The Philadelphia Story Essay

1779 words - 8 pages

The Classical Hollywood style, according to David Bordwell remains “bound by rules that set stringent limits on individual innovation; that telling a story is the basic formal concern.” Every element of the film works in the service of the narrative, which should be ideally comprehensible and unambiguous to the audience. The typical Hollywood film revolves around a protagonist, whose struggle to achieve a specific goal or resolve a conflict becomes the foundation for the story. André Bazin, in his “On the politique des auteurs,” argues that this particular system of filmmaking, despite all its limitations and constrictions, represented a productive force creating commercial art. From the ...view middle of the document...

Acting as an exposition, the opening sequence sets the stage for upcoming actions by depicting an event that occurred two years earlier. Similar to the silent era, the non-diegetic music directs the viewer’s response and “is pleonastic with the action” (Bordwell, Narrational Principles and Procedures, 25). The characters’ actions correlate to the sound of the music. C.K. Dexter Haven, accompanied by music with evasive undertones, appears untrustworthy as he rushes out to the car with his luggage, essentially deserting his wife. Tracy Lord, accompanied by an angelic melody previously played in the credit sequence, follows him out of the house. The ethereal sound of the music relates to the way her lovers see her, as a virginal goddess or a queen. The brief moment of the pure and angelic melody deceives the audience, since she leaves the house only to throw Dexter’s golf clubs at him. As she snaps his golf club, the gloomy trombone riff signals the plot’s failure to meet the natural expectation of Tracy and Dexter being lovers. Tracy condescendingly smiles and walks back into the house, while a provoked Dexter follows her and pushes her onto the floor. The suspenseful high pitch violin strings and the rolling of the drum coincide with their confrontation, but also stand in for the dynamic of their relationship– filled with tension and bitterness towards each other. The narrative pits the protagonists against each other, with the audience identifying with both Tracy and Dexter, since the opening sequence shows that the plot is interdependent of them.
The use of costume and setting explicitly reveals Tracy’s and Dexter’s social class, while being indicative of Tracy’s character by implicitly disclosing her traits Dexter’s fitted suit and his leather luggage, in context to the establishing shot of the large mansion, confirms that he belongs to some sort of upper class. These two elements together suggest that the story will revolve around an affluent lifestyle in the Philadelphia society, which later becomes the subject of criticism by newspaper reporters Macaulay Connor and Elizabeth Imbrie, played by James Stewart and Ruth Hussey. Tracy’s floor length white nightgown juxtaposed against her red hair gives her a virginal and regal presence. Throughout the film Dexter, Macaulay and Tracy’s father describe her as a goddess, however the term carries a negative connotation. Dexter, in describing their marriage, states “I gradually discovered that my relationship to her was supposed to be not that of a loving husband and a good companion, but that of a kind of high priest to a virgin goddess.” The people in Tracy’s life find themselves worshiping her as some sort of divine entity, rather than loving her as a human being. Tracy represents a strong-minded woman with a goddess-like appearance as emphasized through costume. However, she also lacks the understanding for human fragility by adding insult to injury with her arrogant smile after breaking...

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