Beyond the nostalgia that colors how we think about classical Hollywood films, there is also what critic Parker Tyler once described as its “monstrous and pernicious” influence on society and culture. And since relations between female and male characters figure heavily in virtually all of the studio system’s feature films and promotional materials, now more than ever it’s worth looking closely at the different ways gender roles and behavior were portrayed. What Price Hollywood presents a wide range of movie posters, from the silent era through the 1960s, that epitomize the Hollywood marketing machine’s deployment (and occasional subversion) of masculine and feminine stereotypes. The exhibition highlights ways in which these graphic and photographic representations shaped—and continue to shape—the moviegoing public’s understanding of romance and sexuality; how the studios’ formulaic use of body language between male and female performers defined “standard” couplings; and how certain genres allowed subversive female agency and queer perspectives to sneak into poster art. Along with the poster exhibition, a film series reveals how Hollywood manipulated erotic imagery onscreen, and how subtle, empowering performances by Barbara Stanwyck, Louise Brooks, Marlon Brando, and Gloria Grahame simultaneously upheld gender norms and hinted at alternative models of sexual identity.
What Price Hollywood? (1932) Directed by George Cukor Shown: Neil Hamilton, Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman