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DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #8 (From CABIN IN THE SKY)

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What do you notice about the way the scene is directed as Petunia goes to Joe’s bedside and as we cut to her outside hanging laundry? What does this tell us about her relationship, and the connection to the song?

At first we see Petunia at Joe's bedside.  The first thing that caught my eye was that his head was covered and assumed as dead. "Ok, he is alive. My love is alive and I must continue on with life."  A great technique to the outside hanging laundry.  Notice that "Little Joe" is in a wheel chair watching her. Life must go on.  Dedication to the family and life must go on.  No matter what Joe has done in the past, my life as his wife, lover, helpmate must go on. 

How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?

My first impression after reviewing the song is yes, the meaning would change if she were singing about a child.  Losing a child is something no mother should experience.  But losing a spouse is going to happen, it is expected. Cultural meaning would change as well.  If a child is lost, that child is not the person expected to carry on in a specific relationship.  Children are expected to move on.  Parent's are expected to severe ties with children.  But marriage is sacred.  As was stated previously, "until death do us part." Losing a child is expected in some way.  Sadly, if death is the way, this is not something that is expected.  

What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era?

My thoughts about this film and being a child of the early 60's, I could not have imagined that black actors and actresses, would be scene in films in 1943. I have not concept of the time.  But I have been reminded that Hollywood and this time period seemed to stem toward diversity and solidarity, not division and things that are still unfair.  This film was created during the war years and the use of all races created this sense of solidarity towards a specific cause.  To bad that in 2018 we do not have the same ideas. 

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The start of the scene is darker, until she hears Joe call her name and she rushes in to see him awake and alive. The scene starts to let some light in, specifically when she looks up to thank

God for answering her prayers; you can see her face is illuminated as she smiles a grand smile communicating with God. When she begins to sing, she seems to sing to Joe, almost specifically,

as if telling him how he makes her feel. She wants him to know that even during his mistakes, because of his gambling "sometimes the cabin gloomy and the table bare, but then he kiss me

and it's Christmas everywhere," she still loves him, because all she really needs is his love. This could be why she questions if he loves her, because she loves him, and his love is all she wants.

In fact, in that first moment when she questions it, she loses her smile, until she says "that's all I need to know," when she smiles again. When it transitions to her hanging laundry, she's no

longer singing to Joe, but to herself. He is fine, he's sitting upright and outside with her, and she's already told him how she feels, now she's just singing because she's happy.

Because of the type of love expressed in this song it would have to be completely different if it was sung to a child. The love this song talks about has more attraction in it than just general

love that one has for their child. The way it's sung would probably be different too, for example I imagine it would have more of a lullaby sound to it than the way she sings this song.

I haven't seen the film, I can only go by what little bit is shown in this clip, but I would imagine at first glance it would have the whole "We have to stick together as a country!" tone that many

of the other films of this time had. But, because there was still a lot of prejudice during this period there is probably a sense of "We have to stick together as African-Americans!" as well. They

were fighting in the war too and weren't always treated as part of the platoon there either, and let's not forget, in a little more than 10 years the Civil Rights Movement would be getting into full

 swing; so I would imagine, as I said, there was a sense of coming together and being together as a whole. 

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Petunia is Joe’s woman, no matter what. Even when doing laundry, she is thinking about Joe, especially now that he is living, even in a wheel chair, where she might have more control over him? “When the cabin is bare, Joe kisses her and it is like Christmas everywhere”. Her love for Joe is absolute, in everything she does. This is an uplifting song, you can see that it is like the families torn apart by war, and when your loved one gets a chance to come home, even if just on leave.

 

My father left school and entered the Army in 1938 or ‘39 with parents signature. My grandmother had saved a clipping that had been in the local paper. My dad was stationed in Montana at the time, and he won a local Montana Radio station contest. A free two minute call home. (How we forget in our age of cell phones, calling long distance was a big deal.) War was coming, but even if it wasn’t, your child gone, away from home, even in the Depression, if you could get a call, that was important. A memory to keep, just like Petunia’s for Joe.

