)Laurence Raw, Baskent University, Ankara, Turkey
Since its release in June 1974, Peter Bogdanovich's film of Henry James's *Daisy Miller* (1878) has attracted considerable critical interest. Opinions on its first release varied from qualified enthusiasm ("With middling expectations ... I stayed to like Daisy Miller" (Baumbach 1974: 450-1)), to intense dislike ("it's a historical film bereft of any feeling for history, and a literary adaptation that reveals a fine contempt for literary subtlety" (Dawson 1974: 222)). The film's reputation has improved somewhat over the last quarter of a century; by 1996 critics such as Brian MacFarlane argued that it should be treated on its own merits as a "drama of restricted consciousness" filtered through Winterbourne's point of view (MacFarlane 1996: 152-65), and not simply as an "inferior" adaptation of James's nouvelle. Philip Horne has congratulated Bogdanovich on his handling of the material "with classic Hitchcockian precision ... as though it were a thriller" (Horne 1998: 17), while in the most recent essay on the subject, David Cross congratulates Bogdanovich on "his attempt to 'imply certain things that [James] leaves unimplied' " (Cross 2000: 139).
In this essay, I want to consider Bogdanovich's *Daisy Miller* in relation to the principal debates over the representation of gender in the cinema, which emerged at the time of the film's release, and which retain their importance today. These debates focus on two specific issues -- firstly, that women are expected to conform to a certain number of pre-determined roles; and secondly, that they have largely been transformed into passive objects for male viewing pleasure by male movie-makers. On the one hand, *Daisy Miller* suggests that Daisy's opportunities for self-expression are limited by her social circle (who expect her to observe certain "lady-like" standards of behavior) and by Winterbourne, who continually treats her as an object of his gaze. On the other hand Daisy resists such attempts to constrain her through sheer vitality and a determination to find new means of self-expression. Winterbourne may envisage her as a romantic heroine; cinema-going audiences are encouraged to respond to her very differently.
Some of the material in this part of the essay has also been covered by David Cross in his recent work on the film; his main interest lies in determining whether Bogdanovich has found an appropriate means to convey "Jamesian themes" and "the novella's tragic tones" (Cross 2000: 136). My purpose is rather to suggest that Bogdanovich's point of view is limited by the conventions of the mid-1970s Hollywood film. Winterbourne remains at the center of the film's consciousness: many sequences end with him continuing to gaze while the other characters leave the frame. Daisy's resistance might encourage the audience to identify with her, but she ends up "paying" for her crusade with her life -- in other words, conforming to the stereotype of a femme fatale. Joan Mellen observed in 1975 that this was a characteristic strategy of Hollywood films of the time:
When women cease to be "pure" in these films, that is, dependent and demure, they forfeit the protection given to domesticated women ... After all, goes the accepted if unstated premise, she -- the "free" woman -- only gets what she deserves (Mellen 1975: 25-6).
It was not until the late 1990s, when gender identities were perceived as more fluid, that a Jamesian heroine could successfully transcend such conventions, as witnessed in films such as Agnieszka Holland's *Washington Square* (1997).
Following three enormous commercial successes (*The Last Picture Show*, *What's Up Doc?*, and *Paper Moon*), Bogdanovich decided to make a film which might not find too much favor with the movie-going public, but which appealed to him personally as an interesting subject. Originally he had wanted to film John Galsworthy's *The Apple Tree*, but changed his mind when he failed to obtain the rights. Having visited Rome in 1969, he had become intrigued by "the whole idea of an Italian versus American background", which prompted him to film *Daisy Miller* (quoted in Harris 1990: 160). James's story also appealed to Bogdanovich because it provided a starring vehicle for Cybill Shepherd -- his current partner -- and gave him the chance to reconsider the ways in which women were perceived in Hollywood films. Daisy Miller was an attractive personality for Bogdanovich -- "a symbol of the vitality and life [characteristic of] the New World" (Harris 1990: 165), who wanted to remain independent by refusing to conform to the expectations of the Euro-American "old world."
