This essay focuses on George Cukor's A Woman's Face (US, 1941), a film that complicates a dominant narrative in studies of Joan Crawford's work that locates Mildred Pierce (dir. Michael Curtiz, US, 1945) as inaugurating the star's pronounced, albeit disparaged, iterations of masculinity. Not only does A Woman's Face anticipate displays that, as in Mildred Pierce, register challenges to normative gender and sexual identities, but it also exceeds them in range and degree. Cukor's tale of Anna Holm (Crawford), whose facial scarring codes her as a marginal figure, spawns an image of a woman who performs a masculinity that persists even after she is presumably cured through plastic surgery and conventional garb, indicating that masculinity is not necessarily aligned with appearance or anatomy. Crucially, Anna's felt sense that her scars persist after their removal—evoking the phenomenon of phantom limb pain—becomes especially suggestive for charting how Cukor's film contests established notions of doing gender and the body. By revealing—at precisely those moments when conventional gender expression is presumably reestablished—that the able body's contours extend beyond its visible borders in space, the film illustrates how psychoanalytically and phenomenologically informed, expansive notions of the body and perceptual field matter for understanding transgender and other forms of gender dissonance. Drawing on disability studies, queer theory, and transgender theory, this essay demonstrates that, however unwittingly, Cukor offers an expansive, fluid notion of the body and being.
Research Article|September 01 2015
Vincent Hausmann; “The Hard Shining Brightness of You”: Witnessing the Assumption of a Body in George Cukor's A Woman's Face. Camera Obscura 1 September 2015; 30 (2 (89)): 55–87. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-3078325
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