Upon reading both Jennifer Peterson and Pamela Robertson’s articles on the camp in Johnny Guitar, I am struck by the notion that some critics have been led “to see the film as either a protofeminist narrative of affirmation or as an ominously masculinist narrative of female containment because of the film’s not-quite-serious treatment of these female characters” (Peterson 4). Although I have not actually seen this film yet, and thus can’t really have an opinion, from my reading on both films, I’m under the impression that why can’t the film be both?
One aspect that I think is worth noting is that this film was made in 1954. These articles were written in 1995 and 1996, which would provide both authors with an entirely different perspective than Nicholas Ray had in 1954. Also worth noting is the difference in gender between the film’s director and these two authors. But based on the description and plot points of the movie I have only been exposed to through these readings, it seems like there could be an interesting dichotomy between feminism and anti-feminism displayed in these characters. Both Joan Crawford’s Vienna and Mercedes McCambridge’s Emma both sound like elements of them are very progressive given the time they were written, whereas other elements may be less progressive. The fear of Emma’s lesbianic traits without necessarily identifying as a lesbian may be an expression of how the characters in the movie feel, but it doesn’t seem that Ray necessarily shares the fear of his characters. And I would potentially argue the same with Vienna. For the most part, men respect her, either as her employee(s) or her lover, but they also don’t necessarily connect her with being a normal woman. Again, I would potentially also say that through Ray crafting these characters, that would argue a level of feminism in and of itself, as long as he is giving them the respect they deserve on screen, which I can’t technically argue without having seen the film.