 

All minority groups: Jewish-Americans, Mexican-American, Native-Americans all signed up in a greater percentage than they were of the population. They saw the War as showing the country they were Americans also. We forget how anti-Semitic America was until after the war and some evidence until after George Stevens “Diary of Ann Frank” came out.<iframe width="854" height="480" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/A7zDyJcF3ko?ecver=1" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

And Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) shows that: <iframe width="854" height="480" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OCQAmRyYFL0?ecver=1" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

Of course, for African-Americans it was even more important, they had tried in World War I, and just for wearing the uniform they could be lynched. They really wanted to make the difference with fighting in this war. Dorie Miller shot down Japanese Planes, trying to protect the West Virginia, he was a mess mate 3rd class. For his efforts he won the Navy Cross, but the segregated Navy stayed that way, he was promoted to mess mate 1st class. Kitchen and serving help on ships only job open for them, and only long shore work on land, for the navy. The army limited them to one million African-American soldiers. Far more would have signed up, but the limit prevented them from being able to fight for their country as they wanted to.

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1.     What do you notice about the way the scene is directed as Petunia goes to Joe’s bedside and as we cut to her outside hanging laundry? What does this tell us about her relationship, and the connection to the song?

First, as a side note, I find it interesting that King Vidor first wanted to cast Ethel Waters as Chick—the temptress—in Hallelujah!  It’s a bit ironic that she is now the dutiful housewife who is trying to keep Joe from the clutches of Georgia Brown in Cabin in the Sky.  And as the dutiful housewife, she remains loyal to her husband, a known gambler who has left a church service which he attends because he says he has changed his ways to steal away to a craps game.  The song and Waters’ actions seem to suggest that love transcends all hardship—when the “table’s bare,” but a kiss from Joe is just like “Christmas everywhere,” for example—and her worries disappear with just a smile from Joe.  Happiness is a thing called Joe, and “he loves me and that’s all I need to know.”  The laundry scene continues to establish Petunia’s role as the loyal and dutiful wife.  Even though Joe is recovering in the wheelchair, he probably would still not be doing the laundry.  Also in this part of the scene, I noticed Petunia making sure that Joe is not in the direct sunlight, taking care of her husband, happy he is still alive, despite how he almost died.

2.     How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?

I think a mother/child relationship is more universal than the historical and cultural aspects of this specific number.  Not to downplay the close bonds of marriage, and acknowledging that losing a spouse would be devastating, I think losing a child would be even worse.  An emotion all mothers could relate to.  They are different types of love, equally painful in their own regard, but the love that Petunia sings about here, how it makes her feel, is a bit different, and what Joe gives to her—I think—is different from what a child offers a parent.  Culturally and historically, I think the woman was to be more submissive and loyal to her husband, perhaps forgiving him his errors and indiscretions?  But as noted earlier, a mother’s love for her child is different and more universal, still forgiving and understanding yes, but these feeling have remained constant throughout time whereas, with women being more independent and gaining an equal voice today, some might be less inclined to stay in this type of relationship now.

3.     What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era?

As noted in video discussions earlier this week, during this time period this nation was feeling a resurgence in national pride and unity because of the war.  Even though the military was still segregated to a large extent—until about 1948, as I recall—everyone banded together to fight our common enemies.  Interestingly, at one point in the film Lucifer, Jr. must hatch a plan to win Joe’s soul.  He talks about how it would be easier in Europe because of the greater evil present in Europe, a reference to Hitler and his allies.  On a deeper level, this film might serve as a metaphor for this nation’s battle against evil global forces, before our nation was referred to as “The Great Satan.” And even though I have not finished the film as of this posting, I am assuming that Joe will resist the temptations of Georgia Brown and the forces of evil, with goodness ultimately prevailing, just as we hoped that the United States would also prevail against the Axis powers.  Finally, the all-black cast validates black Americans in film, I think, giving them a vehicle to display their equally gifted talents, as was the case with Hallelujah! and there are some amazing performances in both films.

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The scene show's Petunia's love for her husband despite his flaws (gambling). First the scene shows her initial relief and love for him as she realizes he is OK but injured, and then her continued love and devotion to him as he recovers is shown in the scene where she is outside with the laundry. The humming makes it seem like this little love song is something she sings all the time/ has on her mind.

I think culturally, we would expect a mother to love her children, regardless of their flaws, but this scene and song shows her love and devotion to her husband even though he seems to have some issues with gambling and perhaps providing for his family.

I haven't seen this movie, but based on the scene the movie seems to portray blacks Americans in a positive light, with strong family values.

 

 

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From the looks of things, I'm afraid that if I discuss the movie I'll be spoiling the whole story for those that haven't seen it, so we're going to start this post with the ever-important...

