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Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

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

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On 6/14/2018 at 1:35 AM, chillyfillyinak said:

In his review of the "Hallelujah" DVD, Bob Mondello explains: "The DVDs all (including "Cabin In the Sky") begin with a legend you cannot fast-forward through. It says: 'The films you are about to see are a product of their time. They may reflect some of the prejudices that were commonplace in American society, especially when it came to racial and ethnic minorities. Those depictions were wrong then, and are wrong today. These films are being presented as they were originally created because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming those prejudices never existed.'" I suppose the prejudices referred to in this clip would be Waters' complete acceptance of her husband, despite his tawdry behavior in gambling away hard earned money needed by the couple, which apparently led in part to his being shot. Also, Waters' unquestioning faith in God could be what the DVD warning refers to, in addition to depicting Anderson as shiftless with a wandering eye, and lack of self-control. 

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?

Having not seen the film, I can only suppose that the man standing at the end of the bed dressed in white as a kind of drum major is an angel, as he vanishes, or fades out in the middle of the scene. In other '40s films, directors used angels in the plot, but they were usually dressed in old-fashioned clothes (Its a Wonderful Life") or in formal, yet then-contemporary garb ("Here Comes Mr Jordan"). The fact that the black angel is dressed as a band leader in white is odd, but may be part of the "prejudice" at play.

Waters is sitting dejected until she hears Anderson call her name. Once she enters his sickroom and finds him conscious, she declares that he is alright! Although I thought it was presumptuous of her, I imagine her complete faith in God answering her prayers is demonstrated here. Minnelli's use of Butterfly McQueen ("Miss Scarlett, I don't know nothin' about birthin' babies") is definitely an outdated stereotype meant to be comic relief, hence the DVD warning.

Waters begins her song at Anderson's bedside and then continues to finish the song whilst collecting her wash from the line. Her faith in God was justified because Anderson is sitting up, obviously recovering from his wounds. Waters voice grows more lilting and joyful, and her mood is more girlish, flirtatious, and carefree once outside as she believes her husband will survive, and that he loves her. Despite all of his faults that is all she says she wants. Although some housewives might think washing and drying laundry the old-fashioned way was drudgery, Waters is happy with her lot in life because her husband loves her. The song expresses all of these thoughts and the manner in which she sings it sells it to the audience.

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

It would be strange if Waters was singing about her child as the lyrics talk about "his kiss," and Waters drapes her husband's freshly washed and dried shirt around her as if in an embrace. Those sentiments would have to change.

Although as a mother I can imagine being as joyful and grateful as Waters if a child was saved from a gunshot wound, I would not be singing and dancing in a flirtatious and girlish manner. The mood would be more motherly, caring, and nurturing. The cultural meaning would not change (whatever that means), but the feeling would be different.

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?

In addition to my previous comments about the racial aspects of this all black musical, I would add that director Minnelli was a consummate professional. All of his films are meticulous in detail in terms of the sets, costumes, lighting and shot composition. I believe this is the result of his starting out his professional life as a store window dresser, and moving to the position of set designer on Broadway. As this was his directorial debut, it was cagey of him to choose a genre no other MGM director focused on, namely the all black musical.

Any film showing blacks in a positive light necessarily led to a kind of unification with their white fellow citizens, as well as a new found appreciation of blacks who were serving their country in the military.

 

This was his first film. Pretty impressive.

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2. What would be done differently if she were singing to a child? I think there might be more focus on the child. A few shots of the child's face in reaction to the song. In the second shot, there might be different approaches depending on the gender of the child. You'll notice that Petunia is nearly through with the second verse before we even realize that Joe is there. I could see, if the child were a girl, her staying by Petunia's side through that scene. Yes, even in a wheelchair, she might still be holding the laundry basket for her mother, as it was an accepted role for the girl to "apprentice" to her future role as housekeeper. A boy might not have to help, but I could see Petunia keeping him closer to her, and again, the song might be interspersed with shots of the child's reaction.

