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Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

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

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 My first thought when Ethel waters was singing and taking down the laundry was “She looks like me!”  She’s just not some thin blonde actress, she’s a real person. seeing this in the movie that makes me connect to her even more. 

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I took the two scenes - by his bedside and at the wash- to show how all her life is tied to little Joe. The good and the bad all becomes good since Joe loves her.  It goes with the song - life is easy (at deaths door or during the daily chores) it's all she needs. How romantic!

Going against popular response, I think it could be sung to a child.  That strong love may even be more easily to accept if it was with a mother/child relationship.  The parental love that states I will love you no matter what you do is more acceptable (more believable).  But perhaps back in the 40s undying, forever love for your husband was the norm.

It is good to see this film showing true people with true feelings, not characters. 

 

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Petunias love for Joe is quite evident. As she is singing next to him, her controlled emotions can be seen in her smile , and her eyes. As the scene moves to outside, you see Joe sitting in the chair and she is just over the moon beaming with love. Her life for the moment is like clean fresh laundry. Her life can only get better, as she is singing her heart out to Joe. I loved this scene, such love for one person.

I do believe the same effect would have been felt if she were signing to her child. The unconditional love is coming through. 

Although black Americans had served in the war, and were for the most part treated well. They still faced the many prejudice's  when they returned to the home front. Unfortunately the movie showed stereotypical poor blacks, in a southern rural town. 

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1. The way Petunia's entrance into Joe's bedroom was filmed gives the sense that she is a step ahead of the camera, since we see her exiting from behind; I liked how this emphasized her haste in hurrying to him. The direction of the laundry scene suggests the way that her love for Joe permeates every aspect of her life, even the mundane task of laundry. Her sentiments at his bedside aren't just an outburst of joy that he is alive; that attitude is one she carries with her always.

2. The idea of loving unconditionally would transfer well to a mother-child relationship, but I feel like a mother's responsibility for raising her child well conflicts a bit with Petunia's lack of concern for what Joe does, so long as he loves her. 

3. I think the actress for the young girl in this scene played Prissy in Gone with the Wind as well. It's striking to compare the portrayal of African Americans in the two movies, considering they came out within 4 years of each other (though, of course, Gone with the Wind was set in the South during the Civil War period and had source material to contend with).

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1.      The initial scene by the bed demonstrates her devotion to her husband, and her willingness to always be by his side. In the laundry scene, looks like Joe is still healing and Petunia is going about her everyday chores. The outside laundry scene seems to more the continuation, the day to day support. Petunia seems to be the backbone and heart of the relationship. Love this song and Ethel’s singing of it. Makes me smile when she sings, like I can feel her joy through her expressions and the words.

2.      I think the song could still work for a child, but the way in which it is sung would change a bit. This interpretation is more about the love of a woman for her man, but I think just a few simple changes could be a parent to their child. And yes, I believe the meaning would change for sure. The meaning wouldn’t reflect the same kind of devotion, a parent loves their child and would do anything for them. This song is more of a devotion to the one you chose to spend your life with, even though, in this case, Joe gambles and gets in trouble, Petunia stays by his side. She isn’t trying to change him or mold him into someone else, she isn’t educating or helping a child along, but loving a flawed man.

3.      This movie is very important, I have watched it many times as TCM usually shows it during Black History Month. It is very relevant and was shown to help show a sense of unity.  Even those things weren’t perfect, and Black soldiers still returned home to prejudice and injustice, for a time there were part of the unified effort to protect all of our loved ones at home and represent the United States.

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1.       I noticed that the scene was directed to keep Ethel on a close up shot while she sang with a huge smile on her face. Although the song is poignant because of her love for Joe, her smile is infectious. Cutting into the laundry scene shows another day has passed and we see Joe sitting up in his chair on the way to recovery.

2.       I don’t think the song would change even if Ethel was singing to a child.  Singing to Joe is like singing to a child. The lyrics talk about angels, Christmas, and love; lyrics that can relate to anyone.

3.       I can see in this scene that besides Joe’s gambling behavior, Ethel is a happy woman.  She seems appreciative of the things she has. They seem to have nice things; the items on the cloths line are plenty and are of a variety like shirts, sheets, undergarments. I think it is important to show this because it presents good standing amongst black Americans in a well to do community. The neighborhood looks nice with the picket fence and all showing that they, too, were keeping things up during the war.

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At the beginning of the scene, outside the bedroom door and then at Joe's bedside, the lighting is dark and dismal. The angel appears, Joe "awakes" and the mood is uplifted. In the outdoor laundry scene, it dramatically changes to a well-lit sunny day, with a bright, white sheet as a backdrop, filling the scene with more light. All is well, as long as Little Joe is around! This tells us that her relationship with Little Joe is everything to her, her reason for being, even with a bare table, his kiss is all she needs. As she sings his name, while taking in the laundry, she wraps his shirt around her and beams with happiness. The thought of him turns her mundane daily chores into a delightful afternoon. 