 

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

 

OK, we've gotten that out of the way.  The obvious devotion from Ethel's character to Eddie's is unwavering, and her relief upon seeing he survived the gunshot leads her into this song.  We can see her mile-wide smile the entire time she's singing.  What we don't see from the initial clip is most of the film!  Joe (Anderson) has a second chance to reform himself, and at times it doesn't seem like he's doing a very good job of it.  Ultimately, Petunia (Waters) unknowingly performs a deed that allows Joe's soul to be saved, which leads us to what we see in the Daily Dose, and fortunately, Joe indeed forsakes his previous habits.  Was it all a dream he experienced to bring him there or something truly spiritual?  That's for us to decide, I suppose.

Hollywood was still a long way away from disposing of certain stereotypes when it came to non-Caucasian, non-American people, but the fact that films like this were made this far back at least shows that Hollywood was trying to be more inclusive.  It helped to have supporters such as Minnelli and Mayer in such high places, of course.  It still doesn't make watching certain musical numbers any less uncomfortable today ("Pass That Peace Pipe" from 1947's Good News is perhaps the most cringeworthy example that comes to mind), but I accept that it was a different time then with different tolerances.

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As a movie of its time, it sweetly shows Petunia's devotion -- and general love of life -- embedded in love for Joe. Her singing is almost precious, beauty to behold.

But as I watch it in 2018, two sharp points keep sticking me in the side:

1. Petunia is a woman who loves too much.

2. Such blind devotion to a man or a country, regardless of behavior/politics, is a dangerous thing. Fidelity has its costs.

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3 hours ago, MotherofZeus said:

My response is strictly in the context of this clip. Although I have seen the movie several times, I will address the questions as if I don't know what a dog Joe is and how mainly Petuna is.  I am sticking to this clip: 

To state the obvious.  Holy cr*p! Ethel Waters is magnificent in every way.  While this clip has Waters play the "strong black woman" trope, I find her expression of love for a man regardless of flaws entirely believable. Regardless of a lover's shortcomings, one can have love this deeply even if she cannot endure the treatment. The love can remain forever, and Ethel conveys it convincingly at the bedside of Joe or at the laundry line. This love is uncomplicated in its depiction. It simply is. It's as basic as hanging up or taking down the laundry, a basic task for most Americans of the day (one I still do when the weather permits although the HOA frowns on it -- go figure). She is doing the tasks that keep their life moving forward, but she is playful about it. She makes his shirt's sleeves embrace her, and she tosses laundry either into the basket or onto Joe...we don't see which. This is not the hyper-sexualized stereotype of typical "black pictures," but a stable, enduring love. I know she is depicting the "strong black woman" character, but Waters' performance transcends the caricature and communicates that the even day tasks disrupted by the War are the ways we demonstrate love for one another. This message of continuity matters.

While the scene would likely shift slightly with Waters' song being about a child, the unity theme as well as the essential nature of the love would remain. If the movie is trying to connect with women worried about husbands, boyfriends, children, etc., then this number carries over, and the same can be said for children at war or with a parent at war.  Said child would see enduring love that remains with them no matter what happens to them or what they do, right or wrong. Again, reassurance for the audience. Although the stereotype I've referred to means Waters doesn't get to play a richly layered character, we don't see white mothers or wives play terribly layered characters in musicals of this time period. The mother role is sainted in movies we've seen so far as is the wife by and large. Ms. Waters brings nuance to a pretty stock character. Who wouldn't feel comforted by this performance?

This picture humanizes a minority population at a time when said population was eager to serve its country and grab hold of the opportunities afforded those who served in the services (home loans, college tuition, etc.). By placing American values within the lives of black Americans, the film tells the white viewer that black Americans are Americans.  It doesn't say they should have equal rights. We are a long way from that, but it is humanizing people who were systemically "othered" in art, daily life, and political rights. I unequivocally believe that the door that opened for black Americans to serve in WWII, and the side-by-side service on the home front as well as on the fronts most certainly propelled the United States inevitably toward desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Lastly, I'd like to say that my grandfather was a drummer considered second only to Krupa and Rich in the 40s and 50s whose charts were particlulary coveted by other musicians.  He eventually made his way out of Chicago to Las Vegas having chosen not to take the route required of him to make it big (he tried to choose family over demands of Hollywood). Like many musicians, he always preferred to go listen to black musicals and singers. He always made our family stay only in places that did not discriminate -- refusing to stay at hotels, eat in restaurants, or go to gas stations that would not serve all Americans. This wasn't done in a martyr-like way but one of human decency. I bring this up because the performers in this movie were well known at the time to white audiences, but the performances are crafted for a white audience for specific purposes noted by our instructors. Had it been made for black audiences, it would likely have been quite a different movie as my grandfather (and my mother) were very fortunate to get to go hear performances of comedians, musicians, and singers that would only be performed for black audiences or fellow musicians/show biz people who were down with the scene. There is the difference between what we see and what would be a more accurate depiction of life and the full artistry of black Americans during WWII.  That being said, we aren't exactly diving into gritty realism in any of these musicals to date. Real life for white Americans wasn't Fred and Ginger or Jeanette and Nelson or Judy and Micky or Gene and Leslie. 