The finished film demonstrates how difficult it is for her to find opportunities for self-expression. Much of the action is filtered through Winterbourne's (Barry Brown's) consciousness, as he observes Daisy or is photographed in such a way that we seem to be looking over his shoulder. In one sequence Winterbourne, down left of frame, with back of head to camera, looks up at Daisy who faces the camera in close-up as he tells her "I'm puzzled if you want to know", and his gaze is directed at her face for clues about how to "read" it. In another scene written especially for the film she is shown enjoying herself at the piano with Giovanelli (Diulio del Prete) at the Millers' hotel. Winterbourne enters and sits down on a red velvet chair, while Daisy sings two songs "Pop Goes the Weasel" and "Maggie", framed against the bright sunlight of the window. His expression, serious at first, melts into one of pleasure as he listens to her. She represents a vision of loveliness, both for him and the spectators; it is part of his tragedy that he is unable to express his feelings.
Such sequences represent Daisy as fundamentally passive, an object to be molded according to other characters' whims. At Chillon Castle, Winterbourne, "a man of imagination and ... sensibility", looks at Daisy's "white dress and, on the great staircase, her little, rapid confiding step" and "felt as if there was something romantic going forward" (James 1963: 158). Mrs. Walker (Eileen Brennan) -- described in the nouvelle as "a very accomplished woman" (163) -- advises Daisy to refrain from walking with Giovanelli in the Pincio, to avoid being "talked about" or worse still, being considered "a very reckless girl" by her peers (172-3). The camera focuses on her face, then cuts to a two-shot of Daisy and Winterbourne, as Daisy asks "Does Mr. Winterbourne think that, to save my reputation, I ought to get into [her] carriage?". After a few moments, Bogdanovich cross-cuts between Winterbourne, Mrs. Walker, Daisy and Winterbourne once again, implying that this represents an attempt to subjugate Daisy to the demands of polite society.
Later on, Winterbourne talks with his immediate contemporary Charles (Nicholas Jones) -- a character especially created for the film, who expresses many of the opinions expressed by James in reported speech ("these shrewd people [Winterbourne's acquaintances] had quite made up their minds that she was going too far" (James 1963: 184)). Winterbourne's and Charles's dialogue shows their willingness to pass judgement on her, especially when she is not there to defend herself:
CHARLES: She's certainly pretty.
WINTERBOURNE: Yes, she's a mystery. I can't decide whether she's really reckless or really --
WINTERBOURNE: Yes -- I suppose.
CHARLES: Well, no one can say you aren't gallant. I hear she's about all hours with that Italian and not always in the most refined surroundings.
WINTERBOURNE: Maybe she's just an American girl and that's that.
CHARLES: All right. What do you say we both go back to Geneva this summer?
WINTERBOURNE. Well, it's a hopeless puzzle anyway, and if there's anything I've missed about her, it's too late now. She's obviously carried away with Giovanelli.
CHARLES: I don't think you've missed a thing --
However, there are moments when Daisy seeks a more active involvement in the action. In James's nouvelle, the visit to Chillon provides an opportunity for the narrator to observe ironically that "Miss Miller's observations [on the castle] were not remarkable for logical consistency" (James 1963: 159). Bogdanovich and his co-screenwriter Frederic Raphael change the emphasis of this scene with some newly-written dialogue that shows Daisy subverting Winterbourne's efforts to instruct her in local culture. Her insistent chatter reduces him, in John C.Shields's phrase, to "a panting, fondling puppy" (Shields 1983: 108):
DAISY: Oh, what an awful hole!
WINTERBOURNE: It's called an oubliette.
DAISY: That's French.
WINTERBOURNE: That's right. Comes from the word *oublier*, which means to forget. They used to put a man down there and throw away the key.
DAISY: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
WINTERBOURNE: No, I don't.