I don't think the meaning of the song would change much if it were about a child, except that it might be taken as condoning bad behavior instead of enforcing a more strict code of conduct, as they were expected to be "good" little children and held to higher standards. The example of unconditional love would remain the same.

This film is important in reminding the audience that African Americans were also serving in the military at wartime, helping to evoke a sense of unity and integration that we are all in this together, as one, which was much needed to boost wartime morale. It probably also showed many Americans a world they hadn't been exposed to much, portraying African Americans as well-rounded characters, who had much the same joys and troubles as they had, without resorting to many of the stereotypes and cliches of the time.

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  1. 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 get the feeling that when they transition to the laundry that all will be well with Joe. Together they will be okay from the movement and within the sone.

  1. 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 could be used singing to a child as well, but you seem to know by the body language that this is a relationship between them.

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?

It’s an interesting time period during WWII and the unity of the nation that needed to be present. Hollywood, I,m sure was keenly aware of the influence they has on their audiences, since there wasn’t so many forms of entertainment like there is today.

 

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You can tell immediately that she is relieved and so grateful that her husband is alive.  her happiness is evident in her voice, her eyes, her smiles - you can just tell that she loves him with all her heart and soul.  And the words in the song support her presence and actions.  And then she goes outside and even when she is doing something so dreadfully mundane as taking down the wash, she finds joy.  Seeing her throw the arms of Joe's shirt over her shoulders makes you realize just how in love she is and how she must miss his physical ability to use his own arms at that moment.  And she doesn't change her demeanor when she lovingly moves him in his wheelchair - and then goes back to remove more clothes from the line.  The way she plays this scene is so touching and gentle - you can tell that Ethel is real and an original.

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1. Wow! The amazing Ethel Waters singing so beautifully. She is a person of her time. Faith, family and commitment to her love and marriage no matter what. She is so thankful God has answered her prayers and Joe is okay. She sings to him, that was they way they entertained at that time. She is deeply in love no matter what she does. She does some reflective thinking as she does the wash and scat. An angel was at the bedside and they did not see him. 

2. If this was a song to a child, definitely would be different. Not a love song for a child. 

3. The language was of that time period. People were devoted to their spouse no matter what. They also had tough lives to live, but they did not always complain in this time period, about their problems, just took it on the chin. 

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The scene begins inside the house, where there are strong shadows and low lighting - except her face. She starts to sing, and the strong lighting gives her an angelic, innocent quality. Her love is pure and deep. She cannot contain the smile on her face as she gazes on Little Joe. What I think makes this such a wonderful moment is even with his past, she loves him in spite of it. She has a transcendent hopefulness that hints at our country's desire for the future. She is the personification of the concept of having patience through the toughest trials and being given your fondest wish when you make it to the other side. Black Americans during WWII were still treated as second class citizens but were optimistic that they would see equality.

As the song continues in the yard, the lighting is much brighter and she has a dream like quality about her. Her joy at his recovery is evident. Her life is simple and her devotion to him allows her to find joy in simple tasks.

Had she been singing about her child, we might have seen more direct interaction with the child in the scene. She is by nature a nurturer however, so I'm not sure much would change in the sense of her joy. The lyrics might have to be changed slightly to reflect the difference in relationship, but since she was the stable, enduring partner, much of the intent would remain intact.

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1. Minelli’s decision to move from the bedside to Petunia doing the laundry outside just adds realism to her joy. If my husband were on the point of death, yet survives, I would practically be dancing and singing throughout the day, not just at his bedside but also with whatever job needed to be accomplished. Her devotion and love are evident as Petunia sings, regardless of the task at hand. Therefore, as Petunia sings “Happiness is Joe”, one can readily identify this as true.

2. If this song was about a child, the meaning and the cultural connotation would change. True, the love and devotion outdoors still be the same, but the type of love changes as does its manifestation. As far as the cultural meaning, most would not equate their love of country with love of child. Therefore, the bond between the movie and the culture would be lessened.

3. I guess I have always viewed these movies with a historical eye, for I have always seen this movie as a tribute to African Americans and what they can do. Seeing films where they were celebrated and worked with premier directors such as Vincent Minnelli and King Victor Just reenforces this concept of barriers being broken. Booker T. Washington in Up from Slavery said that if African Americans made themselves indispensable then the barriers would naturally break down. During WWII, those barriers were breaking both in the movies and radio and through the efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen, the many thousands of African American soldiers and sailors who served faithfully and with distinction, and those at home who served the war effort through their work and volunteer efforts.

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1. This scene shows us how much Petunia loves little Joe and that once she knew he would recover she was able to return to the normal pace of live.