Musicals tend to have to strike the balance between the fantastic and the believable.  Doing so for audiences of color is just that much more challenging then and now. Cabin in the Sky has some of the greats at the top of their game, and I am thankful it is preserved for legacy and historical purposes. 

 

 

 

I like all of your comments. This got me thinking. Rather than switch the song from a husband to a child, try imaging it being sung by a man to a woman. Not bloody likely, as Eliza Doolittle would say. Even today. Women's faults can never be overlooked or go unpunished. I'm going to watch this film today and will then add more comments.

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The film Cabin in the Sky is a wonderful representation of the theme of second chances. Joe has an opportunity to see through a dream sequence what life would be like if he continued his gambling habit and how he would lose Petunia if he does not reform his addictive habits.  It's a version of the Rip Van Winkle folktale with the addition of the angel and devil characters; it is the age-old struggle of good and evil personified by the General (Angel) and Lucifer, Jr.  With redemption, Joe can begin a new lease on life with a "saved" soul.

In this clip for the Daily Dose of Delight, Ethel Waters as Petunia lyrically professes her devotion to her husband, Joe, as played by Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.  The viewer witnesses Petunia's faith when she thanks God for Joe's recovery, and her song "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe" exemplifies her commitment to her marriage that God has sanctified.  We can confirm Petunia's faith through the lyrics: "Sometimes the cabin gloomy and the table bare/Soon he kiss me and it's Christmas everywhere."  It is a Christian holiday that is linked to Petunia's joy in being with her husband.  She tenderly sings her love lullaby to Joe as he drifts off to sleep much like a mother would comfort a child who has had a bad dream.  Often, in this WWII period, husbands would call their wives "Mother" since the wife continues to provide the care and duties that a mother had performed for a boy.  The song transitions to the clothesline outside where Petunia as wife/mother is completing her duties of keeping their married life "clean" literally and figuratively.  She sings about "little" Joe as though her husband is a child, and seeing Joe sitting in a wheelchair nearby the clothesline is parallel to a baby lying in a carriage/buggy while Mother tends to the washing.  Instead of diapers, the viewer sees shirts.  It is noteworthy that the laundry is all white, again indicating that Petunia has washed the "dirt" of Joe's gambling habits from their life.  Everything is fresh and clean, and it hints at the biblical verse about Christ making a person's soul clean and as white as snow.  This film is allegorical in its use of the angel and devil, and hence, it does allude to Christian symbolism and scripture.

 

The mixture of singing while doing menial chores such as laundry and finding joy in those duties reminds me so much of Snow White cleaning the Seven Dwarfs' house.  It is reminiscent of the adage from the song "Whistle While You Work."  The Disney movie and song championed the hard, honest work needed during the Depression, and the allusion to Snow White may be a suggestion to all people in WWII to continue to work with a joyful heart to help win the war.  Additionally, Petunia singing through her work and struggles is also reminiscent of the Negro spirituals of slaves working in the fields.  Perhaps, Vincent Minnelli wishes to highlight the struggles of African Americans through Ethel Waters' rendition of the song.

Petunia's gestures and voice inflections while singing are more romantic in nature, and her hugging Joe's shirt does suggest a sexual intent.  Still, if "little" Joe were a child, Petunia could have used a blanket to drape across her shoulders as though she were cuddling her baby.  Given that Petunia and Joe do not have any children, she could look upon Joe and his naughty ways much like a disobedient child who she needs to gently move back onto the path of right living.  Also, Petunia's embrace with Joe's shirt and her use of "little" Joe could suggest her hopefulness of a baby through their renewed intimacy now that Joe is recovered physically and mentally from his gambling habit.  Culturally, if Joe were a child, Petunia could be seen as a single woman trying to raise her child alone.  Perhaps she is widowed or her man abandoned her, and she needs to be certain that her child will live a better and more mortally right life.  As a single mother, Petunia could be a model for women who have lost their husbands or whose husbands are absent due to the war or unscrupulous lifestyles.  She could be an inspriation to keep doing a thorough job as a mother and wife.