At Mrs. Walker's apartment, Daisy and her mother (Cloris Leachman) continually reduce their hostess to virtual silence with their talk about Schenectady, Dr. Davis, Winterbourne's alleged meanness in refusing to remain at Vevey, and Daisy's intention to bring Giovanelli to Mrs. Walker's party. During this one-sided conversation, Mrs. Walker never once looks at Daisy in the face; from her expression it is clear that she disapproves, even though Daisy at the moment is blissfully unaware of this. Several critics also registered their distaste: John Simon described her as "a ponderous coquette -- a verbal Lizzie Borden" (Simon 1981: 155). By refusing to conform, however unwittingly, to the Euro-Americans' notions of polite behavior, Daisy is making her bid for freedom. She represents the new world of vitality and spontaneity; Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker, on the other hand, are victims of an identity crisis, trapped between the old and new world cultures. Daisy herself suggests at the beginning of the film that, for all his verbal sophistication, Winterbourne sounds "more like a German" than an American.
The contrast between Daisy and Winterbourne is re-emphasized later on, as the camera frames them in a two-shot while Daisy asks Winterbourne his full name. He replies "Frederick Forsyth Winterbourne", which prompts Daisy to run out of the right side of the frame, exclaiming "I can't say all that!". By refusing to stay within the frame, and participate in small talk, Daisy quite literally breaks with tradition; she resists any attempt either on Winterbourne's or the cinematographer's part to constrain her. I have already quoted the passage from the nouvelle where Winterbourne imagines that "something romantic" is developing between them; the film suggests that Daisy has a completely different view. On the Chillon ferry, the two of them are once again photographed in a two-shot as Daisy observes "You're funny". Intrigued, Winterbourne replies "Am I?"; Daisy mumbles "Uh-huh" before running out of the left side of the frame, leaving Winterbourne staring after her in astonishment. Clearly this is not how a romantic heroine should react.
Several critics praised Cybill Shepherd's attempts to convey Daisy's independent yet endearing nature. To Jonathan Baumbach she seemed a "chattering, spoiled princess", when compared to the Europeanized Americans. Yet this is part "of her peculiarly American innocence" (Baumbach 1974: 451). The *Movietone News* reviewer Kathleen Murphy discussed Shepherd's interpretation in detail, drawing attention to her "direct and unshrinking" glance (James 1963: 140) that so disturbed those who wished to manipulate her. This was part of the actress's "self-absorbed innocence ... expressed so naturally since her modeling days" (Murphy 1977: 92). In a 1983 book Barry Putterman called Shepherd's Daisy "untutored [in European manners] but emotionally incisive" (Putterman 1983: 52).
However, the structure of the film also suggests that Daisy's bid for freedom is little more than an illusion. In a seminal essay, written in 1973 and published two years later, the British film-maker Laura Mulvey drew a distinction between the representation in mainstream Hollywood cinema of "woman as icon" and the active male figure who "controls events ... The male protagonist is free to command the stage, a stage of spatial illusion in which he articulates the look and creates the action" (Mulvey 1989: 20). In this construction, the female is "isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualised" (21). Mulvey uses psychoanalysis to justify this distinction; for the male unconscious, woman represents a danger, her lack of a penis implying a threat of castration and hence a lack of pleasure. There are two means to avert this threat -- fetishistic scopophilia, or building up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself; or voyeurism, asserting control and subjugating the guilty person -- normally the woman -- through punishment or forgiveness (20-1). Mulvey elaborates her argument with references to *Vertigo* and *Rear Window*.
Like Hitchcock, Bogdanovich makes use of both strategies in *Daisy Miller*; this comes as no coincidence, given the fact that he is a cinephile, whose film-making style has been heavily influenced by classic Hollywood directors. In interviews Bogdanovich compared Winterbourne's condition to that of James Stewart's paralyzed state at the end of *Vertigo*; he remains a voyeur, unable (or unwilling) to engage with people on a personal level. Thomas Harris suggests that this is part of Bogdanovich's "distanced approach ", which suggests that "merely looking is no substitute for the real thing" (Harris 1990: 169-70). This would seem to be the case in another scene which is not in the nouvelle, where Daisy and Winterbourne watch a Punch and Judy show. Bogdanovich intercuts between close-ups of Winterbourne staring at Daisy, and Daisy's face in profile, her white bonnet, blonde hair and delicate features illuminated by the sun. Winterbourne gives a small smile; Daisy smiles back, and turns her head once again towards the show. Winterbourne essays another glance; but this time it is returned by an unnamed woman coming towards him from the distance. Once again his reluctance to openly declare his feelings leads to disappointment.