3. It seems that exaggeration was the currency for portrayals of blacks at this time. This was still a period when eugenicists, both in Europe and in America, were selling the idea that blacks were an earlier stage of evolution than whites; not merely more primitive culturally, but developmentally as well. Dr. Ament notes the swings in these films between extreme religiosity and misbehavior, but exaggeration pervades every part of the black scenario. Emotions, worship, vice, even dress is exaggerated. Note that while there are many films with angels in them, most angels are content dressing quite modestly. Clarence has a plain overcoat (covering the nightgown he was buried in). Cary Grant in "The Bishop's Wife" is dapper enough in his plain suit. Even Ray Walston in "Damn Yankees" is dressed in a suit and tie. But the angels and devils in "Cabin in the Sky" are dolled up in uniforms like celestial hussars or drum majors.

Still, with its currency in place, this film still does its best to validate blacks. Contrast that to the style of "inclusiveness" in "This is the Army", which is a blatant propaganda piece for the armed forces. We're given scenes of famous blacks, even Joe Louis, being recruited for this great army extravaganza, and then we're given a completely segregated show. A minstrel show in blackface, and a completely separate "Harlem" sequence for the black talent (and Alan Hale in a dress, but let's not get distracted).

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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?

I've observed the "heavenly" light that glows from behind Ethel Waters; the room is significantly dark as she sings in full closeup, but her shoulders and back are lit. I interpret this as the "divine" presence that brought Joe back to Petunia alive and mostly unharmed. When the director cuts the outdoors scene, Waters is filmed in a full shot and is fully lit from the sun as she sings around the clean laundry.  She's happy and we can see her whole body exude that happiness.

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

Ethel Waters smile completely illuminates her face showing the love that she has for her husband in the opening of the clip.  It is a romantic song; I don't think the performance would be the same were she singing to a child.  I supposed her loving gaze would have to be softer if she sang to her son.  Clearly a worried mother would express her loving concern for her child in a less romantic fashion once she knew he was home and safe.

  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?

It's significantly important that there's even one attempt at an honest representation of Black America at ANY time, but more so while the country is at war.  The feelings that "we are all Americans" is a powerful message especially while the American Way of Life is under attack from foreign powers.  Representation matters aside, I still get the vibe from the performance is a little more "Porgy and Bess" to satisfy white audiences.  I was good right up to the arrival of Butterfly McQueen (House Servant Prissy from GOTW) and her unforgettable mouse-squeaky voice for her derivative performance.  It's the same type of caricature of black domestic (maid, butler, porter) that filled the margins of the movies in the 40s and 50s.  It's at least another 20 years for Black performers to bust out of that stereotype.

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There is a fluid relationship between caring for Joe whether he is in bed or in the wheelchair while she is working. He is always on her mind no matter what her primary task is.

  1. I feel it may not change much if the woman were singing to a child because people of color were often thought of as children by the prevailing culture. It may be more difficult to say how the African American culture would truly view the change from singing to a male to a child. 
  2. Although all people of color were viewed as less than during this time in American history, it is important to remember that they were recruited in high numbers in the war efforts. Therefore, they were vital to the success of the war efforts and it was important to influence people of color in whatever ways they could. It is also important to remember that many people of color clung to whatever visual representation of themselves that they saw.

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Response to #1.

The one prevailing theme running through this film, for me, has been its extraordinary sense of the normalcy of life (even in the midst of allegory). I feel like Petunia, Lily, Little Joe, and the other characters are people I might know or encounter because their stories feel real. This feeling of reality carries through as Petunia sings...not only does the change of scene reflect the passage of time, but it also reflects that she continues to carry the load of the housework in addition to being Little Joe’s nursemaid, a story that many spouses and significant others understand far too well. The housework doesn’t stop just because someone becomes ill. Life continues, hence that feeling of normalcy that Cabin in the Sky exudes.

Response to #2.

Well, to be very honest, Little Joe doesn’t always act like the “man of the house,” does he? Petunia saves him from the debt collectors, nurses him as he recovers from gunshot wounds inflicted after a bad night at John Henry’s... Little Joe makes some pretty bad decisions, much as a child would. In a very real sense, Petunia is the fully mature adult in this relationship, and Little Joe hasn’t exactly figured out that he should be doing more, not less. His heart wants to, but there is no discipline. Children behave in much the same way. They know they shouldn’t take a piece of candy when they’ve been told not to, but they haven’t the discipline or experience to understand why they shouldn’t yet. So...although the lyrics are fully mature and reflect an adult relationship, I don’t see Petunia and Little Joe as equals in this marriage...yet. At the end of the film, Little Joe finally gets it!!

