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Reviewed by:
  • Suds dir. by John Francis Dillon
  • Georden West
Suds ( 1920) Directed by John Francis Dillon Written by Waldemar Young Produced by Mary Pickford Distributed by Milestone Films, 75 minutes.

John Francis Dillon's Suds explores early twentieth century American social stratification, weaving a story demonstrative of the division of populations into classes and of how hierarchy impacts the working class. Romantic barriers and progress within the microcosm of Amanda Afflick (Mary Pickford) and Horace Greensmith's (Albert Austin) relationship demonstrate the impact of American ideas on socially acceptable behavior and romance, which Marxist theory points to the upper-class to uphold: status determines relationship. The clear dichotomization between Afflick, Greensmith, and Lady Burke-Cavendish presents the three-class structure implicated by the emergence of the bourgeoisie in the United States: lower, middle, and high class. Suds appeals to the theory that "culture is implication with social class inasmuch as differences in cultural practices contribute to the maintenance of boundaries between social classes"; class differentiation based on the cultural implications of language (dialect, specifically) contributes to the rupture that visually separates social strata. The power of silent film to categorize on the basis of language is illustrated by a discussion between Afflick and Greensmith that emphasizes the importance of culture as a basis for class distinctions and social exclusion in the United States and uses Afflick's class elevation by patronage as demonstrative of the upper-class's role in perpetuating poverty cycles and cultural conflict. Cinematic presentation of the hindrance of communicable romance in early American cinema is based on the class stereotype that establishes Suds as allegorical for social hierarchy, which reflects the cultural division of class and the oligarchical establishment of social norms and constructs.

The impossibility of the union between Afflick and Greensmith originates from the nonnegotiable nature of class affiliation designated by culture; dialectic differences established by the film's intertitles craft a visual presentation of an audible class distinction. "I'll take you to 'Ampstead," reads Greensmith's title card. The contrast between his dialect and Afflick's cockney accent is furthered by the polarity of appearance; as Greensmith realizes the class disparity, he says to Afflick, "On second thoughts, p'raps we'd better go to Epping Forest." Afflick's realization that "he would be ashamed of her" reestablishes the visual presentation of both lingual and physical images of class; the manifestation of cultural disparities in inter-class romance cannot be overcome without Afflick becoming a citizen of the middle class, whereas Suds verifies the functionality of inner-class relationships, illustrated by Jones's interest in Afflick. The cultural codes that indicate class are presented cinematically as "principles of […] aesthetic in the most everyday choices of everyday life," such as dress and speech. The stratified class structure presented in Suds suggests that these discrepancies could be transcended by the [End Page 119] American focus of being "cultured." The emphasis on broadening horizons through culture suggests the idea of overcoming class barriers by acting like the aristocracy. The aesthetically lingual nature of the upper class suggests that the obstacles of dress and speech (that designate social mobility) are able to be transcended by performing as a member of the higher class.

As J.V. Naik argues, "'The working classes … are reared from their birth in this state of abasement to another class. Here, then, is the damaged part of our social system…[the] accumulation of laborers' toil in the hands of those who do not work, this sucking out from the working classes that which serve for their benefit, comfort, and elevation…is the flaw in our social organization…'" This reliance of the working class on the upper for "benefit and advancement" is negotiated cinematically between Afflick and Didier. Suds substantiates the ideas that upward mobility from working-to middle-class necessitates the aristocracy as a catalyst. Sustaining the idea that, as Max Weber suggests, "the boundaries of social classes may be determined by the degree of social mobility within such classes," the reliance of Afflick on Lady Burke-Cavendish to ascend social echelons is indicative of the American perception of class culture that...


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pp. 119-120
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