The film does utilize some stereotypes of African Americans--the faithful, hard-working wife, the gambling husband, the tempting seductress--along with the highlights to jazz through the appearance of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.  Still, the film is groundbreaking in its effort to highlight the tremendous talents of Waters, Horne, Armstrong, and Ellington.  The film brings their talents to a wider audience beyond the clubs of Harlem and hence does give the performers an opportunity to be presented to a white audience outside of New York City.  They are not the secondary, background characters in a film; they are the primary personalities.  Cabin in the Sky is a film which sets the opportunity for another Waters' film Pinky, a 1949 American race drama.  Waters was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Dicey, the grandmother who raises Pinky.  The title role of Pinky is played by a white actress, Jeanne Crain, but Waters as Dicey gives a wonderful dramatic performance teaching her granddaughter to be true and proud of her identity as well as her profession as a nurse.  Dicey challenges Pinky to overcome her own prejudices while also dealing with prejudice placed upon her.  Without Cabin in the Sky, audiences may have been denied the pleasure of seeing Ethel Waters sing, dance or act with great intensity and integrity in other films like The Member of the Wedding.  What a loss it would have been of inspiration and sheer elation in a truly wonderful talent.

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I know that this is a Daily Dose board for #8; however there is never an official board where we can post about the Daily Lecture/Video. In this case, I would like to request a "sin license" (permission) to do just that - and comment on the video about On the Town. 

I liked the comment made about Gene Kelly's quote, that all are important in musicals.  I had recently posted in the Ruby Keeler / Eleanor Powell board (but now cannot find it to repeat my own quote here); therefore, I paraphrase myself....

Since Gene Kelly said that every performer/tech person is important, I wanted to repeat the quote from my other post about ballet master, George Balanchine. The quote attributed to Balanchine is that, "Everyone contributes to the painting."  This is what Gene Kelly was saying.  Every performer from the extra to the star, costume and set designers, tech people - they all created art. This is even more true later on in Gene Kelly's own masterpiece, An American in Paris, where he connotatively and literally created "art."  

In On the Town Gene Kelly's insistence on location shooting did make this such an incredible musical.  If filmed on a sound stage, it still would have been wonderful; however, the backdrop of New York - in which New York becomes a character - really propelled the idea of Americana and its values. Viewers who were unable to see this landmarks in person, witnessed them as part of the American Dream. New York was the land of opportunity for the Ellis Island immigrants, and still calls people to achieve their dreams on Broadway, or in the arts. The lively, busy streets of New York with its people from the elite to the working class, set the pace for a fast action musical film, full of the vitality and pulse of the city. It almost is an homage as well to that "Forty-Second Street" Busby Berkley number - "...where the underworld meets the elite....." New York contains people of all types and from all walks of life.

Two years ago, I saw the revival of On the Town on Broadway, with Broadway veterean, Tony Yazbek as Gabey and Megan Fairchild (NYCB dancer) as Ivy. I didn't recognize most of the songs, including, "I Can Cook, Too!" and realized that the songs must have been mostly rewritten for the movie. The opening (construction worker / "New York, New York" was the same, as well as a similar introduction to Miss Turnstiles. It gave a thrill and a nod to the film version. It was difficult, however, accepting someone other than Gene Kelly playing the role, but because it was vastly different in songs, it worked. Nothing, however, could match Gene Kelly's performance. It is ingrained in our psyches, and we reference it in memory as the ultimate performance of the musical part.  

The team of actors in the film was incredible, and it makes me admire not only Ann Miller, Betty Garrett, and Jules Munchin, but also Frank Sinatra.  He humbly took on a series of comic roles where he was not the romantic lead. Good for him! He played a comic character; whereas in fact, he was the heartthrob of the era. I love it when actors play against type, and/or parody. His willingness to be the lesser endeared him, to audiences even further, I think, and don't forget that he had two or three fabulous solos for all of his adoring fans!