Response to #3.

From my point of view, Cabin in the Sky is a gorgeous film. I don’t know if it was embraced by audiences of its time, but it’s just so beautiful, it would be a shame to not love this film. Its actors bring the story’s characters to life so vividly, and the story itself is timeless. I guess that’s the way I am seeing Cabin in the Sky—as a truly timeless story, but all good allegories and fables are timeless. So Minnelli and company did a wonderful job making a timeless film. 

 

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I think the segue way illustrates how much she loves Joe and he is her life. She's content taking care of him and the way she hugs his shirt shows how much in love she is with Joe.

I think if she was singing about her child it would be different. It would be more of love for her child and keeping it safe. It's still about love but more of a mothering instinct to have a safe world for her child.

Cabin in the sky shows the African American society in a positive life, showing love and faith something that everyday Americans felt. America was trying to be more integrated and show that African Americans in the US were an important part of society.

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1. The scene shifts from Petunia being in a place of crisis in the seconds before she realizes Joe is calling for her to her joy at seeing him. "Don't call the doctor, go tell the reverend, tell everybody..." She's overjoyed that her husband is going to be all right. As he tries to speak to her, she tells him to rest, and in her joy and love, she begins to sing. The bedside rejoice (aside from making me tear up) has a tender softness to it. When we shift to the outdoor scene, it shows some time passed, and she's no longer dressed in dark clothing with her hair covered but is wearing a bright dress, taking down brighter laundry, and singing joyfully. She continues to care for Joe, putting him out of the sun, but her life has found a balance - he's home. He made the right choice in being faithful and choosing family, and it changed her life.

2. If this had been a woman singing to her child, the words would have changed. Not all of them - the affection and love would still be there, but the romantic side would be removed. She might sing of her joy to have her boy back. Instead of being about a strong marriage (representing how we're loyal to our country through good and bad) it would have been expected - what mother wouldn't want her child back? It's a stronger meaning to have a wife want her husband back and find happiness in him when he's caused her strife. 

All children cause their parents strife, yet rarely would a parent not want their child at full health. It would have lost that national tie if it had been about a child.

3. This film is amazing and baffling. We still struggle today with equality and equal representation in films (of women and people of color), and yet this film managed to do both back in the 40s. Minnelli handled this with a more sensitive touch than say, Hallelujah! director King Vidor, but it's also 20 years later and times have changed. There are always stereotypes in early films, but this film isn't one to divide - regardless of skin color, it could be viewed as a touching story that reminded the nation that we are united, regardless of what the past has put us through. I think this would be especially true for black Americans serving in WWII or with loved ones serving. It's a reminder that their contribution isn't less - it's equal. The war couldn't have been won without all Americans uniting together.

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I think the scene at the bedside is all about Ethel Waters. Eddie Anderson is marginalized in the picture. I notice that Ethel Waters was wearing a dental prosthesis to remove her front tooth gap. I think it makes her prettier and less like a supporting player because of this. So, in a sense, the movie is about her love and devotion to her husband and the husband is there to provide the problems for her to react to. When she goes outside to take down the laundry, we find that time has passed and Joe is still ill, but in a wheelchair outside. And he is still very incidental to the scene. She even pushes his chair further out of the picture, but I love the part where she takes down his shirt and wraps it around her in a hug. She's almost giddy with love for him. 

Yes, I think the song and context would change if it were about a child. Only brand new parents are as giddy as Petunia was about Joe. The line about how when he kiss(es) her, it's Christmas everywhere would not be appropriate for a child.

