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Maybe I’m just talking about movies. More likely, I’m talking about something most of us associate with big purses, big bellies and boring conversations. I’ll get back to that.
I currently have beside my computer a somewhat antediluvian book that I should have read eight years ago when it came out: Mick LaSalle’s “Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood.”
In it, the author and San Francisco Chronicle film critic discusses dozens of movies from the late 1920s through 1934 in which women played interesting, well-developed, grownup roles. They had lovers, babies, jobs and even inner lives.
Prior to and for many years following this era, female characters were likable either because they were virgins, or because they repented. But these pre-code women were sympathetic because they were human, and therefore complicated.
This trend stopped mid-1934 when a strict production code required that every film include a moral consequence, at least for women. If a woman had an affair, she was obliged to regret it. If her husband cheated, she forgave him.
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