However, Winterbourne is not as passive a figure as Harris would have us believe. James's nouvelle ends with an ironic comment on Winterbourne, who has returned to Geneva, from whence came a report that he is " 'studying' hard -- an intimation that he is much interested in a very clever foreign lady" (James 1963: 192). Clearly Daisy's death does not deter him from pursuing another socially advantageous alliance. The film omits this coda altogether, and ends with Winterbourne alone in the cemetery after Daisy's burial. As the camera draws away from this solitary figure, who gradually fades into a stark bright white nothingness, the song "Maggie" -- first heard when Daisy was sitting at the piano with Giovanelli -- is played on a harmonica. On the one level, this sequence reiterates the theme of lost love; how Winterbourne cannot break his social shackles. On another level, the use of this music recalls Winterbourne's idealized vision of Daisy playing the piano, framed against the sunlit window -- suggesting once again that even after her death, he is attempting to minimize her potential "threat" to his masculine identity through fetishistic scopophilia. Eric Birdsall suggests that "old Winterbourne has learned a painful lesson" in the last scene of the film (Birdsall 1994: 277), but the fact that he is the last person to be seen on the screen indicates precisely the opposite. Bogdanovich persistently controls the image in order to demonstrate how Winterbourne clings to patriarchal authority in his efforts to control Daisy. No doubt she would respond to the director in the same way as to Winterbourne ("You're too stiff", "too imperious").
Before blaming Bogdanovich for his reluctance to allow Daisy to elude the male gaze, even in death, we should consider more closely the socio-historical context in which the film was produced. He enjoyed his greatest success at a time when the so-called "Movie Brats" came to prominence -- a new generation of cine-literate directors who were either film school graduates, and/or had served their apprenticeship in television. At the forefront of this group were Francis Ford Coppola, Brian DePalma, Martin Scorsese, John Milius, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Many of them were aware of auteur theory and of film history in general; and aspired to become auteurs themselves, working within the industry but at the same time establishing their individual personae. Lucas observed in an interview that they were wresting power from the studio chiefs (quoted in Thompson 1999: 5):
We're the pigs ... We are the ones who snuff out the truffles. You can put us on a leash, keep us under control. But we are the guys who dig out the gold.
For a while it seemed as if this claim was true, with the auteurists achieving financial success with one film and subsequently being given carte blanche to pursue projects of their own. Coppola's subsequent success was built on *The Godfather* (1972) Lucas's on *American Graffiti* (1972) and *Star Wars* (1977), and Bogdanovich's on *What's Up, Doc?* and *The Last Picture Show* (which occupied numbers 4 and 6 of the 1972 list of top box-office hits). *Daisy Miller* itself was made by the Director's Company -- a joint venture set up by Bogdanovich, Coppola and William Friedkin (whose main success was *The Exorcist* ). Following the box-office failure of *Daisy Miller* the venture collapsed (Cross 2000: 127).
But just how much leeway did this generation of directors have to create films of their own? One inescapable fact remained: despite their pretensions to autonomy, their reputation depended on continued box-office success. Those who tried too hard to create unusual, personal films became marginalized: Robert Altman was a famous example with his work after *McCabe and Mrs. Miller* (1971). The majority of directors respected the kind of structural conventions which had become part of the classical Hollywood narrative. *Daisy Miller* fits securely into this tradition, with its unified narrative in which a cause leads to an effect, and that effect becoming a cause for another effect, creating an unbroken chain across the film. At its simplest level, the chain might include Daisy's refusal to ride in Mrs. Walker's carriage, which results in her being excluded from the Euro-Americans' social circle, prompting her to walk at night in the Colosseum, which leads to her death. The screenplay also assigns each character a particular set of traits; the spectators' impressions of such traits lasts throughout the film as the characters behave consistently (Thompson 1999: 8-10). Winterbourne is the voyeur; Daisy the social misfit.