I think this film, as opposed to Hallelujah!, is more stereotyped. Little Joe's bad behavior and Eddie Anderson's portrayal of him as a comedy figure seem to reinforce stereotypes of black men as shiftless. In Hallelujah!, Zeke was a man who had a conversion and then "backslid" to go live with Chick, but he was a man who was overcome by temptation. In Cabin in the Sky, Little Joe seemed to be going to church to confess to please Petunia, or to live up to a weak resolution to change, as the movie referred to other times he had disappointed Petunia. Also, the portrayal of religion was different. In Hallelujah!, I accepted that this was a religious family, except for Zeke. It didn't seem stereotyped to me because they could have been any family. In Cabin in the Sky, the church was for the women, mostly, and men had to be dragged there. Similar to our own times, I think. And it was up to the women to put up with whatever their men dished out. Very different from most women, nowadays. Also, the use of poor grammar and poor English in the songs, when they didn't necessarily use poor English in speech, annoyed me. There's nothing more stereotypical than a Black person who doesn't speak appropriately, and it wasn't necessary.

I can't speak to the problems of African-Americans in WWII era, but I know that second-class citizenship was their experience. Even in the Army, integration wasn't the rule. I'm not sure if there were any integrated units. 

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The scene is directed to show that Petunia has two loves – the Lord and Joe.  As soon as Joe cries out, Petunia runs to his bedside and says a prayer of thanks.  Her faith is so strong that she knows that Lily should get the reverend, not the doctor.  Joe’s love gives her life purpose, and she’s happy even in the hardest of times as long as she knows he loves her.  Ethel Waters looks beatific when she sings to Joe, and her radiant smile lights up her whole face. 

 

I felt part of the laundry scene, remembering all the times we hung our freshly washed clothes on the line during my childhood, me standing on a chair to do so.  After a couple of hours, we’d go outside and run our hands across the clothes to feel if they were dry, just like Petunia did.  The sheets would be warmed by the sun, and I’d hug them as I unpinned them from the line.  A very happy Petunia enjoyed washing and drying the clothes, because it meant her Joe was alive.  She took his shirt off the line and wrapped its arms around her neck, hugging it close to her.  It smelled like Joe, and all things Joe were a delight to her.  I still have clothing my late parents wore, and I, from time to time, hug them close to me to feel their presence.

 

In many ways, I could see Petunia responding the same way had Joe been her child instead of her husband.  She thrived on taking care of him, and basically mothered Joe.  In both the bed and laundry scenes, Petunia affectionately taps her fingers on Joe’s face, as a parent would a child.  While outside, she notices Joe has been in the sun too long, and pushes his wheelchair back into the shade.  She loves Joe unconditionally and, though she’d prefer he change his lifestyle, she sticks with him through thick and thin.  She puts Joe first as a parent does their child, and loves them no matter what they do.

 

I loved Ethel Waters in “The Member of the Wedding”.  I wanted to be one of the children who climbed up into her lap as she held them and sang.  If you can, try to see the TV show ‘Route 66’ and its episode entitled “Goodnight Sweet Blues”.  Ethel plays a dying jazz singer whose last wish is to get her old band back together.  It is a wonderful show, and she is magnificent in it.

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1. Although we do briefly cut to a shot of the angel as a reminder of Joe’s redemption, this scene is mainly about her happiness that he is back and the cut to her doing the laundry shows that she also is fine with taking care of him while she handles the laundry herself, even despite his past behavior as a gambler.

2. She’d probably still have the same tone of happiness, and the fact that she is taking care of him would apply to a child too, so I don’t think there would be anything too drastic about this.

3. In the film industry during this time period, African Americans were only able to get supporting roles usually in subservient roles, Eddie Anderson included (although unlike many African American characters at the time, the Rochester character on The Jack Benny Program was usually the one picking on his boss, rather than the other way around). Having a film like this not only with African Americans in central roles but also in sympathetic roles was very good, although it does tend to use common stereotypes.

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I noticed that the scene shows Petunia as a very loving and caring wife. She is happy to have her husband healthy and safe again. The cut shows Petunia taking care of her husband to taking care of the house again, along with her husband but now she is happy. This scene shows how much she loves her husband and the joy she gets out of taking care of him. If Petunia was singing to a child instead of her husband then there would a different type of love and happiness that she would be singing about. 

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1. Petunia is dedicated to Joe and his recovery, but does not neglect her daily chores. 

2. I really don't think the song would change much if it were being sung about a child.  The underlying themes(love & devotion to family) would remain the same.