2. The song is definitely one sung by a wife to her husband but with a few alterations could easily be sung by a mother to a child.

 

 

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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 notice that the angel leaves the bedroom signifying that Joe is alright after all. The scene cut suggests that Petunia and Joe are going to be happily ever after, yet Petunia is still without her own interests besides taking care of Joe who has been dishonest with her, she stays by his side. Its kind of disappointing but for the time makes a lot of sense.
  2. How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?
    If the song were about a child, it would be less romantic and more motherly and probably tears of joy definitely. 
  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 feel this film was very important to the era and to African Americans having a film for their culture that showed some duality in good and evil. It's poetic even though the stereotypes of the time like the exaggerated dialects, and characters being hustlers or gamblers just negative representations but existed definitely among all races of the time. I feel that the film was important then as it still is today. We had the opportunity to see a a great performance with alot of talent. Ethel Waters stole the show.

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1.  I think the song was the theme song of Petunia's love for Joe. It is a song that is enduring, fitting for bedside and separation. It is one thing to be grateful one's husband has thwarted death, it a deeper thing to feel grateful in the everyday, and Ethel Waters was terrific in depicting this everyday, no-matter-what devotion. 

2.  I read a few of the other comments. I am not sold on the context of husband vs. child and separation due to war.  I do think a mother would feel just as strongly about a dead, absent, or missing child as a partner. What would change, I feel, is the level of projected, wanting passion displayed by Petunia for Joe as opposed to a more visceral, instinctive, protective mother's love for a child. Petunia is the epitome of the strong, faithful, loving wife expected during WWII. The WWII propaganda wanted women who could maintain the home front while remaining loyal to their husband/soldier. The same would not be expected of a mother to a child. A mother may have been sending her child to war, but she ultimately knew his role was to create a life separate from her own. Children are expected to leave home, fall in love, and have their own family.

3.  I did not know Cabin in the Sky existed. I've been a classic movie fan since I was young, On the Town being one of my favorite musicals. People of color simply were not part of Hollywood in any profound way. I learned about Black Americans in WWII in college and through personal curiosity. And, America remains unable to fully accept people of color into the everyday reality of U.S. society, even while they are soon to be the majority of citizens. To me, that prejudice is pathetic. Understanding the driving forces for profit of the studios, perhaps, just perhaps, if the studios had chosen to take a stand to include more persons of color in the beginnings of Hollywood, societal prejudices would be less profoundly a part of today.

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1. What I saw from the first part of this clip is that she’s waiting almost like she’s outside of a hospital room waiting to see if Joe is alright. Then when she gets the signals that he’s alive she rushes to his bedside. I think it’s beautifully shot as it contains the love and raw emotion especially from Ethel Waters who knocks it out of the park with this song. Later when she is out with the laundry that feeling of love continues and only strengthens throughout the scene and of course joy is written all over her face.

2. I don’t think it would change the meaning at all. 

3. Personally, I think it just reestablishes that although the war time was tough family was the one thing that was getting everyone through it during this time. Across all cultures and races family was at the heart of staying positive in times of darkness.

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First things first, I saw Cabin in the Sky last week and I really, really liked it. Very enjoyable and entertaining film. One of the reasons why it's so enjoyable it's because of Ethel Waters earnest performance. This scene is a testament to that since there's such a loving nature to her performance that you just have to believe that she loves Joe. And that smile? Oh boy, glowing. Loved her performance in this. Didn't really care about Lena Horne.

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1. The seamless, faded transition from bedside to hanging laundry outside is not only a way of illustrating the passage of time, but also of creating a direct connection between Petunia's devoted love to Little Joe and her devotion to the wifely duties of household chores. The camera's focus is constantly on Petunia, highlighting the scene and song as a prime example of what is considered "good" behavior for women and wives that the audience can take home with them. 

2. The relationship between a woman and her child is one that is rooted more in protection and almost single-minded devotion as opposed to the one between a woman and her husband. This scene paints the ideal relationship between a woman and her husband as one where she stands by him and cares for him no matter what kind of trouble he gets into. It's meant to be a metaphor for a citizen's devotion to country during the good and bad times (bad specifically because of the many sacrifices Americans were expected to make for the war effort). But shifting focus to the relationship between a woman and her child would make the song less about devotion in regards to the concept of "standing by my man" but rather in regards to protecting and loving the child above all others, which would make it seem, as crude and bizarre as this may sound, selfish (I wonder if this line of thinking is one of the reasons why single motherhood was shunned, and still is, in some cases throughout society).

