By Victoria Sturtevant
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Additional resources for A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler
Dressler’s performance of intoxication is always a spectacle of the body in ecstasy: face muscles slackening, balance lost, powerful big body reduced to lurching around, giggling, hiccupping, and pratfalls—the whole bag of comedian’s tricks. It is a demonstration of perfect physical control (Dressler’s) communicating the loss of control (the character’s). In the Prohibition world of Dressler’s comeback years, her drinking is also profoundly transgressive: of the law, of conventions of feminine propriety, of moderation.
Through her incorrigible and rebellious scene-stealing, Dressler forced herself back into public awareness and created the conditions for her reemergence in starring roles. Dressler actively resisted the process of her erasure, and the ideological richness of the films of her starring years can be partly attributed to the ways she demanded centrality by disrupting any film that tried to push her to the background. The Unruly Woman Everyone is fair game for humor in comedies, but in twenties films— which set the precedent for those of subsequent decades—older and dowdy women were a little less fair and more game than others.
And Tillie’s adventures at the café are framed by the generically conventional intertitle “The Effect of Tillie’s First Drink,” which suggests the many sensationalistic films at the time about the negative effects of alcohol on moral virtue and family life. This title is followed by a comic shot of Tillie spitting her first drink in Charlie’s face. Indeed, the alcohol here and at the final party does not signify the corrosive effects of city life on the moral lives of the characters. It signifies only the pleasures of physical freedom.
A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler by Victoria Sturtevant