3. This film is important because it shows that attitudes are beginning to change about minorities.

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Q1) This song implies that everything for Petunia revolves around Joe.  He is her very reason for being and she believes him to be so good that lilacs smile when he goes by.  When the film cuts to Petunia hanging clothes and still singing about Joe, I think this symbolizes how much her love for him is a part of her everyday life.  Joe is such a big part of her life in that Joe is what she is always thinking about...at least when she isn't thinking about the Lord.

Q2) It is hard to imagine this song being sung about a child.  The words and orchestration of the music make it seem romantic rather than maternal.  The look on her face is one of love, but love for a man not a child.  If this song were about a child, it wouldn't fit well in the movie.  It is also about the hope and love so deep that it won't change no matter what...at least up to this point we doubt that Petunia would ever stop loving Joe.

Q3) The importance of this film is that it was an all African-American cast, which seen very often. It gave these actors/actresses/singers/musicians a chance to shine.  I enjoyed watching this movie and oh how I rooted for Joe to pull it together.  The presence of good angel vs bad angel was lined up well with rooting for the Allies vs the Axis.  In its own way it helped strengthen the ties to war.  I can't help, but think it gave some people a thought to reforming their life in case death was just around the corner.  No one wanted to go with Lucifer Jr!

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1.  It tells us that she is a devoted wife and that she has been taking care of her husband in his illness.  That even though they have had struggles in their marriage she is still committed to helping take care of him and be there for him in times of sickness and difficulty. She is still very much in love with him. 

2.  I think some of the wording maybe would change a bit or mean a bit different. If she were kissing a child that is a different sort of kissing and tenderness.  A mother's love is different than romantic love.  To be honest if she were singing this to a dying child I think it would be even more tragic, because I think there is nothing more sad and tragic then a life cut short before its time. 

3.  Films starring and featuring African Americans are very important.  During this time there was still segregation both in the civilian world and in the army.  African American soldiers during World War II were starting to get a taste of freedom by visiting European countries and after World War II many of them began advocating for civil rights.  I'm sure that the films starring African Americans helped to pave the way for American audiences to sympathize with and have a greater cultural understanding and empathy towards African Americans. 

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1. I notice that Joe is the center of Petunia's universe. Nothing else is more important to her than Joe, whether she's doing laundry or any other chores. This tells me that her relationship with Joe is key--it's so much a part of her that she's glowing while she's singing the song. 

2. If she were singing about her child, it wouldn't be as romantic. She would still be full of love and tenderness--just not in the same way she would be with her husband. I don't think the cultural meaning would change if she were singing about her child. Loyalty would still be the theme--even if it's not to a mate. Parents are loyal to their children, and this loyalty theme would still be in keeping with the strong nationalism of the day. 

3. I think this is a wonderful film that honors the African American community. Black Americans went above and beyond for their country during WWII.  Sadly, when they returned, they didn't receive the honor and opportunities they deserved. This film is important because it is such a well-done, respectful, tribute to their efforts. 

 

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  1. First of all THANK YOU!!! for choosing one of the greatest musical scenes for me as a viewer.  God I love this movie!!!... and this song is just amazing. Always makes me tear. Want a real additional treat? Listen to Judy sing it....

Also - there are some very witty and quick almost throw away lines in this movie that are complete treasures and help capture the intent of wartime entertainment. My favorite is when Luther Junior is in his office and complains - Why do I have to work with the B team?.....someone answers - Because the A team is busy in Europe. God only knows THAT was true!

  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?

That this is all she wants from life - and the Lord giving Joe back to her has made everything clean (that laundry was beautiful) and sunny - she's dressed up a bit even though she is doing chores. So the scene moves from relief to gratitude visually. We are all celebrating when the camera (and color value) shift from dull to bright in perfect unison with the quality of voice and music. 

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

Focusing on male/female relationships relates more closely to wartime themes. The men were gone and putting themselves at risk for the good of all Americans. This celebrates the value of adult relationship and marriage. Women were not worried about their children any more than usual. But they were very much worried about men not returning.

  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?

