Seduction Incarnate: Pre-Production Code Hollywood and Possessive Spectatorship


  • Ana Salzberg University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK


Censorship, Embodied visuality, New media, Pre-Production Code Hollywood, Spectatorship


This article considers questions of embodied visuality, sexuality, and spectatorship in the pre-Production Code filmmaking of 1920s/30s Hollywood. With Laura Mulvey’s theorization of possessive spectatorship in new media and Jennifer M. Barker’s embodied approach to early cine-eroticism providing a conceptual framework, “Seduction Incarnate” suggests that the very elements of momentum and stillness, elusiveness and control examined by these scholars are incorporated into the sensual subjectivities of pre-Code films; and through techniques like closeups, elliptical montages, and suggestive fade-outs, these filmic bodies make material the dramas of revelation and concealment that drive the narratives themselves. In close readings of movies like The Divorcée (1930), The Cheat (1931), Red-Headed Woman (1932), Three on a Match (1932), and Baby Face (1933) — as well as a consideration of their remediation (following Bolter and Grusin’s terms) in homeviewing collections and on the internet — the article proposes that pre-Code productions invite the intimate visuality enabled by contemporary viewing practices, even as they assert the autonomy of their cine-subjectivities. No longer forbidden but still provocative, these films continue to engage their viewers in a flirtatious visual pleasure: promising possession while eluding its grasp. 




How to Cite

Salzberg, A. (2012). Seduction Incarnate: Pre-Production Code Hollywood and Possessive Spectatorship. Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (3), 39–61. Retrieved from