Wartime Kiss: Visions of the Moment in the 1940s (Essays in the Arts)

Wartime Kiss: Visions of the Moment in the 1940s (Essays in the Arts)

Alexander Nemerov

Language: English

Pages: 184

ISBN: 0691145784

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Wartime Kiss is a personal meditation on the haunting power of American photographs and films from World War II and the later 1940s. Starting with a stunning reinterpretation of one of the most famous photos of all time, Alfred Eisenstaedt's image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day, Alexander Nemerov goes on to examine an array of mostly forgotten images and movie episodes--from a photo of Jimmy Stewart and Olivia de Havilland lying on a picnic blanket in the Santa Barbara hills to scenes from such films as Twelve O'Clock High and Hold Back the Dawn. Erotically charged and bearing traces of trauma even when they seem far removed from the war, these photos and scenes seem to hold out the promise of a palpable and emotional connection to those years.

Through a series of fascinating stories, Nemerov reveals the surprising background of these bits of film and discovers unexpected connections between the war and Hollywood, from an obsession with aviation to Anne Frank's love of the movies. Beautifully written and illustrated, Wartime Kiss vividly evokes a world in which Margaret Bourke-White could follow a heroic assignment photographing a B-17 bombing mission over Tunis with a job in Hollywood documenting the filming of a war movie. Ultimately this is a book about history as a sensuous experience, a work as mysterious, indescribable, and affecting as a novel by W. G. Sebald.

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there. It is also about the strange combination of then and now familiar to students of photography—the way a photograph brings a lost moment and person directly into our view, so that what was and what is coalesce in eerie combination. It is also about how each of the photographs and scenes I discuss conveys its own attitude about time. Some freeze it. Others suspend it. Some strive to be without it. Others nod and glance toward but utterly avoid the terror of time, the infiniteness of death,

and others of Olivia and her sister Joan Fontaine standing in front of their house on La Paloma in historical costume, possibly connected to the bicentennial celebration in 1932 of George Washington’s birth. History is something these future Hollywood actresses could affect, dressing up in the regalia of it, but remain somehow apart from. Meanwhile, the constant sound of the Saratoga Creek and the yellowed fluttery clippings of bygone events are the doubled registers of time in this forgotten

economic and sexual liberty that the war represented for so many American women was mostly a thing of the past, and the lack of a feminine presence on the airbase and even on the aircraft in Twelve O’Clock High and Command Decision was part of this social retrenchment. But something else was at work as well—a force that had less to do with gender politics than with some deep and superstitious sense of how the war was experienced, how it had been felt and known: namely, through magical images of

consequence except that she has had these inconsequential thoughts. And what of world events in this contemplation? In the tripled hum of bus, magazine, and movie, the threat of war is present, too. It does not take the form of a direct statement, or even an idle thought, though likely she has looked at the day’s headlines. Instead it takes the shape of her body, of her being alive at that moment when we see her. This embodiment of the world does not happen when she moves through her conscious

and the young man are lounging in swimsuits on a platform far off shore, looking into each other’s eyes. When Irene’s fiancé then crashes his plane and suffers a crippling leg injury, the coast is clear. The emasculated instructor cedes the field to his virile younger brother, who now really knows how to fly. In Government Girl (1943), de Havilland’s character and her Washington boss fill the sky with bombers, and at one point take a euphemistically sexual motorcycle ride, proverbially zany and

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