This film is extremely important to the social culture at the time in that it kept black Americans in the spotlight and on the radar while showcasing extraordinary talent (the Nicholas Bros are insanely talented.) It also celebrated the community black Americans had with each other instead of inserting them into white stories gratuitously. History has show us the power  and dedication African American's afforded  each other while highlighting their contributions during WWII in stories like The Tuskegee Airmen. Although there was not a systematic plan for exterminating blacks in Germany, they were still tortured and persecuted - even more so in WWI. These movies were an attempt to define and display the pride American's felt as a melting pot that offered freedom to all men.

 

 

 

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1. As the scene opens we’re in the dark at night. The room is lit but still the room is enclosed and dark. When it progresses from the room to her hanging clothes we’re transported to an area of light, where the sun shines, Walters smiles and sings of her love of Joe. The juxtaposition of exiting the darkness for the light is displayed not just in the setting but the lighting and character attitudes at the same time. Her joy in his being alive shows that her relationship to her husband is all encompassing.

 

2. The song would require a few lyric changes to suit that of a child but could easily be accomplished. The cultural implications would also require some changes as well. These lyrics suit the depiction of African-Americans as depicted in films at the time with things like “he got” used instead of “he has”. For the song to apply towards a white audience with a white performer those lyrics would require change, at least at the time the film was released.

 

3. Not being well versed on the movie I wondered if it would have been considered an exploitation film of the time period. Looking back historically we can decipher the intent of the film makers and the effects of the film coming out but back then would it be viewed in the same light? I think about the fact that in 1943 in most cities there would still have been segregated theaters or theaters designated as black theaters. The definition of exploitation films reads “a film intended to attract an audience by means of its sensationalist or controversial content.” For a film to feature an entire black cast such as this would that have been considered sensationalist or controversial? Was it well received by white audiences or did it even play to white audiences?

 

In watching films we’ve had scheduled and clips from movies to date in the class we’ve seen blacks in films in crowd shots or in the roles of servants which while subtle and small was at least an attempt to include blacks in films. In doing so Hollywood provided an opening for integration and acceptance in a country still dealing with the effects of slavery. We were still less than 100 years out from the Civil War and changes in civil rights had not been pressed yet. A movie like CABIN IN THE SKY would have been an attempt to further those issues and should be heralded.

WWII saw military men of all colors joined together to fight a common enemy. It wasn’t about this or that race but about defeating a person and an ideology. It united people of all colors like we’d never seen before. So why wouldn’t the same thing happen in our culture? I don’t think it honestly did until later as we witnessed films from the late 50s, 60s and 70s open those doors. But perhaps those films might not have happened without films like this nudging the door ajar.

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I love the importance of spotlighting African American culture at that time. It not only shows how different we all are at the same time, it proves we all have the same wants and needs.

 

 

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?

I love this scene but i do find it a bit intense. Her dedication to her husband is wonderful but the song makes it seem he is her entire world when clearly she is not his entire world. If the rolls were reversed would be singing to her that way? Her commitment to taking care of him while continuing to be a dutiful wife ie laundry made me smile. The role of women at that time was to serve her husband regardless. 

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

I feel like this song is a little intense. I think if it was directed toward a child it would even be creepier. That much show of love i feel like is almost an unhealthy infatuation. It would change the meaning as it shows her commitment to her husband which is her role but if it was sung about a child it would seem almost unnecessary as every mom should love her child that way. Husbands are more difficult to love then say your own child. 

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

Like i mentioned early its important to spotlight African Americans as they are just as important but often left off to the side of things. They love and loss the same as everyone else and depend on eachother to get through hard times. This movie is a neat time capsule. A love of country and of family which is the bedrock of America. 

 

 

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 The scene is directed with her learning that Joe is alive and she rushes to his bedside and her smile mirrors his smile as she breaks into song. She hovers over him as she sings resting her head on the pillow. The director cuts to the angel to show all is well and he fades out. She sings the next verse as she gathers the laundry reflecting on her happiness again and caring for Joe. This song would also work with a child as it is focused on love and devotion.

Cabin in the Sky and Hallelujah both focus heavily on the influence of religion and temptations of daily life. Petunia’s devotion to Joe is like every citizen’s devotion to the USA. You may not like everything they do but you love them no matter what. Films all tend to stereotype as all white people were not rich and running around nightclubs in evening gowns and tuxedos as all blacks were not gamblers or religious.

