Montage and Tableau in King Vidor's Stella Dallas

Richard Smith


The final moments of King Vidor's melodrama, Stella Dallas is famous as a tableau of exquisite pathos and feeling.  This paper examines Stanley Cavell's reading of Vidor's tableau of an unknown woman in relation to Linda Williams's earlier feminist reading, it examines Cavell's dispute with Williams and seeks to offer a different reading of the film that takes the contemporary art historical discourse about tableau as its guide, and comes to the conclusion that Vidor's tableau anticipates the 'return to painting' that marks Jeff Wall's famous photographic lightbox Picture for Women.  Vidor's tableau is itself a lightbox that articulates the tension in American culture and life between the propriety of social order and the impropriety of modern social mobility.


tableau; Cavell, Chevrier, Fried, Vidor, Williams, Stella Dallas

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