Life This Week: June 20, 1938

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Poster from Wikipedia
This weekend, Paul asked me if there were any movies I'd like to go see.  I couldn't think of anything and neither could he.  Evidently, this isn't a new problem.  The year 1938 saw the cinematic rerelease of many older films due to cuts made in the film industry.  There were 60 fewer films made in 1938 than in 1937 and something had to fill the gap.  These rereleased films performed better than most of the new releases.  Life magazine writes, "In Chicago [Rudolph Valentino's] Son of the Sheik outranked such new features as Test Pilot and Robin Hood."

The Son of the Sheik and its predecessor, The Sheik, are two of Valentino's best-known roles.  The Sheik made him a star; The Son of Sheik turned out to be the last film he ever made.  Both films are set in Algeria (when it was still a French colony).  Valentino plays Sheik Ahmed in both films, as well as Sheik Ahmed's son Ahmed in The Son of the Sheik.  I had no idea split-screen technology was so advanced in 1926.  Both films were rereleased in 1938 and were edited to conform to the production code.  I wish I could have seen the original cuts of both films, but they're still pretty racy compared to films made in 1938.

Still from The Sheik from Wikipedia

Although they do propagate common negative stereotypes of Arab men and commit most of the sins outlined in Edward Said's Orientalism, what I find most disturbing is the unenlightened attitude both films have toward rape.*  No wonder our society still has trouble with "no means no."  It's important to think of the morals of a film as a product of the time in which it was produced, but that doesn't mean that I have to like the conclusion at which both films arrive: "Love thy rapist."  These two movies really got me thinking about what is "child-appropriate" in the world of classic cinema.  I certainly wouldn't want children watching either of these films without having a serious discussion about racism and sexual violence.

Poster from Wikipedia

All of that being said, I have to admit that both The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik are entertaining movies, and not just compared to other silent films.  I like to think of the first few minutes of any silent film as an acclimatization period where the viewer gets used to the crazy makeup, the silly facial expressions and having to read the title cards.  In a bad silent movie, all of these things bother me right through and I often give up and stop watching.  The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik had short acclimatization periods.  I genuinely enjoyed watching both of them, even if I wasn't crazy about the "message."  That's what's great about being an adult, right?  Making the attempt to separate the medium from the message?  The medium is awesome 1920s orientalist fantasy filmmaking; the message is just appalling.

Both films are available on DVD.  The Sheik airs July 5th  and The Son of Sheik airs July 21st, both on TCM.  The Sheik is available to watch (for free!) at Internet Archive:


For dinner, we're off to another part of Africa--

Moroccan Pilaf
Here's my next leftover roast beef recipe.  I have one more, which I'll try to post later this week.  Iceberg Lettuce with Grecian Dressing goes well with the pilaf (we're getting really multicultural now).  You could also use lamb in the pilaf.  I didn't give amounts for the seasonings, because I just sprinkled them in.  The cinnamon gives a nice musky heat, but be careful to just use a little bit--you don't want your pilaf to taste like Christmas potpourri.

Moroccan Pilaf

*I feel it's only fair to point out that both films are adaptations of books by E.M. Hull.  In the book The Sheik, Lady Diana is kidnapped and repeatedly raped by Ahmed.  They eventually realize they love each other.  Ick.

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