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1) What I noticed about how the scene is cut is the switching of roles. First, we can see Petunia on the bedside of Joe singing to him if he still loves her. The shot moves to the outside where Petunia is doing the laundry while she continues to sing "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe." I assume that it is the next day because it is daylight. Joe is now seating and watching Petunia as she removes the clothing from the line. She goes up to him and goes back to the clothes while she smiles at one of Joe's shirts and puts the arms around her. The switch of the scene shows Petunia doing her job as a housekeeper while Joe watches. She also has him in eyesight to take care of him. It could represent that after men got injured at war and returned home, the wives had to look after them. It tells us that their relationship is still strong as we can see in the clip with the song. Also, the song tells us that Joe is all the happiness for Petunia and she loves him so much that she wonders if he feels the same way. Once they are outside I get the idea that Joe does love her because now he is now by Petunia's side.

2) If the song was about a mother singing to her child it would be different. First of all, we can understand that a mother considers her child to be her world and her everything. We can assume that the child loves their mother back because he or she lives with her and the mother has always been their for them through the good times and the bad times. There would be no doubt that the child loves their mother. The cultural meaning would be focused more on family values than a man and woman who are struggling during the war.

3) I think Cabin in the Sky was able to address to a certain audience while also giving others an insight into the lives of African Americans. It shows that they experience the same troubles about love, family, and society regardless of race. This film was a form of unification and patriotism during the 1940s because it allowed races to understand and support each other.

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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?
    • When I see Petunia by the bedside, it seems like a very caring, motherly moment and she's allowing her words to reassure him and lift his spirits.  It's a closeup of only the two of them, showing us the intimacy between them.  When they switch to her outside hanging laundry, it switches to a more youthful side of Petunia, in which she is singing about the boy she loves.  She is doing a mundane task, but is caught up in her thoughts of someone she loves, singing, and even playing with the laundry. 
  2. How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?
    • I feel it would have a stronger impact if she was singing bedside to a child.  Most people expect to lose a parent, and eventually their spouse, but losing a child is always harder, as the parent feels they should outlive their offspring.  With the cultural influence of the war, it would certainly hit home and be a much more direct hit to show losing a child, as many families feared losing their brothers and sons to war.  I don't imagine the laundry scene would have been quite as youthful singing about a child, but more thankful. 
  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?
    • This film and it's all black casting is important then and even now.  In WWII, blacks were expected to fight for their country, yet, were seen as second class citizens.  Roles for blacks in movies prior to Hallelujah and Cabin in the Sky were all of butlers, entertainers, and workers,  They weren't seen often as a family, or shown in the same capacity as other families.  Showing this family dynamic to the screen helps show the black American families as equals. 

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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?

In the beginning of the clip, I noticed that Petunia was waiting for better or worse with hope for Joe. Her reaction in contrast to her friend’s at Joe’s bedside, was one of confidence and loyalty knowing that Joe would somehow get better, also displaying her faith in him and in God. She continues to carry the same commitment to Joe by taking care of him as he heals and not leaving his side while he is in his wheelchair. She continues to smile while happily doing their chores, and still staying grateful and loyal to Joe as she pushed his chair into the shade. This tells me that her relationship with Joe is a faithful one with a strong love and that she’ll take care of him throughout the worst of times. Her giddiness in the delivery of her lyrics while hugging Joe’s shirt was exceptionally genuine. A wonderful example.

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

I believe the song would change through the adjustments of lyrics, such as “angels heave or sigh”. I don’t believe the cultural meaning would change…at least not significantly. It’s a meaning that is about unconditional love and undying support.

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?

I appreciate its inclusion in the release of mainstream musicals back in ’43. After watching the Nicolas Brothers bonus clip, I can’t help but be perplexed as to why there haven’t been more musicals produced with more black and other minority diversity given the tremendous talents displayed by Ethel Waters and the Nicolas Brothers. They’re undeniable. I can understand the importance of Cabin in the Sky as it was methodically positioned to help unify the national spirit among black Americans. Also, being that Minelli was such a great directing talent, the film also illustrated that diverse films can be produced with high production value with quality talent. One would have thought that it could have served as a catalyst to the production of more black American or minority featured movie musicals.