In the early 1970s, conventional Hollywood wisdom dictated that the "Women's Movement" simply did not exist; there were only individual women who felt personally constrained. Martin Scorsese's *Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More* provides a good example. Alice, a widow (Ellen Burstyn), unsuccessfully tries to pursue a singing career, as a way of recovering her self-respect. She meets a non-oppressive man (Kris Kristofferson) to whom she can relate on equal terms and with whom she can experience a satisfying relationship. On the one hand, the film's ending contains a certain ambiguity: we have no way of knowing whether this relationship will last, or whether it will bring Alice any lasting happiness. On the other hand, the ending also suggests that women have no need to seek independence, so long as there are strong protective males around to look after them. Their search for independence is accordingly reduced to a gesture, "an irrational 'feminine' whim", as Robin Wood suggests (Wood 1986: 204).
Bogdanovich's *Daisy Miller* proposes a similar point of view. Because Daisy refuses Winterbourne's protection, her desire for self-expression, for all its superficial attractiveness, remains nothing but a dream. In spite of his enthusiasm for her as an American breathing new life into a stale Euro-American society, Bogdanovich ends up by depicting her as a victim of her own stubbornness.
Even if he had been interested in current literary criticism of James -- and there is no evidence to suggest that he was (in one interview he admitted that he was "making a movie ... And whether or not I put in the movie what James means to say with the story doesn't really concern me" (Dawson 1977: 84)) -- he would have found that most interpretations depicted Daisy as a victim either of her own self-will, or of her inability to adjust to Euro-American society. Lyall Powers upbraided Daisy for refusing to accept Winterbourne's "friendly and unselfish advice" which precipitates her downfall: "He [James] condemns the American failure to adopt expressive manners intelligently, and points out the folly of believing that a good heart is readily visible to all" (Powers 1970: 53-4). Charles Thomas Samuels's *The Ambiguity of Henry James* (1971) took a different view. Daisy's behavior was "ambiguous" for the male observer at least; a "baffling mixture of innocence and seductiveness". Winterbourne yearns for an ideal world, free of ambiguity, where "love was perfectly innocent and sex benign"; because Daisy does not fit the roles he prescribes for her, he "literally kills ... [her] in an effort to purify her" (Samuels 1971: 176). It was not until the late 1970s that a fully-fledged feminist analysis of James emerged, with the publication of Judith Fetterley's "The Bostonians: Henry James's Eternal Triangle" (Fetterley 1978: 101-54).
Since *Daisy Miller* opened in 1974 there have been considerable shifts of opinion, both in the way women are perceived on the screen, and how it might affect one's reading of the film. Laura Mulvey herself wrote in a 1983 essay (published 1986) that "the either/or binary pattern" she used in her earlier work "seemed to leave the argument trapped within its own conceptual frame of reference" (Mulvey 1989: 162). She proposed instead a model derived from the Bakhtinian notion of the carnivalesque, in which women could occupy a space "between silence and speech, the terrain in which desire almost finds expression" ...(which) could provide the basis for change" (174). Other commentators have argued that the fetishization of the female body has the potential for producing the alternative pleasure of a masochistic relationship between the male moviegoer/voyeur and the female star. As this bond refuses the symbolic power of the father, masochism challenges established gender and sexual differences: the female star represents a power found in performance which transforms the pleasure and control of the male gaze (McDonald 1998: 189-90).
From this point of view, Winterbourne in James's nouvelle can be thought of as being involved in "a motion picture of his own life", in which he has retreated from the world of male competition, where Daisy is placed on a series of romantic pedestals of his own making. After her death, he looks at the "raw protuberance" of her grave "among the April daisies" (James 1963: 192) -- which according to one critic "suggests a swelling in two ways ironic. As a female swelling, it is an image of death in the place of pregnancy ... As a phallic protuberance, it suggests death's cause and Winterbourne's stiff loss [of masculinity]" (Weisbuch 1993: 80).