Gene Kelly, however, is the ultimate and consummate performer, with his song and dance, but also for his inclusion of ballet. I write a lot about ballet, so this is important to me. In the recent revival of On The Town on Broadway, they cast a NYCB ballet company dancer for Ivy, as well as NYCB company dancers for the recent Broadway production of An American in Paris, to which I could address many of the above comments.  The "Paris" production handled things a bit differently as well. 

In summary, I wanted to know if we could have a message board for the videos. I always have something to say about them, and if you will forgive my "sin license" (to deviate from the norm) I wanted to express my comments

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1. As she first enters the room after he wakes she sits by the bed, leaning on it, as if she's praying - sending up a thankful prayer for his recovery.  As it moves outside it shows time is passing, he is recovering and she is getting back to her daily routine. But, as she takes his shirt down she once again feels grateful for his recovery and his love, and she wraps the shirt around her as if he is embracing her. 

2. I think some of the song could be sung as a lullaby to a child, but certainly the meaning would be different. However, most of the words could easily translate, saying that your child is bringing you happiness, even when you're sad. I do think though, that the type of love spouses give each other is very different from the love btwn a parent and child. Certainly a child always needs the love of a parent, but a child should not feel the responsibility creating/keeping their parent happy. 

3. Certainly there was still a lot of prejudice during WWII. Troops were still often separated by race. Seeing a film like this allowed African Americans to see people like them on screen. It allowed people of different races to see African Americans and see that their problems were not necessarily so different from anyone else.

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  1. What do you notice about the way the scene is directed as Petunia goes to Joe’s bedside and as we cut to her outside hanging laundry? What does this tell us about her relationship, and the connection to the song?
  2. How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?
  3. What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era?

Petunia moves from pillow to clothesline while her ecstasy at Joe’s slow recovery from a gunshot wound remains unchanged.  The scene begins in the matrimonial bedroom at what could have been his deathbed.  The amazing miracle that Joe has regained consciousness and will live causes Petunia to express her feeling that the most important thing in her life is having him with her.  Her song of joy in her marriage and love for him does not diminish as time goes by.  We learn this as the scene changes to the prosaic backyard task of gathering the clothes from the clothesline.  Petunia caresses Joe’s shirt as he sits nearby in a wheelchair.  His frailty is evident but Petunia’s song of love and devotion is faithfully constant. 

Petunia is someone I could easily know and love as a friend or coworker.  Her beautiful smile, expressive eyes and capable arms reveal a motherly sympathetic personality who would share in my joys and troubles.  Ethel Waters’ acting ability is timeless and appealing to all races, cultures and periods of history.  

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The wifely duties show her love for her husband. 

The song would change if being sung to a child as the type of love is different. Maybe more tender for a child. 

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1.  Petunia cares deeply for her husband, as is shown in the beginning of the song when she is at his bedside.  The scene then changes to her hanging laundry with her hubby in a wheelchair.  My impression is that this scene shows how she has doted on him and cared for him to get him well.  She has stood by his side all this time and will remain there.

2.  I don't.think anything would change.

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  1. What do you notice about the way the scene is directed as Petunia goes to Joe’s bedside and as we cut to her outside hanging laundry? What does this tell us about her relationship, and the connection to the song?

"Little Joe" is that he's probably immature. She takes care of him as if he were a child. She nutures him, supports him and gives her all for him.

  1. How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?

She's already treating him like a child while he's healing. She's the responsible one. The song wouldn't change much but the cultural meaning might. Likely if he *were* a child, his irresponsibility would be more acceptable. As a gambler, he's not much of a partner. He's more a drain.

  1. What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era?

I've always loved "Cabin in the Sky" as a musical. I love the black musical performers of the era. I think the film is particularly important because it records for all time the performers and their abilities. It is a shame that there are not more films by black performers. I think the stereotypes are one thing, but real stories would be better. 

 

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  1. What do you notice about the way the scene is directed as Petunia goes to Joe’s bedside and as we cut to her outside hanging laundry? What does this tell us about her relationship, and the connection to the song?  Petunia is excited to see that he is alive.  When hangs the laundry she is slower but happy.  She sings to the Lord to thank him for saving or giving Joe a miracle for being alive.
  2. How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?   I think the song would be very similar.  The song would be a little slower because she is happy.  I feel she would be crying for happiness if it was a child.  I think any changes with the cultural meaning would be less religious.
  3. What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era?  Black Americans seemed to be deeply religious.   They believe in a Heaven and Hell.  They seem to be looking for someone else to solve the problem for them whether it be money or God.  This film was important because it showed the American Public that Black films can hold up to the white counterparts.