3. I think it's important to view this film (and many others) as a cultural artifact and acknowledging the good intentions behind it even though there are troubling dimensions to the concept of linking unfettered devotion to one's spouse to nationalism, which has always been a dangerous idea, but is nowadays so much worse. A film like Cabin in the Sky should absolutely be noted for its widespread inclusion of Black Americans onscreen, but this can't (and of course wasn't) the extent to which they are portrayed on film. It's not just important for Black Americans to be seen onscreen but also to be working behind the scenes on film in the capacities of directing, writing, producing, editing and so on to create more nuanced and intimate stories of Black Americans, not ones that are funneled through white eyes. 

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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 rushes to Joe’s side to care for him when she knows he is okay and when she is outside taking in the wash Joe is in a wheel chair near her. She pushes it back into the shade to make him more comfortable, taking care of him again. Her care for him, him being dependent on her tell me that he is everything to her and vice versa because “happiness is just a name called Joe”.

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

I’m not sure the song would change that much if it was sung about a child. I had a son who was a severe asthmatic and I was always rushing him to the hospital. I know when he did better things were much more light hearted in the house than when he wasn’t. I was a single mom the husband I’d be compareing the feeling to wasn’t there. And I’m also not so sure if cultually the meaning would change. Love of husband or child I think is the same in any culture How we show it might change but how we feel it doest’1

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’m commenting on the issues of black Americans in WWII with hind sight. We needed men to fight in the war, all of our men. If that meant that for once we needed to seem to be inclusive in films to encourage black men to sign up to fight and black women to sign up to work in the factories then that’s the way we’d look. Too bad we really weren’t inclusive but they found that out once they were in the war and in segregated units not allowed to fight with white soldiers. But the fact that there were films about black lives at all was a miracle.   

 

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Ethel has a beautiful voice just for the record.

1 It shows how quickly time can pass after a dark time. 

2 The lyrics wouldn't really need to be changed. 

3. This was a good step in the right direction, you don't see anyone portrayed as household help at all.

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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? 

The focus the entire time is Petunia. We see that her happiness truly is a result of her love for Joe, regardless of what he has done and what he has out her through.

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

I don’t know that the song would change much. A few lyric changes and even the scene itself could work. The way Petunia interacts with Joe could easily be a mother with her child. The focus is the love, not the relationship itself. The subtext would change I think. We often think of parental love as unconditional, and while romantic love can be as well, a woman choosing to remain loyal to her husband (or nation) despite any wrong-doings is more in keeping with the era.

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?

Representation of black Americans in a major film was obviously an important achievement. I agree that it is important to look at this film through the lens of the time it was made and set.

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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?  The song is meant to be a prayer, and no matter what she is doing she is dedicated and committed to her husband, whether it is chores or caring for him at his bedside, praying for his recovery. Her relationship is devotion to him 100%. 

2.  How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How?   The song would have been sung for a child in a different manner but the lyric would need to be changed as it was sung from the perspective of a wife for her husband. The relief of the them being okay would be the same for any loved one. This song is meant for the love of a woman for her man.

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?. There were discrimination issues at the time of this film, however Hollywood was able to show a black cast and story line being able to hold it’s own apart from the stereotypes of the day. There were black Americans serving in during the war and contributed to the effort and the entertainment of the culture shines through in this film and was very timely for the period.

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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?

Most obviously Petunia is devoted to Joe despite his shortcomings and that devotion brings her great joy and fulfillment. The clear tie to the song is that it's all about her love for Joe and the happiness her love for him brings to her. She sacrifices herself for the cause of her marriage to Joe, but she doesn't see it as a sacrifice but a blessing.

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

If we accept the premise that we love our children, no matter what, the song makes more sense strictly from the perspective of a parent who is devoted to her child. But, as Joe is her husband, the song is more about the bliss the love itself and the man brings her. It's a devotion that goes beyond the biological ties she would have with a child. Joe stirs her and her devotion follows.

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 a film, it's historical for no other reason than MGM gave it the "A" treatment knowing full well it would be rejected by theater owners in the South. But, it also sends a message to black audiences that, even though their treatment at the hands of white America had been nothing positive, at this time their reward would be in the service of the country. Put aside all the issues and devote yourself to the principles the country was fighting for and that would, in and of itself, a reward.

Of course, it wasn't beyond the fact that fighting for the country in WWII did empower many blacks for the upcoming civil rights battles. Decades later, we know that the men who served this country despite their treatment in general do look back with great pride at their service, as do their families. They should. They gave so much for this country and deserve the nation's love and respect.

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I really enjoyed this scene. It was very evident Waters' character loved her husband and was so happy he was ok. I agree with the others who said it was very much a song about someone she is in love with, so it wouldn't have worked if it was sung to a child.

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1. It fades to the next shot implying that it's later in the day meaning she is still extremely happy and that she and her husband have a truly loving relationship.

2. If she sang about her children it would change the meaning of the song to more about family love, I don't think it would change the cultural meaning.

3. I think this film is very important culturally because it's important to give a spot light to a minority group to try and help them be seen as equal in society. 

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