Such views, I would suggest, were beyond the scope of Bogdanovich's film, which should be seen as an attempt to deal with some of the profound social changes of the time. On the one hand it uses James's nouvelle to deal with issues of women's rights, suggesting that they are often ignored. On the other hand, the liberalism of this message is contradicted by the suggestion that however justifiable or attractive their cause might be, women should continue to participate in patriarchal narratives. This I suggest is the consequence of Bogdanovich making his film in a Hollywood trying to accommodate a new generation of directors, yet determined to maintain the conventions -- particularly concerning the representation of its male and female stars -- on which its reputation had been built over the previous half-century. Douglas Kellner suggests that during the 1970s Hollywood film, "like society, was very much a contested terrain, with the future of society and culture up for grabs" (Kellner 1996: 10). Bogdanovich's *Daisy Miller* offers an example of one director's response.
Baumbach, Jonathan (1974), "Europe in America", *Partisan Review* 41/3: 450-1.
Birdsall, Eric (1994), "Interpreting Henry James: Bogdanovich's *Daisy Miller*", *Literature/Film Quarterly* 22/4: 272-8.
Cross, David (2000), "Framing the 'Sketch': Bogdanovich's *Daisy Miller*", in Bradley, John R. (ed.), *Henry James on Stage and Screen*, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave, 2000: 127-43.
Dawson, Jan (1974), "Daisy Miller", *Monthly Film Bulletin* 41/489, (October): 222
Dawson, Jan (1977), "The Continental Divide: Filming Henry James", in Peary, Gerald, and Shatzkin, Roger (eds.), *The Classic American Novel and the Movies*, New York: Frederick Unger Publishing: 83-9.
Fetterley, Judith (1978), *The Resisting Reader: a Feminist Approach to American Fiction*, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Harris, Thomas J. (1990), *Bogdanovich's Picture Shows*, Metuchen NJ. and London: The Scarecrow Press.
Horne, Philip (1998), "The James Gang", *Sight and Sound*, January: 17-19.
Isle, Walter (1968), *Experiments in Form: Henry James's Novels 1896-1901*, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
James, Henry (1963), *Selected Short Stories*, ed. and intro. Michael Swan, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Kellner, Douglas (1996), "Hollywood and Society", Internet address: www.gseis.ucla.edu/courses/ed253a/Mckellner/HOLSOC.htm
Liggera, J.J. (1981), "She Would Have Appreciated One's Esteem: Peter Bogdanovich's *Daisy Miller*", *Literature/Film Quarterly* 9/1: 15-21.
MacFarlane, Brian (1991), "Bogdanovich's *Daisy Miller* and the Limits of Fidelity", *Literature/Film Quarterly* 19/4: 222-8.
MacFarlane, Brian (1996), *Novel Into Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation*, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
McDonald, Paul (1998), "Reconceptualising Stardom", supplementary chapter to Dyer, Richard, *Stars*, new edn., London: BFI Publishing: 175-201.
Mellen, Joan (1975), *Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film*, London: Davis-Poynter Ltd.
Mulvey, Laura (1989), *Visual and Other Pleasures*, London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.
Murphy, Kathleen (1977), "Henry James: An International Episode", in Peary, Gerald, and Shatzkin, Roger (eds.), *The Classic American Novel and the Movies*, New York: Frederick Unger Publishing: 13-16.
Powers, Lyall (1970), *Henry James: An Introduction and Interpretation*, New York: Barnes and Noble Inc.
Putterman, Barry (1983), *American Directors*, Vol. II, New York: McGraw Hill Book Co.
Shields, John C. (1983), "*Daisy Miller*: Bogdanovich's Film and James's Nouvelle", *Literature/Film Quarterly* 11/2: 105-11
Simon, John (1981), "Jacobin - not Jacobite" (1974), in *Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Films*, New York, Crown Publishers: 153-5.
Thompson, Kristin (1999), *Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique*, Cambridge. Mass: Harvard University Press.
Weisbuch, Robert (1993), "Winterbourne and the Doom of Manhood in *Daisy Miller*", in Pollak, Vivian R. (ed.), *New Essays on Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw*, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 65-89.
Wood, Robin (1986), "Images and Women" in *Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan*, New York: Columbia University Press: 202-22.
===== Dr. Laurence Raw, Senior Lecturer in English, Department of American Culture and Literature, Baskent University, Baglica Kampusu Eskisehir Yolu. 20 Km. 06530 Ankara, TURKEY
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