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Parker Tyler

Posted 9/6/2016 4:06pm by Eugene Wyatt.

In this connection, I think, we must linger upon Tyler’s account of Mae West. He pays tribute to “the scandalous sway of Miss West’s hips—it reminds me of nothing so much as the motion of a cradle.” Admittedly, Mae is cruel to her little boy. In masquerading as a female impersonator, she robs that figure of his comedy, “leaving him only his pathos.” Still, in that gesture Mae also enacts the one supreme sacrifice of female nature: the mother’s recognition and condonement of the homosexual flaw in her son! This, of course, almost never happens in life; that is why it had to happen at least once in art. That passage occurs in The Hollywood Hallucination, which bears this dedication: “To the memory of my mother, that golden nature whose image so often illuminated with me this side of the movie screen.”


Tyler’s follow-up book, Magic and Myth of the Movies, does the same thing with the idea of myth. In his earliest writing on film he compares stars to the ancient gods and goddesses. This isn’t just because they are worshipped by the multitude. The stars, he claims, fulfill long-lasting needs not met by contemporary religion. People like us, they are somehow immortal. On the screen they live and die and live again. Like the Homeric gods, they disguise themselves to us. They become cowboys or detectives, queens or saloon girls; but we recognize them every time. They reenact their roles so that each film becomes a ritual akin to ancient drama. Our gods, symbolically slain or beatified, populate stories that are magical invocations tailored to a modern Christian society. Myth, Tyler explains, is “a basic, prototypic pattern” that reveals "imaginative truth."

Rhapsodes, How 1940's Critics Changed The American Film Culture, 2016 David Bordwell