RIC Alumna Publishes Article in “Film Matters” Magazine

The sardonic commentary aimed at wives in the silent film “Why Change Your Wife?” was the focus of an article written by Erica Tortolani ’13, a RIC summa cum laude and college honors graduate with a double major in film studies and communication. Because of the high level of scholarship, her article has been selected for publication in the fall issue of “Film Matters,” a quarterly periodical of works by undergraduate film studies students.

Initially written for a course Tortolani had with Vincent Bohlinger, RIC professor and director of film studies, her article examines a 1920s comedic film by Cecil B. DeMille that mocks married life, particularly wives. 

The plot centers on the unmet needs of a husband and his “dowdy” wife. The husband expects the wife to be sexier, while the wife expects the husband to be more cultured. While attempting to purchase sexy lingerie for his wife, the husband is attracted to another woman in the shop. After a night out with the “other” woman, his wife divorces him and he marries the female found in “intimate apparel.” However, his second wife soon becomes as demanding as the first, while his first wife gives herself a makeover and draws him back to her. By film’s end, the husband has remarried his first wife, and from thus comes the title “Why Change Your Wife?” – the second will be as demanding as the first.

Tortolani’s article, “Intertitle Humor and the Representation of Heterosexual Marriage in ‘Why Change Your Wife?’” focuses on the mainstays of silent films – intertitles – the printed text that appear inbetween the action that either convey the characters’ dialogue or convey the third-person narrator’s comments on the action. Tortolani said, “In this film, the intertitles by the third-person narrator all point to women as being the cause of a marriage going sour.” The final scenes show the remarried couple in their home, with the wife dressed in more revealing clothing. The intertitle reminds women to make sure they forget, from time to time, that they are a wife.

Tortolani framed her analysis within the Freudian theory of humor. She said, in Freud’s view, humor allows individuals to release forbidden thoughts and feelings that the conscious mind usually suppresses in order to conform to society. This theory is known as the “relief theory of humor.” “Freud would have surmised that in DeMille's film the feeling of relief is particularly felt by men when jokes are directed at the restrictive nature of marriage,” said Tortolani.

“Erica’s article was very well-written and researched,” said Bohlinger, so much so that he suggested she submit it for publication in “Film Matters.” He said, “My hope is that her success at publishing her work will encourage more RIC film majors to submit their research work.”