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On 6/14/2018 at 6:30 AM, mjbreuer said:

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?

As the song begins with Petunia at Little Joe’s bedside, the meaning of the song comes across as an urgent prayer for his recovery and the care she shows her husband in his time of need. Here, it is particularly appropriate that the character is “Little” Joe, as Petunia’s treatment of her husband is very nurturing, much in the way a mother would care for a sick child. Later, as the scene shifts outside to the line of laundry, we see that Petunia’s devotion to her husband carries over into her domestic duties; Petunia’s happiness, as the song suggests, comes from her love of Joe. As a result, she is willing... more than that, she finds joy in the daily chores that help support and bring comfort to her husband’s life. This is seen later in the film as well, when Little Joe’s gift to Petunia is an electric washing machine. She is brought to tears over the gift, a tool that will help her better care for herself and her husband, which will only increase her joy. The song is beautifully sung by Waters, despite the statements the scene makes about a married woman finding happiness in her blind devotion to her husband and the problematic racism of the stereotypical dialect/slang used in the lyrics.

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

In many respects, Petunia’s behavior towards Little Joe is similar to the way one might expect a mother to treat her child. However, even if the performance might not have appeared much different, the cultural context and meaning of the scene would change quite a bit if Joe were a child. Rather than being a song about a woman’s devotion to her husband (or nation, as the subtext suggests) in spite of his troubles, a song directed toward a child would suggest the themes of selflessness and sacrifice. Petunia finding happiness in a child called Joe would set up the idea that she is setting aside her own ambitions in order to build a better future for her son. 

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?

The film is a problematic mix of its technical quality and the racial stereotypes it portrays when viewed through a 21st century lens. Waters is magnificent here, and the musical and dance talent that is assembled in the cast is a “who’s who” of top African American performers of the day. For me, the most problematic scene of the film that illustrates the film’s assets and it’s critical flaw is the “Shine” sequence. The song is an expertly-choreographed and executed dance number, worthy of praise on the part of the filmmakers and the performer. Minnelli’s mise-en-scene is flawless, and “Bubbles” (John William Sublett) gives a stellar dance performance. However, the lyrics and the stereotypical, affected delivery are so overtly racist by modern standards that the scene is difficult to watch. Is is amazing? Is it appalling? Yes to both.

That shine sequence must be viewed through historical lens Shine was supposed to be derogatory but blacks at the time turned it into a not necessarily a good thing but a new one 

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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? Petunia starts out fearing for Joe's life as he lays in bed, but as it is cut to her pulling down her dry laundry we see Joe recovering in a wheelchair and the song goes from melancholy to happiness. Unconditional love is what it seems to be about.

How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How? The lyrics would need to be changed a bit if she was singing about her child but I think the emotion behind the song would stay the same. Culturally, love of child, spouse and nation do have varying degrees of commitment (especially in this day and age).

What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era? Harry S. Truman segregated the military in 1948. Most African American were put in logistical or demeaning duties during the war. The film does show African American and not of the Step n' Fetchit characterizations that a number of films of the era depicted.

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Petunia is Joe's wife, she is a housewife and as Joe recovers from his illness, that brought him to the brink of death, she carries on with her work. Petunia has a strong relationship with Joe who does not speak but responds positively to Petunia's song.  The third individual by Joe's bed is an angel unseen to Petunia. He looks on kindly and disappears. Obviously Petunia has a strong relationship with God who has sent her heavenly assistance.

The song could as easily be addressed to a child as to a husband.  Her delivery is loving but not in such a manner that would be inappropriate for a child.

WWII is the event that brings racial discrimination to national attention.  Black soldiers served, and, if need be, died for their country, but discriminatory practices continued after the war, as they had after the Civil War and WWI. The movies depicted African Americans as real people in Cabin in the Sky and in Stormy Weather and could not easily revert to pre-war subservient buffoon portrayals  (i.e Mantan Moreland or Eddie Anderson in Topper Returns), even as the necessity of national unity and effort declined with the end of the war.  

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