chapter  3
12 Pages

Hollywood: Bad cinema’s bad ‘other’

WithJane Mills

It may be perfectly true that a cigar is sometimes just a cigar but, as the following close

reading reveals, it can be confidently stated that the bedpost in a scene from The Birth of a

Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915) is very definitely not just a bedpost. While it should be noted

that in 1915 cultural distinctions of taste in Hollywood cinema were not yet in place or

enforced as they would be by the mid-1930s, the scene nevertheless points to the tenuous

nature of the boundaries between good and bad taste and between highbrow, middlebrow

and lowbrow that have existed from the very early days of cinema. This analysis starts

with the scene immediately before the one in discussion since the build up, or foreplay,

provides the context for understanding the issues of good and bad taste that are raised.