 

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What do you notice about the way the scene is directed as Petunia goes to Joe’s bedside and as we cut to her outside hanging laundry? What does this tell us about her relationship, and the connection to the song?  She is totally devoted to her husband.  Despite Joe's indiscretions, Petunia is unfailingly faithful and very much in love, bedroom or laundry.  Seeing her wrap Joe's shirt around her shoulders says it all. The song plays it out perfectly.

How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?  I don't see this as a song about a child.  Perhaps some shifting of phrases might work, but this to me is a love song to a spouse.

What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era?  The film shows what can be accomplished when people work together.  It was beautifully and sensitively directed and presented to showcase all the film's participants.  

 

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Cabin in the Sky, as was Hallelujah before it, was an important film in that it featured an all african american cast, but fell short of being a trend setter. These movies did not result in much change in the overall status of the african american performer in Hollywood at that time although these films were successful at the box office.  Having said that it was an important beginning, but even today we still have issues regarding diversity in the movie industry.

Ethel Waters performance of "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe" is a reflection of her devotion to her husband, her commitent to caring and nurturing is evident in her relationship with her husband,  in much the same way she worships her god.  She is supportive of him and loves him inspite of his faults.  The song celebrates love, values of home and marriage. The love she was expressing was not passionate, nor sexual. As I watch and listen to her performance of this song I couldn't help but think she could have just as easily been singing to her child.  If a child was substituted, it would not have been necessary to change much of the delivery.

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Such an interesting reminder of the times. Petunia had an epiphany with Joe's injury; all the issues that she's had with Joe throughout the movie - his unreliability, his gambling, his inability to put food on the table - vanished when he was hurt. She realized that her happiness was wrapped up in him. She could forgive him anything, as long as he was alright. (In contemporary times, any friend of Petunia would be helping her nurse Joe back to health, writing down his every annoying habit while he's sick, then dumping Joe on his mama's doorstep.)

In the scene with the laundry, we see that she is contented, if not downright happy, just to continue caring for him, and is doing her share of the work to maintain the household joyfully; there also must have been some passage of time because she is outside the house (as is he, in a chair) instead of by his bedside.

The question about Joe as her partner versus as a child takes contemplation given our current 'enlightened' outlook - I think we as an audience would be much more understanding of Petunia's forgiving a wayward child than of her endless accommodation of a wayward man (again, dump that guy!). The scene would be more poignant and the song as well. 

I think, during WWII, that there were a series of values that were viewed as critical in supporting the war effort. Movies underscored those values. Movies supporting, repairing, or propagating conventional family life - because boys at war needed parents, wives, sisters to support them. Movies encouraging people overtly or obviously to fill the many jobs available to help the war effort, regardless of race. Movies encouraging people to support, rather than critique, the war effort, and have faith that good would prevail. "Cabin in the Sky" is an example of such a movie; a movie targeting what was perceived to be the African American community, in order to draw more Americans into the WWII conversation.

 

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Cabin in the Sky is extremely important to this history of American film, especially during World War II because it shows African American life in the most authentic way up to that point in history. Yes, it relies on some stereotypes and misconceptions and paints an entire group of people with a wide brush, but it shows the characters as multidimensional and complex. They have good days and good intentions, but good things don't always happen. Since it was made by a major director and studio, it allowed the rest of the country to see lives and stories they might not have otherwise seen. 

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What do you notice about the way the scene is directed as Petunia goes to Joe’s bedside and as we cut to her outside hanging laundry? What does this tell us about her relationship, and the connection to the song?

The sentiments of the song are clearly genuinely felt by Petunia, and the way this scene is directed shows the audience that she needn't just be by Joe's side in a time of need in order to feel this way. Her love permeates even life's most mundane moments - such as airing laundry - and she probably feels like she could sing this song all the time and still mean every word. Her relationship with Joe is very doting, but not in a forced way as if she thinks she has to do this in order to maintain his favour as a wife. Rather, Petunia's life sincerely centres around him and she would gladly devote all of her time and efforts to him, caring for him and ensuring his well-being so long as he loves her back.

How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?

