The Women

The 1939 comedy, The Women, whose tagline is “It’s all about men!” was on last night on PBS. I watched almost all of it with a feeling of morosity throughout. Before knowing the date of the film, I recognized that the black and white film, with its stylish color footage of a fashion show, was much like The Wizard of Oz, in that it also showed a fictional world utterly at peace while the world was preparing for self-immolation.
The film was achingly well-acted by Joan Crawford and Norman Shearer, who played women in the world of supreme wealth and huge class and race transitions. But what I felt while watching the film was not the American social politics behind it but the weight of Europe, a few thousand miles away, preparing for the deaths of millions. The fine clothes, the light switches, the telephones, the sense of privilege throughout, were not unlike what much of Europe had experienced before they were wrenched under war’s grip and when some were thrown in gas chambers. Some of the folks who watched that movie in 1939 died only a few years later despite its charms, or perhaps, because of them.
Tomorrow, on MLK day, The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives (TARA) at Keele University, England, will be releasing hundreds of aerial photos on the Web that were taken during World War II, including those of Auschwitz, in which smoke can be seen flying up from the chimneys.