“Making” Americans from Foreigners
Although conventional studies look to the earliest surviving vampire film, Prana-Films’ Nosferatu (1922) as source for visual codes and narrative conventions in Hollywood vampire media, this chapter locates them in segregation comedies, immigration romances, and miscegenation melodramas. These films establish conventions that facilitate or inhibit foreigners being americanized. Since citizenship for women was derivative from fathers or husbands, foreign women were considered less threatening. Consequently, male immigrants in Edison Company shorts (1895–1896), industrial and state recruitment films, and commercial entertainments, such as Alice Guy-Blaché’s Making an American Citizen (1912), Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (1915), D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (1919), and George Melford’s The Sheik (1921), serve as cinematic prototypes for classical Hollywood’s vampires. Within these narratives of americanizing foreigners, the afterlives of race emerge in relation to sex and nativity around issues of universal citizenship and sovereign territory.
(USA 1903; cin. Alfred C. Abadie)
Months before the Ellis Island film was shot, a bronze plaque with Emma Lazarus’s words—“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”—was affixed to the Statue of Liberty’s base. Edison films record arrivals of steerage-class transatlantic passengers, no longer dominated by German and Irish immigrants, but by Italian and Jewish immigrants, who lived in segregated ghettos on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. New York City “Ghetto” Fish Market shows a crowded street of fish vendors in a high-angle shot; Move On, Jewish and Italian fruit and vegetable vendors ordered to move their pushcarts by a scolding police officer.[...] Home to immigrants from Russia, Austria, Germany, Romania, and Turkey, Edison highlights the ghetto as a site of incomplete assimilation. Filming the familiar-as-foreign becomes a key strategy in Universal’s vampire films with southern California masquerading as both London and Transylvania.
Making an American Citizen
(USA 1912; dir. Alice Guy-Blaché)
In Alice Guy-Blaché’s Making an American Citizen (1912), a recently arrived eastern European-looking immigrant, Ivan Orloff (Lee Beggs), is made into a productive citizen rather than deported as an unworthy alien. Shot in New Jersey, the film opens with Orloff riding a cart, drawn by his mule and wife (Blanche Cornwell). They encounter other emigrants. Women carry large bundles of belongings; unencumbered men walk freely. Once in “the land of freedom,” Orloff receives four “lessons in Americanism” [...] He beats, whips, and verbally abuses his wife, who attempts to “live in the American way” by asking him to help her plow the fields. He abuses her until valiant “American citizen” intervenes.
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens/Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
(Germany 1922; dir. F. W. Murnau)
(USA 1915; dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
(USA 1921; dir. George Melford)