Because this is a woman singing about a husband, there is a lot of underlying meaning there in terms of loyalty, faithfulness/fidelity, and the type of love that this can be about. If this was a woman singing about her child, the kind of love this portrays changes quite a lot. As a mother, one is supposed to feel this type of unwavering support and kindness and genuine loyalty towards one's children - even when they stray from a path that is considered the right one. As a wife, one needn't necessarily feel the same way; however, Petunia does. This doesn't alter the fact that this song is about love in one of its most basic forms, but it does frame how we perceive the relationship between two people who don't really owe each other that type of devotion, yet choose to do so anyhow even when one has gone astray and made life harder for the other. That is a powerful message that would have been highly topical culturally, politically, and personally for audiences of the time.

What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era?

This film seems to me a turning point, or at least the start of one, in how black America was portrayed to audiences on screen. Ethel Waters, who really carries the film, embodies her character with such depth of feeling and intelligence, both socially and personally, that she defies the portrayals of similar such characters that had come before her. The thematic elements of unity and diversity are heavy-handed with the making of this film, and I'm sure it helped the cause amongst black Americans who were enlisted or who had family enlisted at the time to show a larger audience that a beautiful story about life, love, loss, and loyalty can be carried quite wonderfully by a person of colour. This is a very humanising touch in a landscape which had previously catered to stereotypical and trivial representations of black Americans and minority groups.

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Listening to Ethel Waters as Petunia sing this song, you really get the feeling that despite everything that happens as a result of her husband's gambling she truly does love him.  I really love the actress who plays the girl who runs to tell everyone that Joe is going to be okay.  I have seen her in Gone With the Wind and Mildred Pierce and she is always good for a laugh especially in a tense moment.  Comic relief at its finest.

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     I found it odd that she was not more broken up when Joe was found not breathing in the scene before this.  I chalked it up to her unwavering belief in God and that Joe would be saved in the end.  I think that is an important lead into this scene as it references the strength of her faith….be it in God or in Joe.  The direction of the scene emphasizes her commitment and devotion to Joe.  It is this scene where she becomes the most remarkable character in the film.  Upon finding Joe alive, she immediately thanks God.  Again, her devotion is clear. She is singing about the fact that for her, Joe is happiness. Beyond all his shortcomings, she is able to see the good within him.  It’s worth mentioning, it was a great reveal at the end of the scene when she pulls the sheet away and we see the two gamblers who’ve come to collect. 

     I don’t think there would be any difference in the song if she were singing about her child.  Joe for all intents and purposes, is a child.  He acts like a child throughout the film exhibiting very little self-control.  Perhaps it is his childlike innocence that she loves.  The hope for the future that every parent sees in their child.  The only difference would be for the viewer.  We know she is singing about a husband and we are aware that the love of a mate is different than that for one’s child.   I think the extent to which she has faith in Joe and her devotion to him despite his less than admirable tendencies, is a bit unnerving for the viewer. Most of us hope that we would succumb to our better angels in a situation like this, but I doubt many would. 

     Minnelli said that he wanted to portray the characters with “affection, rather than condescension”.  I guess time will tell if that was the case, but for me, I saw affection.  Probably in large part due to Ethel Waters and her desire to emphasize the role of Petunia.  She does in fact carry this movie that she feared was just about men.  It is sad that this film will justifiably be held up as reinforcing black stereotypes, because the message contained is not one of race.  The message is one of the struggles between good and evil, the love of god and family, and human frailty; all of which are human issues, not race based issues.

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Ethel Waters is such a beautiful presence. The song takes her from the first moments of knowing that her husband is alive to a point in his recovery where family life is getting back to normal as she hangs laundry, a progression that would relate to the experiences of a lot of WWII families. We see the angel smiling in the room and we realize that her love for Joe will be redemptive. As she puts her head next to Joe's on the pillow, we get a suggestion that her love is sexual as well as emotional. He is a lucky guy! I think that this song would be really strange and maybe even creepy if applied to a child. Listen to the music--it is sinuous and honeyed and doesn't suggest parental emotion in any way that I can hear. I am reluctant to pontificate about the cultural implications of this film for Americans of color during WW II. I don't have the qualifications or experience to do so. However, I can see that this film takes their lives seriously and shows them as more than background figures as they would be in most musicals. On the other hand, it shows them in a completely segregated world. So there is the diversity that we have already studied as a feature of the war effort, but the film also implies the word of prejudice and injustice that looms outside the emotional warmth and solid family values that this scene portrays.

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