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Comedy and Identity in Some Like It Hot

Daniel Lieberfeld and Judith Sanders devoted their article “Keeping the Characters Straight: Comedy and Identity in Some Like It Hot” to the study of the mistaken identity. They maintain that the whole concept of theatrical disguise has been used since the times of the Ancient Greece and also has a long tradition in cinematography. They enumerate reasons for resorting to such a method from the point of view of character development and actualization of different genres and comedies in particular. It is concluded that comic genre uses the identity changes so frequently because it adds some evolvement possibilities to the narrative unattainable in any other way. Lieberfeld and Sanders pay special attention to analyzing the film Some Like It Hot (1959) in terms of category crossing and use of various metaphors.

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The disguises in comedies are based on binary social oppositions and enable both personages and watchers assess each side of the two worlds. It is also mentioned that they have a temporary and transitional character, and at the end identities are usually back to their initial places. In the aftermath of such a plot solution people have a chance to alter their understanding of a certain social category which was a subject of shift in the film.

Portrayal of personages by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis has become classical in movie history. Lieberfeld and Sanders emphasize that there are several disguise lines in Some Like It Hot, namely those of cross-gender and cross-social character. The authors analyze the premises leading the protagonists to the decision of disguising their identities and state that the video sequence is used to enhance the beauty of “the other world”. The researchers suggest that score and soundtrack also play a great supporting role helping the viewer to embrace the sensation of transition which is about to happen. Lieberfeld and Sanders connect transference from one class to the other with the idea of danger and, in the long run, punishment, for it undermines the stability of the society. Illustrating their viewpoint, the critics mention numerous scenes of spillages as symbols of possible revenge for the unacceptable behavior. Introducing the violent mob the filmmakers simultaneously present the executives of revenge and try to warn that punishment is just a matter of time.

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The critics also state that the position of the authors of the movie is rather clear. The characters of the film reveal an eternal conflict between the comics and society with the former always trying to cross the boundaries of the latter. In the movie, however, the transition is justified and presented as a perfectly normal phenomenon, for the disguise is only external. More serious issues of real homosexuality and transvestism are criticized and posed as deviant. It is supported by the negative attitude of the protagonists to actual cross-gender changes. Such a social opposition creates a new facet in the motion picture: a comedy which is supposed to be light and entertaining turns into a moral narrative with distinct accents of what the authors deem to be normal. However, it cannot be ignored that this abnormality is what creates a comic effect in the movie. Genre distinctions enable Some Like It Hot to balance at the verge of cross-gender exposure. The suspense of the movie is retained due to several moments when the elaborately planned disguise can be disclosed.

 Lieberfeld and Sanders analyze the issue of cross-gender in detail. Referring to the film they inform the reader about the history of the coverage of this topic in cinematography. In order to illustrate their point better, the authors of the article quote some episodes from the film. They maintain that pretending to be women reveals the whole complexity of the other sex to the personages. The critics make the reader think about whether simple cross-dressing can lift the boundaries of gender. Basically, they investigate whether the mere appearance can constitute a personality. Some Like It Hot conveys the idea that being clothed in a woman’s dress is not enough for being perceived as a woman. The personages of the film prove it by direct manifestations of their male nature: the way they regard their beautiful singer eliminates all the doubts about their masculinity. However, according to Lieberfeld and Sanders, the male protagonists of the movie present polar sides of masculinity. The filmmakers reveal it through the whole range of details from the music instrument choice to the attitude towards spending money. The authors of the article maintain that the experience of disguise turns out to be very different for Jerry and Joe. It affects the former protagonist in a more vivid way and leads him to loss of self-control due to total gender confusion, for it is impossible to fight one’s nature. Humorous scenes of courtship when Joe seduces Sugar and Jerry is proposed by Osgood only exacerbate the fundamental difference between men. Lieberfeld and Sanders suggest that such a portrayal makes Jerry and Osgood look as outsiders while Joe and Sugar are regarded as gender ideals. The authors of the article also explain the way the background of the personages affected their gender views and socialization. The experience of peeking into women’s world makes them more mature. It reveals the social message conveyed by the movie.

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The article by Lieberfeld and Sanders is an informative study of the concept of gender in films. The authors provide numerous examples to prove their idea that switched identity and disguise are not only constituents of a successful comedy, but also effective tools of expressing the views on the social roles and characteristics of genders.

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